March 29, 2020

What Does It Take To Be A Christian?

I spent quite a bit of time on Tuesday reading Daniel Jepsen’s post on the genesis of Genesis. And while I agree with Jepsen’s conclusions, I’m aware there are many others who may not buy into all—or any—of what he says about the intended purpose of Genesis. Which got me to thinking: Can a person who believes in a literal reading of Genesis 1 and a person who sees it as a theological discourse to help explain God’s dwelling place both be Christians? Is this a matter that ultimately matters?

What really does matter when it comes to one being a Christian?

Let’s first define what we mean by Christian. For the purpose of this post I want to use to original meaning we see in Acts: “Christ-like,” or, more precisely, “Little Christs.” To first century observers of this new sect, its adherents looked and acted in a manner that reminded them of its founder.

But what about today? Christian is a term used today for many different purposes. It can be a noun (“He doesn’t always act like a Christian”) or adjective (“That’s not a very Christian thing to do”). It can describe a person, an environment, and nation. But what does it really mean to be a Christian in the western culture today? What are the minimum requirements to be Christlike? Let’s look at a few areas of life to see what we can discover.

Church  A friend of mine recently said, “Church attendance in America is the 21st century equivalent of 1st century circumcision.” He may have a point. Many will say you can’t be Christlike unless you regularly attend church. Is that true? Can one foster a Christlike spirit without regular fellowship with others of like mind?  And if church attendance is necessary to be a Christian, does one have to be “involved,” or can he just show up, follow along, then leave? Is one more Christlike by attending church more often? If you say that church is not necessary to be a Little Christ, why not? Do you think Paul would preach against church involvement today as he did regarding circumcision?

How do you like my questions so far? Ready for some more topics?

The Bible  We refer to the Bible as the “Word of God.” Is this correct? Does Hebrews 4:12 refer to the Bible as we know it today? Can one be a Christian and not accept the Bible as literally true in every aspect? For instance, can a woman be a Christian and not believe that Jonah was a real, historic person who was swallowed by a real, historic fish? Can three different people with three different views of a particular passage all three be Christians? How often must a true Christian read his Bible? Daily? Weekly? How about on a need-to-know basis?

Prayer  Jesus’ disciples, the original Christians, asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. Jesus didn’t say, “Oh, don’t worry about it. Prayer isn’t all that necessary. Just think positive thoughts and send positive vibes.” No, Jesus taught a prayer we now know as the Lord’s Prayer. Is this all we have to pray in order to be a Little Christ? Do we need to practice and become more proficient pray-ers? Can one even become more proficient in prayer? Is praying a written prayer from book acceptable, or do true Christians only pray extemporaneously? If Sally prays 15 minutes a day, and Julie prays 60 minutes a day, is Julie more Christlike than Sally?

Baptism   Easy Steve Martin. Don’t hurt yourself getting to your keyboard on this one. Does one have to be baptized to be a Christian? Is infant baptism permissible? If Harry is baptized by sprinkling, and Jerry baptized by immersion, who is more Christlike?

Witnessing   Does a person have to share his faith with others in order to be a Christian? What if I witness as often as you, but never lead anyone to Jesus, whereas you can count at least ten who have become Christians because of your testimony. Are you more Christlike than I?

Occupation   Jane is a clerk in a grocery store. Sara is children’s pastor of a community church.  Patricia is a full time missions worker in a third-world nation. Who is the most Christlike? Who is the least Christlike?

Family   What if you are in your 30s, straight, but not married. Are you as Christlike as your 30-something friends who are married with children? What if your kids go to public school, not a Christian school and not homeschooled? Are you truly following Jesus? Can you be in a committed same-sex marriage and be Christlike? (There goes everything else I’ve just asked …) Can you be divorced and be Christlike?

You may think some of these questions ridiculous, but I promise you I have heard them all expressed in one way or another when evaluating one’s Christlikeness. I grew up hearing “You have to ____ to be saved” and “You can’t _____ and still be saved” every Sunday. And I still hear it today, even from those who otherwise seem to be sane.

So, what do you think? What does one have to do in each of these areas in order to be considered a “true Christian”? Are any of these areas deal breakers should one not do them as you think they should? Have I muddied up the waters real good?

Just what does it take to be a Christian?


  1. You forgot Alcohol! Hic!

    • aMEn, brufver….

      • Joseph (the original) says

        it is true that Christians can be categorized by their drink of choice though…

        not sure it is thee litmus test of orthodoxy, but i do not trust a person that considers alcohol consumption sinful & unacceptable for a Christian…

        personal convictions due to family alcohol abuse issues or personal lack of self-control all valid reasons for avoiding it, but for those that do drink responsibly there is nothing evil about doing so…

        • Personally, anyone who enjoys American lager “beer” is not really saved…

          • Quixotequest says

            While the name of New Belgium Brewery’s Abbey ale befits how admirably and spiritually removed it is from the mainstream of American beer.

  2. A bit of an aside but I like to refer to Jesus as “The Word of God” and the Bible as “The word of God.”

    Might just be semantics though.

    • No, not semantics at all, Mike. Jesus is the Word. The Bible is there to reveal Jesus. Some elevate Scripture to the level of Jesus himself. I have experienced that over and over.

      • Yeah, I think of the Scripture elevation as bibliolatry.

        • …aka the “paper pope.”

          • Doesn’t it always turn into the “my personal systematic theology pope” in practice?

          • Only in reformed circles. Fundagelicals revert to “my personal opinion justified by any interpretative process necessary pope.”

            The problem isn’t with inerrancy, it’s with the rationalistic presuppositions which post-enlightenment protestants bring to the text. Ever since Zwingli, the Bible has been considered a book containing a bunch of factually true statements which can be analysed, processed, and systematized in order to be understood. These true statements are for the purpose of enlightening our minds on the nature of reality. It’s a science text-book of spirituality. It’s a good thing that the Bible has us to study and clarify it, otherwise it’s truths would be pretty useless just sitting there on the page! Barf.

          • True – but I think that fundagelicals under the “my personal opinion justified by any interpretative process necessary pope” are heavily influenced by dispensationalism – more so than they know.

            So, for instance, you may get some weaksauce explanation about the “Rapture” doctrine from 1 Thessalonians 4 from your average churchgoing fundagelical, but they’re unaware that there’s a whole systematic theology (dispensationalism) that formed the doctrine of the “Rapture”.

            (I hope my opinion on that specific doctrine was made clear by the use of quotation marks…)

          • Miggy, your 10:36 comment might be comment of the week.

      • MelissatheRagamuffin says

        That’s funny because Jesus told Peter that it was the Father, not scripture, that revealed to Peter the fact that Jesus is the Christ, son of the Living God. Then, again, in John he said that nobody could come to Him unless the Father – not the scripture – drew them.

        • Christiane says

          I just mentioned that at a SBC blog and got deleted . . . no reason given for the deletion, so I was left confused about ‘why’ . . .

          • MelissatheRagamuffin says

            People tend to be very devoted to their idolotry of scripture and get really mad when you point inconvenient facts like that out.

    • MB wrote;

      A bit of an aside but I like to refer to Jesus as “The Word of God” and the Bible as “The word of God.”

      Might just be semantics though.

