What does it take to be a Christian? Be baptized? Accept Jesus as Lord and Savior? Know something about the Bible? What?
Apart from the differences between denominations, and they are legion, I think there are three marks of an authentic Christian. First, to trust in God through Christ. Second, to believe in God through Christ. Third, to follow where Christ has led.
Christian Scripture is filled with commands from Jesus to trust Him, believe Him, and follow Him. If those are His commands, Christians should pay attention.
Trust means to live with confidence in God’s abounding and steadfast love, as made known to us through the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, regardless of conditions in life.
What does a life in that kind of trust look like? It’s a life that can go through all the delight and tragedy that come along without expecting God to magically make all the bad go away. It is a life solidly grounded in reality, yet trusting that one is always walking in God’s sight.
Belief in God through Christ means being thoroughly familiar with what one believes about God, and why, as well as understanding the traditions and theology of the faith community to which one belongs, and at least something about the ways other faith communities express their understanding of God.
It’s a life of constant learning, maturing in faith, that understands that being a Christian does not depend on political or economic circumstances, no matter how much they might affect the world about us.
Following where Christ has led is the most important part, and, I suspect, the one most often avoided, because Jesus has frequently led where we don’t want to go.
If one is accustomed to thinking, talking and acting out of anger, hate and prejudice, it’s hard to be one who loves God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength; who loves one’s neighbor as oneself; and who loves others as Christ loves us.
Yet living in love is the central theme of the commandments God in Christ has given us. They are not suggestions. They are commandments.
Jesus explained what a life following Him looks like in “The Sermon on the Mount,” which you can read for yourself in Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 5. Consider Paul’s summary in Chapter 12 of his letter to the Romans:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.
“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
“For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.
“We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.
“If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
The Rev. Steven Woolley is retired rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Walla Walla. He serves at Grace Church in Dayton as well as chaplain of the Walla Walla Fire Department. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org..