Am I A Christian?

A friend sent me a message on Facebook the other day, asking me about my thoughts in regard to a portion of a recent interview between Timothy Keller and a self-proclaimed doubting Christian, Nicholas Kristof, entitled, “Am I A Christian, Pastor Timothy Keller?”  The gist of Kristof’s argument was, is it necessary for a Christian to believe the basic tenets of the Christian faith to be a Christian?  That this is deemed a valid question, seems absurd to me.  However, as absurd of a question as this may sound on the surface, I can see the value in its debate, especially in our current age of “cafeteria style” Christianity.

Questioning whether or not you have to believe the basic tenets of Christianity to be a Christian, is truly absurd, but questioning just exactly what makes a person a Christian, is a concept I feel worthy of debate.  At what point do we cross the Rubicon of eternal salvation in Christ?  Where, exactly, is the delineation on the event horizon between eternal damnation and eternal salvation?  Not only do I find these questions worthy of our consideration, but I also find them necessary at this point in Christendom.  A point, it seems, where anything goes as long as you have an intellectual awareness of Christ and repeated a prayer, or as long as you’ve been baptized and go to church, or as long as you’ve done one or the other, or all.   A point at which current evangelism says that as long as you do “A”, “B”, “C” and “D”, you are forever-locked into the kingdom of God.  A point at which people are told that simple acknowledgment of Christ is enough to inherit eternal life.

When I study scripture, I marvel that Jesus seemed to deftly avoid the “grocery list” of necessary tasks people sought from Him to define the path of eternal life.  Every time someone asked Jesus what they must do, He seemed to give a different answer:

– We must be born again (John 3:3-6)

– We must be converted (Matt 18:3)

– We must be obedient (Matt 7:21)

– We must not commit adultery, murder, or theft; we must not lie and we must honor our parents (Luke 18:21)

– We must forsake our possessions and follow Him (Luke 18:22)

– We must hate our life in this world (John 12:25)

– We must serve and follow Him (John 12:26)

– We must believe in Him (John 7:38)

– We must keep His word (John 8:51)

– We must drink the Living Water of Christ (John 4:14)

– We must live in Him (John 11:26)

He did this because the only way to eternal life is through a personal relationship with Him, which must be sought with our whole heart, rather than works of our own effort checked off like items on a grocery list.  It is not that scripture is in error when it says that we must only believe in Christ to be saved, but rather, it is our understanding of what it means to believe.  When scripture tells us that we must believe in Christ, the implications of such a belief is to acknowledge Him as Lord.  And the only proper response a human being can have when they acknowledge Christ as Lord, is to surrender to His Lordship.

Jesus said, “For it is My Father’s will that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40).  Yet we are told by James, “You believe that God is one. Good for you! Even the demons believe that, and shudder!” (James 2:19).  The demons believe in God and shudder, yet they are not saved.  And yes, I am aware that Christ died to save men and not demons, but I feel it is worthy to note what is being articulated here by the dual use of the word “belief”.  The Greek word translated in the New Testament as “belief” is the word “PISTEUO”.  It is the context of the use of this word that determines its meaning, whether a belief of simple intellectual acknowledgment or a belief that leads to submissive faith.  A belief of simple affirmation versus a belief of trustful surrender.  James differentiates a belief based on simple affirmation from a belief that leads to trustful surrender when he goes on to say, “But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?” (James 2:20).  Not only is James referring to a faith that results in bearing fruit for God’s kingdom, but also a saving faith in Christ that is willing to conform to His authority and will, rather than a faith that is defined by simple intellectual acknowledgement of a certain list of beliefs.

Is it necessary for a person to believe in the basic tenets of Christianity to be a Christian?  Absolutely.  The definition of any religious movement is a belief in a certain set of fundamental tenets.  If you do not believe in the set of tenets that define that religious movement, then find another faith that is more appealing to your intellect and personal motives.  Does belief in the basic tenets of Christianity make a person a Christian?  Absolutely not.  Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.'” (Matt 7:21-23).  Salvation is by faith alone, in Christ alone, but our faith must be one of surrender, rather than one of simple acknowledgement.

At what exact point in our belief do we cross over the Rubicon into God’s kingdom?  What is the defining moment of transcendence from eternal spiritual death, to eternal spiritual life in Christ?  Despite the squawking pontifications of many theologians today and the formulaic “Roman Road” to salvation used by contemporary evangelism, that is truly a question that only God can answer to any degree of absolute certainty.  Because it is only God Who can see a man’s heart, “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7).  But what I can tell you with absolute certainty, is that there is no salvation without surrender.

