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Good News! Everyone is a Christian!

If the over 150 funerals I’ve done are any indication, there is no need to preach the gospel anymore because apparently, everybody is a Christian. Only one time in all those services can I remember being told that the deceased wasn’t going to be in heaven (that’s a story for another time). In every other instance the family assured me that “___________ loved God and believed in Jesus. Sure, she was a Christian.” Of course, in that moment it would be insensitive to say anything to the contrary. Oh, but what I'd like to say when I’m told the deceased is a Christian when there is evidence to the contrary: 

·         So, why are you calling me, a stranger, to do this funeral? Didn’t she have a church home; a preacher who knew her? Why not?

·         Why was he married 4 times and living with his girlfriend?

·         If he was a Christian, why do you just stare at the floor when I ask you to tell me something about him?

·         Why is there so much tension in this room?

·         Is Psalm 23 really her favorite, or are you just saying that because that’s the only verse any of you have ever heard of?

·         Tell me again why he’s being buried with a bottle of whiskey, poker chips, and a Playboy magazine? (I wish I had made this one up)

But they were all “Christian.” Yeah. Of course. Absolutely.

Culturally, the term “Christian” has been emptied of it’s meaning. Athletes can drop f-bombs on live TV, gloat over opponents, talk about their “brand,” father 9 kids out of wedlock – but don’t judge them, because they are a Christian. Movie stars can make movies portraying lying, cheating, gratuitous violence, and who knows what all, while in interviews giving credit to Jesus for “being their top priority and guiding everything they do.” I clearly missed that logic in the Sermon on the Mount.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh. God’s grace extends much further than we can imagine. At the same time, we don’t get to define for ourselves what it means to be a Christian. The Bible does that for us.

We say someone is a Christian when they put their faith in/believe in Jesus, repent, and are baptized. That is how one appropriates God’s grace, but it is not, technically, what makes us a Christian. Let’s look at what the Apostle Paul says:

Romans 8:9b  …Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person does not belong to him.

Romans 8:13-14  (for if you live according to the flesh, you will die), but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God.

Ephesians 1:13-14  And when you heard the word of truth (the gospel of your salvation) – when you believed in Christ – you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, who is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory.

Paul seems to understand that having the Holy Spirit is what makes our Christianity the real thing, and is the indicator of the new birth. And, if one has the Spirit, then life will be distinctly different – in conduct, attitudes, ambitions, values, priorities, emotions; literally every aspect of one’s life will begin to follow a trajectory of holiness. Not all at once, of course, and there will be seasons of struggle. But over time there will be visible, measurable differences in the fruit one bears – if one has the Spirit of Christ.

As the late Tim Keller framed it, “A true Christian is known not only by his inner peace [with God] but also by his inner warfare. [Because of the Spirit] she begins to fight with the old, fleshly, self. The flesh fights against the Spirit [living in us] and the Spirit fights against the flesh. In any true, genuine, Christian, there is this fight going on.”

THIS is the true Christian. Someone whose life reflects that they are in the fight to put to death the deeds and desires of the flesh, open to the Holy Spirit’s refining of the finest details of his thoughts and motivations. This is the person for whom, at the end of their life, there is not an empty hope that they are in eternity with Jesus.

I don’t write this to be cynical. Okay, maybe a little. But mostly as a warning. Jesus himself said there will be those that, on the last day, will plead that they were believers, pointing to all their good and noble deeds as evidence. But in a great plot twist, they won’t enter the Kingdom because Jesus never knew them. Don’t let this be you. Do a serious, biblical, evaluation of your life. Get loving, godly people involved and listen to their perspectives – even if it’s excruciatingly painful. Your eternity depends on it.

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