What is a true Christian?

By Tom and Karen Quiner

It’s a good question.

A Quiner’s Diner reader, a self-professed agnostic, asks what is a true Christian? Here’s how we see it.

A true Christian is a sinner. Let’s lay it on the line and start there. Christ didn’t come into this world to save saints. He came to save us sinners.

Frankly, we don’t know a single true Christian who isn’t a practicing sinner.

The true Christian recognizes this. Even more, the true Christian acknowledges Christ as his Lord. Through faith, he believes Christ is God’s  Son who was put to death by man, only to rise again as evidence that God’s love is stronger than death.

What does that mean?

It means that the true Christian believes he will spend eternity with Christ through faith and God’s grace.

And here is the other important point. A true Christian, once he acknowledges his sinfulness and his need for God, allows himself to be transformed into a creature of love. It doesn’t count to simply say that you believe Christ is the Son of God and that you are saved and leave it at that. Gradually, Christ is allowed to take over your life, so that you become more and more like Him. This will take a lifetime for most of us. We will continue to sin, turn to God, get forgiven and then try to do better the next time.

Do you have to be a Catholic to be a true Christian?


Do you have to be a Protestant to be a true Christian?


Catholics and Protestants who believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ and sincerely strive to live their life by Christ are people we’d consider to be true Christians.

That’s not to say that there aren’t differences between Catholics and Protestants. Perhaps the biggest has to do with how we attain salvation. Many Protestants believe salvation is attained through faith alone. Catholics have a broader view, that salvation flows from faith and works, as stated in James 2:17:

“Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

Honorable Christians have debated this notion for centuries. We’ll leave it to the theologians to sort it out.

We’d put another idea on the table. I think true Christians come together and worship in community, just as the disciples showed us. “All I need is me and my Bible” doesn’t count. It is too easy to get the message wrong if left to our own devices. We need community. Good communities keep us accountable and teach us to love. Jesus Himself encouraged us to do just that in Matthew 18:20:

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

A final thought. Our Protestant brothers and sisters speak of developing a personal relationship with Christ. What a beautiful thought. As a Catholic, and a convert from Protestantism, I agree. (Karen is a cradle Catholic.) In our Catholic tradition, our relationship with Christ is intensely personal through our belief in the Sacraments. In the Eucharist, Christ is present, not symbolically, but in actuality, and enters right into our body, becoming one with us.

Such a beautiful mystery.

What is a true Christian? We hope people we encounter consider us to be true Christians.

Join us.


  1. Bob Vance on August 6, 2012 at 9:12 am

    I could write a whole book here, but that would be impossible. Let me just ask this: If you were to find out tomorrow that all the supernatural aspects of Jesus were added later, would that diminish his message?

    You may find this hard to believe but I believe in the message of Jesus Christ because I believe it is the right way to live my life. To me, not relying on the supernatural aspects make his message even more amazing.

    • illero on August 6, 2012 at 1:57 pm

      I, too, could write a whole book here, but it probably would be written from an opposite viewpoint. As an example, if the Christ be not risen, I believe the entire foundation of Christianity tumbles into dust. Both He and the early martyred apostles and disciples were simply either liars or “sorely mistaken”. Did the resurrection take place or not? For is this not the central miracle within Christianity? Did Pentecost take place or not ? Were not only the many miracles of the Gospels nonsense, but also the dozens of miracles mentioned in Acts of the Apostles?

      I believe it’s a package deal. The miracles inspire me to see a God with no limits, a God who tells us ANYthing is possible if we believe. His very stated desire to intervene on behalf of the righteous, or to answer the prayers of a righteous man, speaks clearly enough to me of the possibility of miracles, because any movement on the part of an incomprehensibly knowing and powerful God that stoops to hear and respond to our prayers is truly miraculous to me. And I believe He performs miracles, large and small, even today. I know many denominations (most?) believe the age of miracles, of prophecies, of “faith healings”, has passed, but I think the age largely passed because Christians lost faith over time. And I believe that there are “true” Christians out there who still are instrumental in bringing about miracles, through prayer and through action.

      So – to me – although I am not of the Biblical infallibility group, and do believe that the Christ’s message alone was a great message of peace, etc., the demonstration of the power of God to reach into time and nature and create miraculous outcomes is one key element of a complete Christian view.

  2. Karen Quiner on August 6, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Regarding your last paragraph, I don’t find it hard to believe Bob. I suspect you are a pretty good guy.

    Regarding your first paragraph, I could also write a whole book. I know to what you refer and in answer to your question, no, it would make no difference. I know that a lot was added later. We have also studied these things and see the same facts differently than you. Christ lives in the church and promised to be with us until the end of time and continues to reveal himself and his truth through the church.

    And the concept of Sola Scriptura doesn’t hold up because the Bible wasn’t even compiled until several hundred years after Christ died. And, as a side note, it was compiled by the Catholic Church.

    We could debate the facts ad infinitum and be frustrated that the other doesn’t see what we see as the obvious truth.

    If you are truly trying to live as Christ taught, God honors that. What most of us discover though, is that we can’t really do it without some serious spiritual help because we know what weak beings we are.

