What makes someone a Christian? As a pre-teen I remember an “End-Times” speaker coming to our town and talking about how all the planets would line up in 1982. He speculated that this would signal the beginning of the end or the start of the “tribulation.” I was so afraid that I would be left behind when Jesus came to “rapture” the real Christians that I went forward every night to accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. Becoming a Christian had something to do with praying the right set of words. Confession of sin and asking Jesus to sit on the throne of my heart needed to be included in the prayer. I kept going forward every night because I wasn’t sure I prayed the prayer correctly.
The fear of not having done it right haunted me for years. More than once I snuck out of my bedroom at 2 AM to check on my parents to make sure they hadn’t been raptured away. It took years to realize that the rapture theology that consumed my youth was a non-biblical scam made up to sell books. There has been much freedom in discovering that Christianity is so much more than a way to avoid “The Tribulation.”
This journey into a new understanding of Christianity has only intensified the “what makes someone a Christian?” question. During Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus in John 3 there is a fascinating conversation about entering into a process of rebirth. It would seem that Christianity has something to do with resetting, rebooting and starting over with a clean slate. In Matthew 25 Jesus tells a strange story about sheep and goats. Eventually the sheep are invited into the kingdom of God and not because they prayed the right prayer. There is no indication that they ever went forward at church and accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. They are invited in because of how they lived their lives in service to others.
The more I read scripture the more I am convinced that Christianity has everything to do with who we are and how we live our lives. There is a song from my youth that says well what I am trying to say, “They will know we are Christians by our love.”
There are still well-meaning people who want a Christianity defined by rules and formulas. The reasons for this grow out of the best of intentions. The problem is that the God of Scripture has no interest in rules and formulas, no matter how well-intentioned they are. The closest Scripture comes to a formula is love, radical and unconditional love.