      Jesus IS the unique Word of God. The Bible is words about the Word of God.

      (Words must mean something…)


  3. Ah, Lutheran doctrine again to the rescue.

    “There are still Christians in the Reformed Church, among the Methodists, yea, among the papists. We have this precious promise in Is. 55:11: ‘My Word shall not return unto Me void.’ Wherever the Word of God is proclaimed or confessed or even recited during the service, the Lord is gathering a people for Himself. The Roman Church, for instance, still confesses that Christ is the Son of God and that He died on the cross to redeem the world. That is truth sufficient to bring a man to the knowledge of salvation.” – C.F.W. Walther, p. 338, “Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel.”

    One need not do anything but trust Christ’s promises of forgiveness and justification. I’d go so far as to say there may even be some Mormons in heaven. We Lutherans call it felicitous inconsistency. Another beautiful doctrine that prevents us from being to harsh in judging other poor miserable sinners, (but lets us have fun ridiculing and condemning false doctrines).

    • Felicitous inconsistency also gives us a basis to determine how dangerous false doctrines are. False doctrines are always dangerous, but the more directly the false doctrine undercuts the Gospel, the more serious it is.

      For example, emphasis on works and moralism are dangerous in that they lead to self-justification or despair. Denial of the sacraments are dangerous in that they turn Gospel promises (this is my body, given for you & baptism now saves you) received by God’s grace into human acts of obedience and robbing individuals of the assurance meant to be provided by the Word in the sacraments. Disputing historical Adam leaves a gap, with no explanation as to the source of sin, and with it, no explanation for why I need the Gospel in the first place.

      • With regard to Scripture, acceptance of a literal interpretation is essential.

        It is our only source of information about Christ and his teaching, and everything we can determine suggests Scripture is historical and accurate in conveying the teaching of Christ and the Apostles, which has been believed since it was recorded. So assuming one accepts the historical accuracy of Scripture, or at least some of the Gospels, (which is necessary to even have any epistemological basis to be a Christian), the next question is whether to believe the claims Jesus makes about himself to be the Son of God and to have authority.

        If so, then to be consistent, one must take the same view of the OT and his own teaching (as is recorded in the NT) that Christ took. The Gospels clearly show Christ taught with authority, so his own teaching was presented as truth, so we accept the NT as true. He wouldn’t tell Peter a bunch of stuff about baptism saving if it really was only a meaningless outward sign. Jesus also accepted and taught the OT to be historically true. Why would the son of God lie about Jonah? Or teach his apostles about a historical Adam? It would be a hard thing to do to believe Christ is the perfect son of God, but lied about a whole bunch of important things.

        So, any belief one has that contradicts Scripture also contradicts Christ’s claims to be God and to have authority. Questioning the truth of Scripture introduces doubt as to the basis for all knowledge about God, including the Gospel.

        This is why Luther says “there s no Christian faith which is not based on the Word of God, and the Word of God we find in the Scriptures, and in Scripture only.”

        With regard to Genesis, I don’t see how one can escape the clear presentation of the creation account as historical. But I also don’t see why it’s important to match that historical account up with our scientific data, as I don’t believe God promised us that he would leave us clues to accurately explain creation or any other miracle. (I don’t think it’s hard to do so, however, with a little special relativity and quantum mechanics.) I don’t have any problem believing God created an earth that looks old and weathered, and maybe even full of bones from creatures that never lived, or performed unrecorded miracles that gave us the universe we live in. Attempts to explain delve into God’s hidden workings, and that’s always a bad idea according to Scripture.

        • Richard Hershberger says

          “With regard to Scripture, acceptance of a literal interpretation is essential.”

          So you believe, for example, that Jesus was a literal lamb?

          • Or how about “Give to anyone who asks, asking nothing in return”?

            Do “you” invite homeless people to every dinner party you throw like Jesus commanded?

            Go you keep the Sabbath, which the old Testament clearly says is the 7th day of the week, not the first?

        • I don’t think that it is a given fact that Jesus taught the OT was historically true. Did he teach from the scriptures? Sure. The scriptures as they/he understood them. It is quite possible to talk about the Jonah story and draw lessons from it without meaning that it is historically true. I can talk about how sacrificial friendship is like the hobbits in Lord of the Rings…ready to follow Frodo anywhere and do anything to help him. I can say ‘this is like that time when Sam did this…’ and not literally mean that there was a real hobbit and he did this real action. So I don’t find it inconsistent at all for Jesus to be real and historical but reference literature that isn’t historical.

        • Sounds like a string of Josh McDowell syllogisms.

        • Marcus Johnson says

          I think the main confusion here is the confusion between “truth” and “fact,” concepts which are not necessarily dependent on each other. The Genesis account does not have to be a historical, factual account for it to be truth. There is just too many examples of parable, metaphor, and myth (not a derogatory term), to battle over the factual verification of every account in Scripture.

        • Marcus Johnson says

          Was Jesus also lying when he told parables, or did they all HAVE to be factual, verifiable accounts?

          I think once we get away from seeing “fact” as the opposite of “lie” and, instead, understand that the opposite of “fact” could be fiction, parable, metaphor, or anyone of a host of other literary terms, then we can have a better discussion about the truth present in Scripture.

          • Good points, Marcus

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Was Jesus also lying when he told parables, or did they all HAVE to be factual, verifiable accounts?

            According to Dake’s Annotated Bible (THE Word of God according to those splinter churches in the Seventies), the latter. According to Dake’s notes, ALL the Parables were word-for-word factual accounts, known to Jesus through his Omniscience. Fact, Fact, Fact, Fact, Fact…

        • With regard to Scripture, acceptance of a literal interpretation is essential.

          I recall Luther saying at least two things about “literal”;

          1. “Literial reading” means the text is read and understood as it was meant to be read and understood.

          2. “Literalist are lemmings.”


      • Joseph (the original) says

        Disputing historical Adam leaves a gap, with no explanation as to the source of sin, and with it, no explanation for why I need the Gospel in the first place.

        my Christianity actually has been questioned because i held to an old earth creation, not-literal Genesis 1 account. and that questioning further complicated by my being unconvinced of a historical Jonah or even Adam…

        as far as the single Adam being the scapegoat for all of mankind’s fallen sinful nature, i tend to think in terms of Adam (plural) that simply has the propensity to sin. and yes, when humans became sentient, their self-awareness & understanding of God now presented a moral issue which they of course failed in maintaining what we consider a sinless state…

        there is no reason to need a historical Adam (singular) to damn all human progeny to perdition thru the unfortunate theological concept of ‘original sin’.

        Ezekiel 18:20
        The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.

        mankind was innocent at the moment of God’s revelation to them, but all mankind incapable of anything but self-presevation no matter how well intentioned their piety. mankind was missing that critical element of divine character which was only possible thru testing & then maintained thru eating of the Tree of Life. i believe this very condition is played out with every single human birth (innocent). and church doctrine has made accommodation for the soul of the newborn or mentally handicapped or the other conditions where choice & mental capacity insufficient to prove willfulness…

        anyway, this has been discussed in previous articles & not the focus of this consideration, but no, it is not necessary to believe in Adam & Eve as individual first parents of all humankind; they represent mankind as figureheads of God’s revealing/awareness where mankind now recognized His holy standards, and/or they represent the first couple of the covenant.

        anyway, back to my 2nd cup of coffee…

    • Two refreshing things I really love about being a Lutheran: I don’t feel the compelling need to “convert” the vast majority of my extend family who are faithful Roman Catholics. They’re the real McCoy, and they love Jesus.

