What is a Christian?

What is a Christian? This question has been debated by believers and skeptics for centuries. It is often defined in light of the time and culture in which persons find themselves living.

Simply speaking, a Christian is a person who follows the teachings and principles of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the central figure of Christianity. Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament, the second section of the Christian Bible. With a few exceptions, Christians believe Jesus is the Son of God and the savior of humanity. Faith in him as Savior leads to eternal life. The exceptions are outside of historic Orthodoxy and considered adjacent Christian cults.

As the name implies, a Christian is one who accepts that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, God’s chosen one. Christ is Greek for ‘Anointed One.’ The Hebrew equivalent is Messiah. Due to the Jewish origin of this concept, Christianity accepts the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, as authoritative. Jesus and all his earliest followers were Jews. It was only later, after conflict with other Jews, who did not believe that Jesus was the Christ, and after Gentiles (non-Jews) were accepted as followers of Jesus that Christianity defined itself separately from Judaism.

Christian History

There are various sects within Christianity, including Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. Within these sects are thousands of denominations and belief systems. These groups have various interpretations of Jesus’ teachings and the role of the Church in spiritual matters, but they all generally hold the belief in Jesus’ divinity with salvation being a central tenet of their faith.

The history of Christianity dates back to the first century CE when Jesus preached in the region of Palestine. After his death, his followers, known as the apostles, continued to spread his teachings and the religion began to spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. Over time, Christianity became the dominant religion in Europe and has since spread to every corner of the globe.

Christian Beliefs

Christianity is founded on the belief in one God, who is the creator of the universe and all living things. Christians believe that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good and that he is present in all things. They also believe in the existence of the Holy Spirit, who is the third person of the Holy Trinity, along with God the Father and Jesus the Son. These three within the Godhead are of one essence but are separate in function and person. The belief in the triune nature of God is a central tenet of the Christian faith. This was codified at the Council of Nicea in 325 CE in what is called the Nicene Creed. This council along with others served to define the parameters of Christian doctrines, including what is accepted as canon in the Christian Bible.

One of the central teachings of Christianity is the belief in the divinity of Jesus. Christians believe that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary and that he is the Son of God. They also believe that Jesus was fully human and fully divine and that through his death and resurrection, he conquered sin and death and made it possible for humanity to be reconciled with God.


Another important aspect of Christianity is the belief in the Bible as the inspired word of God. The Bible is divided into two parts. The Old Testament contains the Hebrew Scriptures. The New Testament contains the origins, life, and teachings of Jesus and the writings of apostles that illuminate the significance of Jesus and how to live, individually and corporately, as followers of Jesus Christ. Christians believe that the Bible is the ultimate authority on matters of faith and practice. They also believe it contains revelation of God’s will and plan for humanity. Roman Catholicism includes additional books in the canon known as The Apocrypha that are not included in Protestant versions of the Bible.


The Christian faith is centered on the belief in Jesus as the savior of humanity. Christians believe that through faith in Jesus, one receives forgiveness for their sins and is reconciled with God. This belief is expressed through the sacrament of baptism, which initiates believers into the Christian community. Various Christian denominations hold diverse perspectives on the significance of and modes of administering baptism. Further, Christians believe that they receive the power to serve as witnesses to the deity of Christ and his message of salvation through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

Christian Practice

In addition to orthodoxy, defined by church tradition and councils, Christianity also emphasizes orthopraxy. Orthopraxy places a strong emphasis on the importance of love, compassion, and service to others. Christians are called to follow Jesus’ example and obey his command to love each other as he has loved them They are also to love their neighbors as themselves as expressed through acts of charity and service, such as helping the impoverished, the sick, and the marginalized.

In addition to personal faith and practice, Christianity also has a communal aspect. Believers gather together in churches for worship, fellowship, and to receive teaching and guidance. The Church is a source of support and encouragement for believers and plays a vital role in the spread of the gospel.

There are many practices and rituals associated with Christianity. These include prayer, worship, and the celebration of sacraments such as communion, baptism, and Christian marriage. Christians also observe various holy days and festivals, such as Christmas, which commemorates the birth of Jesus, and Easter, which celebrates his resurrection.

