If you have not read Part 1, please do so first.
It sounds like a simple question, but it has been complicated by sin and history.
The first and most inclusive definition of a Christian is a person who has confessed Jesus Christ as Lord (John 11:25-27 — Do not neglect reading and studying the verses cited. Don’t just skim over them thinking that you already understand them. Take the time to actually study them). And while such a confession is necessary, it is not sufficient because Jesus failed to recognize the faithfulness of some people who had confessed Jesus as Lord (Matthew 12:14-27). Consequently, there are two aspects of being a Christian that must be addressed — that which is necessary and that which is sufficient, and both must be understood in the context of God’s grace.
These things — that which is necessary and that which is sufficient — are not mutually exclusive. Rather, one (sufficiency) is contained within the other (necessity). It will help to see a picture of this relationship in terms of sets. (See Illustration 1.)
The outer circle or larger set represents that which is necessary, and the inner circle or smaller set represents that which is sufficient. Sufficiency always includes necessity, but necessity does not always include sufficiency.
Thus, we can see what Jesus meant when He said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21). The implication is that some people are lying and/or self-deceived when they confess Jesus as Lord. This issue has caused much confusion. The liars and the self-deceived (who are lying to themselves) will not enter the kingdom of heaven because they are not Christians according to Jesus’ own words, in spite of the fact that they think they are. People can be wrong, self-deluded. In fact, self-delusion is common inasmuch as sin is common. Sin is always a function of self-delusion.
While many people will find this idea divisive, it must be noted because it is a foundational concept of Scripture and of Christianity. It is not my idea, or the idea of a particular denomination. Rather, it is biblical and pertains to the difference between the lost and the saved, the sheep and the goats, covenant keepers and covenant breakers.
Complications of Sin
Sin has complicated our understanding of Christianity because sin has effected our ability to understand reality (truth). The crux of the confusion comes in thinking that we can understand reality (truth) apart from God. We cannot. And thinking that we can is the first fruit of sin. The first fruit of sin is self-deception, believing something about ourselves that is not true, or thinking that we are something that we are not. It is a misunderstanding of personal identity and personal ability. Consequently, the first sign of sin is disagreeing with God (Scripture), as Eve did in the Garden (Genesis 3:6). The bottom line is that being a Christian is more than simply saying you are a Christian. Yet, saying that you are is absolutely necessary (Romans 10:9).
The “more” that is involved is God’s actual grace. But it is not something additional that is added on to one’s confession of faith. Rather, it is something that necessarily precedes one’s confession. It is the foundation that makes confession real. People can be confused about what that grace is, and the lost can deceive themselves about whether they have actually received it. This confusion has caused the definition of Christianity to have been understood in several different ways throughout Christian history. The various understandings or definitions of Christianity can be grouped into two categories: judicial and mystical. Christianity can be defined judicially and it can be defined mystically. Both definitions are important, and they must be distinguished if we are to avoid confusion.
To define Christianity judicially means that being a Christian is susceptible to judgment. In other words, there are elements of being a Christian that can be evaluated by other people. For instance, I can testify that you have made a profession of faith in Christ if I have witnessed your profession. Such a testimony on my part contributes to an objective evaluation of your identity as a Christian. I can testify that you understand yourself to be a Christian. Such a testimony is clear, firm, discernible and communicable. It is not merely subjective.
In contrast. that which is mystical is not as easily discerned, and much of it is simply not discernible at all by others. The mystical aspects of Christianity have to do with the inward reality (or subjective experience) of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Christians are fruitful people. There is no such thing as an unfruitful Christian (Matthew 3:10, John 15:16). If there were such a thing as a fruitless Christian, it would defeat the power of God to make His people fruitful.
The problem with discerning the fruits of the spirit is that people are impatient and want instant results, whereas God is very patient (2 Peter 3:9). Impatience and Christian maturity are opposites. God’s mercy and patience often cause people to doubt God’s power and effectiveness to produce fruit in the lives of His people and in the life of His church — and this is where Christians often get into trouble.
Growth in Grace
Who is to say if you or I have love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)? Who can see the growth of the seed before it becomes a discernible plant? Who can say that you or I are not growing in our faithfulness, even though we evidence little outward fruit? And yet the unseen seed is no less a particular kind of plant than the full grown vine. Knowing the hidden things about a person requires subjective knowledge and experience of others that human beings simply do not and cannot have (Luke 15:16). As such, Jesus counseled believers to refrain from making such judgments about others (Luke 6:37). Why? Because that which is mystical is subjective. It’s an inner experience. It’s private, not public.
