How many Christians are there?

Did you know that there are 6.7 billion people in the world of which 2.1 billion (or 1/3 of the world's population) identifies themselves as Christian?  Although on the decline, this number still represents the largest population within religious communities.  However, when the description of a Christian is illuminated by the light of the Holy Bible the actual number of Christians plunges dramatically.  This should not surprise anyone who is familiar with the Bible and the teachings of Jesus Christ since this phenomenon has been predicted and is well documented throughout the New Testament.  In fact, the Bible contains many warnings about the enormous number of people professing Christianity who are really not Christians. 

Not All "Christians" are Christians

Take for example Matthew 7:21-23:

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

This passage describes a group of people who were engaged in some very heavy religious work.  They were prophesying the word of God, casting out demons, and performing many wonders in the name of Jesus Christ.  These activities are not typically done by the Christian layman, but rather by those who are seriously involved in their religion.  In our vernacular we would call them spiritual “movers and shakers” or strong Christian leaders, but yet the Son of God will call them “you who practice lawlessness” and will declare to them “I never knew you; depart from Me…!”   

Or consider the passage found in Luke 13:

22And He [Jesus] went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23Then one said to Him, “Lord, are there few who are saved?” And He said to them, 24“Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’ 26then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ 27But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’”

This passage is very similar to the passage in Matthew 7 except this group of people will use the defense that they ate and drank in Jesus’ presence and heard His messages as He taught in the streets.  To put it another way, they thought they were in fellowship with the Son of God but in actuality they were not.  This group includes the layman and those whom would be considered devoted and dedicated Christians.  Although this group participated in the daily worship service, like the previous group, Jesus will declare to them “I tell you I do not know you, where you are from.  Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.”  Think about that.  Jesus will declare "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” to people who:

·         prophesied the word of God in His name            ·         casted out demons in His name 

·         performed many wonders in His name               ·         ate and drank in His name    

·         heard His messages in the streets      

These passages of the Bible are teaching that there are a large number of people who claim to be Christian but “practice lawlessness” or are workers of “iniquity.”  The original Greek word translated “lawlessness” and the word translated “iniquity” are the same Greek word, anoima, which means a lifestyle of wickedness or unrighteousness (see Greek Strong’s Number 458 in your concordance).   Although they attend worship service daily and appear to be worshippers of Jesus Christ, their lifestyles and/or religious practices are so contrary to His teachings that He will declare to them "depart from me, I never knew you." As the Bible warns, they have a form of godliness but denying its power (2 Timothy 3:5).

What is a Christian?

Of all the religions of the world today none has as many divisions and denominations as Christianity.  When  speaking of Chirstianity, the word by itself does not identify which of the many divisions of Christianity one is speaking of:


Eastern Orthodox Church

Roman Catholic Church

Lutheran Church

Episcopal Church

Baptist Church

Methodist Church

Mormon Church

Presbyterian Church

Pentecostal Church

Jehovah Witnesses

Disciples of Christ

Church of Christ

Seven Day Adventist

Christian Science

Unitarian Church

Unification Church

Church of God

Mennonite Church

Reformed Church

Church of Scientology

Anglican Church, etc...

Although these churches have many similarities, some of them have great differences that are very crucial in defining Christianity.  These differences may include the identity/deity of Jesus Christ, God's plan of salvation, the existence of the Holy Spirit, the existence of Satan, the Holy Trinity, God’s current and future relationship with the Jewish people, the mission and destiny of the church, and of course the identity of the true church of Jesus Christ.  In today's time, when one is speaking about the church or about being a Christian, unless these terms are clearly defined it is uncertain what beliefs the individual is addressing or embracing.  Even a simply cursory review of the doctrines held by different Christian churches will reveal that not all Christian churches worship the same Jesus, the God of the Bible.  Some have deviated so far from the word of God to the point of creating their own god, their own gospel, and their own plan of salvation.  The proper identification and worship of Jesus Christ is true Christianity.  If your description (definition) of the identity of Jesus Christ, and/or your worship to Him is NOT consistent with the supreme guidance from Bible, you cannot be worshipping the God of the Bible and therefore you are not Christian.  So, before we can 
answer the question "What is a Christian?" we must first acknowledge from our review of the above passages that the Bible teaches that not all people who are claiming Christianity are Christians and that true Christians are not defined by what they know, but rather by what they do with what they know.  Believing in the One True God does not make a person a Christian; for even the demons believe in the One True God and they tremble in fear (James 2:19).  We saw in Matthew 7:21-23 and Luke 13:23-27 that performing works for Jesus Christ doesn’t make a person a Christian either.  A Christian is a person who is a follower of Jesus Christ, not just a believer in Him; a person who is transforming his or her lifestyle to conform to His teachings - accepting the whole council of God, not just those parts that are comfortable.  To learn what this means we need to examine the first community of Jesus followers who made up the first Chrisitan church.  Here we will fine true Christianity in practice. 

