What does truly mean to be Christian? What does a Christian look like? On the surface perhaps this seems like an easy answer. After all the new testament gives numerous descriptions of what one is supposed to act like: one who loves other, is kind, compassionate, generous, slow to wrath, peaceful, obedient to God, aids the poor and helpless, and so on.
A simple answer on the surface, but in the 21st century that answer is no longer as simple when applied to on-the-ground situations. Not since before the Great Flood has the modern world has ever been so linked and connected as it is now. As American believers, many of us were raised to believe that the main drive of the world was selfishness and materialism: that it was all about how much money you made and what you took with you when you died. Yet this was the mentality of the eighties in the last century. To still believe that this is the current world mindset is outdated.
So what is the mindset then?
Allow me to enlighten if you have never heard of this before. Pluralism essentially embraces all beliefs and philosophies and declares neither one superior over the other. It allows an individual to believe whatever they chose as long as it promotes unity and peaceful coexistence within the human community and does not try to enforce it’s precepts on others. Some Christians would call this ’New Age’, or ‘Humanism‘.
What does this have to do with what a Christian looks like?
Because the world is so connected now, there is now greater exposure to other belief systems and ideas that are not our own or expressed in how we’ve come to know them. Many of these religions practice some of these same moral principles: Buddhists are
well-known for their pacifist ways and talk about kindness and forgiveness. Muslims are known for being so devout to God’s holiness that some even take it to the extreme of violence if they feel that its been violated or insulted.
There are other examples within philosophies, psychological concepts and other religions but I think you get the point. The world is filled with people doing good morals and doing them out of a genuine sense of what they feel to be authenticity.
To make things further complicated (my apologies), not every believer of Christ celebrates, lives, or talks about him in the same way, especially in America. You will have some believers who think that anything secular is evil and wrong and that we should stay away from them as much as possible, and others who consider this to be too legalistic and makes God to be a cosmic killjoy. There are brothers who believe that you must be ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ in order to truly call yourself a Christian and still others who say that you must be confirmed by a priest from a direct apostolicitic tradition to truly become one.
When these factors are taken into consideration, it becomes a bloody mess doesn’t it? Maybe it feels like the presence of God in our personal beliefs or actions is thinned out and waning.
Which draws us back to the original questions: What does it truly mean to be Christian? What does a Christian look like?
Jesus was asked a question once: what is the greatest commandment?
His answer was to love God with all one’s mind and soul, and then love others as themselves. Later on at the last supper, when he’s done praying for his disciples, he says a prayer for those who follow him in the future: ‘father let them be one as we are one’.
I believe these two references answer those two questions, as well as set believers apart from other moral practitioners.
When taken as a whole, the bible seems to carry an underlying sense that a Godly person is not defined by what they look like or what they do, despite regulations and mentioning of otherwise. Even circumcised people sinned and died. And history is filled with accounts of Christians talking about Jesus and tithing or not doing something, but then go and perform harmful, self-centered, and even inhuman deeds in the Christ’s name in the same breathe.
The true believer is set apart by something that is invisible, something that can be felt in an action, but though the action itself can be duplicated, the spirit of it cannot. There is a freedom that comes with this. That freedom is that there is no outward shell per se that one has to fit or look like. The believer can dress ghetto or country, punk or conservative. Their faith can be from Africa or Japan, the deep south or from a reservation. The person’s faith can take any shape, any form that God has for that person. The believer becomes as water: able to take different forms but its substance never changes.
This also allows us to embrace other brothers from other parts of the world, of society, of different sex and of race, as brothers and not as copycats or lesser siblings. It puts us all on equal footing and keeps the faith out of the control of human logic and bias, and keeps it with God.
‘But what about what James says about faith without works is dead?’
‘Isn’t that dangerous because someone can take that and justify a sin and not be held accountable?’
These and other points of the like are legitimate ones. However even though the bible does mention cautions, its driving theme behind all of it and faith is always the two greatest commandments: love God and love others as themselves. If a believer lives in freedom, he lives for these two things, and the drive to abuse that freedom is lessened though he temptation might always exist. They become one with God.
Secondly, the argument doubles on itself because as mentioned earlier, the ’safer, more cautious ways’ too have been abused. Many believers who have lived this way quietly find themselves unfulfilled and wanting more. So they do more missions work, more service projects, they read their bibles till their eyes bleed and sing until they have no voice. And still they feel a sense of lacking. There’s a danger either way you take it.
So the real question I put forth is this, which one will we our chances with?
I believe if we live this way, that we can be seen as different but not clones of each other, nor as arrogant, self-righteous usurpers. We can live with others and ourselves in humility and love and God himself will make himself known in our living our lives. We won’t have to control or force anything. Thank you.