Being Christian: Simple Answer

What does it mean to be a Christian? To me, this may be the most important question of our time. It’s the silly season in terms of politics and I have listened to an endless line of politicians and theologians trying to tell me what it means to be a Christian. I’ve got friends who think they know the answer. They are so sure of themselves, and they call this faith so it makes argument difficult. Well, I’m not as sure of myself anymore, so when I try to answer this question in the way the world and the church have tried to answer it, I find myself only half-believing what I say, and that can’t be right. I think it’s  time to find an answer that we can believe in and get off the fence. Come with me, it’ll be fun!

I am convinced that behavior is not what makes a Christian-I’ve heard it enough; I don’t want to hear it anymore. “You are a Christian if you do this…. You are not a Christian if you do that…” Well, that thinking is flawed. The only behavior given by Christ as proof of our Christianity is how much we love each other. He doesn’t say that we will be known by our boycotts, billboards, bracelets, or bumper stickers; nor by our associations or administrations, nor by whether or not we eat at Chick-fil-a. He says we will be known by our love.  Clearly, behavior is secondary.  Being a Christian will affect your behavior, but your behavior proves nothing, with all due respect to my Calvinist Puritan forbearers.

The truth is, plenty of people who are not Christians are well behaved. I have atheist and non-Christian friends who give money to charities, work for Habitat, feed the poor, take in the homeless. If it’s about outward behavior, these people don’t need Jesus. (I know, I know, sin is sin and everyone needs Jesus. I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church, too. Hold your horses a bit longer.) At the very least, they don’t need Jesus in any way that I can prove to them. (How’s that?) Some of them even have families and aren’t divorced or gay or doing drugs or any other kind of devilish tomfoolery. They are like regular church folk, mostly.

It’s not about belief, either. I know plenty of folks who say they believe and live just like my atheist friends. They really do walk the exact same walk as those without God. Maybe they have a different moral compass,but in many cases that’s not true either. Jesus’s brother, James, said that even demons believe in God and Christ, big deal.  No one cares about that, a belief is just a belief. People used to believe that the Earth was flat. Turned out false. People used to not believe in germs. False. Belief is nothing. Faith, however, faith is everything.

I personally feel that believing in Jesus and God (and both together, with the Holy Spirit) is not that difficult. Honestly, and I am talking to my uninitiated friends here, believing in God isn’t hard. Our actual cosmological knowledge is so limited and the mysteries so huge and profound and the ordering of the universe so cleverly arranged that it would be more of a leap for me to believe that nothing or no one is out there above it all. But faith, faith is hard.

You see faith says, not just that there is a God but that He loves me; in fact He loves me so much He came to Earth and allowed Himself to be killed to show how much He loves me.  More than that, in a world of increasing darkness, from global terrorism to the very personal evil of cancer, from hurricanes to hiccups, He asks us to have faith that He will work things out to our good; and that even though He could have controlled all of this evil, He chose not to because it is better for us to choose our own way, even away from Him than to just destroy everything and start over. He asks us to have faith that even our pain is a sign of His love. Faith is hard.

I think scripture is pretty clear. Being a Christian means you follow Christ. You turn your life over to Him and say, “Your way is better than my own.”  Some of you Sunday Schoolers are nodding your heads right now, better wait a minute.  It doesn’t mean you follow the church’s often nearsighted and broken version of Jesus. It means you follow Him. It doesn’t mean that you follow a book, any book. The Bible is awesome and authoritative, but the Scripture points to Jesus, whom we are to follow. It means that every day you get up and decide how you are going to follow Jesus today. It means you pray and do as He commands. It means you love as He loves and forgive as He forgives. It means you give up your own authority and rely on Him for guidance and direction.  It means you get together with other believers in whatever iteration of church happens to be sent to you and you share the road.

It means that you drop everything and follow Him where He leads. Being a Christian means following Christ. It’s not about our politics. It’s not about our prejudices. It’s not about what we think is best.

Being a Christian is about following Christ. Simple answer.


3 thoughts on “Being Christian: Simple Answer

  1. Back in late 2007, I went and visited some Mormon friends in Tennessee, and I came back with what I felt was a very deep and spiritual revelation. I still hold to it, actually.

    It was pretty much what you just wrote, only it was more (as per my usual) deconstructed to the idea that a person believes Christ is who He said He was and did their best to follow Him.

    I got into an argument with Randy about it; his argument was that the Nicene Creed defined who was and was not Christian.

