Thursday, July 27, 2006

Following Christ Goes Beyond Mental Belief

More interesting thoughts from my friend, Brooke:

It is interesting that you say your definition is for non-Christians and mine is more for Christians. I don’t see it that way. When Jesus called his disciples, he said, “Follow me.” At what point did they become Christians? When I converse with unbelievers about Christianity, I don’t reduce it to mere mental belief and spoken profession. I don’t lay out the four spiritual laws and try to save them. I always frame it in terms of following Christ.

In other words, I don’t just accept Him as someone who has the power to save me, but also as the smartest teacher who ever walked the face of this earth. Therefore, to be a Christ-one (Christian) is to demonstrate belief in all of what he said and did by striving to live according to his teachings. It is a belief that Jesus actually knew what He was talking about.

I have often found that non-Christians find this type of faith more interesting and attractive than a faith that is professed but not lived. You know the whole hypocrisy thing. Unfortunately many unbelievers see no need to believe in Christ because they see very little positive effect on His so-called followers. I think many non-Christians feel that it is the Christians who need to be saved.
Many unbelievers see no need to believe in Christ because they see very little
positive effect on His so-called followers.
Christianity seems detached from the earthly demonstration of its founder. If evangelicals talk so much about salvation by grace alone through faith, why then are we often so critical of those who fail to live up to being “Christian?” Why is it that we can tend to be so judgmental? We often sound more like Pharisees, who by the way, definitely did not believe in salvation by grace.

If a person merely needs to believe, why is it that when someone “believes” we tack on all kinds of other requirements later on? I guess we fail to inform people of the fine print. It seems sort of like a bait and switch. I tend to think the gospel is more attractive to people when they see it in action. That is why God invented the Church. It is so that when we proclaim the good news we can point to something and say, “Look there it is.”

Can we point to our churches and say that? In the early church, there was a definite display of good works and God added to their number DAILY those who believed. So faith without works truly is dead and I might add, like dead things, stiff, stinky, and very repulsive to non-Christians.

Think I'm starting to come around to what Brooke's saying when he explains, "I always frame it in terms of following Christ."

I don't want to discount the importance of emphasizing the deity of Christ. Without this, it makes following Christ no different than following any other human teacher.

By the same token, who he is makes what he said just as important. Jesus could have come to earth, said, "I'm the Son of God," and then never uttered another word. There must have been a reason he spoke and taught and acted so.

Thanks, Brooke, for offering some good food for thought.

1 comment:

kevincushing said...

I think Brooke's definition = Holly's definition, plus time.

I believe that Brooke writes from the perspective of someone who, like me, grew up in the church, has lived with it their whole life, and feels constantly challenged to keep their faith vibrant and invigorated. For many longtime Christians, no less a definition of faith than Brooke's is necessary, or it wouldn't be authentic faith at all.

But I think it is important to introduce the notion of humility and God-dependence to the definition of what it is to be a Christian. I think of those vineyard workers who got in at the very last hour, and I feel that what all authentic Christians must have in common is a belief that they are not capable of pleasing God on their own merits. All Christians, whether recent converts or lifelong servants, must believe that they are completely dependent on God's provision and not their own works if they are to be in fellowship with God. I believe this is the quality that God has looked for in humanity throughout history, whether Old Testament saint, New Testament apostle, American philanthropist, or animistic tribesman. For each and every one of us, the question is, have we looked at the glory of the God who created us, and the shortcomings within our own hearts and then thrown ourselves on God's mercy and declared like Job, "There must be a mediator who can make peace between God and me, someone outside myself who can bridge the gap between God's righteousness and my own weakness."

That to me is the bare minimum definition of what it means to be a Christian--to believe that Jesus Christ was that mediator and God's provision when we could do nothing redeeming for ourselves. For those who have never heard of Jesus, I believe that the stirrings of such a natural theology are what God responds to, and that He will move heaven and earth to introduce His Son to such a humbled heart.

And once we have become a Christian, the challenge is to keep humility and thankfulness at the forefront of our attention, motivating our actions, and that authenticates the reality of our faith.

This whole discussion demonstrates that a relationship with God is somewhat like a prism--we're all examining the same gem, but it reflects back different things depending on our perspective. That is why the Bible chronicles God's workings in the lives of hundreds of vastly different people--because it is possible to have vastly different experiences of the same God.

Liberal theologians use that as a stumbling block, and try to say that God is whatever you want him to be; I think what we are saying is that God is one clear thing--immutable--revealed perfectly in Jesus Christ--but once Jesus takes up residence in a human heart, He expresses himself in a thousand surprising and beautiful ways.