What is a Christian?
"And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch." Acts 11:26.
It is not my purpose to talk to you about why they were called Christians, but I want, if I can, to try to tell you what, in the light of the New Testament, a Christian really is.
There are many strange and false ideas about what it means to be a Christian. I suppose if I should walk up and down these aisles and ask you individually, "What is a Christian?" I would get many different answers. Some of you would say, "People who live in a Christian country." Somebody else might say, "People who have been baptized," and someone else would probably answer, "A Christian is a man who pays his debts and does the best he can."
What to Be A Christian Is and Is Not
Now in the first place, a Christian is not a person who lives in what we call a Christian country. As a matter of fact, there isn't any Christian country in the world. America is probably more nearly Christian than any other nation on the earth, but America is not a Christian country. Now don't misunderstand me. Everything we have that is really worth keeping in our country has come from the Christian religion. Christians are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. If all the Christians would leave America, the civilization that we have would go with them; but America is not Christian, for the overwhelming majority of the people in this country are not right with God. I do not know a single city on this continent where the majority of the people are really on the side of Jesus Christ; not even a majority of the people in America belong to any church. And I tell you frankly, after having preached the gospel in most of the states of the Union, I do not believe 50 percent of the church members are really Christians. You can live in what you call a Christian country and not be a Christian.
I will tell you something else. You can join the church, be baptized, and take communion, yet not be a Christian. It is possible to stand in the pulpit and preach and not be a Christian. I think I know more preachers than any man my age in this country, as I have spent nearly my entire life in association with ministers. I believe the majority of our preachers are godly, unselfish, consecrated men of God, but nobody would tell you that every preacher in America is a saved man.
You can go to church every Sunday and sing in the choir; you can read your Bible every day and say your prayers yet still not be a Christian.
You can have a Christian father and mother and still be unsaved. I am talking to somebody now who has a mother and father who pray for you every day, and still you are living without God. There is somebody in this audience whose father and mother have gone to Heaven, and this moment they are reaching their hands through the blue sky about you and calling you to God, and still you go on in sin.
In the light of the New Testament, a Christian is a person in whose life four things have taken place. If these things have not taken place in your life, you are not a Christian. You may be a moral man, you may be a virtuous woman, you may have high ideals, you may have a generous heart, you may be philanthropic, you may be kind, you may be a very decent sort of citizen and do a great many admirable things, but unless these four things have taken place in your soul, you are not a Christian.
Now what are these four things? First, conviction; second, repentance; third, conversion; and fourth, the new birth. Every man must be convicted. He must repent. He must be converted. He must be born again. I hope while I am talking you will search your heart and ask yourself these questions solemnly: "Have I ever really been convicted for my sin? Have I really and truly repented? Have I been converted? Have I been born again?"
I realize that it is a serious thing for me to stand here and talk to you about this subject. I am dealing with your soul. This job is more serious than the job of any surgeon in an operating room with his patient under an anesthetic. The surgeon deals with the human body. I am dealing with immortal souls. I can't afford to make a mistake. A preacher may be perfectly honest and yet give the wrong directions to a lost soul.
Years ago a train with two engines attached was pulling up the mountains through the snow of the great Northwest. Aboard this train was a woman with a little baby in her arms. She had a ticket to a little town where the train never stopped except for passengers from the East. Every time the flagman passed through the coach this lady would say, "Flagman, don't forget my station."
"Never mind, lady," the flagman would reply, "I'll see that you get off at the right place."
Finally a passenger sitting across the aisle said, "Don't worry, lady; I'll tell you when we get to the station."
At last the train stopped. The gentleman across the aisle said, "Lady, here is your place."
She gathered up her baggage, wrapped up her baby, and got off the train hugging the baby to her bosom. A moment later the train was moving on, and in about thirty minutes it stopped again. The flagman rushed into the coach and asked, "Where is the lady who wanted to get off at this station?" asked the flagman.
"Why, she got off thirty minutes ago," said the man across the aisle.
"Did you tell her to get off?" asked the flagman.
"Yes, that was her station, wasn't it?"
"No, that wasn't any station. The engineer just stopped there for a moment to repair his engine, and there isn't a house within fifteen miles of that place. If you put that woman off there, she is dead now in some bank of snow with a frozen baby in her arms."
"My Lord!" said the man. "I was honest. I thought that was her station."
"You may have been honest," responded the flagman, "but you are responsible for the death of a woman and a baby."
They sent a search party back, and sure enough, they found the woman dead, hugging to her bosom the stiff, lifeless form of her little baby.
It is possible to be honest and give the wrong directions.
All I can say to you is this: I am staking my destiny for all eternity on what I am telling you.
I think I am familiar with the fundamental truths of the New Testament, and my business all my life has been to apply these fundamental truths to the human soul. You must be convicted, you must repent, you must be converted, you must be born again. You say, "Bob Jones, those are theological terms, and I don't know what they mean."
