What is the difference between being a “good” person and being a Christian?
When someone does something nice, kind, or even loving for me or my family, I think, “Wow, what a great person!” or “That’s so nice!” or “What a wonderful thing to do!”
Here’s what I don’t think: “That person must be a Christian” or “I want to learn more about God” or “I’m inspired to visit a church!” or “I think I should read a Bible.”
The problem with simply “living out our faith”—showing people we’re Christians through loving acts of service and kindness—is that it doesn’t communicate anything beyond basic goodness. At some point, Christians must actually talk about Christ.
Realistically, you can’t really tell who’s a Christian and who isn’t by observing their actions, listening to their words and witnessing their lifestyle. You can’t enter a grocery store or walk through a busy downtown and specifically point out who’s Christian and who’s not—neither can anyone else.
Let’s stop pretending we’re evangelizing when in reality we’re just practicing common decency. Being nice, kind, helpful, respectful and generally a good person isn’t the same thing as communicating the Gospel of Christ.
Don’t get me wrong, we are called to love our neighbors—even our enemies!—and humbly serve others as Jesus did. Of course we are! But Jesus also talked about spirituality, faith and His relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
He mentioned things like sin, salvation, faith, forgiveness and the Kingdom of God. His actions were coupled with a message: the Gospel.
The problem with many modern Christians is that we’ve seen and experienced too much bad evangelism: the crazy street preachers shouting at strangers, the late-night televangelists peddling for money, The Westboro Baptists picketing funerals, the corrupt pastors who eventually make the news for all the wrong reasons.
Christians are so tired of the harassment, manipulation, hidden agendas, lies, abuse, hate, bigotry and downright sin that’s been associated with “spreading the Gospel of Christ” that they’ve simply abandoned talking about Jesus altogether.
Telling anyone about Christ or the Bible or even carefully inviting someone to church is a social faux pas. It’s becoming less culturally acceptable to evangelize.
It’s understandable why many believers don’t want to. You don’t want to be seen as that person: The crazed lunatic who believes in a supernatural deity, the anti-science, anti-environment, homophobic, religious fundamentalist who believes in the existence of an afterlife.
Thus, Christian churches, schools and other institutions slowly adapt to a form of accommodation—where comfort, entertainment and personal satisfaction are idolized above truth, where God is simply utilized as a conceptual permission for our passive apathy.
To escape negative perceptions, we avoid sharing the Gospel altogether. Similar to talking about politics, we avoid speaking about God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, the Bible and anything else that makes us—and definitely others—uncomfortable.
But discomfort is sometimes the first sign of something being meaningful. We’re often passionate about superficial things because we’re afraid to be vulnerable about anything important.
Christians tend to prefer evangelizing entirely one way or the other. They either evangelize with just actions, or just words. The key is to find a balance of both.
What we really need to do is emulate Jesus. A faith in Christ surely requires love, peace and the fruits of the Spirit. But it also demands that we promote Christ’s existence with others through gracefully sharing our testimonies and being willing to intentionally communicate the love of God.
Glorify God and share His wonderful existence through the verbal, active, demonstrative and life-changing love of Jesus. God help us.
It is amazing to think that some people actually believe they are good enough to get into heaven. Perhaps it is because we read so much bad news in the papers about others that we are quick to conclude that by comparison we are superior, and so deserving of a place in eternity.
It is even more amazing when you then consider that if a Christian were to stand in front of their friends and claim that they knew they were going to go to heaven, they would be regarded as being conceited, boastful and arrogant. How can they think that they are better than everyone else?
The fact that the same person can think themself superior to others, whilst at the same time criticising Christians for arrogance underlines one of the joys of living in a post-modern world. But how do we respond to the question, Why can’t I just be a good person? Isn’t it unfair of God to say that you can’t get into heaven unless you believe in Him, even though you have been a good person? Who does He think he is!
“People are basically good”, wrote one poet, “it is only their behaviour that lets them down.”
Believing or doing?
Jesus was once asked what we must do in order to please God and so gain entry to heaven: “What must we do to do the works God requires?” (John 6:28). They asked the question in the plural – what works – they wanted a list of good things to do. Jesus replied in the singular, “The work of God is this – believe in the one he has sent.” But what makes belief so special? Surely what we do is far more important than what we believe? How can a good person, who is not a Christian, be denied access on the basis of belief?
The difficulty with the question of why it’s not enough to be a good person lies in the assumption that is made in it, namely that there is such a thing as a good person. Jesus was once asked the question, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18). The assumption is clear: Jesus is a good person, good people go to heaven, so what must I do to also be in the same group? Jesus’ reply is surprising – “Why do you call me good?”, he asks. Good question. Why is he good? Jesus goes on to answer his own question – “No-one is good but God alone.” Now, if we accept the common assumption that only the good go to heaven, and God alone is good, who on earth is going? The answer must surely be no-one – except God himself.
