ISSUES OF FAITH: What it means to be a Christian

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. — Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV

HAVE YOU EVER wondered what makes a Christian a Christian?

It is interesting how we often adopt terms and titles in our lives without fully knowing what they imply. For instance, what does it mean to be a Washingtonian or an American? Sure, we come up with quick answers like, “It’s where I was born,” but do these titles change the perspective on our lives and the world we live in?

It is interesting to me when a person from the Northwest, Southeast or Midwest travels around the country, how the locals can always tell who the stranger is by their customs and mannerisms.

National identity

That example pales in comparison to the recent controversies we are repeatedly exposed to that challenge our sense of national identity as we say definitively, “That is not very American!”

The point is, we all have different experiences and definitions as to what makes us … well, us. Thank God this obscure and nebulous, self-defining reality is not the basis of our identity as Christians.

No, we have been given this identity with clear description concerning its nature. Therefore, when somebody accuses us of “not being very Christian” we know exactly what that means. But do they?

Being a Christian is not being self-righteous. Being a Christian is not boasting of all the good you may have accomplished in your life or how you are able to refrain from the temptations of this life.

Being a Christian is not found in how one points to themselves, but points to the One who called them by name (Isaiah 43:1, John 15:16), took on their brokenness and suffered and died for their sin (Isaiah 53:5, 1 Peter 2:24), who has given them pardon and peace from their guilt (Psalm 103:12, Romans 4:25, 1 John 2:12, Colossians 1:13-14) and now supplies them everlasting life (John 11:25-26, Romans 6:5, Romans 8:11, 1 Corinthians 15:52).

It is easy for a person to fall into the trap of thinking that being a Christian hinges on their decisions or their actions. There are many false teachings that declare that you are only a Christian if you make a bold decision, dedicate yourself to the Lord and live a life of purity.

In my opinion, there is no difference between those teachings and all other false teachings of the other man-made religions of the world where the participants try to ascend to God — as if he could be impressed by us and our choices, as if words we speak could rise to the level of being equal with the work of Christ on his cross.

No, as Ephesians 2:8-9 says clearly: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (2:8 ESV).

Christians are those who make the bold confession that they have been saved by faith, a faith imparted to them by the Holy Spirit through the Word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)

Trust in Christ

Being a Christian, therefore, is not found in placing our trust in decisions we make, words we speak or actions we take, but in Christ who saved us when we were still enemies to him and dead in our trespasses (Romans 5:10, Ephesians 2:5, Colossians 2:13).

What a relief that being Christian doesn’t depend on me; it depends on Christ, who saved me. It is easy for the world to look at a Christian and see them as broken, flawed and hypocritical, and therefore judge Christianity as being phony.

The world, and Christians, at times forget that being broken, flawed, even hypocritical is being Christian, as it is marks this earthly pilgrimage and struggles we face as we cling to Christ as our sole source of salvation.

Being a Christian is proclaiming to the world that God in Christ has been merciful to even me … a sinner (Luke 18:13, 1 Timothy 1:15).

This doesn’t mean you can live your life any way you want because you’ll be forgiven (Romans 6:1-2, Hebrews 10:26-27).

This doesn’t mean that you give up aspiring to demonstrate your salvation in your lives by living a life worthy of your calling (Philippians 2:12, Ephesians 4:1).

What this all means is that you strive to live your life according to the will of God because of what he has done for you, not because of what he might do for you.

A Christian does what they do because they are Christian, not because they want to be or remain Christians.

Remember, it is by grace you have been saved. It is that same grace we have been called to share with the whole world.

As we continue to count down the days until the 500th year of the Reformation, may the banner statement “By grace alone” define your life.

_________

Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Patrick Lovejoy is minister of St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Port Angeles. He can be contacted at 360-457-4122 or pastorlovejoy@rocketmail.com.

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