      The other thing is that this is the first church I’ve been a part of as staff where I actually feel safe confessing to other members that I don’t read my Bible every day. Confessing that in a Baptist church is about 2 clicks short of being gay.

      • Exactly right. I’d like my church fuller, but I don’t feel the need to hassle the off-the-street Catholic or Pentecostal about converting to Lutheranism, unless they show some worry or dissatisfaction with their understanding of Christianity. Its actually the leaders and more educated members that are in the most danger, as they actually understand and agree, for example, with Trent’s teaching on merit, or with the holy jibber-jabber and the despair its teaching leads to.

        I agree on devotions and church “involvement” generally. Too often, Christians set the good against the good, and despair at being unable to decide what to do. Or they seek divine revelation as to what to do (where is the Spirit leading me today?) which is probably more dependent on how much spicy food they ate. Watching my kids baseball game is good. So is devotions. So is choir practice. So is working late to earn more money for a fun vacation. These are all good things and there is no sin in choosing one over another. It’s exactly what Christian freedom is. Once one gets that, a lot of stress Christianity causes disappears.

      • +1. I know what you mean about not reading the bible every-day. I told my dad that i don’t read it daily or read from a devotional in the morning and he hit me with “then something must be fundamentally wrong”. I suppose i’ve read such large portions of the bible that it really is stuck to me ( also due to the fact that i question & think for large periods of time pretty much everyday). And for mornings i really enjoy pieces from the BCP or the prayer booklets from the liturgical service at church.

        • Well of course something is fundamentally wrong with you: You’re human! It never ceases to amaze me the number of “unspoken rules” that develop concerning what a “good christian” ought to be doing. What about the first 75% of church history where nobody even had a Bible to read in the morning? I love reading and studying God’s word, but I’m done with beating myself up for being inconsistent or undisciplined. After 28 years, it hasn’t helped a whole lot. I am of the opinion that it is more important that the Christian spend daily time in prayer than reading their Bible.

      • Miguel, you need to warn me before you say things like that! I laughed so hard I almost spilled coffee on my laptop, and then where would we be?

      • I would say that in a Baptist church, that’s two clicks and a head roll from being gay…

        • The only thing worse would be if you admitted you were baptized by “sprinkling”.

          • The only thing worse would be if you admitted you were baptized by “sprinkling”.

            …as a baby.

          • OUCH! I know you didn’t just go there!

            My babies (18 months and 1 month) are getting sprinkled in about three weeks. Actually, they’ll have water poured from a shell over their heads. Just like John the Baptist did with Jesus (as I wait for the explosion of comments….;o)

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        The other thing is that this is the first church I’ve been a part of as staff where I actually feel safe confessing to other members that I don’t read my Bible every day. Confessing that in a Baptist church is about 2 clicks short of being gay.

        Flesh-to-Pile-of-Rocks time?

      • The other thing is that this is the first church I’ve been a part of as staff where I actually feel safe confessing to other members that I don’t read my Bible every day. Confessing that in a Baptist church is about 2 clicks short of being gay.


  4. Not sure how well this analogy works (or for how far) but here goes…

    I am someone who needs to lose weight and I have had some modest success at doing so. One thing I’ve learned in this process is how very easy it is to BS yourself about how good your diet is or how well you are exercising etc. And so I need to write down what I eat, schedule gym time regularly etc.

    I think Church and fellowship can be similar in that we can deceive ourself where we are spiritually if we are not continually immersing ourselves in God’s teaching through church and through learning to live beside other believers. Church/fellowship has a way of confronting me with my selfishness and things I need to repent of that I could easily explain away if I were not forced to focus repeatedly on God there. Not going to church doesn’t make you not a Christian, but you probably aren’t hewing to the path God wants you on if you avoid fellowship.

    (maybe the analogy wasn’t all that great or maybe I just need to get some sleep before trying to write succinctly)

    As for Family, I think my married friends are more Christ-like. After all, they had to become so for their kids (and marriage) to survive…

  5. You could have dragged this whole post out one question at a time for another open forum week. Or month.

  6. Christianity is like the Israelites wandering in the desert on the way to a promised land. The Tabernacle, the House of God itself is in the middle; some camp to the East, some to the West, some to the North, and some to the South. When the cloud moves, the ark follows, carried on its poles; to some is given the task of guarding the ark, the altars, the vessels of the sanctuary, and the screen; to others is given the task of guarding the the tabernacle, the the tent with its covering, the screen for the entrance, and the hangings of the court; to yet others is given the task of guarding the frames, the bars, the pillars, and all their accessories, with their bases and pegs and cords. Others have only to follow along, remaining clean, gathering mana.

    Being a Christian is not just one thing. Not just one way of doing things. Mostly it’s a matter of sticking together.

    • Doesn’t Paul somewhere talk about the many-splendoured, multi-faceted wisdom of God that is displayed through the Church? How can we not be different since we’re many members of one body. Don’t let those crazy legs tell you they’re not part of the body–that would knock us off our feet!!!

    • Another Mary says

      I think your are onto something with that sticking together part. Kind of like family.

  7. Is it possible to answer your original question (Just what does it take to be a Christian?) with “CHRIST” ?

    • That is completely what I was going to post.

    • Let me jump on this before another iMonk commentator (more famous than I) does…

      I think you mean “Christ”(TM)

    • humanslug says

      While I definitely agree that “Christ” is the correct answer to Jeff’s question, I suddenly feel compelled (perhaps out of sheer meanness) to complicate and cloud up the issue with some additional questions.
      What does it mean that Christ is the essential and defining element of being a Christian?
      Does it mean adopting a belief system or world-view centered around Christ and His teachings?
      Does it mean believing a set list of theological particulars about Christ?
      Does it mean believing in a way that is consistently backed up by the way you live?
      Does it mean being baptized in Christ’s name after genuine repentance?
      Does it mean being baptized in His name regardless of your motives?
      Does it mean regularly partaking of the Lord’s Supper with your heat and mind focused on Christ?
      Does it mean regularly partaking of His “body” and “blood” regardless of what you’re thinking about?
      Does it mean boldly confessing your faith in Christ in front of other people?
      Does it mean occasionally hinting that you might belong to Christ?
      Does it mean following Christ wherever He leads you?
      Does it mean following Him some of the time?
      Does it mean obeying Him in all His commandments?
      Does it mean obeying in some areas and not in others?
      Does it mean that Christ is consistently central and supreme in your life?
      Does it mean that you at least keep Him in the top ten on your personal priority list?
      Does it mean actually having the Spirit of Christ dwelling within you?
      Does it mean just believing theologically that you have the Spirit of Christ dwelling within you?
      Does it mean being transformed by His indwelling Spirit with the evidence of spiritual fruit?
      Does it mean that Christ acknowledges you as one of the sheep of His fold?
      Does it mean that you label yourself as one of His sheep?
      Does it mean all, some, or none of the above?

      Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself.

