Posted by: 2thdocbob | 28 March 2015

What Is a Christian?

I enjoyed attending the 2015 Leadership Education Conference of the California Dental Association. It has been a privilege to help plan and execute these biennial events.

The Pre-Conference Workshop was an inspirational presentation on leadership skills, effective meetings, relationships and values, presented by a skilled trainer, Jill McCrory. I had an opportunity to visit with her the following morning. I noticed in her biography that she was a pastor and a trainer in spiritual leadership, and so our conversation turned to religion.

She told me that in a recent seminar, the question was posed “What is a Christian? How would you define it?” A response was quickly given that a Christian is “one who believes in the deity of Christ.”

This elicited quite a discussion. Someone asked if that doesn’t leave a lot of professedly Christian groups out of the picture, naming the Mormons and others. I happily assured her that it most definitely doesn’t leave out the Mormons.

At that point, our conversation was interrupted, but it stuck with me throughout the conference, and during the two weeks following. I jotted down some notes and gave it some thought.

In response to that question, I offer four characteristics of a Christian. I will use Scripture, both ancient and modern, to back up my thoughts. Of course, the Bible has much to say about this, but so does Latter-day Saint (Mormon) scripture. I believe that the reader will find this harmonious and thought-provoking. So I will also quote from The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, and from The Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I do not offer this as a definitive description, but as a starting point for discussion and for greater understanding. And I hope that my friends who are not Latter-day Saints will see that we do indeed believe in Christ as our Savior and Redeemer, the literal Son of God; an exalted being who suffered and died for our sins, and rose again, that we may overcome our sins, and at last, overcome death and rise to our exaltation.

  1. First, a Christian believes in the divinity of Jesus Christ.

The scriptures are filled with references to Christ as the Son of God. Perhaps best known of these references is “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” [i] This states the matter quite clearly. But there also other witnesses. In response to Christ’s question, Peter testified: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” [ii]

John has the final word, when he describes why he wrote his gospel: “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” [iii]

It is perhaps not so commonly known that the term “Christ” comes from the ancient Greek: Χριστός, Christós, meaning “anointed,” and is a translation of the Hebrew מָשִׁיחַ (Māšîaḥ) and the Syriac ܡܫܝܚܐ (M’shiha), the Messiah.[iv] Thus, Jesus Christ literally means “Jesus, the anointed one,” an indication both of his divinity, and of his divine appointment.

  1. Second, a Christian accepts Jesus Christ as his or her personal Savior.

The Book of Mormon prophet Alma (ca. 74 B.C.) urged the people to “begin to believe in the Son of God, that he will come to redeem his people, and that he shall suffer and die to atone for their sins; and that he shall rise again from the dead, which shall bring to pass the resurrection, that all men shall stand before him, to be judged at the last and judgment day, according to their works.” [v] Here is a succinct description of Christ’s mission as our Savior.

Earlier in his ministry, Alma testified “And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.

“And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.

“Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.” [vi]

This is a powerful witness that brings the Atonement of Jesus Christ to a very personal level. Because he suffered, he understands all our suffering and will strengthen us in our trials.

Finally, the Lord testified to the prophet Isaiah; “I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no saviour.” [vii]

  1. Third, a Christian is striving to come unto Christ. An important part of that effort is in striving to become like Christ.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus invited his disciples and others to follow him.

Jesus stated “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:

“And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” [viii]

A central message of The Book of Mormon is to invite all to come unto Christ. Early in the book, the prophet Nephi states: “he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” [ix] Christ’s invitation is to all of us, regardless of our condition or situation.

The prophet Omni extends this invitation: “And now, my beloved brethren, I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved.” [x] So we see that some effort is required on our part.

In the final chapter of The Book of Mormon, the prophet Moroni invites us to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.” [xi]

After we develop faith in Christ, there are some additional steps to be taken, as described by Nephi: “Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.” [xii]

A Christian does not merely profess Christ with his lips, but is willing to enter into a covenant relationship with Him as an evidence of his commitment. The third and fourth Articles of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints state:

“We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

“We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.” [xiii] We understand that faith is a principle of action, and that gaining of faith in Jesus Christ necessitates repentance, baptism, and reception of the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Let me return to the New Testament for a statement from the Savior that ties together the coming and the becoming: “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” [xiv]

And finally the ultimate commitment that is required of us: “he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.” [xv] In becoming like Christ, we must give our all for him and for his cause.

  1. Fourth, a Christian is not afraid to testify, or bear witness of Christ, and through his or her testimony, invites others to come unto Christ.

Paul, who suffered greatly for his witness of Christ, testified to the Romans: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” [xvi]

The Savior himself commissioned his apostles to “go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” [xvii]

The father of Alma, who was also named Alma, spoke of our obligations thus: “as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life–now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him?” [xviii] Please note that he mentioned standing as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places. This is a tall order.

The prophet Nephi testified: “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” [xix] We cannot deemphasize the role of grace, but grace does not eliminate the need for action on our part.

The Prophet Joseph Smith was frequently asked what the Latter-day Saints believe. This is his answer: “The fundamental principles of our religion is the testimony of the apostles and prophets concerning Jesus Christ, ‘that he died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended up into heaven;’ and all other things are only appendages to these, which pertain to our religion.” [xx]

I add the powerful witness of Joseph Smith, a prophet of God. He said: “And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—that by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.” [xxi]

In summary, I believe that a Christian:

  1. believes in the divinity of Jesus Christ;
  2. accepts Jesus Christ as his or her personal Savior;
  3. is striving to come unto Christ, and in so doing is striving to become like Christ;
  4. is not afraid to testify of Christ, and invites others to come unto Christ.

I feel that most everything else can fit into these categories. I welcome the thoughts of my fellow believers. I would ask you, “What think ye of Christ?” [xxii]

In closing, I must also testify that I know that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God. He is our Savior: he is your Savior and he is my Savior. He suffered and died for our sins, was crucified and rose again. Because He lives, we will also live again after death. Of this I am absolutely certain.

 

For further information, please see http://jesuschrist.lds.org/SonOfGod?lang=eng , and http://www.mormon.org/beliefs/jesus-christ

[i] John 3:16, KJV.

[ii] Matthew 16:16, KJV.

[iii] John 20:31, KJV.

[iv] Christ. Wikipedia entry. Referenced at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christ.

[v] Alma 33:22. The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ.

[vi] Alma 7:11 – 13.

[vii] Isaiah 43:11, KJV.

[viii] John 10:27 – 28, KJV.

[ix] 2 Nephi 26:33.

[x] Omni 1:26.

[xi] Moroni 10:32.

[xii] 2 Nephi 31:17.

[xiii] Articles of Faith 1:3 – 4.

[xiv] John 8:31 – 32, KJV.

[xv] Matthew 10:38, KJV.

[xvi] Romans 1:16, KJV.

[xvii] Matthew 28:19 – 20, KJV.

[xviii] Mosiah 18:8-10.

[xix] 2 Nephi 25:23.

[xx] Published in Elders’ Journal 1 (July 1838): 44, available at www.josephsmithpapers.org; republished with punctuation changes in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2007), 49.

[xxi] Doctrine and Covenants 76:22-24.

[xxii] Matthew 22:42.

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