Never mind; I am going to make them simple so you can understand.
I saw it illustrated one time like this: I am walking straight down a road. I stop. I say, "I am going in the wrong direction. I ought to turn around and go the other way." The stopping is conviction. I resolve to turn around. The resolving to turn around is repentance. I turn around. The turning around is conversion. I go straight the other way and trust Jesus Christ as a personal Savior, and then I am born again. The new birth is the divine life which is imparted to me when I, by simple faith, trust Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. We have talked about the new birth in such strange theological terms that the rank and file of the people don't know what we mean.
I read in the first chapter of John these words: "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name."
The next verse teaches explicitly that the people who thus receive Jesus are born not of blood, nor the will of the flesh, but of God. In the First Epistle of John we read the words, "He that hath the Son hath life." If we receive Christ, we have Him; and if we have Him, we have life. There is just one difference between a Christian and a sinner. A Christian has Christ, and a sinner hasn't. That is a big difference. It's the difference between Heaven and Hell.
You can have a religion and not be a Christian. Of course, when we speak of "getting religion" in this country, we mean becoming a Christian; but as a matter of fact, everybody has some kind of religion. You can't live without religion. Man is a religious animal. That does not mean he is a Christian animal. The meanest man in this city has some sort of religion. Religion is reliance. The thing upon which you rely for salvation, that is your religion. Some men rely upon one thing, some upon another. Your religion is no stronger than your reliance. A Christian is a person who, knowing that he is insufficient in himself, that he is helpless and undone, and that he cannot save himself, relies upon Jesus Christ and His atoning blood alone for salvation. That's a Christian. He doesn't rely upon himself; he doesn't rely upon his morality; he doesn't rely upon his religion; he doesn't rely upon his church membership. He doesn't partly rely upon any of these things. He relies absolutely, unconditionally, and unreservedly upon Jesus Christ.
Years ago I was standing by the deathbed of an old minister down in Alabama. The old man had been a preacher for fifty years. I saw his son, who also was a minister, kneel by his father's bed.
"Father, let your mantle fall on me!" cried the son.
"Son, get the mantle of the Lord. My mantle is rags and tatters."
"But Father, you have preached for fifty years and have done more good than any man I know."
The old man, with feeble but distinct voice, said, "Don't tell me about that, Son. Tell me about the blood of Jesus. Nothing but the blood of Jesus will do for a dying man."
If a man who had preached for fifty years and who had lived a pure, straight life, in his dying hour had to rely upon the blood of Jesus Christ, don't you ever think there is any hope for you aside from this atoning blood?
What can wash away my sin.
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Nicodemus wasn't a drunkard or a libertine or a degenerate. If Nicodemus had lived in this city, he would have been a leading figure in your moral fights and civic reforms. He would have been a member of your church and on your official board. You would have sent him as a delegate to your conventions or conferences or your general assemblies. But one night Nicodemus went to see Jesus, and the holy eyes of Jesus searched the soul of Nicodemus as He said: "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Remember that Jesus was talking to the best man of His day. If you haven't been born again, you may be a moral, manly man; you may be a pure, sweet, cultured, refined, modest, virtuous woman; but you sit in the pew in darkness and in sin.
People come to me and say, "Bob Jones, do you believe in instantaneous conversion?" I tell you, there is no other kind of conversion. If you are saved, there was a moment in your life when you stepped out of darkness into light, out of death into life. You may not know when it happened. You may have gradually come up to the line, but the stepping over was instantaneous. If you have never stepped over that line, let this be the moment of your decision. Remember, you are without excuse. We are making it plain to you now. Let's review just a little. A Christian is a person who has been convicted. He has repented. He has been converted. He has been born again.
In the light of what I have said, are you a Christian? I pray God that the Holy Spirit may search your heart, and if you have not settled it, that you make your decision before you leave this building.
Why You Should Be a Christian
I want to give you a few simple reasons why you ought to become a Christian. These reasons are not only simple but are very practical.
1. You should become a Christian because it is right. There are two words in the English language which appeal to me tremendously. They are little words, but they are mighty big little words. These words are DO RIGHT. I would like to write them in letters of fire and flash them over the streets of every city, over every school door, over every office door, and over the entrance of every home.
DO RIGHT. No man ever lost in this world by doing right. He may seem to be losing. People may stand off and watch him and think he is losing, but no man ever lost in life's deal by doing right. No man ever won by doing wrong. You may watch your neighbor who is living in sin, and you may think he is winning; but just as sure as there is a just God on the throne of this universe, the man who does right is bound to win sometime, somewhere, and the man who does wrong is bound to lose sometime, somewhere. If you do right, you have Omnipotence back of you. If you do wrong, you have Omnipotence against you.
