Who is a Christian?

By Don Ruhl


The name “Christian” should paint a picture of goodness in our minds. Yet, it has been used loosely. The name “Christian” is used to describe anyone who has a religious inclination or was born in America or into a “Christian family.”

This has complicated Christianity and softened its message. Christianity in its original simplicity is meaningful and powerful. Let us then go back to the pure and simple teachings and practices of the New Testament to discover who is a Christian.

A Christian Has the Attitude of Christ

The name “Christian” is derived from “Christ.” Therefore to be a Christian implies that a person is imitating Christ. It is written that Christians are “…to be conformed to the image of (God’s) Son…” (Rom 8.29). Christians have the attitude, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal 2.20). Paul determined to help his fellow Christians have this attitude of Christ, “My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you” (Gal 4.19).

A Christian Is a Christian Only

The word “Christian” is used only three times in the Bible. In Acts 11.26 it describes a disciple of Christ. Acts 26.28 speaks of a person desiring to be a Christian. Then First Peter 4.16 uses “Christian” to describe a lifestyle.

Denominational names added to the name Christian do harm, because they become equal to the name Christian. They imply that another standard has been added to the Bible or that something has been taken away from the Bible or both. By this, men are honored and Christ is dishonored. Division is the inevitable result, for one person will add his favorite denominational name and another will add his.

A Study of Galatians 3.23–28

Whether or not a person is a Christian is not determined by Old Testament standards. In Galatians 3.18–22 the apostle Paul writes of the temporary nature of the Law of Moses. Verse 23 explains the confining nature of the Law, which was a yoke of bondage (Acts 15.10), but in Christ, Christians have freedom (Gal 5.1). Therefore, whether or not a person is a Christian cannot be determined by Old Testament standards, though the Christian certainly has a good use for that old system (Rom 15.4; 1Co 10.1–11).

The law brings people to Christ, “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal 3.24). The tutor—in those days—escorted the child to the school teacher. The tutor was responsible for the child’s general welfare while the child was away from home. The tutor was not the teacher as today. The Law then was a means to an end and the end was Christ (Rom 10.4). The ordinances of the Old Covenant were merely “a shadow of the things to come” under Christ (Col 2.13–17). Galatians 4.1–7 further substantiates that sonship through Christ does not come by the precepts of Moses.

These things being true, the law has been replaced by Christ’s system of righteousness called “the faith.” “But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Gal 3.25). If then a person seeks to become a Christian by Old Testament standards, he implies that Christ and His Testament are insufficient. Such a person has been severed from Christ and is fallen away from grace (Gal 5.2–4). The Old Testament has been taken away (Heb 10.9), abolished (Eph 2.15), and done away in Christ (2Co 3.14).

How to become a Christian is determined by faith in Christ. Galatians 3.26 says, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” All people become sons and daughters of God through the same process. In Acts 15.7–11, the Scripture says that Peter taught that all people, both Jew and Gentile, can hear and believe the same gospel. He emphasized that God makes no distinctions and that all are saved by grace, rather than by the keeping of the Law of Moses. Becoming a Christian then is not determined by race or nationality, but by individual faith in Christ.

Faith in Christ means to believe, to trust, and to obey him. Hebrews 11 is filled with examples of people who had faith in God. They had faith because they believed what He said, hence trusted Him and so were willing to obey Him.

Whether or not a person is a Christian is determined by who has been baptized. Paul continued in Galatians 3.27 and wrote, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ.” A person is a Christian, because he is in Christ. Belief in Christ steers a person in the right direction and keeps him going in that direction. Belief alone is not sufficient to put a person into Christ. Demons know who Jesus is, but they are not Christians (Mark 1.23, 24).

Belief coupled with baptism puts one into Christ (Gal 3.26, 27). Baptism culminates the actions that put a person into Christ (Rom 6.3–7). If then a person was not baptized for this reason, he should be “rebaptized” (Acts 19.1–6).

Based on Galatians 3.27 the following observation may be made: There are no Christians outside of Christ. Therefore, one is not a Christian, if he has not been baptized.

Furthermore, Galatians 3.27 teaches that Christ is put on in baptism. Even the name “Christian” indicates the individual has put on Christ. Therefore, believers do not become Christians until baptism.

Christ is put on both mechanically and in spirit; mechanically by doing what He requires, such as baptism, in spirit by living like Him (Rom 13.14; Phi 2.5).

Whether or not a person is a Christian is not determined by worldly characteristics. The apostle continued in Galatians 3.28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The religion of Christ is not bound culturally or nationally, nor is it a Jewish, American, or Western phenomenon. Social status means nothing to Jesus. Christians are neither Catholic, nor Protestant, nor Jew. These things being true, let all denominational barriers be cast down permanently.


Be a Christian and a Christian alone, nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else. Use the word of God alone and you shall be just like the Christians in the first century by having faith in Christ and being baptized into Him. Then you can know that you are a Christian.


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