There are many seasons in the Christian life. There are swells of faith and waves of doubt. Inevitably, in every Christian's life, there comes a season of self-examination. Various things bring on this season. When a friend leaves the faith, when I find myself not growing, when I sin and do not immediately repent, when the world seems alluring, when I do not love the Word more than my daily food (Job 23:12), I ask myself these questions: "What is my life saying about my faith? Do I really believe that this is the truth? Am I truly a Christian?"
Contrary to what some false teachers say, it is good and necessary to periodically ask these questions. Paul teaches the rebellious and sinful Corinthian congregation, "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!" (2 Corinthians 13:5a). The unexamined faith is not worth living.
So, I must ask myself: “Fundamentally, what makes me a Christian?”
I grew up in a Christian home, but that's not what makes me a Christian. All my life, I have attended a Christian church, but that's not the reason I am a Christian, either. I am not a Christian because I investigated all the claims of Scripture and found them morally superior. I did not test the evolutionary theory, find the scientific evidence lacking, and then conclude that I must become a Christian. I am not a Christian because I researched Jesus' miracles, held them up to the light of statistical analysis, and realized that their veracity is beyond a reasonable doubt. Indeed, I have studied epistemology, archaeology, history, apologetics, and eschatology in light of the Christian worldview, but knowledge alone does not make me a Christian.
Nor am I a Christian because I have heard God speak to me from heaven. I have never witnessed a New Testament sign-gift miracle. I am not a Christian because I had an 'experience' during worship, when the lights were low and the music was loud, when emotions were high and the mind was numb. I am not a Christian because I have spoken in heavenly languages or been 'touched' by the Spirit. It is true that I have been baptized, seen people's lives changed, and had many prayers answered. I have also evangelized on the streets of foreign countries and college campuses, led sinners to Christ, and discipled believers in the faith. However, experiences alone do not make me a Christian.
I am a political conservative, take a strict constructionist view of the U.S. Constitution, and believe in the traditional view of marriage, family, and society, but that does not make me a Christian. I prefer small government, less taxes, and community-based social justice. I hate abortion, despise racism, and oppose the ongoing moral-sexual revolution. I believe that it is right to treat others as you desire others to treat you, that love triumphs over hatred, and that the best is yet to come. But a conservative morality alone doesn't make me a Christian.
I believe in the Triune God: Father, Son, and Spirit. I believe that the Bible is inerrant, that heaven exists, and that hell is real. I believe that God is the Eternal, Sovereign, Almighty King, that the earth is approaching its day of reckoning, and that sinners have no hope outside of Christ. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, born of the virgin Mary, who died on a cruel cross and was visibly and bodily resurrected from the dead. I believe in one holy universal church, the resurrection of the dead, the condemnation of the wicked, the five Solas of the Reformation, the five points of Calvinism, the nine marks of a healthy church, and the eighteen articles of the "Together for the Gospel" movement. But right doctrine alone does not make me a Christian.
Yes, I read the Bible and belong to a local church. I love my family, listen to sermons, and memorize Scripture. I read Christian books, enjoy talking about God, and pray for others' needs. I submit to my church’s elders, fellowship with the saints, and serve my church. I disciple others to follow Christ, wear Christian T-shirts, and know too many Bible puns. But these things are just some things that Christians do; they do not make me a Christian.
I try to avoid watching smut on television, refrain from cursing, flee from immorality, and stop gossip. I try to not tell lies or bicker with my friends, family, and coworkers, and I deny myself selfish pleasures. I try to put off laziness, worldliness, covetousness, hatred, envy, complaining, impatience, licentiousness, lust, godlessness, and discontentment. I am commanded to pursue these things in Scripture; holiness is the Lord's will. However, merely avoiding sin and the stain of the world is not what fundamentally makes me a Christian.
Christian knowledge, experience, doctrine, morality, deeds, etc. are indeed good. But they are the fruit, the results, and the evidences, not the substance. They are the harmonies and riffs, the tempos and the rhythms of the Christian song, but not the melody. So, we are still left with the question, “Fundamentally, what makes me a Christian?” Or to put the question a different way, “What is the sine qua non of Christianity?”
When all the peripherals are stripped away, I have found that one thing remains: I am a Christian because Jesus Christ loved me and saved me from my sin. As a Christian, I love Him in return — imperfectly and incompletely, but truly and sincerely.
