Try to be absolutely clear when you say, “I am a Christian”

I don’t really like labels in Christianity, because on the surface, they seem to divide people who are Christians.  That can be true.  But it is also true that labels can be helpful when talking to people who are not Christian, but say they are.  In today’s pluralistic, postmodern, theological buffet-type culture, we must be able to distinguish our beliefs from other false ideas about Christianity.

To say to someone, “I’m a Christian,” is biblically correct, and should be sufficient (it would have been in the first century).  At the same time a friend might say to me, “I’m a Christian,” but it’s evident that they are no more a Christian than I am an oak tree.  How can I make sure that my misguided friend understands the difference  in our beliefs?

Consider this analogy.  I ask my friend what being Christian means to him.  He says, “I go to church.  I pray before meals.  I try to be a good person.”  Then he asks me what being Christian means to me.  I say, “I am a born-again, Evangelical.  That means I believe the Bible is the infallible, authoritative word of God and that the only way to be forgiven of sin, escape the wrath of God, and have eternal life is justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ , who died on the cross and rose from the dead.”

When I defined being a Christian for myself, I put a label on myself (I use the word “label” here kind of loosely).  I labeled myself as an Evangelical (I could have even included the word “Protestant” in there too).  But the important thing is that I gave the label a precise definition.  The term “Evangelical” was practically synonymous with “Protestant” during the Reformation era.  The two main issues during this time were authority and justification.  The Catholic Church believed authority belonged to the Pope, and that justification could be purchased through indulgences.  The Reformers believed that authority was in the Word of God, and that justification was by grace and faith alone in Jesus.  This mean they protested (Protestant) against the false doctrines of the Catholic church, and identified themselves with the evangel (the true gospel of Scripture).

Because some people believe that Jesus is no more than a great moral teacher, and that the Bible is just a grab-bag story book with some good insights, we must be crystal clear in communicating what being “Christian” really means.  And sometimes, whether we want to or not, lableing ourselves might be helpful.


God Gives Sight to the Physical and Spiritual Eyes

A physically blind person is helpless. To him, the Grand Canyon is not something to be gazed at with jaw-dropping awe so that he may glory in God’s power and creation. Instead, the Grand Canyon is simply a death trap, because he can’t see the rim that, if over-stepped, would cause him to tumble down over a mile of sharp rocks and cliffs.

A spiritually blind person is helpless as well. They can’t see the person and work of Jesus Christ and that he is the supreme treasure of the universe. They can’t see God’s glory in physical creation, in his word, or in anything else. To him, everything is a death trap because without Christ, everything he does contributes to his condemnation.

The good news of the gospel is that God heals both kinds of blindness, but he heals the physical eyes as a way of showing that he alone has power over the spiritual eyes.

In 2 Corinthians 4:4, Paul talks about this spiritual blindness. He says, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” People who are not saved cannot see the glory of God. They can’t see Jesus. Their spiritual eyes have a thick film over them that causes all things spiritual to seem nonexistent.

In John 9:1-41, there is a story about Jesus healing a blind man. When they first meet, the disciples ask Jesus why this man was born blind. They think it is a particular sin of his own or his parents that caused it. Jesus tells them, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (v. 3). Jesus heals the man, and when this happens, the Pharisees are outraged. The blind man tells the Pharisees that Jesus healed him and the Pharisees ask, “Where is he! How did he do it?” They repeat these questions and the man simply keeps saying, “I don’t know how…he just did it. All I know is that I was blind, but now I see.” The Pharisees are so ticked off at this point that they tell this man to leave the temple. Jesus finds the man again and asks to him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man replies, “Who is he?” Jesus says, “It’s me, the one who is talking to you.” The man believed and worshiped Jesus. Then Jesus makes a shocking statement in verse 39. “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”

Jesus came to make blind people see. He came so that religious jokers, like the Pharisees, who think they see really become more blind. Only God can restore sight to physical eyes. That is from his power alone. Why would it be any different for the spiritual eyes? Certainly when Jesus said, “I came into this world, that those who do not see may see,” he meant, “I came to make people see light of the glory of myself.” Notice Jesus didn’t help the blind man see. He made him see. Jesus doesn’t help us see himself with our hearts. He makes us see himself with our hearts.

In 2 Corinthians 4:6 Paul makes this clear for us. He writes, “For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” God created light at the beginning of the world so that we might be able to see his glory in creation. So we know that God has power over creation and the physical body-after all, he said in Exodus 4:11, “Who makes man mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” So why would it be any different spiritually?

