Who Is a Christian, Part 6
When I was younger, back before PowerPoint and sound systems and contemporary music, we sang hymns at church out of a book of songs called a hymnal accompanied by a piano and oftentimes an organ.
Every worship service ended the same way – with the preacher making a plea for people to come to Christ for salvation – to confess their sins, to pray a prayer inviting Jesus into their hearts, to be baptized and join the church before it was everlastingly too late, or to rededicate their lives to Christ.
An invitation hymn usually followed or accompanied the pastor’s plea. More often than not, this song was slow and relatively soft and continued the plea for the lost person to make a decision for Christ, extolling the rewards of a positive response to the plea and expounding the penalties for those who failed to respond. Millions of church members for at least three generations came into the church by this method of evangelism.
Yet as we watch the moral fabric of our country seemingly shred before our very eyes, the question arises about the effective influence of the church on maintaining a safe, solid, and moral community. And this brings into question the authenticity of conversion experiences of those who claim to know and love Jesus.
Just who is a Christian? I recently read this online quote:
“I love and worship God but I love my atheist friends and I love my girl friend (I am a girl) and I don’t believe God hates everyone for being different. So why do I get made fun of for being a Christian? It’s what I want to believe.”
Can one become a Christian the same way they would choose a menu item at a local restaurant? Can a lost person simply study the religions of the world and, in their own power and by their own will, choose Christianity because it appears to offer the best benefits and most reasonable explanation for the existence and fate of the world?
How smart would a person have to be to choose Jesus?
A couple of years ago, I listened to a man’s testimony who said that he had lived a life of wretchedness – alcohol, drugs, multiple run-ins with the law – until one day he got smart enough to invite Jesus into his heart.
Can one become a Christian by reaching a particular intellectual level? How smart would a person have to be to choose Jesus?
Is a Christian someone who was raised in a “Christian” environment, who one day chose to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors and declared themselves a Christian based on their beliefs and choices? Are we Christians primarily because of cultural or environmental influences?
Here is another interesting quote gleaned from the internet:
“I am a Christian and my best friend is an atheist. Though I don’t agree with her choice, I am not going to try and change her. She has chosen this lifestyle just as I have chosen my Christian lifestyle and if she is happy, why try to change her?”
I wonder if this person ever heard of the word obedience?
The subject of just who qualifies to call themselves Christian has been debated for over 2000 years. Why is that? Is there no clear answer to what defines a Christian? Is the Bible insufficient to answer such a critical question?
The study of 1 John demonstrates that the Bible very clearly answers the question concerning the description of a Christian. But John was simply a man, though admittedly trained by the best Teacher the world has ever known.
What does God say about it? Does God give us clear guidelines for determining whether a person is a true follower of Christ?
The answer is “Yes,” since Jesus is God incarnate – God in the flesh. So if we want to know God’s take on who is a Christian, we need only read what Jesus said in the gospels of the New Testament.
If we attempt to follow the chronology of Jesus’ ministry, we find His first personal encounter with those who would eventually form the group of apostles recorded in the first chapter of John’s gospel. Before leaving Judea for Galilee, those who accompany Jesus on His journey include Andrew and Peter, Philip, Nathanael, and most likely James and John, although the latter two are not specifically named. (John 1:37-51) The remaining six apostles would not join Jesus until later.
For the first part of their relationship, these men associated with Jesus and even traveled with Him at times, but technically, they were not disciples. We see the official calling of Peter and Andrew, James and John in Matthew 4, when Jesus said to these men, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matt. 4:19)
This is not an invitation to peaceful, adversity-free living. There were no padded pews and air-conditioned buildings, no hymnbooks (other than the Psalms), no board of deacons or ruling elders, no business meetings, and no Constitution and By-laws.
The call to follow Jesus is not about us. It’s about fulfilling the mission of Jesus, the Christ.
From this point onward, the relationship changed. Jesus called these men to follow Him, because He was going to make something out of them. Jesus was on a mission. He had only three years to train these particular men, who would become the foundation of the church, to continue that mission after His death, resurrection, and ascension.
The call to follow Jesus is not about us. It’s about fulfilling the mission of Jesus, the Christ. It’s about fulfilling the Great Commission – about carrying the message of the gospel of Christ to the world – to every people group, every tribe, every nation.
In Matthew 10, Jesus called these men to him, endowed them with the power to accomplish the work that He had begun, gave them specific instructions on how to operate and what to preach, and then warned them of the consequences of following Him.
He did not promise them ease or comfort or peace, but warned them of adversity, persecution, imprisonment, physical beatings, and even the possibility of death. This is the invitation to Christianity offered by God in the flesh.
Many will argue that Jesus himself said, “Come unto me all you who are weary and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28-30) This is very true, but notice that Jesus did not stop there. He continued by adding that those who came would bear a yoke and a burden, meaning that there was a work they were called to accomplish.
Furthermore, there is a difference between the word “rest” in verse 28 and the word “rest” used in verse 29. In the next article, we will begin with this difference in meaning.