During a conversation with a friend, he casually said: “I’m not very Christian.” Puzzled by what he meant, I asked him “what does a Christian look like?” On reflection, I think this is a question Christians and non-Christians alike have asked. Someone who isn’t familiar with Christianity might curiously want to know what makes a Christian different. While others might want to know what to expect from a Christian. Equally, a new Christian might find themselves thinking, “what changes now that I am a Christian?”
A Christian doesn’t standout on appearance or by being a member of a church. As G. K. Chesterton, the famous English writer and philosopher pointed out; “going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car.” So, if you can’t identify a Christian by what they do on a Sunday morning, what can you look out for? My friend’s answer was intriguing. He said, “I was a smoker but not anymore because I have kids. I still drink and attend parties. In short, I have a chequered past”.
I responded that none of those things makes him less of a Christian especially not a chequered past. I have skeletons and present struggles too. In fact, my struggles amplify my need for God. I reminded him what Jesus once said: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” [Mark 2:17 NIV]. If I understand Jesus correctly, He is saying a Christian isn’t someone perfect but someone imperfect who recognises their imperfections and turns to God for help.
The word Christian is of Greek origin, it means “follower of Christ”. This is the primary identity of a Christian, someone who follows Jesus, i.e. a disciple of Jesus [Matthew 16:24]. A disciple is someone who learns from his or her Master and commits to follow in the Master’s footsteps. It was upon observing disciples of Jesus trying to walk in His footsteps that some pagans in Antioch (near present-day Antakya in Turkey) gave these disciples the nickname: “Christian” [Acts 11:26].
For a Christian, Jesus must be Lord and Master of your life (i.e. your time, money, ambitions…everything!). Without this preeminent relationship, one cannot be a Christian (who would you be following?). It doesn’t matter how often you go to church or how many religious activities you embark on, it is meaningless. Moreover, once you are in this relationship, Jesus requires you to make Him known to everyone around you [Matthew 28:19-20]. Making Him known is quite simply living your life in line with His teachings.
What does this look like? Well, one of the hallmarks of a follower of Jesus is the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God in such a person. Literally, God takes up residence within them. When this happens, the Bible says there should be evidence of the following signs in such a life, irrespective of circumstance: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” [Galatians 5:22-23]. Such a person seeks to serve others instead of waiting to be served. She will forgive readily and humbly admit fault. She will carry herself with integrity, act justly, show compassion and won’t be arrogant. She will demonstrate her love for God through loving others in very practical ways regardless of race, creed, sex, status or class. She won’t be duplicitous; who she is in private when no one is watching is exactly who she is when the whole world is watching.
Such a person will find that how he lives life is at odds with the world which is why he will stand out. He won’t be perfect and God doesn’t expect perfection. He knows we cannot measure up to His standards all the time but that’s never an excuse not to try. Thankfully, God adds His substantial grace to the Christian’s minuscule efforts as he earnestly tries to follow Jesus daily. Without God’s grace, the Christian life with all its trials and temptations is impossible to live. From time to time we see people who claim to be Christians but Jesus isn’t really at the centre of their lives. They invariably become hypocrites because their lives will ultimately be at odds with the gospel they claim to profess.
Jesus once said that those who love Him do what He says [John 14:15]. In essence, talk is cheap, actions are what count. So, if you are looking to spot a Christian, look for evidence of the Spirit of God at work in them. This will manifest in a consistent love for Jesus that underpins everything they do because they really want to please Him. Nevertheless, if you identify as a Christian, do you truly know Jesus for yourself or do you know about Him because of what someone else has told you? Do you have your own relationship with Him? Is He Lord in every area of your life or are some areas of your life off-limits to Him?
At the end of the sermon on the mount [Matthew 5-7] where Jesus tells us what the Christian’s life should look like, He delivers this warning to Christians: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” [Matthew 7:21-23]. What will He say to you?