What Makes a Christian?

This is a question that I do not believe is asked in the church or understood by many within the church. So many have come to believe that salvation is nothing more than a response that we have a feeling of guilt that we feel when coming to church. Believing that just because they ask to be forgiven that somehow everything is right with them and God. As pastors and church leaders we have not done them any favors either, but closing off the altars so that no one feels out of place or embarrassed to come in front of the body of Christ to make a commitment. The church world has become a world of cheap grace where nothing cost us anything but is that what being a Christian is all about? I mean is being a Christian nothing more than coming to church when you feel like it and singing a few songs, giving a few dollars and going on your way? Is being a Christian nothing more than just punching the spiritual time clock each week and then heading out to do what you really want to do?

For many, this is what they think being a Christian is all about, but the truth of the matter is, this is not the lifestyle of the Christian at all. John Wesley, one of the great theologians of our times, believed that being a Christian was about the pursuit of perfection or holiness. He once said that any man that is not seeking to be like God is not a Christian at all. There has to be more to being a Christian than just going through the motions and checking things off our spiritual to do list. God expects more from us than just a token here and there, but He expects us to live for Him. Christianity is not something that we do but it is who we are. Christianity is more than a religion, but it is the power of God that encompasses our lives and moves us to become more like God in our daily life. Christianity is a challenge to move beyond the ordinary and walk in the extraordinary. Paul says to the church in Philippi, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). He tells the Galatians, “I have bee crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ living in me: and that life which I now live, in the flesh, I live by faith” (Galatians 2:20). That sounds so much different than what is seen as Christianity today in the western world. Paul is saying to us in order to be a real Christian we must forfeit our lives for Christ. We must be willing to give everything that we have to Him. The question then is how do we accomplish this? I mean how do we as Christians give our lives for the cause of Christ?

James tells us in chapter one of this epistle what we must do. James has been a very controversial book since the early days of the church. Many theologians including Martin Luther did not even recognize James as a part of the canon of scripture because he spoke so much about works. Many believe that he was excluding grace and saying that works and not grace saves humanity. The truth is that James was doing nothing of the sort. In fact, James is saying to us that once we are saved by grace then works have to follow. He states that true salvation is always accompanied by works and God blesses us through the works that we do post salvation. So how does this help with our question? In James 1:22 he says, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves”. Now the importance of this verse is that James is telling us that our salvation is an action, motion salvation. In other words, it only works when it is being done. Doing God’s will is the only true way one can be a Christian. The word hearer in the verse means one that is attentive, it even means one that is a disciple or student of the word. So what does that mean? James is saying it is not enough to know the Word of God, it is not even enough to study the Word of God and to being a student of the Word of God, but one must do the Word of God. As Christians, we are actively doing what God tells us through His word. We are not merely learning it but we are living it out on a daily basis. We do not memorize the golden rule but we live out the golden rule every day. We do not merely pray for those that are in need but we give to those that are in need. Everything that we learn through the scripture we live it out in our daily life. We become doers of the Word of God and not just people learning it.

Now the sad part for the western church of today is that many are not even as dedicated hearers of the word the way in which James is talking about. Many people in the church never pick up their Bible and read it. In a recent poll 40% of Americans said that they were Christians, yet upon deeper study, 28% of that group said they attend church less than three times in an eight-week period. These are neither hearers of the word or doers of the word, which brings the question, are they really Christians? I mean what does it mean to be a Christian? There has to be more to being a Christian than just showing up to church every now and then. There has to be more to being a Christian than just coming to church every week and then going home and living life without any consideration for God. When people all over the world are giving their lives for the cause of Christ, there has to be more to being a Christian than just doing what we feel like doing. There has to be more, our faith must be lived out, it must be active. People must see us becoming more like Jesus as we live out the word that He gave us.

Today I encourage you to quit being a hearer only and begin to live out your faith. Be a doer of the world and give God more of yourself. The days are drawing to a close and the time is now for the church to rise up and become what God has called us to be. After examining your life today, ask yourself, are you a real Christian?

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