What It Means to Be a Christian
“Christ suffered for you, leaving you a model for you to follow his steps closely.”—1 Pet. 2:21.
1. What command did Jesus give to his disciples, and has it been obeyed?
“YOU will be witnesses of me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the most distant part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Such were the parting instructions of Jesus to those who would be Christians, to those who would follow him. His disciples had already been sharing with him in an intensive public preaching program for several years and they knew what it meant. But after having this unmistakable command of the Master in their Bibles for centuries, who in the religious world of Christendom have equipped themselves for this service and have shown themselves to be obedient disciples of the Lord? The New York Times (March 18, 1957) quoted Dr. Robert J. McCracken as saying: “The churches are full of half-believers of a casual creed. Ask the majority of church members what they believe and after a few halting, fumbling sentences they would be through, and for lack of intellectual understanding, not of words.” Are these proving themselves to be Christians by obeying the command of the Lord God to be his witnesses? No! But giving evidence that Christendom is well aware of the fact that in their midst is a group that does fit the description, Marcus Bach in an article on Jehovah’s witnesses published in The Christian Century asks: “How shall we deal with them? What shall we do? . . . There is but one answer: Jehovah’s Witnesses are not a threat, but a challenge calling once more upon the traditional church to—witness!” Jehovah’s witnesses know why they are Christians—to witness, as did their Master.
2. How have some come to be associated with a religious group?
2 Why do you belong to the religious organization you do? Is it because you have checked and proved it with the Bible and now hold fast to it because you know it to be right? (1 Thess. 5:21) Many were reared by parents who were churchgoers and in that way came to be associated with a religious group. Some are located in a community where there is only one church and they belong to it for the sake of convenience. Others have changed their religion to please marriage mates or for business reasons. But none of these methods is a safe guide to the right religion. One’s friends and relatives may be fine people, but that does not make their religion the right one. Parents may have trained their children in the proper way of worship, but if those children never apply themselves to a personal study of God’s Word and follow in deed the Christian example set by their parents, then they have not wholeheartedly embraced that religion as their own, and merely nominal association does not make them pleasers of God.
3. What shows that not all religion is acceptable to God?
3 One’s religion is his worship; in Hebrew the word for it means “service.” Whether or not it is the right religion depends on the way that service is rendered and to whom it is directed. “There are those who are called ‘gods’, whether in heaven or on earth, just as there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’.” (1 Cor. 8:5) Merely belonging to a religious organization and practicing what it teaches does not mean that one is worshiping the true God. When Israel began to embrace practices not approved by Jehovah, the account says, “they went sacrificing to demons, not to God.” (Deut. 32:16, 17) As to all except true Christian worship, the apostle Paul declared: “The things which the nations sacrifice they sacrifice to demons, and not to God, and I do not want you to become sharers with the demons.”—1 Cor. 10:20.
PITFALLS TO BE AVOIDED
4. Why is having a religion that satisfies the worshiper no assurance that it is right worship?
4 It is a common thing for persons who are presented with the truth to brush it aside and say, “I am satisfied with my religion.” But is God? Of the religious practices in the first century Jesus said: “Adroitly you set aside the commandment of God in order to retain your tradition.” (Mark 7:9) Would God be pleased with that? Paul warned of the danger when he said: “Look out: perhaps there may be some man that will carry you off as his prey through the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary things of the world and not according to Christ.” (Col. 2:8) ‘You are servants of the one you obey.’ (Rom. 6:16) Whom do you obey? Do you select a religion that pleases you? If your desire is to please yourself, then you serve yourself, and you have become your own god. You have become like disobedient Eve, who sought to ‘be like God, making her own decisions of good and bad.’ (Gen. 3:5) “Am I seeking to please men? If I were yet pleasing men [including myself], I would not be Christ’s slave.” (Gal. 1:10) There are many ways to worship, but only one that is right in the eyes of Almighty God. If we are to practice the worship that is right “from the standpoint of our God and Father,” then we must do as the one who was a man after God’s own heart and who did not seek to please himself or other men, but said to Jehovah: “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God.” (Jas. 1:27; Ps. 143:10) In those who find pleasure in giving to him exclusive devotion Jehovah will find pleasure. He will bless them with everlasting life in his new world.—Mic. 4:5, AS.
