What does it mean to be a Christian? All the various churches of “Christendom” call themselves “Christians,” but they all hold to distinct doctrines and beliefs, with the exception they most all believe that Jesus is the Christ. But even that view is sometimes skewed. They were all founded at different times by different people. Does being a Christian mean, then, that one can believe anything just so long as one believes that Jesus is the Christ? Is this the only doctrine that matters? Does doctrine even matter at all? What does the Bible say it means to be a Christian?
The Bible is clear that the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch (Acts 11:26). A disciple is a learner or follower or student. In this case, the followers are followers of Christ. Jesus said “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). To follow Him is to hear His voice. You can’t be a follower of Jesus Christ and follow someone else’s voice.
When the Lord was transfigured before His disciples, Jesus appeared with both Moses and Elijah (Matt. 17:1-13). Moses was, of course, the great lawgiver of the Old Testament. He was chosen by God to lead the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage into the promised land. He recieved the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Old Testament from the Lord at mount Sinai (Ex. 20). On the other hand, Elijah was the great prophet of the Old Testament who challenged the false prophets of Baal (I Kings 18) and performed many great miracles. Upon seeing these great men, Peter wanted to build three tabernacles to honor all three, Moses, Elijah and Jesus. Though well intentioned, Peter was unwittingly either lowering Jesus’ stature or elevating those of Moses and Elijah.
But as those events unfolded, a voice came from heaven saying,”This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased. Hear ye Him” (Matt. 17:5). When the disciples looked again, only Jesus remained. The obvious meaning of these events was to impress upon their minds that it was only Christ to whom we are to listen, no other. There is not other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12). While God has spoken in divers manners in times past, in these last days He speaks to us by His Son (Heb. 1:1-3).
Jesus said the words that I speak to you, they are spirit and they are life (John 6:63). Only Jesus has the words of eternal life (John 6:66). Jesus said “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48). We cannot reject Jesus’ words and expect to be recieved by the Lord in Judgment. If we add to or take from His word, then we are going to find ourselves under a very serious imprecation (Gal. 1:6-8; Rev. 22:18,19; cf. Prov. 30:5.6). We must hear His voice and hear His words.
As students or disciples, we listen to the teaching of our Master. Jesus said, if we love Him, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15). Teaching is doctrine. When we follow our Master’s teaching, we follow His doctrine. If we do not follow His teaching, we do not follow His doctrine. But “whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son” (II John 1:9).
Does it matter if we get something wrong? Is the Lord going to hold us accountable for breaking even the smallest jot ot tittle (Matt. 5:18)? Jesus said,
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:21-27).
The Lord said not just everyone is going to be accepted. Only those that do the will of God. How can one do the will of God if one does not know it? How can one know it, if one does not study it, and understand it, and follow it? Those things which the Lord taught He gave to the apostles and told them to go and teach all nations (Mark 16:15,16; Matt. 28:18). Notice, in Mark’s account he says the “gospel” must be taught. But Matthew says that this is “all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” The gospel, then, is everything that the Lord commanded us through the apostles and if we teach any other gospel, then we will be accursed (Gal. 1:6-8).
We have in the New Testament what the apostles received of the Lord. Paul said, “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand, by which ye are also saved” (I Corinthians 15:1,2). All scripture is given by inspiration and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (I Tim. 3:16). The apostles were guided into all truth and had all things brought to their remembrance that the Lord told them (John 14:26; 16:13).
To be a Christian then is to follow all the teachings of the Lord. The division of the religious world is not acceptable to the Lord (I Cor. 1:10). We urge all to throw away all human doctrines and traditions and creeds and accept only the doctrine of Christ as taught in the New Testament.
Eric L. Padgett