What is a Christian? Part 2 (Christianity Explained Part 6) – 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.”
Let’s return to the question we began with last week:”What is a Christian?”
Much of what we’ve spent the last 5 devotionals doing is trying to answer that question.We’ve been uncovering what the original sources in the Bible have to say about who Jesus is, and what it means to follow Him.So let’s quickly review the first 5 devotionals.
In very simple terms, Christianity is founded upon the divinity, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus, as the Son of God, and as God’s divine Son, had complete authority.On the cross, Jesus bore the punishment for our sins as a substitute. Jesus Christ was victorious over sin and death when he rose from the grave on the third day.His resurrection guarantees the coming resurrection of all Christians who will stand before God on judgment day guiltless because of the blood of Christ.
The above doctrines are the foundation that true, Biblical Christianity rests upon.With this foundation set, we then considered more closely our relationship, or our standing before God.Specifically, on what basis does God accept us?If God is our judge, as we learned in devotional 2 and 3, what is our case before Him?What is our hope? We learned that we are saved, not of our own merit or righteousness, but ofGod’s free and loving GRACE alone (Eph. 2:8-9).God’s standard is 100% perfection, and therefore the only hope we have is found not in our own works, but in Christ, his divine authority, substitutionary death and life, and resurrection.
Given that our only hope for salvation is found in Christ alone, in devotional five we began to answer the question of “What is a Christian?”We learned that a Christian is someone who repents. In repentance we give up, or die to the right to run our own lives by turning from our way of living and surrendering to the God-given right of Jesus to be our King.Repentance isn’t just guilt or sadness, nor is it sacrifice or penance, but is an attitude of putting Christ first in all aspects of our lives including our will, our ambitions, our popularity and our pride.In repentance we turn from our sin, trust in Christ, and travel with Him.
What is a Christian? Part 2 – Believing
The last devotional was just part 1 of “What is a Christian?”Remember, our answer to “What is a Christian?” came from Jesus’ first teaching recorded in Mark.In Mark 1:15 Jesus says that a Christian is one who repents and believes.
Because there seems to be so much confusion in society over what a Christian is, it’s helpful to remind ourselves that the Bible does not define a Christian as someone who simply reads their Bible, attends church, gets baptized, prays a prayer, etc.Christians may do those things, in fact a true Christian will be characterized by most of these things, but these things alone do not make one a Christian.A Christian is fundamentally one who repents of their sin, and believes in Christ.
So what does it mean to “believe”?If you were to say to one of your friends or co-workers that in order to become a Christian you need to “believe,” and you didn’t give any more explanation than that, how do you think they might understand belief?
- Just be sincere, doesn’t matter what exactly the content
- Simply affirm certain statements are true
- Pray a certain prayer
- Set reason and thought aside and just go on “blind” faith
- Have an emotional experience of God or His presence in some way
According to Jesus, a Christian believes a particular message.A Christian, according to Jesus in Mark 1:15, believes the good news – the good news of His divinity, death, and resurrection.Repentance and belief in the good news are what make a Christian.
What we see in Mark’s Gospel is a number of instances where people begin exercising the “faith” that Jesus desires from them. Now we are going to look at a number of these instances in order to help us understand genuine faith in Christ.
1. Faith – Taking Jesus at His Word (Mark 5:21-24, 35-43)
When Jesus tells Jairus to believe, what were the circumstances?What do you think would have been some of the things that Jairus was feeling at that moment? Overwhelmed? Despair? Hopelessness? Hollow? Empty?
In that situation, when Jesus tells Jairus to believe, what is he asking him to do?He is asking him to trust Christ and take him at his word.
Faith is first and foremost, trusting in Christ and taking him at his word.Jairus needed to place his confidence in who Jesus was and what Jesus said rather than in his circumstances or his feelings in the midst of those circumstances.In fact, in this situation, his circumstances and his feelings would not seem to encourage his faith but rather to work against it. Regardless of how Jairus was feeling, even in a time of obvious difficulty, Jesus called on Jairus to believe. We see that faith is based not on how we feel, but is rooted upon facts of what Jesus has said and done.
