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On Being a Christian
By Richard Gunther
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
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
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
Suetonius accused Christians of “a novel and pernicious
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.)
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:
– 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.
– content with what he has, willing to part with all material possessions
without too much bother, secure in God’s promises.
Death is a terrible disaster, a destroyer of dreams and plans, the final mockery
of life’s promise.
Death is a doorway to eternal life, a mere shadow to be passed through.
Pleasure is elusive because whatever he tries it always becomes boring or jaded
in the end.
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
sees prayer as rather pointless, hates to think of having to depend on
deity for help.
enjoys prayer and sees many answers, knows that prayer changes things and loves
to allow God to help.
sees giving and excessive generosity as foolish, cannot understand how giving
things or money away can actually be a way to increase.
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
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
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:
spent about two years in Corinth and Ephesus (Acts 18:11,18)
spent all day arguing with Jewish theologians (Acts 28:23)
talked all night till daybreak (Acts 20:7-11)
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)
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)
Greek words show us the sort of effort which went into this preaching:
= to testify strenuously (used in Acts 2:40, 8:25, 10:42, 18:5, 23:11, etc)
= to proclaim forcefully (Acts 4:2, 13:15, 38, 15:36, etc)
= to argue (Acts 17:2, 17, 18:4,
= to confute powerfully (Acts 18:28)
= 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
Finally, Acts 5:21, 25, 28 and 5:42 combine both teaching and preaching in the
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
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”.
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