There is a disagreement among some people over what it means to be Christian, and exactly which groups qualify as Christian. It is a curious occurrence indeed when a church that bears the very name of Jesus Christ is not perceived to be a Christian church.
Regardless of perceptions, opinions, and judgments rendered by individuals or groups, all debate about the meaning of being Christian quickly disappears as we look to the Son of God, and let Christ set the standard.
The following represents a foundational beginning point for defining what it means to be “Christian”–what it means to be “a follower of Christ.” The standard and “the way” (John 14: 6) must be set by the Savior Himself:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3: 16).
There is no question that being Christian begins with “believing in him.” Now, let’s look to our Lord Jesus to understand what it means to believe in Him:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also (John 14: 12).
Christ has established His doctrines of salvation: In the Savior’s own words, “believing in him” involves actively doing the “works” that He did–believing in Christ does not happen passively. In the New Testament, there are two fundamental meanings of the word “works” as follows:
The motive for which we do the “works of Christ” (Matt. 11: 2) defines the difference between “good works” and “dead works”–the former being a necessary element that manifests an active belief in Christ, and the latter being precisely the kind of work that Paul called empty “eyeservice” (Ephesians 6: 6).
This good and active form of faith in Christ is further reinforced by the New World Translation of John 3: 16, thus: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life” (John 3: 16, NWT).
The phrase “exercising faith” correctly captures the active expression of “believing” that followers of Christ will manifest through “doing good” (Acts 10: 38)–a goodness that honors and emulates the example set by the Savior.
The New Testament speaks of “dead works” but also warns of “dead faith”–a passive form of faith, devoid of diligently doing the works of Christ. Because he listened to and learned from the direct teachings of Jesus, we clearly understand why James declared:
“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2: 26).
Thus, true believers in Christ are active in their faith and will “work the works” of Christ, just as Christ did also “work the works of [the Father]” (John 9: 4).
Christ decried the practice of doing religious works to be “seen of men” (Matt 6: 5); works motivated to garner the “praise of men” (John 12: 43); works that foolishly try to build a tower to heaven, as if one could work his way to heaven by the puny power of mortal might–apart from “the merits of him who is mighty to save” (2 Nephi 31: 19). These are not “good works,” they are not faith-filled works.
In contrast, the “good works” that manifest belief in Christ, will witness of His infinite mercy and grace, for humble followers of Christ realize that they can only do good as they “abide in the vine,” for without Christ we “can do nothing” (John 15: 1-5).
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints not only believe in Christ but also believe His words–all of them. Mormons fully and wholly believe every word that Jesus has spoken from the beginning of time, until to today; we seek to faithfully live according to His words and His works–for such is the core meaning of being Christian.