***In the interest of improving our rhetorical skills, I have agreed to debate Trevor Blake on the topic of “To Be a Christian”. Trevor has posted the terms of the debate at his site. He has also posted his opening statement. The following is my opening statement. For those of you who follow the debate, we encourage a donation to Samaritan’s Purse.***
What does it mean to be a Christian?
There are over two billion people, coming from all races and nationalities, who call themselves Christian. These two billion have subdivided into countless denominations, organizations, and sects each having their own interpretation of what being a Christian means. In some cases, these sects even deny that other sects are deserving of the title. In an oddity of this modern age, some Christians dislike calling themselves such, preferring such terms as ‘Christ-followers’.
Despite the vast array of interpretations of Christianity, the heart of being a Christian is very simple: Christ. It is found in the word itself, Christian is literally translated as ‘belonging to or following Christ.’ To be a Christian is to belong, in heart, mind, and soul, to Christ.
For a brief period of human history, God took on the flesh of His own creation and sacrificed Himself on a cross so that man may not perish but live forever with God. To be a Christian is to accept Christ’s gift of sacrifice and to be reconciled to God.
What does it mean to be reconciled?
We must start at the beginning. Man was created in the image of God, he was imbued with a soul, to live with God in paradise, but man rebelled. He chose pride, to be wise in His own eyes, to sin. God is a God of justice; He can not abide sin, so man was cast from paradise, from God’s presence, and cursed to work the ground. Man was cut off from God.
But God had a plan for redemption. Two thousand years ago, He sent Himself, His son, Jesus Christ to earth. Christ was born of a woman and lived life as a man but did not sin. As an adult, he was innocent, yet was unjustly executed. He became a sacrifice; His blood became the payment* for man’s sins, so that man’s sins may be forgiven.
Christ died, but He did not stay dead. Three days later, He arose from the dead, conquering death itself. By Christ’s death and resurrection, man’s sins had been paid for and he was no longer a subject to death, eternal life could be had again.
By repenting of His sin, man could, by Christ’s sacrifice, once again be right with God. This is reconciliation, to be made right with God. A Christian is simply one who has been reconciled to God through Christ.
That is the basic Christian message: Christ.
To be a Christian is to put your hope in Christ’s resurrection.
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:12-28 ESV)
What is required to be a Christian?
Belief in Christ and the repentance of sins. Baptism is the outer sign of this belief and repentance.**
What do Christians believe?
Christian beliefs are divergent on many issues, hence why there are so many differing sects and denominations, but all Christians of all denominations hold to the Nicene Creed. Any who opposes this creed would not be accepted as a Christian by most Christians.
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son];*** who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
What are the commands for the Christian?
There are two primary commands for a Christian: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
Love for God is shown by obedience to God:
Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.
This is almost circular: We love God by obeying Him and we obey him by loving Him. How we show our obedience to and love for God is by loving our neighbours.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Love is the command for the Christian. All other commands are but aspects of this one central command.
Love is also the primary fruit of the Christian life.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends… So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
What is the result of not being a Christian?
Eternal death. The non-Christian chooses against God, against Christ and His gift of eternal life. He chooses sin. God will honor his choice and remove Himself from his life.
* I know what exactly happened on the cross and the theology of atonement and justification is complex and disputed. I shall not be entering into that here.
** I also realize the theology concerning baptism’s role in salvation is complex and disputed. Once again, I’ll not be entering into that here.
*** [and the Son] is a disputed theological point. Most Western Christians include ‘and the son’, while Eastern Orthodoc Christians do not.