A Christian is someone who believes in Jesus Christ and follows his teachings. The Bible says ‘If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come.’ This means that when we become a Christian we may look the same on the outside, but something has forever changed on the inside. There are various metaphors to describe it – we have ‘changed country’, ‘come under new ownership’, or ‘been born again’. Christians believe that God sends his Holy Spirit to live within everyone at that moment.
‘If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come.’
The Bible teaches that the sign and marker of a new life in Christ is baptism. In becoming a Christian, a person has changed the direction of their life. Instead of following their own desires and ambitions, they have said ‘sorry’ to God for all the wrong they have said and done and have committed themselves to go in a new direction, following Jesus and putting their trust in him. The Bible book, Romans, refers to that new lifestyle, ‘...you… are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit if the Spirit of God lives in you’. Christianity teaches that this repentance and new faith restores a person’s relationship with God because God is willing to forgive and give each person a fresh start. It is his gift. It is like they have had a supernatural shower and been washed completely clean. As a result they have a relationship with God which will continue forever.
Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that he lived as a man on Earth about 2,000 years ago. But Jesus is himself divine: he is one person of a three-person God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Christians believe the accounts in the Bible which say Jesus was miraculously conceived and lived for about 30 years before beginning three years of travelling around the Middle East, teaching about God and healing sick people. Christianity teaches that Jesus was betrayed, tried and convicted on false charges and executed by crucifixion but rose from the dead and reappeared to hundreds of people. He then ascended to heaven to be with God. In the future, there will be a time of judgement. After that those who have put their trust and faith in Jesus, will be with him in eternity.
More than two billion people across the world describe themselves as Christians. The Christian faith crosses all boundaries of culture, ethnicity, class and nationality. There are Christians in every corner of the world, even in countries where it is dangerous to admit that you are a Christian because of the threat of religious persecution. Most can meet other Christians openly but some must do so in secret. People express their Christian faith in different ways which is why there are so many different denominations or styles of church. But the core beliefs are the same. The Bible book 1 Peter speaks of the Church now not as a building or a tradition but being made from ‘living stones’ – the Christian Church is its people. The same book also describes Christians as, ‘a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation belonging to God….Once you were not a people but now you are the people of God’. Being part of a church is an important part of life for a Christian. It is an opportunity to meet other believers and pray together and to praise and thank God. It is also a place where Christians grow in their knowledge and understanding of God and his love for humanity. But just going to church does not make anyone a Christian – anymore than being in France means you are French.
Unity among believers, whatever their background or tradition, was important to Jesus. Just before his death, he prayed for future Christians. The Bible book, John, records him praying, ‘…that they may be one as we are one’ and ‘may they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me...’.
Christians were known as ‘believers’ or followers of ‘The Way’.
The early Christians
The word ‘Christian’ was not used during Jesus’ lifetime. The first people to follow Jesus were Jewish. Jesus, who was also a Jew, lived in a Jewish territory close to the Sea of Galilee. He recruited 12 local men to be his closest followers (or disciples) when he began teaching in around 27AD. Many others followed him too. As he travelled and taught, people from other religious backgrounds and ethnicities also heard and believed him, including Samaritans and Romans.
After Jesus’ death and resurrection Christians were known as ‘believers’ or followers of ‘The Way’. The first time believers were called Christians was at Antioch in what is now northern Syria within around 20 years of Jesus’ death. They were a mixture of Jews and non-Jews and spoke different languages. What they had in common was their faith in Jesus Christ.
Christians and persecution
In his teachings, Jesus said there would be a cost for those who followed him. He said the world would hate Christians because of him. Persecution broke out soon after Jesus had ascended to heaven. Stephen, an administrator in the early church, was the first Christian martyr. He was stoned to death about five years after Jesus’ crucifixion. Disciples such as Peter, Andrew and James were also executed for their faith. Under the Roman emperor Nero, Christians were routinely persecuted. But this caused the Christian faith to spread.
Over the centuries, many thousands of Christians have paid a price for their faith. Persecution continues in many parts of the world today where Christianity is seen as a threat to the authorities. Some are denied jobs or promotion; others are disowned by their friends and families. But for others the price is higher: they are imprisoned, tortured or executed for their faith.