  8. StJohn117 says

    I’ll try to keep this short as I am willing to best I could write an entire blog post on my position. I’m a strange hodge podge of various traditions. This is probably why I don’t fit very well into just one. Here’s my opinionated opinions:

    Church– a group of people who place at the center of the gathering word and table in equal parts.
    The Bible — authoritative because of the church, but not inerrant. It is not a deity. It is to be respected and revered. But inerrant is a different conversation.
    Prayer — Yes, Jesus prayed and instructed The church to pray. How long or often, written or not is completely irrelevant.
    Witnessing — we see it frequently. But I don’t think it should happen artificially (going out and street preaching.) nor superficially (befriending someone for purposes of sealing the deal.) It should happen organically, relationally. And if necessary, use words.
    Occupation — Jesus didn’t quit his day job. Why should you? Paul said, “Live a quiet life, shut up, work,and stop showing how arrogant you are.” ( the stjohn117 paraphrased version.) at the same time, it’s work. It’s a side effect of the curse and according to Ecclesiastes “vanity” or “meaningless.” Don’t get hung up on it and stop acting like how much you work equals how important you are.
    Family — Really? Those who preach from Paul’s letters still like the idea of forcing marriage, eh? Not even Jesus’ words were good enough. For some reason we’ve built this idea of those that have families are more spiritual. It’s not something that comes from scripture. I can’t comment on the rest as I am single. (Perhaps God’s blessing? For me or someone else is anyone’s guess.)

    In short, why the heck couldn’t we have stuck with the nicene creed as the statement of faith? Why was it necessary to write our own, again?

  9. Jesus never told us to become Christians, so I wonder (and have wondered for a long time) if that is needed at all.

    He always pointed to the Father and explained how to ACT according to the Father’s will.

    And then there is this mistery; Jesus being resurected, having paved the way, so we each can go our way to the Father.

    Walking that way, stumbling, raising up and helping each other, that is being a Christian to me.

    I have stopped calling myself a Christian because it means so many different things to so many different people and most of those are only concerned with the outward, less important stuff.

  10. Behind all these is a kind of ur-question, namely whether “Christian” should be used in a descriptive or evaluative sense.

    Q. “Do you think Paul would preach against church involvement today as he did regarding circumcision?”

    He would surely be preaching against a number of particular churches. However, I doubt that any ancient Christian would be impressed with modern complaints to the effect that church is boring. Theirs went on all day!

    An interesting question is, what counts as “church”? Is church just a prayer meeting? Can you have it in your living room? Liturgical traditions emphasize the eucharist; Pentecostals, the descent of the Holy Spirit; mainline denominations, the whole “church experience” with hymns and pews and vestments.

    Q. “Can one be a Christian and not accept the Bible as literally true in every aspect?”

    Is the pope Christian? How about the Archbishop of Canterbury? etc. (Even the Baptists are divided.)

    On prayer, the most controversial aspect is also the most basic one. Jesus seems to have believed that prayer actually works–that we can move mountains. Not only does this fail to jive with our everday experience (faith healers notwithstanding), but it suggests that God is most likely to answer prayers on behalf of those who are popular, and who therefore have more people praying for them. In any case, it seems cruel to make ordinary adherents solve conundrums that baffle theologians in order to be considered as bona fide members of the religion.

    The other questions seem specifically drawn from a certain type of Protestantism. (I shudder to imagine the social context in which homeschooling would constitute a kind of article of faith.)

    • “The other questions seem specifically drawn from a certain type of Protestantism”.

      ‘Zactley my thoughts……as a Catholic, some of these issues never cross my radar screen.

  11. This is very interesting. For me a big marker of christ-like-ness, one thing I look out for, is generosity. I’ve seen good solid church members who aren’t particularly generous, and non-relgious folks with a very generous nature–all hail the mystery of life! Tibor is one of my favourite people, he rejects Christianity but is actually rejecting some calvinist caricature (a monster who just can’t wait to roast humans for ever and a day) and I see Jesus in him, his endless humour and patience. When I was going through a bad time, several good church folk say they’d pray for me, which turned out to be code for doing nothing, while tibor said, tell me what I can do right now to help… Later on I said to him, hey, you behave like a true Christian should, why don’t you, you know, become a Christian? He laughed, and it’s a long life so who knows…crazy world!

    • But with apologies to CS Lewis, we don’t know how much WORSE these ungenerous Christians would be as atheists, or how much MORE kind and generous the lovely agnostics out there would be if they WERE Christians!

  12. Pastor Don says

    A number of things come to my mind, Scriptures that answer to the question CM has posited. I know we all have our favorites or those we think address the issue. I think it better we quote what God says than what people have written or spoken about what God says. It may not leave everything nice and tidy but it does leaves things as far as his words take them. I’ve quoted mine from Bibleworks.

    NIV John 1:12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–

    ESV John 8:31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,

    ESV Mark 1:15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Jesus again stresses repentance in his words to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3).

    ESV John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

    ESV Acts 26:20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.

    ESV Romans 10:9-10 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

    For me this last one sums up what all the others say. It is written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by the disciple closest to Jesus during his earthly ministry. While all the others address various points, I think the words recorded here serve as a summary of them all–they can all fit in this one. ESV 1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

    It doesn’t matter what we call ourselves or where we meet to honor and worship him. What matters is what we believe about him and how we allow what we believe to affect our living. I think “Walking in the light” addresses it all. After all Jesus himself said in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

    I could write more but I have to get ready for work.
    Grace to you all!

  13. Tigger23505 says

    You left out my favorite: No (insert political party) can be a Christian?

    On the subject of written vice extemporaneous prayer – in the last two years I have done a 180 on the subject and have come to embrace the Book of Common prayer as an aid to worship. I recently had an experience where I didn’t pray from it for nearly three days and was brought up short by it. When I finally read the current day’s reading, my mind became calmer and my entire outlook on life, and the day ahead of me changed. I wouldn’t say that it is right for everyone, but until you try it I don’t think it is safe to knock it.

  14. Absolutely fantastic post, and Miguel’s Baptist comment made me look like an idiot for laughing in the office before 7 am.

    I am firmly one of those who believes in a need for a bigger Gospel unity. Jesus managed to preach for 3 1/2 years without discussing any Roman political policy or how often to go to synagogue or how to interpret Genesis 1. Instead, He preached about the Gospel, about the unity of His believers, about love, and about not judging others. We have to get back to that.

    As to the direct question of what it takes to be a Christian, I think that was pretty well settled by the first few ecumenical councils (say, Jerusalem through Chalcedon: is a list of these 25 statements of faith). For the first 25% of Christian history (the part closest to the apostolic period) that is what it took to be a Christian…and I dare say that list would make most Christian ministries uncomfortable because of how broad it is.

    I have often said that I think a lot of people are going to be surprised by the membership roll in the Kingdom of Heaven. There are going to be a whole lot of people that others have condemned (Anne Rice jumps to mind for her famous “I’m just worshipping Jesus at home, but giving up on organized religion” statement a few years ago); and there are going to be a whole lot of people left out, who spent their lives earnestly serving their church instead of their Christ.