This point is extremely important because people often connect belief primarily with a certain feeling or “religious experience.”But the Christian faith is not ultimately dependent simply on how we feel, nor is it simply an experience we had once and are trying to recreate again.True Christian faith is fundamentally rooted in the historical facts of what Jesus has said, and what Jesus has done.
The same is true of the Christian faith.Solid faith, true Christian faith, is based on the facts of Jesus Christ as recorded in Scripture.If we rely too heavily upon our feelings, or close our eyes and try to walk blindly on our own, whatever “faith” we claim to have will be unsure and wandering, destined to fail us.
By the same token, we want to train our feelingsso that they take their lead from our faith. Feelings can be all over the map, but as we learn to allow our faith to set the lead, what I think we’ll experience is not that they go away or flatten out, but that whatever we’re feeling, those feelings are submitted to our faith. They follow behind, rather than trying to take over and set the lead.
So faith, or belief, is trusting in Christ’s deeds and words which are facts and not feelings.What’s amazing is that we know so much more than Jairus.Jairus had heard of Christ’s miraculous healing powers second hand, but perhaps knew of little else.We however, know the whole story:that Christ is God-incarnate, who was crucified, buried, and rose again!How much more should we trust Christ and his Word.
2. Faith – Reaching Out to Jesus for Salvation (Mark 5:25-34)
What can we learn about faith from this passage?
Notice what Luke emphasizes at the beginning of the story… she had a discharge of blood for 12 years!That is a very long time.She had “suffered much“… “under many physicians”… had spent “all that she had”… and was only getting “worse.”The point is, humanly speaking, there really was no recourse left for her.She had already made her way down all the possible avenues of getting well… and she was at a dead end.
And this was more than just an issue of physical suffering.We are told in Leviticus 15:25, according to the law God gave His people, “If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness.”This woman’s sickness also made her ritually unclean so that there was a separation she needed to observe… she did not have the same freedom to participate in the worship and fellowship among God’s people as others could.
But then she heard about Jesus.And she believed that He was who He said He was, that He really could do what He said He could do… what He had already done for others.She expresses this faith in verse 28, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.”And so she came up behind him in the crowd, and she touched him.She reached out to Him expecting healing… she reached out to Him expecting restoration… and indeed she was healed from her disease.
As we talked about in the earlier devotionals, Jesus’ miracles of healing and such testified to His authority as the divine Son of God who came to bring salvation, who died as a substitute for sinners, and who has the authority to forgive sins.We all are plagued with the disease of sin.And like this sick woman, there is no human avenue available to heal us from this disease.And like this woman also, we need to personally reach out to Christ for our own healing, and restoration and salvation from our sins.
One additional point here.I do think it is significant that, after being healed, Jesus did not allow this woman to remain hidden in the crowd.He insisted she reveal herself.The woman eventually threw herself at Jesus’ feet in front of everyone and told the whole truth.I think this points first of all to her submission to Jesus as the Lord, and that as we come to Jesus for salvation we are to do so openly and not be ashamed of him.
Here we can recall one of the verses we looked at last week, Mark 8:38, in which Jesus says “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.”We need to not be ashamed of Jesus, but by faith we need to openly reach out to Him for salvation.
3. Faith – Childlike Trust, Dependence, and Personal Commitment (Mark 10:13-16)
What do we learn about faith from this text? Faith also involves unwavering child-like trust, dependence, and personal commitment.
This child-like trust is a third component to real Christian faith.Last week we learned that guilt and sorrow alone do not constitute true biblical repentance. Neither does simply acknowledging that we have sinned.There must be a personal turning away from it.I fear in a similar way some will acknowledge intellectually and theoretically the truth of the gospel, without committing to Christ personally.But the saving faith Jesus talks about here is not just mental assent to a series of propositions. It resembles the absolute unconditional and unwavering faith children put in their parents.
