“You aren’t a Christian but you are the most Christian person I know.” I hear this statement occasionally and it always makes me pause. I wonder what the person saying it means — and how the person being referred to feels. There are lots of possibilities.
Then I realize that the person I need to question is myself. Why do I care if a good person is a Christian or not? More importantly, does God care? Depending on your brand of Christianity, you may have clear answers for these two questions. How another Christian answers these questions probably determines, in your mind, if that person is really a Christian.
How would God answer these questions?
It isn’t absolutely clear how God views these questions. On the one hand we have a very clear statement about how God will judge all people at the end of time in the story about “sheep and goats.’ God values our behaviors, it seems, rather than our beliefs. On the other hand, Jesus said, “The work of God is this; to believe in the one that he has sent.” [John 6:29] Perhaps, then, these questions are more about God’s mercy than about understanding what’s in God’s mind. Should we be so confident about our understanding of God’s mind? Job learned that understanding God’s mind was completely beyond him, saying after his dialogue with God, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” [Job 42:3b] We do not understand and cannot define boundaries for God, or say with certainty, “That person is (or is not) pleasing to God.” Perhaps we should place all our confidence in God’s mercy, and not try to divide the world up into Christians and non-Christians.
So why be a Christian?
All this leads me to my basic point. What is my motivation for being a Christian? Is it about being more confident that I’ll get to heaven? Like a spiritual insurance policy? Or is it my response to grace? The gift of faith and the gift of knowing Jesus. My life-long journey has led me to see that my reasons for being a Christian are more about being in relationship — with Jesus and with fellow Christians — than any other factor. And that is what I seek in my local church — ways to deepen these relationships.