What does it mean to be a Christian? Depending on your life experiences, your understanding of this question could look different from someone else’s. Ask yourself: Where did you grow up? What was your family like? Did you grow up around a faith? What kind of faith traditions did you experience and schools did you attend? What friends did you spend time with, and what positive and painful moments shaped your life?
Can you picture those places and those people? Now, one more question: How did all of them influence your understanding of what it means to be a Christian?
Your past experiences matter.
More than likely, the impact is too large to even wrap your head around. That’s true for every person on the planet. Everyone’s view of Christianity has been molded by their experiences, and because of that, it can be easy for all of us to add filters to our view of Christianity. For instance: Whether you associate Christians with humility, compassion, rigidity, or dishonesty probably comes down to the kinds of Christians you’ve encountered during your life.
These filters can make it difficult to understand what being a Christian is actually about. What’s important? What’s not? If we were to remove the filters, what would be left?
Let’s look where Christianity started to find out.
The word “Christian” was first used in the book of Acts. Following Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, the early Church was just beginning to take shape:
Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. Acts 11:25-26 NIV
What does it mean to be a Christian?
Okay, so Christians are disciples—followers of Jesus Christ. They’re people who recognize Jesus as Savior (another word for Christ), pay attention to His teaching, and put His words into action. The gospels (the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are accounts of Jesus’ life, and in them we see how Jesus calls all of us to live today. Jesus summed up what it looks like to live like Him in Matthew 22:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:36-39 NIV
This is what being a Christian is all about. Loving God, and loving the people around us. Everything else important to being a Christian flows from those two commands. Belief in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Forgiveness when we’ve done wrong. Becoming more like Jesus as you follow Him day after day. Showing others the same love that Jesus showed people during His time on earth.
Our experiences and filters can make Christianity seem heavy and complicated. But when we look at the life of Christ, we see the essence of what being a Christian is all about. And it’s a refreshingly simple way to be human.