What is a Christian?

I heard the story of a man who was down on his luck and desperate to find work. As doors kept closing to him, he got the idea of going to the city zoo to seek a job feeding the animals.

The manager at the zoo had no such openings, but seeing how big this guy was, he thought of something else.

“Say, our gorilla died the other day, and he was one of our most popular attractions. If we got you a special gorilla suit, would you put it on and imitate him for a few days until our new gorilla arrives? The pay is great.”

When you need a job, you need a job. The man was so desperate for work, he agreed.

After a few hours, he really got into the part—beating his chest and shaking the bars. Huge crowds gathered to watch. Maybe this won’t be so bad after all, he told himself. Besides the good money, he could take naps in the sunshine and had all the bananas he could eat.

But that afternoon, as he was swinging on a trapeze as part of his gorilla act, he lost his grip. His momentum carried him over a tall chain-link fence into the middle of the lion’s den. The huge lion, seeing this intruder in his domain, gave a ferocious roar. The crowds were mesmerized.

Still trying to hide his identity, the gorilla-suited man backed slowly away, hoping to climb the fence and return to his own cage. The lion, however, had a hungry look and began stalking him step by step.

Finally, in desperation, the gorilla hollered, “Help!”

The lion immediately spoke in an annoyed whisper. “Shut up, stupid! You’ll get us both fired!”

You see . . . things aren’t always as they appear!

There are many people today who claim to be Christians—who may even think they are Christians—but are not.

Polling data consistently shows that a majority of people in this country believe in God, identify themselves as Christians, and believe the Bible is God’s Word. But how much of Christianity do they really understand? In one survey, for example, of those who said they read the Bible regularly, half couldn’t name even one of the four gospels in the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), and fewer than half knew who spoke the Sermon on the Mount (Jesus).

On close examination, it’s clear that many people don’t have a clear grasp of what it means to be a believer in Christ. Do you? Are you a believer? Are you sure?

What exactly is a Christian, anyway? Are you born that way? If not, how do you become one? What are the requirements?

In 2 Corinthians 13:5, Paul wrote: “Examine yourselves to see if your faith is really genuine. Test yourselves. If you cannot tell that Jesus Christ is among you, it means you have failed the test” (NLT).

Check up on yourselves, Paul was saying. Are you actually believers? Do you pass the test? Or are you just pretending to be (or hoping to be) a Christian, when actually you aren’t at all?

When you ask someone if he or she is Christian, one of the most common responses you get is, “Of course I’m a Christian. I go to church, don’t I?” That’s like saying I’m a golfer because I own a set of golf clubs. Or I’m a surfer because I own a pair of board shorts. But to be a golfer, you need to golf; to be a surfer, you must surf; and to be a Christian means you need a real relationship with Christ—knowing Him, trusting Him and obeying Him.

Reading this, you might be thinking, “But what difference does it make how we define a Christian anyway? Why make Christ such a big part of it? Don’t all roads basically lead to God?”

Not according to Jesus!

Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3 NKJV). Only Jesus Christ—and no other—died on the cross for your sins. Only He promises you the hope of heaven. And no other religion teaches that! Jesus essentially said that the only way you can be certain your sins are forgiven and know you will spend eternity in heaven is by putting your complete trust in Him.

And there will be tangible results to show you have done that. Jesus once said, “Therefore by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:20 NKJV). Just as apples identify an apple tree, there are results or evidence in someone’s life that marks that person as a believer in Christ.

Now, don’t misunderstand me; I am not suggesting that any particular amount of “good works” makes you a Christian. Far from it. In fact, all the good works on earth will not save you. The Bible tells Christians that God “saved us, not because of the good things we did, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins and gave us a new life through the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5 NLT).

This, in fact, is one of the main things that sets Christianity apart from all other religions in the world. All other religious systems essentially say, “Do!” Do this particular thing and you’ll have “good karma,” or you’ll get to heaven or paradise or nirvana or whatever. In contrast, Jesus Christ says, “Done!” That’s what it meant on the cross when He cried out, “It is finished!”

The transaction is complete.

The price for our sins has been paid, and the way has been opened up—through Christ alone—for an eternal relationship with God.

But please understand this: If we’ve discovered that the price has been paid, if we truly believe, and if we receive Christ’s payment for our sins—it must mean radical changes taking place in our lives!

Are those changes taking place in your life? If you were arrested for being a Christian today, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

The Bible says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV). Honestly, do those words describe your life?

If you did your own survey of people on the street and asked them what someone must do to become a Christian, you would probably get answers like this: “Go to church, pray, read the Bible, and keep the Ten Commandments. Believe in God, miracles, heaven, and hell. And, oh yeah, probably be baptized. And start living a good life.”

Right now, I’m going to make a statement that may shock you: You can do all those things I just mentioned and not necessarily be a Christian! Don’t get me wrong; if you’re a true Christian, you should do all those things.

But the outward change is often without the inward . . . while the inward change is never without the outward.

“Examine yourselves,” Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 13:5. When you honestly examine yourself—inside and out—what do you find?

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