what does it mean to be Christ-like?

…it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher

Matthew 10:25a

Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’

Matthew 9:13a

Lately we’ve been considering what Christian should mean and that Christ-in-us is the heart of this. But what does it mean to be Christ-like?

While I believe it’s important that we as individuals and especially together remain in the entire Bible (including the Apocrypha), I doubt that there’s anything more profitable in scripture than carefully going over the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, considering everything and with a focus on Christ himself, the one we’re called to follow, to imitate. All else must be seen and understood in that light.

Christ-likeness is many things, a life and practice in all the will of God. That is both individual and communal, separate and together both. None of us is Christ, nor all of us together. And yet we are individually called anointed ones, essentially little christs in John’s first epistle, and we collectively called the body of Christ. So in a true sense, when people see us they should see Christ. But honestly, what do they see?

Even with our inevitable faults and sins along the way, if we are sensitive to the Spirit and above all seek to live in love, humbly confessing our sins along the way, and seeking to live in harmony with other Christ-followers, as well as in deep humility before and with everyone in the world, then people will “see” something they won’t be able to put their finger on, well beyond merely us. Somehow the real Christ will be present, yes, even in us. Christ-likeness in the world looks like, or we should say comes out of this perhaps more than anything else.

That said, we need to make it our life-long study and prayer to be like Jesus in all of life: in the trials, good times, all the time. And a large part of that, as Jesus pointed out from the prophets, is to be people of mercy with each other, and with the world. When people think of us, think of Christians, they ought to be drawn, not because they’re drawn to us, not at all, but because they’re drawn to Christ-in-us. Because we have the aroma of Christ. Some will hate that, but many will be drawn to it to sit at the feet of the One whom our hearts are set on.

 

does “Christian” really matter if not Christ-like?

…and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.”

Acts 11:26b

Supposedly, or it has been said that the name Christian was coined on this new group in a derogatory way. What has happened since is just a whole lot of baggage with the name, so that to be Christian is a mix, and at best might mean a decent citizen and probably religious. But sadly it can mean a whole lot of other things not so good. This is centuries long, but akin to the problem of the good word, “evangelical” which here in the United States due to the past few centuries, and especially the past few decades has baggage that is hardly the witness to Christ which the name “evangelical” implies.

If I had to fill out a form, or if someone asked me if I am an evangelical, as one who resides at this time in the United States, I would have to say, no. And if someone asked me if I’m a Christian, I might say something like, “Well, I suppose, or at least I fit somewhere in that category, but I would rather be considered a Christ-follower.

Yes, there might be many Christians, but just how many are Christ-like? If Christ-likeness is about loving one’s neighbor as one’s self, loving one’s enemies, doing to others as we would have them do to us, etc., than we might find non-Christians who are much closer to that than many Christians. Too often in history and in the present, “Christian” seems to be about having been baptized, or having a ticket to heaven, and when one considers the life and compares it with others, really little and likely nothing else.  At least this is true enough that it’s evident to the point that it’s like the elephant in the room.

To become like Christ which is an ongoing, never ending process in this life is different than simply being a Christian and that’s it. And thinking one is set with that, when really it matters not at all if we’re not growing in our lives through ongoing repentance and faith to become more like Christ. It matters not at all if we’re not followers of Christ.

resident aliens

Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom belonged to this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

John 18:36; NRSVue

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the excellence of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves honorably among the gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.

For the Lord’s sake be subject to every human authority, whether to the emperor as supreme or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

1 Peter 2:9-17; NRSVue

Stanley Hauerwas has made “resident aliens” well known among those interested in such things. This is an apt description of us as Christ followers, believers in Christ, Christ’s body in the world- the church. We are not tied to any government, yet we live respectably as residents among them, subjecting ourselves to their governance as long as it doesn’t contradict Christ’s calling to us.

At the same time we’re aliens wherever we are. As followers of Christ we don’t follow the ways of the world, and we don’t align ourselves with any earthly government or authority. We live under such authority, but we’re not united with them. We are an entity in and of ourselves, distinct from anything of this world.

This is what Scripture tells us, and the early church of the first three centuries seems to have lived this out. It was easier for them to do so since they were at best held at arm’s length by the ruling authority, the Roman empire at the forefront. But after Constantine the church no longer was persecuted but joined to the hip of the state. Church and state as it were, were wedded together. In fact the only ones who could serve in the Roman military were those who were Christians in name. Before that as far as we can tell in the preceding centuries, Christians not only could not serve in the Roman military, but rejected outright any such service, refusing to kill under any circumstances, citing the teaching and example of Christ.

We wish the best for all government political entities and pray for them and aspire and seek to do good for all. And we thank God for their service.

