Over 2 billion people in the world today call themselves Christians, and yet, for many, being a Christian doesn’t seem to be as easy as it once was. We want to follow the ideas presented in the Bible, but with thousands of Christian denominations to choose from, how can we know which one is right for us? We want to take the advice of our pastor, but does he always practice what he preaches? And with more and more people abandoning the religious values of their parents, it seems like being a Christian is getting more confusing every day.
Following are a few principles to point us in the right direction and a few stories about those who found an answer to the question many are asking: How can I be a true Christian in the twenty-first century?
being a Christian means believing in Christ
Christianity is all about Jesus. Christians worship Him because they believe He lived, died, and rose again to save everyone who claims Him as their Savior, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. They follow Him because they believe He is the answer to a world out of control, and they believe He wants to take them safely through it. But how does one learn to believe in all that?
Acts 16 tells the story of Paul and Silas in the Macedonian town of Philippi. On this occasion, the two missionaries exorcised a demon from a young slave girl who was also a fortune teller, and this miracle landed them in jail. However, after being beaten without a trial and locked in prison, Paul and Silas sang songs and praised God for the chance to suffer as Jesus had. And then, amazingly, at midnight, an earthquake hit the city and providentially opened the prison doors to set them free.
The jailer understood he would be executed if any of the prisoners escaped, and knowing this, he was prepared to take his own life. However, Paul assured him the prisoners were all present and accounted for. The story says the jailer knelt trembling at their feet, so impressed was he with the power of their God to deliver them.
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” he asked with great emotion.
Their simple reply? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30, 31, NKJV).
And so, we see that being a Christian, in one sense, is as simple as believing. That’s all we can really do for our salvation. We can’t be righteous enough to be saved. We can’t do enough good things to pay the price Heaven paid to save us. Jesus’ death proved that.
being a Christian means believing in the Bible
The Bible was written over a span of about 1,500 years. Around 40 writers contributed to this project inspired by the Holy Spirit, and what a road it has traveled! The Holy Book has weathered the storms of time, enduring fire and sword, the attacks of logic, agnosticism, and even science. But can we believe the Bible is still the Word of God? Can we believe it is as sacred as it claims to be and that it still has the power to change lives?
Today, archaeology has helped prove the Word of God to be as legitimate as ever. Every year new artifacts are unearthed that prove the stories of the Bible are authentic. We know such Bible characters as David and Pontius Pilate actually existed because we have found their names written on clay tablets and chiseled in stone.
Biblical prophecy is another proof of the authority of the Bible. For example, the prophet Isaiah predicted a Persian king named Cyrus would capture the city of Babylon, which he did. And the clincher? The prophecy was written 150 years before Cyrus arrived on the scene.
But changed lives are probably the most conclusive evidence that the Bible is God’s Word. A host of Christian converts down through the ages is proof of that. From the apostle Paul to the abolitionist Sojourner Truth to the actor Chuck Norris, we see evidence of God’s power in their converted lives.
The Bible tells us, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).
Clearly, we can believe in the Bible as a guide for our faith. When followed prayerfully, it is still the best way for Christians to connect with their heavenly Father.
being a Christian means loving our neighbor
Being a real Christian also means we will follow the words of Jesus: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Matthew 22:39, NCV*). That means our Savior’s goodness should be reflected in the way we treat other people.
A perfect example of such Christian love is illustrated in the story of a boy named Tommy. One gray November day, as he and his father were driving through the streets of their town, Tommy noticed several men on a sidewalk. Some were hunched over an open barrel, warming their hands at a smoky fire. Others were fishing through overstuffed garbage cans or sleeping on pieces of cardboard on the sidewalk.
Tommy was shocked. “We should help these men,” he told his father. And that’s exactly what they did. That evening they brought sandwiches and hot soup from home to the down-and-out street people. In a matter of minutes, the food was gone, but the men were surprised to see a boy among them, ministering to their needs.
The next night Tommy and his father returned—this time also bringing blankets for the men lying on cardboard. And still, it was not enough. Within a week, Tommy had an interview at a local TV station, and that started an avalanche of help. Church groups collected blankets and clothes for distribution. Charitable organizations opened a soup kitchen, the city council built another homeless shelter, and a job-training program was started in that part of town.
A grass-roots movement of kindness and love had spread from that first cup of hot soup Tommy gave to someone in need. As a true Christian, he loved his neighbor as himself, and it helped transform his community.
being a Christian means living responsibly
People around us will know we are Christians if we live as responsible citizens. That means we will pay our bills on time. We will ask God to help us be good neighbors to those in our communities and our churches. It also means we will put only good things into our bodies and trust God when things aren’t going so well.
And that’s the story of Lucille. She was a competent nursing assistant at a local hospital and was faithful to return a regular tithe of her income to God at her church. She was also devoted to her family and lived her life free of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs.
Then she became pregnant with their fourth child, and the pregnancy did not go well. At six months, she was diagnosed with a condition called placenta previa, so the baby needed to be delivered early. But Lucille knew that delivering the baby at that age would give it only a 50-50 chance to live, so she decided to wait “My heavenly Father has not told me we are in danger yet,” she told the doctors, “so I’m not worried.”
The hospital staff tried to reason with Lucille, but her decision was final. “I know you probably think of me as an ignorant, uneducated woman,” she said “but I trust God to protect my baby and me.” Lucille did everything else the doctors asked her to do, and wonder of wonders, she carried that baby to an impressive 37 weeks, then delivered it by C-section.
What a testimony! Lucille had demonstrated responsibility as a Christian by her trust in her heavenly Father. Her theme in life was from Proverbs 3:5, 6:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths (NKJV).
being a Christian means helping others obtain the joy of salvation
And finally, being a Christian means not keeping the good news to ourselves. It’s about letting our light shine so others can meet Jesus and share in the joy of our salvation.
Eveline Steunenberg was a faithful Christian, loyal to her church and the gospel message she had come to love. However, she also brought the joy of salvation to others in the town of Caldwell, Idaho, where she lived with her husband, Frank Steunenberg, who was then governor of Idaho. Unfortunately, tragedy soon struck on a very personal level, testing Eveline’s religious values to their core.
Harry Orchard, a notorious assassin, was hired to kill Eveline’s husband and did so on December 30, 1905. Consequently, Mr. Orchard was arrested, convicted of Governor Steunenberg’s murder, and sentenced to life in prison.
To everyone’s surprise, Eveline visited Harry in prison and gave him a Bible. She told him she had forgiven him for killing her husband because Jesus had asked that we forgive our enemies. Because of Mrs. Steunenberg’s touching testimony and her spirit of kindness, Harry Orchard accepted Jesus as his personal Savior, became a changed man, and was baptized. His conversion story did not erase his crimes, but it did show what could happen when a Christian woman courageously shared the good news of salvation with him.
“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:15, NKJV).
Being a Christian in the twenty-first century is a challenge, but people will believe we are the real deal because of the way we live. Genuine Christians are a joy to be with because they believe in Jesus and the Bible. Like Jesus, they love others and help them when in need, live responsibly by example, and share the joy of salvation with those in need of such a blessing.
Bradley Booth is a teacher and pastor based in Rochester, Minnesota. He has written dozens of books, including The Seventh-day Ox, The Watchers, Last Call, and the God Said It series, available at AdventistBookCenter.com.
* Scripture quotations marked NCV are from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.