In the first place, it is right to yourself to become a Christian. I think God expects me to get the most possible out of life. I think I owe it to myself to treat myself square. I would not be square with myself if I were to turn my back on Jesus Christ and live my life in sin. What would you think of me tonight if I walked out from this service, went to my room, took a gun, and blew out my brains? You would say, "That is suicide. You are sinning against yourself." But the man who rejects Jesus Christ and lives in sin murders his immortal soul. He commits suicide for all eternity.
In the next place, you owe it to your fellow man to become a Christian. There isn't a man in this building who is so insignificant but who has some sort of influence on some other life. If you live in sin, you injure the other man. It is unethical for any man to be a sinner.
Dr. George Truett, the late princely pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, and one of the world's greatest Christian leaders, was conducting a revival in a certain city a few years ago. Night after night, two fine looking young men came into the services and took their seats near the front. They were such brilliant-looking fellows and such attentive listeners that Dr. Truett became greatly interested in them. One day he inquired concerning them, and the pastor of the church told him that they were the two most brilliant young lawyers in the city. He learned that they were not members of any church but that they were clean, moral, manly fellows.
One morning Dr. Truett went to the office to see these young men and introduced himself to them.
"Gentlemen," said Dr. Truett, "I want to talk to you. I want to know why you young men are not Christians? You seem to be intelligent young men, and you have listened attentively to my sermons."
One of the young men looked into Dr. Truett's eyes and said: "Doctor, if we were to tell you why we are not Christians, you would think we are very foolish. We graduated in the same class at college and finished our course in law together. We decided to go into partnership and be clean, upright lawyers. We looked over this state to find us a model after whom we could pattern our lives and profession. We chose Judge Blank for our model. He is a man above reproach and one of the cleanest lawyers in the world. We learned that he was not a member of any church and made no profession of religion. We are not unbelievers, but we are living up to our resolution to model our lives after Judge Blank."
"Young gentlemen, I am glad to have met you and will look for you at the service tonight," said Dr. Truett as he passed out the door.
The great preacher walked over to the office of this prominent judge. "My name is Truett, and I have come here to ask you a question in ethics. I want to know if it is right for any man to occupy a position in his community that injures his fellow man."
"Why, certainly not," the judge replied.
Dr. Truett told him the story of his conversation with the young lawyers. The judge walked to the window and looked out at the crowd on the street for just a minute; then, turning around, he looked straight into the eyes of the preacher as he said: "I will come out to hear you preach tonight, Doctor."
That night as Dr. Truett sat in the pulpit looking out upon the crowd, he saw the prominent judge walk down the aisle and take his seat near the front. A minute later, the two young lawyers came down the same aisle and found a seat just behind the judge. Dr. Truett preached on "Influence." When he was through, he gave the invitation for men to come to the front and accept Christ. The influential judge came down the aisle, and just behind him followed the two young lawyers.
My friend, it is unethical for you to be a sinner. If you will come down this aisle on the invitation and take your stand for Christ, somebody else will follow you. You owe it to that somebody else to take the stand.
In the third place, you owe it to Jesus Christ to become a Christian. I don't understand what a man is thinking about who is willing in this day to press a crown of thorns upon the brow of Jesus. The shadow of His cross has reached down across these two thousand years. He has become the center of human history, and about His cross multiplied millions of human hearts cling. When He was dying He said, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." He can't pray that prayer for you tonight because you know what you are doing. You know that you are mistreating the Son of God; you know that you're not square with God as long as you reject Jesus Christ.
2. You ought to become a Christian because it is safe. I am going to suppose that there isn't any God. I know there is a God. You ask me how I know? I will tell you. Suppose tonight when I turn off the light and get into my bed I look up through the darkness and I say, "I am thirsty; I want a drink of water," and a moment later I feel a glass of water in my hand, and I drink and quench my thirst. Tomorrow night when the darkness shuts me in I say, "I am hungry; give me something to eat." A sandwich comes to my hand, and I eat and my appetite is satisfied. Suppose that kind of thing should happen for thirty nights. If I am not a fool, I would soon decide there must be an unseen personality in my room who delights to grant my request. I know there is a God. I have never seen Him, but many times He has heard my prayer. I have had a load on my shoulder pressing down upon me until I have grown so tired I could not carry it anymore. I have looked up into the sky and said, "I would like to have some rest." I didn't see the hands that lifted the load, but I felt the load lifted and I found the needed rest. I have had problems to solve, and I have worked on those problems until after a while, with despair in my heart, I have looked up into the heavens and asked for help. I didn't see the God who solved them, but the problems were solved. Many times I have come to the parting of life's road, and I didn't know which way to go. I have stood still for a moment and asked for wisdom, and some unseen God gave me the wisdom.
