Who is a Christian?

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When is someone a Christian? Believers sometimes ask that question. Especially compared with those who believe differently. Not many dare to articulate who according to them is or is not a Christian. Still it is not an unimportant question. What is written about it in the Bible?

A ‘Christian’ is commonly understood as someone belonging to Christianity. More specifically, being a disciple of Christ. But what is Christianity or being a disciple? These are different things. Christianity is a (world) religion [1]. The Messiah is a Person Who no longer is on earth. ‘Christianity’ also expresses separation. Not being member of a religion that excludes Christians or resists them.

Being a Christian has nothing to do with nationality or ethnicity. Above all it represents being owned by God, as it is mentioned in the Old Testament (OT) (Ex 19:5; Ps 135:4; Mal 3:17). In the New Testament (NT) the Lord Jesus is being described as the Head of the believers, the people of God. He stands ‘between’ God and the believers. He is Intercessor [2] (Gal 3:20; 1 Tim 2:5) [3].

Jewish or not?
A Christian is a disciple of the Lord Jesus and that has to do Judaism and Israel as it was in the first century, since He was part of that. When more and more heathens also became Christians the Holy Spirit made known that for them an exemption had to be made. This exemption has become possible, since the power of satan over the believers was broken and therefore the New Covenant could and had to come into force. From then on the ‘commandments’ had not only a chastising function, but above all a protecting function, to make each believer holy and righteous.

It is remarkable that this exemption came to define what a Christian was and thus the purpose of the exemption – the way to get used to the ‘commandments’ – was lost. What the Holy Spirit intended – one people of God with one religion (Ef 4:4-6) [4]– was, from then on, ignored [5]. Logically that had unfavorable consequences because of the bond with Judaism [6] and the Jewish background [7] of Christians that belong to the Jewish people [8]. Even more so, when Israel was faced with the banishment of God from 70 CE forward this eventually led to the dismantling of the Jewish nation. This act of God was again wrongly interpreted, namely as a general sign from the Holy Spirit that being Jewish was equal to being antichristian. From then on a Christian should not have anything to do with it [9]. Logically Judaism was classified as antichristian. This became even worse when Judaism not gave in to Christian mission, sustained itself as an independent religion and continued to condemn Christians as heretics. These positions remain until this day [10].

Christianity
Since Christianity chose to reject their inheritance from Judaism and to focus its attention on the secular World, the door was opened to paganism. As a consequence of all kinds of derailments, which logically occurred, Christians fled to all sorts of Greek philosophical paradigms [11] which more and more moved away from the original Jewish orthopraxy of the New Covenant (NC). Thus creating a religion that became known as ‘Christianity’. Who was Christian depended eventually which of these paradigms were confessed. If a wrong paradigm was confessed then one could be condemned as heretic by the ‘majority’ of Christians. This practice was a collision course with the bond within the people of God for which the Lord Jesus labored to give it unity (Ef 2:16).

Israelite gospel
Jews who became Christians caused a problem for that Christianity. For centuries they were forced into that Christianity. But a growing group of Jewish Christians wanted to emphasize their Jewish identity. The founding of the State of Israel gave an extra impulse to that. Opposite to that is the recalcitrance of Christianity against reconnecting to the first century setting of the Gospel.
Jewish Christians stress that the Lord Jesus was the promised successor of Moses (Dt 18:17-19) and that His mission only just then will be fulfilled at His return. Therefore for them the emphasis in the name ‘Christian’ is on the messianic aspect of His ministry: His ministry as Redeemer and Bringer of God’s Covenant in the past and as King of kings in the future.

The core issues
For the time being there is consensus about the definition of what a Christian is. This is defined by the most important accomplishment of the Lord Jesus; the redemption of satan’s power. But because He was taken up from earth and God made the NC with His people, the Christian was entrusted with the Holy Spirit until the Messiah would come. Through that Spirit the Christian is made aware by God about what is needed and what not. Being Jewish belongs to the latter. Ethnicity is principally [12] irrelevant. Sprouting from or being grafted in (after being cut-off) in the noble Olive Tree (Rm 11:24) represents the partaking in the religion of Israel, but not being a physical descendent. Therefore the current NC has no national component [13].

New definition
To define a Christian according traditional Christianity will become unsustainable. A Christian is at least a believer who:

• Loves and trusts the God of the Bible
In traditional Christianity belief is the focal point and this is determined in a Greek philosophical way. However, in the Bible these matters are not the main issue or irrelevant. According to the Bible the believer loves God, which also encompasses fear and awe. The believer has to learn to trust God and prove in its heart and deeds to be able to be beneficial to God. The believer lets itself be corrected, but can trust God since He maintains Creation continuously and takes care of it. Man as creature is central to God in the physical Creation.

• Accepts and observes the NC
The Christian is presented with the choice to accept the NC, but once accepted it will have to stay within its bounds and live according to it. That excludes the Christian from the dominant paganism under which he lives. That shows incompleteness. This is because Israel was banished by God since it condemned the Lord Jesus to the death penalty. As long as that banishment lasts they remain under the curse of the Covenant of Moses. So, Israel is not without Covenant and that has consequences for the current NC. However, people do not keep the two Covenants apart from each other but confuse them [14]. As long as Israel remains dispersed under the nations, so also the Christians will remain dispersed. Only after the restoration of Israel will the Messianic Kingdom be founded on earth and only then the NC will be fulfilled.

