Welcome to what we hope will be a life-changing Bible study series on the teachings of Jesus. This first lesson examines the challenge of being a Christian in today’s society. So, read through this short study without looking back and see if you can answer the questions at the end of the study. Take a few minutes, open your Bible, read every text mentioned, and see what Jesus said.
The Bible Defines a Christian
According to the New Testament, a Christian is a person who:
(a) responds to the Holy Spirit by totally surrendering his or her will to God’s will
(1 Thessalonians 4:7,8; John 3:3-21; Romans 2:14,15; Ezekiel 36:26,27; Hebrews 11:6)
(b) joyfully accepts God’s gracious offer of salvation from the penalty for sin (John 3:16; Acts 8:26-39; Acts 16:9-40; 1 John 2:12)
(c) regards the teachings and commandments of Jesus as truth (Matthew 28:19,20; John 5:23,24; 14:6,15; 15:14; Revelation 14:12)
(d) understands there will be trials and conflicts for obeying the teachings of Jesus (John 16:1-4; 1 John 3:13)
(e) renews his/her commitment to Jesus daily because of their sincere love for God and other people (Matthew 10:38; 22:36-40;
1 Peter 2:12; Ephesians 4 and 5)
After considering this definition, a reasonable person might wonder, "Who can be a Christian?" The truth is, every Christian falls short in some way. Paul said, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23, italics mine) Does failure and weakness mean that we cannot be a Christian?
John answers, "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. . . . My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 1:8-2:2)
A Whole New Way of Life
The Christian life is a challenging experience. Christian growth and development never end unless we backslide. When a person experiences the miracle of being born again, life dramatically changes. The things we used to love, we now hate and the things we used to hate, we now love! (Galatians 5:17) Every born-again Christian discovers with each passing day that there are new truths to learn, new teachings to consider, new trials and tribulations to face, new joys to share and new ways of expressing God’s love to others.
This process never ends! Christian living is synonymous with the words "joy" and "new" because life in Christ is a joy-full experience. (The world cannot understand this joy and peace. John 14:27) Notice the excitement in Paul’s words: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old [way of life] has gone, the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5:17, insertion mine)
Broadly speaking, three groups of people live on Earth: Non-Christians, Pseudo-Christians and Christians. Non-Christians are people who reject the authority and commandments of Jesus. Pseudo-Christians are people who pretend to be loyal to Jesus Christ, but they do not love Jesus with all of their hearts.
The one word that describes the essential difference between a pseudo-Christian and a genuine Christian is love. A Christian loves Jesus with all his heart, mind and soul and his neighbor as himself. (Matthew 22:36-40) A pseudo-Christian loves self, convenience, friends, assets, self-respect and the approval of others more than God’s approval. It is possible to be a pseudo-Christian and not know it! The apostle Peter is a good example of this.
Peter thought he loved Jesus supremely, but a simple test revealed that he loved himself more than he loved Jesus. You may recall that on the night Judas betrayed Jesus, He told the disciples that He was about to be arrested. He also told them that fear would overcome them and they would run for their lives. Peter contradicted Jesus and boasted that he was not afraid. He further revealed how little he knew about himself when he said that he would be willing to die for His Master, if necessary.
Jesus told Peter the truth and said, "Peter, you are not as brave as you think you are, nor as devoted to me as you say you are. You will deny Me three times before the rooster crows." (Paraphrased from Matthew 26:34,35.) Three different times later that night, Peter fearfully denied to strangers that he knew Jesus.
After the third denial, Peter heard a rooster crowing in the distance. Suddenly, he remembered Jesus’ words. Peter looked into the courtyard at the bleeding and bruised face of his Master, and what he saw broke his heart. Jesus was looking directly at him with an expression of sorrow in His eyes. Peter was crushed with remorse. For the first time in his life, Peter realized that he truly loved himself more than he loved his Lord and Master. This stunning revelation was more than Peter could stand and he ran from the courtyard and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26:75)
The worst kind of "Christian" is a pseudo-Christian. Pseudo-Christians are actors. (The Greek word for actors is hupokrites or hypocrites.) Hypocrites attach themselves to Christianity and call themselves Christian for personal benefit. Even though Peter and Judas Iscariot were pseudo-Christians at one point in time, their experiences reveal one important distinction.
Judas pretended to love Jesus, whereas Peter did love Jesus, but with less than a whole heart. When Peter confessed the true condition of his own heart, God purified his love. On the other hand, Judas had no love for Jesus that could be purified. When Judas discovered his true condition, he took his own life, rather than face the truth and confess his sin. (Matthew 27:3-5)
Paul saw the pseudo-Christians in Crete and he wrote these strong words to Titus: "They [the Cretans] claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good." (Titus 1:16) When people choose to become Christians and follow Jesus, we do not realize how serious this commitment is. In fact, a Christian commitment is even more serious than a marriage vow.
Carefully consider what Jesus said: "If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels." "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me." "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it." (Luke 9:26; Matthew 10:37,38; Luke 9:24) Why does Jesus demand that level of love and honor for Him, even above everyone else, including family members?
Jesus requires that we love Him more than we love anyone else because He is empowered through that kind of love to fulfill the very purposes for which He created us. Think about this. If we do not give Jesus first place in our heart, He cannot accomplish His will in our lives. Rebellion terminates God’s plans.
