You’re a Christian. So What? What do we mean when we say that we are Christians? What is a Christian, really?
How often have we heard the variants of “well that’s not very Christian of you” or “how can you call yourself a Christian?” Have we ever wondered if we are good or bad Christians? Do we live up to the designation?
Is being a Christian mostly about what we do or mostly about what we don’t do? Is being a Christian determined by our choices? Is it all about who we are for and who we are against?
Or perhaps we are being seduced toward a wrong path by these questions?
Consider. We are Christians by grace alone, by faith alone, by Christ alone. Our righteousness is in Christ alone.
Every Christian will say that. Or at least mouth that. And then we’ll go back to work, back to the TV, back to the phone call, back to shopping for dinner.
But doctrine as we spout it and life as we live it don’t always intersect. They mostly run parallel. They too often are separate circles on our Venn diagram.
And it makes sense that it should be that way. Grace is a hard notion to keep in our brains because it doesn’t make any sense in our day to day. School is not by grace. Work is not by grace. Our relationships are not by grace. Even churches tend not to actually practice it much.
We know the classic passage and we can boil it down to the essentials and give the answer that will satisfy the Sunday School teacher and the preacher:
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:4-10)
Most of us could list other verses that reinforce the same message. Especially given a good concordance or Google. But.
We act like it’s all up to us. We feel it in our guts. In our bones. We are certain that we need to prove something. We still run scared, as if our lives depend on how we act, what we do, what we don’t do. We worry about getting caught. We are convinced that we aren’t living like we should, like we need to. That our lives are at least slightly broken, and if we’d only do better then we’d be better. Hard to figure out what we need to do. Maybe more Bible reading. Maybe a class. Maybe a special study somewhere. A retreat.
We behave as if we won’t get paid otherwise. We still fear our failures and sins and worry that we are going to be judged and punished. We still think we need to do something to fix what we’ve broken, to pay the debt we’ve racked up. We still believe we are in trouble and that we don’t measure up and that we are not as close to God as we should be.
Because we forget. Every day, we forget. We forget that it isn’t up to us. Not anymore. Never was, in fact. And that’s the good news. We are righteous because we are in Christ; we have stolen Jesus’ identity. Well not stolen. He gave it to us. And so our bank account, our credit score, our lives: they are his. We have his name now as our own:
“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.” (2 Peter 1:3-9)
We’ve spent so long in the dungeon that we forget we aren’t there anymore. If we’d just open our eyes we’d realize it isn’t dark after all. In the ‘Prisoner of Azkaban,’ Dumbledore says “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” That’s how stupid we are. Or rather, how forgetful we are. Peter just said we are “nearsighted and blind.” And it’s why Paul addressed the Christians in Galatia the way he did:
“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?” (Galatians 3:1-5)
So just for today, let’s try to remember rather than forget. Just for today, let’s try to keep our glasses on instead of forgetting them on the table over there and then wandering about like, as Paul said, “fools.” Just for today. We only have to worry about today, after all. I think Jesus said something about that, too.