    • Cedric Klein says

      “There are going to be a whole lot of people that others have condemned (Anne Rice jumps to mind for her famous “I’m just worshipping Jesus at home, but giving up on organized religion” statement a few years ago); ”

      Out of curiosity, I subscribe to Anne Rice on FB- she is one of the most strident, condemning, fault-finding voices on there & I subscribe to some real doozies. Of course, she’s always attacking Republicans & conservative Christians, so it’s OK. EXCEPT that she seems to avoid associating with liberal Christian groups or churches. I wonder if she has the odd mindset that The Church she grew up with (RCC) is The Church & if she can’t go there, she won’t go anywhere.

      I pretty much agree with everything else you said, but Anne Rice is no put-upon victim of mean Christians.

    • So you would deny the label “Christian” to the non-Chalcedonian Orthodox?

      I’m not sure the classic definitions of the Trinity need to be held or believed to be a Christian.

  15. Church: Going to church is obviously no guarantee that a person will be Christlike, but it will be a lot harder to be Christlike if we aren’t regularly in fellowship with a group of believers (in others words, a church). Jesus told us to love one another, which is kind of hard to do if we never see one another. Yes we need to be part of a church, but realize that not all churches look the same.

    The Bible: We don’t have to read the Bible everyday to be Christians. The earliest Christians didn’t even have this option. But will we be more Christlike if we read it daily or at least regularly? There is a good chance we will. Go back and reread Psalm 19. Yes there are problems of interpretation. But where else are we going to turn to learn about Jesus Christ and the earliest teachings of the apostles? Where else are we going to turn to see how God has been working throughout history? Humility is required in disagreements, but some lines must be drawn. If the woman who didn’t believe Jonah was literal did believe that Jesus literally rose from the grave, I don’t have a problem with that. But if she denies and actual resurrection, there is a problem.

    Prayer: Is Julie more Chrislike than Sally? Well, when it comes to prayer the attitude is more important than the length. If Sally spends fifteens minutes in humble genuine petition and praise and Julie spends sixty minutes mindlessly repeating the same thing, Sally is more Christlike. And yes prayer is an absolute necessity for a Christian. We see it in the example fo Jesus and the early Christians, and we learn it in clear teaching (if you do not ask you will not recieve). Does this mean that a person who is saved but prays little will become lost? No, but they will be missing out, and they won’t be Christlike.

    Baptism: Now you’re just trying to start a fight. (That’s a joke by the way) Again there are differences in interpretation and we need to be humble. But if you have confessed Jesus as your Savior and can be baptized you should be, as this is clearly what Jesus wants. If a person isn’t able, I’m pretty sure God would understand.

    Witnessing: This is probably the one where wretched urgency is the worst. But at the least we can say this, it is a good thing to tell others the good news, and when we have the chance we should do it. I don’t mean shove it down their throats, I mean in the course of day to day life in natural conversation. If I am ashamed to tell others about Jesus, that doesn’t say much for my faith.

    Occupation: All work can and should be done for the glory of God. A clerk can be just as Christlike as a missionary

    Family: Jesus was single. Divorce is terrible but sometimes can’t be helped (as in the wife/husband leaves and refuses to reconcile). As with any other sin, repent and move on. The people in a same-sex marriage might be christlike in a lot of ways, but their relationship itself is sinful and not christlike.

    As far as being a true Christian goes, just thank God for his grace for we all fail in many many ways. However, I do believe that there should be some evidence that our faith is genuine. I’ll put it this way, if a man came to your church and confessed Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior one Sunday, but then he never came back, never met another group of Christians, never read his Bible, never prayed, never witnessed, never helped out a needy person, neglected his family, lived in open unrepentant sin, and was basically an all around jerk to everyone he met, would you say, “Oh don’t worry about him, he confessed Jesus so he’s a true Christian.”

  16. The Sermon on the Mount is a good starting point for what being Christlike ought to look like. And, it’s rather instructive to note that the things Jesus lists there (generosity, honesty, purity, faithfulness, nonjudgmentalism, etc.) hardly overlap at all with the list you gave above of what typical evangelicals think being Christlike is about. But as for all your questions, I’ve become convinced that:

    1. there is really no limitation on who Jesus can choose to live inside of and be in relationship with, and

    2. it’s not our place to look at someone and try to judge whether they’re “Christian” or not.

    • So faith is not a key part, instead it is just about “doing”?

      • Christians are to be known by our love. Love is a verb — something manifested in action. So, “yes,” by “doing” Jesus is pretty clear on this.

        • That is how we are known. That is somewhat different from the question at hand.

          • Let me clarify- there seems to be so much external focus, rather than internal. I agree about the love, etc…, but those spring from the internal.

      • Faith that is true, faith that is saving, is a gift from God. Faith that is true, faith that is saving, is our trusting in God. From faith flows works, and works flow back into our faith. They work in tandem with one another, and more often than not cannot be distinguished on the ground, everyday life. Why? Because they are two sides to the same coin.

    • Respectfully I think you might be missing a bit of the point of the Sermon on the Mount. He is talking to the Jews under the Mosaic Law, and pointing out that the Law demands not only adherence to the letter but the spirit. No one can uphold the Mosaic Law (lust is the same as adultery, anger is the same as murder, etc., “be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect”, etc.).

      The point was to show that adherence to God’s Law is impossible, that no one can live a Christlike life of their own willpower. When He repeats a similar statement later, the disciples say “Who then can be saved?” to which Jesus responds, “With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

      If (as you seem to be saying) our relationship with Christ is built upon generosity, honesty, purity, faithfulness, etc., then we are all in trouble! Thankfully it is based upon His grace to accept us despite the fact that we fail; thus it is by grace we are saved, and that by faith, not of works.

  17. Maurice Hagar says

    All this talk of what it means to be “Christian” and not one mention of covenant community?

    • Matt Purdum says

      I don’t much think that phrase is in the Bible.

      • Maurice Hagar says

        C’mon Matt. That one’s too easy to counter. The Trinity isn’t in the Bible either 🙂

    • Wasn’t church the first bullet point?

      • Maurice Hagar says

        Miguel, the first bullet point was church attendance. (“Church attendance in America is the 21st century equivalent of 1st century circumcision.”) That’s not the same thing as a covenant community where baptism is the equivalent of circumcision and the objective definition of what it means to be a Christian.

  18. “Can you be in a committed same-sex marriage and be Christlike?”

    Oh, crikey. This one I’m struggling with. It depends, is as good as I can get. If it is a means of love and fidelity and monogamy for the people involved, better that than promiscuity and lack of lovingness leading to a sterile, bitter loneliness (love is not sex; to love another person is some small fashion to participate in God’s love for His creation). This applies to straight couples as well.

    At the least, they can be the Samaritan woman at the well: “27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him.”

    • The larger question at hand is, “Can we use euphemisms for the name of the Lord, like ‘crikey’, and still be Christian?”


      • I know right? Geez, some people…

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Well, there IS a well-established meme of “Christian Not-Cussing” in Chrsitian fiction. Special Christianese cusswords like “dadgum” and “Godfrey Daniels” and “heck” and the like. (And sometimes even these are banned by the publishers/editors.) Sounds more like baby-talk to me than anything else.