5. What do those who say, ‘Only believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved,’ often fail to consider?
5 Some brush aside other parts of the Bible as of lesser importance, quoting as sufficient the words of Paul to the jailer: “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will get saved.” (Acts 16:31) But those who quote it often fail to consider what it means. To believe on the Lord Jesus Christ means to believe that he gave his life as a ransom for humankind, that what he said was true and that the example he set is the one that should be followed. (Matt. 20:28; 1 Pet. 2:21) If you accept the ransom sacrifice of Christ, then you must accept the One who is the Author of that provision: “Salvation belongs to Jehovah.” (Ps. 3:8) If you believe that Christ set the right example for us to follow, then you should remember that that includes what is recorded in John 17:6: “I have made your name manifest to the men you gave me out of the world,” and you will make known the name of Jehovah as his witness. One who does not use the name of God, Jehovah, and make it known to others is not following the example set by Christ Jesus. Observe Jesus’ excellent knowledge of the Scriptures and his frequent quotations from them, and equip yourself to copy him. (Luke 24:27) Remember that “he went journeying from city to city and from village to village, preaching and declaring the good news of the kingdom of God,” that he said to seek first the kingdom of God, and then copy his example by calling at the homes of others to share with them “this good news of the kingdom.” (Luke 8:1; Matt. 6:33; 24:14) Belief on the Lord Jesus does not make one passive in one’s faith. “Faith without works is dead.” (Jas. 2:26) Faith moves men to action as his active followers, who believe and advocate the entire Bible as “inspired of God” and vital for all who want to be “completely equipped for every good work” as Christians.—2 Tim. 3:16, 17; John 17:17.
6. Some say that living by the Ten Commandments is enough for a Christian. Is it?
6 Have you ever said, “If we live by the Ten Commandments, that is enough”? Is it? Perhaps it is sufficient to please some who profess to be Christian, but does it please God? When he has lovingly provided the Bible, now in over one thousand written languages, does it please him when some accept a half of one page and brush the rest aside as unnecessary? Would a cook be pleased if you sat down to a carefully prepared banquet of the finest foods, picked out a single pea to eat and pushed the remainder into the garbage can? Of course not! That the idea that the Ten Commandments are enough for a Christian does not spring from a sincere desire to serve God, but rather laziness or indifference toward what the Bible says, is shown in that even these commandments are not kept. Men are not so much interested in keeping the Ten Commandments as they are in not being bothered. “By works of law no flesh will be declared righteous before him,” said the apostle Paul. So we must accept that to which the Law pointed and embrace God’s standard of what is right and not an abridged edition of our own.—Rom. 3:20; 10:2, 3.
7. Why is it not the mark of a Christian to tell visiting ministers of Jehovah’s witnesses that they are not interested?
7 There are those who, upon learning that the minister who is calling at their door is one of Jehovah’s witnesses, will say, “No, I’m not interested.” But in what are they not interested? If they have given him opportunity to explain his mission they know that the minister has spoken to them about the Almighty God, his Word the Bible, the need of an accurate knowledge of the truth, the divine promises of life in a new world and other related matters. Now, in which one of these things is he not interested? One who as a Christian is sincerely interested in pleasing God is deeply interested in these things. It is true that he may hold beliefs different from those being presented to him by the visiting minister; but since they are being presented from the Bible, it should rouse deep interest on his part. And if his beliefs are different, why not prove them to the visitor? (Acts 17:11) The foremost requirement for life is that we love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. (Mark 12:29-31) That heartfelt love shows itself by the use of our faculties to learn of God and his purposes. Of course, it may be that the householder feels that he has the Christian faith and already knows the things being discussed. If he does, then he will wisely call to mind the further Christian requirement that he ‘love his neighbor as he does himself,’ and he will welcome the opportunity to discuss the truth with his neighbor. (Eph. 4:25) He will also recall that Christians are known by their fruits. (Matt. 7:20) And here at the door is one who is bearing the fruits that mark a Christian. He is following the house-to-house ministerial pattern set by Christ Jesus and the apostles and is presenting the message of the Kingdom that Christ said would now be preached. Consequently, when one comes to you with a message from God’s Word, love of God and love of neighbor should move you to listen to what he has to say.
8. Why cannot a Christian afford to be “too busy” to listen to a discussion of God’s Word?
8 Those making Christian visits at the homes also meet many who are “too busy,” who “have no time to listen.” Perhaps they are “too busy” because they expect company, are watching television or are reading the newspaper. Now is the time to ‘buy out the opportune time for yourselves, because the days are wicked.’ (Eph. 5:16) If we have no time to listen to God when he sends his servants to us, can we expect him to listen to us when we cry for deliverance into his new world?
