Thursday, December 26, 2013

You're a Christian, huh? Hmm...

 I know what some of you were already thinking as you read the title of this post, "Who are you judge who is or who is not a Christian?" This is a natural question to ask, I suppose, but I do not believe it is really what you are asking. "Who are you to judge," is really seeking to find out by what authority I can make a definitive claim about somebody being a Christian or not. The answer to that question is easy: nobody. I'm nobody. I do not carry any inherent authority which makes what I say the rule of the day. However, before you type another domain into your browser and move on, that does not dismiss the issue.

Just because I am nobody, and lack inherent authority in myself, does not mean the right to identify as Christian is a free-for-all. Fundamentally, "Who are you to judge," is the wrong question. The more appropriate questions begging to be asked: is there any way to judge who is or who is not a Christian? Is there an objective standard by which Christians can be identified or is it simply a subjective endeavor? I believe the Bible and historic, orthodox Christianity answers without hesitation: yes, there is an objective standard!

So what?

Why do I raise this issue? We currently live in a cultural climate of debate and division over many hot-topic issues. Things including homosexuality and abortion are a couple of mainstream examples. In the midst of many of these debates the line drawn is between Christian beliefs vs secular beliefs. As a Christian, I find myself distinctively on one side of the dividing line in these arguments. Yet surprisingly, I often will have someone who is taking a stance distinctively rooted in secular philosophy claim to be a Christian. This makes no sense to me. 

**WARNING: This is the point in the article where your modern sensibilities may get aggravated, a seat belt or bit in your mouth may assist you in finishing** 

For someone to claim they are Christian, though they hold distinctly non-Christian views and have non-Christian behavior patterns, is absurd. Again, this raises the vitriol of folks to say, "Who are you to say?" My previous answer remains, "nobody," but that doesn't void my claim. There is a standard, an objective standard, by which a Christian can be deciphered. We do not make or move that standard. It is given through Scripture's revelation and teaching. "Yeah, but interpreting the Bible is so subjective; one group believes this way and another group that way," you quip. However, again, there is an objective standard on interpreting the Bible. You do not approach the Bible and impose your view on to it (though many do), there are rules and guidelines which inform interpretation (this is the discipline and field of hermeneutics).

But back to my point. To claim to be a Christian, while holding very clearly stated (from Scripture) non-Christian beliefs and behaviors, is a contradiction. The Bible would call this person a hypocrite. The word 'hypocrite' is from a Greek word meaning 'actor.' In other words, people who claim to be Christian while holding non-Christian beliefs and behaviors are actors. They are posers. Pretenders. I'm not afraid to say this. It may ruffle your feathers and send your politically correct alarms off, but it is only because you have been conditioned to respond this way. In actuality, it's nonsense, and there needs to be a recovery of the ability to call out nonsense. 

An Analogy

Suppose you met a guy at a crowded dinner party and proceeded to strike up a conversation. The two of you have a lot in common and are mutually enjoying the conversation. But at some point in the discussion he informs you he is a football player for the Tennessee Titans. He claims he is a tight end for the Titans, your favorite NFL team. You think to yourself, "this is amazing." Eventually the conversation is halted by his need to go to the bathroom and he lets you know he'll be right back. In your excitement, you pull your phone out and begin looking up the Titans roster to find your new pal (and to send out texts and tweets bragging to your friends). However when you pull it up, he's not there. You keep digging and looking, you search Google, nothing, he's nowhere to be found. You scan, which lists every NFL player, nothing.

You think to yourself, "I bet none of his information has been loaded to the internet yet." No you don't. You think to yourself, "I've been duped." Most of you, if this happened to you, would conclude very quickly, this guy was a fraud. He was a pretender. He claimed to be a NFL player with the Tennessee Titans; however, all the things that objectively determine that (a contract, access to team facilities, on the team roster) are missing.

Your fake NFL player friend returns and begins to strike up conversation again. At this point you are attempting to probe deeper into his identity and whether he is telling the truth. Eventually you point blank ask him, "Did you actually have a contract with the Titans, because I tried to find you and couldn't?" 

To your surprise and dismay, he answers back to you, "No, I haven't signed any contracts." 

You fire back with frustration, "Then you're not really an NFL player or on the Titans." 

Thinking you could not be shocked by anything else he could possibly say, he hits you with, "Well who are you to judge whether or not I'm on the Tennessee Titans?" 

Unable to continue acting like this is a reasonable conversation, you passionately explain, "I'm nobody to judge, but the issue is very clear. If you have not signed a contract with the team or are not on the roster, then you're not a part of the team. Period. That is not debatable. That is a fact. It is an objective standard."

