Depending on whom you ask you will also get varying definitions.
I will attempt to give a generally good description of who we are, as compared to what others say about us. There is NO one definition for all of us. The all-encompassing word, Christian, is used as though it clearly identifies a specific group of people. It does not. Here are some examples of what I mean.
1. There are people who call themselves “Christian” just because they live in the United States. The idea here is that since the founding fathers used Christian concepts and doctrine in much of their initial work in the creation of the United States, this means that this is a “Christian” country. Therefore, all of its citizens would be “Christians” by default.
2. There are people who call themselves “Christians” just because their family and relatives all call themselves “Christian.” The idea here is that “Christianity” is more of a cultural identification. For example, if you are born in a Japanese family here in the US, and though you were not born in Japan, you are nevertheless a Japanese person. Therefore, if people are born in a “Christian” family, they might consider their selves “Christians” by default.
3. There are people who call themselves “Christian” because they attend a “Christian” church and believe that makes them a Christian. The idea here is that you are something by association. For example, if you visit Houston, then go to NASA, and then climb into and sit in a display spacecraft, does that make you an astronaut? Of course not, and attending a “Christian” church does not make anyone a Christian.
4. There are people who call themselves “Christian” for the sole purpose of taking advantage of the benefits that may come along with the identification. For example, a homeless person who is begging for money will identify him or herself as “Christian” or say “God bless you” in order to get someone else to give them money. There are also some persons who pretend to be “Christians” so that they can go into churches and con people out of their money and possessions, and many times to take advantage of them in other ways.
5. There are people who call themselves “Christian” because, at the time and moment, they may find it cool or emotionally satisfying to do so. Too often, at church events, the emotion of the moment may move people to respond to an altar call or motivational urge by the preachers. For a while, they do fine, but when the emotion fades (as it will), they start faltering in their commitment and identification with being “Christian.”
6. There are people who call themselves “Christian” because they want to embarrass Christians. The will call themselves “Christian” and then behave badly, use foul language, and even threaten others with hell and damnation because they know that this will make Christians look bad. They will adamantly argue that they are “true Christians” while at the same time behaving viciously against others.
7. There are people who call themselves “Christian” because they believe in a God, but they know they are not Moslem, Jewish, Buddhist or some other religion. This is “Christianity” by default. For example, if you learn about all the other religions, and you do not identify with any of them, then you consider yourself a “Christian” by default.
These seven groups (and there might be more) represent most of the people who are not true “Christian” but will argue that they are for their own specific reasons. The great thing about whether they are or are not Christians is that I do not get to decide for them. Whether they are truly Christians is between themselves and the Lord. On the other hand, we are encouraged in the Scriptures to pay attention to the “fruit” of the tree. The “fruit” will always tell you what kind of tree it really is. Before you mention that I should not “judge” others, the Bible teaches that if I am willing to accept judgement in the same manner as I judge others, then I can judge others.
So then, what is a “true” Christian?
Well, if I take the teachings of the Scriptures and interpret them carefully and correctly, I offer the following.
1. A Christian is someone who believes that God exists, has always existed, and will always exist. We do not try to explain it, and may not fully understand it, but we accept it because we do so by faith.
2. A Christian is someone who believes that the Bible, which includes the 66 canonized books, is God’s inspired Word. We believe that regardless selection process, these 66 books were what God wanted to be included.
3. A Christian is someone who believes that we must obey the teachings and instructions of the Bible as God direct commands to us. God knows we fail and err in our obedience to Him. God and we do not believe we are to be perfect in our obedience (though that is what God wants from us in the end). We are not answerable to non-believers, though we do believe we are to be examples to those persons of how imperfect people can still have a healthy relationship with a God who forgives and has mercy.
4. A Christian is someone who believes that though we are to get along with others the best we can, that we are not doormats. We are soldiers in Christ, an army of the Lord, conquerors in all things, and filled with the Holy Spirit. We do not have to take the abuse of others without the right to defend ourselves. We will “turn the other cheek” when we are able to demonstrate that we prefer to get along with others, but we will not cower in fear of no one. If God is for us, then who can be against us. We must love others but we do not have to like them. Thank God!
5. A Christian is someone who believes that we must challenge all teachings, including those from the Christian Bible. The Scriptures instruct us to “test” every “spirit” to see if it is from God. This means that to prove it is God leading us to do or believe something we must check it against the Scriptures. We are to see if some teaching will agree or disagree with what we think is from God. We know that deception is possible if we do not make ourselves familiar with the teaching of the Christian Bible.
6. A Christian is someone who accepts that other may judge us. We do not like criticism but accept that it comes along with the job. We are also willing to judge (not criticize) others in the same way that they may judge us. Judgments are important so that people may learn to make healthy decisions in their lives.
7. A Christian is someone who believes that the Holy Spirit of God lives within them. We are the only “religion” (by the way, we dislike that word) that believes this way. As well, we do not mean that God’s Spirit lives in us metaphorically; we mean that He lives in us for real. We believe that when we chose to accept Jesus as our Savior, the Holy Spirit entered us, and will remain with us forever.
8. A Christian is someone who believes that God is omniscient. This means all knowing. Not only does this mean He knows everything, but He also knows what will happen ahead of time. We do not interpret this to mean He must interfere with events though he may make that choice.
9. A Christian is someone who believes that Heaven and the Lake of Fire are real. Therefore, our instruction is to tell others about salvation in Jesus Christ. If someone believes another person is in danger and does nothing to warn or prevent it, he or she is just as guilty. In the same context, we believe people have the right to reject Christ and have themselves cast into the lake of fire.
10. A Christian is someone who believes that God is omnipresent. This means that He can be anywhere and everywhere if He so chooses. It also means He does not have to be anywhere He chooses.
11. A Christian is someone who believes that God is omnipotent. This means all powerful. This means God has the ability to do anything He chooses to do. We understand that while He is all-powerful this does not also mean He has to interfere with human events, though He has done so in the past, and may choose to do so again. Just because God can do something, it does not mean He should do it. Saving people’s lives, stopping babies from deformed births, healing people, and other such are completely at His discretion and not open to debate from us.
12. A Christian is someone who believes that God is perfect. This means He does not make mistakes or fail. Everything He does is right and turns out the way He intended. His decisions are always correct because He knows the future. His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. He is able to do and think exceedingly beyond all we can think or imagine. We may be a little like Him, but God is nothing like us.
I could have kept on going a bit longer, but you get the point. Right? Can you see the difference between those above and the description I gave? Christians should not be lumped into the same pile as those who just call themselves “Christian.” Just as all non-Christians should be lumped into the same pile as Moslems, Jews, Atheists, Agnostics, and so on.