So You Say You're A Christian?
The term "Christian" is often misused and misappropriated today. For many people who don't completely deny the existence of God, like atheists, but also don't actively participate in any type of formal religion, Christianity seems like a suitable demographic with which to "self-identify." After all, if you put up a Christmas tree and some lights in your house, and maybe give your kids some candy in a basket in the Spring, you're a Christian...right??? But are stockings, presents, eggs, and bunnies really what Christianity is all about? Any faithful believer would likely find that question offensive. Of course we know there is more to it than that! But what is it that makes someone uniquely Christian? What does the Bible say on the matter?
As we will learn later on in the book of Acts, the term "Christian" first appeared in the years following Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection. It was in Antioch (in present day Turkey) where the term was first used in the early days of the Church (see Acts 11:26). Before that time, believers were often called followers of or belonging to "the Way." This likely refers to Jesus' own declaration that he is, in fact, "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). While this short history on the origins of the term "Christian" may be useful and interesting, it doesn't answer the question at hand. What makes a person a "Christian?"
At their most basic, a Christian is a follower of Jesus. Yet, that definition is insufficient, because scripture is full of examples of people who attempted to follow Jesus (at least for a time), but weren't actually Christians (Judas Iscariot, the rich young ruler, etc.). Jesus' teaching in Matthew 7:21-23 further highlights the fact that many people who act like a Christian, may not actually be one. So, if simply following Jesus isn't enough, what more is there?
If I were to attempt to boil Christianity down to its core, I would say that to be Christian is to be "radically redeemed and transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ." These two components, redemption and transformation, are inseparably linked together in the life of a true Christian. If you remove either one, you do irrevocable harm to the definition of what it means to be uniquely Christian in a world with blurring boundaries and a lack of clarity among varying demographics. So, what makes these two things so essential?
First, redemption. The hope of the Gospel is rooted in our plight as sinners destined to stand in judgement before a just and holy God. Our guilt is indisputable, and as such, our fate is most certain. Only a miracle could save a person in a hopeless situation like this. Thankfully, God is in the business of miracles. The salvation of Christians is found only in the miraculous work of Christ, who descended from glory, entered into humanity, lived a life of perfect obedience, took on flesh and the guilt of all our sins, and paid the cost for it all upon the cross with his own blood. His righteousness, his innocence, counted on our behalf in order to reconcile us to our Heavenly Father. And all of it a free gift of grace, not by any work or merit of our own doing. This is what it means to be a Christian. But, it doesn't end there.
Too often we get to redemption and we stop short of fully realizing God's purpose in redeeming sinners to himself, at great cost to our spiritual welfare and maturity. You see, redemption is where we start, not where we end, in our Christian life. A Christian life is one that is marked by radical transformation. This means that a Christian is one who is unrecognizable in comparison to his former self. In fact, to be a Christian is to "put on the new self" (see Colossians 3:1-17 and Ephesians 4:17-32). Just as the Christian life cost our savior dearly, we too must pay a steep cost. To be Christian is to willingly give up everythingin obedience to Jesus, and to get back in return so much more than you could ever imagine. One of my favorite Christian catch phrases is "Jesus + Nothing = Everything." It may sound silly, but the beautiful truth contained in that simple "equation" radically changes the way we live our lives.
To truly be a Christian isn't simply to be saved from eternal damnation. Nor is it about trying to do good works to bring us recognition and glory, or to tip the scales in our favor and put God in our debt. Rather, the Christian life is about pursuing Jesus in obedience because our overwhelming affection for him as our Lord and Savior demands we do so. So, the question is, are you a Christian? If not, come talk to me. I'd love to introduce you to my King, Jesus. He'll change your life!
If you missed this week's sermon (or just want to listen again), follow the link below to listen. Or subscribe to our podcast in iTunes.
Part 6 - What is a Christian?
Questions discussed in this sermon:
1. What is a Christian?
2. What activities marked the Christian life in the early church?
3. How Christian are we today?
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