What Does It Mean to Be a Christian?

What does it mean to be a Christian? So much of what passes in American Christendom is not Christianity, but a hodgepodge of sensationalism, tradition, reconstructionalism, and in some cases, even paganism. Is it not strange that one can practice nearly any lifestyle or hold to nearly any ideology—regardless how antichrist these might be in nature—and still pass as “being Christian?

“Who are you to judge?” I’m asked. “Judge not, lest you be judged,” I’m told. Yet, the One whom they quote is also the One who warns of false teachers, wolves in sheep’s clothing, and weeds planted among the wheat. The One they quote is also the One who says we can know them by their fruit (this requires examining and judging between good and bad). And the One they quote is the One who says, Not everyone who calls me, “Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of Heaven … but those who do the will of my Father.”

People can throw out the “grace card” all they want, but grace is never extended just so we can continue living in sin and according to our own preferences and desires, just read Romans 6, Titus 2, 1 John, and Jude. No, none of us is perfect—but we are to grow in sanctification.

So, what does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean to say Jesus is One’s Savior (He came to save us from our sins, not to continue in them). What does it mean to say He’s Lord? Does it mean we have an option to live however we want, when He tells us to take up our cross and follow Him? Does it mean we have a choice in what we will obey and what not? What does it mean to say, “I love Jesus”? When He says that the one who loves Him will keep His commands, but the one who does not love Him will not keep His commands.

Is God’s Love “Unconditional”?

Hello friends, and dear brothers and sisters in Christ. I hope this finds you well today.

I ask you to think about an important question, because the way you perceive the answer will have major consequences. Is God’s love unconditional? I would venture to say most people would answer this question with a resounding “Yes!”—but is this answer correct? Does God love the wicked and the righteous equally and unconditionally? We hear in so many churches, “Come, God loves you as you are.” But is this true?

Jesus says, 

For God so loved [agape] the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. ~ John 3:16

The love of God is certainly unmerited and undeserved, but is it unconditional? Again, is it true that He loves us as we are? Consider the following passages:

The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. ~ Psalm 11:5-6

Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal; there I began to hate them. Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of my house. I will love them no more; all their princes are rebels. ~ Hosea 9:15

And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. ~ Luke 13:2-3

No, God does not love us unconditionally, and no, He does not love us just as we are. God hates our selfishness, greed, and immoralities; He hates our slander, hypocrisies, and lying; He hates our refusal to forgive, violence, and mean-spiritedness; and He hates our idolatries, corruption, and ulterior motives.

Throughout the world and in so many churches—both liberal and conservative, mind you—we’re patting ourselves on the back, all the while ignoring the grotesque sins we harbor in our hearts, and come floating to the surface in many of our words and actions. God does not love us “as we are”; no, He calls us to repent!

Lest someone says that what I am saying conflicts with the doctrine of grace, the apostle Paul teaches us:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. ~ Titus 2:11-13

No, God does not love us as we are. He calls us to confess and repent of all known sin. His desire for His people, those who are truly born again, to be conformed to the image of His Son.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. ~ Romans 8:29

We can see so much around us, in every denomination, what Dietrich Bonhoeffer described as “cheap grace.” Many talk about God’s love and grace, even though they’re not being trained or changed by it. Many talk about Jesus being their Savior, but the question must be asked, from what has He saved them from? For Jesus came to save His people from their sin (and their bondage to it), not simply to save us from hell.

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. ~ Matthew 1:21

Understand, God’s love and grace abounds exceedingly for those who come to Christ in faith. Indeed, He is so ever tender and compassionate, and understands our weaknesses. However, for those who want to indulge in their lusts and passions while professing an empty faith, such individuals do not understand God’s love or grace. Oh sure, they might go to church, but they are building their house on sand without a foundation.

Weeds in Our Soil

Hello friends, brothers and sisters in Christ.

If you are one who plants flowers, keeps a garden, and tries to keep your yard looking nice and kept, then you know the pests weeds can be. It drives me crazy when I hear people say, “Weeds are just another part of God’s beautiful creation.” So is fire, but I don’t want it burning up my house! Jesus didn’t have a positive view of weeds either. After all, they come as a result of the Fall, not God’s original design.

Something to note about weeds—and this is important—you don’t have to plant them, water them, or attend to them for them to grow and take root. However, if left alone and ignored, they will eventually ruin a yard or garden. The work and labor comes by keeping them from growing and taking root. The sweat comes by uprooting and killing them. There is a powerful lesson to learn from this.

Jesus, teaching about different conditions of people’s hearts, says,

Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them…. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. ~ Matthew 13:7, 22

There are various seeds “blown about” in our world that, if we are not careful, will choke the Word of God in a person. How many have had their faith shipwrecked because they allowed seeds of greed and worldly pleasures grow and take root? Others allow the seeds of godless ideologies or worry to grow in the gardens of their hearts, permitting them to grow and strangle the Word. 