• Gives itself over to the will of God
The will of God is specified in the Bible, but also needs the Holy Spirit. Not just to inspire and to do His will, but also to make it better, fine-tune it and make it sustainable. That asks for investigation, understanding, insight and wisdom about the word of God. To give oneself over to the will of God has to be learned, has to grow and come to maturity until the Messiah comes, Who will show to true Way (Torah).

• Has awareness of being a member of the people of God
A Christian is a member of the people of God. But how does one know what that people is? There is much confusion about this [15]. By developing a good view about Israel [16] and adjusting it continuously to the developments in the unwrapping of God’s plan of salvation. That will help to gain understanding of the consequences for the people of God. Being member of a people is something completely different than belonging to Christianity, a denomination, membership of a ‘church’ or congregation. It also doesn’t just mean having a shared history [17], culture, values or customs, but also a collective Covenant relationship. What God does to individual believers is not separate of the collective and what He does to the collective has consequences for the individual believer. This is something westerners do not have much experience with. Being member of the people of God means having shared responsibility, knowing to be collectively connected and being imbedded in it.

• Honors and observes the NC customs
There are unique customs that happen once, like the rebirth [18], and customs that will be ministered repeatedly, like the Last Supper (Eucharist). Who doesn’t honors these and take part in them cannot continue on as a Christian.

• Bears fruit
According to the Bible the general calling of a Christian is unchanged: to honor God and to serve Him (Gn 2:15), but each individual Christian has within that general calling also its own calling and ministry. Since the latter is personal and the people of God no longer have a central authority but live dispersed, like Israel, the individual calling and ministry are not so evident. Thus, these have to be earnestly sought, so God can reveal it. Both, calling and ministry ask for inspiration of the Holy Spirit and must function, so that a Christian can bear fruit for God and His people. The Christian has to become perfect (Mt 5:48; Col 1:28).

• Is looking out for the future of God
The sooner a Christian gets used to the NC, the better prepared one shall be for what is coming. On what God’s plan of salvation and the ministry of the Lord Jesus in the Temple in heaven is aimed at; the coming restoration of Israel. The believer therefore understands that the name ‘Christian’ actually is vain and temporarily. The same applies on the name ‘Jew’, since God will restore the whole of Israel (12 tribes) and not just Judah.

Evaluation
In Biblical sense ‘Christian’ cannot be defined as belonging to traditional Christianity, since the latter did not exist in Biblical times. Christianity is a man-made religion which was formed after [19] the departure of the Lord Jesus and His own disciples. A Christian however is a pupil of the Lord Jesus and therefore not just a stranger amongst pagans, but will also discard pagan religions, ways of life and cultures. That marked the patriarchs as Hebrews. A Christian that turns away from paganism is, in religious sense, thus also a Hebrew.

By appointing the Lord Jesus as Head of the Temple service in heaven, God upholds the NC. This Covenant was made with the remnant of Israel (His first disciples) and with all believers after them. A Christian that accepts and observes the Covenant regulations is also in religious sense an Israelite.

The name Christian and its religious identity (Hebrew and Israelite) are lacking. Ultimately God will give believers a new name (Rev 2:17) [20].

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[1] Later it was split up into denominations, ‘churches’ or ‘congregations’.
[2] The office of High priest.
[3] According to Christocentric denominations a Christian is owned by the Lord Jesus. This simplification is, however, untrue. Compare: an employee who imagines to be in the employ of its ‘boss’ forgets that both, the employee and its ‘boss’ have a contract with their company.
[4] The Christian identity doesn’t represent an ethnic connection. A Christian can be both Jewish and Dutch.
[5] It did not stay with that, but it became even worse.
[6] Still, the New Covenant has first century Judaism as is paradigm.
[7] This remained applicable, because God will keep Israel intact.
[8] Every Christian will keep its own ethnic connection. Being a Christian is only a religious attribute, but being a Jew is firstly an ethnic attribute.
[9] Jews who became Christian had to denounce their identity.
[10] It therefore is no longer evident how a Jew can be Christian and what its place in Jewishness is.
[11] Most prominent is the theory of the Trinity. A very problematic philosophical construct.
[12] The ‘Jew’ (member of one of the 12 tribes) still has special religious privileges.
[13] Contrary to the previous covenants that God made. Beginning with Abraham.
[14] Most of all by ‘Jewish’ Christians.
[15] Some limit it to those that belong to Christianity. Others claim that Israel also still is God’s people.
[16] For they were the last representatives of the people of God before the Christians arrived.
[17] First of all the Biblical history of God’s people.
[18] From birth on man is just matter and spiritually dead. Through rebirth man is spiritually revived. The reborn person is in principle a complete human, but remains corrupted since creation is in the power of satan.
[19] It lacked the scrutiny of the Lord Jesus or of the disciples who were eyewitnesses. The believers that devised Christianity locked themselves more and more away from the correction of the Holy Spirit. They hardened themselves against the Latter and created in this way a ‘veil’ for Christians (compare 2 Cor 3:14).
[20] The meaning of the name ‘Christian’ therefore is only just relative, but also presumptuous and therefore doubtful.