I am a Christian. Or am I?

About four years ago, I had a major life change. I retired. I moved to a new area and became involved in an urban church. My vision of retirement included writing and teaching at a college or perhaps a church. I thought it was a good plan, but it seems that when God got my proposal he just rolled his eyes and laughed.

Learning to be retired - especially for a country mouse trying to be a city mouse - has been difficult, but not without benefits. Our church is nearly half refugees and immigrants, and it's nice to know there are refugee kids, new to America, who consider me their grandpa, and who look to me for help and advice.


The experience, however, has also raised some questions in my mind. A central one concerns how to define Christian. Just who is a Christian? Many of the refugees I know say they are Christians. And listening to their words and watching their lives, I have no doubt that some are. But listening to the words and watching the lives of others leaves me torn: I want to believe their words, but their lives say something else.

In this, they are not different from millions of others in America, folks walking the streets of our cities and identifying themselves as Christians. Too often, like my refugee friends, their lives say something different.

Part of the problem is the balance of culture and scripture. Proper application of scripture will be transformational, meaningful and life-giving in any culture. The gospel does not depend on culture. However, too often we let culture judge the Bible, rather than vice versa. Culture becomes the deciding factor in how the Bible is understood, and how we understand Christianity. Culture determines our behavior and beliefs.

As a result, "Christian" becomes something utterly foreign to what the Bible teaches. To most evangelical American Christians, for example, a "good Christian" is one who lives a "clean" life - not too much drinking, smoking or swearing, and no obvious domestic abuse or violence. There was once a funny saying, "I don't drink, cuss, smoke or chew, or go with girls who do." Now that would have to be changed: "I don't drink, cuss, smoke or chew - too much."

What is a Christian? Better, what is a follower of Jesus?

The New Testament has much to say about followers of Jesus. Children of light, it calls them. Little Christs. A called-out, sent-in people: Jesus said he was sending his followers - that includes us - just as the Father had sent him. He said we were authorized to act and speak in his name, on his behalf.

He said the world will know we are his followers because we love each other as he loves us. Followers of Jesus grow to love Jesus, and gradually make him the center of their lives.

To be a follower of Jesus is to be called to a new life, in a new creation. It is to be part of a resurrection people, proclaiming new life in Jesus.

That's a far cry from being a nice guy, or from defining your actions by saying, "That's our way. It's how we do things." Even if the Bible clearly says otherwise.

I pray for an outpouring of God's Spirit among my friends. I pray that the power of the Spirit would burst upon them, changing lives, setting people free from an old and deadening culture.

I pray that they would see Jesus, and know the rich, full life that Jesus has for them.

And I pray that same prayer for my church and many other friends.

3 Comments

What an interesting question-am I a Christian?

The mainstream churches reject Jesus and his teachings but claim to be his followers. It is preached and taught drinking alcoholic drinks such as wine, beer, etc... is sin. Yet, the first miracle Jesus performed was making wine. 1Peter3:8 states a man desiring the office of Deacon must not be given to much wine. Let every man be a lier but God's word is true. The majority of the Church of God pastors even refuse to accept the literal Great Tribulation Jesus taught about or the literal 1,000-year reign of Christ. Again, let every man be a lier but God's word is true. The mainstream churches today can all be lumped into the Church of Laodecia, they have a form of godliness but they have denied the power thereof (God's Word).

At the end; after the Rapture, after the Great Tribulation, after the Second Coming of Jesus to earth with his Church and Mighty Angels, after Christ's 1,000-year reign on earth, after the Second Resurrection (the unjust), after the White-throne Judgement (of those in Second Resurrection), Jesus will look at this mainstream church of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries who cried Lord Lord and Jesus will say: "Depart from me ye workers of iniquity I never knew You!"

I agree. As you said too often people learn the scriptures from the filter of their culture and therefore can never truly understand and live in the power of the word. What happens is, as culture filters the scriptures into people's understanding, traditon sets in, and not just tradition but also a form of godliness. This is true in all cultures but to me the most apparent is the african-american culture. African Americans are accustomed to struggle because of the past. However, the past is no excuse for a stagnant future, and as the times have changed and equality is more sure now than ever, african americans still refuse to stand in dominion as sons and daughters of God. What all of us as believers have to do. especially african americans, is study and learn the bible outisde of our struggles. The average person goes to church and listens to the sermon looking to insert the good of the word into their current situation. One can NEVER truly understand the scriptures that way. My definition of a true "christian" is one who gives their lives to the word of God and understanding all that God desires us to receive from it. Living a sacrificial and set-apart lifestyle. The annointing of God nor just confessing to know God doesn not show God's approval on your life. Not even signs and wonders. The anti-Christ himself will perform miracles. Their is but one thing that the Anti-Christ will be locked outside of, and that is sound doctrine;the untampered truth, revelation of the word of God, and all this only comes by truly understanding and living the Word of God.

Hello Oscar,

Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I would generally agree with much of what you have written, but I am concerned by your final conclusion.

Sound doctrine is important, and studying for understanding of the Word of God is of great value. However, it is impossible to come to full understanding of the Bible except by the revelation activity of the Holy Spirit in us. We cannot understand God by the power of our own intellect. Beyond that, I would say that doctrine is false teaching if it is "sound" but neglects the statement of Jesus that the world would know we are his followers by the love we have for each other.

The ultimate test is an obedient life, characterized by love, and typified by concrete actions of charity, justice and mercy in the name of Jesus. Doctrine without that is useless, and faith that does not produce that is worthless.

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  • Larry Baden said:
      Hello Oscar, Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I would generally ag...
  • Oscar Gary said:
      I agree. As you said too often people learn the scriptures from the fi...
  • david hollon said:
      What an interesting question-am I a Christian? The mainstream churche...

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