what is a christian?
Updated: Apr 1
How do you identify yourself? Although society is encouraging us to drop many of the labels in the world, the truth is we still use them. For example, if someone asks me what I do for work, I might tell them I am a writer. When I was in college I would tell them I was a student and when I taught middle school I would say that I was a teacher. If someone asked me where I was from I would say I am a Floridian. If someone asked me what my heritage was, I would say I am an American whose ancestors are from Germany. Other labels that might identify me are, white, female, young, or married.
People often approach the topic of labeling as a negative thing, but I don't think it always has to be. Labels are simply a way to identify ourselves and seek out other people with common interests and beliefs to ours. The problem with labels comes from how we use them. Labeling people or things can cause unity but it can also be a source of deception or insult.
One term I've always carried with me is "Christian". When people ask me what I believe in, I tell them I am a "Christian". To me, that is stating that I believe in God, accept Jesus as the Savior of the world, and uphold what the Bible says we should do. As a child, this seemed straightforward enough and I assumed everyone saying they were Christians essentially had the same core values... but as I've gotten older I've started to dive deeper into what that name really means. I've been making an active effort to broaden my perspective and meet more people who might not be just like me in belief or upbringing. As I have started to do this, I've met many other "Christians" who live entirely different lifestyles than mine. When I discovered this I couldn't help but wonder, "Am I a Christian or are they?"
I've realized that the word "Christian" evokes a wide range of emotions and reactions among people. Some people view Christians as kind, loving, humble people. Others view Christians as legalistic, controlling, hypocritical bigots. Some nations have suffered because of Christianity infiltrating their provinces and towns. Other nations have benefitted greatly from the missionary services of people who say they are promoting Christianity.
With all this in mind, I can't help but wonder, what is a Christian? What is Christianity?
Perhaps I speak on this topic at the risk of sounding judgmental, but I think it is worth discussing what our names, labels, and titles really mean. Maybe you are wondering if it actually matters. The Bible seems to argue that it does:
A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth. Ecclesiastes 7:1
We see many examples in the Bible of characters, people whose names were changed by God when they started to follow him. Abram became Abraham, Sarai became Sarah, Jacob became Israel, Simon became Peter, and Saul became Paul. Our labels, our names have to do with our reputations.
Let's take a moment to evaluate some of the other categories we see in the world. For example, let's talk about Veganism. If someone says they are a vegan, this means they do not eat or use any items that have animal products in them. If you were at a restaurant with your vegan friend and she ordered chicken noodle soup, I'm guessing you would be confused. You would probably be even more confused if she was going around telling all her friends and family that she was vegan, yet every time you were together she ate something that included meat or cheese in it. Obviously you would stop taking her seriously because her actions said something entirely different from what she was claiming.
What about a friend of yours who says he is happily married. You start to notice that every time you are out in public, he is flirting with other women. He askes for their number, orders them complimentary food or drinks, and tells them how attractive they are. He might still be wearing his wedding ring and saying he loves his wife but his actions don't align with his words.
We are so quick to see the problems in these two scenarios, yet we are so reluctant to hold people calling themselves Christians to any sort of standard.
So what exactly is a Christian again? I believe a Christian is someone who believes in and follows Jesus- and you cannot do that without reading and studying the Bible. A Christian is not someone who has perfect church attendance. A Christian is not someone who "never sins". A Christian is not even someone who is always talking about Jesus and sharing cutesy little quotes on social media (oof, I just hit someone's nerve). A Christian is someone who is actively seeking Jesus through the word of God. The only way we can know if we are on the right path is by looking to the Bible.
Google defines Christianity as a religion based on the person and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, or its beliefs and practices. It defines a Christian as a person who has received Christian baptism or is a believer in Christianity. Do all the people we see in the world today calling themselves Christians fit this description? I would argue that they don't.
Maybe this idea of distinguishing who "deserves" to call themselves a Christian makes you uncomfortable. I think in some ways it should. After all, God looks on the heart while people can only see what is on the outside right? Who am I to say if someone "fits the role" of something relating to God himself. While it is true that we have no duty to determine a person's salvation, I do believe we have a calling to preserve the name of the followers of Christ.
If you aren't interested in reading the Bible, learning more about your faith, or challenging yourself daily to become a better reflection of Christ's character- stop taking on the title of a role that doesn't fit you! I'm not saying this to be mean, judgmental, or cliquish, I'm saying this because it is important. It is so important that we be aware of what our actions are saying about our titles... because what we do or don't uphold may come back to bite us.