    The argument itself was immaterial. It’s more the thoughts it brought about that I’m thinking of as I re-read this.

    When I first read it, I wanted to nod my head and agree, pat us both on the shoulder for ‘getting it’ and move along. Only, that didn’t seem right. Still doesn’t.

    For one, God is working on dealing with my intellectual hubris and with my using my intelligence as a crutch, even when dealing with emotional matters. Spiritually, I’ve got a fairly mystical bent at time, but I tend to want to intellectually deconstruct how people feel.

    (Irritatingly, in that process, He is pushing me to reveal more of the intellectual side of my thinking. I think a lot of it is that God is working to help me have the intellectual ground and skills I need to deal with the people He’s sending my way right now. I have to be sharper than I’ve ever had to be before; able to argue with logic and intelligence, but deal with emotions that cloud intellect in a way that doesn’t lead back to intellectual solutions for problems that are actively preventing the intellect from finding the right solutions. It’s the first time, I think, that I can actively recall God purposefully preparing and equipping me for some evangelistic purpose.

    I don’t think I like it.)

    Or how people are ‘defined’ (if only because I don’t like definitions and labels on people).

    Yet, it is inherent in being Christian, in aligning yourself with a group or philosophy or an ethos – or, in this case, a truth that involves all three of the former, that there has to be some kind of language or shared conceptual ,ground that allows for common communication of that philosophy, that ethos, and that truth in such a way that not only can those ‘inside’ the system grasp it and use it to move forward in their journey, but in a way that those ‘inside’ can share it with others in a way that is understandable.

    As you know (if you read the email I sent you a few days ago), the belief in God is not the hard part for me, either. Christ wasn’t so much a stumbling block as much as He was an experience and a slow, deliberate, purposeful and destructive revelation that methodically tore apart one world view and replaced it with another, where Christ is at the center and everything radiates out from Him – both the ‘power plant’ for the new world, but the cause, the purpose and the liege lord.

    When I read your post, I agree with it. Completely. I’m still not as good at living as a Christian as I should be or even want to be (and I’m sure what I want to be is not nearly at the level of what I should be, either). Yet, what you write seems to be predicated on certain and specific things. (Which, again, I agree with.)

    How do you overcome the objection to the existence of God, when that objection is exactly what you said: there is evil in the world, and God could, easy as that, make it go away – and doesn’t?

    Your definition is accurate, but the framework is built on the fundamental assumption that the bad things that happen to us and in the world is based on the love God has for us. When that piece of data is challenged, the entire definition falls apart.

    So – how would you answer that?

    1. The Problem of Evil is the inescapable black hole of Christian apologetics, isn’t it?

      Here’s the thing, Jayinn, there are lots of answers to the problem in general but few that are acceptable to someone who is hurting or angry about their circumstances. My acceptance of God as a loving God is a faith step, a choice. My understanding of evil is intuitive, at best, and totally biased by my emotional involvement with evil at worst; in that statement lies the true answer to the Problem of Evil. First of all, we have to remind ourselves (and everyone else reading this) that the problem is ‘gratuitous’ evil, that would be: evil that is not working toward some greater good. Now then, how do I explain apparent gratuitous evil? I don’t. I can’t. The truth is that I don’t even know if gratuitous evil exists! The truth about bad things happening to us in the world is this: I lack the level of wisdom, understanding, perspective, experience, knowledge and intelligence to even know if bad things are actually bad things! That’s why Christian faith always begins (on our part) with the question: what must I do to attain salvation? You see, that question is an admission of powerlessness and lack of understanding. “I can’t figure it all out” should be the first words of the seekers creed. If we acknowledge that there is a God and we are determined to follow Him in faith, we must also acknowledge that we are not going to understand everything that He does. That’s hard, but anyone with the intellect or passion to actually ponder these things while they are seeking must overcome the obstacle of arrogance in thought early and so they deal with the question while they are still seekers. I guess I should reference Job 40-42 for this.

      To accept that evil in the world is an expression of God’s love is to accept free will as a gift. Evil in the world is the natural consequence of selfish people making selfish choices. God desires that we learn from those choices and that we choose Him only of our own will. That’s where the love angle fits in. Philosophically, the free will defense presupposes that free will is actually worth the sacrifice. I find that presupposition to be self-evident but many people do not so the harder argument above is the best one, and accepting God as a loving God is the act of faith despite the darkness of our own limited vision. Thanks, man. This will no doubt come up again.

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