        And you have never heard such vile cussing as when my NPD brother used to exclaim “GOD BLESS!” in the most vicious sarcastic tone & delivery imaginable. (Which because it was “GOD BLESS!” and not “GODDAMN!” sailed right over the heads of everyone else.)

    • Miss Martha will enjoy several seasons in Purgatory for her actions today, I am quite sure.

      We love you, Martha!

  19. The post made me think about more apt words of description.

    “He/She Loves Jesus.”

    As I thought about these words, they seemed to say something far more and quite different than “He/She is Christlike” or “He/She is a true Christian.”

    You can’t get to a love of Jesus, by being pious, simply doing stuff or being a good church member. Saying that someone loves Jesus also seems to express a very different way of seeing both God and other people.

  20. “What really does matter when it comes to one being a christian?” Union with Christ, and only our union with Christ. Miguel, you are crazy!! You’ve been hanging around Jeff too long…made me spill my coffee too!

  21. Jeff, my major beef with this post is that it defines “being a Christian” in terms of things that we do. There is nothing that I do that makes me a Christian. That would be like saying I play for the Lakers just because I bought a jersey. Instead, what Christ has done for me, and to me, is what makes me a Christian, and anything that I do is because I am a Christian. So basically, the answer to every question is no. You don’t have to do any of these things to be a Christian. Jesus said, “Everybody who believes and is baptized will be saved.” I’ve got nothing to add to that.

    • I was having a similar thought. I think there’s a distinction that needs to be made: there’s a big difference between asking what you need to do about all these things to be a Christian, what you ought to do about these things if you are a Christian. I mean, you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian, but obviously it’s preferable for Christians to find a church somewhere.

      • Finding and joining a church is a natural expression of Christian faith. This is why people keep doing it. But there are always circumstances: Genuine believers can be quite confused by bad teaching (overt or subliminal) on the subject, and others may be legitimately incapable of the task. I would say that the desire to be a part of the communion of saints is a Christian desire. All Christians experience this to varying degrees. Some experience quite the opposite due to bad experiences. But where there’s hunger, it’s a good indication that somewhere out there, food exists.

    • …and I recognize that the preliminary disclaimer also qualified “being a Christian” as acting like Jesus. But I still insist that the things that I have done in my life have had precious little effect in conforming my behavior to be like Christ. I’m a terminal pessimist when it comes to self-improvement. You might say I’m “weak on sanctification…”

      • …but does sanctification equal self-improvement? You seem to be equating the two.

        • Nope. The whole point is that my own efforts have no effect in making me more righteous. Self-improvement is the opposite of sanctification. If I become more Christ-like, it is because something outside of me is acting upon me to create in me a clean heart.

    • Marcus Johnson says

      I don’t know, Miguel. I’ve been in a few Christian bookstores, and if their content is any indication of who Christians are, Christians are heterosexual, Republican, conservative, evangelical, Baptist or Baptist-like, justify all the metaphors used to explain who Jesus is with more metaphor, and come from a generic White American culture. Are you all of those things? If not, sorry, you’re not a Christian. A follower of Jesus Christ, maybe, but not a “Christian.”

    • 100+

  22. Hmmm, great questions. I hate it when you do that – making me think (JUST KIDDING). I just keep coming back to the parable of the Wheat & the Tares AND the Parable of the Sheep & the Goats. But what do I know: I am a former Reformed/evangelical/charismatic Protestant who swam across the Tiber and became Catholic! I still love Jesus madly and with much help I still love my neighbor… Maybe I should respond the way Gandhi did: “If you want to know who the Christians are go ask the poor.”

  23. Can you be Christ-like and not got to church? You bet. In fact, church attendance sometimes seems counter-productive if that is your actual goal. This guy never went to church:

    I think Paul would absolutely preach against the sort of “community activity center” that many churches have become, because they take Christians out of the world and isolate them into their own little cultural ghettos.

    The church fathers did not accept the Song of Solomon as literally true, the way Mark Driscoll does. They insisted that it only be included in the cannon of scripture if we agree to interpret it allegorically as a picture of Christ and the church.

    Believing in a real, historical Jonah is an absolute essential for being Christ-like. Everybody knows that “Jonah deniers” are always jerks. No exceptions here…. 😛

    Many true Christians never owned or read a Bible. Many were martyred before the cannon. The Gospel is on a need-to-know basis: everybody needs to know it. The rest of scripture is just there to help us understand this better.

    There is no legitimate prayer a Christian can say that isn’t summarized somewhere under the Lord’s prayer. Jesus prayed from written prayer books. He was the author, so it’s cheating, but nonetheless, the Psalms are what came out of his mouth under pressure. Julie could be more Christ-like if that is what caused her to pray longer. Or she could just be bored. Either way, her own personal devotional effort does not accomplish her sanctification. I tried praying the monastic office for a week (all 8 daily offices, all 275 Psalms a week). I’ll let you guess what sort of effect that had upon my personality. Let’s just say, I wanted my money back.

    Does one have to be Baptized to be a Christian? Yes. If you’re not baptized, you clearly do not believe the words of Jesus. Or you haven’t heard them. If you die on your way to the tank, he understands.

    Making converts is not the fruit of the Spirit. There’s a line between being shy or ashamed of your faith, and browbeating those who aren’t ready to accept it. Try to stay in-between those extremes, and let God worry about results.

    Divorced people are automatically expelled from the Christian faith. Sinners need not apply… 😛

  24. Joseph (the original) says

    Rob Bell incorporated this line of reasoning in his book, Love Wins. i enjoyed a Theology on Tap class at the church i attend discussing this book & the sometimes sacrosanct doctrines that are considered either major or minor issues by those that do claim to be Christian…

    being a Christian is more a problem with those trying to determine if others are genuine/saved than the individual himself. “i am in the club/family/church/camp/elect, etc., but i’m not sure about that poor fellow over there of differing beliefs/traditions/doctrines/expressions, etc.”

    Lord, have mercy… 🙁

    • Joseph (the original) says


      Romans 14:4
      Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

      and my being a Christian is not determined by what other saints/sinners think, determine, measure, calculate, judge, question, accuse me of, etc.

      i don’t ‘do’ Christian for the acknowledgment of others… 😉

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Rob Bell incorporated this line of reasoning in his book, Love Wins.

      Wasn’t that the “Rob Bell vs Team Hell” firefight?

      • Joseph (the original) says

        yup. the same Rob Bell. but he began the book by posing these obvious questions about what makes a person a Christian & of the ‘in group’; saved, justified, sanctified, born again, grafted in, member of God’s family, etc.

        the questioning approach+writing style could be a bit obnoxious to the unfamiliar reader, but the probing was necessary to highlight the difficulty in trying to nail down the essentials of something that is not measured empirically…

        John 3:8
        “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

    • Semper Christianus says

      I told a Christian that I was reading Rob Bell’s Love Wins, just out of pure interest. The look she gave me made me realize how shocked and offended I was making her, so I told her I was gay, just to change the conversation to something else.

      • Joseph (the original) says

        Bell didn’t cover any new ground in his book; the writing style definitely unique though. it was the topics he covered that continue to be a lightning rod for theological saber rattling & those that hold such views either lightly or passionately…

        interesting strategy at deflecting the negative response to you reading the book. funny way to handle the critical attitude… 🙂

      • Semper Christianus says

        Hey, at least she was too distracted to accuse me of being a heretic for reading a book.

