A biblical definition of “Christian”

There has been some discussion recently on another Mormon Coffee thread about the biblical definition of the word “Christian.” Some years ago I studied out this question. When I had my answer I wrote the following:

What is a Christian?

The word “Christian” is used 3 times in the New Testament.

“…And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.” Acts 11:26

“And Agrippa said to Paul, ‘In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?'” Acts 26:28

“Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” 1 Peter 4:16

The Greek word, ‘Christianos,’ means simply “follower of Christ.”

What does it mean to follow Christ?

“And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.'” Luke 9:23

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:13, 14

“‘And you know the way to where I am going.’” Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” John 14:4-6

“‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”’” Matthew 7:21-23

One who follows Christ is one who does the will of the Father.

What is the Will of the Father?

“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” John 6:40

“Then they said to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.'” John 6:28, 29

“And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.” 1 John 3:23

The will of the Father is to believe in Christ.

What does it mean to believe in Christ?

“You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” James 2:19

“And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.'” Mark 1:23, 24

Clearly the belief of these demons, recognizing who Jesus is and understanding His presence, is not what Scripture refers to when we are told to “believe in Him.”

What does it mean to believe in Christ?

“…’The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'” Romans 10:8-13

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” John 3:18

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12

Believing in Christ is not just a head knowledge, but requires complete trust and reliance on Christ, and Christ alone, for all that salvation means.

What is Salvation?

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” Romans 5:8, 9

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” John 5:24

“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.” Colossians 1:21, 22

Salvation, then, is being justified by Christ’s blood, saved from the wrath of God, passing from death into life, being presented unto God holy and pure.

Where is Salvation’s Eternity?

“If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” John 12:26

“…If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father…” John 14:28

The eternal dwelling place of those saved through Christ is in God’s presence, in His kingdom.

What is a Christian?

A Christian is a follower of Christ. A follower of Christ is one who does the will of the Father. The will of the Father is believing in Christ. Believing is not merely acknowledging, but trusting Christ alone for personal salvation. Personal salvation is being reconciled to God, having the promise of spending eternity in His presence.

The relevant question we are tempted to ask here, then, is “According to the biblical definition, are Mormons Christians?” This is not a question we can answer; thirteen million Mormons represent thirteen million different hearts. We can, however, look at the LDS faith system and examine the gospel it promotes. We can determine if Mormonism helps or hinders a person who desires to be a true follower of Christ.

Setting aside, for this discussion, the question of who the Christ of Mormonism actually is, my erstwhile essay on the biblical definition of “Christian” continued,

As we have seen, God has a specific definition attached to the word ‘believe’ when He reveals salvation and His Son to us in Scripture. Mormon doctrine does not allow for the granting of personal salvation to those who trust in Christ alone to be reconciled to God.

[Consider what] Brigham Young taught:

“no man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith. From the day that the Priesthood was taken from the earth to the winding-up scene of all things, every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, junior, as a passport to their entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are…” (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 7, p. 289)

“All those who believe in their hearts and confess with their mouths that Joseph Smith is a true Prophet, at the same time trying with their might to live the holy principles Joseph the Prophet has revealed, are in possession of the Holy Spirit of God and are entitled to a fullness.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 9, p. 312)

The Book of Mormon…says:

“For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” (2 Nephi 25:23)

Joseph Smith, the LDS Priesthood, personal worthiness…Mormonism teaches that God requires all of this (and more) to be added and combined with Christ, in order for an individual to gain a place in God’s presence for eternity. Therefore, based on my understanding of the biblical definition of “Christian,” I regard Mormonism to be a severe obstruction for any Latter-day Saint longing to follow Christ.

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
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116 Responses to A biblical definition of “Christian”

  1. GB says:

    Arthur Sido,

    I am responding to a statement you made on THIS thread.

    You say, “but many mormon apologists refuse to deal with the arguments made by Christians, dismissing them out of hand.”

    LOL!!! Talk about having ones head in the sand.

    Apparently you are unaware of this article written by two evangelical scholars.


  2. Berean says:


    I wasn’t referring to you, my brother in Christ. That comment was directed at our Mormon friend, GSWarthout, who just gives one-liners or four word answers that are unsubstantial to the points that I was making in my discussion with him. My posts have been in response to his as noted above.

    Short posts are great if you can get in all that you want to say. I maximize and like to go into depth with my positions. That’s just me. I can write a short post, too. Your posts are great. Keep up the good work!

  3. GB says:

    Jackg: Do you believe that you are justified by your faith, . . . .

