What makes you a Christian (assuming you identify yourself as one)? Is it the fact that you go to church with some regularity? Do the Christian stickers affixed to your car assure you personally concerning the veracity of your claim to be a believer? Maybe it’s the Bible you carry around. Perhaps the fact that you were born into a Christian family has led you to the assumption that you must be a Christian.
Questioning whether a self-proclaimed Christian is actually a believer is not politically correct. For example, various politicians, regardless of their lifestyle, or ideology, claim to be Christians. We are cautioned to simply take them at their word. If a person says he or she is a Christian then we should assume the person is a Christian, we are told. But is it that simple? Just say you’re a Christian and you’re in? I don’t think so.
We live in a world where it doesn’t seem to matter what one really believes, or how one behaves; one can still self-identify as something that their behavior clearly demonstrates they are not. There are those—many of whom are public figures—that proudly—and quite vocally—claim to be a part of the Christian faith, yet their overt stance on moral issues and many of their well-known personal lifestyles fly in the face of the clear mandates laid down by its teachings.
In fact, recent records show that the vast majority of nominal Christians in America ignore the church’s edicts concerning many of its central doctrines. So how can they claim this religion as theirs? What makes them “Christian”?
Never mind the occasional transgression—we all sin. Those described above are people who claim to be part of a group that believes something, yet they feel it’s fine to promote and participate in the exact opposite with regularity! Did Jesus have a word to describe such people? You guessed it: hypocrites. Jesus made it clear that such hypocrisy was unacceptable.
They might plead ignorance. Maybe they don’t know what they are supposed to believe, so they are unwittingly making choices that violate the official standards of their faith. Is that an excuse? Ignorance of the law, including God’s Law, is no excuse.
There are two important components to any endeavor of which one claims to be a part. One side is a body of knowledge associated with that endeavor and the other is behavior based upon that knowledge. If one does not have the knowledge, one does not know how to behave in a way that comports with the enterprise to which one claims to be committed. On the other hand, if one has the knowledge and does not apply it, again, one’s behavior belies one’s claim of commitment.
For example, I could proclaim with great confidence that I am a brain surgeon. But if an actual brain surgeon were to begin discussing the topic with me, he or she would soon ascertain that my body of knowledge on the subject is insufficient to verify my claim. But what if I had studied up on the topic and was able to talk the talk? Then let’s say that same genuine brain surgeon invited me to assist in a complicated endovascular procedure (found that one online) on an unsuspecting patient’s brain. Neither the patient nor the veracity of my claim would likely survive.
So back to the original question: What makes you a Christian? The answer is: The same basic components that make a brain surgeon a brain surgeon! You must possess a body of knowledge in which you strongly believe. In the case of a Christian, this knowledge is very specific to the Christian faith. We refer to this as truth, doctrine or teaching. But it doesn’t stop with mere head knowledge, which can “make arrogant” (1 Corinthians 8:1) if left by itself. Simply being able to talk the talk—learn Christian lingo—does not make one a Christian.
The other half of the equation has to do with behavior. Don’t confuse this with a “works salvation.” However, the knowledge you have as a Christian must affect your choices and general behavior, or you are no different from those who do not claim to be Christian. Be a whole Christian. Work on both halves of the equation!
“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” —Colossians 3:17