Intellectuals may scoff and deride me as childish, and the erudite may laugh and call me a simpleton. But for all their learning and all their argumentation, is there any answer better than this? I know of none. Why am I a Christian? Because Jesus loved me so. Listen to the Apostle Paul; I cannot say it better than he.
"I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me" (Galatians 2:20).
This confession is not unique to Paul; this is the story of every Christian. Christians love Jesus Christ because He loved them first. The same Lord Jesus Christ who died for Paul died for all Christians. The same Lord Jesus who died for Paul died for me. Paul's God is my God. As a child’s humming of Handel’s Messiah reflects the tune that the orchestra plays, so too does my experience mirror his.
Before I became a Christian, I was an arrogant fool, eating at the trough of the world and seeking to fill the empty lusts of the flesh. I had chosen Hell, formed God according to my own imagination, and minimized my sin and culpability. I hated His goodness, His holiness, His justice. In my mind, God was not God — I was. The world revolved around my desires, my plans, my preferences. Truly, I came to God only to get what I wanted: earthly success, happiness, and safety. I had tasted the mere wrapper of the grace of God and said, "Yes, this is good enough." I was satisfied with the husk of true religion. I wanted not God. I loved only myself.
And still, God condescended to me. He shoved aside my pride and broke my will upon the Rock of His mercy. He tore off my blinders, planted me under the conviction of the Word of God, and bade me look — look at the people I had hurt, look at the sin I was helpless to forsake, and look at the good God I had scorned. He showed me that I am a sinner, through and through. For the first time in my life, I realized, "I am going to Hell — and I deserve it."
Then, God showed me Christ. I had heard that He cared for sinners, healed sinners, loved sinners. I had been told about that old rugged cross, where Jesus Christ suffered and died. I had read that He could take my sins and set me free. My Sunday school teachers had taught me that Christ died for the helpless (Romans 5:8) and the hopeless. I thought I already believed these things, but in that moment, I realized I never truly had. I had only know about Jesus; I had never known Him truly.
When I finally saw Christ for who He was, a wonderful Savior for me, a flood of truths went from abstract to concrete, from distant to close, from intellectual to experiential. Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring me to God (1 Peter 3:18). He took my place on that cross and died the death I should have died in order to satisfy the wrath of God against me. He rose from the dead as my Champion over Satan, sin, and the grave, showing to all the world, once for all, that He has made a way for sinners — even a sinner like me — to be saved. Hallelujah! What a Savior!
Now, I say along with Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Christ saved me; is it any wonder I love Him? He is my Light and He is my Life. My greatest desire is to know Him and be with Him forever. He is my Prophet, my Priest, my King — my everything. Call me what you want — a fanatic, a freak, a zealot. Just make sure you know I love Jesus.
I am not a super Christian. Love for God is the new nature, the new natural, of one who has been born of above. Glory be to God; He has changed me. Every Christian says to Christ, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28). Every Christian confesses, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68). Every Christian heart cries, "To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever” (Revelation 5:13). Every Christian’s lips declare Christ as King of kings. Every Christian’s life declares Christ as Lord of lords (1 Timothy 6:15). This love for Christ, in response to His great love demonstrated on the cross, is what makes a Christian a Christian.
You who are not a Christian: my friend, you must know the love of God in Christ! Since you do not know the love of God, you have missed the very purpose of life. Apart from God, you will have no satisfying joy on this side of heaven and no joy at all after death. You have scorned the most worthy Being, your Creator and Maker, your God and Sovereign.
Yet, He has extended His arms of love and grace most supremely in the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You must know this! The wrath of God for your sins abides upon you, even now (John 3:36); the call to come and believe is an invitation that must not be refused. He saved a wretch like me; He is merciful to all those who come to Him in humility and faith.
You who call yourself a Christian: my friend, do you love Him in return? It is not hard to respond to so perfect a love. His commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3). Is it not joy to forsake the sin that hurts, maims, kills, and destroys for so lovely a God, for so great a Savior? Love and obey Him — above all cost!
Remember: can a loyal dog forget its master? Can a devoted wife forget her husband? Can a beloved child forget his father, or a nursing child her mother? How could a slave deny his liberator? How could a sinner doubt his Redeemer, an orphan scorn his adopter, a victim hate his healer, a servant betray his king? It is unthinkable! How, then, could a Christian forsake his Savior?
I urge you, make your life’s motto the same as Paul’s: "But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course" (Acts 20:24a). Heaven and glory await; do not be weighed down by the cares and filth of this world. Love Christ! This is our anthem, beloved — our joy and our eternal triumph.
"Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love" (Ephesians 6:24).