What is Christian?
Unfortunately, there is no truth in labeling law when it comes to calling something Christian. Groups of Christians often question whether others who claim to be Christians really are Christians. The Bible gives very specific guidance in what is required to become a Christian. Jesus says in John 3:7, “You must be born again.” Romans 10:9 says we are saved when we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths Jesus as Lord. Most people who call themselves Christians are either unaware of that guidance or choose to ignore it.
I remember a when a friend asked was I a Christian. Then, although I had been a church member for many years, there was nothing in my lifestyle to indicate a relationship with Jesus. I went over a mental checklist in my head. I was not an atheist. I was not a Jew. I was not a Muslim. I was not a Buddhist. I was not a Hindu. Therefore, I thought, I must be a Christian. In my mind I was a Christian not based on who I was or what I believed but on what I wasn’t.
The word “Christian” confuses people. What does it mean? What does saying “ Christian business”mean? When a Christian only dates or marries a Christian, will the other person share their beliefs about God? There is a lack of clarity in what it means to be a Christian. The problem isn’t one of deception where people try to mislead by calling something Christian. Just there are many different things that people have in their mind when they say Christian.
For many years software developers have used a five level model to quantify the sophistication of software development organizations. It is called the Capability Maturity Model. It has proven helpful by providing some basis for quantifying how good an organization is at the myriad of interrelated activities that go into developing software. Before the CMM we were basically reduced to making broad qualitative judgments with words such as “good” or “bad” when describing software development organizations. I have adapted the capability maturity model to the question of, “what is Christian?” I call my adaptation the Christian Maturity Model. People at all five levels are called Christian. However, their behavior and beliefs differ widely at the various levels.
Level 1 describes a person who is a religious sinner or a carnal Christian. For years that was my story. I attended church and sung even sung in the choir. I made my own choices and governed my life by an intellectual philosophy that really didn’t consider God’s point of view at all. I wasn’t I was just a religious sinner. I did things such a going to church to pay homage to a God who I didn’t know and wasn’t interested in obeying. I had
The carnal Christian looks a lot like the religious sinner. There isn’t a lot of indication in the carnal Christian’s life that he or she is spiritually alive. The carnal Christian has been truly born again by surrendering their life to God through Christ. However, their growth has atrophied. Often because of a lack of good teaching, fellowship, and discipling they are spiritually retarded but they are alive. They have had a transforming encounter with Jesus Christ.
Carnal Christians have been referred to as Clairol Christians. Clairol used to advertise with the slogan “only her hairdresser knows for sure”. For Clairol Christians, only God knows for sure if they really are Christians. When they die they will go to heaven but here on earth they receive no benefit from a transformed life and fellowship with God. In fact they probably have a rougher life than the sinner. Satan knows that they are Christians and attacks his enemy even though they are impotent. It is almost as if one were to put on an military uniform and travel through war zone without weapons or fellow soldiers. It would be better for us to be a civilian in a war zone than to be a lonely weaponless soldier.
Level 2, Personal Piety, describes the type of Christianity most often experienced in America. It is sincere as a matter of one’s heart but doesn’t affect one’s life. Many public figures who insist they are Christians are in this category. Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama fall into this category. They say they have faith but it is personal. Although personal piety is not a Biblical stance, it fits into our western world very well. In our western world view, it is easy to segment society and apply certain principles to one area but ignore them in another. Personal piety allows a person to be born again, active in the church and even strive to live a life free of moral failings personally while not seeing that true faith impacts the entirety of life.
A personally pious Christian believes that personal beliefs do not govern business or politics. They are likely to follow the norms for behavior in a particular environment. Many personally pious Christians did not question slavery. Today personally pious Christians often do not see how their Christianity impacts mass incarceration, the treatment of immigrants or nationalism. The bottom line is that for the personally pious their faith is a personal matter.
Level 3 , Principles, describes most people that are vocal about being Christians. Most Christian artists, business people etc. are committed to living by Christian or Biblical principles. The Bible is seen as an expression of rules by which Christians should govern their lives. Christians living according to these principles often put a lot of emphasis on personal morality, ethical dealings, stewardship and integrity. For them God is really Lord of all and His law or Word governs everything.
Governing one’s life by Biblical principals is good but it has severe limitations. The Christian following this approach normally interacts intellectually with the Bible distilling principles for life from it. The principle based Christian often has little interaction with the living God. All of the interaction is with God’s Word. This approach in many ways models the approach that the Pharisees used and that Jesus fought against. It is rule based and lack connection with the heart of God. God is alive. He has spoken but he still is speaking. He is not adding to the Bible but He is not silent in guiding and directing His children.
Level 4, Natural, Christians realize that God does guide us today and have developed methodologies to discern God’s guidance primarily by observing His activities in the natural realm. Henry Blackaby, author of Experiencing God is the most well known advocate of this approach. This approach goes far beyond the simplistic God opens doors and closes doors. If I see something happening that only God can do like sinners wanting to know how to be saved. I don’t have to pray and try to seek God to find out whether it is His will for them to be saved. I know that no man comes to God unless God draws them. It is therefore incumbent on me to join God in what He is already doing.
Level 5 is where I believe God wants all Christians to be. It is where we know Him well enough to subjectively discern his voice accurately. In John Jesus says, my sheep, they know my voice. We as sheep should have conversed with the shepherd enough to be able to discern His voice much like a child discerns the voice of their parent. I believe that this level of intimacy and communication was on Paul’s mind in 1 Corinthians 14 when he encouraged us to desire spiritual gifts and especially the gift of prophecy. If one looks closely at the spiritual gifts they will notice that the majority of the gifts are dependent on the Christian hearing the voice of God e.g., the gifts of prophecy, word of knowledge, word of wisdom, and interpretation of tongues.