“Drinking beer is easy. Trashing your hotel room is easy. But being a Christian, that’s a tough call. That’s rebellion.” ~ Alice Cooper
Have you ever been asked, “are you a Christian”? I am a theologian, pastor and worship a Jesus-looking God, but I rarely identify as a Christian. People have asked me if I am a Christian many times throughout my life, and my typical response is usually, “what do you mean by Christian”?
Regardless of your belief or unbelief, please fill in the blank: A Christian is defined as ____________________? This question isn’t a simple response. I will likely disagree with most definitions and therefore would not identify with most people’s definition of a Christian. That is why I don’t proclaim to be a Christian in most circles because of the wide range of definitions of what people mean by the label of “Christian.”
“I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ” ~ Mahatma Gandhi.
If you study history or are committed to living a spiritual life, you have heard of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi was a leader, reformer, and social justice activist in the country of India. He helped lead the charge to reverse the take over of his land by the British. Gandhi would identify as a Hindu by faith tradition, but you could easily label him a spiritualist. He embraced the spiritual principles of honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness to help shape his faith, including studying scripture, especially the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Like anyone who takes spirituality seriously, Gandhi wanted to know more about this person named Jesus. The teachings of Jesus moved Gandhi, and he became eager to learn more about this “Jesus the Christ – Jesus the Messiah.”
One Sunday, Mahatma Gandhi decided to visit a Christian church in Calcutta. As he entered the church, he was stopped by the “bouncers.” The holy name for bouncers in many churches is “ushers.” The “ushers” told him that he was not welcome because he was not of the elite Indian caste or English, meaning he wasn’t white. Upon his rejection, he left discouraged and vowed never to have anything to do with Christianity or this Jesus the Christ ever again. Mahatma Gandhi is credited with this famous quote, “I’d be a Christian if it weren’t for the Christians.”
As a person who identifies as a follower of Jesus, I struggle with the label “Christian.” If you genuinely want to know if I am a Christian, I would say, “if you mean by your definition non-violent, peacemaker, turn the other cheek, love your enemies, love your neighbor as yourself, and love God with your entire being, then you would get a “yes” from me.” “If you mean to die to yourself, stand in solidarity with the oppressed, feed the hungry, give shelter to the homeless, provide protection to the vulnerable, and committed to living a Jesus-centered life, then absolutely “yes.” But unfortunately, that is not what most people mean when they define the term “Christian.” For many Christians, their faith centers around secular humanism, politics, and their own agendas.
Christianity is not an us vs. them religion, and Jesus didn’t start the Christian faith. Jesus never called himself a Christian. His message to the Roman empire, religious elite, and those who had ears to ear were radical to their religious and secular beliefs in every way. Jesus offers a third way to live, which requires dying to self and committing to live a life of love and service. This third way of living is difficult for most to accept, evidenced by how many “Christians” live. Some would argue the biggest obstacle for others to become “Christians” is “Christians” themselves.
If a person’s faith is vested in secular humanism, religious legalism, or radical allegiance to a certain political party (regardless of which party), following Jesus is challenging and, let’s face it, almost impossible to do. That is why Christians in many shapes and sizes attempt to mold Jesus to their worldly beliefs. If your theology and faith in Jesus mirror your worldly life, you are not worshipping Jesus; you are worshipping an Idol. May I remind you that idolatry is the number one sin in the bible? There is not even a close second.
If you want to be an authentic “Christian,” let’s quickly review what Jesus had to say and how Jesus lived his life in comparison to the status quo; it is pretty radical, friends!
45 Whoever sees me sees the one who sent me. (John 12:45 – CEB)
Wow, if we want to know what God is truly like, then look no further than the person of Jesus.
- Does Jesus believe in violence? NO
- Does Jesus harm others? NO
- Would Jesus support “just war”? NO
- Does Jesus welcome everyone? YES
- Does Jesus oppress or marginalize anyone? NO
- Does Jesus stand in solidarity with the oppressed and marginalized? YES
- Does Jesus tell us to love our enemies? YES
- Does Jesus tell us to turn the other cheek? YES
- Does Jesus ask us to die to ourselves? YES
- Does Jesus tell us to live a life of love and service? YES
- Does Jesus tell us to live as a kingdom community with one another? YES
- Does Jesus ask us to ensure everyone has access to healthy food, clean water, shelter, and protection? YES
- Would Jesus call Himself a “Christian”? NO
- Would Jesus say that America is a “Christian” nation? NO
- Would Jesus be aligned with any government or political party? NO
- Does Jesus tell us to love each other? YES
- Does Jesus tell us to love God, love others, and change the world? YES
Friends, to live a Jesus-centered life is radical in every way. To follow Jesus goes against the world system and the dominant secular movement we witness and experience in today’s culture. As “Christians,” we are without excuse!
