You know, there’s a lesson I’ve learned many times over, each time in a new way. And that is…
Not everyone who says they’re a Christian…really is one.
I know, weird right? Like, why would someone claim to be something they’re not? (If you know me at all you know that was sarcastic ;-)) I’m personally not a fan of labels so in order for me to wear one, it has to be pretty serious. And honestly, there’s really nothing that serious. But some people throw them on and off like a jacket, tailoring them to the current cultural climate or whatever gets them approval from those they admire.
But that’s not me. I hate being presumed upon. So even if I agree with a majority of the ideas associated with a label, if there’s confusion about it or aspects I disagree with then I don’t identify with it. I prefer talking about and analyzing ideas separately and on their own merit, not having people assume my stance on a broad spectrum of separate ideas based on a label they’ve associated with me. Furthermore, people often have completely different ideas of what the same label means, which makes labels entirely pointless anyways.
One label that constantly frustrates me is the ‘Christian’ one. For starters, the word ‘Christian’ in Greek (Christianos) originally meant that Christ is unholy, impious, and wicked. The term was initially used by those who hated Jesus to deride and mock His followers. Contrary to popular belief, the term does not mean “little Christ” and was not used by Jesus or any of his followers to describe themselves. They called themselves disciples, followers, brothers, sisters, etc. (Read more on this here). I find it ironic that most people who wear the Christian label don’t even know what it means. I also find it ironic how so many who wear the label are ignorant to history and have an allegiance not to Jesus, who completely resisted the religious institution of his day, but to the current religious institution that overtook the name.
Another reason the label is frustrating is because different groups of people have different ideas about what it actually means to be a Christian, which again, makes labeling things pretty much pointless. Some people think it’s a set of moral principles to live by or a list of “do’s & don’ts”. Some think it’s a lifestyle. Some think it’s having the “correct” doctrines or theology. Some think it’s going to church, memorizing Bible verses, and doing all the religious activities. Some think it’s a combination of all the above and still others make up their own definitions, blend it with beliefs from other sources they happen to like, and then slap a ‘Christian’ label on it. I mean, if the very people who identify as Christians can’t even agree on the basics of what it means, how can we expect others to understand it?
But honestly, is any of the above Christianity? Personally, I don’t believe so. Obviously, we can’t go around making up our own definitions of things, nor can we just do what “feels right” or “makes sense” to our limited, fallen minds and call that Christianity. We certainly can’t blindly follow the religious establishment or even whatever it was our parents did and call that Christianity. Simply put, I don’t believe that any human or man-made institution has the authority to define what Christianity is. Why? Because what they’re trying to do is supplant something that God already defined in painstaking clarity long before any of those people and institutions existed. God already wrote the play. He already wrote the script. He already made the rules. And He didn’t create an establishment, institution, or formula at all. He begot a son. And His son’s name isn’t ‘Christianity’. It’s Jesus. And we’re not supposed to follow a system He created….we’re supposed to know Him intimately as a living person, submitting to His lordship. And I believe Jesus wants His people to be intelligent and wise, knowing the truth and being allegiant to Him and His name alone. Not another person, place, or institution – even one that ironically is most associated to His name, while in actuality cursing it.
Most Christians will tell you that being a Christian means believing in Jesus. The problem is, people have different ideas about what it means to believe. In Greek, the word belief actually means to commit and entrust oneself to…not just give mere credence or mental assent – which is how the word is typically understood today. Plus, according to scripture we aren’t to commit or entrust ourselves to (believe in) a religious system, but rather a person. We aren’t to commit and entrust ourselves to a formula, system, or institution…we are to commit and entrust ourselves to Jesus. And not in some vague, impersonal way either. The church can talk about Jesus all day long and we can learn lots of facts about Him. But that is not the same as knowing, committing, and entrusting ourselves TO Him…
James 2:19 puts it this way….”You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!”
I love it when Scripture writers get sarcastic. They’re basically saying, “Cool, you have the right information about God…and so does Satan and the demons….and THEY have more respect!!” Like, wow guys…you’re not even at the level of demonic yet and you’re already arrogant and proud…way to go.
But this is so true of so many ‘Christians’ today. They list a bunch of things they know to be true (God is triune, Jesus is God’s son, Jesus died on the cross for our sins, Jesus is the only way to God, Jesus is the light of the world, etc.) and they call this Christianity and think that’s all there is to it when in reality they haven’t even made it past the demonic yet. Like, congrats guys, just listing a bunch of facts that the demons also know to be the truth is not the same as belief and is certainly not going to get you anywhere with God.
If Satan has his facts straight about God and is a devil still, then we’ve got to do a whole lot better than that. How many of you know that having the correct information about God is a very different thing from knowing Him personally. Having correct information about God is not the same as obeying Him, trusting Him no matter what, honoring Him, and giving over your free-will to Him. It is not the same as loving Him. Satan knows the truth about God, he just hates Him. He does not trust Him. Satan knows the truth about God, but he does not obey Him. He knows the truth but still chooses to resist and rebel against everything God is and does – despite His knowledge. Satan knows perfectly well that Jesus is God’s son and died for humanity. He knows Jesus won the war on evil at the cross and the Bible confirms that Satan even knows his own time is short. It’s why he rages so hard against the saints. Even Satan must bend a knee at the name of Jesus, yet he rages against Him in his heart. So what does all that mean? It means that head-knowledge means absolutely nothing. Because belief isn’t in the head, it’s in the heart.
Romans 10:9 says, “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Note it didn’t say to agree with your mind. It says believe in your heart. So let’s look at that word…heart. The Greek word used in this verse is ‘kardia’. It “denotes the centre of all physical and spiritual life…the centre and seat of spiritual life…the soul or mind, as it is the fountain and seat of the thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, endeavors, of the will and character, of the soul so far as it is affected and stirred in a bad way or good, or of the soul as the seat of the sensibilities, affections, emotions, desires, appetites, passions.” (BlueLetterBible.org)
There’re many things we can know with our minds but not believe in our hearts. And the test of what we believe in our hearts is not found in a list of doctrines and theology we agree with or the religious activity we participate in. It isn’t found in our “good deeds” or any other external circumstance. It’s found in our affections, our passions, our hopes and dreams, our desires, and all the other things that most “Christians” like to ignore or even label as “bad.”
As Scripture tells us, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)
Our heart. It’s interesting how terrible we are at knowing our own hearts…how disconnected we are from it…and how adept we’ve become at ignoring, denying, or even overtly abusing it with shame and self-condemnation. When the Bible instructs us to guard our hearts, it is not telling us to ignore, deny, and build so many walls around it that even love cannot penetrate or escape it. It means to value and regard it so highly as the well-spring of life that we pay MORE attention to it…not less.
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be broken. If you want to be sure to keep it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries, avoid all entanglement, lock it up safe in the casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. …it will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the perturbation of love is Hell. – C.S. Lewis
Jesus, heal our hearts. Let us know you as you are, not the idea in our heads but the person in our hearts. Let us be so captured by your love that we believe and entrust ourselves to you. Help us to know you, not religion. Let us believe in, follow, and entrust ourselves to you, not other people or man-made systems. Reveal yourself to us and let us love you in our hearts. Amen.