What Is a Real Christian?

Randall Ricker

Hundreds of millions of people call themselves Christians, and hundreds of denominations that call themselves Christian, each with different beliefs and different ideas of what a Christian actually is. Some believe that a person is a Christian if he believes in the existence of Christ. But Luke 6:46 tells us that is not enough: “’But why do you call Me “Lord, Lord,” and not do the things which I say?’” Others believe that one is a Christian if he practices a certain behavior.


How does the Bible define a Christian?  Romans 8:8-9: “So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.” That is, if one does not have Christ’s Spirit, he is not Christ’s, and thus is not a Christian. That which is Christ’s, then, is a Christian. Verse 14 says, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” A Christian must not only have the Holy Spirit in him, but he must also let the Holy Spirit lead him.


How does a person become a Christian? Mark 1:14-15 tells us: “Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.’” Repentance is a heartfelt change from disobeying God to living His way of life. 1 John 3:4 tells us of what to repent: breaking God’s spiritual law. We do not start the process of repentance; God calls us (John 6:44) and leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). In Mark 1 we are also told to believe the gospel of the kingdom of God. Notice that it is not a gospel about Christ. You may want to read our Bible study “What Is the True Gospel?” for more information on this topic.

Peter was asked what to do on Pentecost 31 A.D. His response was, “’Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:38). He re-stated the requirement for repentance, and he added the requirement to be baptized. Baptism is a ceremony in which a person is immersed in water as a symbol of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (Romans 6:3-5). It expresses our faith in Christ as our Savior and our acceptance of His death to pay the penalty for our sins, and it also shows the death and burial of our old selves, after which we walk as new persons according to a new way of life. After baptism we receive the Holy Spirit. According to Romans 8:8-9, we then become Christians.


What does the Holy Spirit do for us? Read verse 11 of Romans 8: “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” The Holy Spirit begets us as children of God, to be born again at the resurrection. (Please read the Bible study, “Our Potential,” for more information.)


The Holy Spirit produces results in our lives, which are listed in Galatians 5:22-23. The first in the list is love. Romans 5:5 says, “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” What is that love? It is not just a feeling. “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10).  That law is a spiritual law (Romans 7:14), and love is also defined in 1 John 5:3: “For this is the love of God that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” Love is keeping God’s spiritual law as expressed by the Ten Commandments. Read our Bible study “Must We Keep the Ten Commandments?” for more information.

“’It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35). The late Herbert W. Armstrong described the way of love as outgoing concern, or “give” as opposed to “get.”

Love should identify a Christian to those around him: “’A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another’” (John 13:34-35). People should notice a difference in the behavior of a Christian. Read the parable of the talents in Matthew 25: 14-30. A talent was a unit of measure for precious metals, and in this parable it represents a measure of the Holy Spirit. This parable shows that we are rewarded in the kingdom of God by how much we grow spiritually in this life. Verses 31-46 describe what is expected of us. We must serve others as they need it, and when we do, it is as if we are serving Christ. If we do not, we could lose our salvation. We are incorrect to think that if we just accept Christ we are saved forever, no matter how we live.

A Christian possesses faith in God, faith that He exists and rewards those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). A Christian believes that the purpose of life is to prepare to become a member of God’s family. We trust God to provide our needs and to protect us from harm.

John 8: 31-32 provides another way to identify Christians: “Then Jesus said to the Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’” John 17:17 says, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” In the Bible lesson “Proofs That God Inspired the Bible,” we established that God’s word is the Bible. These verses in John 8 show us that we are Christ’s disciples, or Christians, if we live by God’s truth as found in God’s word, the Bible. The Holy Spirit gives us spiritual understanding as we study the Bible (1 Corinthians 2:10-14). The Sabbath day is also a sign of who God’s people are (Exodus 31:13).


A Christian will not immediately be able to live perfectly by God’s way of outgoing concern. 2 Peter 3:18 instructs us to grow. Read 1 John 1:8-9: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” This is written in the present tense, indicating that Christians still sin. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” When we are tempted to sin, or we realize that we have sinned and need forgiveness, we are able go to Jesus Christ our High Priest to be cleansed (Hebrews 4:16).


The fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5 includes joy. More than a pleasant feeling that soon passes, joy is permanent happiness that comes from looking ahead to our reward as Christ did (Hebrews 12:2). We know what is expected of us. We receive joy from serving others and seeing them happy, and we enjoy the fruit of the Holy Spirit as we give that fruit to others. We do not worry about ourselves, knowing that God will provide our necessities (Matthew 6:33).

We know how the world got into its present state and how it will be changed in the future. That knowledge, along with keeping our minds on the things of God, gives us peace (Romans 8:6).

We know the purpose of life, and we look ahead to a wonderful future as a spirit being with perfect character, living forever in love and joy with God the Father, Jesus Christ, and billions of brothers and sisters.