What Does It Mean To Be A Christian
Growing up, I was exposed to people who would block my path on the street. “Do you know you’re going to hell?” the representative would ask.
“But I’m saved? I believe that Christ died for me,” I replied.
“So what church do you go to?” he asked.
“I don’t go to a church,” I replied. The last church I went to told my mom to forgive her child-molesting husband and maintain the marriage. Their exact words were, “Get over it and keep your marriage.” So I had some issues with church. That memory played in my mind as I answered the representative.
“If you don’t go to church, you’re not saved.”
I’ve seen pictures of protesters at a Soldier’s funeral. The protesters held signs that read something like, “God killed your son because he was a … ” they used a derogatory f-word implying the Soldier was homosexual. There was no evidence available regarding the Soldier’s actual sexual orientation.
Is that what Christianity is? Is that how Christians should act?
I’ve seen protests, and honestly believe peaceable protest is a critical freedom for our country. But listening to the comments and reading the signs caused me to wonder, “is that what Christianity is about?”
This was a huge stumbling block for me to my faith. Regrettably, that was a very common thing in my home town. That was the norm. So, from my point of view, that was what Christianity was. But is it really? What does the Bible say about how Christians should work?
For my part, I want to start with the obvious. The name Christian is derived from the name Christ. So a Christian is most simply put one who acts like Christ and/or believes in Christ. The book of Acts called early Christians followers of The Way. What way? The book of John has that answer: “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6).
So again, the simplest answer is those who follow Christ. So what does it mean to follow Christ. How should Christians act? A further look into scripture provides a few (what I call) checklists. One who claims to be a Christian should be one who tries to embody these traits.
From Matthew, the Beatitudes:
Be poor in spirit.
Be mournful of your sin.
Hunger and thirst for righteousness (in yourself).
Be merciful (that’s not the same as tolerant).
Be pure in heart.
Be a peacemaker (the best peace you can make is through evangelism. Make peace between God and his children).
Be encouraged when you are persecuted and reviled for Christ’s sake.
Now that last one sometimes encourages people to do the things like I spoke about above, but this section isn’t about evangelism or spiritual warfare (both are interesting topics, but not the one we’re discussing today).
The idea here though is you should strive to embody all of these traits. But there are more we can see.
Romans 12 offers more guidance:
Don’t be transformed by the world. Be transformed by the renewal of your mind.
Think with sober judgment.
Let love be genuine.
Abhor what is evil.
Hold fast to what is good. (Jesus summed these last two up well above by the phrase pure of heart.)
Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
Be fervent in spirit.
Be patient in tribulation.
Be constant in prayer.
Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Paul continues to support Christ’s Beatitudes with some phrases:
Bless those who persecute you. Do not curse them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice.
Weep with those who weep.
Live in harmony with one another (in this context, Paul is talking to other Christians. I’m not stating we should be at animosity with others, but the hermeneutics demand I explain that point.)
More traits from Romans 12:
Do not be haughty.
Do not be wise in your own sight.
Repay no one evil for evil.
Never avenge yourselves.
This wonderful segment concludes with one of my favorite verses. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
We must also look at the very commandments God gave to Moses. Some people will honestly argue, “That’s the Old Testament.” There is an honest belief to some who think the New Testament overrules the old. We’re certainly under a new covenant. We’re not judged by the law. That’s a good thing too because we’d all be doomed. However, the New Testament doesn’t in any way negate the old. Jesus taught us this. “Do you think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17)
We therefore must acknowledge that a Christian must strive to obey these commandments, first given to us in Exodus chapter 20:
You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me.
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.
In Matthew 5, Jesus even goes on to expand those commandments. Once more, he doesn’t dissolve them. Instead, he revealed how deeply those commandments apply. He expands on adultery and murder.
Anyone who angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder in the eyes of the LORD. (Matthew 5:22)
Anyone who looks lustfully at another woman is guilty of adultery. (Matthew 5: 28)
If you’re like me, you may be wondering, “How on earth could ANYONE do, or avoid doing, all of these things?” In point of fact, I got angry today (as I typed this).
No one is perfect. Remember that new covenant we are under? We are saved not by the law, indeed all the law does is condemn us. We are saved by grace. (Romans 3:24)
Now, if you’re like me, you probably then think, “Oh, so I can sin all I want because Christ died on the cross for my sins.” Nope again! Paul asks that question and then answers it in his own beautiful debate-style of writing. “By no means!” (Romans 6:2)
So, looking at this scripture as a whole, we learn that Christians follow Christ. They believe he died on the cross and was raised. They then turn from their sin (repent) and follow him (sanctification). God knows our sinful flesh is incapable of following that law perfectly, so his grace, and the blood of his only son Jesus Christ, saves us (grace).
So we are left to hold true to the faith that saves us and strive to bear fruit and be sanctified. Our salvation grants us the Holy Spirit, who instructs us so we are better able to follow the commands above and reflect those traits above.
For our panel: How can we apply these concepts to our daily lives? Would you care to expand on any of these concepts? What aspects of being a Christian did I leave out? How can one best pursue a life that reflects these things?
Thanks for reading,