Defining what it means to be a Christian is a deceptively easy task. Just ask Bethany Hudson... er... wait.
She already asked that question. And her question goes far beyond Romans 10:9 which merely asks that you believe Christ rose from the dead and confess that He is Lord.
I gave a crack at answering her question by saying:
Christians are those who are seeking to follow Christ as He leads them. They believe that He died on the cross and rose again.
As for the rest of it, I'm thankful God is in charge of that and has grace for me as well [smile]. I think the only good indications we have on other's walks with Christ is in the "fruit" of their lives--what kind of impact are they having on those around them? But even that is hard to judge since we are not their shadows.
Why do I have such a vague view of things?
Because I know Protestants, Catholics, and Mormons... and while there are most assuredly deep doctrinal issues that I think people get wrong, I can't really tell if any particular believer buys these errant views.
Protestants, Catholics, and Mormons... oh my!
I'm going to pick on Mormons for a moment because that cult--yes, I believe it's a cult--has some really far out there ideas that are a far cry from Orthodox Christianity. But when I talk to my Mormon missionary friends, I really can't tell how much of the deeper, problematic (and, if I do say so, downright wrong) beliefs they hold. In fact, most of them seem strangely ignorant of the "deeper things" of the Mormon faith. So, if they believe in the same Christ I do, seek Him as their means of redemption, and believe in His resurrection... are they not seeking to be more Christ-like? Are they missing it?
Granted, I strongly believe that if they buy into the gnarly aspects of their faith they can't possibly be serving the same God that I am, but if they are still on the outskirts... who am I to say?
I could make similar cases for Protestants and Catholics as well, as we all tend to be a tad out there in certain areas. Of course, I see the potential errors of Protestants and Catholics can lead to misunderstanding God, whereas the problems of Mormonism lead to seeking to be God... and that's a dangerous place to play.
After I had been at Biola a couple of years, I started meeting some strange film students. One of them was Daniel. One of his major projects was a South Park rip-off that was, well, discomforting and, well, distasteful and, well, disrespectful. But that's what you get when you borrow heavily from South Park.
Daniel himself was a rather rough character. In fact, if he weren't at a Christian university, I wouldn't have pegged him as the religious type; at least, not in the Orthodox sense--maybe a pantheist. He carried a butterfly knife, swore, and may have even smoked.
But when I talked with him, he had a sincere heart for Christ. He liked the "rebel Jesus" who bucked the religious system. Sure, he only got part of Christ right, but who really has a good handle on all of Him?
Had I merely met Daniel and seen the project he worked on, I would have written him off. He wasn't applying his Biblical knowledge (if he had any to begin with), and he certainly wasn't a good witness for Christ.
Or was he?
I don't know. I guess I'll figure that out in the next life. But Dan didn't strike me as the sincere, albeit sincerely wrong, kind of guy. He was sincere about following Christ, a Man he was still trying to get to know and be more like.
And that's where I find myself. ...minus the reliance on nicotine and juvenile humor.
Growing and Grace
So what signifies a Christian?
I'd say it's likely two things: Growth and Grace.
Are they growing, or at least, desiring to grow? I mean, I would love to grow to be more like Christ, but I don't see that happening very quickly. I'm still very much stuck in certain sins and thought patterns that are very un-Christlike. And I'm not seeing much growth there. But I still want to grow, and there are subtle shifts in other areas of my life.
The bigger one is grace. That in and of itself is a major doctrinal issue that has really tweaked me out. But ultimately I would say that a Christian is a person who understands his/her deep reliance on God's goodness and grace. We are not Christ, but we follow Him as He followed His Father, and we walk in the grace we need to do so.
So, yes, people can be very, very wrong--even downright nasty or completely messed up in their beliefs--but does that mean they aren't a Christian?
As I told Bethany: I'm thankful God is in charge of that.
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