My friend Henry asked this question Saturday at our Bible Study. “Are you a Christian or are you Christian?” It’s a question we can all ponder.Which phrase below best describes you?
___ I am a Christian.
___ I am Christian.
___ I am a good Christian.
If you answered “I am a good Christian,” who is a better Christian than you? Who is not as good a Christian as you? God looks at each of us the same. Through the blood of Jesus God sees all of us who are born from above as forgiven, righteous and holy. In Luke Jesus answered a man who addressed him as “Good Teacher” — “And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.’ ” (Luke 18:19) Good is a comparative adjective which means someone compares people or things by degrees, such as good ice cream, better ice cream, best ice cream. God does not compare Christians.
If we say we are “a Christian” it implies that we claim to belong to a group of people. (A Gallup poll in 2009 found that 78 percent of Americans declared themselves to be a Christian, as opposed to being a Catholic, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist, other groups or a non believer).
When we tell someone, “I am a Christian,” what does that mean to us? Does it mean we have claimed Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior (we’re saved)? Does it mean we go to church 50 Sundays and Wednesday nights a year? Does it mean we read the Bible? Does it mean we can quote a bunch of scripture? Does it mean we volunteer at a soup kitchen twice a month? Tithe? Visit widows and orphans? Does it mean we pray? Does it mean we attend a Bible study every Tuesday night? Does it mean we’ve been baptized?
Both the ones calling themselves “a Christian” and those who are “Christian” do many of the same things. The difference is their motivation. Those who are “a Christian” do things for the approval of men. They link their works to their desire to follow all the rules, do all the right things, participate in all the right events, and look good to everyone around. These folks are religious. They are working to gain acceptance from God, when they are already fully accepted by God.
In Mark 10 we read about a rich young ruler who came to Jesus wanting to be a follower.
As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ And he said to Him, Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.’ Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
Jesus is not implying that to be rich or have lots of money is bad. He’s teaching us that if we love money, or anything else more than we love Jesus, and if we are not willing to deny ourselves and forsake all our possessions, we can not be an authentic follower of Jesus.
In Matthew 23, Jesus talks to the Pharisees about their religion and the seven woes. Two of the woes address issues “a Christian” faces. Jesus says.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, (and those who call themselves “a Christian”) hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. 26You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:25-28)
In his book not a fan, Kyle Idleman says, ” That’s a picture of what happens to a lot of fans (those who call themselves ‘a Christian‘). If you asked them: Are you a fan (a Christian) or a follower? they would confidently respond, ‘follower.’ It’s not a question of their effort or desire. They are following hard. Here’s the problem; it’s not Jesus they are following. Without realizing it, they are aiming at the wrong target. Instead of following Jesus they are following religious rules and rituals.”¹
The major difference between those who call themselves “a Christian” and those who are “Christian” is their commitment to love. Christians allow Jesus to live His life in us, through us and as us. Jesus loves through Christians. Christian works come from a heart surrendered completely to God through faith. Faith in Christ to carry out God’s will through them. Faith in the Holy Spirit to lead them, help them and speak God’s will to them.
Christians love others out of their deep, abiding love for Christ.
So, are you “a Christian” or are you “Christian”? Your answer may impact your eternity. Not your salvation, but your eternal rewards.
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¹not a fan, by Kile Idleman; ©2011 by Kyle Idleman; published by Zondervan, Grand Rapids Michigan, 49530; pg. 69