    All any of us need to do is to be honest seekers. I am pretty sure I have some things wrong and I pray to God to show me where I am in error.

    One serious error, for Christian or non-Christian alike, is to think you have all the answers.

    May God bless you in your quest!

    P.S. I will not be back on the blog the rest of the day. I was at the funeral today of one of the little people in Gods kingdom. A blessed, quiet giver who spent her life in service to God and her fellow human beings. Rose Marie Swatta. But now I need to knuckle down and get some work done.

    • Bob Vance on August 6, 2012 at 1:25 pm

      For all those people who died before the time of Jesus Christ, did they go to heaven or hell or perhaps limbo? What about a person who dies today not ever knowing the teachings of Jesus Christ?

      Crucifixions as a death sentence typically took days, yet Jesus was taken down in less than a day. People who are assumed dead being brought back to life is not that uncommon. Assuming you trust that I lead a moral lifestyle, but I don’t believe Jesus died on the cross, do you believe I will spend eternity burning in Hell?

      Do you differentiate between GeHenna and Sheol? Would you even consider a burning Hell to be a man-made concept used as a fear tactic?

      Your answers would be appreciated.

      • Karen Quiner on August 6, 2012 at 1:29 pm

        Look for my reply later Bob. I have a full plate at work today.
        God Bless.

    • quinersdiner on August 7, 2012 at 9:15 am

      Simply beautiful.

  3. juwannadoright on August 6, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    Bob Vance raises a very interesting point.

    I generally agree with your message that the “Church is a hospital for sinners, not a home for saints.” But I would add that your differentiation between Roman Catholics and Protestants is a bit over-reaching.

    Our Orthodox brethren and many members of the Anglican Communion are focused on the importance of the sacraments as well as those who are in communion with the Pope.

    • quinersdiner on August 6, 2012 at 12:33 pm

      Good point. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church is accepting Anglican priests into its ranks. We have one here in Des Moines. I’d like to be clear, too, that I have tremendous respect for my Protestant brothers and sisters. I heard the late Charles Colson on a Catholic radio show once. He commented on the rich intellectual history of the Catholic Church. On the other hand, he talked about Evangelical Protestant’s ability to get parishioners excited about evangelizing their faith, something modern Catholics aren’t as comfortable doing. Thanks for the clarification, which is right on target.

    • Karen Quiner on August 6, 2012 at 12:35 pm

      You are absolutely right juwannadoright. I will also ad that I believe that the Catholics have quite a bit to learn from many of our Protestant brethren and that there are things that they do better than us.

      I am glad you made us clarify this.

      The point we were trying to make is that we believe we do have a personal relationship through the sacraments. Many Protestants think that Catholics do not get the concept of a personal relationship with God. The more we understand each other the better.

      Any Christian who humbly seeks God and tries to live as Christ did, acknowledges his/her sinfulness and need for Him, will not only find the truth but live in eternity with God.

      • juwannadoright on August 6, 2012 at 10:01 pm

        Well here’s a bridge – a man of conscience who converted from the Church of England to become John Henry Cardinal Newman. He was a man of amazing intellect and faith – but is, perhaps, best remembered for this poem which became a hymn which was a staple for many of us growing up.


  4. Bob Vance on August 6, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    {This was meant to go here – sorry for the duplication}

    For all those people who died before Jesus Christ, did they go to heaven or hell or perhaps limbo? What about a person who dies not ever knowing the teachings of Jesus Christ?

    Crucifixions as a death sentence typically took days, yet Jesus was taken down in less than a day. People who are assumed dead being brought back to life is not that uncommon. Assuming you trust that I lead a moral lifestyle, but I don’t believe Jesus died on the cross, do you believe I will spend eternity burning in Hell?

    Do you differentiate between GeHenna and Sheol? Would you even consider a burning Hell to be a man-made concept used as a fear tactic?
    Your answers would be appreciated.

    • illero on August 6, 2012 at 2:39 pm

      I hope I do not offend anyone by posting this before our hosts get a chance to respond. We are all on different schedules, and this seemed a good time for me to be able to jot down some things. If I’m out of line (or improperly out of sequence), I apologize.

      Some people are motivated by fear, some people by love, some people by repetitive prodding, etc., etc. And from the beginnings of the Christian Church all forms of getting people to accept Christianity, and to “toe the line”, have been used – and have been used at the same time, though often in different places.

      I eagerly await Tom and Karen’s reply to the issue of Heaven vs Hell, also, but I can reveal my own belief. Above all, we have to remember that none of us has ANY real idea about the ultimate motives of God. We have the poor leftovers that we can understand from Scriptures, but God’s being is so far above us that understanding Him is like us trying to see the edge of the universe with our unaided eyes. We cannot conceive of 99% of His purposes, His ways.

      So what about the billions of people who never knew of the Christ, or the Christian God? First of all, because we cannot begin to understand God’s full plan, we really don’t need to concern ourselves about them. For what we DO believe is that God is Just – Just in ways that, again, we cannot even conceive of. What I know is that all of these billions of people are taken care of in God’s plan.

