Return to Index Page


On Being a Christian

By Richard Gunther


The word “Christian” is not protected by copyright. This means that anyone can use it. A terrorist may call him or herself a Christian, and so may a corrupt politician. People have been known to slaughter other people and march to war with the cry of “Christian!” Many cults also attach the word “Christian” to themselves, and so do many well-meaning people who are nothing more than pew-warmers or do-gooders. In the midst of all this name-grabbing there are many genuine, sincere people who are authentic Christians, but how can we really know them from the others?


   It is also possible to sincerely believe that one is a Christian but in reality to be deluded by false teaching. When the matter is ‘boiled down’ so to speak, the whole question of whether one is a Christian or not depends on an accurate understanding and an accurate definition.


   By way of example, let us suppose a friend of yours tells you that he has just bought a car. Your friend tells you that the new car has lights, a steering wheel, windows, an engine, gears, a dashboard and seats. From his description you are sure he has a car, but when you see his purchase you realise he has a boat. The definition of “car” has to be more specific before you can tell the difference between car and boat. In the same way the definition between Christian and non-Christian has to be quite specific, otherwise it may be misleading.


   This is why many cults fool people into thinking they represent a Christian organisation. They define themselves by only a few things, and miss the most important details. If your friend had mentioned a propeller, hull, rudder and sail, you would have known straight away that his “car” was not really a car. Cults usually hide essential details.


   Just picking one cult out of the hat, here are some of the things which Mormons usually will not tell you when they stand in the doorway:


   The Mormon’s so-called prophet, Joseph Smith, was heavily involved in the Occult, Spiritism and Freemasonry when he founded Mormonism. Mormons also encourage visitation from dead relatives from the ‘spirit world’ – a practice repeatedly forbidden in the Bible.  They won’t tell you that they considered the Negro and all brown-skinned people to be inferior. They won’t tell you that Joseph Smith taught there were inhabitants of the moon who dressed like Quakers and who lived about 1000 years. They won’t tell you that Joseph did not die as a martyr, but was killed in a gun battle. That he killed two men and wounded another before he died. They won’t tell you that they expect to become gods themselves one day. They won’t tell you that they believe God the Father is really an ‘exalted man’, that Mary wasn’t really a virgin, that Jesus is Lucifer’s brother, that Jesus had 3 wives, that the Bible is untrustworthy and full of errors, that their ‘church’ is the only right one . . . and so on.


   So when you get the whole definition from them you find that Mormons are not Christians, nor is their organisation a Christian church. Exactly the same can be said about all the cults, false religions and spiritual movements in the world. They all disqualify themselves by a full definition.


   So how do we define a Christian accurately? In a nutshell, a Christian is someone who loves Jesus devotedly, worships him sincerely as God, trusts in him solely as Saviour, and obeys him willingly as Lord. The whole Christian definition is based on the written Word of God, and not on experiences or feelings.


   There are, of course, many key verses which could be quoted here, but that is an area which has been dealt with thoroughly by many other writers. (John 1:12, 3:3-17, Eph.2:8, Rev.3:20 and so on)


   The three circles.

   The Christian life can be represented as three concentric circles – like the pattern you get when you drop a stone into a smooth pool.


   The middle circle represents correct doctrine. True Christianity must begin with true doctrine, otherwise it cannot produce true fruit. The Bible must be the foundation on which Christians rest, from Genesis to Revelation.  There is no other source of reliable truth in the world.


   The second circle represents understanding. Christians should work hard at understanding how the world relates to the Bible and how the Bible relates to the world. This means listening to what unsaved people are saying, reading what they are writing, evaluating what they are drawing and painting, dancing and sculpting. The world presents a daily supply of philosophy and beliefs, and Christians must learn how to see all these things in the light of what the Bible says.


   The third circle represents living the Christian life. The world is watching and listening to see whether Christians are consistent. Christians are supposed to live in a one-to-one relationship with God, and not conform to the world’s expectations.


