What’s a Christian?

What I find very interesting are the various responses when this question is asked of church people.  Whether we realize it or not, we ask that question in one way or another all the time of each other, we just don’t realize it.  For instance, whenever we pass judgment on another person with the subtext “I thought they were Christian”, we are actually asking the question of each other.  And sadly, our responses usually focus on things that have absoultely nothing to do with what makes up a “true Christian”.  Ok, confused yet?  

Let’s try it this way:  I was up in Frankenmuth visiting a friend of mine a couple of weeks ago.  He is a pastor who recently just became the head brewer of the newly reopened Frankenmuth Brewery.  That’s right; Pastor/Brewmaster.  And he’s a very good one BTW.  Anyway, while there my wife bought me two tee shirts from the brewery that I wanted for my birthday.  My favorite one (That I’m wearing right now) says: “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy”.  Of course that’s merely a tongue and cheek way to say “I like good beer”.  Anyway, I really like wearing it and I’m almost hoping for some well meaning church person who doesn’t know me to come and challenge me for what my tee shirt says.  I can almost guarantee that someday, somewhere this will happen to me because I’ve seen Christians do this sort of thing on many occasions.  They see something they don’t like and judge it as un-Christian.  I can almost hear it now.  “Sir, don’t you know Jesus loves you?”  I can’t wait to respond with something like “Yeah, I say that to my church every week when I’m preaching”.

I think it’s more common than not…looking at what a person is doing or what a person looks like as our means for determining their spiritual condition.  But since when does what we do or not do have anything to do with whether or not we’re “Christian”?  So it begs the question, “what is a Christian?”  Well, it’s not what we do, that’s for sure.  It can be argued that our actions tell the story, but then again, what one person considers to be “sin” isn’t considered “sin” by another Christian.  Not to say that there aren’t some absolute sins.  I think there are.  But even when a person is sinning; since when does that automatically mean that they are not Christian?  After all, aren’t all of us struggling with some sort of sin or another?  Consider the words of Paul to the Romans: 3:10 None is righteous, no, not one;  or  23:for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  Is this not true of every one of us?  Yet there seems to be a tendency on the part of people in churches to judge other people’s spiritual state based on outside appearance.

We can argue about it (and I’m sure there will be plenty of traditional people that will) but what people DO has absolutely nothing to do with it.  Being a Christian isn’t what you do, it’s what you are.  And what you DO flows out of that relationship.  (I do agree with that principle 100%.)  But I have news for the judges of the world, not everyone is in the same place in their spiritual lives as you.  Some are at the beginning, some are further along, and others simply will not agree with your interpretation of what is/isn’t ok for a Christian.  That’s exactly why we can’t look at what a person DOES as the means to guage their state of salvation.  The Bible is clear, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” [Rom 11:6]  Salvation is by Grace ALONE.  While it is absolutely true that works are anevidence of that grace, they do not tell the whole story.  Furthermore, works (or actions) cannot be used to make a snap determination about the level of spirituality of a person.  In fact, I think that kind of judgmentalism is condemned in scripture.  Anyone remember the “Judge not” stuff that Jesus said?  What do you think He meant by that?

I believe He was specifically referring to our tendency to condemn one another based on actions and outward appearance.  Consider the account of the woman caught in adultery and those about to stone her.  Jesus essentially taught them that they were making an unfair judgment and that the woman was indeed worthy of the acceptance of God (although her actions were wrong).  Jesus criticized them and embraced the woman.  Yet, we in the church just love to look at people and decide in our own minds that they are screwed up and far from God.  We find them to be “sinners”, forgetting that we are too, and we are sickened by what they do.

Look, sin is sin.  And sin needs to be dealt with.  But even when a person is full of sin and it’s very visible, it does not mean they are not Christian.  In fact, on many other levels, they may actually be further along in their Christian walk than you are.  Let that one marinate around in your brain for a few.

What is a Christian?  The scriptures describe a Christian to be a person who has accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior.  I don’t recall reading anything that says a Christian is so because of what they do or don’t do.  Rather, the Bible seems to describe Christians based on what they believe.  Christianity is a relationship with Jesus, nothing more, nothing less.  Life change that comes as a result is just that… a result.  It is not the means to a relationship with Jesus.  Nor should actions be what we use to judge one another.  Don’t tell me I’m not a Christian because of my haircut.  And I won’t tell you you’re not a Christian because you smoke.  Get the idea?

Some will rush to judgment on this article and assume that I’m saying that there are no absolutes and that we should accept whetever people choose to do.  There is a growing liberalism in the church these days that does indeed promote that sort of thinking.  They don’t want to say anything is wrong because they want to “accept and love everyone”.  I do not promote that idealogy.  However, I think we can and should accept and love everyone and still try to help them understand God’s best intentions for thier lives.  We should talk about sin and we should discuss why God wants us to make better choices.  But again this has nothing to do with whether or not a person is a Christian.  And shame on us if we use these observations to make judgments on their spiritual condition at all.

I will use myself as an example.  I have two tattoos and am ready for two more.  What does that say about my spiritual condition?  I have had some people tell me that people with tattoos are immature and defiling their bodies, the temples of the Holy Spirit.  Humorously, some of the people who have told me this are among the most overweight people I know.  What does that say about how they are treating their temple?  I also have a sense of humor which isn’t so much appreciated in most Christian circles.  For some reason, we have been taught that it’s somehow wrong to have a sense of humor in the church these days.  Well, I’m in trouble then because I can’t help myself sometimes.  I probably crack more than a few inappropriate jokes.  It’s not that I’m making dirty jokes, but maybe a little “off color”.  Oh you should see the looks I get from “church people”.  Because they were denied a sense of humor upon their New Birth, they actually think I’m being serious or promoting sin.  Sorry folks, but God gave me a sense of humor.  Deal with it.  LOL  It’s time to come out of the “Christian Bubble”.  We are called to be separate from the world, but we also live IN IT.  We are separate in that we are no longer slaves to sin, but we live in it and there’s nothing wrong with being a part of the humor that comes with our rather funny civilization.

My point is a simple one.  We are saved by grace, not by works.  So don’t judge the works of another person and decide in your own mind where they are at spiritually.  You may end up terribly embarrased and surprised.  This sort of arrogance only makes you look like yet another holier than thou, judgmental, condemning, and hypocritical Christian.  The kind most people want nothing to do with.  And that just breaks my heart.