People of “The Way”

The first time the term Christian (which literally means “Christ Ones”) was used in describing followers of Jesus Christ was in Antioch, Syria (Acts 11:26).  (NOTE: The Strong’s Concordance does not provide much information regarding the original Greek meaning of the word Christian.  In this case, an Expository Dictionary will provide better information.)  Prior to this time, followers of Jesus Christ were simply known as “people of the Way” (Acts 9:2, 24:14) in reference to their lifestyle, i.e., the way of life they lived.   In other words, it was their lifestyle that identified them as being followers of Jesus Christ, not their words.  So, let’s examine the lifestyle of the first group of people who were called Christians in order to identify what is a Christian.

The Call To Repentance

The first detailed description of the lifestyle of the first group of Christians is recorded in Acts chapter 2. The very first converts to Jesus Christ were Jewish men who had gathered in Jerusalem to observe the Jewish holiday known as The Feast of Weeks (we know it better as Pentecost):

36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”  

37Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”   38Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  39For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” 

40 “And with many other words he [Peter] testified and exhorted them, saying, ’Be saved from this perverse generation.’ 41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. 42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need."

46 “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” 

Acts 2:37 describes the people were “cut to the heart” after hearing Peter’s sermon (the King James uses “pricked in their hearts”).  The original Greek word in this passage is katanusso (pronounced kat-an-oos-so) or katanyssomai (pronounced kat-an-us-so-mi) which means an extremely strong emotion of sorrow caused by a stunning strike (see Greek Strong’s Reference Number 2660).  The people where deeply remorseful, troubled and hurt beyond words to the point that all they could say in response was “Men and Brethren, what shall we do?”  They’re response was honest.  These were devoted men who knew that God is a perfect, pure, just and holy God who cannot condone sin and that our own sinfulness has separated us from His Holiness.  They knew from Scriptures (the Tanakh) that it is IMPOSSIBLE for God to have fellowship with evil or with those who reject Him and that the only thing that can truly atone for our sins and reconcile us back to a perfect, pure, just and holy God is a perfect, pure, just and holy restitution (see Hebrews 10 for additional information).  God is the only One who is perfect, pure, just and holy.  It was at this moment (the pricking of their hearts) when they recognized the shocking truth that God loves us so very much that He became human so that He can sacrifice Himself as the perfect, pure, just and holy restitution to pay for our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  They understood through Peter’s message that the man, Jesus Christ, who was indeed the Messiah, incarnate God, was among them, but yet as it was prophesied in the Tanakh by the prophet Isaiah over 700 years before Jesus' birth, that He would be despised, rejected, wounded, and bruised by men although He was an innocent man who committed no crimes, committed no offense, and wronged no one.  Jesus fulfilled every prophecy of the Messiah.  He was truly the perfect, pure, just and holy restitution: 

3He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.  4Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  5But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”  Isaiah 53:3-5 

The Response to the Call of Repentence

Acts 2:41 describes that the people willfully, gladly and freely answered the calling of God to come to Him.  It is a calling which must be answered willfully, gladly and freely.  Coming to God under these conditions will allow us to repent from sin because of our love for God, as opposed to fear of God; to repent from sin because we desire to do His will, as opposed to feeling obligated to do His will; to repent from sin because we want nothing to do with evil, as opposed to repenting because we are told to.  Although these things are all good, they are the distinction between an immature and a mature Christian.  In other words, Christian growth can be measured on how much we repent from sin because of our love for God rather than out of fear of punishment. 

Acts 2:38 & 41 describes repentance and baptism as being linked together.  The Greek word for repent is metanoeo (pronounced met-an-o-eh-o) which comes from two Greek words; meta (Greek Strong’s Reference Number 3326) which in this text means “after,” implying “a total change after,” and noeo (Greek Strong’s Reference Number 3539) which means “to perceive.”  The word means to have a total change after perceiving or understanding something the caused a strong conviction (katanusso in Greek) of the heart.  This is when the paradigm shift from the old self of living to the new self of Christian living begins.

