What is a Christian? Part 1 (Christianity Explained Part 5)

What is a Christian? Part 1 (Christianity Explained Part 5) – by Brady Tarr

 …Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

(Mark 1:14-15)

Just because someone says that they are a Christian does not mean that they are.Let me explain.

Imagine that I am your friend or co-worker, and your are walking through these devotionals of Christianity Explained with me.We’ve just finished going through the fourth devotional on salvation by grace alone, and I turn to you and say, “I want to be a Christian, what do I do?I want to have eternal life.I want to have my sins forgiven.I want to have salvation by grace and not by my works.How do I become a Christian?”

How would you answer their question?What would non-Christian friends or co-workers say if you asked them how someone becomes a Christian?Some common responses that are often given to this question are:

  • A person becomes a Christian by praying a prayer
  • A person becomes a Christian by “walking down the isle”
  • A person becomes a Christian by going to church
  • A person becomes a Christian by getting baptized
  • A person becomes a Christian when their pastor/bishop says that they are one
  • A person becomes a Christian by reading their Bible
  • A person becomes a Christian by growing up in a Christian family

While prayer, going to church, getting baptized, reading the Bible, and growing up in a Christian family are good things, it is not biblical for people to say that they were or are saved by doing any of these things.If the person doing these things does not have genuine faith in Jesus Christ, and therefore an unrepentant heart, the above things can deceive a person into thinking that they are a Christian when the are really not according to Scripture (Eph. 2:8-9, Titus 3:5). If the person you are talking to bases his/her salvation on any of these things instead of on a genuine faith in Christ, it is usually a sign that the person does not understand the gospel of Jesus Christ and what salvation is dependent on.

We want to learn to answer the question “How do I become a Christian?”the way Jesus would.We need to understand what He thinks a Christian is.And that is the purpose of these last two devotionals.With the framework of the first four weeks in place (email me if you would like the previous 4 devotionals…, we want to spend the last two weeks learning what it means to be a Christian, and what exactly is involved in becoming a Christian.


At this point we can return to our original question – “What is a Christian?”“How does a person become a Christian?”We’ve considered a lot of truths about Jesus, and generally about salvation… but how do I personally experience the salvation that is available in Christ?To answer this we will look back at Jesus’ own words at the beginning of the Gospel of Mark.

Mark 1:14-15 “…Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.'”

In these verses we have the first words Mark records of Jesus.Mark introduces these words by telling us that Jesus was proclaiming the gospel.And with these words Jesus gives us significant insight into what it means to become a Christian.

First of all, Jesus says that the “kingdom of God” is at hand.What does “Kingdom of God” mean?This phrase means that God has sent His Son Jesus as King, to establish his rightful rule and authority over the world… and over people…so that people will live in a relationship of obedience to Him as their King.One way to define a Christian would be someone who belongs to the kingdom of God.Or we could also say, someone who has Christ as his or her King.

The question then becomes, how does a person become a member of God’s kingdom? Jesus says that we must “repent” and “believe.” These are really two sides of the same coin.But these are the two things we are going to consider for each of the last two weeks of our study.Repentance and belief.For the rest of this devotional we will focus on what it means to “repent”.

One more question I want to ask from this text in Mark 1 before we go on to some other things that Jesus has to say, If Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is at hand, and the appropriate response for all people is at least in part to “repent,” what does that say about us?This assumes several things: 1) we are not living in an obedient relationship to God, 2) we are not living rightly under His rule, and that we are sinners-fundamentally living for ourselves, believing we are our own rightful authorities, and living in rebellion to God’s authority.Jesus says these things need to change.


So what is repentance?What are some examples of things that sort of look like repentance, or might be misunderstood as repentance, although they are really not?

Consider the case when a child is caught with his hand in the cookie jar.Fearing punishment he might cry, “I’m sorry, please, please don’t spank me!”If you’re a parent, then you know that these pleas and tears are usually motivated not by genuine remorse over the wrong done, but over the pending punishment, or the loss of some privilege. Repentance is not simply a fear or sorrow over the consequences of our sin.

There is a “worldly sorrow” that is not repentance.2 Corinthians 7: 10 says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”

Another response of the child with his hand in the cookie jar might be, “Please don’t spank me. If you don’t spank me, I’ll do the dishes all week.” This isn’t repentance either. It’s what’s called “penance,” and it’s the mistaken idea that we can do some good deed that will make up for or cover over the bad thing that we’ve done.

In chapter 1:15 we saw that Jesus called those who would follow Him to repent and believe.We get more insight into what this looks like through more of Jesus’ teaching later on in Mark.Mark 8:34-35 says:

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.For whomever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

What picture of repentance do we have in verse 34?Jesus says that for anyone to follow him, “he must deny himself.”In Mark 1:15 Jesus says “repent” and “believe.”Here Jesus says “deny yourself” and “follow me.”This denying of self lies at the heart of biblical repentance.It is closely related to the “kingdom” statement of chapter 1.We must realize that “deny self” is not just talking about self-sacrifice for its own sake, or some type of ascetic lifestyle-such as denying yourself food and water or some other physical comfort… again at least not for its own sake.Jesus says deny yourself… and follow me.

