To Be a Christian, Do/Be/Believe X9:31 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.
"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.
"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.