Acts 2:41 describes that those who gladly received the word were baptized.  This is the outward sign of their dedication to Jesus Christ.  Jesus commanded His disciples to baptize “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).  Notice, although they were commanded to baptize in the name of three distinct persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), the original Greek word used for the word name is onoma (pronounced on-om-ah) which is singular, thus emphasizing the three-in-one-nature of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (see Greek Strong’s Reference Number 3686).   

Beware of Non-orthodox (false) Teachings

Acts 2:42 begins to describes the lifestyle of these new Christians.  They are described as continuing in the original orthodox teachings of the apostles.  Orthodox means adhering to the original message, meaning and applications of the apostles’ teachings rather than conforming to current trends or cultures.  This is crucial and must be understood.  Not all Christian churches are orthodox in their teachings and beliefs.  For example;
Joseph Smith

The Mormon Church (also known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), founded by Joseph Smith, believes that their living “prophet” supersedes the teachings of the New Testaments.  Their sacred books, “Doctrine and Covenants”, “The Pearl of Great Price”, and “The Book of Mormon”, often contradict the Holy Bible. 

Charles Taze Russel

The Jehovah Witnesses have rewrote much of the Bible (which they call “The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures) to conform to the corrupt teachings of the organization’s founder Charles Taze Russell and his predecessor Judge Joseph Franklin Rutherford. 

L. Ron Hubbard

The Church of Scientology, founded by L. Ron Hubbard, teaches that the Bible is a byproduct of Hindu scriptures.  It contradicts the Bible and denies the deity of Jesus Christ. 

Sun Myung MoonThe Unification Church, founded by Sun Myung Moon, believes that God is dualistic in His nature, the Bible is untrustworthy in its reliability, and teaches that Sun Myung Moon is the Messiah.  And there are many, many more cults that are camouflaging themselves to pass for Christian or something ordained by God. 
Beware and remember 1 Thessalonians 5:21 teaches us that we are to test everything, including the churches, against the authority of the Holy Bible.  Whatever does not measure according to Scriptures, must be rejected. (For more information on the cults I highly recommend Dr. Walter Martin's book "Kingdom of the Cults.")  In his book, Dr. Martin does an outstanding job of exposing how these and other pseudo Christian organizations have infiltrated the name Christ, created and promoted another Jesus that is very different than the Jesus of the Bible.  The Bible warns us not to put-up with those who preach a different Jesus or a different gospel:

3 But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. 4 For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!  2 Corinthians 11:3-4

6 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. 10 For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.  Galatians 1:6-10

The Change in Lifestyle

In addition to continuing in the original teachings of the apostles, Acts 2:42 also describe the original Christians as maintaining fellowship with one another, breaking of bread and prayer.  Continuing in the original teachings of the apostles is describing words being put into action.  This new community of Christ followers lived a lifestyle consistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ - obeying His commandments, respecting others.  In addition, they maintained close fellowship with other believers.  This too is very important for maintaining a healthy spiritual lifestyle.  The Bible warns that we must be very careful of the company we keep, least we distort the image of Christ in us and regress into old sinful ways and habits.  Early Christians kept the company of other Christians.  This is not to say that you should not spend time with non-Christians (how else will they hear the gospel of Jesus Christ or see His light in you), but rather, this is saying that the inner friends you keep and surround yourself must be of like mind, i.e., willfully submitting to the teachings of Jesus Christ according to the Holy Bible.  Do not neglect prayer.  Like reading the Bible, prayer is nourishment for your spirit.  As you must provide daily food nourishment for your body to survive you must also provide daily prayer nourish for your spirit to stay strong.  It is good to pray for others, but even better to pray with them!  Prayer is your most powerful tool.  Don't just give God your "wish list", but ask Him - daily - what is His will for you on this day.  Listen to His response, and commit yourself into doing it!

