Who or What is a Christian?

My wife and I were discussing that question this morning. Right across the spectrum of Christian expression, the answer seems to be, a Christian is a person who will end up in heaven after they die. For most people, that seems to be the underlying assumption. But how do you get to be included?

At one end of the Christian continuum, the answer is, make sure you’ve fulfilled all the requirements of mother church, like being baptized as a baby, being confirmed, trying not to be too mean or nasty and maybe going to church sometimes. A greater engagement might be nice, but so long as you’ve seen to those essentials, you’re good to go.

At the ‘evangelical’ end, the important thing is that you’ve accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior. If there’s a little Calvinism in the mix, this is initiated solely by God, signed and sealed by him – it’s irrevocable. A greater engagement might be nice, but so long as you’ve seen to those essentials, you’re good to go.

Both these assessments may seem like a parody of Christian belief, but it seems to me that many pews in many churches are occupied by people who believe roughly as I’ve stated.

You may guess that I’m not happy with either of these. Firstly, I don’t think that going to heaven when you die is the point. Yes, our destiny, living gladly for ever in the unimaginable presence of God is central to Christian faith, but that isn’t what it’s all about. C. S. Lewis commented, I think in Surprised by Joy, that he counts it among his greatest blessings that he was permitted to go a full year from his conversion without ever thinking of an afterlife.

And secondly, that bit about a greater engagement being a ‘nice to have.’ Nope, the Old Testament declares, and the New Testament shouts, that commitment to Jesus changes everything. It’s demanding to the max, it’s risky, often confusing, it’s exhilarating, fulfilling. Do not expect an easy ride. The Hillsong track Where Feet may Fail repeats over and over the lines, “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders, let me walk upon the waters, wherever you may lead me.” The ultimately daring prayer. Do you dare pray it?

All the Christian doctrines, disciplines, service, hope of heaven flow from this.