WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A CHRISTIAN?
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE 'SAVED'?
These are very similar questions. Let me begin with answering the second. When we think of someone being saved, we think of someone who has been rescued. Therefore, someone who has been saved is someone who has been rescued from disaster. In the Christian context, we use the term “saved” to describe someone who has been rescued by Jesus Christ from the ultimate consequence for their sin, an eternity in hell.
An explanation of what it means to be a Christian could be articulated in a long series of books. For the purposes of this letter, we’ll simply discuss it from the perspective of one who is interested in the basic definition of a Christian.
Simply stated, a Christian is one who is a follower of Christ. The Bible indicates that there is a time when each person must choose whether or not they want to follow Christ. There are certain biblical truths that must be understood.
The Bible tells us that, “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23). This means that while God is completely sinless (we call this “holy”), we are not. We know that we have chosen sin. It’s not that we have accidentally committed sins, but that we have chosen them. From telling a lie to taking something that didn’t belong to us, and even much worse, we know that we don’t measure up to God’s standard of absolute purity. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).
The fact that we have committed sins, and thus are considered sinful by God, is not any great mystery to most people. We know we’ve done a number of things that we regret. As a consequence for these sins, the Bible tells us, “…the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
As we think of the idea of “wages,” we think of something we’ve earned. What this verse is telling us is that, because of our sins, we have earned death. This is not just a reference to physical death which happens to all people. Note the contrast with “eternal life.” This is an eternal death in a place the Bible calls “hell.” Hell is described as a place of eternal conscious torment. However, that is not God’s desire for us. He offers the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. It is one thing to be offered a gift, it is another thing to receive it. We must each receive the gift of eternal life offered through Jesus Christ.
The Bible tells us that there is a requirement for receiving this gift: “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9 ESV). If we’re not careful, this sounds like magic. We just say the right combination of words and we’re magically right with God. That’s not what this verse is talking about. Notice that this verse talks about a confession that Jesus is Lord. A confession can be described as a profession of belief. A person who confesses Jesus is Lord, is professing a belief that he is their Lord. Lord is an important word.
A lord is a master. A person in submission to a lord is called a servant or slave. This servant recognizes the lordship of the person over them and submits to their will. So, a Christian isn’t just someone who goes to church, or who has been baptized, or who is a really good person. A Christian is someone who has told Jesus they want him to be their master and they want to be his servant. The natural next steps of that person would be to investigate the will of their master and then submit to it. That is a Christian.
So there are questions we need to answer: Have I come to the realization that I am a sinner, having committed deeds that are impure? Do I realize that I have earned an eternal separation from God, but that he has offered me an alternative future through the gift of Christ? Have I asked Jesus to be Lord of my life, submitting myself to him as my master? Am I now following him by responding to what is taught in the Bible?
Many live under the belief that good people go to heaven. They hope that there is some giant scale that God uses to weigh out the good and bad deeds of people. They hope that their good deeds will outweigh their bad deeds and thus earn them a place in heaven. When we read the Bible, we realize there is no scale. The Bible says that our sin has earned us hell. However, Jesus came to earth and lived a completely sinless life. He was murdered on a cross. After being in the grave, he resurrected to life on the third day. That act offers now an exchange to all who will invite him to be their Lord. He will give them his purity, which they lack, in exchange for their sin and the consequences they deserve. When that person then stands in judgment before God, they will be found pure and worthy of eternal paradise.