I sometimes think people look at Christianity as a Chinese takeout menu. They can pick some agreeable doctrines, add a good dose of palatable teaching, and toss in a dash of soul-stirring music to satisfy their particular spiritual appetite. As long as it looks good on the metaphorical plate and is pleasing to their spiritual taste buds, whether or not the whole thing provides a square meal of scriptural truth seems a secondary issue.
A few years back I had a boss who professed to be a Christian, although his words and actions gave very little credence to his claims. He was a bit of a joker, but in a serious moment discussing matters of faith he confessed that one thing hindering his own spiritual development was how his wife viewed Christianity. She professed to be a believer, he told me, but didn’t want to be one of those “born-agains.” She really didn’t even want to be associated with the idea. She preferred to just find a church where they could do the “Sunday thing” and not get involved with those oddballs.
“The problem with that,” I said to my boss, “is that the Lord says you must be born again.” He understood that truth and I could tell it weighed heavily on him as his ever-present joviality disappeared entirely. His wife simply did not want to be involved in any of that kind of thing and wanted to find a church that wouldn’t push all that “born-again stuff” on her. She may not have known exactly what she did want, but she sure wasn’t about to pick any items off that side of the menu.
I recall thinking how odd it was that someone would take such a stance—that they could pick and choose which elements of the faith they would apply to themselves—and still claim to be a Christian. I was just naive, I guess. I was relatively new to the faith and assumed all Christians thought alike on those kinds of things.
In the intervening years I have thought about that discussion many times and tried to find some clarity for myself on the foundational elements that I stand on as a Christian. I have not only reflected on what saves a person from their sin (blessed topic as that is!), but also on those things that should characterize the disposition of one who has taken the title of Christian, as we have been discussing in this current series.
To that end, I find that a Christian is someone who has believed on Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the One offered as the perfect sacrifice for their sin. They know without doubt He was resurrected from the dead and accept this as proof that God was thoroughly satisfied with Christ’s sacrifice.
The one called a Christian has been converted to Christ. In other words, they have been brought over from one set of beliefs to another; the former based on rejection of the Son of God and the new grounded on the solid rock of Jesus Christ. Conversion will take care of doubt, as the apostle Peter labored to discover through the many trials of his faith.
The Christian has been born again—not simply made better—and made a child of God. Nicodemus thought it sounded strange that one would have to be born again, but Jesus insisted on this fact as necessary in order to see and to enter into the kingdom of God (Jn. 3:3-7). Because of this new relationship formed through Christ, the Christian is fit to enter into God’s presence; into Heaven itself. (Heb. 10:19-20). Therefore, a Christian should proudly wave the banner of “Born Again.”
The Christian is indwelt and led by the Holy Spirit and they are assured of sins forgiven and the current possession of eternal life. If we have so thoroughly identified ourselves with Jesus through this wonderful title of Christian, we can rest in our knowledge of these things without doubt.
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful (Heb. 10:23).”
These are things that the Christian is, not things they can choose to be…or not to be. Some intense self-examination may be sadly wanting if one is uncomfortable claiming any of these as characteristic of themselves. It is far more satisfying to feast at the table of the fullness of the Lord than to pick at the measly offerings of a poorly-chosen spread laid out by our own feeble understanding.
What do you think? Does one calling themselves a Christian have the authority to pick-and-choose their doctrine? If so, how much?