It is true, salvation is by grace, and godly fruits of the Spirit are produced only by the work of the Holy Spirit. However, it is no different than fruit and vegetables grown in the natural order. Only God  is able to produce crops, but required is still the work of people plowing, planting, watering, and uprooting the weeds. Spiritual growth doesn’t just happen. Although God is the One who causes the growth and development of one’s spiritual life, it is our responsibility to be diligent in tending the gardens of our hearts regularly, guarding against pesky weeds from taking root and choking the planted Word.

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Of course you and I are not “perfect,” but for far too long Christians have been saying this to justify sinfulness and shortcomings. No, we are not perfect, but we can honestly own up to our shortcomings. We are not perfect, but we should steadily be maturing and changing from glory to glory, day by day becoming more like Jesus. By His grace we have come so far, but let us not settle for mediocrity. In the words of Oswald Chambers, let us give our utmost for His highest.

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 3:13-14

Jesus died to set us free from the bondage of sin not to grant us freedom to sin, just as antidotes are not made so we can indulge in poison. If one happily and lovingly yields himself to sin, such a person has a grave misperception of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” ~ Galatians 5:13-14

Walk Worthily of Your Calling

If we are Christians, ones who are truly born again by the work of the Holy Spirit, then we have an obligation to walk (i.e., live) in a manner that is worthy of such a high calling by God. If we are genuinely saved, we must understand what we are saved from, as well as what we are saved to. Furthermore, this salvation is not something any of us achieved because we are so great; no, it is a work of God completely done by His grace.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. ~ Ephesians 2:8-9

Walking in a worthy manner begins with humility, gentleness, patience, and love. 

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. ~ Ephesians 4:1-3

The maintaining “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” is not some false peace, as promised by the United Nations. Also, it is not achieved by simply loving people apart from any confrontation, for we are told,

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other. ~ Galatians 5:16-17

The desires of the flesh are immoral, contentious, idolatrous, and selfish. In contrast, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).

The goal is more than simply having a peaceful fellowship, but that we may “attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to [maturity]” (Eph. 4:13), so that we are not tossed back and forth from every doctrine and teaching from the pulpit or from the university classroom.

Do you think this is irrelevant? There are a number of “preachers” and so-called Christian authors who are promoting teachings that are in direct conflict of the teachings of Christ and His apostles. There are numerous persons who profess the name of Christ, yet who are adopting the teachings of Darwin (Darwinism is not science but intellectual dishonesty, as there is no evidence to support the theory, although schools teach such hogwash as irrefutable fact), Marxism, and the behaviors of Hollywood. But the apostle writes,

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. ~ Ephesians 4:17-24

It makes no sense, whatsoever, for persons to talk about Christ dying and saving them from their sins, only to continue living in those sins! This is a total misunderstanding of the Gospel message.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. ~ Romans 6:1-4

The knowledge of Christ is not meant as a means to simply know some cool things about Him. No! The knowledge of Christ is to be transformative by His grace. No, none of us is perfect, this is true. However, we can—and must—certainly grow in our knowledge of Him and to be continually transformed more into His likeness.

Today, if you call yourself a Christian, are you walking in a manner that is worthy of your high and noble calling?

Pain Accompanies Spiritual Growth

“Lord, use me for Your glory!” Have you ever prayed this? If so, this is an invitation for pruning, and pruning hurts. Furthermore, if you are sincere about such a prayer, the Lord will answer your prayer. Strangely, the way we tend to envision the answer is not at all the way it comes.

A. W. Tozer once penned, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.” Whenever God uses a man or woman for his kingdom purposes, He will cut away pride, selfishness, hatred, and self-sufficiency.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. ~ John 15:1-5 (ESV)

Jesus states several crucial elements concerning our spiritual health, growth, and fruitfulness. First, the Father is the One who brings about growth and fruit. Neither of these are by our own doing.

Second, part of our growth comes through pain. The Father “cuts away” what is either dead or “diseased” (i.e., injurious).

Third, if we truly desire to grow, bear fruit, and be useful to God in His kingdom, then we must abide (dwell in, remain) in Christ and His teachings. This does require a measure of self-discipline on our part.

And finally, Jesus says that apart from Him we can do nothing, which explains why much of the church is impotent. This is not a criticism but simply a statement. Too often we set our plans into motion, lift a small prayer for blessing, then watch the results fade away like smoke. Hence the reason for pruning—dependence solely on Him.

As mentioned, pruning hurts; yet, this is necessary for spiritual health and bearing fruit. Sometimes when pruning (various trials) comes, persons often think it is because they have done something wrong, as though God is upset with them. But notice what Jesus says: “Every tree that does not bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

“Lord, use me for Your glory!” If you truly desire this, then there will be times of pruning, but do not be disheartened. Just as the Father disciplines those that He loves (see Heb. 12:5-8), so He also prunes the fruit bearing ones who glorify Him. Indeed, pruning hurts, but it is necessary for healthy growth.