Friday, August 03, 2007

What does it mean to be a Christian?

Question posted at
i know that in life you should have one religion and i was wondering…
if you say you are a christianthen what do you think it means to be a christian?

My response:
Christian isn’t something you be. Christian is something you become. The foundation of becoming is critical. I’d say that Christian is defined by Christ; that any other definition has no authority. What we know about Christ comes through the Bible. If you think you believe Christ, then you must believe the Bible because Christ believed the Bible. If you don’t believe the Bible, then you have no Christ to believe except a mythical one. That is, you can’t believe Christ if you have nothing of his to believe. Therefore, you have to decide: Will I believe the Bible, or won’t I? It’s an all-or-nothing proposition.

The reply from vballchik3575 is the only reply so far that comes close to answering your question, and it will do for a starting point. The faith of a child is sufficient for anybody, but becoming requires learning more about your God. That implies learning His perspective, and that causes the number of subjects to explode, but I’ll limit this to a few essentials.

The Bible begins by introducing a Creator with personhood — intelligence, will, emotion, etc. One of the perqs of being Creator is that everything you create is yours; and since God created all things under His own authority, He has absolute, life-and-death rights over all creation — including us. This Person consists of a single God who transcends time and space, mass and energy, yet somehow exists as what we, from within time and space, perceive as multiple Persons. It’s a mind-bender. As the Bible develops its revelation of spiritual things, we learn that there’s a central Father-figure, a Spirit, and a Son-to-be, all of whom claim to be the One God.

The foci of the revelation spell out the identity of the Son: Jesus, son of Mary (and step-son of Joseph) of Nazareth. God, we are told, inhabits the body of Jesus; and as a holy God, Jesus lived a holy, sinless life.

That’s as far as I can go without building the definition of Christian from another angle: That of mankind. Whether one believes in Adam, Eve, and the Garden of Eden as literal or figurative, it tells us that rather than bowing in total submission to God’s absolute authority, we all fall short, we all rebel. That is the entire meaning of the Ten Commandments. Yes, by keeping them, you can become more like God in a moral sense; but you can never achieve the absolute perfection required to enter the presence of an absolutely holy God. Not only do we fall short by doing wrong, but we also owe it to God to do every right thing that lies in our power to do. If we are indebted to God to do right, then we cannot offer anything that we do as payment for our failings. (If I bring you a cup of sugar that you loaned to me, I can hardly call it a gift to you, can I?) Therefore, the notion of weighing one’s good against one’s evil is misleading and irrelevant. In a hypothetical balance, our evil (and the good that we should have done, but didn’t) in the pan on the left will always outweigh the empty pan on the right.

All of the sacrifices of the Jewish temple system pointed to the terrible consequences of our failure. Even then, they were object lessons and a stopgap solution. The blood of bulls and goats (which ultimately also belong to God, not to us) just doesn’t cut it; indeed, they were symbols that pointed toward a greater sacrifice. That sacrifice was God’s Son; the righteous for the unrighteous; the holy for the defiled.

Now, I have to tag on two things that many churches corrupt. First, Christ, being God, could not be held by death. You have to believe in the resurrection because if there’s no resurrection of Christ from the dead, there can be no new life for us. Second, the gift has to be received as exactly that: a gift. To add other requirements such as church membership, keeping commandments, baptism, or any other thing than simply receiving the gift, then we insult the Giver and fail to receive the gift.

A Christian is someone who believes these foundational ideas, submits to them, and receives the gift. There are plenty of things that give evidence that the conversion was genuine and there are plenty of things to do (or not do) that coincide with becoming, moving toward the goal of being worthy of the name, Christian; but none of those things should be confused with the basics I’ve laid out that define the beginning of the process. And when you recognize the distance between fallen people and the Holy God, you know that it is quite a long process.

I’d like to know the reason for the question.


Jeanne said...

And yet there is a very real sense in which one becomes a Christian instantaneously the moment one puts one's faith in Christ and accepts the free gift of salvation He has purchased for us.

The rest of the process of "becoming" is simply growing in grace and gaining greater spiritual insight into that which we already possess in Christ.

Jeanne Dininni

Poorhouse Dad said...

Thank you, Jeanne! You have written precious truths.

It's difficult to walk the line between the extremes. One side teaches that you can never know, but must always strive to become by your own efforts. The other side behaves like you can become, and that ends the journey. These two errors dominate so-called "Christianity" in America.

The truth is that once you become a Christian, if you are a real Christian, you will continuously labor to become more like Christ. On the other hand, once you become a Christian, you can "know" because your faith lies no longer in yourself, but in God; because you gain a sense of dissatisfaction and a drive to become more like Christ; and because, after a while, you can look back and see how much God has cause you to grow.

Shalene said...

Amen and Amen again. That's all I have to say. Blessings to you. PhD. :)