There are two aspects of being a Christian:
- A confession of faith in Christ that is open to public inspection. Others can hear it and testify about it.
- A personal spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ that results in spiritual growth, which is a subjective matter that is between God and an individual.
When someone makes a confession of faith in Christ, we are obliged to believe it even when there is little or no evidence. Often the confession of a recently converted sinner comes without the evidence of fruitfulness because the converted sinner has not had time to provide evidence of his or her change of heart. Nonetheless, the fact of the matter is that God changes hearts, and so we should expect to see evidence of sin in a Christian’s life and evidence of ongoing spiritual growth. Both coexist in the lives of believers (Romans 7:15). All Christians are sinners, and it is unrealistic to expect a person to ever be completely free of sin. There should, however, be a renouncement of sin, some spiritual growth, some improvement over time, some increase in righteousness.
Of course, sin is completely forgiven in the lives of Christians through the power of Christ, though it lingers in our lives. Even though it lingers, there should be less of it in a Christian’s life over time. Christians do not celebrate sin, though they find themselves caught in it. Rather, Christians are convicted and abhorred by sin. They renounce it, and make every attempt to extricate themselves from it. Christian growth is a matter of becoming more aware of the sin that besets us, and better able through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to become less susceptible to the power and temptation of sin, and more responsive and obedient to the power of God.
Discerning such growth requires judgment. But who’s judgment? Of course, every Christian must be willing and able to make such a judgment, first and foremost about him- or herself, and then and only then about others who are under their jurisdiction and who claim to be Christian. The focus of such judgment needs to be on submitting ourselves to the judgment of others who are more mature than we are, and not on making unrequested judgments about other people. Christians are to live in submission to other Christians and to the authority of the church (Hebrews 13:17).
Christians are called to judge one another in order to help one another grow and mature in faithfulness (Luke 12:57, John 7:24). However, such judgments must not be made in private because Christianity is not simply a private affair. Rather, judgment (evaluation) must be done through the structures of the church. Christian confession is a public statement, made before witnesses, because it makes a claim about one’s identity and one’s social loyalties. Christian confession is social (public) because it effects one’s public and social relationships.
It is not that Christians are not to judge one another, but that we are to judge one another righteously — correctly, fairly, honestly with love and compassion, not in order to condemn one another, but in order to hold each other accountable, and to assist one another in spiritual growth (John 7:24). Christianity is a team sport, and all Christian success is team success. To suspend judgment of one another is to abandon the God of righteousness and the obligation to nurture one another in faithfulness. Judgment (evaluation) is the engine of spiritual growth.
Complications of History
Becoming a Christian is similar to becoming a citizen of a nation.
There were two ways to become an Old Testament Jew: birth and baptism. One could be born into Judaism, or one could convert. The same is true about nations. And yet, many Israelites were unfaithful. In fact, the essential story of the Old Testament is the story of Israel’s unfaithfulness, her innate inability to do and be what God had called her to do and be.
The nation of Israel was a temporary measure in the history of redemption. The advent of Jesus Christ put an end to the nation of Israel and gave birth to the church of Jesus Christ, the true Israel of God. The Old Testament nation of Israel was never intended to be perpetual. Rather, it was the seed that gave rise to the Kingdom of God — the Church or Body of Christ. The form of the seed was not the form of the vine (John 15:5). The seed is destroyed as it becomes the plant. The nation of Israel was destroyed in a.d. 70 and Jesus changed many Old Testament practices.
The most important thing that Jesus changed was the idea of being born into a state of salvation or into God’s Kingdom or favor. Rather, Jesus said, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). Birth was necessary — you had to be alive! But it was not sufficient. Regeneration was necessary.
Birth was no longer a consideration because God was taking the gospel to the nations. He was opening membership in the Kingdom of God to people of other nationalities. In Christ one’s particular nationality or physical birth was a non issue. It didn’t matter (Romans 1:16, 2:9-10, 10:12; Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11). Christianity was not a function of one’s blood, of being born into the right nation or the right family, tribe or clan. It has nothing to do with the circumstances of one’s birth. Jesus crossed the circumstances of human birth off the list.
