Have you ever noticed what a wide variety of factors we consider when determining if a person is “really a Christian?” I’ve been in professional ministry for about a decade and I could almost write another 613 laws based on some of the stipulations I’ve heard.
Are you really a Christian? I’ve been told you’re not a *real* Christian if . . .
- you’re a Democrat
- you’re a Republican
- you don’t home school your kids
- you home school your kids
- you’re a working mom
- you’re a stay-at-home dad
- you believe in gay marriage
- you don’t believe in gay marriage
- you believe in a pre-millenial rapture
- you believe in a post-millenial rapture
- you work on Sundays
- you’re business is open on Sundays
- you drink alcohol
- you never drink alcohol
- you can’t remember the date you choose to follow Jesus
- you don’t picket outside family planning clinics
- you do picket outside family planning clinics
I could go on and on, but you get the idea. We all have this picture (whether we want to admit it or not) of what a Christian looks like, acts like, and believes. And most of the time our picture addresses things that go far beyond the questions of “Do you believe in Jesus? Did you seek forgiveness for your sins? Do you choose to follow God?”
And all that has me wondering . . . when people who don’t consider themselves Christians look at us, what factors do they use to determine who is and who isn’t Christian? Are they asking us questions about our belief systems or are they judging based on who “goes to church?” Are they evaluating our behaviors and moral boundaries or are they examining our political and social beliefs?
Or, what if Jesus actually knew what he was talking about when he said: “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Try to forget that you’ve ever heard that verse before. Try to forget the watered-down definition of love that our culture has come to believe in. Try to forget everything you’ve come to assume is what defines you as a Christian. What if the only way for people to know that we have anything to do with the God-man we call Jesus Christ, is if we love each other? With the kind of radical, deep-running, lay-down-your-life kind of love that I believe Jesus was talking about.
If that was the measuring stick of our Christianity, what would people on the “outside” think of us on the “inside?” Would they see us as Christians when they looked in our churches, our homes, our offices, and our ministries? Would they see a radical love between all those people gathered in an auditorium on Sunday morning? Would they see a deep love if they visited our church board meetings? Would they see an edifying love if they walked through our offices? Would they see a self-sacrificing love if they hung out with us in our family room?
What if, radical as this may be, what if God looked at us the same way? What if he was a lot less concerned with our political party or our views on end-times than he was with how we loved each other. It’s a freeing proposition–that I don’t have to end up on the right side of the debate or have all the correct answers. But it’s also a terrifying thought. Because loving people–the way I believe God wants us to love people–isn’t easy. It isn’t easy to love the person you can’t agree with. It’s even harder to love the person who hurt you. And we do that in the church . . . a lot. We hurt people. We don’t mean to, but we do. We’re not God, we’re messed up humans and we make mistakes.
The question is, is it even possible to live with that kind of radical love? To love the family member who broke your heart? To love the person on the other side of the aisle who betrayed your trust? To love the congregation down the street whose beliefs don’t line up with yours? To love the coworker who drives you crazy? Is that kind of love really possible here on earth? Is that thing we call the “Kingdom of Heaven” ever going to be realized in this world, or is it only possible when Jesus returns?
I’ll tell you what a wise man once told me: “The Kingdom of Heaven is not a pipe dream.”
Maybe we’ll never perfect that Kingdom reality in this lifetime. Maybe our love will never be that complete. But I’d love to see us try.