The wonderful thing about this teaching is that Jesus does not ask us to do something He has not already done. Look at Jesus’ love for us: He loved us more than He loved His own life. He gave up Heaven and was willing to give up His eternal life to ransom us. His love for the Father and His created beings allowed the Father to raise Him from the dead. (Galatians 1:4; 2:20; 1 Corinthians 6:19.20; Acts 10:40) The lesson for all of us is to love God completely and follow Jesus’ example about loving others. This will allow Jesus to raise us to eternal life!
If we totally submit to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and surrender our life to Christ, He will give us two powers: God’s love and Holy Spirit power. (1 John 4:12; Romans 8:6) These two powers enable an ordinary person to do extraordinary things. Christians who love God completely will become bold when necessary because God’s love and strength will help them overcome their fear of the consequences. (1 John 4:18)
A pseudo-Christian does not have God’s love and strength. Like Peter, the pseudo-Christian may boast of undying loyalty to the Lord, but the furnace of affliction is too hot for selfish motives. When pseudo-Christians face harsh consequences for standing loyal to Jesus, they become afraid like Peter and that fear causes them to deny Christ. Remember, love is a power from God that separates the Christian from a pseudo-Christian.
Backsliding is so Easy!
The Bible tells us that God destroyed Israel because of perpetual cycles of rebellion and apostasy. God chose Israel to be set apart from all other nation for a simple reason. He wanted the nation of Israel to be a light to the Gentiles (Acts 13:47; Matthew 23; John 1:11)
What a great disappointment Israel was to God! Israel rebelled against God for the same two reasons that Christians do today. Humanity is assailed by two powerful forces every day of our lives. The first assault comes from within. Human beings have a tremendous internal propensity toward sin and rebellion against God’s ways. (Romans 8:7) From birth we have a strong inclination toward sinning and even after a person chooses to be a Christian, his or her sinful disposition still struggles for mastery.
Paul had been a Christian for about thirty years when he wrote these words, "I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it." (Romans 7:18-20) What did Paul do about the sin that strove to master him from within?
"I die every day – I mean that, brothers – just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord." (1 Corinthians 15:31) Paul knew that he had to crucify the lust of his flesh through daily communion with Jesus. Through this intimate connection, Paul received power from Jesus to crucify the lust in his flesh. Peter wrote, "Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us."
(2 Peter 2:11,12) A person cannot be a Christian and follow Jesus without having an infusion of Holy Spirit power. Human nature will not allow it. Many Christians compromise Christ’s demands because they lose their connection with Him, causing them to backslide into the pseudo-Christian experience.
No one can follow the teachings of Jesus while separated from the power of Christ. Paul makes it clear that each Christian must commune with God every day to have the love and strength necessary to overcome the appetites of the sinful nature. (Romans 8) Unfortunately, the path of rebellion has been well traveled by millions of Christians.
Wearing the name "Christian" is so much easier than following the teachings of the Master. Jesus warned His listeners, "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Matthew 7:13,14)
The second assault against humanity comes from the devil and his demons. They do their best to overwhelm Christians with anxieties, discouragement, discontent, conflict, immorality, idolatry and even the consuming distractions of success.
Paul wrote, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." (Ephesians 6:12) Peter adds, "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings." (1 Peter 5:8)
The devil is determined to make every newborn Christian a pseudo-Christian! He knows the best way to discredit the gospel of Jesus Christ is to make hypocrites out of all Christians! It is sad, but very true; hypocrites make Christ’s teachings an object of ridicule.
So, Job One for the devil is to be sure non-Christians see pseudo-Christians doing despicable things. This gives non-Christians a reason to ridicule Christ and justify rejecting Him. Notice how well the devil succeeded at this game with the whole nation of Israel. God told Ezekiel, "And wherever they [Israel] went among the nations they profaned my holy name. . . ." (Ezekiel 36:20, insertion mine)
Every Christian is subject to both sinister forces. We need to test ourselves to ensure we have not drifted away from our commitment to Jesus and His teachings. Being truthful and objective about our own spiritual condition is difficult, but I do not think we want to be a pseudo-Christian. Pseudo-Christians are identified as: "Having a form of godliness but denying its power. [Paul told Timothy,] Have nothing to do with them."
(2 Timothy 3:5) Paul knew that falling away from God was very easy, so He warned the backsliding believers in Corinth, "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test?" (2 Corinthians 13:5) Here is one way to examine yourself to see if your faith in Jesus is vibrant: Read the Bible, review what Jesus said and see how you measure up. The Holy Spirit will tell you the truth. (John 16:13)
Study God’s Word as you pray for wisdom and strength. This is Job One for every Christian! Failure to keep this spiritual review active will transform a Christian into a pseudo-Christian. John wrote, "This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome [when our love for God is foremost], for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith." (1 John 5:3,4)
Remember, the devil knows that he can make a pseudo-Christian out of any Christian whom he can separate from meaningful Bible study and prayer. This is not the time to put Spiritual matters at the bottom of your priority list. We are living in the last days of Earth’s history. The Word of God is like the bread of life (manna) that fell from Heaven while Israel was in the desert. If they did not gather the manna up each morning, it soon evaporated. (Numbers 11:9; Exodus 16:21)
Take the quiz: Questions and answers from this article:
(click question for the answer)1. What is a Christian?
2. What separates a pseudo-Christian from a Christian?
3. Why does Jesus require us to love Him more than family?
4. What was the essential difference between Peter and Judas??
5. How does a Christian overcome adversity or temptation?
6. Name the two powerful forces that Christians have to face?
7. Name two gifts every Christian receives.
8. What is Job One for the devil?
9. What is Job One for every Christian?