The simple truth is that the issue is not about good people not getting into heaven. Alas, the problem is much worse! The question really is who on earth can get in at all? It is not a question of being more good than bad in order to qualify for eternal life. Jesus seems to define goodness in terms of being like God, and on that basis there are no good people anywhere.
The Good News
However, the Gospel is good news. The good news is that getting into heaven is first and foremost about forgiveness. Christians can be sure that they are going to heaven, not because they are good, but because they have received forgiveness.
Belief in Christ and faith in Christ mean much more than just thinking that He existed.
Jesus did not come into the world simply to set a good example, tell us to lead better lives or even to ask us to pray more and read our Bibles regularly. He came into this world primarily in order to make forgiveness for us possible. It is why, when he looked forward to the Cross, he stated that it was for this very reason he had come into this world. The real question as we have said is not about who is good enough to get in. The real question is how God makes it possible for anyone to get in at all. The answer is that we need to be forgiven, and that forgiveness is won for us through the Cross.
There is a second part to the question: Is belief important? Does it really matter? In our world, belief means little more than intellectual acknowledgment of something. However, the verb to believe in the New Testament signifies more than just that. Belief in Christ and faith in Christ mean much more than just thinking that He existed. They mean complete reliance and trust in him. In other words, it is about trusting in and relying on Jesus (His promises, His person, His life, His death and His resurrection). That is what makes salvation possible. Christians are not good people because they live morally superior lives to everyone else. They have been made good by having been forgiven what they have done wrong and by being given a goodness (righteousness, if you prefer) from Christ.
So good people will go to heaven. However, the path to goodness lies not in religious observances, but in the forgiveness of a good God, given to us through the Cross of Christ.
This is such an excellent and Biblical answer, I can’t believe I’m the first person to like it!
I’ll back up what this gentleman, @Kirk wrote with an excellent talk by Ray Comfort years ago that is more true today than ever:
Title: True & False Conversion
Speaker: Ray Comfort
Length: 58 minutes 2 seconds
https://youtu.be/RIb3YcwUbG4 <=== click here to see this talk
Being a “Christian” simply means you believe that Jesus Christ is the savior of mankind. The end.
Secondarily, it (likely) means that you believe what it says in the Gospels that Jesus said. Thirdly, it (possibly) means that you believe in the rest of the New Testament as being commentary of a sort by qualified figures upon the Gospels.
The last paragraph is about as far as you can go without it turning into religion. Religions may be good, they may be bad, they may help you be a good Christian, they may not. They are creations of humans - theoretically based on the inspiration of Jesus, but they are not Jesus. They are groups of people.
So, if you believe in Jesus as being “Jesus” then you are a Christian. How you act, and how you conduct yourself, and how much effort you PERSONALLY put into understanding Jesus’ teachings and living that way. And, too (though this is my opinion) having a personal relationship with Jesus, which sounds too corny for the cynical, but it means, praying, which means talking to the dude.
Anything else is religion, which is groups of people with a common dogma who feel that gathering together serves their common purpose. Which it may. Unfortunately, it’s like bricks - too many people think that talking about bricks, or having heard people talk about bricks, means they are a bricklayer. It doesn’t. Or, saying you hate hearing people talk about bricks means you won’t be a bricklayer. Or that you heard of people hurting others over disagreements about bricklaying and you don’t like that. You see the problem. Jesus is the bricks, not the talk. Jesus IS, Jesus is not an action. Without the action in a good way between you and Jesus, you don’t have much. It doesn’t involve me or anybody else, not in the end. If it does, it’s just talking about bricks.
God has made mankind in order for them to have a genuine relationship with Him in which He gets to occupy first place in their lives. In other words, mankind is made to seek God above all. Their whole behaviors and attitudes must revolve around their Maker.
Although God’s initial plan for humanity has never changed; however, the fall of mankind has created a great deal of confusion, especially in the area of belief. All throughout the history of humanity, there have always been various types of erroneous beliefs men have been holding onto as truth. Having a relationship with God implies having a firm belief in Him, which means that men are made with the ability to believe in God.
However, due to sin that has entered the world, that ability men have to believe in the true God has been corrupted. Having said that, there’s no doubt about the fact that men do have a natural tendency to believe in someone or something. Sadly, their beliefs are often placed in the wrong things, or in deceptive things that will ultimately lead to eternal damnation. If we’re taking a thorough look at the mentality of men as a whole, men seem to be more prone to believe in the lie than the truth.
Due to deception that’s being spread all around the world by Satan, humanity has experienced a significant rise of false religions that are centered wholly on what people can do within their own human ability in order to please their god. With these false systems, you then have what’s commonly known as a work-based type of salvation. The problem is that men just don’t have any capability at all of producing spiritual good or work for their own salvation from sin.
What’s The Difference Between Being a Christian And Being a Religious Person?
Being a religious person is to believe that if you follow certain principles or legalistic traditions earnestly that will somehow grant you favor and acceptance from your god. A religious person is someone who sees his life in the sense of what he can always do out of himself in order to bring pleasure to his god. While being a Christian is to believe that you’re saved by grace through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8). Someone whose life is centered entirely upon Christ’s death and resurrection. Lastly, someone who sees his life in the light of God’s ability to work through him in order to bring forth authentic transformation.