As you walk away you hear him mutter, "Well, that's your opinion and interpretation."

Not An Unfamiliar Scene

What I have described is a made up story, but the scenes and logic in this story resemble every day life. In the same way this guy claimed to be a NFL football player, but did not meet the objective standards for validating such a claim, many today profess to be Christians while believing and behaving in definitiely non-Christian ways. Many fail to meet the objective standards.

Some will say, "Well, those people claim to believe in Jesus, doesn't the Bible say that is sufficient for salvation? Doesn't that make them a Christian?" True, we are called to believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus for our salvation, but that belief, true belief, transforms us, not leaves us the same as before our belief. Believing a set of facts or premises is not what makes you a Christian. Even the Devil believes the right facts about Jesus. Doing this thing or that thing, or believing this fact or that fact, makes you no more a Christian than being in a garage makes you a car. 

Jesus says in Matthew 7 that a tree is known by its fruit. In other words, your life will tell the story of who/what you are. If you are a Christian, your life should reflect the beliefs and behaviors that are distinctively Christian. You are not free to make up your own rules or forge your own way and call it Christian. You are not free to slap your own operators manual to this thing we call the Christian life, it has already been written.

The Objective Standards

What is a Christian? Am I a Christian? These are not subjective questions. There is a distinction between being a Christian and not being one. This distinction is not determined by an individual's feelings or personal interpretation. It is objective. So what is it?

To determine whether someone is truly a Christian there should be evidences of two events in their life. First, there is the event of being born-again. Jesus himself teaches that unless a person is born-again he or she will not enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3). This event is also described as regeneration (Titus 3:5) or being saved (Romans 10:1-13). When we are born-again, saved, and experience regeneration, we are justified before God, pardoned of our sin, adopted into His family, and indwelled by the Holy Spirit, who testifies to our spirit that we are children of God (Romans 8:16). This is not a subjective feeling, this is an actual event. This is not believing a few facts about the Bible or Jesus, this is a profound changing of our heart of stone with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26-27). It has either happened or it hasn't, no in-between.

This leads to the second event, transformation. Not only are we saved, born-again, and experience regeneration, this first event leads to the second event, we begin to change. Believers do not remain the same upon conversion. We do not go back to our old ways of living. We begin the process of transformation (Romans 12:1-2). We take off the old self and put on the new (Colossians 3:1-9). We pursue and strive for holiness, without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). We do not go back to our former ways when we walked in ignorance, but instead, we seek to be holy in all our conduct, just as the One who saved us and called us is holy (1 Peter 1:14-16). This event of transformation is not one time, but ongoing. We continue transforming in godliness for the rest of our lives. This is not subjective, it is measurable. (See Galatians 5:16-24)

Two events. We are born-again and we are transformed. These things are non-negotiable, objective standards of determining a Christian. If you have not been born-again, you are not a Christian, Jesus says so. And his opinion on the matter trumps your feelings about it. If your life is not being transformed to reflect more and more of God's will, as revealed through Scripture, then you are probably not a believer. True believers do not seek to justify their sinfulness by misinterpreting or reinterpreting the Bible. They humbly submit to God's Word and are transformed by it.

Who's Arrogant?

Finally, in the midst of all these debates in our culture, true believers will side with the Bible, not against it. True believers will reflect a biblical worldview, not the latest whims of the culture. True believers will see their lives transformed to reflect God's will, not remain in rebellion. True believers submit underneath God's Word, not stand above it.

John Piper has pointed out, and I believe him to be spot on, that believers are often charged with being arrogant because we try to teach everyone what the Scriptures teach concerning God and His will for mankind. But they are wrong. The opposite is true. Real arrogance is found in those who refuse to submit to an authority outside themselves, and instead, do whatever they please. Real arrogance is believing you make the rules. Refusing to submit to Scripture's teaching, and thinking you have the right to decide what a Christian is; that my friends, is the height of arrogance.

Amidst all the debates happening in our culture, it is time we call phooey on claims to be Christian that do not meet the criteria. As much as this raises the blood-pressure of some, it is time to give the Family Feud [X] (cue annoying buzzard sound) when folks self-identifying as Christians are living in habitual sin, without remorse, and holding distinctively non-Christian beliefs, without regard. Just ask them, "So you're a Christian, huh? Hmm..."

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I welcome your reactions and thoughts in the comment section below. Keep your responses mature, reasonable, and constructive.

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