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” (John 6:37)


Banquet Of Scraps

The other day, when I was talking to someone about how scripture says Christians are to forsake the desires of the world and die to self, their disregarding response was, “Well, I will never be like you.” Implying that my level of commitment was not only something that they didn’t think Christ required of them personally, but was also way more of a commitment than they were ever willing to make themselves. What this person was basically saying was that they will never pursue Christ in such a way that would require them to make major changes in their life towards a radical faith and commitment because, in this particular case, this person has no desire to forsake the world. What this person fails to realize is that Christ calls all of us to the same standard of righteousness and commitment. He calls us all to radical pursuit. Indeed, we all have different parts to play in His kingdom, but His command to be willing to forsake everything to follow Him, applies equally to us all.

Most Christians in this day and age are content with spiritual scraps, when God has offered them a banquet feast. Jesus speaks a parable to this effect at Luke Chapter 14, and although He is primarily alluding to the Jewish nation forsaking their Messiah and thus some of them losing their place in His kingdom, this parable can also be understood in a Christian context as well. Jesus is Savior of us all and His commandments and the gist of His teachings apply to all of those who choose to be part of His kingdom.

At Luke 14:15, a man tells Jesus, “Blessed, happy and fortunate is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!” And Jesus responds to Him with a parable about a man who gives a great banquet. In the parable, a man planned a large banquet and sent out invitations. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to contact each of the invited guests, telling them that everything was ready and the meal was about to start. But verse 18 says, “But without exception they all began to make excuses.” One after another, the guests made excuses for not coming. One had just bought a piece of land and said he had to go see it (verse 18). He made tending to his home and possessions priority over God’s kingdom. Another had purchased some oxen and said he was on the way to yoke them up and try them out (verse 19). He made his work and personal projects priority over God’s kingdom. Another gave the excuse that he was newly married and therefore could not come (verse 20). He made his family priority over God’s kingdom. Jesus said when the master of the house heard their excuses, “Then the master of the house became angry” (v. 21), and told his servant to go out at once and gather the poor, the blind and the lame to fill his house.

After telling this parable, Jesus turns to the crowd and says, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, in the sense of indifference to, or relative disregard for them in comparison with his attitude toward God, and likewise his wife and children and brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life also– he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not persevere and carry his own cross and come after (follow) Me cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:26,27 Amplified). Being confronted with the stark reality of what it truly means to be a genuine disciple of Jesus Christ, is a game-changer for most of those who have long-claimed Jesus as Savior, but have never truly understood what it means for Him to be Lord of their life.

To drive home the point of His parable about the banquet feast, Jesus then tells the crowd the Parable of the Builder who did not count the cost of his endeavor, and thus, wasn’t able to finish. Jesus then concludes these teachings by saying, “So then, any of you who does not forsake (renounce, surrender claim to, give up, say good-bye to) all that he has, cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:33 Amplified). Notice who Jesus is addressing in Luke 14:26,27,33– “If anyone comes….Whoever does not persevere….So then, any of you…..” Anyone, whoever, any of you— Jesus is addressing us all.

Unfortunately, as we see in the Parable of the Banquet, and many other of Jesus’ parables, not all will be willing towards complete surrender. In the Parable of the Banquet, they had excuses. In the Parable of the Builder, he didn’t count the cost and was unable to finish. In the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:11-15), some weren’t receptive (the hard ground), some weren’t committed (the stony ground), and some succumbed to distraction (the thorns). The thorny ground represents those who seem to receive the Word, but their heart would rather pursue worldly riches, pleasures, desires and lusts, “And as for what fell among the thorns, these are the people who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked and suffocated with the anxieties and cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not ripen or come to maturity and perfection.” (Luke 8:14). For those among the thorns, the things of this world take their time and attention away from radical pursuit of Jesus and His Word, and they end up making excuses for why they are unable to attend the banquet.

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world– a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions– is not from the Father but is from the world. The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God remains forever.” (1 John 2:15-17)

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” (Rom 12:2)

“You adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore, whoever chooses to be a friend of the world renders himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

”On hearing this, Jesus told him, ‘You still lack one thing: Sell everything you own and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.’ But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was very rich. Seeing the man’s sorrow, Jesus said, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.'” (Luke 18:22-24)

“So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Rev 3:16,17)

Submit, Repent, Surrender

We need to stop deceiving ourselves. If you don’t serve God in your home, in your marriage, in your church or in your community, then you are not going to serve Him in heaven. We need to stop convincing ourselves that God is satisfied with the scraps of our lives. Scraps of our time, scraps of our attention, scraps of worship, scraps of service and scraps of obedience. The greatest commandment is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your mind and your strength”…it is not “Love the Lord your God with whatever you have leftover from the rest of your day, or as long as it’s not an inconvenience.”

Put on your boxing gloves and bring it. You may have to do it sick, crippled, depressed, overwhelmed or doubtful, but I can guarantee you one thing, God won’t leave you in it. God will surely meet you where you are, but He will NOT let you stay there.

Scripture says, “Submit to God, RESIST the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).  Submit, repent, surrender. Be bold enough to ask God to show you the areas of your life that you need to clean up. That takes courage, because we’re afraid He’s going to ask us to let go of some things that we don’t want to. And He will. The question you have to ask yourself is, “Is He worth it?”