9. Why is it that many say they are “too busy,” and why is their course unwise?
9 It is true that a householder may be sincerely rushed at the moment and may beg the minister to return at a time when he can listen free from the pressing distractions. If possible, he will be glad to accommodate such a one. However, on the part of many it is indifference toward the Kingdom message. They are like the ones against whom Jehovah spoke through his prophet Jeremiah: “Since the day that your fathers came forth out of the land of Egypt unto this day, I have sent unto you all my servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them: yet they hearkened not unto me, nor inclined their ear.” (Jer. 7:25, 26, AS) Many fail to consider that now is a time of judgment. This is no time for indifference. Jehovah God himself has placed his Son Christ Jesus on his heavenly throne and sent forth his anointed witnesses as publicity agents of the everlasting government of God. (Ps. 2:6; Isa. 43:10, AS) Treatment accorded to these anointed witnesses is counted as done to the King. (Matt. 10:42; 25:40) Rejection of these New World ambassadors and the message they bear is rejection of Christ, whom they represent, and will result in the rejection of that one who, like Esau, fails to appreciate spiritual things, but would rather attend to material or worldly interests. (Heb. 12:16) Lukewarm indifference, even though tendered by one who may endeavor to be kindly and polite, is no better recommendation in the eyes of the ‘one who has been appointed to judge.’ (Acts 17:31) More is required of a Christian. Said Christ: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or else hot. So, because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth.”—Rev. 3:15, 16.
10. What should Jehovah’s witnesses endeavor to do even when a householder is too busy to listen to a full eight-minute sermon?
10 Whether the householder makes a wise decision on the matter or not, he will find that the minister at his door was there to help. The minister will not force it on those who have no love of God, but, given the opportunity, he may endeavor to sow a seed of truth in the very brief discussion he is afforded. With well-chosen expression he may present just one pointed Scriptural thought that expresses the main point of the message he has brought. In fact, he prepares his presentations so that he can do this, knowing that he may often meet circumstances where it is necessary. While heeding the advice of Jesus not to throw the pearls of truth before swinish men, the minister’s love of neighbor does make him inventive of ways to reach the hearts of those who do ‘sigh and cry because of the abominations done’ in the land.—Matt. 7:6; Ezek. 9:4, AS.
FAITH IS REQUIRED
11. What is faith, and why is it vital to Christians?
11 To follow a Christian course in the God-defying old world requires faith. To be willing to swallow personal pride and humbly mold one’s thinking and life according to the truths one is shown from God’s Word, faith is vital. “Without faith it is impossible to win his good pleasure, for he that approaches God must believe that he is and that he becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.” (Heb. 11:6) But what is faith—the kind that is pleasing to God? One definition of faith given in Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary expresses the commonly accepted idea: It is “complete confidence, especially in someone or something open to question or suspicion.” On that basis, whenever a religious practice or teaching is called into question, the adherent says, “But you must have faith.” And with such “faith” those who are a part of the religious system are swept along in unquestioning submission to the whims of religious leaders. Is it safe? “A blind man cannot guide a blind man, can he? Both will tumble into a ditch, will they not?” (Luke 6:39) Luke commended those who did not follow a course of “blind faith” when he said: “Now the latter [Beroeans] were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with the greatest readiness of mind, carefully examining the Scriptures daily as to whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11) The faith that one must have in order to win God’s approval is clearly defined in Hebrews 11:1: “Faith is the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld.”
12. What basis is there for belief in God?
12 Christians have faith in God. Why? Not merely because as children they were told that there is a God, but because of overwhelming evidence to which they have given sober consideration, and which is an evident demonstration of the reality, God, whom they do not behold with their natural eyes. “For his invisible qualities are clearly seen from the world’s creation onward, because they are understood by the things made, even his eternal power and Godship, so that they are inexcusable.” (Rom. 1:20) The psalmist David considered that evidence and was moved to say: “The heavens are declaring the glory of God, and of the work of his hands the expanse is telling,” “How many your works are, O Jehovah! All of them in wisdom you have made. The earth is full of your productions.” (Pss. 19:1; 104:24) Yes, do not be moved by “blind faith,” but open wide your eyes and behold the orderly movement of the heavenly bodies, the divine wisdom evident in nature, the intricate design and outstanding beauty of creation, because these are an evident demonstration that there is a Creator, that God is.