The concern of physical birth shifted to spiritual rebirth in Christ. This was always the primary concern, but during the infancy of the church the Lord used the nation of Israel to symbolize and concretise the reality of regeneration in human history as a means of helping us understand how God’s kingdom works.
Consequently, Christian identity is not innate to the human race. It is not natural. It is alien — not of this earth. Christ was — is — calling His people to acknowledge the preeminence of their alien citizenship, the fact that the Kingdom of God is not of this world (John 18:36) and that the jurisdiction of the Kingdom of God does not belong to this world, though the consequences of God’s jurisdiction do effect this world, as well as eternity.
Christian baptism is a ceremony that symbolizes the reality of regeneration. Baptism does not make a person Christian, it represents the way that God makes sinners into Christians. The ceremony of baptism is not a means of regeneration, it is a symbolic representation of regeneration in Christ. The symbol has real power associated with it because it re-presents the gospel of grace through faith. But it must be understood that the power lies in the gospel not in the ceremony.
Faithful Christians are baptized Christians, unless there is some compelling circumstance that prevents baptism. The ceremony of baptism is neither sufficient nor necessary, but it is a mandated act of faithfulness.
The efficacy of baptism does not rest on the faithfulness of those who receive baptism, though personal faithfulness is expected to increase. Rather, the efficacy of baptism rests upon God’s faithfulness to accomplish His promises to His people as given in Scripture (Acts 2:39).
So, how do we know who is a Christian and who isn’t? The answer is both easy and difficult at the same time.
The easy part has to do with the judicial aspects of Christianity. A Christian first identifies him- or herself as a Christian by making the confession that Christ is Lord. And while it is true that such a confession includes the testimony that Christ is the Lord of his- or her own personal life (a necessary element of one’s confession), such a confession is not sufficient because Christianity is not merely a private or personal matter, but it is necessarily a public and social matter precisely because Christians are called to love. And love cannot be private, but is always public and social because love has to do with others. Thus, one’s confession must be that Christ is Lord, period! Christ is Lord of this world and everything in it. This is the missing element in too many Christian confessions.
The thing to realize is that Christianity is not about “me.” It’s about Jesus Christ. It most certainly impacts “me,” but that is not its main feature or its main concern. While Christianity is about heaven, it is not so much about getting “me” into heaven, but about bringing heaven to earth. Jesus taught Christians to pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mark 6:10).
Thus, the judicial elements of Christianity are the social elements, not the personal elements. This, of course, does not dismiss or demote the importance of the personal elements of faithfulness for the social elements require the prior existence of the reality of the personal elements. Every Christian “shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). This First Commandment is intensely personal and must be in place first. This is the first priority of every Christian. But this cannot be easily discerned by other people. This element of Christianity is between God and the individual. It is mystical in that it cannot be fully known. We are privy to our own personal relationship with God through Christ Jesus, but we are not privy to another person’s relationship with God. We must not judge anyone else in this regard, apart from the formal structures of our own local church. This element of Christianity is absolutely essential, but it is not sufficient.
The Second Commandment is built upon the first, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). Here is the fruit of the root. I can know if you love me, just as you can know if I love you. Unexpressed love is not really love. Love must be expressed, and it must be expressed socially. Expressions of love must be available for public inspection because love is the glue that holds societies together — love, not law, love, not government, love, not economics. Love lives in the public realm because it is social (it involves others) and is subject to public observation and discernment. It shows when people love one other.
Yet, we must be careful here because we are not called to judge the quality or quantity (the subjectivity) of one person’s love for another. The best that we can do is to testify to our own love of others and someone else’s confession or intention to love another. This is what marriage is about. It is a public confession of love and the intention to love one another. We are not qualified to evaluate the quality of the love between husband and wife, but we are qualified to witness marriage vows or pledges to love one another — the promises and intentions.
The same thing is true about the church. The church is a covenant institution. That is to say that membership is dependent upon a public confession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We are in no position to evaluate how well or how poorly another person loves the Lord. But we can and must acknowledge and value their promise to do so.
Can Christians be unfaithful? Of course. In fact, only Christians can be unfaithful because unfaithfulness means failing to honor one’s pledge of faithfulness. Without such a pledge there can be no unfaithfulness. This means that all unfaithfulness is Christian unfaithfulness. A person cannot be unfaithful to Buddha, or to Brahman. There is no Zen equivalent to unfaithfulness because there is no Zen pledge. Jews can, of course, be unfaithful — the Old Testament is full of Jewish unfaithfulness. However, inasmuch as Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Judaism, anyone who is still a Jew is necessarily unfaithful to the God of the Old Testament. And, of course, Muslims can be unfaithful to Mohamed, but inasmuch as their god is an impersonal force they can only be faithful to an impersonal force. Thus, the fruit of their faithfulness is both impersonal and employs the exercise of force against what is personal.
