What Makes a Christian a Christian?
This study is being presented on both DepartingUPC and Hebraic-Foundations. I am providing extra adaptations to the study because of the special needs of this group. The study comes from a request that I provide a study on becoming a new creature in Christ. The request included, 'I was curious as to how in the original language this change is described.' (Thanks Michelle.)
In the study to follow we'll include both language and essence that speaks to the twice-born Christian. But I also want to include something Paul said about being 'approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel.' And finally I want to point out the dangers that can be found in how the UPC presents the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This is Bible Study DU012 - What Makes a Christian a Christian?
First the thinker -- What is it that makes an Irishman an Irishman, or a Cajun a Cajun? (Pass the crawfish please.) The simple answer is that the Irishman and the Cajun are born to a particular cultural grouping. Each group has its own natural proclivities.
What then is it that makes a human a human? The answer is that all humans share a nature that belongs exclusively to humankind in general. Neither angels nor animals have a human nature. They have a nature that is exclusively theirs. There is an angelic nature, an animal nature, and there is a human nature.
And here is the problem. The human nature is in disrepair. Our souls were damaged in the fall of Adam, and thus also our physical life and our spiritual life are in need for repair. So, while the angels of God continue with their original nature intact, the deepest part of our humanity, that is, our spiritual identity, has been displaced. In the fall of Adam we lost our special kinship to God, that is, that part of our human makeup that speaks to the divine.
Whether we understand it or not, Adam and Eve had in their original nature something of the divine. The 'something divine' did not mean that they were gods. It meant that they shared something essentially that is found only in God Himself. As God's children they carried in them image and likeness. It is that part of the human nature that is in disrepair.
Satan was able to take advantage of Adam's fallen state and build his earthly kingdom around the aspect of disrepair. Satan is called the god of this world, the ruler of the this world, the prince of the power of the air, and the authority of 'the domain of darkness.' When Adam turned from God's commandment, he entered into the death zone. Thus Adam's godly nature became twisted. He found himself in a world filled with wrath and discord. Nothing was in balance.
With that being said, what is it that makes a Christian a Christian? It is found in the term 'life.' Jesus said, "The thief [Satan's environs and activities] comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." (Jn 10:10)
In essence what makes a Christian a Christian is that his soul has been repaired through the restoration of that part of him that relates directly to God. Jesus said, "That which is born of Spirit, is spirit." The Christian is born of God, or, as the term can be explained, born from above. When a person is born from above their human nature has been repaired or restored to its proper function. The born again person is now a very child of God. The child of God once again has something of the divine within him.
Listen to these Scriptures that describe the two kinds of humans on planet earth today:
Paul: "[We] formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and WERE BY NATURE CHILDREN OF WRATH, even as the rest." (Eph 2:2,3)
Peter: "For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become PARTAKERS OF THE DIVINE NATURE, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust." (2Pet 1:4)
See the distinction of natures? This is why there are two kinds of humans on planet earth today. You have humans in disrepair and you have humans who have been restored to their proper nature and in right relationship with God. The disrepaired human has in himself the nature of wrath, which, in turn, is aroused by the working of the powers of darkness.
As for the repaired one, Paul said, "For we are [God's] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we would walk in them." And again, "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature, the old things passed away, new things have come." (Eph 2:10; 2Co 5:17)
Again we hear, "For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And those who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God." (Gal 6:15,16)
Every time a person is born from above, there is an act of creation. In this new creation, or this new humanity is found a full repair of all that Adam lost. Notice carefully that Paul speaks of a 'rule.' He said nothing else really mattered. Once the human nature has been repaired then the principle of godliness is back in place, and that, which related most closely to the divine, is now part of the born-from-above humanness and humaneness of the Christian. We now have a heart like God's heart.
This does not mean that the repaired Christian cannot sin. Far from it. What it means is that sin is contrary to the essential nature of the Christian. While he will sin at times, sin itself becomes a thing of abhorrence. No person on this planet has as sensitive a conscience as that of a Christian. It is the nature of a Christian to seek cleansing from sin. By turn a sinner sins by nature and seeks no recourse.
Here we need to come to the crucial element of what makes a Christian a Christian. The disrepair of our humanity can only take place one way. It is found in the working of the cross. No person is ever born again because they shook a preacher's hand or that they prayed through to some esoteric 'speaking-in-tongues' experience. The only way for a person to be born from above is that they must consciously turn to Jesus Christ and accept Him personally as their own Lord and Savior.
Jesus alone is the One who repairs us. It is to Him alone that we bring our broken humanity. It is to Him that we make our appeal to His Lordship and to His saving grace. This is why the true apostolic message never changes, which says, "And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." To call upon the name of the Lord means to recognize His Lordship and to appeal to Him as our own Lord.
This is why salvation can never be based on an emotional experience where we have set aside our minds and now depend on certain euphoric feelings. Drugs can induce euphoric feelings. A person can even become euphoric on his or her own emotions. There is such a thing as an emotional drunkenness.
