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What is a Christian?

It is with sadness and also a bit of ire that I feel moved to ask this question. The ire comes from people like Vladimir Putin, who claims to be a defender of the faith while unleashing a totally unnecessary, brutal, and purposefully cruel war. Not a Christian. Mr. Putin is the poster boy for this, but examples abound of public figures wrapping themselves in the mantle of faith while spewing hatred, fear, and division. Not Christians.

Now, I do not know what is in these person’s hearts. I don’t need to. As Jesus said, “By their fruits you shall know them.” Being a Christian is not about feeling a certain way (not a bad thing) or believing certain things (definitely not a bad thing!). Being a Christian is about . . . well, let’s just see what Jesus says.

Jesus has a lot to say about God’s rule (usually translated as “Kingdom of God”). And beliefs are indeed implied in these teachings. But mostly these teachings are about behavior. I can think of only one place where Jesus asks us to believe something. It’s in John 14 where Jesus says, “Believe in God; believe also in me.” What follows are the familiar words, “In my Father’s house are many rooms . . .” This passage is about trusting that God will take care of us in life and in death.

Jesus also never asks us to worship him. This may be the exact right thing to do, but it’s not what Jesus asks of us. What Jesus does ask is that we follow him. “If any would be my disciple, let them take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 10) That means we are to do as Jesus has done. Martin Luther put it this way, “We are to be little Christs for one another.” That’s what it means to be a Christian. It should be obvious. Sadly, it is apparently not.

I recently led a workshop for our synod on the values of Jesus. We looked at a couple dozen Gospel passages and participants identified the values that Jesus embodied. Part 2 of this blog (in two weeks) will list the specific values that participants identified. That’s what makes us Christian.


Pastor Mark Walters


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