Modern-day Christianity: What does it mean to be a Christian?

I was talking with my four-year-old son yesterday about his behavior. Being a normal four-year-old, he can be rather rambunctious at times, however, I want to give him an early start in learning about Jesus and teach him as the Bible instructs us to: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

During our discussion, I was describing the characteristics of Jesus to him, and how Christ loved everyone, including His enemies, no matter what. In doing so, I explained that Christ left us the perfect example to follow, and as Christians, or “followers of Christ,” we are to follow this example: “You were called to this, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving [us] an example so that [we] should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). But then it struck me, of the 2 billion or more Christians in the world, how many of them are actually “followers of Christ,” the true meaning of Christian?

It is obvious that throughout the history of Christianity, the definition of what a Christian is, has slowly been transformed. In today’s society, many claim the title of Christian, but when it comes to actually living the Christian way of life, their actions and heart seem to fall short. Kyle Idleman, author of Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus, writes that:

In teaching people what it means to be a Christian, we spend much of our time and effort bringing them to a point of belief without clearly calling them to follow. We have taken “believe” and we have written that in capital letters with bold print: BELIEVE. But everything that has to do with following has been put in small print: follow.

As Kyle Idleman so eloquently puts it, the focus for many today is simply on belief. This is one thing I have definitely noticed among many people who consider themselves a Christian. They use the title and many may even attend a church, but their lifestyle does not seem to match the example that Christ left for us to follow.  For some, they aren’t even close. This is in no way a judgement on others, I, myself, am far from perfect, however, I do believe that it is extremely important to live our lives as closely to that of Christ as possible. As Peter tells us, “just as He who called you is holy, you yourselves should also be holy in every aspect of your life, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15, 16). And if our actions aren’t backing up our words, then our words are hollow and meaningless. Justin Martyr expounds on this point even more in his writings:

And let those who are not found living as He taught, be understood to be no Christians, even though they profess with the lip the precepts of Christ; for not those who make profession, but those who do the works, shall be saved, according to His word: “Not every one who says to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

Unfortunately, it is the society we are living in that is driving this contemporary idea of what defines a Christian. Today, people are so worried about being politically correct that people twist the words of Christ, the Bible, and the teachings of Early Christianity to fit into this modern world. However, it is important to remember that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Christ doesn’t change, nor do His teachings. We cannot alter them to suit the world’s idea of correctness, because, as true Christians, we are not of this world: “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own! But you are not of the world, since I chose you out of the world, and so the world hates you” (John 15:18, 19). Sadly, much of Christianity is being conformed to this world; many are going with the flow when we should be going against the flow.

The Bible is pretty clear about what exactly it is that we are to do to be a true Christian. The whole teaching of Christ in the Gospels is a guide as to how we are to live our lives. Then the Epistles explain them even further, so that we have no excuse as to how we are and aren’t supposed to live our lives:

And he said to [them] all, If any [man] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. (Luke 9:23, 14:27; Matthew 10:38, 16:24; Mark 8:34)

Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin… (1 Peter 4:1)

He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked. (1 John 2:6)

Then we have the lives of the Early Church Fathers who dedicated all of their time to defending the faith and some were martyred for being a true Christian. They are the perfect example to show just how we should live our lives as well.

It is clear by these teachings that being a Christian is much more than just professing Christ with our mouths, but it involves following as well. Most Christians today, I think, fall short of this part. It is my hope that, by my own life, I can influence others to pursue the life that Christ lived, and in hopes of doing that, those I can influence will also influence others in a chain-reaction that can affect the whole world. It is not conforming to this world, however, but being set-apart from it. Jesus Christ wasn’t conformed to this world, but was very opposed to the society and culture He entered into. And that is something we will always have to remember. We cannot be of this world and be a follower of Christ, the two just don’t mix. So if you find that your Christianity coincides with the world, then maybe it is time to reevaluate. I will end with another quote from Kyle Idleman on Nicodemus:

“Following Jesus would require a commitment that would cost Nicodemus a great deal…In fact, it’s true throughout all of Scripture…Following Jesus isn’t something you can do at night where no one notices. It’s a twenty-four-hour-a-day commitment that will interfere with your life. That’s not the small-print—that’s a guarantee.”

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