Nonetheless, Christians can be unfaithful. That bears repeating — Christians can be unfaithful to the pledges of faithfulness that they have made personally and to those that have been made on their behalf. Church leaders make pledges on behalf of their congregations (i.e., a pledge to pay a mortgage, pledges that the members faithfully believe various biblical tenets or principles, etc.). And parents make pledges on behalf of their children (which means that they take fiscal responsibility for them, and promise to raise them in the love and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).
And yet, it must be stated and understood that an unfaithful Christian is still a Christian, even though he or she is unfaithful. If there is unfaithfulness, then there is Christian unfaithfulness. Only the unfaithful can renounce God or turn away from Him. Furthermore, it must be noted that an unfaithful Christian is in a worse position than an outright atheist or pagan because an atheist or pagan has not broken a promise to the Lord. Rather, such a person has not yet made any such promise.
What is a Christian?
This brings us back to the original question, what is a Christian? The first answer to this question that the earliest Christians gave was that a Christian is a person who confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord. Such a confession is a necessary and social element in that it is, objective and judicial and defines a person as Christian. A confession of Christ takes place in time and is a matter of public record. That is to say that there are other people who testify to its reality. Whether the person will be faithful to his confession is between him and God. But the fact of the confession itself is a matter of public record.
However, such a confession is not sufficient. More is required. The person making such a confession must actually believe (prior to the confession) and live on the basis of that confession (after having made it). Christians must actually live as if they believe that Jesus is Lord of the universe. This is the subjective element of Christian faithfulness. In order to be correctly defined as a Christian, this subjective (or informal) element of one’s profession of faith must be real. The Christian’s heart, mind and soul must be changed by the grace of God. But it is not the place of other Christians to judge the reality or effectiveness of that change. That is the function of the Holy Spirit and the appropriate jurisdictional representatives of the Holy Spirit.
There are, however, other Christians who can provide help and guidance on the way. Those who have been in the faith longer are able to help those who are newer. Help them do what? Help them grow in grace and godliness. Such help cannot be foisted upon anyone, but it can be graciously sought and received.
Grace Alone Through Faith Alone
Christians are saved by grace through faith, but not by faith in general. Too many people seem to think that “faith alone” means that faith in anything will do. As long as a person “believes” in something he will be okay. Of course people are saved by grace through faith. Faith is the instrument of salvation. And our personal faith is important, but it is Christ’s faith that has saved us. Christ’s faith led Him to the cross and to the propitiation of God. His faith provided the means of reconciliation with of God — the cross. His sacrifice provided for our forgiveness and reconciliation. Our own personal faith in Jesus Christ and in the effectiveness of His sacrifice and atonement is necessary, but it is not sufficient (Matthew 7:21-ff). If it were, we wouldn’t need Christ. Rather, Christ alone is sufficient! We are saved first and foremost by His faith, and secondarily by our own personal trust (or faith) in the effectiveness of His faith.
Christianity is not about “me” or “you,” or about “my” faith or “your” faith. Rather, it is about Jesus Christ and His faithfulness to Scripture. We are saved, first and foremost by Christ’s faithfulness which has provided God’s propitiation. Jesus Christ has atoned for the sin of the world. We are saved first and foremost by God’s acceptance of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the propitiation of sin, and only then by our own acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Both the order and the emphasis of this process of salvation are important — even critical.
To get this wrong is to take the emphasis off the work of Jesus Christ on the cross and to put the emphasis upon “me,” upon my faithfulness, my efforts. To get this wrong is to turn from grace to works-righteousness, and to rely upon “myself,” or “my” faithfulness rather than the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.
Christians are saved by Jesus Christ, not by their own faithfulness — though personal faithfulness plays a necessary role in the lives of believers. It is Christ who has grasped the hands of His people in salvation. Sure we can hold tight to Christ’s hand — and we should! But it is not our strength that holds us fast. It is Christ’s strength. It is Christ’s grip on us that brings us to salvation and holds us in salvation, not our grip on Christ. Our grip on Christ is necessary, but Christ’s grip on us is alone sufficient.
