For many people, membership in a church is a great source for developing community ties and friendships. Is this sufficient for someone to be called a Christian?
If we attend a weekly church service where we make and maintain friends and develop a sense of community, we feel good about the time spent. But is attending church on a regular basis and acknowledging Jesus Christ as the Savior of mankind—and our personal Savior—all there is to being a Christian?
The idea that God will “accept me just as I am” is a common belief among professing Christians. But is this true? Does God expect anything more of us when we decide to become Christians?
What does the duty of a Christian really encompass?
Christians are generally defined as those who believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Additional definitions include the idea that Christians are to display qualities associated with Christianity, or that they are followers of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ called His followers “disciples” (students):
“Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’” (John 8:31-32).
The word abide is alternately translated “continue in” or “remain faithful to” His teachings. In other words, a true disciple not only acknowledges the correctness of Jesus Christ’s teachings, but lives his or her life according to those teachings. What He taught was a way of life and not just thinking good thoughts while devoting an hour or two a week to touching base with friends and community.
Jesus also told His disciples that after He was gone, He would send a “Helper” (the Holy Spirit) to assist them in keeping His commandments: “If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper that He may abide with you forever” (John 14:15-16).
Once again, we see an emphasis on something His disciples were required to do—keep His commandments.
The apostle Paul explained that one cannot really follow Christ unless he or she is led by the Holy Spirit. “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Romans 8:13-14).
Following the example of Christ becomes a matter of life and death! For more information on the Holy Spirit, see our article “What Is the Holy Spirit?”
What does following entail?
Much of the modern focus on the life of Jesus Christ centers on the miracle of His birth and the “Baby in the manger” story. While this is a part of the life of Christ, He lived another 33½ years on this earth and set quite an example for us. He kept the laws of God. He gave some very clear statements about what He stood for and what He expected from His disciples. To concentrate only on His birth and His time as a baby causes many to overlook those vital lessons.
Contrary to what many believe, Jesus stated clearly that He did not come to do away with the law. In fact, He came to magnify it.
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-19).
He goes on to give examples of how He came to fulfill the law. In each example, He shows how the requirements of the law were heightened and magnified by His coming! “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother ‘Raca’ shall be in danger of the council” (Matthew 5:21-22).
Jesus goes on in chapter 5 to give additional examples of how more is expected from Christians where the law is concerned. See our article “Jesus and the Law.”
Returning to the original question, is it possible to consider yourself a true disciple of Jesus Christ (a Christian) if you mainly attend church in order to have friends and feel a part of the community? Christ Himself made it clear He expected much more!
Change is at the core
The message delivered by Jesus dealt repeatedly with the need—in fact, the requirement—to produce spiritual fruit.The message delivered by Jesus dealt repeatedly with the need—in fact, the requirement—to produce spiritual fruit. He emphasized that those who don’t produce spiritual growth and fruit will be found unacceptable:
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1-2).
Notice further there is a penalty for not bearing fruit, and the mark of Christians is that they bear fruit: ‘“If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples” (John 15:6-8).
The apostle Paul refers to a dramatic and complete change required of Christians. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).
The word transformed in verse 2 is translated from the Greek word metamorphoo. The literal meaning is “metamorphosed.” That carries the meaning of a total and complete change from what one was before becoming a disciple of Christ, changing into the image of Christ by following His example.
This is in stark contrast to the idea of just attending a church or considering ourselves Christians only for social convenience!
Paul elaborates on this thought in his letter to the Ephesians: “That you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).
Jesus Christ doesn’t conform to the image we create of Him. We are required to conform to the example He set for us!
God wants us to transform from our old man to a new man. In terms of spiritual development and character, He requires a complete change! What a contrast to the idea of being a “Christian” just for social reasons, and to the idea of God’s “accepting us as we are.”
God calls us in spite of the condition we may be in at the time. But God never intended for us to simply remain as we are after learning about Him. Think about the need for a metamorphosis, and you’ll realize the extent of the change—conforming to the image of Christ—that God requires. Is it a change you are willing to make?
Jesus spoke about the need for commitment to His way of life in Luke 9:62: “But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, having put his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’” True disciples commit to a lifetime of change and growth!
For more information about steps to take in becoming a true disciple of Jesus Christ, please see the articles “How to Repent” and “Do You Have to Be Baptized to Be Saved?” and download the booklet Change Your Life!