Yesterday, I passed a church sign that read, "Be a true Christian," and I shuddered a little bit because that's exactly what I've been trying to talk about in this space this week. Be a "true" Christian - what does that even mean?
Most of the time when we say something like that, we've got an image in our heads of what that looks like, and that image is usually based on external appearances and observable behaviors. To put it colloquially, it means we "don't drink, dance, or smoke." Right? In some faith traditions, it means we never "dress down" - girls in skirts and boys, pressed shirts. It means we wear our crosses big and our hair bigger. It means we proudly display the callouses on our thumbs from turning the pages of our Bibles each morning.
It means we have a strict doctrine of truth, and we're not afraid to let anyone know exactly what we think about things, including them and their lifestyle. Being a "true" Christian to a lot of people means having truth down to a science.
And, by the way, it also means that we don't actually believe in "science."
All of these things that we use to demonstrate to the world, or maybe just to other Christians who have the same ideas, that we are "true" Christians - we're the ones who know, we're the ones who've got it "right," we're the ones who understand what it means to have faith in this world - but not one of these things says anything about our hearts.
And Jesus says it's our hearts that demonstrate our faith.
I think, though, that we can go too far the other way with this, as well. We can think that being a "true" Christian is all about grace - it's about doing the things that Jesus would do, the countercultural kinds of things that our world would never think of. Being a "true" Christian in this sense means that we eat with sinners, that we touch lepers, that we fellowship with felons. Being a "true" Christian means we grow our hair long and wear sandals and relax the rules because rules don't really matter much. It's not a science; it's an art, and we're all just trying to be artists.
But even that doesn't say anything about our hearts. And again, Jesus says it's our hearts that demonstrate our faith.
See, it's possible for us to live truth or to offer grace without loving Jesus, and loving Jesus is what it means to be a "true" Christian.
That's all it is. If you want to be a Christian in this world, a "true" Christian, all you have to do is love Jesus. Really love Him. That's it.
What does that look like? Well, that's a bit trickier. It looks like something different in different situations and for different persons. It's always going to be an outpouring of an individual heart, a unique heart that is fixed on Him. It doesn't always mean that we don't drink, dance, or smoke, or that we wear skirts or pressed shirts. It doesn't always mean that we have all the answers. It doesn't always mean that we eat with sinners or touch lepers or grow our hair long.
It just means that we live out of the depth of love that we have, and whatever that looks like, it shouldn't be hard to figure out. No matter how it seems, anyone ought to be looking at us and seeing, first and foremost, above all things, that we love Jesus. That much should be clear. Whatever they are, whatever we do, however we live them, our lives should be abundantly clear in that regard - they should be outward signs of an inward grace.
And in that sense, they should be...you guessed it....