In Summary

A Christian is someone who seeks to follow the teachings and principles of Jesus Christ, as recorded in the Bible. In doing so, Christians believe they have been given the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and eternal life with Jesus. A Christian embraces truths about God and Jesus that as defined by their particular tradition. Beliefs generally include the deity of Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection, and the triune nature of God. Additionally, Christians believe in the attributes of his benevolent omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. A Christian gathers with other like-minded believers in a myriad of cultural contexts and trusts in the Bible as a guide for daily life and eternal salvation, as interpreted by their tradition and spiritual leaders.


What do you think? Please share your thoughts below.

Too often, people answer faith questions with dogmatic certitude and neglect the historic diversity and complexity of Christian ideas. The Questions Project is a resource that responds to questions about faith, history, and scripture in a way that honors the historical diversity and complexity of Christian thought. But, this is a work in progress and we want your help. Please provide feedback. We are particularly interested in knowing what we may have missed and how we can improve our responses. Please keep all comments kind or risk deletion.


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  • Glenda Hunteru says:

    Yes, that sounds right. Jesus came and preached love, not strict rituals. I have a few problems with some passages. I was very frightened when I was a child and young adult. I live in Tennessee if that tells you anything. I don’t believe in hell. But I came by it on my own. I would be worried about the whole world that would miss out on and go to hell. I can’t take that. But I can’t scripturally make my point. But I know there is a point there. The splinter in your eye is a log in someone else’s. Narrow is the gate and hard is the way to Salvation, Not everyone will see God because of their way is just so different. I can’t see that happening. Thank you.

  • Karen Freeman says:

    Overall, this is very good and clear. I have an issue with “Christians believe that God… is present in all things.” That sounds like pantheism to me, which isn’t an orthodox view. Also when God’s omnipotence is explained, I think it would be good also to say something about the free will that we have been given. Although God is all-powerful, God doesn’t interfere with free will.

  • I’m grateful for non-hagiographic non-apologetic professional researchers who seriously analyze both Scriptural and non-Scriptural content (like Josephus and Tacitus) to construct the most historically likely profile of an inspired rabbi, Jesus, who got the imperialist Roman authorities riled up enough to torture him to death.

    It might be useful to apply the most updated scholarship to a relatively authentic “voiceprint” of Jesus’s thinking on social justice.

    At a time when all codes of ethical decency for the globe seem to be collapsing, one chief interest, of many, in the historical Jesus today lies in his having modeled a level of empathy and ethics exceptional in any age. Here is a fully historical human being whom the typically brutal Roman authorities executed — yes, brutally — but the record is so swamped with additional accretions that it’s taken fearless secular scholarship like that of Ehrman and other staunch secularists to single out the earliest textual stratum that is closest to the real history. The most likely conclusion is that there was a real such rabbi from Galilee called Jesus, who was human and preached social inclusiveness and riled up the Roman authorities. As such, the Romans initially viewed him as primarily a political phenomenon. In fact, today, the figure of Jesus, whether or not he himself viewed himself in that light, now has as much to do with the history of politics as the history of faith.

    The human historical Jesus is the Jesus that professional secular non-apologetic academic researchers of today, who do in-depth historiography for a living, subscribe to, and it’s the model that anyone who’s reasonably well educated perceives as perfectly plausible. It is not necessarily the Jesus that Christians subscribe to.

    We are indebted to the careful historical research that has generated a usable profile of the rabbi Jesus’s chief reflections and his biography. To begin with, there have been philological analyses from various researchers, looking at distinctive Aramaic markers, as well as signs of oral transmission, in three of the four Gospels. Those three Gospels are termed the Synoptics: Mark, Matthew and Luke. Now, Aramaic markers by definition are not in Aramaic but are trace elements in the original Koine Greek in which the Synoptics are written, verses in which word order, syntax, etc., show structural similarities to Aramaic despite the text being in Koine Greek.

    The Jesus that emerges here is a young man who adopts many of the beliefs of his time, but, above all, supplements those beliefs with certain pioneering social notions of his own.

    Once we confine ourselves scrupulously to the data outlined above, there is an integrity to those ideas that strongly suggest they all come from one man. There is now a professional academic secular consensus reflected in assessing this restricted documentation in this way.