Lewis Sperry Chafer said, “In his attempt to state what a Christian is, the author falls, as many do, into the error of substituting a manner of life for the possession of life” (Lewis Sperry Chafer, Dallas Theological Seminary. 1935; 2002. Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 92. Dallas Theological Seminary).
Habermas says, “A Christian is justified in making the assertion that the Holy Spirit provides a witness that they are, Gods children” (Gary R. Habermas, Michigan Theological Seminary. 1997;2002. Journal of Christian Apologetics Volume 1. Michigan Theological Seminary, Page 64).
Turner says, “To be a Christian is to be indwelt by the Spirit” (M. M. B. Turner, The Significance Of Receiving The Spirit In Luke-Acts: A Survey Of Modern Scholarship, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. 1981;2002. Trinity Journal Volume 2 . Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Page 145).
Albert Martin, a baptist pastor says, “According to the Bible, a Christian is a person who has faced realistically the problem of his own personal sin A biblical Christian is one who has seriously considered the divine remedy for sin A biblical Christian is one who has wholeheartedly complied with the terms for obtaining God ‘s provision for sin A biblical Christian is a person who manifests in his life that his claims to repentance and faith are real” (Albert Martin, What is a Biblical Christian? www.apuritansmind.com/ChristianWalk/AreYouATrueChristian.htm).
Gordon Fee said, “A Christian is a person who walks in the Spirit, who knows Christ” (Gordon Fee, Christian History : Paul and His Times. 1995; Published in electronic form by Logos Research Systems, 1996 (electronic ed.). Christianity Today: Carol Stream, IL.).
Spurgeon said, “What is a Christian? If you compare him with a king, he adds priestly sanctity to royal dignity. The kings royalty often lieth only in his crown, but with a Christian it is infused into his inmost nature” (Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, Ages Software, Page 252).
Augustine says, “Let the very fountain of grace, therefore, appear in our head, whence, according to the measure of each, it is diffused through all his members. Every man, from the commencement of his faith, becomes a Christian, by the same grace by which that man from his formation became Christ” (Augustine, De Praedest. Sanct. Lib. i. c. xv.; De Bono Perseverantia, cap. ult. See supra, chapter xiv. sec. 7).
Marshall says, “What cause for assurance can the Christian possibly have? Can it have anything to do with his works proceeding from his natural inclinations? No, insists Walter Marshall, assurance rests on the work of God, originally as his will is expressed in the work of Christ, and derivatively as the merit of Christ is worked out in the Christian: “We must have some assurance of our salvation in the direct act of faithbefore we can, upon any good ground, assure ourselves, that we are already in a state of grace, by that which we call the reflex act” (R. M. Hawkes, The Logic of Assurance in English Puritan Theology, Westminster Theological Seminary. 1990;2002. Westminster Theological Journal Volume 52. Westminster Theological Seminary Page 257).
Vos says, “To be a Christian is to live ones life not merely in obedience to God, nor merely in dependence on God, nor even merely for the sake of God; it is to stand in conscious, reciprocal fellowship with God, to be identified with Him in thought and purpose and work, to receive from Him and give back to Him in the ceaseless interplay of spiritual forces. According to this the covenant means that God gives Himself to man and man gives himself to God for that full measure of mutual acquaintance and enjoyment of which each side to the relation is capable” (Geerhardus Vos, “Hebrews, the Epistle of the Diatheke,” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation (ed. R. B. Gaffin, Jr.; Phillipsburg: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1980) Page 186).
Robert Haldane says, “A Christian is free from all things, above all things, faith giving him richly all things” (Haldane, R. 1996. An exposition of Romans (electronic ed.) . Christian Classics Foundation: Simpsonville, SC).
Matthew Henry says, “The life of a Christian is in heaven, where his Head and his home are, and where he hopes to be shortly; he sets his affections upon things above; and where his heart is, there will his conversation be” (Henry, M. E4’s Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary, electronic ed.).
Martin Luther said: “A Christian is at the same time a sinner and a saint; he is at once bad and good. For in our own person we are in sin, and in our own name we are sinners. But Christ brings us another name in which there is forgiveness of sin, so that for His sake our sin is forgiven and done away. Both then are true. There are sinsand yet there are no sins. thou standest there for God not in thy name but in Christs name; thou dost adorn thyself with grace and righteousness although in thine own eyes and in thine own person, thou art a miserable sinner” (Martin Luther, Werke, Erlangen ed., 2.197; cited by Warfield, Perfectionism , 1:116).