  25. There are a few things that must be remembered when defining, “Christian…”

    1. If they are Catholic, they are in error..
    2. If they deal with homosexuality or are gay, then they are unforgivable…
    3. If they are a single mom, they shall be hounded to their grave…
    4. If they are single by age 30, they are not a true Christian as they are also saved by marriage…
    5. If they are Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist, they are liberal thus they are in heresy…
    6. If they make a mistake remember the bigger the hammer, and shame them permanently. Teach them that grace is a myth, and that real Christians make no mistakes.

    Then there are other considerations to be made…

    1. A true Christian believes that John Piper is the final authority.
    2. A true Christian believes in the literal 6 day creation.
    3. A true Christian believes every answer in life is found in the Bible.
    4. A true Christian believes that man leads in marriage and women take the backseat in decision making.
    5. A true Christian has no problems with sin.
    6. When in doubt…turn to Pope Piper! 😛

  26. To me, being a Christian is simply to believe and follow and seek to obey Jesus. All flows from that.

    Where I live, though, evangelicalsim has made it so much more than that, and not in a good way. Mostly they seem to have (perhaps unwittingly) defined it by what it’s not. Here are some of the things that call into question your faith, or even disqualify you from being a Christian, in the minds of many where I live.

    Voting for a democrat.
    Questioning the current implementation of the second amendment in our country.
    Believing evolution is a valid theory.
    Support ing GLBTcivil rights.
    Considerinng Catholics as brothers and sisters in Christ.
    Thinking the bible isn’t inerrant and/or that inerrancy is an imposed modern construct.
    Failing to believe that the Bible has specific answers to every single situation.
    Think psychology is useful and not inherently ungodly.
    Rejecting the idea that Muslims are maneuvering to take over the US and impose Sharia law.
    Suppporting about social justice, particularly for immigrants.

    None of these, of course, have anything to do with following Jesus. The faith has been hijacked by politics and the culture war. Lord have mercy on us.

    • Looks like I fit the list of things that would disqualify me as being a Christian. 🙂

  27. Aside from what church tradition has done with the concept, a Christian by implication of the word itself would be one who believes that Jesus of Nazareth is God’s Messiah. In that demonic forces facing Jesus also believed this, it would further be implied that a Christian places him or herself under the authority and protection of that office and person of Messiah Jesus. Subsequent growth and fruition is not automatic.

    Jesus did not teach anything about Christians or Christianity. There was no such thing at the time. Jesus was not a Christian. Jesus invited people to follow him as he followed God the Father. The few that did were referred to as disciples. After the Resurrection and subsequent Pentecost, followers of Jesus as Messiah were described as following the Way.

    What was the Way? Jesus summed it up as loving God and neighbor. Anyone who thinks that this is too easy and simplistic has obviously never tried to do it. Jesus spent three and a half years trying to explain and demonstrate just what this meant. It is not easy, and it has little or nothing to do with the list of contemporary requirements in the original post.

    In my view the church took an early and disastrous turn when it made belief in certain doctrine the touchstone of admission into the Kingdom of God. The Way became the intellectual way. We have been lost and wandering ever since. Even Paul, who people have used more than anyone else to obscure the Truth of Jesus, said that without love, all the rest was useless and wasted effort. Like Jesus, love was his bottom line. Two thousand years later you can still ignite a church war with this observation. Just ask Rob Bell.

  28. cermak_rd says

    One of the things I find fascinating is that those outside of the club, Jews, Agnostics, Atheists, Muslims, et al, are fore more likely to put people in the category of Christian than the Christians are. If someone says they believe in Jesus, they get put in the club. Mormons? Sure, they’re non-Nicean, but so were some of the Oriental Orthodox at one time. Messianic Jews who worship Christ? Sure, in some of them Jesus is a bit character, but they claim him, so in they go. Salvation Army? Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses? They say they believe in Jesus, so in they go.

    • Joseph (the original) says

      is there a certain pride in being a Christian? or at least a Christian of this or that particular faith expression, pet-peeve doctrine, teacher/leader/theologian, perspective, lifestyle, convictions, etc.?

      or do we identify with what the writer of Hebrews hinted at?

      Hebrews 13:11-14
      The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

      i’m sure the idea of picking up one’s daily cross is not the sales pitch clincher for most of us claiming to be Christians…

      but it is not for disgrace, is it? sharing in Christ’s sufferings & His humiliation+disgrace? and we willingly follow?

      i think we miss the essence of the faith when engaging in cerebral considerations. seems this Jesus character dealt with the human condition & life in-the-trenches without spiritual insulation. His was a very visceral faith expression even though we could argue as Willard does that Jesus was the smartest man who ever lived…

      anyway…it could be the qualifications for discipleship/Lordship more ignoble than we wish to contemplate…

  29. It has been a long while since I’ve had anything to comment about. That is a reflection of me, not the IM so much.

    But I want to say something about me and about church attendance for what it is worth. I was raised in a non-denom, church-going family. I did all the “right” things. I was a church member, a SS teacher, a volunteer, a small group attendee, a conference attendee, a publicist to top Christian authors. I was immersed in “the church.”

    However, I through it all away when I found out my spouse deeply mired in sexual sin. Two friends and a pastor I shared with never (not once) called to check up on me. I was the betrayed. That first night, I scream cried to God from a puddle of tears on my living room floor. I begged Him to be real to me. I knew instantly that all I’d experienced and lived up to that moment was not God. It was not enough. And all glory to God, I was rescued. God did help me in ways that I knew only He could and did. As I clung to God, I found my heart turning to forgiveness and I became ultra aware that I, too, was a sinner underserving such grace. My marriage is restored and restoring. So I decided to try to know Jesus better; that new fellowship with God was made possible by Christ and I wanted to know Him. I read His red letters over & over & over. And my life is changed. With that, I’ve come to see “the church” as I experienced it for 40 years as a hinderance to my seeking. It was a good life, but it did not reflect the Christ. How can we read the red letters and be content with what we do in “church?” Where I live, there are homeless and marginalized people (who can’t pay rent nor do they have enough food) in the shadow of the grand church steeples.

    My point is that, for me, I have found God through deep, terrible suffering from my own deep, sincere seeking. I need Christ every day and He is enough for me. I still go in/out, in/out of the “church” each week. God has used little ole sinner me to start a thriving ESL program for area immigrants and to be called “mommy” by grown men I’ve had the privilege to serve. I’m nobody. Really. A sinner. Nobody. And so for me personally, I’m increasingly uncomfortable in beautiful buildings and with watered down messaging and contentment with the injustice all around. For me, church attendance is better defined as fellowship with God and His Son and whoever I am blessed to gather with.


    • +100

      I’ve been reading IM on and off for a long time, but rarely comment; but this is an amazing testimony to the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

      After years immersed in systematic theology and reading Christian blogs, my struggles to understand what it means to be a Christian have reduced me paradoxically to the simpler and simpler truths of Scripture:

      Jesus is Lord.
      Trust in Jesus.
      Trust in what He did on the Cross.
      Trust in the Lord with all your heart.
      He will never leave nor forsake His people.

