What does it mean to be a Christian? What does a Christian look like? If someone were observing your life, what is it that would identify you as Christian?
For many people the answer comes in doing.
- I believe in Jesus.
- I believed in my heart, and confessed with my mouth.
- I prayed a sinner’s prayer.
- I was baptized.
- I go to church (every Sunday). (Many today would not even add the “every Sunday” part anymore. Suffice it to say “I go to church.”)
- I pray.
- I read my Bible.
- I pay my tithe.
- I’m a member of the church. (And let us be very clear here, that they mean that they are the member of the “right church.”)
- I’m a nice, good person.
- I don’t cheat, steal, or kill people.
Yet, I would propose that (doing) none of those things “makes us a Christian.” If we were to look at a natural example – let’s say a tree for instance. What makes an apple tree an apple tree?
One could say that it is an apple tree because of the way it looks; the shape of its leaves; the blossoms that it brings forth in the spring; and most definitely because it produces apples. But none of those things make it an apple tree. It looks the way it does and produces apples because it’s an apple tree. It doesn’t do those things in order to become an apple tree. It does those things BECAUSE it is an apple tree. It was created to be an apple tree. Being an apple tree was always its identity. It was in its DNA from the beginning. The apples didn’t make it an apple tree, the apple tree made apples.
Let’s look at another example. What makes a car a car?
Well, you could say that it has wheels, doors, a windshield, a steering wheel, a motor. Those things make it a car. Or you could say that it drives. It takes people from place to place. That what it does make it a car.
But neither how it looks or how it performs makes it a car. A person made it a car. The car was made a car by its creator. The car could no more make itself a car because of its performance than a tree could change its identity by the fruit it produces.
The same is true of Christians. Nothing we could ever do could “make us” be Christians. Everything we do is because we are Christians. We were made Christians not by our own works – lest anyone should boast, but by the work of cross. It was the finished work of Christ that made us Christians. Our faith, our belief, simply allowed us to enter into that work. It placed us in a position for us to be made new creations. It allowed the creator to create us again. He made us born again.
He did all of the work that was necessary to make us His children. Everything we do is because of our being. Doing flows from being. Being does not flow from doing. That is the great lie of the garden. That if you do this then you will be this. Adam and Eve already had an identity. They already had being. They were created in the image of God. To be like Him. Everything they did flowed out of that being. That is until they were told that they could be like Him, if they did this one tiny thing – eat the fruit.
The lie from the beginning has always been that we can fashion our own identity through our performance. If we do the things we will become the self that we desire. The problem is that we are created beings. We create outside the sphere of self. Nothing we do can change our identity. That’s why Paul says that all of my self-righteous works are as filthy rags in the sight of the Father. We can’t do enough good things to change our being from sinner to saint. The only thing we can do is accept the free gift offered on the cross. We can only trust that the creator, our father will re-create us anew. That he will allow us to be born again – this time of spirit, because the first time we were born we were born with our spirits dead to God. He allows us to enter the grave through the death of Jesus Christ, and to be resurrected with him – being born again.
It is God’s work that makes us Christian. It is Him who makes us children of God. Just like a natural father gives life to his children – so God our Father – gives us the life of his Son making us sons and daughters. We cannot make ourselves.
No matter how many times we attend church, pay tithes and offerings, say the sinner’s prayer – we cannot make ourselves His. It’s impossible. The only thing we can do is by faith accept that He wants to make us new. That His desire from the beginning has always been that we would be His sons and daughters.