What Is a "Real" Christian?
“If you were a real Christian you would (fill in the blank)” is one of my least favorite phrases.
I have found that blank is always filled with an observation that you would believe exactly as your accuser if you were, in fact, a real Christian. The strategy is from the guilt is a way easier persuasion tactic than grace handbook.
Recently I passed a billboard with this message.
Real Christians Obey Jesus.
Okay. I get the intent of the message. Too many folks leave their Sunday Lesson in the parking lot as they drive to lunch.
Exactly what does it mean to be a “real Christian”? We subtly (or in my own experience, not so subtly) program Christians to believe that growth is about doing more right things. That righteousness somehow requires busyness for Jesus. We imply that change can only happen when you are trying hard and being disciplined for God. The truth is that a dramatic change has already happened when you make that faith commitment to follow Jesus.
Let’s just hit the highlights. Scripture tells you that at the moment you trust Jesus you have a new identity. You are literally a new creation. God sees you as righteous because of your relationship with Jesus. That’s it. Nothing you have done or ever will do earns that righteousness. It is a gift of grace.
You are changed completely when you trust Christ. The trick is living out of that truth. I see Jesus putting His arm around me and explaining that I have been changed. I see Him telling me that my sins are completely forgiven. I see Him explaining to me that all of those things that used to be true about me are no longer true. That no matter what the Accuser might say those things are dead and buried at the Cross. I don’t have to grit my teeth and try harder to win favor and please Him. That sin does not have power over me anymore. That if I trust Him and let God love me I will please Him. My faith and trust is what pleases Him according to God’s Word.
All I need to do to be a “real” Christian is to believe and trust that. I have been a follower of Jesus for five decades. During stretches of that journey you would have been hard pressed to see if that my faith was real. What potential judges would not have seen was that Jesus was slowly and patiently working in my life to make me more in His image. I am a very different person today than I was in my early walk. It was never helpful to have someone point out that “if I was a real Christian” I would be doing this or that. What did help was having grace filled believers come along side me, believe in me, and help me find the gift of grace that Jesus offers. Those are the people you remember with gratitude and joy.
Jesus talks about how we limit our ability to have peace when we don’t allow Him to provide us with strength. He didn’t mention a harness of legalism and works. He talked instead about a yoke, and that His yoke is “easy.”
Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:28-30, NLT
Jesus wants you to don His yoke. Trust Him. Have faith. He has done the heavy lifting already. Rest in Him. Learn how to be humble and gentle in spirit. Quit trying so dadgum (that may not be in the Greek) hard and serve out of grateful love. Jesus tells us when we believe those truths, our burdens are light. The walk with Him is easy and natural.
Being a “real” Christian means beginning each day with a profound sense of gratitude that Jesus offered me this gift of grace. A “real” Christian would never, never, never take advantage of a God who loves you so much that such a sacrifice was made.
I do believe a “real” Christian obeys Jesus but it is so critical to clarify why and how. I obey out of gratitude for His grace. I love Him because He loved me first. Jesus loved me when I was unlovable. Forgave me when I was unforgivable. How hard is it to follow and obey someone who loves you like that? That is real.