To Be a Christian, Do/Be/Believe X

9:31 PM

What does it mean to be a Christian? It wasn't until I got to college when that issue became clearly defined. I say "Christian," and someone hears "religious person who believes in Jesus." I say "Christian," and someone thinks "born-again." I say "Christian," and someone imagines "good person who believes in God." I say "Christian," and a few think "a follower of Jesus Christ." "Christian" ranges from liberal theology that erases the fundamentals of the original faith to nominal churchgoers who just want to be good to people passionately pursuing the face of God. All kinds of combinations of zeal and theology make up this range.

Surely there must be some distinctive that cuts through bad or ignorant theology and that natural human propensity to fail. What is it?

My boy and I hashed it out at the cafeteria booth far away from the rest of civilization. "How do you know you're a Christian?" I asked.


"I believe in Jesus." Faith -- check.

"But even the demons believe in Jesus. What exactly do you believe that makes you a Christian?"

"I believe in the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed," he said. Sound doctrine -- check. Faith again -- check.

"But faith without works is dead," I countered. "How do you show your faith?"

"I do things that are pleasing to God." Works -- check.

"But what about motivation? How do you know you're doing those works from love for God instead of just trying to be good?"

At this point we gave up. The questions get too complicated -- how much sound theology can you ignore and still be a Christian? What specific good works are necessary to count as "doing good works"? What percentage of your motivation needs to be from love? We're human, after all. We screw up. We rarely do anything perfectly even when we do good.

Every group and every movement has its catchphrase. Let go and let God. Be radical. It's a relationship, not a religion. Get theology straight. Love. Which one encompasses all of the commands of Scripture, all of the theology, all of do's and don't's and be's?

Gregory of Nazianzus preached about these things when he wasn't busy attacking Neo-Arians and Pneomatomachians. (Don't ask. Just Google.) He concluded that the point of Christianity was deification -- not becoming little gods but sharing the life of God. (There's the relationship.) By deification, he meant looking like God. (There's the sanctification.) It's a transformation -- a transformation where we don't desire "change" and "betterment" so much as God Himself. My professor explained it like this: studies show that older couples start looking like each other because they spent a lifetime together. Their personality quirks and facial expressions mimic each other's because of their united life. (Hey, I can attest to this -- because of the two+ years of being my boy's bestie, we subconsciously make the same obnoxious noises.)

It's not about mimicking Jesus like a devotee following a self-help guru. It's not about being like Jesus, per se -- say this, do that, because WWJD?

This is what it means to be a Christian: to share eventually share the heavenly life of God because we share Christ's earthly life. We walk like Him because we walk with Him. We die and rise with Him in conversion, expressed in baptism. We suffer, we love, we resist temptation like and with Him. And as we do so, we transform. As we live the life of Christ, we know and are known by God.  

This requires walking. It requires belief. It requires knowledge. It involves transformation. But it's not about knowing the right thing only or doing the right thing or being a good person or even just loving Jesus. It is faithful walking like Christ with Christ because you desire to seek the face of God.

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8 impressions

  1. Hm, I need to show this to the "This Shirt is Illegal" guy who cornered all the customers in the candy shop about some weird born-again trick question.

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  2. A concise, but trite, explanation. Consider Luke 17:20-4. How does one "walk with God?"

    We know Jesus the Christ's disciples, then, "walked with God." How do we "walk with God," today?

    You have only exchanged the term "Christian" with the phrase "one who walks with God." You cannot mean "one who walks in the presence of God," because Psalm 139 tells us God's presence is everywhere.

    Plato, in his work "the Republic," through his character, Socrates, makes an assertion:

    "And knowledge and ignorance in general; see whether you think that any man who has knowledge ever would wish to have the choice of saying or doing more than another man who has knowledge. Would he not rather say or do the same as his like in the same case?" (Per translation by Benjamin Jowett without permission)

    "What would Jesus do?" Is a perfectly valid question, if somewhat overly simplistic, which addresses "how to be a Christian."

    Following commands regarding: "Do X" or "Don't do Y" are also valid arguments addressing "how to be a Christian."

    You are answering the question "What is a Christian?" A moot point for Christians, and of no interest to all others, but those possessing the spirit of antichrist.

    Why do you need to define Christians?

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  3. I didn't think it was a moot point. That's why I wrote the post.

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  4. Is that "I didn't" as in a state of being that concluded in the past? Or "I don't" as in a state of being continuing through the present?

    As in: "I don't think the question, "what is a Christian?" is a moot point for Christians of whom I am one. Thus, I wrote this post." ???

    Getting back to "I" referencing Tragedy101, I thought the purpose of your post was:

    "Surely there must be some distinctive that cuts through bad or ignorant theology and that natural human propensity to fail. What is it?"

    If this was not and is not the purpose of your post, then I apologize, because I thought this was the point of your post, and I am completely lost as to why you would write such a misleading statement.

    Because there is a distinctive, and you are like "right there!" and "you are standing right on top of it," but it is not a definition of "Christian."

    It seems to me to be extremely obvious why defining "Christian" as a Christian is moot and of no effect. I don't even have a point of reference from which this is not self evident.

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  5. It's obvious to me that defining what a "Christian" is as a Christian is of extreme importance. You're right in the point of my article. We are at an impasse when it comes to its importance and mootness.

    It's probably because I possess the spirit of the antichrist.

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  6. Hahahahahahaha!!! I have no idea what you're saying Tragedy 101. But it sounds like you don't think its important for Christians to define who they are as Christians?? Which doesn't make sense to me.
    I love the article though! Its super cool and I like the point of how we pick up the habits and reactions of the people around us!

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  7. Tragedy101, I know you will be upset with this and will not understand, but I am no longer publishing your comments. Over the years, I have tried to tolerate your misunderstandings and your increasingly rude tone. I've talked to several close friends about this decision. I don't want any more of this negativity posted on my blog -- it's not productive to the kind of discussion I want to create in the comments section.

    You are more than welcome to keep reading (though I understand you probably will not want to), but your comments will no longer be published. I am sorry it had to come to this.

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