To help illustrate this, there was a man named Blondin who was a famous tight-rope walker.Born Feb. 28th, 1824, at the age of 35 Blondin became the first man to walk across Niagara falls, 1100 feet across, and 160 feet above, the water.He actually did this a number of times in his career, performing a variety of stunts along the way.On one occasion, he announced that he would walk across the same wire pushing a man in a wheelbarrow.[I researched this a bit and found out one time he actually pushed a stove across in a wheelbarrow, and on another occasion he carried a man across on his back.]According to one account, when Blondin announced that he was planning to push a man across in a wheelbarrow, Blondin asked one reporter who was interviewing him if he thought he could do it.The reporter responded in excitement, “I really believe you can.I think you’re the greatest stunt artist of all time!””You truly believe I can do it?”Blondin said, “Wonderful, here’s the wheelbarrow.Get in.”
I hope the point of the story is clear.When the reporter said that he “believed” Blondin could do it, he was merely agreeing in principle.Theoretically, of course it’s possible.But that is entirely different from the willingness to abandon your life into someone’s hands, completely dependent on his care and his ability to do what he sets out to accomplish.And yet this is exactly what Christ is calling us to.To trust him in all things as one who is worthy of our trust and able to save us and care for us as we depend on Him.
4. Faith – Understanding God Accepts Me (John 5:24)
In this verse Jesus tells us something about believing in the present and in the future.He says that whoever hears my word and believes “has eternal life.”Notice the present tense, “has eternal life.”Christians are not boasting arrogantly when they say they know they have eternal life or they know they are saved.They are simply taking Jesus at his word.
We also have confidence by faith that when we die and stand before God for judgment on the last day, we will not face condemnation . . . we will not be condemned.Instead, we will be ushered into an everlasting life of joy in God’s presence.Jesus says this is something you can know with confidence in this life, because there is a decisive and permanent transition that has already taken place.Jesus says that when you believe, you “have passed” from death into life (past tense).
Of course once again this is not because of who we are, or because we are such good people.As a Christian I am saying that what Jesus has done, not what I have done, makes me acceptable to God.Faith is knowing that when we repent of our sin and believe in Him, God accepts us because of what Christ’s perfect life of obedience… because of His death as a substitute in my place… and because of His victory over sin and death as evidenced by His resurrection.
It is those facts of Scripture which we have discussed in these devotionals that give us assurance of our present and future salvation.
Summary of Faith
So is Christian faith blind and rooted in mere feelings and superstitions?Is it anti-intellectual?Is it a crutch for the poor and uneducated?
I hope you see that true faith is none of these things.True faith is rooted in the historic facts of Jesus Christ.True saving faith includes knowledge of the facts about Jesus and what He has done for us.It involves approval of what God has done in Christ as we acknowledge that we are sinners in need of a savior. True faith exhibits itself in personal trust and dependence, like that of a child to a parent.True faith is a trust that is not ashamed of Jesus.True faith is a trust that God will count me guiltless when I repent of my sin and trust in him, and accept me into his eternal kingdom.
This is the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ – not just for me, but this news is intended for you as well.Each one of us needs to decide personally to repent of our sins and believe this good news.We need to be praying for the lost and for each other as we are to be intentional and quick to share the gospel with those we come in contact with.
As with the sick woman we read about today, there is no other avenue for salvation from our sins.Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me.”To try to make our way to God through any other avenue is destined to fail.
The question for you is, What are you believing in?Where are you placing your trust?Who are you depending on for salvation and who is in control of your life?
Are you looking to yourself?Are you looking to your own good deeds or efforts to make up for past failures?
Or are you looking to Christ alone?Are you turning away from your sin, acknowledging Christ’s right to rule your life, and trusting in Him for forgiveness and eternal life?This is what it means to be a Christian. This is what it means to be a follower of Christ.And if you are not now trusting in Him, I hope that you will decide to do that, even today.
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: