Define Your Terms

I ran across another atheist the other day who apparently is “an ex-Christian.” In another discussion months ago, a different individual told me she had once been “just as you are now.”

Well, how in the world would she know what kind of a spiritual life I have? Did she think that all Christians have exactly the same walk with the Lord? Or was she under the impression that because she did Christian things, that made her a Christian?

It’s hard to know what any of these individuals who no longer claim the name of Christ once thought. They certainly believed at the time that they were Christians. But why did they?

Some people think they’re Christians because they go to church. Once when I was on jury duty, I met a woman who asked me about that when I identified myself as a Christian. Her daughters had asked her, and she didn’t know how to answer. They were under the impression that they were Christians because they were Americans, but they weren’t sure if they needed to go to church in order to be counted as Christians.

Some people think they become Christians by praying a prayer or by being baptized or by taking a class and learning answers to questions about God and the Bible. None of that is undesirable. In fact all those things are good and helpful, but they don’t make a person a Christian.

Becoming a Christian is quite easy, but it’s more than saying magic words or doing a list of right things, or even giving all the right answers to specific questions.

I know former students who raised their hands pretty much every year their teacher at the Christian school where I taught, asked them if they wanted to accept Jesus as their Savior. They got A’s on memory verse tests, attended good Bible-teaching churches, and today want nothing to do with God.

So what makes a person a Christian? Not a temporary assent that I’m a sinner, that I want “Jesus in my heart.” Not memorizing Bible verses, going to church, helping in homeless shelters, giving gifts to needy children, taking communion, being baptized.

Those things can all be true about a Christian, but they don’t make a person a Christian. I’d say, it’s actually pretty easy to mimic someone who is a Christian. After all, if you go to a Christian school and you go to church, the friends you make may all do those same things. Why wouldn’t you do them too? It’s part of kids wanting to fit in. If all your friends are raising their hands, you want to raise your hand, too.

Adults do the same thing. A bunch of people jump to their feet clapping at the end of a concert, and pretty soon more and more people join them. Maybe everyone, though there could be a few who don’t think the performance deserved a standing ovation. Still, they join the crowd rather than being the lone hold out who stays seated.

But that’s beside the point.

The question is, if none of those things I’ve mentioned, make a person a Christian, then what does?

When I was a kid, I was under the impression that Christians didn’t sin. But I sinned. Which was why I went for so long questioning whether or not I was a Christian.

Finally I decided to take God at His word. He said, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). So if I confessed with my mouth, and I had, if I believed in my heart, and I did, then I was just going to assume God meant what He said—I was in fact saved, whether I “felt like it” or not.

So then I tried to figure out when I became a Christian. Was it the first time I asked Him into my heart? The time I went forward in a church service? When I realized on my own what John 3:18 really meant? (“He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”)

Much later, as an adult, I can look back and see how God worked in my life all those growing up years, even when I was struggling and doubting and unsure. I’ve concluded that I became a Christian when I first asked Jesus into my heart, though I didn’t really understand much about what that meant. As I gained more understanding, however, I continued to believe.

It’s continuing to believe that makes a person a Christian.

And lo and behold, that’s precisely what the Bible says. Hebrews 3:14 says it clearly: “For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.”

The Apostle John used the word “abide” which simply means “stay”: “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 1:9; emphasis mine).

The writer to the Hebrews again: “but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.” (Hebrews 3;6; emphasis mine).

Then there is Matthew’s clear statement: ““But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved” (Matthew 24:13).

I could go on. There are many more verses about abiding, holding fast, persevering until the end, than I ever realized.

So who is a Christian? One who believes and keeps on believing.

The pretenders, who said they believed, obviously didn’t believe at the level that you could call abiding, or holding fast, or persevering.

All this reminds me of the parable of the sower and the seed that started to grow and then got choked out by thorns. Were those beginnings of a plant ever “Christians”? Not by the definition that the Bible gives.

Published in: on February 28, 2018 at 6:18 pm  Comments (6)  
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6 Comments

  1. Amen, Becky! Well said. I would have said something very similar, faith is what makes you a Christian. Jesus is always saying in the bible, “your faith has healed you.” He also says “believe in me.” We are running a race and our job is to not faint and to persevere in faith.

    Myself, I don’t really believe in deconvertees. They were trying on a lifestyle or dabbling, but once people truly fall in love with Christ, there’s no turning back. We can fall into doubt of course, go astray, get all lost and confused, but once we know the Lord, we know Him.

    The world is so full of subjective thinking and self-identifying as some label, but just because you self identify as something doesn’t make it objectively true.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Excellent, IB. I like the “trying on a lifestyle” point. Christianity can look appealing—just as Mormonism looked to a friend of mine who was in another country and lonely. Learning what it is all about (just like my friend learned what Mormons actually believed) is different. Lots of people left Jesus when He said take up your cross daily and follow Me. When we understand that His yoke is easy, His burden light, that He saved us when His kindness appeared, that He loves so much He gave His Son, well, it seems quite irrational to leave a God like that.

      Your comment reminds me of a statement that was popular some years ago—though I don’t remember the point it was making—it’s quite applicable here: just because you’re in a garage doesn’t mean you’re a car.

      Becky

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good stuff Becky. Wow, what a blessing you got from that woman with the kids. That’s an amazing chance to be given, being asked a question like that!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know, Wally, right? I was thinking, I just want to sit here and read or write and not talk to anyone, so I didn’t even sit beside her. There were like two seats between us. I don’t remember how we started talking, but it was right away. She asked what I did and I said I taught at a Christian school (I’d struggled earlier about leaving out the Christian part and felt convinced this was not appropriate). She jumped on that. You teach at a Christian school, so are you a Christian? The conversation went on from there, and I had the opportunity to talk to her about John 3:16 (she wasn’t familiar with the verse). She shared more about her background and we ended up going to lunch together. The thing that separated us was when we were both called to be a part of a jury panel. She was dismissed and I was chosen, so I didn’t even get any contact info from her. But I still pray for her and her two daughters. The whole experience was so obviously of God, I believe He will bring other Christians into her path.

      Becky

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Before I could objectively study religion for myself, I believed what was taught to me. At that time of adolescents, I believed in Jesus, I was told I was a Christian and was very much a Christian. Of course, when I was old enough to objectively question and study things for myself, I found that believe in a god was really not credible for me.

    In atheism, I see something similar. There are plenty of Christian who turns atheist but returns to the Christian fold. Many people assume that person was never atheist. I don’t necessarily subscribe to that point of view. But I can see that perhaps they went through a time of doubt, or a time of agnosticism.

    “So who is a Christian? One who believes and keeps on believing.”
    I agree. I do not currently call myself a Christian but Christianity was part of my early life. Ironically, in Christianity, who is the judge of who is a true christian and who is not? I will leave it there.

    Enjoy your day,
    Dave

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    • Thanks for your comment, Dave. You’re right that people who learned about Christ can and do experience doubts and some reject what they once thought they knew. Jesus even told a parable we know today as The Prodigal Son about a young man who turned his back on his father, only to come home again, hoping to be a servant. His father accepted Him with open arms as his beloved son. Ironically the parable doesn’t stop there. Another son who had been there all the time turned his back on his father because he was jealous of the returning son. He though what he’d done for his father was what should earn him special treatment. In the end, he walked away from his father. So it’s possible to stay and yet not to believe just as it is possible to leave only to realize the error and come back.

      Becky

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