What Does It Mean to Be A Christian?

Keith KettenringBible Insights, Christian Living, Ministry Leaders, The Uncommon Journey

It seems such a basic & easy question – What does it mean to be a Christian? Yet, there is a lot of confusion. Ask 10 people and you may receive 10 different answers. What would your answer be?  

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Christian = Christ

Being a Christian is being like Jesus Christ – a “Christ-one.” According to Jesus Himself and New Testament writers, a Christian is one who is united with Christ – living in union with Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit in the life of God the Father (see John 15; 17.3, 21, 23; 1 Cor. 6. 15, 17; Gal. 2.20; Eph. 5.30; Phil. 2.5).  

It’s that nakedly simple and that mystically profound. 

Being united to Christ presents a lifetime of exploring the mystery of that relationship. If that’s all you did for the rest of your Christian life, that would be powerfully life transforming. And, you would turn your little “world” upside down for Jesus Christ.   

Poor Substitutes

Unfortunately, being a Christian has been made out to be about:

  • Moralism: What does it mean to “act like a Christian?” It’s not OK to live an immoral or amoral life. Yet, does living a moral life make you a Christian? 
  • Dogmatism: What does it mean to “know right doctrine?” Doctrine matters. But who determines what’s right? How do you “know?” Demons know many right things about God and they’re certainly not Christians.  
  • Evangelism: What does it mean to “make disciples?” Today it’s about “disciple making” movements, being missional, church growth, programs, building a successful mega-church, or praying for revival. Was being a Christian like this 300 years ago? Will it be like this 300 years from now?  
  • Believe-ism: What does it mean to “believe?” Just believe in Jesus and you’re in. One sincere moment of belief is good for a lifetime and eternity. Does “believing in Jesus” make you a Christian? 
  • Denominationalism: What does it mean to “be the Church?” With over 40,000 “Christian” denominations (most claiming to be based on the Bible), it’s hard to tell. Are you more loyal to your denomination (or non-denomination) than to Jesus? Since Jesus is the Head of the Church your union with Him involves exploring the Church.
  • Sentimentalism: What does it mean to feel love for God and others? Isn’t love an action? If you feel love for God and others does that make you a Christian? 
  • Intellectualism: What does it mean to “know your Bible?” How many Bible studies, sermons, radio ministries, courses, or degrees do you need before you’re knowledgable enough?  Are you a Christian if you know a lot about the Bible? 
  • Humanitarianism: What does it mean to “care for others?” Are you a Christian if you feed the poor, advocate social programs, or work for social justice?  
  • Favoritism: What does it mean to “gain God’s favor?” How many Christians think they’re extra blessed, prosperous, favored, supernaturally gifted, called, or anointed due to their efforts or piety? I’ve seen a Tibetan monk levitate. I’ve read that other non-Christian religions speak in tongues and experience healings. Are you a Christian because you have supernatural experiences?  

These are inadequate substitutes for the real thing. They may be the result of union with the Triune God in Jesus Christ. But as defining what it is to be a Christian, they all fail. Why? Because in each case, Jesus Christ can be missing.

Being a Christian is living in union with Jesus Christ.

He is the Source, the Means, and the End of what it is to be a Christian.  

Keep it simple. Keep it profound. Keep it about living in Jesus Christ. There’s enough there for a lifetime. 

Share your thoughts below. 


Dr. K