What Is a Christian?

Article by

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

“The love of Christ constrains us, since we have made this judgment, that one died for all; therefore all died. And he died for all in order that the ones who live might no longer live for themselves but for the one who died for them and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

What does it mean to be a Christian? Charles Hodge sees the answer in this text: “It is being so constrained by a sense of the love of our divine Lord to us, that we consecrate our lives to him.

Being a Christian does not mean merely believing in our head that Christ died for us. It means “being constrained” by that reality. The truth presses in on us; it grips and holds; it impels and controls. It surrounds us and won’t let us run from it. It cages us into joy.

But how does it do that? Paul says that the love of Christ for him constrains him because of a judgment that he formed about that death. “. . . having made this judgment, that one died for all therefore all died.” Paul became a Christian not when he decided that Christ died for sinners, but when he made the sober judgment that the death of Christ was also the death of all for whom he died.

In other words, becoming a Christian is coming to believe not only that Christ died for all his people, but that all his people died when he died. Becoming a Christian is, first, asking the question: Am I ready to be persuaded that Christ died for me and I died in him? Am I ready to die that I might live? Then, secondly, becoming a Christian means answering, Yes, from the heart.

The love of Christ constrains us to answer, Yes. We feel so much love flowing to us from Christ’s death that we discover in his death our death — our death to all other competing allegiances. We are so overwhelmed (“constrained”) by the love of Christ that the world fades, as before dying eyes.

A Christian is a person living under the constraint of Christ’s love. Christianity is not merely believing a set of ideas about Christ’s love. It is an experience of being constrained by that love.

But that constraint comes from a “judgment” that we make about Christ’s death: “When he died, I died.” It is a profound judgment. “As the sin of Adam was legally and effectively the sin of his race; so the death of Christ was legally and effectively the death of his people” (Hodge). And since our death has already happened, we do not bear that condemnation (Romans 8:1-3). And that is the heart of the love of Christ for us. Through his own undeserved death, he died our well-deserved death.

And therefore that “judgment” that we make about his death results in being “constrained” by his love. How shall we not live for the one who died our death that we might live! To be a Christian is to be that constrained by the love of Christ. Here is the way Charles Hodge put it again:

A Christian is one who recognizes Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, as God manifested in the flesh, loving us and dying for our redemption; and who is so affected by a sense of the love of this incarnate God as to be constrained to make the will of Christ the rule of his obedience, and the glory of Christ the great end for which he lives.

Constrained by His love,

Pastor John