What is a Christian? It’s a simple question, but the answer is absolutely life changing. The way we answer this question shows what we believe and can even reveal why we may believe it. As I’ve spent time in God’s Word lately, my heart has been heavy with why it’s so important that a Christian is defined as one who has been saved from their sins by faith in Jesus alone. Here are 3 reasons why this definition is so important:
1) It Gets Rid of the Extra Baggage
While the knowledge of God is present in America (and especially in the Southern United States), we have unintentionally added in extra definitions about what it means to be a Christian. The question may be more clearly stated this way: Where do we place our faith? The reality is that some people trust in things other than Jesus for salvation. They may trust in their upbringing, a prayer they prayed as a child, and even the faith of their parents or grandparents. While these things are good, we must be clear that none of these things are enough to save. Only faith in Jesus can save us from our sins.
Look at the example of Abraham. We see his faith in how he trusted God’s promises and God “counted it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6). Abraham wasn’t saved by the amount of faith he had in those promises; in fact, we hear the story of his failures and wrestling with doubt in the chapters that follow. Instead, Abraham was saved by faith. Faith was the means by which he received righteousness. This means that Abraham was blessed because he trusted in the God behind the promise.
Paul would say it this way in Romans 4:
“But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him, who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”Romans 4:23-25
He then continues,
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”Romans 5:1, emphasis added
This is pivotal- those who belong to Jesus are His because of faith alone. Our faith is the means by which we take hold of Christ’s work accomplished on the cross. Paul says the Jesus work is given to us by faith.
We can’t place our trust in a prayer to save us. We can’t place our trust in our parent’s faith. We can’t place our trust in growing up in church for our entire lives. It is only by placing our trust in Jesus as the author and perfecter of our faith that we can be saved.
2) It Guards Us Against Living For This World Alone
All of us long for things to be made right. We see sickness all around us and hear of disasters plaguing nations around the globe. Wars and rumors of wars are given on a daily basis and for most of us, there’s no doubt things are broken. When we understand and believe the gospel, it begins to change our perspective beyond what we see right in front of us. With an eternal focus, we are then freed to live for something more than our lives here on Earth. In doing so, we actually gain access to the fullest life possible.
The reality is that some people have been deceived into thinking faith in Jesus is a means to get whatever they want whenever they want. The prosperity gospel is rooted in this type of thinking. It’s the idea that Jesus plus something will give us ultimate satisfaction. Notice the issue: faith isn’t place in Jesus alone, but Jesus in addition to something else.
A lot of times, the addition is money or health. While there certainly isn’t anything wrong with either of these things, they become deceptive and dangerous when we begin to view them as a means of satisfaction or a sign of enough faith. Some may teach that health or riches is a sign of having enough faith, but one of the issues is how this directs our focus to our own faith as the object by which we are saved (or in this case, blessed) instead of focusing on Christ. God is only a means to get what we think we need to be satisfied.
Again, this is in stark contrast to the writings of the New Testament. Finances aren’t always a sign of God’s blessing. While bad choices can lead to us being poor, sometimes money is tight or hard to come by while we’re being obedient to what God has called us to. Sickness is a symptom of the fallen world and while God still heals people today, and Christ healed people during His ministry on earth, this is a sign of His goodness and mercy more than an indicator that we had enough faith to make it come about.
Having faith in Jesus helps us hold on to hope when times are tough. Having faith in Jesus gives us the reminder that God is doing something in the difficulty and in the pain. I fear that far too many of us see trials as something to be escaped as soon as possible rather than something God is using to shape us into the image of Jesus, thus glorifying Himself and increasing our joy in Him. Does this make those times easier? Not always. But it does remind us that a day is coming when Jesus will make everything right- and no amount of money or health in this life will compare to life with Him in eternity.
3) It Frees Us To Rest
When we believe being a Christian is somehow connected to the things we do or the amount of faith we have, it is absolutely exhausting. When we understand that being a Christian is by faith in Jesus. we are free to rest in His goodness and grace.
I’m reminded of these words from 1 Peter 1:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”1 Peter 1:3-5
God, in His mercy, gives us His Spirit to empower us and hold onto us as we pursue Him. Instead of the security of salvation rests on His shoulders and not our own. This frees us from placing our faith in our works. Instead, we look to Him who has caused us to be born again. We pursue Jesus not because we need to earn salvation, but because we already have it. When we realize this, we can join with Peter and say, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!”