    GB: The Bible says; James 2:21 Was not Abraham our father JUSTIFIED BY WORKS, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
    • • •
    24 Ye see then how that BY WORKS A MAN IS JUSTIFIED, and not by faith only.
    25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot JUSTIFIED BY WORKS, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?

    Jackg: . . . and that anything you could ever do in the way of works does not earn your salvation . . . .

    GB: I believe we are saved by grace, after all we can do.

    Jackg: In other words, what Jesus did on the cross was sufficient to save you.

    GB: Rom 2:6 (God) will render to every man according to his deeds:
    7 To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:
    8 But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,
    9 Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;
    10 But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:

    Jackg: Do you believe in grace, . . .?

    GB: Yes!

  4. JessicaJoy says:


    Thanks for the link to the article that was published in 1998. I’m afraid this research is a bit behind the times though.

    Evangelicals have really stepped up their efforts in the past ten years in order to interact with the research of FARMS and FAIR.

    In addition to all the very scholarly articles done by MRM, please see a scholarly response from evangelical apologists to a FARMS critique of their research:


    It appears Mormon scholars are not addressing some of the critical questions raised by evangelical apologists.

    Sorry Mods, this was a bit off-topic for the thread, but I was responding to GB’s accusation that we have our heads in the sand.

  5. Andrea says:

    Michael P must be channeling me! You are correct in the point I was making with Adam/God and went further down my line of thinking too. Thanks!

    Okay cluff. Here’s the deal: the pope is the authoritative voice for Catholicism -we are not Catholics. The prophet is the authoritative voice for Mormonism -we are not Mormons. Do you see what Arthur was saying?

    Secondly, you say that accepting Adam/God is not relevant to your salvation. Again, let me quote the JoD. (Please remember this sermon was given in the SLC Tabernacle -that sounds pretty authoritative to me.)

    “When our father Adam came into the garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, one of his wives, with him. He helped to make and organize this world. He is MICHAEL, the Archangel, the ANCIENT OF DAYS! about whom holy men have written and spoken-He is our FATHER and our GOD, and the only God with whom WE have to do. Every man upon the earth, professing Christians or non-professing, must hear it, and will know it sooner or later.
    “[Jesus] was not begotten by the Holy Ghost. …
    “Jesus, our elder brother, was begotten in the flesh by the same character that was in the garden of Eden, and who is our Father in Heaven. Now, let all who may hear these doctrines, pause before they make light of them, or treat them with indifference, for they will prove their salvation or damnation.

    Please please please read this sermon before you say another word on it. You can even read it online here.

    Thank you mods!

  6. Arthur Sido says:


    “I am responding to a statement you made on THIS thread.You say, “but many mormon apologists refuse to deal with the arguments made by Christians, dismissing them out of hand.”
    LOL!!! Talk about having ones head in the sand.
    Apparently you are unaware of this article written by two evangelical scholars.”

    My comment that referenced James White was on a different thread. “The works of people like James White, Bill McKeever, the tireless research of Sandra Tanner. What have you studied of their works?” from the questions thread. I think you may be getting a little confused.

    As far as the article, I am not familiar with it but I do have Owen and Mosser’s book (along with Richard Mouw) “The New Mormon Challenge” which makes many of the same points as that article. I respectfully disagree with Mssr. Owen and Mosser in many regards. I have found some apologetic material aimed at mormons to be not terribly useful and perhaps even harmful, like the Godmakers series. As a whole however mormon apologetic material typically focuses on personalities instead of facts. Linking back to JessicaJoy’s comment there are a number of Christian scholars that haave addressed the work of FARMS and other attack dog apologetic groups. Here is an example of one from Bill McKeever:
    http://www.equip.org/site/c.muI1LaMNJrE/b.2789327/k.B39F/JAM502.htm Stuff from FARMS sounds very scholarly until you start to dig into their claims.

    I also noticed that, like Cluff, you leave out verses when quoting scripture. In this case you leave out verses 22-23 of James 2

    You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”–and he was called a friend of God. (James 2:22-23)

    I am sure that was merely an oversight on your part, but coupled with the rest of James in context and Romans 4 & 5 we see that man is justified by faith alone.

  7. GRCluff says:

    Andrea, Arthur and Michael P:

    You each fell into my trap nicely. Loudly insisting that you are not catholics and the Pope is not your authoritive voice. You don’t believe what catholics believe? Christ is NOT a polygamst just because nuns are married to him?

    OK then, are Catholics Christian? That IS the topic of this thread. You seem to have some significant differences with the some points of Catholic theology.

    This smells like a double standard. You pick and choose the catholic doctrines you agree with when you define the term. Convenient.

    This smells like a double standard. You pick and choose the Mormon doctrines you disagree with when you define the term. (Church lady tone now) Convenient.

