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At the request of catdaddy, i will here try to explain a few key concepts in Christian belief. I am not trying to proselytize, merely present my point of view. What follows is strictly my own opinion and not the official view of any group. I would love to read something similar to this posted by others on other religions. I am here to learn, so everyone please share who would like to.

What is a Christian?

The term “Christian” is thrown around quite a bit by people in the United States. Some people claim we live in a “Christian Nation.” Some people take pride in being called a Christian. Some people automatically dislike anyone who claims to be a Christian. But what exactly does the term really mean?

Unfortunately, the answer must cover several levels of meaning. Context is critical, as are the beliefs of the person using the word. There are situations when it is useful to apply the term Christian to anyone who believes there is a God and that Jesus Christ walked this earth and was God's son. There are situations when it is useful to apply the term to anyone who believes in God and attends a Christian church, however rarely. There are situations where it is useful to apply the term to anyone who is actively involved in a Christian church.

Ultimately however, all these fall short. There is a kind of person that rightly deserves to be called a “Christian” that is not covered by any of the above descriptions. I will hereafter refer to this unique kind of person as a “true Christian.” Hopefully you will soon understand why.

Some people in the world have had what I sometimes refer to as a “saving encounter” with God Himself. God has revealed Himself to them, they have accepted Him in a profound way. A common Christian quote is that "even the Devil believes that Jesus is the Son of God..." so that belief alone does not make one a Christian. To be a TRUE Christian, one must "believe" in a manner different from any other use of the word "believe" on earth. It is a belief that places all hope, faith, and trust in God and the path He has provided for us to ultimately be in fellowship with Him: Jesus. That includes belief that he was both fully human while being fully God, thus dying a human death and being resurrected, defeating death once and for all. It is a belief that establishes a personal relationship with God Himself, bringing the Spirit of God into our lives and giving us a peace that passes all understanding. It is nothing that can ever be completely explained, can never be adequately understood outside its presence in your own heart, and can never be completely understood while we live on this earth as we now know it. No checklist is needed, but the above description is characteric of true Christian belief, and belief that doesn't align with that probably isn't true belief.

How does a person become a “true” Christian?

The greatest mystery of life itself, IMHO. I personally believe that God alone has the power to save, that He must reveal Himself to a person before salvation is possible, but a decision is necessary on the part of the person who wishes to be saved. Christ commanded those who would be his disciples to go into all nations and teach them about Him (“proclaim the Gospel,” as many Christians refer to it), so clearly a person needs some kind of knowledge in order to decide to accept God's gift of life through Christ. I believe that God reveals Himself to everyone on earth in some form, but those who deny His existence or who have focused their attention elsewhere either ignore it or mistake that revelation. I believe God is infinte, powerful, and creative, so that revelation may take countless different forms in different people's lives, so I can't tell anyone how God might have revealed Himself in his or her life. I only know my own experiences and my own heart. Somehow God's revelation of Himself and the power of the Gospel itself enter a person and if that person is willing, bring about a permanent transformation.

I suspect millions of people have regularly attended organized Christian services of some kind or another since the first century without having had this saving encounter with God Himself. None of those people were true Christians. There are countless people today who are cultural Christians who would claim to be “Christian” on a survey because their parents were Christians or they attend church once in a while or they at least believe in God, but they are not true Christians.

Can a “true” Christian “turn from the faith?”

No. I believe that once a heart has been transformed by God, it can never be undone. I also believe no one can ever truly know anyone else's heart. I may be surrounded by people who appear on the surface to be true Christians but who have never had that real experience with God Himself, and such people could easily turn from the faith. I have indeed read numerous accounts by people who are now self-proclaimed atheists who claim to have been real, genuine Christians, deep in faith, who simply “saw through” the inconsistencies and irrationality of Christianity and thus abandoned it. So I am forced to believe that those people were cultural Christians only. They may have had Christian parents and gone to church for years and been baptized and even led Bible studies, but if they saw fit to turn their backs on God, then they never knew Him to begin with.

I have tried to be as even-handed as possible in my presentation of this material. I hope no one will read what I've written above and think I'm being condescending or smug towards anyone or any group of people. I certainly am not. I am trying to clarify some elusive concepts that are fundamental to Christian belief. As always, not every Christian agrees on these matters. You could no doubt print out this post and pass it around at several different Christian churches and find some who agree entirely and some who would disagree vehemently. But I do believe that a surprising majority would agree with at least most of what I've written.
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