We as a Christian community are creating our own blocks and barricades among our witnessing efforts because we are living hypocritical lives. We claim the name of Jesus and then we put minimal effort into living as he did. I'm not talking about our mistakes.. I'm talking about the times when we purposely avoid what we know is right.
We say we are Christians but we don't even know where our Bibles are. We say we are Christians, but we watch films promoting murder, divorce, and sexual immorality. We say we are Christians but we feel no regret when we lie to benefit ourselves. I'm preaching to myself here. I've done all of these things... but instead of giving up, I am choosing to make a change. I would urge you to also consider re-evaluating your choices for the sake of the One you claim to be modeled after.
Let me be clear, as I've mentioned in previous writings, our faith is a heart issue. I'm not speaking these harsh words to attack those of us who are sincerely trying to live up to the title we chose to bear. I realize that many, many people who claim the title "Christian" are sincerely interested in following Christ. They really do love Jesus even if they don't always read or understand the Bible. There is a huge difference between actively learning or trying, and actively being complacent. God is not calling us to always be perfect and never make mistakes. Instead, he is calling us to always try our best and ask him for guidance. When he gives us that guidance, we need to embrace it.
Much of the Christian hypocrisy we see in the world today comes from church leadership- people who claim they are following Christ but also have their own agendas. They misguide members of their congregations by teaching them false principles or leaving out details of the Bible that matter.
There are two huge Christian movements I can think of that are going on right now who are saying they are the ideal example of what Christianity should be. They seemingly say all the right things and have all the bells and whistles to draw you into their ministry. I have wrestled with calling them out... but I think it is important to at least keep my readers informed. Now don't get me wrong, both of these movements are incredible organizations in many regards. I believe they have an amazing calling to share Christ with the world. I've attended their programs and concerts and I've been tremendously blessed. They inspire me to do more in my own faith journey. I even hope to volunteer and get involved in some of their service opportunities. They have a lot of wonderful things taking place amidst their organizations. Yet, they are hypocritical in certain areas... and here is how.
Not too long ago, amidst my efforts to interact with and collaborate with more people who were raised differently than me, I made contact with a couple of leaders from these two major organizations. As we talked, I brought up an issue that I feel is greatly overlooked. It is what I call the ignored commandment.
Genesis 2:2-3 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day, he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
Exodus 20:8-11 Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days, the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
When I asked these Sunday leaders about the 7th day Sabbath of the Bible, I expected them to argue with me. I expected them to justify their decision to have programs or a holy day on Sunday using scripture. Imagine my shock when they told me that they knew the Bible said the 7th day was Sabbath and that in our modern age that would mean the Sabbath is Saturday. I asked them why they continued to hold all of their events on Sunday when they knew God asked us to worship Him on Saturday instead. They told me they felt they had a greater impact reaching people on Sunday since that is the day of worship that has become culturally accepted by the majority of people in the world.
I couldn't believe it. In churches and ministries that are openly boasting and claiming to follow the Bible and nothing but the Bible, the very day they are choosing to worship on is not Biblical, but cultural.
Maybe you are wondering why this matters. Why am I so adamant about this one issue of the Sabbath for example? It is because if we compromise in one area of scripture, we compromise the rest of our reasoning for following what the Bible says. This is one reason we struggle to help non-believers and atheists see the validity of the Bible. How can we claim that the 10 Commandments are still valid and worthy of being followed if we are blatantly ignoring the 4th one? This is just one example of an area we seem to be going astray.
My point in writing all of this to you today is to tell you that unless you are willing to follow all of the things God reveals to you in scripture, you might as well stop claiming to follow God. The Bible is not a buffet. It was not written for us to pick and choose what we want. It is meant to be read and upheld in its entirety. It was also not written to be added on to later. This includes making up your own denominational standards.
I am aware of the debates, the arguments, and the conflicts that many people see within the pages of the Bible. All that aside I am simply asking that if you are convicted in your heart that something God says in the Bible is true, please embrace it. Don't wait on these religious leaders who are chasing after fame, fortune (even if they boast humility), and "feel-good truth" to start preaching the whole truth. Don't wait for your friends or your family. When God reveals to us how to live our lives for him, we cannot deny it or ignore it. It is one thing to simply not know, it is another thing to know yet choose to go another way. If we are claiming Christianity we have to be all in for Christ.
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”