9 Jesus replied, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you all this time? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:9)
Why do “Christians” seek out other spiritual figures, including those in the bible, attempting to affirm who God is and what God expects from humanity? Why do “Christians” give other biblical characters equal power to Jesus if Jesus is God? Why do we treat Jesus as just another moral teacher? Why do the lives of most “Christians” who claim to worship and follow Jesus fail in comparison? If Jesus is the entire essence of God, which He claims, and scripture supports, then why would “Christians” look to anyone other than Jesus in an attempt to live a God-centered life?
Summary of Jesus’ Teaching
44 Jesus shouted, “Whoever believes in me doesn’t believe in me but in the one who sent me. 45 Whoever sees me sees the one who sent me. 46 I have come as a light into the world so that everyone who believes in me won’t live in darkness. 47 If people hear my words and don’t keep them, I don’t judge them. I didn’t come to judge the world but to save it. 48 Whoever rejects me and doesn’t receive my words will be judged at the last day by the word I have spoken. 49 I don’t speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me regarding what I should speak and say. 50 I know that his commandment is eternal life. Therefore, whatever I say is just as the Father has said to me.” (John 12:44-50)
21 who through Christ are faithful to the God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory. So now, your faith and hope should rest in God. (1 Peter 1:21)
God is a God of love, and Jesus reflects a life of love and service in everything He ever did and taught, but most importantly, His death and resurrection. If you claim to be “Christian,” then your life should be oozing with love for God and others, and if it’s not, you don’t know Jesus. If you don’t know Jesus, then you don’t know God. Jesus’ words, not mine. Can you see how what definition you extend to the label “Christian” truly matters?
8 The person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love. 16 We have known and have believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them. (1 John 4:8,16)
9 Because if you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and in your heart you have faith that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
28 We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
Friends, Jesus didn’t come to earth just to save humanity from themselves and the power of sin. He also came to help humankind understand what scriptures were “actually” revealing to us about the character of God and what God means by justice, righteousness, and shalom.
27 Then he interpreted for them the things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets. (Luke 24:27)
44 He was in anguish and prayed even more earnestly. His sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground. 45 When he got up from praying, he went to the disciples. He found them asleep, overcome by grief. (Luke 22:44-45)
18 No one has ever seen God.
God the only Son,
who is at the Father’s side,
has made God known. (John 1:8)
37 And the Father who sent me testifies about me. You have never even heard his voice or seen his form, 38 and you don’t have his word dwelling with you because you don’t believe the one whom he has sent. 39 Examine the scriptures, since you think that in them you have eternal life. They also testify about me, 40 yet you don’t want to come to me so that you can have life. (John 5:37-4o)
Over the centuries, humankind has shaped Jesus to fit their agendas, which still holds true today. Instead of bending to the spiritual commandments of Jesus, we twist His words to fit our little plans, schemes, and designs for living. My prayer is that if you have taken an honest inventory of how you have misinterpreted the Word of God and falsely painted Jesus to be something He never was, you are ready to meet the actual Jesus and start living a Jesus-centered life. If you have taken an honest appraisal of yourself, you may feel convicted to get baptized, reaffirm your baptism, or start completely over from scratch. You now have a better understanding of what it means to be a “Christian,” or better yet, a fully devoted follower of Jesus the Christ – Jesus the Messiah – God.
If we are true “Christians” and Jesus is truly God, then it’s time we start reading scripture from a Jesus-centered lens. It’s time to reimagine the childhood bible stories and the Old Testament in their entirety through the person of Jesus. If we approach the bible in its entirely visioning God in a Jesus-looking way and what it means to live a Jesus-centered life, we can’t be the same person on the other side. God will renew our minds and transform our souls when we are rightly related to Him.
So let me ask you, “Are you a Christian?”
Immanuel, thank You for coming to earth as fully divine and fully human. You have revealed Your true self through the person of Jesus the Christ. Jesus demonstrated and taught us the true nature of the Trinity and what it means to live a spiritual life. Lord, it’s hard to let go of old ideas and teachings that have tainted my understanding of who You truly are and just how much you love me, so please help me with this process. Would you please remove the twisted perceptions and character flaws that stand in the way of me living a Jesus-centered life and worshipping a Jesus-looking God? In Your Spirit and Name, I pray these things. May Your will not mine always materialize, now and forever. Amen.