Have you ever been asked—or told—what it means to be a “real” Christian? Sometimes this statement can come across as patronizing due to the overemphasis or tone used in the pronunciation of the word real. This qualifier is used to indicate authenticity or to excuse the behavior of “just being honest” with a fellow believer.
Before we address what being a “real” Christian means, it’s important to fully explain what it means to be a Christian at all. Not necessarily the credentials of being a Christian—belief, repentance, submission—but how the Christian demonstrates Christ in his or her life.
Romans 8:29 states that we were created to “conform to the image of His Son.” The word conform means to “comply with rules, standards, or laws” and “be similar in form or type.” The standards of Jesus Christ should be our standards as well.
A Christian is to form their lives—their thoughts and actions—according to the life of Christ. Just as children bear the last name of their father to indicate familial relation, the Christian also bears the name Christ to indicate who they belong to.
Just as Jesus was obedient and submissive to the Father by sacrificing His life for our sins, we must also be obedient to what Jesus says by adhering to the Scriptures. What Jesus commands us to do, we must obey without question.
1 John 5:2-4 says, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”
It’s one thing to claim belief in Jesus, but it’s another to follow through with obedience. One of the main purposes in the book of James is to demonstrate how a Christian’s faith is demonstrated by his works—obedience to Christ’s commands.
In John 16:7 Jesus told the disciples, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”
The Helper is the Holy Spirit. Jesus did not leave us alone when He ascended into the clouds after His resurrection. Relying on the strength and conviction of the Holy Spirit enables us to be more like Christ as well as obedient to what He commands. Depending on our own strength is an exercise in futility, not to mention sinful.
So, back to the original topic—what does being a “real” Christian mean? It’s fairly simple now that we’ve established what it means to be a Christian in general. A “real” Christian not only seeks to act like Christ, obey Christ, and lean on the Helper of Christ—the Holy Spirit—but actually accomplishes it.
To be “real” is to follow through on what you proclaim. It’s being a man or woman of your word and not just delivering lip service. James says a “real” Christian should not just be a hearer of the Word, but also a doer.
Because, let’s be real, the only Christian is a “real” Christian.