    You are quickly loosing credibility with me now. I hate double standards. They smell of hypocrisy.


    a pretense of having a virtuous character, moral or religious beliefs or principles, etc., that one does not really possess.

    YOU CAN’T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS. Either Mormons and Catholics BOTH are not Christian, or they both should be included.

    Put that in you cynical pipe and smoke it.

  8. GRCluff says:

    Arthur said:
    “Well no, because that is not Biblical evidence. Water baptism by immersion is not a function of the levitical priesthood. That is completely off the mark.”

    So it was just a coincidence that John the Baptist was a Levite? Another pretty big coincidence that Levites perform baptisms in the Jewish religion? A third big coincidence that Christ sought out this obsolete an unimportant ordinance?

    If Christ was the only High Priest why didn’t he just go baptise himself? He made it a point, in fact God the Father spoke at the time, IF you belive the Bible. He RECOGNISED the valid priesthood authority of a Levite. Deal with it man. Hollow– without pristhood authority that is what is left. A hollow shell of a religion. You cling to it like the bottom of an overturned boat. Grasping wildly for a grip.

    Here is your grip. John the Baptist RESTORED the missing Levitical, the Aaronic priesthood to JS on May 29, 1829.

    You turned in your valid baptism for a hollow shell. Good move Sherlock.

  9. DefenderOfTheFaith says:

    I am so disappointed that we have to hash through the same issues over and over. Bottom line is we will never agree on certain issues because the Bible leaves the valid points in either direction.

    I was hoping that we would evaluate some of the early Christian authorities (other than the Bible) to see what they had to say. If there were really “plain and precious truths” left out/removed then we would at least see some hint in their writings. I realize that if they are present, one could just say they were preaching false doctrine, but at least it would confirm that JS didn’t just make this stuff up.

    If any of my brethren would help me with this, that would be great. This thread doesn’t have much time left, I assume. Let’s try these for starters. Origen, Justin Martyr, Eusebius, Clement, etc.

    What did they say about the PreMortal Life, Priesthood, Continuing Revelation, The Trinity etc.? I do think it a courtesy it to our Christian brothers/sisters to give some light on what these early leaders talked about. Courtesy not obligation. We are obligated to testify. Which hopefully is being done in a Christlike manner. The Church is true (sorry Sido, I know it isn’t spectacular and sounds repetitive) and we can never prove that. But citation to our early Christian brethren may be helpful. I have also been delving into CS Lewis. Although I don’t rely on him for doctrine, his teaching sound familiar. I can’t believe he wasn’t cast out (Christianity) long ago. His doctrine sounds like my Elders quorum class.

    Cluff: who are your relatives? BYU ties? What about recent musicians?

  10. DefenderOfTheFaith says:

    I will get the ball rolling with a basic foundation of the necessity of LIVING prophets and apostles.


    “Therefore we may see, that after the advent of Jesus the Jews were altogether abandoned, and possess now none of what were considered their ancient glories, so that there is NO INDICATION OF ANY DIVINITY ABIDING AMONG THEM. For they have NO LONGER PROPHETS OR MIRACLES, traces of which to a considerable extent are still found among Christians, and some of them more remarkable than any that existed among the Jews; and these we ourselves have witnessed, if our testimony may be received.


    Remember painfully studying for the SAT’s? Here goes.

    Mormons are to Christians as Christians are to Jews. Why? Living prophets. Origen used this as criteria #1 as evidence to the Jews that Divinity no longer rested upon them and had shifted to the Christians. That should stir up the pot a bit.

  11. Michael P says:

    Cluff, you make no sense.

    I do not think the pope is authoritative, and I do not believe everything the Catholics believe, but I do share many of the beliefs. But this is a distraction, since you DO recognize the authority and all beliefs of your presidents, or at least you should. He is afterall, god’s voice on earth and his pronouncements are binding on your church.

    This is very different from my relationship to the pope.

    Do you understand this difference?

    Because it is key to understanding this criticism of your faith.

    And I’ll tell you one thing, your argument makes no sense to me.

    As to Catholics being Christian: I’d say they are. They do have some different takes on things, and come dangerously close to heresy on some, but they recognize the trinity as 3-in-1, the virgin birth, and that Christ is the only way to salvation. Areas where they are close to heresy are (not all inclusive) that Christ shows himself in the church, prayer through the saints, and recognition of the pope as Christ’s live representative on earth.

    These are not issues if Christ is indeed the focus, but become problematic when the focus is on the rosary or St. John, for example, rather than Christ.

    Shall we contrast these critiques with Mormonism? Let’s start with this: who do Catholics say Jesus is and who do Mormons say Jesus is?