Calvin said, “I speak in Christ,” that is, as a Christian; to be in Christ and to be a Christian is the same” (John Calvin, Commentary on Romans, Ages Software, Page 578). Calvin also says, “That Christians are under the law of grace, means not that they are to wander unrestrained without law, but that they are engrafted into Christ, by whose grace they are freed from the curse of the Law, and by whose Spirit they have the Law written in their hearts” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2:8:57).
Again Calvin said, “But because believers stand invincible in the strength of their King, and his spiritual riches abound towards them, they are not improperly called Christians” (Ibid, 2:15:5). Calvin makes known that those who hold to the title “Christian” and do not believe do not really hold the title at all. He says, “For although the name “Christian” now flits about among us, yet it is only an abuse if the Name of God is not called upon by us. And we shall not be able to call upon Him (as says St. Paul) unless we have believed in Him” (John Calvin, Sermons on the Deity of Christ, Sermon 18, Ages Software, Page 236).
John Owen is quite blatant on what a Christian is to be and what his mind is set upon, “The glory, life, and power of Christian religion, as Christian religion, and as seated in the souls of men, with all the acts and duties which properly belong thereunto, and are, therefore, peculiarly Christian, and all the benefits and privileges we receive by it, or by virtue of it, with the whole of the honor and glory that arise unto God thereby, have all of them their formal nature and reason from their respect and relation unto the person of Christ; nor is he a Christian who is otherwise minded” (John Owen, Works, Volume 1, Ages Software, Page 145).
Charles Hodge says, “It is only faith in Christ, not faith as such, which makes a man a Christian. ‘If ye believe not that I am he,’ saith our Lord, ‘ye shall die in your sins'” (Charles Hodge, Commentary on Romans, Ages Software, Page 139).
William Twisse, moderator for the Westminster Confession of Faith, says this, “Question: What is the hunger and thirst of a Christian as a Christian? Answer: An appetite after that which conserves the life of a Christian. Question: What is that? Answer: The favor of God to the pardoning of our sins, and to the saving of our souls” (William Twisse, A Brief Catechetical Exposition of Christian Doctrine, London, Old Bailey, 1645. Page 8).
William Bridge says, “Christ is in all believers” (William Bridge, Works, Volume 1, Soli Deo Gloria, Page 362). He makes this comment based on 2 Corinthian 13:5 where Paul says, “Know ye not how that Christ is in ye, unless ye be reprobates?” Paul does not say, “unless ye be Christians who do not believe.” Rather, Bridge rightly asserts that believers have Christ and reprobates do not. Christians have Christ, and non-Christians do not. What then is the fundamental constitution of a Christian according to the Westminster Confession of Faith and those who wrote it? Thomas Goodwin says, “That our being in Christ, and united to him, is the fundamental constitution of a Christian” (Thomas Goodwin, The Works of Thomas Goodwin, Volume 5, Tanski Publications, 1996. Page 351). Goodwin uses Romans 16:7 as his text and meaning, “who also were in Christ before me,” (i.e. converted before me.) Goodwin then says that being in Christ is meant individual “justification” (Ibid.).
Thomas Manton says the same. The Christian is one who “takes the law of God for your ruletakes the Spirit of God for your guide,” and the “promises for your encouragement.” This “closer walk” Manton says, are of those Christians who are “freed from wrathtaken in favor with respect to Godunder special care and conduct of Gods providencehath a sure covenant-right to everlasting gloryhath a sweet experience of Gods goodness towards him here in this world,” and “hath a great deal of peace” (Thomas Manton, Mantons Complete Works, Volume 6, Maranatha Publication, Worthington. Pages 13-15).
Jeremiah Burroughs likewise distinguishes the Christian by conversion, “Christians who profess the gospel must have a great care for their conversationyou think or hope, at least, that through the gospel there has been conversion, He expects that you will be careful of your conversations before menif you would manifest that god has wrought any thru saving knowledge, any wisdom in you to save your souls, then know that god requires that you should show your good conversation, and that with meekness and wisdom” (Jeremiah Burroughs, Gospel Conversation, Soli Deo Gloria Publications, Morgan, PA: 1995. Page 8).