13. What basis was there for Abraham’s faith in the birth of a son?
13 Abraham, the friend of God, is cited in the Bible for his outstanding faith. Jehovah promised him that in his old age he would have a son, Isaac. “And, although he did not grow weak in faith,” Abraham did not believe merely because it sounded good. “He considered his own body, now already deadened, as he was about one hundred years old, also the deadness of the womb of Sarah. But because of the promise of God he did not waver in a lack of faith, but became powerful by his faith, giving God glory and being fully convinced that what he had promised he was also able to do. Hence ‘it was counted to him as righteousness.’” (Rom. 4:11, 19-22) He knew that from a human standpoint it was not possible; but, because God, who himself had created man with the powers of transmitting life to his offspring and had given to woman the ability to conceive and bring forth children, was the One who promised, Abraham believed. He had an assured expectation of that in which he hoped.
14. Why are we warranted in exercising faith in the establishment of “new heavens and a new earth”?
14 Looking ahead to that in which servants of the living God have for centuries anchored their confidence, Peter said: “But there are new heavens and a new earth that we are awaiting according to his promise, and in these righteousness is to dwell.” (2 Pet. 3:13) This is an assured expectation, and the assurance lies in that the One who promises them is also their Creator. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen. 1:1) ‘The heavens are the work of his hands’ and he is the “Creator of the ends of the earth.” (Ps. 102:25; Isa. 40:28, AS) There is an evident demonstration of the fact that God can create a heaven and an earth. Now he has taken action to fulfill his promise of a new world by planting the new heavens with Christ on the throne A.D. 1914 and laying the foundations of the new earth by bringing into existence his New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses A.D. 1919. Prophecy now being fulfilled shows that in this generation all the wicked will be cleansed from earth and its vicinity and an uplift to the perfection known to man in Eden will take place. His almighty power and eternalness guarantee that, true to his word, they will abide forever.
15. On what is true Christian faith based?
15 Now, on what is such faith built? Is it merely a product of our reasoning, something that is gradually acquired as a result of the experiences of life? No, “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Rom. 10:17, AV) “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17) That the Bible is a solid basis for faith is abundantly testified to by archaeology, geology, history and the fulfillment of prophecy found in the Bible itself. The Bible and Archaeology says: “The Bible can do nothing but gain from an increase of knowledge.” It is impossible to have the faith that pleases God without knowledge of his Word. It is impossible to have a solid faith without accurate knowledge. If you give all diligence to show yourself approved to God, you will study the Bible.
THE CHRISTIAN COURSE
16, 17. What does it mean to be a Christian in our day?
16 From the foregoing discussion it is evident that a true Christian is not merely an adherent of one of the religious organizations that includes in its teachings the name of Christ. If he is a disciple of Jesus he has learned from Jesus, and that means that he believes the things that Jesus believed and accepts the things that Jesus taught. He does not shortsightedly set up his ideas as more desirable than the Bible, not even in matters he may not yet understand, but as a Christian he accepts the teaching of Christ, who said: “Your word is truth.” (John 17:17) And, not only does he accept the entire Word of God, but he also accepts the agency or organization that has been designated by the Master “to give them their food at the proper time. . . . Truly I say to you, He will appoint him over all his belongings.” (Matt. 24:45-47) Through the prophet Isaiah God identifies that faithful servant when he says: “Ye are my witnesses, saith Jehovah, and my servant whom I have chosen.” (Isa. 43:10, AS) Those who recognize the voice of the Right Shepherd, Christ Jesus, are in increasing numbers associating themselves with the New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses.
17 A Christian is a footstep follower of Christ. Not only does he believe differently, but he also acts differently from the rest of the world. “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:35) It affects their family life, their relationship with one another and with those to whom they preach. It marks them as different from the old world. True Christians are “no part of the world” and do not devote their time, energy and finances to perpetuating it. They do not get involved in its political, social and international squabbles. They “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” knowing that it is the answer to mankind’s problems. And, copying the example of Christ, they go from house to house in all parts of the world as witnesses, proclaiming “this good news of the kingdom.” Not as a pleasant pastime, although they find great joy in their ministry, but as the most important thing in their lives they pursue their service to Jehovah God as his dedicated servants. Those who are a part of the old world are not moved by love of God nor do they long for his new world, but they bitterly oppose those who advocate it. The result has been the fulfillment of the words of Jesus: “You will be hated by all the nations on account of my name.” And the inspired apostle Paul added: “In fact, all those desiring to live with godly devotion in association with Christ Jesus will also be persecuted.” (Matt. 24:9; 2 Tim. 3:12) For their faithful Christian course they will be rewarded with everlasting life in the new world, where they will continue to find delight in doing the will of God.