I confess to a stew of emotions when people ask me if I’m a Christian. It’s a loaded term. I’m always afraid that there is some ulterior motive prompting the query. What do they really want to know?
Their intent could be completely innocent, such as, am I something other than a Jew or Muslim? More likely, they’re trying to determine if I’m one of those right-wing-fundamentalist-flag-waving-gay-bashing-narrow-minded-Tea-Party-activist-home-schooling-repressed-wacko-red-state types. I am most definitely not one of those.
For reasons related to such ambiguity, I tend to stay away from calling myself a “Christian”. Interestingly, the scriptures don’t use that term to describe the adherents to the faith of which Jesus is both pioneer and perfecter. Although its literal meaning is “little Christ” – a phrase with which I am perfectly comfortable, but of which I am entirely undeserving – it was used solely by people outside the church for those inside, mostly in a pejorative sense.
It seems as though little has changed since first century Antioch when and where the term was first used. People often still utilize it to express disdain today. I don’t deny the title – the apostle Peter himself said we should not be ashamed of it, but bear the “insult” as a badge of honor. Unfortunately it has lost much of its meaning in contemporary usage.
Personally, I prefer to refer to myself as a follower of Jesus. The most important implication of this moniker is that it signifies activity. Following is an action. For similar reasons, I’m not crazy about the term “believer”. What I believe is not nearly as important as what I do. In the Gospel stories, we see demons professing “belief” in Jesus as Messiah. A lot of good it does them… or us.
Jesus tells us that the only proof that we are His is that we do what he says. I love the way Jesus’ good friend John puts it. “This is how we know we are in him: whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” Living as Jesus did. That’s my calling. God knows how far I fall short of that mark, but I find nothing else worth living for.
Another problem I have is being lumped in with what passes for Christianity in modern Western society. Christians today seem to be known by what they don’t do – we don’t smoke, swear, drink, dance, or watch R-rated movies. I firmly believe Jesus wants us to be known by what we do. We should feed the hungry, visit the lonely, and hang around with individuals that “respectable people” wouldn’t be caught dead with. We should upset the religious status quo. In other words, we should do just what He did.
I have no problem abstaining from those things that are harmful to myself, my family, and society. I do have a problem with ignoring social ills and the needs of others all for the sake of establishing some sort of “personal purity”.
Note that I’m not necessarily living up to these ideals. Unfortunately, I’m maintaining the hypocrisy for which Christians through the ages have been so justifiably renowned. But they are the goals He set for us, not to earn His love and grace, but to show our gratitude for them and, hopefully, show others the way to experience them. We are merely beggars showing other beggars where to find food.