    Do you want to do this? Remember when considering the above that Christianity, through all its differences, retains several things that are core and essential. These remain in Catholicism, even though there are some distinct differences.

    So, do you want to go here?

    BTW, why is it that you can pick and choose which doctrines given by your prophet are authoritative (a question that remains unanswered)?

  12. GB says:

    Arthur Sido,

    One more time since you apparently can’t remember what you have posted on THIS thread!!

    On the 12th you posted on THIS thread, and I quote; “GB, I would encourage you to call the Dividing Line with James White and see if he concurs with your interlinear interpretation of Hebrews 7:12.”

    To which I responded “Who is James White that I should believe any thing he says?”

    Perhaps you should see a doctor about your memory issues.

    Since you seem to think “that man is justified by faith alone”, I did a search of the Bible on “faith” and “alone”, and the only verse that has both “faith” and “ alone” is James 2: 17. And just so you don’t accuse me of trying to hide something I will quote enough verses to provide context.

    James 2:17 Even so FAITH, if it hath not works, is dead, being ALONE.
    18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
    19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
    20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
    21 Was not Abraham our father JUSTIFIED BY WORKS, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
    23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
    24 Ye see then how that by WORKS A MAN IS JUSTIFIED, and NOT BY FAITH ONLY.
    25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot JUSTIFIED BY WORKS, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
    26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

    And so we see that man is justified by faith AND WORKS, for “FAITH, if it hath not WORKS, is DEAD”!!!

  13. jackg says:


    As usual, a Mormon is dedicated to proclaiming a works-righteousness theology despite the fact that grace is the theme of the New Testament. It seems that Mormons just want to be able to brag about how righteous they are by what they are able to do. It’s very sad, indeed. By the tone of your comments to some of the Christians, here, it is clear that you are not ready to receive the grace God is offering you. The “after all we can do” clause from the BOM is false doctrine perpetrated on a people by a false prophet named Joseph Smith. The works that James refers to is evidence of our faith in Jesus Christ. Mormons present a backwards theology in perpetrating the lie that our works justify us. James is basically talking about genuine faith versus empty faith. If one is a Christian believer, just professing to be is not evidence. Works come after justification to prove our faith, but they are not prerequisite to salvation because prior to faith in Jesus Christ we can’t even enter into this discussion. So, works are evidence of our faith and an expression of God’s grace in our lives through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit as evidenced by the fruits of the Spirit. Works are evidence not justification; our faith justifies us.

    It is very sad that you do not believe Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was not sufficient to save you. Good luck trying to save yourself through your works. Your low view of Christ is an abomination before God and requires that you repent of it. Here’s something to think about: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith'” (Romans 1:16-17); and, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”

  14. jackg says:


    (Romans 5:21). Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us. Everything is centered in Christ. Sadly, your leaders are anti-God and proclaim a man-centered gospel. Jesus Christ died for you, GB. There is nothing you can do to save yourself. All our works are nothing but filthy rags. They only earn us death; in fact, that is what we deserved. But, God, in His grace, wants to reconcile us to Himself, and that work was finished in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. He is mighty to save despite the fact that you don’t believe it. And, that is the gospel of Jesus Christ, a message of “good news” and hope to a lost and fallen humanity.

  15. jackg says:


    I didn’t know it was proven that John the Baptist was a Levite. Where do you get your information? Besides, what really matters is that we are a priesthood of believers as has been so eloquently attested to by other Christians on this blog. It is a priesthood to minister in the name of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. I am a part of this royal priesthood as is EVERY CHRISTIAN BELIEVER, MALE AND FEMALE ALIKE! Your insistence on the priesthood of the Mormon Church is a losing battle in light of Peter’s words, the same Peter whose name Jesus used as a play on words when revealing that He, Jesus, was the Rock on which He would build His Church. Peter understood this, otherwise we would not have 1 Peter 2: 4-12. Jessica Joy is spot on with her explanation. But, if you want to push the “revelation” envelope, the revelation to which Jesus refers to is the revelation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. The fact that they walked with Jesus and witnessed His miracles and received His teachings first hand did not cause Peter to cry out that He was the Messiah, it was revelation from God. This is specific revelation that is the foundation for a testimony of Jesus Christ; it is not general revelation that you want to attach to your Church leaders who are false prophets. They are teaching you false doctrine as they set themselves up as authorities over you in a system that discourages you and all Mormons from questioning their utterances. It is all very sad, and I continue to pray for you and for all Mormons that you might all receive the grace of God offered to you through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.

  16. Sharon Lindbloom says:

    Time to move on. Thanks, all.

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