·Repentance involves no longer putting yourself first, but rather putting Christ first.

·Repentance means no longer living for your own kingdom and as your own king… seeking your own desires and your own glory… but rather living for Christ’s kingdom, with Christ as your King… seeking to please Him and bring glory to Him.

Fundamentally, it is an acknowledgment of our sinful, prideful, selfish lifestyles and a commitment to turn from this in order to trust and follow Christ.Put simply, repentance is to put Christ first in all aspects of our lives.

Repentance – Putting Christ First… Before My Will (Mark 8:34-35)

So what does it mean to put Christ first?Look again at Mark 8:34-35,

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.For whomever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

In denying ourselves, taking up our own cross, and losing our life to save it, Jesus is saying we must give up – or die to – the right to run our own lives.We must put Christ first, before our own will.In repentance, His will comes before ours.

Repentance – Putting Christ First… Before my Ambitions (Mark 8:36-37)

Let’s now focus on the next two verses in Mark, verses 36-37.

“What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”

We’ve seen that repentance means putting Christ first before my own will… which covers I think just about every category.Here we focus on the fact that Christ must come before our ambitions.Throughout history people have been laboring to gain the whole world.What does this look like today?

To a small or large degree, the aim is to accumulate power, money, popularity, pleasure, prestige, business success, etc.Are we, here in the 21st century, any different?These things are not wrong in and of themselves.For example, there is nothing inherently wrong with money.Money can be a very good thing.But if we lust after it, if we allow it to become our master, then we are no longer putting Christ first in our lives.That’s why the Bible says, “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10).

So when we put Christ first, we’re putting him before our will, and our worldly ambitions and desires.It’s not to say that all these ambitions are wrong in and of themselves, or having them is wrong, but it is definitely to say that they must not be our King and ruler above Christ.

Repentance – Putting Christ First… Before my Reputation (Mark 8:38)

Let’s now turn to the final verse in this passage.

“If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

In this passage Jesus clearly warns those who are concerned with the way people will view them if they associate themselves with Jesus or those who would place their own reputation before Christ.In repentance, we’re called to put Christ first, before our reputation.

Sometimes putting Jesus first isn’t easy.In verse 34, Jesus says that we must take up our cross and follow him.At times, we must take up the burden of being a Christian if we are going to be faithful, and it is not always popular to follow Jesus sincerely.One author has put it well, “Either we are unfaithful in order to be popular, or we will look unpopular in order to be faithful. We can’t be both.” (John Stott)

We must not be ashamed of Jesus in this life, no matter how difficult it may be – even if it means ridicule from family and friends who disapprove of our faith.We are not to be secret disciples. We are called to publicly follow Christ in obedience and live a new life.

Repentance – Putting Christ First… Before My ??? (Mark 9:43-48)

Let’s now turn to Mark 9:43-48.

If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell.And if you eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where “their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.”

One thing that is jarringly obvious is that Christ believes in a literal and eternal hell.And he makes the point that hell is going to be such a hopeless and horrible place, that the fear of it should move us to take whatever measures are necessary to ensure that we repent and turn away from anything that would hinder us from surrendering to Christ.Jesus does not mean that we are to literally cut off body parts; but he is emphasizing the importance of radical surgery to remove sin from our lives.

It is worth noting again that a failure to heed Jesus’ warnings, such as these, is often caused at root by our pride, our self-sufficiency, our belief that we are able to live independently of God, or that we simply don’t want to submit to His authority over our lives.

We need to ask ourselves, Am I too proud to submit to Christ as my King?Am I too proud to accept salvation as a gift?The Bible says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)Are you too proud to submit to Jesus Christ as King?Do you trust that on your own merit, apart from Christ, God will look at you favorably and say, “Well done good and faithful servant?”This verse is intended to unsettle us, as is Jesus’ image from Mark 9.Do not let your own pride be the cause of your destruction.

Is it Too Hard? (Mark 10:29-31)

At this point you may be thinking, “All of this is just too hard.All this talk of submission, of denying self, it’s too difficult.”Well, let’s read Mark 10:29-31.

I tell you the truth, Jesus replied, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields-and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

Jesus doesn’t promise that the Christian life will be easy and trouble free.Christianity isn’t a crutch.In fact, we are promised in scripture that with Christ comes persecution (2 Tim. 3:12).On the other hand, Jesus does not simply call for self-denial or sacrifice as an end in itself.Consider the promises Jesus makes: (1) he will repay us “a hundred times” in this life, and (2) in the next life, he will give us eternal life. What a beautiful promise! If we will lose our life, we will save it.


Father, please cause our minds and thoughts to be consumed with a reverent awe of you and the work of salvation that you accomplished through Jesus Christ. May you provoke our minds and hearts to hate our sin and repent of it. Help us to fear you more than we fear man when we have opportunities to love others by sharing the gospel with them. Please give us boldness and love. Amen.

This six part series was developed from Christianity Explained Evangelism course:




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