We reside with all, but as aliens. Not really belonging but present and seeking to live at peace with all. As we await the return of our Lord when we’ll no longer be aliens, but at home at last with everyone for ever.

what it means to be a Christian not just in name, and how

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

Mark 1:16-18

Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

Mark 2:13-14

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

Mark 8:34-35

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.

Acts 9:1-3

Christian is seen in all kinds of ways, but it has been common during my lifetime to view it as those who profess faith in Christ, go to church, and are more or perhaps less marked out from the culture as different. Much fits into this space. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that there’s often an insistence in accepting the penal substitutionary atonement theory, that Christ took the punishment for our sins on the cross. If you believe that, accept that for yourself, then you’re marked as a Christian.

Setting aside for now the problem with substitutionary atonement at the very least in the way it has been presented, I would want to say that all the truth about Christ’s death for the forgiveness of our sins and resurrection by which we receive new life however we formulate that ends up being a given, as long as the crux of the matter is right. And here is the crux of the matter.

To really be a Christian in the sense given in the New Testament, to become one in the first place is all very simple while being profound. It means following Jesus. Individually and in community. Becoming Jesus followers. 

Yes, we have to decide individually, but it’s meant to be lived out in community. This is where we start, where we continue, and where we end. Following Jesus. 

By the Spirit in the community of the church. The entire church is supposed to consist of those who are followers. That’s the ideal. Of course everyone is in a different place in their spiritual journey. But unless we press home the necessity of following Christ, then we’re falling short of what it really means to be a Christian. Following Christ’s lead and in so doing, changing over time. Becoming more and more like him.

All of this as always, in and through Jesus.

 

what should be at the heart of being “a Christian?”

…and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.”

Acts 11:26b

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death…

Philippians 3:10

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

1 Corinthians 11:1

I really ought not to presume that I can say what is at the heart of being a Christian, what that essentially means. Of course it involves so much, at the center (or heart), entering the life and worship of the Triune God. But to boil it down, just what does it mean for us on the ground who have to live in a world either not familiar with this special grace, or even being opposed to it? At least having to live in the same kind of world in which Christ lived.

The heart of being a Christian on the ground, in this life surely amounts to simply seeking with others to follow Christ, to imitate Christ, to be like him. Of course this involves a process, and prior to that a commitment to do so. All the teachings, sacraments and ordinances are to that end.

It is not a matter of simply having assurance that one’s sins are forgiven, and that someday they will be in heaven. Understood correctly, that is part of it. But too often people see Christianity as just a means to a future salvation, without sufficiently realizing what is at the heart of that salvation for the present. Of course based on what Christ accomplished for our salvation in the past. But this salvation is very much present as well as future, and involves salvation not only from our sins, but from our old selves, into the new person in Christ, partaking of Christ’s very nature and life. And that involves a participation together in which God is conforming us to the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:29; Ephesians 4:15).

For myself, I just realize how far short I fall. But I also realize that the Spirit is indeed at work, partly with giving me something of that realization, though some of that is my own thinking in ways that are not helpful, and certainly not given by God. We simply need to be aware that being a Christian means being a follower of Christ, along with other followers. Something I hope to be day after day. With others. In and through Jesus.

what does Christian mean?

…for an entire year [Barnabas and Saul] met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.”

Acts 11:26b

We can ask over time what anything comes to mean. There’s always inevitably the baggage of history, and some of that behind the name Christian is not pretty, including right up to the present day. I’ve heard that it may have been derogatory when first coined in Antioch. True Christianity for sure would upset the status quo.

Christian has basically meant those who adhere to and practice Christianity. And so much can get lost in that, as well as there being different emphases in different traditions of Christianity. In our time, in my lifetime, it seems to mean those who follow certain traditions such as Sunday gathering and whatever else might follow from that. There’s usually a profession of faith in Jesus and often an emphasis on the impact the faith has on the life to come, at least in the minds of many. Yes, teaching might bring focus into the present life, and often does, but it seems to me based on observation and on what much more knowledgeable and wiser people have said that there’s a missing piece, arguably the most important piece of all in one aspect.

Yes, it’s all dependent on God and on God’s grace. But what I’m referring to here is the simple goal of following Christ, becoming like Christ. From my nearly five decades of being a Christian, that doesn’t seem to me to have been much of an emphasis, not much in our minds at least from what we were taught or at least in what really hit home to us. What should people think of ideally when they hear the word Christian? And what do they think of? And that includes not only those who are not Christian, but those who are.

I’m afraid being a follower of Christ not unlike the Sermon on the Mount has at best been put on the back burner, if not taken off the stove entirely, as something just not for us today. This is a grievous error because what follows the gospel accounts Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in our Bibles comes from and is based on what Christ taught, the Spirit directing the churches through leadership on how this worked out after Christ’s ascension and Pentecost.

