Do you have to call yourself a Christian in order to go to heaven? Can you instead just believe in Jesus Christ and avoid labeling yourself? Can you just say, “I have a personal relationship with Jesus, but I’m not identifying with any particular religious system or denomination”?
No. It’s important that we personally identify with Christ by faith. And when we embrace Jesus Christ as our salvation, he unites us to his body—the church. The family of believers, from a very early time, have been called Christians (Acts 11:26).
Of course, many people identify as Christians but don’t really even believe in Jesus. It’s not the title Christian that saves us. Only true faith in Jesus Christ, received by grace, saves us.
But having received that grace, again, you’re united not only to Christ, the head of the church, but also to his body, the people of God. That means you should be in a local church. You should identify with other Christians. You should grow together with other believers. This is fundamental to our spiritual life and growth in grace. We don’t grow if stay in our closets, alone with Jesus.
Paul makes this clear in places like 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. You need to be in a solid Christian church where you’re claiming the name of Christ.
Maybe you feel like there’s too much baggage associated with denominations or calling yourself a Christian. We probably need to make more of effort to explain what we mean by the term Christian. Maybe when you’re having conversations with non-believers, you can say, “Look, I’m a Christian, which means my life is devoted to Jesus Christ. I follow Jesus like the disciples did in Acts 11. I believe in him.”
It’s important not to abandon this title. But let’s help people understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus. There’s so much confusion about that in the world today.