There is much confusion among the general public, as well as the religious community, concerning what it means to be a “Christian.” We are not referring to “getting religion,” or “joining a church,” or “believing and reciting correct creedal doctrines.”
In one sense, there is nothing anyone can DO to become a Christian. Everything necessary has been done by Jesus Christ which is why He exclaimed “It is Finished.” (John 19:30) It is only by the grace of God in Christ that the opportunity of becoming a Christian is afforded to mankind. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Eph. 2:8,9). There is no human performance or effort that can affect the spiritual reality of becoming a Christian.
Being a Christian is not a matter of external physical attachment to a church nor is it affected by mental assent to historical or theological tenets of belief. Behavior modification and ritualistic repetition are not the essence of becoming a Christian. Becoming a Christian is a spiritual reality that transpires in the spiritual core of our being. Our “spirit and soul and body is to be preserved complete” (1Thes. 5:23) in Jesus Christ.
The most basic need of man is not physical rejuvenation, or psychological adjustment, or social improvement, but spiritual exchange and regeneration. Because all of mankind begin their physical lives spiritually “dead in their trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1,5), the primary need of man is to be made alive spiritually.
This spiritual life that Christians receive is the divine life of Jesus Christ. Did not Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6)? “He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life” (I John 5:12). This “eternal life that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:23) is the spiritual life that Jesus came to bring (John 10:10) to restore man to God’s intent for humanity. Eternal life is not a commodity or state of existence that we receive after we die physically, but is the life of Jesus Christ in the Christian presently with an eternal continuum of perpetuity.
The singular reality that constitutes becoming a Christian is the presence of the Spirit of Christ in the spirit of an individual who receives Him by faith. If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not a Christian. This indwelling of the Spirit of Christ in the spirit of an individual is the life and presence of the Person and Being of the risen Lord Jesus.
There is no physical or psychological procedure or formula that one must follow precisely in order to become a Christian. It is not affected by the physical procedures of walking down an aisle in response to an invitation, or holding up one’s hand, or repeating a pre-worded “confession of faith,” or being baptized with water, though those may be engaged in to indicate or accompany one’s response to Jesus Christ.
Every person who receives Jesus Christ and becomes a Christian is assured of Christ’s spiritual presence and empowering. “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20), Jesus declared. “Christ, the power of God” (I Cor. 1:24) “works within us” (Eph. 3:20).
Living the Christian life is not comprised of going through the motions of repetitive religious rituals. Nor is it the keeping of behavioral rules and regulations in conformity to an ethical morality. Ecclesiastical involvement is not the essence of Christian living either; not church attendance, participating in religious programs, or tithing.
Being and behaving as a Christian is enabled and empowered by the grace of God. In His departing promise Jesus explained, “I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). “I am the life” (John 14:6). The Christian can affirm with Paul that “Christ is our life” (Col. 3:4); therefore, “for me to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21).
Emotional experiences do not make one a better Christian. God is “not served with human hands, as though He needed anything” (Acts 17:25). Paul credited Christ for everything in his life and ministry, when he wrote, “I do not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me” (Rom. 15:18).
How did we receive Christ Jesus in order to become a Christian? By faith! In like manner, then, the Christian is responsible to continue to make the volitional choices moment-by-moment to allow for the receptivity of Christ’s activity in our lives. “Christ lives in me,” Paul explained, “and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).
Ultimately, what it means to be a Christian is Christ. A Christian is one in whom Jesus Christ lives by His Spirit, and one who allows the life and character of Jesus Christ to be lived out through his behavior, in order to function as intended to the glory of God.
Source: What Does It Mean to Be A Christian by James A. Fowler, Christ in You Ministries. You can read the article in full at the link provided.