All of our prayer, reading of Scripture, gathering together as God’s people should be to the end of helping us become true and better followers of Christ, growing together into maturity in Christ, yes into Christ likeness. Anything less than that is missing the mark and what it truly means to be Christian.

is Christianity about following Christ, becoming more like him?

Discipleship is the process of becoming who Jesus would be if he were you.

Dallas Willard

We are flooded with so much that distracts us from our true calling as Christians. It’s not like we’re to ignore everything else. But what’s at the heart of who we really are?

For Christians it’s to be no less than Christ himself. And that doesn’t mean only to save us, and help us through life. But much more. To be in the process of becoming more and more like him, no less.

When people think of the word Christian, I wonder what comes to mind? Too often Christendom and the vestiges of that, I’m afraid. Not that all and everything in that is bad. But there has been much there, and still much remains that is really not Christ-like.

Notice what Dallas Willard says. This is a process, not something instantaneous. It requires effort and takes time. And prayer, and the work of God’s Spirit. It is certainly beyond us, not something we can achieve by following a few rules, not by our own self-effort.

We need to commit ourselves to wanting to know Christ. Simply asking Christ to make himself known to us is a good start. And then with the commitment to follow him in all of life, even when we have no clue what that means. I can’t imagine who Christ is myself. I need God’s revelation to help me. As God begins to give that to me over time, then I’ll learn more and more what that means. In loving others, in seeing in myself what is not Christ-like, in seeking to prayerfully adjust my life accordingly.

In and through Jesus.

who Jesus is determines who we are (in Jesus)

They follow the Lamb wherever he goes.

Revelation 14

If I just tune into some of the evangelical world today, I would think for sure that Jesus is a roaring lion, out to devour his prey. But in Revelation, over and over again, he’s called the Lamb, around 30 times. Once he’s called a lion, “the lion of the tribe of Judah.”

Read the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and read Acts and the letters. You’ll find that Jesus indeed comes across as a lamb, meek and even lowly in his gentleness and humility.

An important desire for us as Christians is the longing to really know Jesus. The term Christian may have originally coined in derision, but we’re named after the one we name and follow. It’s a good prayer to pray, to ask the Lord to make himself known to us. And to remember too, that anyone who sees Jesus, sees the Father. To know Jesus is to know God.

I think we need a total rethinking of who we are as Christians. And that must begin with who Christ is. Only as we begin to understand who Jesus is can we begin to understand who we’re meant to be, to become like, indeed, even who we actually are in him. Contradictory to what we’ve picked up from our culture, and sometimes, sadly enough too often in Christianity itself.

 

continue in God’s grace

As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.

Acts 13:42-43

If there’s one thing I would want to press home to myself and others, it’s the importance and necessity of simply remaining in God’s grace through Jesus. There’s nothing more essentially basic than that. If we have any hope at all of actually having faith, and living in it, and by that I mean, beginning to see, understand and experience what God has for us, then it’s all because of God’s grace.

By God’s grace, I mean God’s gift in Christ, received by faith. It’s never something we could ever earn or deserve. Based on Christ’s sacrificial death for us through which we receive forgiveness of our sins and his resurrection life, beginning now.

Yes, it was especially crucial to the Jews of that time with the big change in place. But God’s grace is always radical in any context. Somehow we think it depends on us. It’s not like we’ll end up inactive, but what activity we have that’s actually Christian will be solely because of God’s grace, his gift to us in Christ by the Holy Spirit.

Yes, that’s the message I need day after day. Simply to continue on in the grace of God. In and through Jesus.

the fresh breath/air of the Protestant Reformation

Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

Psalm 96:1-3

I really don’t care to identify as Protestant, evangelical, Catholic, or whatever, but rather, as Christian. I know that even Christian carries with it some historical baggage which is not helpful, and actually distracts, not to mention, contradicts its true meaning.

But on Spotify today, while trying to scroll down to see the albums playing my favorite music artist, Johann Sebastian Bach, and being blocked from doing so by an add, I either purposefully or inadvertently hit an album which has beautiful singing (likely in German), but I lit on Bach’s chorale music, so beautiful, this album. Bach himself was a Lutheran, in a pietist Lutheran setting, one that had as an emphasis a personal relationship with Christ, or knowing Christ. I was reminded of the beautiful early Lutheran music at the time of that great Reformer and Church Father, Martin Luther.

What I identify with is the emphasis on scripture being the authority to which we appeal, while taking tradition seriously, yet subjecting everything to the test of scripture. For me that’s a breath of a fresh air. And not only lifts one’s spirits, but brings new life, so that a song of praise and thanksgiving to God is indeed appropriate. It is God’s word, scripture, the essence of which is the gospel, God’s good news in Christ, which indeed is transformative. For us and for the world, someday to fill the new earth after the final judgment and salvation, in and through Jesus.