Sometimes, when I meet people for the first time and express that I’m a christian, they laugh.
I remember grabbing dinner with a young man that I mentor, and seeing the look on his face when I ordered a beer. “I thought you were a Christian?!” He said in disbelief. “I am,” I said as I chuckled. Before he could utter another word I asked him what a Christian was and how I should live my life because I was a “Christian". We landed on "no drinking, smoking, cursing, and partying.” and I had to be at church EVERY Sunday.
My friend's statement sounds absurd to me now, but in that moment- I was convicted. I had settled into this religious way of thinking that many Christians today have adopted. It was the philosophy that "If I volunteer and look like I have it all together, and I go to church, then I must be a Christian." In fact, it is this religious mindset that has stunted the growth of the Christian church because many non-Christian people don't meet the religious requirements created by humans. So without further ado,
“What is a Christian?”
(Small disclaimer: This is not an attempt by any means, to tell someone else who professes to be Christian that they are not. Instead, this is a mentioning of certain character traits and actions steps one has taken that line up with those individuals scripture suggests are “Christians.”
1. Someone who becomes a believer or committed follower of Jesus
John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only begotten son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”
I rub shoulders with people from all walks of life and one of the things I get the most when telling them how they can become a follower of Christ is “ you have no idea the types things I have done.” And they are right, I don’t. But God does. That is why he says whosoever believes, not whosoever does. He knows there are parts of all of our lives we are not proud of. Simply stated, a true christian believes in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
2. Someone whose life is changed as a result of this belief
"By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?" Matthew7:16
The way you can tell if someones life has changed as a result of this proffession of faith is by their "fruit". If nothing changes nothing changes. Be advised, this does not mean going from 0 to 100.
The cliché “ it is not how you start, it is how you finish,” is best embodied in the Christian experience. There will be good days and there will be bad days. However, it is not about where we are- but where we are going. Yes, God is a righteous God, who expects His children to uphold His standard of excellence. He also knows that we are human, so for whatever reason, it does not usually work out that way. That is okay because it is a process. For the majority of us, change doesn’t happen overnight. That is why God says His grace is sufficient for us. We will stumble, but over time and as we grow, we learn how to walk without stumbling over the same hurdles that ensnared us in the beginning of our journey and bear good fruit.
3. Someone who hears God’s voice, and then does what He says.
"Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God." John8:47
This one hit me right in the stomach when I read it. The final mark of a Christian is someone who is obedient. Think Simon Says. If God says jump, you jump. If He tells you not to marry that person, then you probably should not marry that person. We keep His commandments and listen to His words not because we are brainwashed, but because we know that His commandments/rules are for our own protection. He is a good shepherd and His sheep know His voice. It is important to understand that He wants to take nothing that is “good” from you. He only wants to add value to your life by replacing the bad with the good, and the good with the best. This way, you can live in the light and represent Him as a healthy and whole human being- mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
My friend could not process it when I told him that some of the Godliest people I know identify as hard drug users, homosexual, thieves, liars, murderers, and sexually addicted. For the longest, I used to be in his shoes. I believed that certain people were not Christians because they would do something so crazy as to have a sliver of alcohol. Let alone any of the other things. How silly of me! Many of the spiritual giants of the Bible fall into the aforementioned categories! If there was anyone who was not really a Christian it was me and my religious spirit. On that note, I want to end by saying the narrative that you cannot be in any of these categories while simultaneously being Christian is completely false. If anyone that claimed to be Christian ever told you that you had to be a certain way for God to love you, or made you feel like they had it all together, I apologize. And if I was ever that person, I ask for your forgiveness as well. Rest assured, we don’t have it all together. We are all broken in our own ways, with different convictions and perspectives shaped by the hands and lives we were dealt since the beginning of our time here on earth. As "Christians," we all have our own personal relationships with Christ. And in these relationships lie our own personal convictions and perspectives on matters like same sex marriage, the dietary regulations, and even the sabbath. We think we understand God's sovereignty, majesty, and creation because we attempt to speak for God. But in reality, we cannot understand Him. So we are limited in our ability to effectively do so. This is also where faith comes in. At the root of it all though, we were made for love and to love. That is, to love God with all of our mind, strength, and hearts. And to love our neighbors as ourselves. This means spending time with people who do not look like us, think like us, and may not believe everything we believe. This means we can disagree in love with an understanding that God is coming back, and he will settle the score. But in the meantime. His desire is that His children will get along on this earth and love each other as we bring glory to His kingdom. Not tear each other down about things that are not salvation issues.
My hope is that you do not limit the amazing work God can do in your life and the amazing relationships you can have with other Christians because of a preconception about what a “Christian“ should look like. Many Jesus lovers are hidden in plain sight. They are not very good at playing church, talking the talk, or keeping the rules. Some of them drink, smoke, and love who they want to love. Instead of looking look at how well they play Christian. Look at how they love. Because everything else- the fruit, the beliefs, will fall in line.
(If exploring a relationship with God is something that interests you, but you are unsure where to begin feel free to reach out to me. I would love to have a conversation with you.)
You can reach me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org