by Bill Rudge
Believers in Jesus were first called Christians at Antioch (Acts 11:26). The testimony to Jesus as the Christ (Messiah) was so strong in Antioch (the largest city of the Roman province of Syria and a center for missionary activity) that His followers and disciples were identified as Christians (a term of derision in the earliest days of the church meaning “of the family of Christ” but eventually, followers of Christ came to love and adopt this name).
Today, Christian has a much broader and often entirely different meaning than its original use. Many believe
a Christian is someone who merely goes to church, believes in God, lives a good life, or tries to keep the commandments. While it is true that such things as church attendance, water baptism, living a godly lifestyle, and a loving attitude should definitely be marks of a believer, these should never be misconceived as the criteria for someone to become a Christian. We must examine Scripture and, based upon its authority, determine what it really means to come to faith in Jesus Christ.
Not by Works
According to Scripture, doing good works or keeping God’s Law does not make someone a Christian. The apostle Paul explains that one of the purposes of the Law in the Tanakh (Old Testament) was to show us that we all are sinners and can never achieve the standards required by God. Because of our sinful nature, we continually fall short of the mark. This dilemma reveals our need for a Savior (Galatians 3:24; John 6:28-29).
But by Faith
It is by faith in Jesus Christ, therefore, that we are saved (2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:4-7; Romans 9:30-33). Nothing
is more tragic than someone pursuing a false hope of salvation through his or her good works when Jesus offers true salvation as a free gift (Ephesians 2:4-5, 8-9; Romans 3:28; Galatians 2:16; Romans 10:2-4).
Only through the shed blood of Jesus Christ is forgiveness available and a restored relationship with
the Father made possible. Only Christ is the perfect sacrifice and substitute that satisfies a holy and just God (2 Corinthians 5:21; Colossians 1:22; Hebrews 9:22). The animal sacrifices in the Hebrew Scriptures were merely a foreshadowing of the death of God’s Son on the cross (1 Peter 3:18).
So Jesus paid the penalty for our sins; He suffered and died in our place. We don’t have to “perform” for God out of fear and guilt, but are now free to serve and obey Him because we know and love Him (Philippians 3:3-9; Acts 20:24).
Good works done after accepting Christ spring from a heart of gratitude. Because of what the Lord accomplished on the cross, a believer is enabled to do good deeds. These acts are the fruit and result of salvation, not the cause of
it (James 2:14-26; Acts 26:20). The Bible is clear. We are not saved by dead faith (James 2:17) nor by dead works (Hebrews 6:1; 9:14), but by a living faith which results in “love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).
We cannot expect to be accepted by God because of our own goodness. Romans 3:23 points this out emphatically: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This does not mean that we cannot do good, but according to God’s standard of righteousness, we all miss the mark.
In all the religions of the world, there are people seeking to establish their own righteousness to earn salvation. In Biblical Christianity, however, it is the righteousness of Jesus Christ which makes possible salvation as a free gift, through faith, to those who will receive it (Romans 1:16-17). Peace with God has been made possible by His own provision (Romans 5:1).
Religion vs. Relationship
The world is filled with religions, but salvation is found only in Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 John 5:11- 12). Religion is an attempt to reach God through human effort, traditions and ideas, but true Christianity is having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Religion is what one does for God, but salvation is what God has done for us (2 Corinthians 5:1).
Know the Lord
I was buying blueberries one day when the young woman selling them told me about the recent death of
her father. She was still grieving, so I asked if her father knew the Lord. I wanted to gain some insight in an attempt to provide her some hope and encouragement. She said, “Yes, he made his peace with God.” I asked, “How about you?” She informed me she went to church but was not close to the Lord.
I said to her, “You can tell me about your father and even show me pictures, and although I can know all about him, I will never have a personal relationship with him like you had.” I continued, “Most people who go to church know about God like I would about your father, but God wants us to know Him in the personal way you knew your father.” Her eyes lit up as she told me that this is what she desired. After prayer, she hugged me, tears streaming down her face. She said, “This was not a chance meeting; I was meant to talk to you.”
Scripture teaches that we must know the Lord by having an intimate and personal relationship with Jesus Christ. A Christian is someone who has a restored relationship with God the Father through a personal faith and acceptance
of His Son Jesus and His finished work on the cross. True Christianity is not a lifeless, external form of religion, but a living, vital, personal relationship with the Creator of the universe who is knowable and seeks to be known.
The qualifying factor for us to be pardoned by God’s forgiveness and declared righteous by Him is that we “believe in” the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:30-31). To “believe in” means to be persuaded of, and hence, to trust in, rely on, and be faithful to. To “believe in” is not merely acknowledging the reality of Christ, but a belief that results in your accepting His provision of salvation, having confidence in Him as the only way of salvation, and committing your life and eternal destiny to Him. It means trusting Him as your Savior and obeying Him as your Lord.
Jesus informed Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, that one could not see or enter the Kingdom of God without spiritual rebirth (John 3:3). One must be “born again” or “born from above.” Second Corinthians 5:17 says:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
This does not mean that once you accept Christ you become perfect and no longer sin. It does mean that your attitude of rebellion and self-centeredness begins to change to one of obedience and Christ-centeredness. You begin growing and maturing in this new life as you develop a whole new way of thinking and acting. As you yield and submit to Jesus Christ through obedience to His Word and Spirit, He begins to mold and direct your life. He starts working in and through you to fulfill God’s ultimate goal for your life – being conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18).
How good it is to know that your new birth is only the beginning of your new relationship with the Lord and the commencement of a continual growth process in your new life. You now have the assurance from Scripture that God “is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13), and that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
The Book of Life
This world is not all there is to life. Jesus Christ will return as the victorious King of kings and Lord of lords. You can either come to know Him as Savior and Lord
in this life or meet Him as Judge in the afterlife. Those who ignore or reject God’s provision of salvation—Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God—will be eternally separated from God’s presence. Those who receive Him will not come into judgment, but will pass through death into life (John 5:24; John 3:16).
When you accept God’s free gift of salvation your name is written in the Book of Life. Have you committed your life to Jesus Christ? Is your name written in the Book of Life? Revelation chapters 21 and 22 give a glimpse of the incredible things in store for those who receive the Lord Jesus Christ!
Experience His Reality
Years ago, by God’s grace, I chose to commit my life to Jesus Christ. Making a 180-degree turn, I began following Him as Savior and Lord. It is called repentance – dying to self and living for Christ. I asked His forgiveness for my life of rebellion and sin, and I acknowledged His rightful position as Lord of my life. I obeyed His Word by being baptized and developed a consistent life of Bible study, prayer, and fellowship with other believers. I strive to live for the Lord with all my heart, with all my mind, and with all my strength.
You, too, can have new life in Christ. Repent and believe in the Lord Jesus. As one whose name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, you will inherit all that God has prepared for those who love Him and obey His Word. Once you experience a life-changing faith in Jesus Christ, you will want to grow in this new relationship and begin uncovering the depths of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge in Him and His Word.
I do hope you will join me and the millions of others throughout history whose lives have been dramatically changed through the transforming power of the resurrected Christ. Surrender your life to Him today. Experience His peace and the joy that transcends your circumstances – and have hope for the life to come.