What is a Christian?

What is a Christian?

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. 2 Corinthians 13:5a (ESV)

I recently listened to a sermon by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson on Luke 24 and he suggested the following discussion question: “What do you think it means to be a Christian?”  Clearly the culture is confused when responding to this.  But, sadly, so is the church.  This is a great question and it took me to Luke 6:46, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’, and not do as I say?”  Jesus cuts to the heart of the matter, the idea of obedience being the litmus test of a true saving faith. Going back to Luke 6:17 we see that Jesus is with a group of “followers”; the crowds were there to listen to Jesus preach.  He explained to them the basis upon which men & women might justifiably refer to Jesus as their Lord & Master. He wanted them to be in no doubt what it meant to say that Jesus is Lord, but also to make much of that in their life style.  So Jesus in the course of His sermon is providing a number of characteristics which will be emblematic of those who will be able with integrity to declare the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Christ’s Lordship: What Does this Look Like?

Never more than now is it important for the church to understand the following: To bow beneath Christ’s lordship is to embrace the reversal of values which are prominent in our culture.  It is to prize what the world thinks pitiable and to question what the world deems desirable.  There will be a sense of dissonance with the child of God and that which comes out of the culture of our day.

What might this look like?  A message by Pastor Alistair Begg has been very helpful to me. What follows I learned from him.  The lives of those who know the lordship of Christ will be marked by an integrity which recognizes that only good fruit comes from good tress, and bad trees produce bad fruit.  And such individuals will be able to face up to the challenge that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45).

On more than one occasion as a believer I have been arrested by the question Jesus poses in Luke 6:46:  “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’, and not do what I say?”  Which part of that is difficult to understand?  What a warning this contains; what an investigation it conducts; what an examination it demands.  The contrast is between our lips & our lives; saying & doing; creed & conduct.  It is between the individual who is able to call Him Lord, yet at the same time does not do what a profession of lordship demands.  It is whether a verbal profession is accompanied by moral obedience.  The striking nature of this contrast is born out in another section of the Bible.  In Matthew’s gospel Jesus raises the bar over the question posed in Luke 6:46.  Matthew 7:21-23 should stop not just a few of us in our tracks.  After His striking declaration, the question which follows is, “Who is going to enter the kingdom of heaven if it is not the ‘Lord, Lord’ group?”  The only people who go into heaven are the ones who do the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Jesus is not teaching cause & effect Christianity, or works based salvation.  He is pointing out the necessity of a transformed life as evidence that He is Lord of that life.

Saving Faith is More than a Verbal Profession

Jesus is not renouncing a verbal profession of faith.  The importance of making a verbal profession of faith is indeed taught by the Bible (Romans 10:9, 10).  When Paul writes to the Corinthian believers he reminds them that no one can say Jesus Christ is Lord but by the Holy Spirit.  However, what Jesus is saying is this:  it is distinctly possible to make a verbal profession which is unreal, even a particularly striking profession.   Notice that these individuals in Matthew 7 were declaring the lordship of Jesus Christ in a way that was gracious.  The word Lord itself was an expression of grace and of courtesy.

It was also an expression which was orthodox—this was an expression which declared that this Jesus was more than a man, that He was the promised Messiah.  They expressed His lordship in a way that was enthusiastic (note the repetition).  Their profession was also public & dramatic—we prophesied, drove out demons.  Yet Jesus responds by saying I don’t have a clue as to who you are because you are among the company of evil doers.   This is why the emphasis on the Bible for the individual in examining our lives before God, and in assessing the effectiveness & import of ministry, is directly related to the holiness of our lives and to the obedience of our hearts; not to the apparent exceptional nature of our gifts.  The Bible is clear—there will be people on that day who say, “We did this”, and the chilling words of Jesus which follow, “Sorry, I don’t have you on My list”. 

John Stott, in his masterfully concise commentary on the Matthew 7 passages says, “What better Christian profession could be given than this?  Here are people who call Jesus Lord with courtesy, orthodoxy, & enthusiasm; in private devotion and in public ministry.  What can be wrong with this?  In itself, nothing. Yet everything is wrong.  Because it is talk without truth; profession without reality.  It will not save them on the day of judgment.”

Understand that no mighty works of ministry, or uttering lofty religious rhetoric, will be able to disguise the private behavior of our lives. For the real test of those who name the name of the Lord is that they depart from iniquity.  That is the evidence.  It is not that they live perfect lives.  But when they are confronted by the clutches of sin, they say “no” (Titus 2:12) because of the lordship of Jesus Christ in their lives.  Are we still a long way from where we need to be?  Absolutely.  But, we are a long way from what we used to be!  We have turned from idols to serve the living God.  Are you relying on verbal profession minus obedience?  Are you relying on intellectual awareness minus a transformed life?

The world is watching more than listening to those who name the name of Christ.

Yours in Christ,


The Glory of God changes everything


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