What does it mean to be a Christian?


It’s Monday Grace!

Fairly often I am asked whether so-and-so, with all his/her compromises or abuses, could be a “real” Christian. A real Christian would have to be defined by the standards of the one asking the question, I suppose. One dear lady asked me if a woman who cut her hair could be a real Christian. A mother asked about a son who wandered away from the Lord. Someone asked me if a real Christian could vote Democrat. One friend thinks real Christians should follow the Old Testament laws on eating and cleansing. And I regularly get questions about people who show narcissistic tendencies. How could they be real Christians?

I picked up a book from the free shelf at the library the other day just because of the title. Yes, I know titles are hooks, but this was so good I had to grab it. Someday, I might even read it. The title that caught my eye was, “What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?”

Many people would like a checklist of some kind, something that would help them know if they are or if someone else is a real Christian. But the Bible doesn’t have a list like that. I know many churches do. I also know that many churches have lists that change. Just when you think you have all the boxes checked, another box appears. “Real Christians do this or don’t do that.”

So, when I am asked a question like this, I have to say that I don’t know the answer. All I know is that being a Christian is not a matter of checking off boxes of behavior or beliefs. It isn’t that our behavior or doctrine doesn’t matter. It’s just that those things do not determine our salvation.

Yes, there will be Democrats in Heaven and Republicans and plenty more with lesser known political ideas. There will be people who cut their hair, watched television, and smoked. There will be people who listened to music you thought was sinful and read books you would never read. There will be people there who didn’t even belong to a church. There will be mean people and foolish people and liberals and fundamentalists and probably even some agnostics.

And some who checked off all the boxes of behavior may not be in Heaven. Some who fought for family or American values will miss out. Some who were elders or preachers or Bible-quoting grandmas. Some who took great care to vote correctly and live correctly will not be there.

Because these things are not the way to be saved.

You see, the way to be saved is to come to Jesus. Christianity is a relationship with a Person, not a list of things to do or ways to think. None of us will get everything right in this life, and some of us will get a whole lot of things wrong. But those who come to Jesus to place their hope in Him will be saved.

I have guided people in praying to ask Jesus to accept their life, but I don’t think the prayer was magic. There are no special words that must be said. But there is a special Person who saves us. There is no right church or denomination or ideology that will get us to Heaven, but there is a right Person who will walk with us.

To be a Christian is to come to Jesus. To live the Christian life is to walk with Jesus. And our walk will almost certainly look like the wanderings of active children, off and on the path, distracted by the pretty things of this world and forgetting the One we are supposed to be following. Your walk might cause others to judge or to condemn, but the One you walk with is what’s important.

No, I can’t answer that question. I don’t know who is and who isn’t a “real” Christian. I suspect that many of those we think are not actually are. And I am convinced that many of those who think they are actually are not.

It’s about Jesus!

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