Are All “Christians” Christian?

HOW many Christians are there? According to the Atlas of Global Christianity, in 2010 there were almost 2.3 billion worldwide. But the same publication also indicates that those Christians belong to over 41,000 denominations​—each with its own doctrines and rules of conduct. Faced with this bewildering array of “Christian” religions, it is understandable that some observers become confused or even disillusioned. They may wonder, ‘Are all who claim to be Christians really Christian?’

Let us look at the matter from a different perspective. A traveler is usually required to state his citizenship to a border official. He also needs to prove that he is who he claims to be by producing some identification, perhaps a passport. Similarly, a true Christian needs to do more than profess his faith in Christ. He needs to have additional identification. What would that be?

The term “Christian” first came into use sometime after 44 C.E. The Bible historian Luke reported: “It was first in Antioch that the disciples were by divine providence called Christians.” (Acts 11:26) Note that those called Christians were Christ’s disciples. What makes a person a disciple of Jesus Christ? The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology explains: “Following Jesus as a disciple means the unconditional sacrifice of [one’s] whole life . . . for the whole of his life.” A true Christian, therefore, is one who follows the teachings and instructions of Jesus, the Founder of Christianity, totally and unconditionally.

Is it possible to find such people among the many who profess to be Christians today? What did Jesus himself say would identify his true followers? We invite you to consider how the Bible answers these questions. In the following articles, we will examine five statements by Jesus that characterize and help to identify his true followers. We will consider how the first-century Christians measured up. And we will endeavor to see who among the many professing to be Christians today fit the pattern.