So, I know there is a God. Remember, I am supposing, though, that there isn't any God. I am supposing this Bible is a lie and that there isn't any Heaven and there isn't any Hell. I am supposing that when a man dies, that is the last of him. I am supposing that earth's teeming millions who have lived and dreamed and hoped and died have gone back to dust to sleep forever and that they had no immortal souls.
When I was fourteen years old, I knelt by my mother's dying bed and promised to meet her in Heaven. A few moments later my father sobbed and said, "Son, Mother is gone." The next day they took her precious body and buried it in a lonely graveyard in southeast Alabama. I have gone to that grave many times late in the afternoon, and I have sat there until the twilight shadows of the evening would fall and the stars would come out in the sky and I have said, "I will see my mother again." They tell me I am dreaming. If this is a dream, don't disturb me, for my religion hangs a rainbow of hope over the dust of my dead mother and kindles a smile upon the brow of my bereavement.
Let us suppose the religion is real, that there is a personal God, that the Bible is His inspired Word, that there is a literal Heaven and a literal Hell, and both are eternal. Suppose that there is a coming judgment to which every man must go; that every man who accepts Jesus will go to Heaven, and every man who rejects Him will go to Hell. If it is so, I win for two worlds. If it is only a dream, I have already won. I can't lose. I have played the game safe.
3. In the next place, you should become a Christian because gratitude demands it. Suppose I am passing through this city tonight and I see a home going up in smoke and flames. I hear a woman crying, and I notice that the staircase is burning and flames are leaping out from all the windows. I wrap something about me the best I can and rush through the stifling smoke to rescue the woman. I wrap about her some bedclothes and come out through the smoke and flames. I put her down in a place of safety and find that not even a hair of her head is singed. My face is scarred for life. The flesh is burned from my hands, and I rush out in the darkness without a word of complaint. Suppose ten years from this day I am in a certain city walking down the street, and I pass a magnificent home. I walk upon the front porch and ring the bell. A lady comes to the door. I say, "Lady, I want something to eat."
"Who are you?" she asks.
"Just a plain tramp, that's all," is my reply.
"Well, where did you get those scars?" she inquires.
"Ten years ago I was in a certain town and saw a building burning. Attracted by the cry of a woman, I rushed through the stifling smoke and flames and rescued that woman and put her down in a place of safety. I noticed that not a hair of her head was singed, and there was no scar on her body, but I received that night these scars which I have carried ever since."
"Oh," she says, "stop! I am that woman! Come on in here. You can have a home as long as you live. You shall never want for food and money."
Who is that knocking outside your heart's door? It is Jesus. "Where did you get all those wounds?" I asked Him.
"On the cross," He replies.
"Your brow is pierced with many a thorn, and Your side - where did You get that scar?"
"I received all these wounds at the cross," He replies. "Two thousand years ago I laid down my life that I might save you forever." Listen to me, men and women. If there is a drop of gratitude in your blood you will accept Him. Man, if you have a heart beating under that suspender buckle, you will trust Him and confess Him now. Woman, if you have a woman's soul in your body, you will accept Him before you leave this building. The greatest moral monstrosity the world ever saw is a woman who can reject Jesus.
4. One more step: You ought to become a Christian now because of the uncertainty of human life. You say, "Bob Jones, we have heard that many times. "Yes, sir, but you ought to heed it this time. It is always today with God. It is always tomorrow with the fool.
Some months ago I was entertained for a few days in a lovely Alabama home. I liked my host as much as any man I ever saw. He was one of those bighearted, old-time, naturally lovable fellows. I just couldn't keep from loving him. He was my kind; he didn't have any airs; he was just his plain, natural self. When I was ready to tell him good-by, I noticed some tears in his eyes. I said, "Brother Jim, if I can ever do anything for you, I want you to let me know."
A few days later I had a letter from him. He said something like this:
My dear friend Brother Bob: My friend, Mr. Blank, in this town who holds a certain political position, is dying. He has sent for me and told me that he wants me to be his successor in office when he goes. Now I don't want to be after a man's job before he dies, but I must have help if I get this position. I didn't support the present governor, and I haven't much pull with this administration. I want you to help me. Please see my friend, Mr. So-and-so, in Montgomery, and you and he go to see the governor and tell him the circumstances and try to get this position for me. I am sure my friend will be gone before this letter ever reaches you.
I answered his letter at once, telling him I would be glad to do what I could and assuring him that I would return to Montgomery in two or three days and take up the matter with the governor. Before my letter reached my friend, he fell dead. I kept up with the other man whose position he wanted, and that man was living months later.
The uncertainty of human life demands that you settle this question and settle it now. There was never a bigger lie born in Hell or hatched in the domain of the Devil than the statement, "You have plenty of time." "Behold, now is the accepted time: behold, now is the day of salvation."