    The data adds up to one example of how one gifted figure responds when confronted with the phenomenon of human suffering: to wit, elevate forgiveness, healing, service, etc.

    Aramaic stylometrics do suggest a historic stratum in some of the parallel Jesus sayings and pericopes in Matthew and Luke. Likewise, details in Mark’s action narrative sometimes suggest a much more human Jesus than is found elsewhere, likewise suggesting occasional traces of a historic stratum. So combining the parallel sayings in Matt./Luke plus a carefully sifted Mark effectively brings us as close to history as we can hope. What is most likely historical in the Jesus materials are not the many details in his bio (aside from members of his immediate family and the crucifixion, both confirmed in several non-Scriptural sources), but his Aramaic-tinged sayings in Matt./Luke. What he _says_ is often more historically reliable than what he does. If one can say that any part of the written record provides us with a profile of the authentic Jesus, it would be the parallel sayings in Matthew/Luke more than anything else. Modern scholars agree that the Luke versions of these sayings show signs of being less edited than the Matthew ones, along with showing somewhat more traces of Aramaic stylometrics as well.

    So the sayings extracted below, courtesy of modern scholarship, are from Luke, but — except for Discourse #1 — are sequenced here in the order that these topics come up in the Gospel of Mark, the earliest and sparest of the three Synoptics (Mark, Matthew, Luke). Because sequencing these Luke sayings as they appear in Luke can be confusing, given the helter-skelter nature of Luke’s distribution of them in his narrative, I chose instead to match the sequence as best one can with the appearance of these themes as they come up in Mark instead. The result is a more thematically coherent sequence, although it’s still a bunch of random sayings.

    The parallel teachings in Matthew/Luke appear to be _relatively_ the most authentic, courtesy of modern strictly secular scholarship. What is seen — in those selected Luke sayings that modern scholarship suggests may be the earliest — is a lot of what makes Jesus of historic importance. I have chosen to enclose only those parallel teachings in Matthew/Luke that address social ethics, rather than the entire collection of parallel sayings. The latter comes to roughly 30 Discourses; those on social ethics (enclosed below) come to seven. He pioneered a social ethic that introduced living for others, loving even one’s enemies, and reversing the social status of those with pretensions to greatness. This was a considerable package for his time.

    Enclosure follows.

    [from Luke]

    Discourse #1

    6:20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.
    21 Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh.
    22 Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake.
    23 Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets.

    6:27 But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,
    28 Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.
    29 And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also.
    30 Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.
    31 And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.
    32 For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them.
    33 And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same.

    6:35 But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.
    36 Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.
    37 Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:
    38 Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.
    39 And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?
    40 The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.
    41 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
    42 Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.
    43 For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
    44 For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes.
    45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.
    46 And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?
    47 Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like:
    48 He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock.
    49 But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great.

    Discourse #2

    17:33 Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.

    12:22 And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on.
    23 The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment.
    24 Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?
    25 And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit?
    26 If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest?
    27 Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
    28 If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?
    29 And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind.
    30 For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.
    31 But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.

    12:33 Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth.
    34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

    16:13 No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

    Discourse #3

    13:24 Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.

    13:26 Then shall ye begin to say, [Lord,] We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets.
    27 But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.
    28 There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.
    29 And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.
    30 And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.

    14:11 For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

    Discourse #4

    11:2 And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come.
    3 Give us day by day our daily bread.
    4 And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.

    Discourse #5

    14:16b A certain man made a great supper, and bade many:
    17 And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready.
    18 And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused.
    19 And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused.

    14:21 So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind.

    14:23 And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.
    24 For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.

    Discourse #6

    11:39b Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness.
    40 Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also?
    41 But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you.
    42 But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
    43 Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets.
    44 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them.

    11:46 And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers.
    47 Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them.
    48 Truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers: for they indeed killed them, and ye build their sepulchres.
    49 Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute:
    50 That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation;
    51 From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation.
    52 Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.

    Discourse #7

    12:39 And this know, that if the goodman of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through.
    40 Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not.

    12:42 And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season?
    43 Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.
    44 Of a truth I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he hath.
    45 But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken;
    46 The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.

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