What actually makes a Christian a Christian?

Real Christianity7At home I have a katana that I received for Christmas a few years ago. I would like to say that it is genuine and that it can slice through 37 watermelons in one strike. I would like to say that it is perfectly folded steel, sharpened to a fine edge and suitable for any samurai to use; but I cannot. It is merely a decoration. The edge is not sharp. It is not folded steel. In fact I am certain that if I tried to use it, it would break. This sword is an imitation of the genuine artifact. In the same way, there are many imitations of Christianity. There are people who claim to be Christians and have not placed their faith in Jesus Christ. There are many things said about the Christian faith that cannot be true. There are versions of the Christian faith that are not genuine. Just because somebody makes a claim about the Christian faith does not make it so. As we return to 1 John, I want to ask this question: “What makes a true Christian a true Christian?” Is it what he or she does, thinks or believes, or is it something deeper and simpler?



My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father — Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world.

This is how we are sure that we have come to know Him: by keeping His commands. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” yet doesn’t keep His commands, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly in him the love of God is perfected. This is how we know we are in Him: The one who says he remains in Him should walk just as He walked.[1]

To begin I would just like to ask a simple question: How important is it that we place our faith in the person of Christ rather than our own works? I previously wrote about the fact that the Christian faith is specifically about having faith in the person of Jesus Christ. It is not primarily about works and it is not primarily about following a set of rules. Growing up in church, here is another thing that I noticed: People who saw Christianity as a set of rules and who sought to follow those rules above all else where the people who had the least amount of joy. They were also the people who looked down on other people more often, judging them and condemning them.

Here’s the truth:

  1. Our works come from ourselves
  2. If our faith is primarily in our own works, then we have placed our faith primarily in ourselves.
  3. If we have placed our faith primarily in ourselves, then we have not placed it primarily in Jesus Christ.

This means that people who are first and foremost about following a set of rules are not placing their faith in the person of Jesus Christ, period.

As John continues to write, he claims to write so that his audience may not sin. Here we learn that resisting sin and temptation is important for the Christian. Since we have placed our faith in Christ, we have an advocate, Jesus, before God. Jesus was the propitiation for the sin of the whole world! What is propitiation? Let me explain it this way:

  1. If we sin, we act against God.
  2. Because God is perfect, He must deal with sin.
  3. If we have sinned, then we must be punished.
  4. Jesus Christ satisfied that punishment on our behalf!
  5. Now we don’t have to suffer because of our sin.

We can be forgiven! If we have faith in the person of Jesus Christ, we have accepted that forgiveness. If we do not, then we have chosen to be punished for our own sin. If our faith is in works, and is not in Christ, then we have not accepted God’s forgiveness, period. The Christian faith, because it is specifically faith in the person of Jesus Christ, is a faith of forgiveness. Previously, we learned that faith in Christ was about acceptance. God takes this thing further than acceptance and makes it also about forgiveness. In my life as a Christian, not only am I to accept others, but I am also to forgive them for the wrong that they do.

We must remember that John is writing all this so that his audience may not sin. Resisting sin and temptation is still important in the Christian life. Real Christianity is not primarily about following rules, it is about having faith in Christ. When we place our faith in Jesus Christ, we also place our trust in Him and believe Him.

Here’s what John says, “This is how we are sure that we have come to know Him: by keeping His commands” (v. 3). Keeping Christ’s commands seems to be evidence of someone’s faith in Jesus Christ. Obeying Christ does not cause faith in Him. Faith in Christ brings about obedience.

I want to unpack this for us. Have you ever had to do something that you just did not want to do? I am still in school, which means I have to write papers for school. I am not interested in writing about most of the things I have to write about for school. It’s a chore. Something I have to do. The same is true when I have to wash the dishes or when I have to clean up around the house. If this is what Christianity looks like (we have to follow these rules or do these things), we have missed it altogether because we have faith in our own works rather than in the person of Christ. Writing papers does not make me a student. Following a set of rules does not make us Christians.

Contrarily, have you ever done something for somebody because you love him or her, not because you had to? This is what obedience looks like in the Christian faith. There was a time when my mom called me and needed a logo design. I did not hesitate because I love my mother. Not only this, but I found joy in what I was doing, knowing that I would please someone that I love. I can either write papers because they’re required of me, or I can write those papers because I am a good steward of my opportunity to be a good student. I can obey Christ because I have to (which is placing my faith in my own works), or I can obey Him because my faith is in Him and I want to please Him. Those who have placed their faith in Christ desire to please Him, meaning that joyful obedience is actually evidence that our faith is truly in Christ.

Here’s what that means for us: Anyone, even the worst of all people can place his faith in Christ. Remember that the Christian faith is one not only of acceptance, but also forgiveness. Once we place our faith in Christ, we will begin living to please Him, not out of obligation but sincerely and joyfully. Remember that obedience to Christ is evidence of faith in Christ. When we fail, which we will, we remember that Christ was the propitiation for our sin: He took the punishment that we earned so that we would not have to. This is what we call grace.

Let’s read this as we keep these things in mind:

Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For everything that belongs to the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle — is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever.[2]

[1] 1 John 2:1-6 (HCSB)

[2] 1 John 2:15-17 (HCSB)

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