What is a Christian?

Majority of Americans Identify as Christian

According to a recent poll conducted by ABC News, 83% of Americans consider themselves Christian. Dictionary definitions of the term Christian range from “of, pertaining to, or derived from Jesus Christ or His teachings” to “human; not brutal; humane.” At first glance, the percentage of Americans professing to be Christian looks high, but with such a wide array of understanding of what the term Christian means, it’s surprising the number isn’t higher. I’m sure other members of religions in the U.S. and Atheists would consider themselves “human, not brutal; humane.” With the latter definition, all it takes to be considered a Christian is not to show evil tendencies.

Christian or Born Again Christian?

In the same poll, 37% of Americans profess to be “born again” Christians. This term has come to identify a type of “evangelical” style of worship and Christian faith. Jimmy Carter once announced that he was a “born again” Christian, which seemed to launch the phrase into the mainstream culture vernacular. I recall countless times hearing Billy Graham on television, speaking to thousands, telling us we needed to receive Christ and be born again. From across the Protestant spectrum and into Roman Catholicism, many people call themselves “born again” Christians. The majority does, however, derive from evangelical denominations and a narrower margin of 14% being Catholic. These polls indicated some people attending a church consider themselves born again while others in the same pew do not. We must ask, what is the difference?

Jesus Said You Must Be Born Again

What makes 46% of the U.S. population profess to be Christian but not be “born again?” If we are referring to the first dictionary definition, “of, pertaining to, or derived from Jesus Christ or His teachings,” then the terms are synonymous. It is a redundancy to say one is a born-again Christian. It is the same as saying I’m a Christian, Christian. In the teachings of Jesus, there are only those who are born again. Jesus himself never used the term Christian but did explain in uncertain terms the importance of being born again.

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

John 3:3

 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit [b] gives birth to Spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’

John 5-7

These are not statements made by a wild T.V. evangelist or a group of hippies singing Kumbaya around a campfire. These are the words on whom the teachings of Christianity are based. Jesus is explaining that an individual needs to experience two births in life. The first is our physical birth (born of water), and the second is a spiritual birth (born of the Spirit, A.K.A. being born again.)

Rainbow Man

Remember Rainbow Man? He also became known as ‘banner man’ after a popular song by Christian music artist, Steve Taylor ‘Banner Man.’ He would sit somewhere at a sporting event where the live TV cameras were sure to get a shot, like between the uprights at a football game. When the cameras were on in his direction, he would jump up with his crazy rainbow hair and hold up a John 3:16 sign.

character holding a John 3:16 sign

For those watching at home who did not know that scripture verse, he hopes they would take the time to look it up and read it. Whatever happened to that guy? That verse seems to sum up God’s salvation mission in a nutshell. 

 God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

Preacher Becomes Born Again

John Wesley

On May 24, 1738, a highly educated and experienced minister stepped into a group meeting, teaching that salvation comes by faith in Christ alone. He listened closely to the message being presented. It did not have the intellectual and lofty language he was accustomed to. Yet, he was gripped with the simple truth of the gospel message for the first time. He had been preaching out of the same Bible for years about God and salvation but, until that evening, had never received it for himself.

“About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I trusted Christ alone for salvation; an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” John Wesley, Founder of Methodism

What happened to John Wesley is described here in the book of Romans.

The Spirit himself testifies with our Spirit that we are God’s children.

Romans 8:16

Even though John Wesley was a minister of the gospel, he had only head knowledge of the things of Christ but had never entered a relationship. He understood and preached to others about Jesus being a sin offering for humanity, providing a way to God. Yet, he believed and taught of a savior for the world, not a personal savior for himself. It’s a big difference to say that God offered a way to save man from destruction than to say he made a way for me. It is not with the head and our intellect that we enter the Kingdom of God; it’s through our hearts.

Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”

Luke 20b-21

More Than Knowledge

It’s not about how much knowledge we have, what religious affiliations we are a part of, how good we are to those around us, how often we attend church, etc.  We must ask ourselves whether we know Him or know of Him. That is the biblical answer to the question,” What does it mean to be Christian?” According to the New Testament, a Christian is when we have identified our need for redemption and accept the Redeemer. It can’t just be a head knowledge of Christ and who He is, a mental ascent to the truth. The miracle of spiritual rebirth happens when we finally believe with our hearts.

If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you accept and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

Romans 8:8-10

Becoming Outlaws with Ken McMullen

Ken McMullen

Ken is the creator and podcast host of "Becoming Outlaws," which attracts listeners from various religions, cultures, and ethnicities across the country and beyond.

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