Sunday, November 26, 2006

What is a Christian?


My pal Jim asked a question the other day and I'm still pondering it. He asked what I'd say if someone wanted to know if they were a Christian--how can a person tell if he or she is truly born again?


The easy answer is "well, if you believe in Jesus, you're a Christian," but that alone doesn't work for me. Even demons believe in Jesus--they know he exists and they know he's God incarnate.


There are at least three Latin words which are translated "believe," and they mean very different things. The first is noticia, from which we get our word notice--in other words, we believe something is real because it's coporeal; we can see it. (This is the kind of belief demons have.) The second is assentia, which has to do with agreement--we "believe" in someone because we agree with them. The third is fiducia (sp?), which has to do with placing something in trust (think fidicuary).

When I teach, I tell the kids that I believe in President Bush--I know he exists because I've seen pictures of him. I believed in him enough to vote for him, so for the most part I agree with his policies. But if I were taken hostage, do I believe that he'd come to rescue me enough to place my life in his hands? No.

But that's how I believe in Christ. And I think that truly being a Christian has to do with more than simple assentia or noticia belief. It means entrusting your life to him so that your life gives evidence of the indwelling Spirit: Love, joy, peace, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control, the qualities we call "fruit."

I keep thinking of the parable of the four soils. Those seeds that fell on the second and third grounds--they grew up, they appeared to flourish. To the passerby, they looked like healthy plants. But ultimately they faded, and they did not bear fruit.

Jesus said that many would say to him in the last day, "Lord, didn't we do this and that for you?" and he will answer, "Sorry, I never knew you."

I think he says that to those who represent that third type of soil. I believe there are lots of people who think they believe "enough"--they walk the walk and talk the talk, but they're not following Christ, nor are they bearing the fruit of the Spirit. And when the heat of tribulation or trial comes on them, they wither and fade away.

I found a blog the other day written by people who describe themselves as "ex-Christians and ex-ministers." The blog exists solely to "debunk Christianity." I fear that these are examples of that third type of soil.

We often cultivate something in our churches I call "easy believe-ism." We tell folks to come down front, pray the prayer, and everything will be fine, they're saved and on their way to heaven. Well . . . no. Following Jesus is more than praying a prayer; it's repenting, surrendering, and living a life that results in spiritual fruit.

We often define grace as "God's riches at Christ's expense," but living for Christ will cost you something, too--your right to call the shots. Oh, I know we all slip into the driver's seat occasionally, but when the Spirit dwells inside a person, that driver's seat isn't comfortable for very long.

So--how do we know if we're true Christians? We are actively following Christ and seeing the work of the Spirit in our lives.

I just think we need to spell it all the way out.

~~Angie

9 comments:

eileen said...

Amen. Spell it out for us in Hollywood next week!

I've caught up on posts. How was the pie? Loved seeing the family pics.

Angela said...

The pie? It would have been better if it had cooked all the way through.

The recipe said to cook it from 50-60 minutes. I baked it 55 minutes, and it had gone completely brown on top, but the middle still had this pronounced jiggle. My oven is a convection oven, too, which is supposed to cook faster . . . so I took it out at 55 minutes and popped it into the fridge, hoping that'd take care of the jiggle.

It didn't. So the pie was delicious from the rim until about two inches in. Then it was delicious and SOUPY. :-)

Next time, I'm baking that baby an hour and a half!

Angie

Dana said...

It sounds like there's a story somewhere in there...

Suzanne Schaffer said...

Very good word for today! I think a major problem in our churches is that we don't disciple people after they say the prayer, just send them out on their own. No wonder they fail so often.

Anonymous said...

I apprecitate your desire to clarify what is often a misunderstood word. The word "believe" as used in Jn. 3:16 literally means to put your trust in or to depend upon. You are right in saying it is more than an acknowledgement or head belief.

I will say, though, that I really don't like the term "easy-believism". I've heard it many times before. I always want to ask what the opposite is--hard believism?? You either believe (trust or depend upon Christ as the only one who can forgive your sin by His death and resurrection) or you don't.

While I totally agree that some make it seem like it's just a matter of "praying a prayer", others seem to make it so difficult.

One of the best and clearest books I've ever read on the subject is "Free and Clear" by Larry Moyer. He is the leader of a minsitry called EvanTell, which is dedicated to a clear and thorough presentation of the Gospel.

I've led very young children to the Lord who didn't know all the proper language, nor did they understand how to "count the cost"--they simply believed in child-like faith. And these children are still walking with God as teens and adults! Let's be clear--but let's keep it simple!

Angela said...

I was one of those who believed as a child . . . and it "took." But for every child like me, there are others who didn't get it. My hubby walked the aisle as a child, but didn't really surrender his life to the Lord until he was 25. Yes, let's keep it simple for children--after all, Jesus did. But for those who had a more mature understanding, let's make it clear and complete. Is following Christ hard? Yes, often it is.

~~Angie

Pam Meyers said...

Angie,
I just read this a day after my pastor preached on the very same thing. His focus was on Galatians 3. Paul wrote to the Galatians, very upset that after they had committed to following Christ, they'd gone back to following the law. In essance, they'd accepted Christ and were forgiven, then went back to the works/righteousness frame of mind. What was missing was that they hadn't received the Holy Spirit to allow Him to work in their lives.

This is a very quick summary, but one of the last points he made in his message was how to ask someone if they are a believer. He said if you ask a church-going person if he is a Christian, he'll say yes, of course I am. But, if you ask him if he's received the Holy Spirit, if he hasn't, it will cause him to think, not knowing how to answer.

We are an Evangelical Free Church, and not the baptism-in-the-spirit kind of church which is often called Charasmatic or Spirit Filled.

I feel like I did a lousy job of describing this, but it seems to tie in to what you said.

Anonymous said...

I completly agree.

But the other day I found something very interesting in 1 Corinthians 12:3 "Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus be cursed," and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit."
I believe that this is the other way to tell if someone is a true Christian. If they can say "Jesus is Lord".

Great post!

--Katie

Andrea said...

Angela - thank you so much for this post. My "real" job (versus my fantasy writer role :-) is as a therapist and I am getting ready to discuss with one of my young, female clients - unconditional worth and her status before the Lord. I am going to print this and share it with her.