Blind people cannot make themselves see. They need a cornea-transplant. They need a new set of eyes. Our spiritual eyes don’t work unless God comes rushing in with his marvelous light and so graciously orchestrates a great surgery on the eyes of our hearts so that the dark film is removed and the face of Jesus is made clear.

Praise God that he does this at all, because it would be completely fair of him to never make anyone see. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).


The Gospel Shows Up in Strange Places

Last night, I was at the Nebraska State Fair. Third Day, a southern rock band from Atlanta, played a concert in our open-air auditorium. It was hot and humid, as you would expect for an August night in Nebraska. The concert started at 7:30. My friend, Dusty, and I arrived around 6:30, hoping to find a seat. Well, Third Day is a Christian band, so all the Lincolnite Christians were out with their Jesus t-shirts saving seats. (By the way, I never see anyone wear Christian t-shirts except at Christian concerts or music festivals. Perhaps that’s another blog.)

Saving seats frustrates me. I saw people using whatever they could to mark their territory. Juice boxes, Orbit gum packaging (are you serious?). I even saw a guy who had a meter stick with him. Whatever happened to using jackets or having your five year-old son lie down across the bench? Saving seats communicates, “I will have friends show up early and do the hard work, then I will show up five minutes before the show, call them on my cell phone, look around the crowd like I’m lost and confused, then find them and then sit down in my comfy seat.” Meanwhile, there I was, standing hopelessly against a cement block on an I-beam, content to watch the show from an angle that I don’t remember using in high school geometry. A security lady kept pacing our area telling us to move back, as if she didn’t want us to actually watch the show.

After standing and moving back for about 10 minutes, a lady walked up to Dusty and said, “Would you like one of these wristbands to go stand up in front of the stage during the show?” He looked and said, “Uh, yeah.” I looked at the kind, angelic lady and said in my ignorance, “What do I have to do to get one of those?” She replied, “All you have to do is say yes.” I looked at her as if she were giving me water in a desert and held out my wrist, “Oh yes,” I said.

She put the band on my wrist and I asked, “Do you have more?” Of course she did, so I asked if she could spare four of them for other friends who just arrived. “There are 150 of these,” she said, “so if you have other friends let me know.” Mind you, there were 3,000+ people at this concert. I looked at Dusty and laughed. “Want to go up front?” he asked. I felt like we were crossing over the Jordan to go to the Promise Land. For the entire 2 hour show, we eight feet from the band, singing, laughing, and praisin’ Jesus. It was incredible.

Good story huh? Lucky break, right? As soon as it all transpired I couldn’t help but compare it to God’s grace. This lady had looked at us, chosen us out of a large crowd, set her wristband affection on us and came to us, out of her own initiative and said, “Do you want this?” Then I, in my ignorance, still asked, “What do I have to do to get one of those?” as if I could have given her money or a corn dog. “All you have to do is say yes.” There was no part of me that could have said no. It was an irresistable calling. I had to say yes. I had to accept this free gift. So I did. But it didn’t stop there. I was so filled with joy that I looked at her and said, “Can you spare more for my friends.” I looked at my friends and said, “Do you want a wristband to go to the Promise Land known as front and center stage?” Then, in their joy, they gave up their standing-room only spot and exchanged it for concert bliss.

And so it is with God and us. His gospel is irresistable. He chose us, set his saving affection on us, and came to us out of his own initiative. He arrived on the scene when we were far off and at an extreme angle from the concert and said, “Do you want this? Do you want to experience the show in all its fullness? Do you want to want to taste and see the concert, instead of just hear it from afar?” When God effectually called me, I couldn’t say no. And everyone whom God effecutally calls will answer with joy and delight, “Yes, Lord, I want to go to the Promise Land.”


Christ Has the Ultimate Power Over Sin

It is not our promises to the Lord but his promises to us that will give us victory over sin.

– Warren Wiersbe

God promises that sin will not have dominion over us if we are in Christ (Rom. 6:14).  However, just because we make promises to “never do that again” or “never say this again” doesn’t mean we’ll be perfectly obedient.  How many of us have made a promise to not do something ever again, yet five minutes later find ourselves doing the same thing or a relative of it? 

Remember, Christ has already conquered sin and has power over it.  We are called to have faith in him so we can kill sin by the power of the Spirit (Rom. 8:12-13).  This happens by his grace, not our feeble, carnal promises to be better people.  We kill sin to see Jesus more clearly, to be more like him.  The goal is Christ — not a good, moral life.