Willliam Paul Young,in his book, Lies We Believe about God, suggests a great response to someone who asks you if you are a Christian:
“Would you please tell me what you think one is, and I will tell you if I am one of those.”
I have struggled with whether to call myself a Christian or not over the years. I was certainly raised one and Jesus is an important part of my spirituality. In fact, he defines it. Richard Rohr suggests in his meditation this morning, that Christians have been so focused on the idea of Jesus dying for our sins that we might as well erase everything except the last three days of his life. Never mind the teachings or healing. There it is in a nutshell: Believe Jesus died for your sins and you are in.
But this explanation of what it means to be a believer has never sat well with me. Intuitively, I knew that Jesu’s life and message mattered, to the point that it should effect my daily choices. What good is it, I thought, to believe in a simple doctrine if one’s life is no different than anyone else’s? But to believe in someone, I think, means that I am willing to try that person’s way of life or apply their wisdom. Herein is my sense of what it means to be a Christian and I take it very seriously. I have read the sermon on the mount and believe that I am being challenged to love my enemies and to turn the other cheek. I understand Matthew’s rendition of the final judgment when he says that those who refuse to feed the hungry, feed he naked, care for the sick and the imprisoned are headed in the wrong direction. I even believe that when we harm others in any way, we are harming Jesus.
Young writes: “Belief is an activity, not a category. The truth is that every human being is somewhere on the journey between belief and unbelief; even so, we perpetuate the categories of believer and unbeliever.” To agree with an abstract doctrine and not act in any way differently is meaningless. And one is not either a believer or not a believer, as Young suggests. We are growing into belief. We try to live according to the teachings of Jesus or whomever we choose to follow. We fall and get up and try again. We witness the consequences of our selfishness or our efforts at loving and learn. We get better. We grow into belief.