Friday, July 16, 2010
What's the point of being a Christian?
It seems to me that we as Christians (yes, even evangelical Christians) all too often lose sight not only the point of being a Christian, but of what it means to be a Christian. There appears to be two (at least) ruts we manage to fall into on either side of the proverbial road. On the one hand is the hardcore evangelical thinking that it's all about salvation in terms of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ (I'm not saying it isn't). So in this rut the point is to get people converted, and then to begin the process of doing Christian things (usually reading the Bible, praying, worshipping, serving, and evangelizing--all good things!). On the other hand is the thinking in much of the emergent church movement in which the greatest emphases seem to vary between extravagant worship and righting social injustice (also good things!). The depth of the ruts come when, in the first, being a Christian means you experience a conversion to Christ and then set about merely doing Christian things; and in the second, when being a Christian becomes merely about your social activity and Christ becomes optional. In brief, I suppose, one could describe the ruts as the tradtional "faith" vs. "works," however each involves faith and works, but in different spheres.
Now, I have often heard that the solution to avoiding the ruts is to find a balance of each: you know, equal portions of faith and works. I'm not so sure that's been working for us. It seems that we as a people keep finding ourselves in one rut or another (or am I the only one who sees an uncanny resemblance to the emphasis on social justice today and the social gospel of the early 20th century? Or the intellectualized gospel of much Reformed theology today and Medieval scholasticism?).
Instead, I think we need to focus on the road itself to avoid the ruts. Jesus called Himself the road (well, ok, the "way"), so it seems logical to focus on Him, eh? But often focusing on Christ simply becomes learning about Jesus, or at best exploring and deepening our relationship with Him as Lord, Master, Teacher, Guide, etc. These are all legitimate expressions of our relationship with Christ, but fail to hit at the heart of what it means to be a Christian.
Our relationship with Christ as Christians is more than an external relationship. 1 Cor 6:17 says that the one who joins himself to the Lord becomes one [spirit] with Him. There is a union of the believer's spirit with the Spirit of God which creates an essential transformation in the life of the believer. A Christian is truly crucified with Christ and lives in a true (not merely symbolic) life with Christ (Gal 2:20). This is what (at least one thing) Paul means when he talks about Christians being "in Christ."
In my experience, far too many Christians are unaware that the point of being a Christian is not just to be saved from our sins, or to be with God in heaven when we die, or to have a constant companion and guide here on earth: it is to walk in communion with God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is to experience a oneness with God in Christ that transforms us from the inside-out. This model of Christianity thus includes both ruts, but by spanning them rather than dividing time and energy between them. To view "being a Christian" as communion with God in Christ incorporates conversion, faith, and the spiritual disciplines as well as the outward expression of our union with God through acts of service, love, and justice. The danger of reducing Christianity to a dead "faith" or a Christ-less social justice is reduced, because the focus is on walking by faith through the Spirit with a living and active Lord, who leads and moves us toward loving action of others.