As a Christian, there are certain things that people who claim to be Christians say that frustrate me because the comments, either directed at me or thrown about in general conversation, are not supported by Scripture. One comment that I cannot stand usually comes when I ask someone, “Are you a Christian?” I bet some of you may know the response I sometimes get is, “Yeah, I’m a Christian. I believe in God.”
When I get this answer from people my head starts to spin. I become a little agitated even. Follow up questions start to swirl around my head and there are simply too many questions to address in a single conversation. The biggest question I want to ask the person I am talking to is, does a belief in God make you a Christian? The short answer is no. Absolutely not. Saying “I believe in God,” ultimately, means nothing.
Saying that the above statement is meaningless and does not mean anything for the person’s salvation may seem harsh to some people reading this. What it means to be a Christian and a Christ follower, however, is not wrapped up in such a simple statement. This general statement of “I believe in God” runs into several problems.
Every religion in the world talks about God, god, or gods, in different ways. It is important to understand that for Christians there is One God and that He has one message. Anything that does not fit with the message given to us in the Bible is not from the Christian God.
In the Old Testament, God distinguishes Himself from other “gods” in the surrounding tribes. An example of this is when God says to Moses, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6). God is letting Moses know that Moses is talking to the God of his ancestors, the God of the Israelites. God is making it clear to Moses that Moses is not talking to the “god” of the Amalekites or Canaanites. God makes statements like these throughout Scripture to set Himself apart from every other “god” the world has created. When someone says they believe in God, which one do they believe in?
When someone simply states they believe in “God” it does not necessarily mean they believe in the Christian God due to the fact they may not even know or believe what the Christian God says in the Bible. The individual may even call themselves a Christian but hold beliefs or act in ways that are completely contrary to what Scripture teaches. Now no one is perfect, but there is a difference between sinning and being flawed and holding views that are blatant contradictions to the Christian faith.
Furthermore, understanding how a person views God is important to understanding if they are worshipping the Christian God. Believing in God or believing that God exists is a great first step. But simply acknowledging or believing in His existence does not make one a Christian or mean one is saved and will go to Heaven when they die.
For the person who says they are a Christian because they believe in God, they need to think about what that statement means and think about what the Bible says about Christians being distinct from every other group of people in the world. Does believing in God distinguish them from other people who claim to believe in God or another “god”? Does it even distinguish them from supernatural beings? To provide a simple answer, it doesn’t.
In the Book of James, James (who was Jesus’ half-brother) writes, “You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror” (James 2:19). According to this verse, even the demons believe in God... But look at their current and eternal residence. A belief in God and even the knowledge of Him is clearly not enough to save an individual or set them apart from the other religions throughout the world. If James goes so far as to say a simple belief in God is on the same level as the belief demons have in God, should that not give one pause? What is being a Christian about then if not simply about believing in God?
Being a Christian, by definition, means being a Christ follower. A Christian is someone who believes in one God, the One God, the God of the Bible, and believes God sent His one and only Son (Jesus) to come and die for the world’s sins. A Christian believes that Jesus came into this world born of a virgin and that He lived a perfect and sinless life and that because He lived a perfect life He became the perfect and ultimate sacrifice for our sins. A Christian believes that after Jesus’ death on the cross Jesus was dead for three days but rose again to conquer sin and death. A Christian believes that Jesus gave up His life on the cross to save those who choose to put their faith in Him. A Christian puts their faith in Jesus by asking for forgiveness of their sins and believes that Jesus took the world’s sins upon Himself so that when we die with our faith in what He has done we will stand before God and God will consider us righteous. God will not see our old selves, but God will see our new selves in Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul writes, “For if you confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). This is our salvation. Believing that Jesus was sent by God is the key. If salvation was simply a belief in God there would be no reason for God to have sent Jesus in the first place. Christians do not just believe in God, but Christians believe in Jesus who is God in the flesh. They believe in Jesus’ teachings, they hold steadfastly to His teachings, they believe in His miracles, they believe in His death and resurrection, they believe He forgives their sins when they ask for forgiveness, and they believe that through Him they can be given, by His grace, eternal life.
The next time someone states that they are a Christian because they believe in God, kindly challenge them on their statement. Probe a little bit. Ask them what it means to be a Christian. Ask them if there is anything else that makes them a Christian. Ask them if they think they will be going to Heaven when they die and why. Depending on their answer, and if they do not mention being saved by Jesus, God may be opening the door for you to share with them the life-changing and life-saving Gospel.