   The Christians of the first century faced almost everything which Christians today are facing. (There was paganism, idolatry, religion, broadly accepted vices such as prostitution, drug-abuse and gambling. There were a multitude of customs and traditions, corrupt politics, greed, monopolies, slums, high taxes, ‘rape’ of the land, war, violence, domestic infighting, immorality, and there were plenty of people who had a laissez faire attitude to life (who cares?) Roman streets had their brothels and dens. Wealthy people lived near slums and abject poverty. Beggars walked the streets while ‘millionaires’ were carried by in expensive carriages. Nothing has changed)


   Christians in those days also received similar treatment to that which they often receive today. They were accused of being anti-social because they avoided some relationships, they were accused of being  narrow-minded and ignorant by the intelligentsia, they were wrongly slandered and ridiculed. People liked to draw a false picture of Christianity and then shoot it down. Jewish Christians especially came in for a lot of flak because they abandoned circumcision, and the Sabbath, and welcomed Gentiles into their company, and acclaimed a certain man, a mere carpenter, as God.


   Tacitus wrote that the Christians were “hated by the populace for their crimes” and were “both guilty and deserving of the severest penalties”.


   Suetonius accused Christians of “a novel and pernicious superstitio”.


   Pliny wrote that they had a “depraved and excessive superstitio” and that they were a people who hated the whole world because they were secretive, cohesive, and withdrawn from much of social life.

   Plato referred to them as “Any man incapable of participating in mutual respect and law must be put to death as a social plague”.


   Christians would not bow to emperors, or attend Imperial Games, or attend plays or shows, or read pagan literature, or take up the work of painting or sculpture, or become school masters, or enter building contracts. They avoided any situation where they might be called to bow to false gods, teach error or deny their Lord and Saviour.


   The moment a person decides to follow Jesus, they step through a doorway on to a road which leads to the Everlasting Kingdom. Theologically speaking, that first step is thanks to God’s power. He draws, He enlightens, He empowers, He leads, He teaches, and then He supports and encourages the Christian every step of the way. The only thing God does not do is force.)


   The road.

   It is also very important to know that every Christian is at a different point on the road.  Some are just beginning, still ‘babes’ in Christ, still entangled in sins and habits, still bound by ignorance, while others are far down the road, reading, thinking, gaining understanding like hungry children at a feast. Despite the huge range of differences between all Christians, all are equally valuable to God. There is absolute equality in value in God’s eyes, though people may think otherwise.


   This essay is called ‘On Being a Christian’ because it is commonly forgotten how different from the unbeliever Christians ought to be. Though the differences between them are always blurred, there is a greatly simplified view which places believer beside unbeliever this way:


Unbeliever – materialist, devoted to amassing possessions, money is security, happiness is tied to earthly things, frequently apprehensive about what material possessions might be lost or damaged.

Believer – content with what he has, willing to part with all material possessions without too much bother, secure in God’s promises.


Unbeliever: Death is a terrible disaster, a destroyer of dreams and plans, the final mockery of life’s promise.

Believer: Death is a doorway to eternal life, a mere shadow to be passed through.


Unbeliever: Pleasure is elusive because whatever he tries it always becomes boring or jaded in the end.

Believer: Richly enjoys all the good things in his Father’s world – music, food, travel, physical pursuits, sports, etc. Knows all the time that this passing world is but a taste of the everlasting one to come, rejoices in the hope of everlasting pleasures.


Unbeliever: sees prayer as rather pointless, hates to think of having to depend on

some deity for help.

Believer: enjoys prayer and sees many answers, knows that prayer changes things and loves to allow God to help.


Unbeliever: sees giving and excessive generosity as foolish, cannot understand how giving things or money away can actually be a way to increase.

Believer: Enjoys giving because of the blessings it brings, finds that the little he has remaining actually accomplishes more than if he had kept the whole amount. (Divine economy sounds like madness to the unbeliever!)


   Christians have, at all points in history, been in conflict with the establishment. They have never been happy with the prevailing culture, because the culture has always been based on non-Biblical foundations. When Jesus clashed with the religious priests, he also clashed with the culture of his day. He stood before Herod and Pilate on charges that challenged the system they were a part of. Caesar was challenged, the cultural power-structure was challenged, the order of society from rich to poor was challenged, the payment of taxes, the place of the sick, and the place of economics were all held up as being in need of reform.


   As the supreme evangelist, Jesus was rejected from society, libelled, slandered and accused. He was threatened and abused. He provoked the anger of hundreds of people simply because he lived the way he was supposed to and they did not. This is what it quite often, but not always, means to be a Christian, and it should not come as a surprise. If it happened to the supreme leader of Christianity, why should his followers be immune?


