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.