Acts 2:44 describes that the early Christians “were together, and had all things in common.”  No need to guess what this means since it tells us in the following verse (verse 45), “they sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.”  The Christians who had material possessions or who were financially secure willfully sold their possessions and cheerfully gave to those within their fellowship who were in need.  They were truly “together, and had all things in common” because of the greater joy was in receiving salvation, not in material possessions or money.  They heard, understood, and responded to the apostle’s teachings that Jesus said: 

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Matthew 6:19-21 

Unlike today where it is not uncommon to see some ministers, preachers, and televangelists getting rich off the word of God while faithful members of the flock struggle tremendously to make ends meet.  They do not have “all things in common” nor willfully share all that God has given them.  Instead, they offer the “encouragement” that “you too can become financially secure if you only trust in Jesus.”  The early Christians gladly sold their possessions to give to Christians in need.  They truly had all things in common. 

Verse 45 describes that “the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”  Notice WHO added believers to the church.  It is God alone.  You cannot “join” a church and you cannot be voted in.  Such practices are unbiblical and can never be justified through the Scriptures without torturing the text.  Only God has the authority to add members to the church and He does so as they are being saved through the testimony of Jesus Christ.  Only He knows the hearts of those who have truly repented out of love for Christ and have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit from those who refuse regeneration by the Holy Spirit.  Consider the following text:   

14 Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him [Jesus]. 15 And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”  Luke 16:14-15

All professing Christians will fall into one of these categories; a convert to Jesus Christ, a convert to the local church, a convert to the pastor, or a convert to none of the above. 

  • Convert to Jesus Christ (true Christians) - accepts and obeys Jesus’ commandments as Supreme authority.  Follower of Jesus Christ and submits to His will as described in the Bible.  Submit to the authority of the Holy Bible and of the church and church leaders as consistent with Bible.  Allows the Bible to translate itself.
  • Convert to the Church – believes that salvation is in Jesus Christ but through the church.  Dogmatic about church worship but live a lifestyle that is contrary to the teachings of Bible. The authority of the church supercedes the authority of the Holy Bible.  
  • Convert to the pastor – accepts the pastor’s word as final even if it contradict Scriptures.  Regardless of right or wrong, where the pastor goes, so does the convert.  They have the form of godliness, but deny the power of Jesus Christ.  Truth is dictated by the word of the head pastor - not necessarily from the word of God.
  • Convert to neither – follows his/her own heart; believes that if it feels right, then do it!  Just pray about it, then follow your heart.  Accepts only the parts of the Bible they agree with.  Ignores the rest.

True Christians can be identified by the lifestyle they live.....a lifestyle that is consistent with Biblical Christianity.  A lifestyle that will identify them as being people of "The Way."

Are you a Person of "The Way?" 

If not, you can become one. 

  • John 3:-8 - One must be "born again of water and the Spirit" (repent from sin and be baptized - Acts 2:38).
  • John 3:16 & 36 - Believe in Jesus Christ (the works of God is to believe in Christ - John 6:29).
  • John 8:31 - You MUST abide in His word (this means you have to know his word).  You are His friend if you keep His commandments (John 15:12-14).
  • John 13:34 - Obey the New Commandment - LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
  • Matthew 4:38-42 - Do not seek retaliation, but turn the other cheek (remember, vengeance belongs to the Lord (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 13:20).
  • Matthew 4:43 & 44 - Love your enemies and pray for those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.
  • John 14:15-26 - Love Christ and keep His commandments - the Holy Spirit will be sent to you and will teach you all things.
  • John 17:20-23, Acts 2:40-47 - Fellowship with other followers of Christ, cheerfully give to those in need, have all things in common with fellow followers of Christ, and be of one mind.
Believe in Jesus Christ with all of your heart, mind, and soul.  Pray to God the Father and sincerely confess Jesus to be your Lord and Savior.  Acknowledge your sins and ask for forgiveness (be specific and confess your sins to Him).  Ask for His help as you repent from your sins and change your lifestyle to live for Him.  Confess these things in your own words from your heart.  If you are true and sincere in your prayer, God will answer, and you will be saved.  Submit to His will and be born again of water and the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit will come to you and will guide you, strengthen you, and convict you.  Stay true to the word of God.  Become like the Bereans in Acts 17:11 and receive the teachings from your church leaders with all readiness of mind, but search the Scriptures daily to confirm the biblical accuracy of their teachings.  Remember, the Bible is the final authoritative source of Christian teachings.  Find a good Bible based church for worship, study, and fellowship.  Calvary Chapel is a good recommendation for a strong Bible based church.  Click here for informaton on the Calvary Chapel church and to find the nearest Calvary Chapel in your community.  

May God bless you.

"Test all things; hold fast what is good."  1 Thessalonians 5:21