Being a Religious Person Grants You The Right to be Boastful And Arrogant.
This statement compels us to take a glimpse at the behavior of the Pharisees famously known as the “Proud religious leaders” during Jesus’ earthly ministries. The Pharisees along with the Scribes were self-righteous in their conducts. They were far more interested in adhering to their legalistic traditions for the sake of making themselves look better to others.
In that case, they were much more concerned about their own outward appearance to others than what was going on the inside (Matthew 23:27). It was all about how people see them in the light of their conducts rather than how God sees them. If somebody is not living up to their own standard they thought that they had every right to look down at that individual by passing critical judgment on them. They could have easily deceived men with their deceptive lifestyles but not God. Let’s take a look at this verse below found in Luke chapter 18.
The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get’ (Luke 18:11).
This verse clearly illustrates the type of prideful and arrogant attitude the Pharisees held. Admittedly, they had every reason to be proud of themselves because they strongly believed that they had achieved something meaningful that they can boast about. That’s the fundamental problem with work-based type of salvation, it glorifies the individual in the context of accomplishing something within his power and will that he can count on.
Interestingly, it was no longer about the Pharisees comparing themselves to God’s righteousness standard and see where they were falling short and why they desperately needed Christ. Instead, it was all about them comparing others to their own self-righteousness standard.
The truth is what when it comes down to comparing yourself to others, you’ll always try to compare yourself to those you think that are far worse than you are. The big issue is that comparing yourself to others is nothing more than an excuse for you to not take your own responsibility about your sinfulness to God. That’s why God hates that’s type of irresponsible attitude up to the core.
Being a Christian is to Live a Self-less Life Based Fully on Humility.
One thing that we lay a hold of as Christians is God’s grace dispensed to us through Christ. Grace is one of the major pillars upon which our lives are built. As you already know, grace is defined as unmerited favor from God. It’s totally dependent upon God reaching out to us regardless of our own unworthiness and sinfulness. The doctrine of grace and the doctrine of work are the exact opposite of each other. They cannot coexist together. Meaning that you can’t have both of them at the same time as many falsely believe. Since grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9), you don’t need work on top of it.
If you fully grasp the fact that you’ve been saved by God’s grace, you cannot go around and boast about that. You cannot develop an attitude of considering yourself superior to others because you were just as sinful as them, even worse than them. You will not try to use your own self-righteousness standard in order to pass critical judgment on others because the Christian life implies dying to self and alive unto Christ. You become who you are as a result of what Christ has done for you. Conversely, you’ll adopt an attitude of being compassionate, merciful, and gracious to others in the context of being willing to help them come out of the ungodly state they’re currently in by leading them to Christ in a loving fashion.
Given these points, it’s obvious that there’s a sharp difference between being a Christian and being a religious person. In short, being religious is to rely on your own human ability in order to do things that will please your god, whereas being Christian is to acknowledge your own human inability and sinfulness by allowing God’s to work through you in order for Him to mold you by His Spirit into the person He wants you to be through Christ.
Faith is more prominent within Christianity than good works, though it does not mean that being good and faith are different, rather they relate to each other.
Perhaps, we can start with good works
Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV)
36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Essentially, all good works are manifestation of love.
Now, how does love relate to faith?
Galatians 5:6 (ESV)
6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
We see here that faith isn’t something hidden, but it manifest through love.
It’s a common misconception (1) in Book of James that faith and works are separate, actually James sees works as manifestation of faith, an active faith, the real thing.
James 2:14-26 (ESV, emphasis mine)
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good[b] is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 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. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
Essentially, a professing Christian will manifest good works because of his faith.
Using analogy, how would you know that some one is a good programmer? you don’t just accept what he says, you check the code he produces, the past projects he has created, etc. His output will prove what’s inside.
A good person shows and expresses his or her goodness according to what he or she knows feels right. We all have this instinct of being good and we have this tendency to do what is good. It is in our nature. Kindness, compassion, helpfulness, obedience and etc. are among those characteristics.
Good persons do good for other people. Their goal can be to please people or just to satisfy themselves. It can also be doing service to the community or finding his or her identity as a citizen.
They can have different goals but their goal is not bound with God’s goals or they are bound with their religions’ teachings and doctrines.
Christians are good in nature since they are enlightened with the fact that doing good is part of being a Christian and that is to follow God. They do good to please God and to imitate what God is doing to us. Their goal is to follow God and be what He is like. Their is a certain level.
The difference of the two is on which is their goal to on whom they pattern their good deeds.
You can be a good person but not a Christian. But being a Christian is being a good person also.
For me, being a “good” person would mean simply doing good things for several reasons. You can be a good person but still not be a Christian if it does not coincide with your beliefs, so you are considered a “good” person based on your actions. Being a Christian is a different thing, it would mean accepting and believing in the Lord God as our Savior.