The label “Christian” gets thrown around a lot in my area of the country. I live in the south; in the so-called Bible Belt. Almost everyone I come into contact with identifies themselves as a Christian. Cultural Christianity is rampant in my area, and I would suspect it is in yours as well. Many think that because they are a member of a church or because they were baptized or because Grandma prayed for them or maybe they even prayed a prayer themselves, that now they’re right with God. Maybe my circle is small, but I very rarely run into someone who believes there is no God. Most claim Christ.
So that raises some questions in my mind: If there are so many Christians in my area, why does the society surrounding me, not reflect that? Why does the Church seem so weak? Why are there so many Christians that don’t understand basic Christian doctrine? Why are there so many false teachers that are loved and admired by professing Christians?
I can’t help but wonder if it is because we have churches full of CINOs. Christian In Name Only.
As I write this, I’m reminded of my own failings as a Christian. I fail Christ daily. Like the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 7:
”I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but do the very thing I hate”.
My intent in writing this is not that it would be a legalistic, “do as I say, not as I do” type of article, but a call to action for the Church; a wake-up call to examine our hearts to see if we truly are in the faith.
Let’s start at the beginning: What is a Christian? A Christian is a person who, by the work of the Holy Spirit, has responded by repentance and faith to the preaching of the Gospel. This person now has a regenerate spirit that desires to obey God by following Christ by faith.
So what does all that mean? What is the Gospel? The word Gospel literally means “good news”. The Gospel is the means by which God has decreed that He will save a people unto Himself. We can sum up the Gospel in this way:
GOD– The triune Creator of all things. Holy, just, righteous, and perfect in all ways.
MAN– God’s masterpiece of creation. Created in the likeness and image of God. Created good. Created to worship the Creator in perfect fellowship.
SIN– Treason or rebellion against God. When man was tempted in the garden and ate of the fruit, it was much more than stealing an apple. It was the creation saying to the Creator: “Your rules don’t matter. I want to make the rules. Not you.”. This resulted in a world now ruled by sin. We all became corrupt by nature. Separated from God, and now we are under His perfect and just wrath. What started as one act of disobedience now condemned the entire human race.
CHRIST– …but God. God who is sovereign over all was not surprised by Adam’s sin. God planned before the foundation of the earth to send a Savior, an atonement, a redeemer to save His people. That person is Christ Jesus. Fully God and fully man. The second Adam. Jesus lived the life we were meant to live and He died a sinner’s death. The death that we all deserve. Jesus’ life fulfilled the requirements of the law. Jesus’ death paid the penalty for our sin. Jesus’ resurrection proved that He is who He said He is and did what He said He did. Proving that God’s wrath had been poured out on Christ for the benefit of God’s elect.
RESPONSE– By grace, the Holy Spirit brings conviction to sinful men and causes repentance or a turning from sin and toward God. At the same time, we are given the faith to trust in the complete and finished work of Jesus’ atonement on the cross. We cannot earn our salvation or contribute toward it. Salvation is completely a work of God.
So if this is you, you have not only been forgiven of your rebellion against God and had His wrath removed, but now according to Galatians 4 we are now heirs with Christ and can be called sons of God. We can cry out Abba! Father!
The Gospel is that simple, but what is the evidence that you have been saved? Are you a Christian?
Now just so I’m crystal clear on the Gospel, no amount of good work or piety can save us. Repentance and faith in Christ is the only way to salvation. Our obedience to Christ is evidence that we have been regenerated.
Let’s now look at what Christ has to say about what it looks like to be a follower of Him. Jesus uses some strong verbiage to describe what a Christian looks like in Luke 9:23:
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Let’s talk about this text for a minute. To deny oneself means that I’m denying who I am. I’m no longer on the throne. Christ is. My will is no longer mine. It belongs to Christ. My money, my comfort, my desires no longer matter.
What about picking up my cross daily? This can be difficult in our time and culture to fully understand, but, to the original audience the reference would have been unmistakable. The cross was an instrument of execution. A condemned person would have been stripped naked, beaten and whipped, spit on and utterly humiliated. All the while being made to carry a cross beam to their execution site. Once there, they would be spiked through the hands and feet to the cross and hung either upright or upside down to have their lungs fill with fluid until they died from asphyxiation. Crucifixion was a horrible method of execution that could take several days to die. So we can say that to pick up ones cross and follow is in reality a call to be willing to die for Christ. Do we take the call to deny ourselves and to maybe even die seriously? That’s a very hard question to say yes to. The martyred missionary Jim Elliot said it truthfully: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose”.
Another text for us to look at is also in the Gospel of Luke. In chapter 14, Jesus warns us about putting family and human relations ahead of Him.
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross come after me cannot be my disciple.”
Now obviously Jesus is not telling us to literally hate our family. He is, however, making it clear that Christians’ love and affection should be so deep for Him that any other love in their lives so pales in comparison that it would look like hatred.
So how does this call of sacrifice and humility measure up to your own walk as a Christian? Are you at a point that you are willing to sacrifice your relationships with family and friends for the cause of Christ? What about your losing a well-paying job? How about losing your pride and prestige, and maybe even your on life for the cause of Christ?
One last text for us to look at is Matthew 7. I believe that these are the most frightening words written in the entire Bible. To think that a person could live their entire life thinking that they are right with God, only to die and hear Jesus say I never knew you is nearly unfathomable.
“Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord, will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but the one that does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and cast out demons in your name and do many mighty works in your name? And then I will declare to them, I never knew you, depart from me you workers of lawlessness.”
This is a far cry from the “easy believism” of cultural Christianity. Biblical Christianity is not the same Christianity that says “God is love and he wants you to be healthy and wealthy and would never cause you to suffer.”
So does the Biblical standard for Christians match the Christian life you are living?
***This article was submitted by guest contributor, Brandon Holtzclaw.***