      I do not pretend that all non-Christians experience Hell in the hereafter. That is up to God. Personal opinion – unless these people have done something unforgivable in a prior existence, or in this one, they would be judged on the merits of their lives, and possibly even introduced to Christian principles after death. I am not Catholic, but as I understand the concept of Purgatory, it is something like “working out your salvation”. This is something like what I envision for those who do not have The Word preached to them in this life. But who knows?

      But believing, as we do, in God’s ultimate Love and Justice, do we not have enough to concern ourselves with in our own mirrors and in our own sinful backyards, without needing to try to see into the mind of God with respect to all these others? God tells us to preach this message to the ends of the earth – and we’re not doing a great job of that — my sense tells me I shouldn’t worry too much about things I probably can never understand anyway.

      I believe the fires of a burning Hell to be a man-made concept, but also believe it to be a metaphor for how we will FEEL being separated from God for eternity, once we no longer see “through a glass darkly”. It is altogether possible that a literal never-ending fire would be more tolerable than a reality of eternal separation from God and Christ.

      • Karen Quiner on August 6, 2012 at 8:04 pm

        No need to concern yourself, illero, about responding before we do. Feel free anytime.

        I am not quite sure I would have much more to add to what you had to say. It is a beautiful and thorough response and one that that is quite in line with our Catholic teaching.

        Our Catholic Church teaches the following:

        “The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation”
        … and also…
        “God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.”
        and also
        “Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery. Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.”

        Regarding your specific question about whether I think you will go to heaven or not Bob: I concur with illero that I can’t possibly know. But I do believe that God is abounding in mercy, that He wants you in His fold as much as he wants anyone, and that he will hound you until your last breath to love Him because he loves you. The process of dying is often a very productive time because people finally have their pride broken down to the point that they realize how much they really need God.

        I suspect that you will meet God face to face at the end and that he will give you one last chance to say yes to him, and that you believe in Him and accept Him. If you do, I think you will go to heaven, most likely after a time of purification. (By the way, I fully expect that I will have the time of purification as well)

        You asked Bob, about the people who died before Christ. Of course I don’t know exactly how it worked, but I know that we are bound by time and God isn’t. There were many holy people before Christ and they were part of Gods plan of salvation They had to wait for the coming of Christ to be saved. Matthew 27:52 “The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.”

        Regarding your question about the crucifixion Bob: I think you try awfully hard to convince yourself not to believe. No one can make you believe until you open your heart to it. But on a practical and scientific level, it is not at all surprising that he died quickly. He had already endured the 40 lashes, which oftentimes kills a person because it is so brutal.

        Regarding your question about whether Hell is actually a place of fire, I think probably not, although that is not a man made concept. It is Biblical (And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Revelation 20:10). )

        But the Bible often speaks in parables. I agree with illero that it is probably a metaphor to how awful it will be. I always think of it as being a place of no love and no hope. A place without God. But I think that people who go there ultimately chose it.

        And finally, Christ absolutely rose from the dead and that is key to our faith. Without that, the whole thing is meaningless.


  5. illero on August 6, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    I might expand upon one aspect of the “true” Christian that you point out. You say:

    [ I think true Christians come together and worship in community, just as the disciples showed us. “All I need is me and my Bible” doesn’t count. It is too easy to get the message wrong if left to our own devices. We need community. Good communities keep us accountable and teach us to love. ]

    I do think that it is near-essential to get our Christian fundamentals from other(s), meaning it would be exceptionally difficult to create and accept a “normal” Christian doctrine without teachers, companions or community. And in no way do I want to take away from the beneficial effects of being part of a loving worship group.

    However, once the seed is planted and takes root in good soil, I believe a person can continue to grow in Christ and be/become a “true” Christian without a worship family. Might (s)he get a point or two wrong? Probably. But He who sees all, and understands the motivations of the heart, will judge rightly.

    And, anyway, community worship did not prevent the hundreds of variations that have arisen within “Christianity”, some of which were pure abominations. Every Christian denomination out there has some incorrect beliefs – or, said another way, there can be, at MOST, only one that has it right on every point. Could an individual worshipper, after having been taught in the fundamentals, go any further astray than some denominations, splinter groups, or cults have gone?

    I do believe, however, that “true” Christians WANT to come together with others to worship – it’s just that sometimes circumstances may not permit it.

    • Karen Quiner on August 6, 2012 at 1:36 pm

      You make some good points. Thank you.

    • Karen Quiner on August 6, 2012 at 2:49 pm

      This is a great conversation. I will respond in full tonight, as will Tom. It is a sad and unfortunate fact that we have to make a living. Wouldn’t it be great to be independently wealthy?

      • Bob Vance on August 6, 2012 at 3:35 pm

        You should find a job where you can work at home like me 🙂

  6. Karen Quiner on August 6, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    It is driving me crazy not to be able to jump in more fully now, Illero, but you haven’t said one thing I would disagree with. In fact, I heartily agree. I am going to have to shut down because this is really what i want to do today. There is NOTHING I enjoy more than discussing the faith. It is energizing and exciting to me. Until tonight…God Bless.