The point is that our salvation is to be based upon the fact of the death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and glorification of Jesus Christ, and that He is now both Lord and Christ, and that there is no other way to be saved other than to call upon Him, and to acknowledge and confess His Lordship. Aside from this act of believing and confessing, there is no salvation.
Until we understand that being born again means that we have from our own heart called upon Jesus Christ, and confessed Him for who He is, otherwise we do not understand salvation at all. The confession of Jesus Christ cannot take place by disengaging our minds. Salvation involves both the heart and the mind. With our mind we receive the message of the cross, and with our hearts we take Jesus to ourselves by confessing Him as our Lord and Redeemer.
Let's carry this further. The very word repentance in the Greek carries the idea of a moral conquest of the mind. We become convinced of the message of the cross, we change our minds about the path we've lived, and we turn to Jesus as Lord and Savior. Every bit of this involves our thinking.
The Greek word for repentance is metanoeo (repent): Meta denotes a change of place or condition, and noeo means to exercise the mind, to think, to comprehend. Theologically, it involves regret or sorrow, accompanied by a change of heart toward God. In a religious sense it implies pious sorrow for unbelief and sin and turning from them to God and the gospel of Christ.
But where does the power come from to make a Christian a Christian, or rather, what has the power to turn a lost sinner into a new creature whose life becomes an outflow of his relationship with Jesus Christ? Paul explains where the power of life comes from. Listen carefully:
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." (Rom 1:16)
"Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain..." (Paul goes on to speak of the work of the cross. 1Co1 5:1,2)
The power of new life is found in the gospel message itself. The message is a life-giving message. The message of the cross has the power in it to transform a person from the state of a non-believing sinner, into the state of being a true child of God.
Paul said to the Thessalonians, "For this reason we also constantly thank God, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe." (1Th 2:13)
Did you see it? The gospel 'performs its work' in you who believe. 'Performs its work' is the single Greek term, energeo. This word means 'power in exercise'. It is only used in the Bible for supernatural power. So the power to cause our birth from above is inherent in the gospel itself.
A Christian is made a Christian by the working power of the gospel itself. It is sort of like the Holy Spirit drawing us to the cross, passing us through the cross, and bringing us forth as children of the resurrection.
Here is something to consider. Think about it. When we are witnessing or preaching or teaching, and we are doing these things with the gospel of Jesus Christ, that means that we are enabled to become conduits of life for others to be made children of God. This cannot happen if we are preaching our churches, our denominations, ourselves, our traditions, or some other message that is not centered upon Christ.
This is where I must speak to what Paul said about being 'approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel.' (Cf. 1Th 2:4) Because the gospel is the most powerful working principle in the kingdom of God, it must be handled carefully so as not to damage those who hear. A great many people have been hurt by hearing false gospels. Such cases include Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Islam, and much, much more.
All that a false gospel can do is create falseness in the part of the one who accepts its premises. A false gospel cannot reproduce the life of Christ in a person. Only the true gospel of Jesus Christ can do that. This is why Paul brought his sternest warnings to the Corinthian Church with regard to their wrong leanings. Hear it from Paul:
"But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully." (2Co 11:3,4)
I may not need to say much concerning the dangers that are found in how the United Pentecostal Church preaches their salvation message. It should already be obvious from what I've already shared in this study. The point at hand is that the UPC has made salvation a 'praying through to a tongues experience', rather than an act of volition in which we with our minds and our hearts and our will, receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
UPC salvation is made into an esoteric experience where the mind has little to do with how a person becomes saved. A similar thing happens in a great many charismatic-type groups where people are told to shut down their minds and simply pray in the Spirit, which means to them, praying in tongues. Both these things are dangerous teachings. Anytime we disengage our minds, we leave ourselves open to other influences.
The point is that salvation has to include our mind. The very word repentance speaks to the mind. Salvation is made upon a decision for Christ. This is why the Billy Graham crusades have such a tremendous effect on the crowds. He is preaching the simple gospel of the cross by which a person can be born again.
Let me close this study with a quote from my testimony that can be found on our Christian Challenge web site:
"The point is that there is no need to tell a person who has truly received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, that the next morning they'll wake up feeling like nothing has happened. True salvation is not a worked up thing of the emotions. While it certainly affects our emotions, salvation is an issue of a heart-exchange. When the Holy Spirit enters the heart of a believing one, which can even happen in a quiet moment of faith, the Spirit will be there tomorrow, and the next tomorrow, and the next tomorrow. This is called the testimony of the Spirit. The apostle calls this the seal of the Spirit."
Note: A fuller testimony is found here.
"Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission."
This study was originally shared on October 15, 2006. It was written by Pastor Buddy Martin, a former United Pentecostal Church minister, who founded and pastors Christian Challenge International. Writings are the copyright of Buddy Martin and reprinted on this site by permission.
Page added October 15, 2006
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