   The first evangelists.

   The Early Church represents the first stage in the establishment of God’s Kingdom on Earth. It was like the beachhead, which an invading force sets up, before it consolidates its troops and moves out further into enemy-occupied territory.


   The following is a summary of the sort of preaching which Paul worked at. He was an example to all Christians in his methods and enthusiasm:


-         Paul spent about two years in Corinth and Ephesus (Acts 18:11,18)

-         He spent all day arguing with Jewish theologians (Acts 28:23)

-         He talked all night till daybreak (Acts 20:7-11)

-         At Psidian Antioch he preached with all his heart and then carried on the next week in much the same energy and determination. (Acts 13:42)

-         He argued with passers by in the marketplace at Athens, held discussions in the lecture hall of Tyrannus and entered into extended dialogue with Felix and Agrippa (Acts 17:17, 24:10, 26:1)

-         Different Greek words show us the sort of effort which went into this preaching:

Diamarturesthai = to testify strenuously (used in Acts 2:40, 8:25, 10:42, 18:5, 23:11, etc)

Kataggellian = to proclaim forcefully (Acts 4:2, 13:15, 38, 15:36, etc)

Dialegesthai = to argue  (Acts 17:2, 17, 18:4, 19:8,9, 24:25)

Diakateleuchein = to confute powerfully (Acts 18:28)

Euaggelizein = joyful proclamation of good news (Acts 5:42, 8:11,12,25,35,40, etc)


- Sometimes Paul preached by patiently comparing scripture with scripture, to                                                help an enquirer. (Acts 9:29, 17:3, 9:22)

- Sometimes a word is used in the Greek which means ‘the utter defeat of an                   objector’ “sunchunein” (Acts 9:22)

- Early preaching meant far more than a mere proclamation. It meant the able defence of the truth, using the intelligence and a skilful use of Scripture. It came out of careful study and hard work, and it resulted in clear teaching and patient discussion.

- Finally, Acts 5:21, 25, 28 and 5:42 combine both teaching and preaching in the       same phrase.



   Christians are, and have always been inconsistent. They have ideals which they never reach, and they preach a message which is so radical no individual or society has ever managed to embrace it completely. The best church fellowships are always wanting in some area. No Christian has ever presented a perfect, totally balanced witness. It is always like clay pretending to be gold, but at least Christians can point at some of the things they have collectively achieved over the centuries. For example:


   Christianity has always had a civilising effect. Where it goes, superstition and destructive lifestyles are changed for the better. Animism and the occult are banished, self-destructive bondage is broken.

   Christianity has given scientists the correct basis from which to study the physical world. For hundreds of years Christians have led the way in the fields of science, medicine, industry, commerce and all aspects of culture.

   Christianity has been the great motivator of good works and self-sacrifice for others.

   Christianity has led the way with teaching the poor and helping them with agriculture, medicine, schooling, housing, diet, and so on. Without looking for a return, Christians of high qualification have repeatedly given up lucrative careers to help the weak and oppressed.

   Christians have been behind the great reforms in civilization. They have established such movements as the Salvation Army, the YW and YMCA, the Samaritans, Radio and TV stations, Alcoholics Anonymous, Life-line, Drug Rehab and many others. As well as this they have set up and run the British and Foreign Bible Society and many others.


   This is not to say that Christians have a monopoly on good works. Far from it! Cults and religions, atheists and agnostics, all do many good works, but Christianity is by far the greatest motivator because Christianity is taps directly into the Source of Goodness. It also has a lot more than good works to bring to the world. Behind the good works done by Christians is a power, which drives the good works as a motor drives a vehicle. (Unbelievers glorify God in their good works too, but only because whatever is done that is good is a reflection of God who is Good  like free water: everyone may drink it and benefit from it, but nobody owns the spring.)



   David Watson once wrote “Having known the love of Jesus in my own life for many years, and having seen the revolution of love taking place in the lives of hundreds and thousands of people whom I have personally met or known, I can never, never understand why some people do not want to get involved. There is nothing so beautiful or totally satisfying as the love of Jesus. It is always fresh and new, and it is a love which never fails”.

Back to Index Page