      And so on. I still value doctrine highly, take Bible classes, and serve in my church; but at the end of the day, the most important thing is the love of Christ for lost sinners.

      And so we live by our faith and trust in God as we go about our daily lives, ministering to those around us in our own lives in whatever ways God leads us to do.

      • Thank you, Stefan. It is my testimony but it is God’s doing. Your reply blessed me. Thank you. I often tell friends to read the red letters and remind us what Jesus said is most important. It’s gotten simpler to me, too. Love God. Love Others. Follow Jesus.

    • Josh in FW says

      Wow. Thanks for sharing this testimony.

  30. Thank you once again Jeff for your writting I always enjoy it. I will be thinking and praying about these questions for some time to come.

  31. MelissatheRagamuffin says

    [quote]The Bible We refer to the Bible as the “Word of God.” Is this correct? Does Hebrews 4:12 refer to the Bible as we know it today?[/quote]

    No. It’s not correct. Jesus is the Word of God. Scripture, while true, is an inanimate object. Hebrews 4:12 is talking about Jesus. Ascribing power that is Jesus’ to Scripture is creating a false idol out of Scripture.

  32. TULIP
    Apostolic succession
    Rejection of the Pope
    Being an RC
    Not being an RC
    Speaking in Tongues
    Wine with Communion
    Abstinence (even for communion)
    Abstinence (except for communion)
    Weekly communion
    Men only priest/pastors/etc..
    Men only in the pulpit
    Men only teaching adults
    Men only deacons
    Men only ushers
    Men only parking guides
    Ezzo only approved child rearing methods
    Whole Earth Flood
    Confession before communion
    Dunking in the right church
    Dunking only when you can make the decision (4 is old enough?)
    Weekly Bible study in a group
    Weekly Bible study in a group using colored pencils
    Home Schooling
    Belief in Theocracy
    Refusal to pay taxes
    Manly Deeds (for men)
    Live according to all OT laws
    Live under grace and OT isn’t all that important
    Elder Led Church – Open elections
    Elder Led Church – Elders pick the slate elections
    KJV Only
    KJV Red Letter Only
    Can’t write in the Bible
    Must make notes in the Bible
    Leather Bible case
    10% Tithe – Net
    10% Tithe – Gross
    10% Tithe – Gross plus benefits
    Sunday morning is only time for Church
    Wednesday night prayer meeting and dinner
    No non Christian Friends (very circular this one)

    And if I spent time thinking about it I’m sure I could come up with a much bigger list.

  33. I don’t know. We seem to make salvation/Christianity much more complicated than necessary. I like what Martin Luther said– “Every man must do two things alone; he must do his own believing and his own dying.” I couldn’t agree more.

    And if we need to have a list, I like, for example, what God requires in Micah 6:8 and John 6:47 from Jesus. A lot is teaching (I take James VERY seriously), stories, and parables-open to opinion and interpretation. Only God knows our hearts…far be it from me to judge who is or isn’t a Christian by what they do or don’t do.

    I love reading all the posts. Really challenges me.

  34. “A Christian is someone animated by the Spirit of Christ,
    a person in whom the Spirit of Christ can work.”
    ~Richard Rohr

  35. There are two (or more) different questions that we must be careful not to conflate.

    A. Who is a real Christian (or, how do we estimate who is Christian)?

    B. What should characterise Christians, what should they do?

    Most Christians will usually distinguish between the two: “He shouldn’t get drunk, he’s a Christian, he knows better… oh well, God forgives us”.

    But every now and then, we forget the above rule: “He does xxxx, he probably isn’t saved….”

  36. We cannot ever judge who is a Christian (amongst the baptized) and who is not.

    “The wheat and weeds grow together”

  37. “What does it take to be a Christian”.

    Faith in Christ Jesus. That’s it.

    And we can’t even muster that up of our own volition.

    I love this sermon:

    In answer to the question, “What does someone have to do to be a Christian?” The preacher answers, “nothing”.

    “You do nothing to be a Christian”

    (give the sermon 5 minutes, and then it really gets going)

    • Excellent response. What does it take for us to be a Christian? Jesus, of course, but not our believing, following, or radically doing in His name, but Jesus being born, suffering, dying, being buried, descending, being raised, and ascending to the Father on our behalf. One can give the right answer but still get the question completely wrong. It’s what Jesus did that makes us a Christian.

      I do caution that it is a short step from here into hyper-Calvinism. If all that matters is what Jesus did, then we are back to God forcing himself upon a chosen few in the name of “grace”. If it is about what we do, then we’re back to Charles Finney’s brand of Pelagianism, getting grace the old fashion way by earning it.

  38. What does it take to be a Christian? Christ.

    Anyone, yes anyone who has the indwelling Holy Spirit of Jesus is a part of HIS Body; a Christian – Christ in me. Amazing grace.

    As soon as we say, ” Christ and,” we have missed everything. The following resonated with me today:

    “The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations, and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. The shallowness of our worship, and that servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we, in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all . . . The evil habit of seeking God-and effectively prevents us from finding God in full revelation. In the ‘and’ lies our great woe. If we omit the ‘and’ we shall find God . . . We need not fear that in seeking God only we may narrow our lives or restrict the motions of our expanding hearts. The opposite is true. We can well afford to make God our All, to concentrate, to sacrifice the many for the One.” A. W. Tozer in “The Pursuit of God”

  39. The tyranny of our 15 hour + time difference makes me miss out on these great discussions.

    At the risk of sounding redundant, what makes one a Christian is our belief in Christ in trusting Him for the forgiveness of our sins.

    All the other things mentioned are important but have no merit in obtaining salvation which is the qualifier of being a “Christian”

    John From Down Under

    • Does it matter whether we believe that Christ is a space alien, or a Theosophical mahatma, as long as we trust Him for the forgiveness of our sins?

      • Last I checked neither of the groups you mentioned believed that Jesus was nailed on a cross for their sins.

  40. humanslug says

    Jesus said that His true followers would be seen and recognized by their extraordinary love for each other.
    Looking back over most of Christian history and considering the present prevailing state of affairs in Christian culture, I’m not sure the term “Christian” carries (or has ever carried) any definite and consistent meaning from person to person, church to church, denomination to denomination, century to century.
    And love for one another (as evidenced in our actions) has almost never been the primary criteria by which Christians and Christian institutions have drawn the line between “true believers” and everyone else out there in the outer darkness.
    More often than not, we’ve defined ourselves and have been identified by the world according to that which we hate.
    Now, I’m not saying that Christ’s love is or ever has been completely absent from His church. I dare say that it is His love working in and through us that has kept the church alive through so much division and strife, from petty bickering to mass bloodshed.
    But until we first learn to keep His love at the center of our aim and our efforts (and even our theology), then our attempts to accurately define ourselves and our faith will continue to be incomplete, over-burdened, or just plain off the mark.

  41. Our challenge is to follow the teachings of Christ. Obedience to his words are required. Foremost, to love God with our whole heart mind and soul and our neighbor as our selves. Next we have Ten ommandments followed by
    the greater challenge the Beatitiudes. Jesus tells us there is no Salvation without Baptism and there will be no life in us unless we eat his body and drink his blood which means we must go to Church and keep holy the Sabbath.
    In the end Jesus will judge how well we adhered to his teachings.