I ask this question with tongue in cheek because: How can you be a real Christian and not be born again? How can you be born again and not be a real Christian? You really can’t be one without being the other! Yet, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard people describe themselves as being “a born-again Christian.” But biblically speaking; the term makes no sense! It is actually confusing, because by logical implication, it raises the possibility that one can be a Christian and not be born again or one can be born again and not be a Christian. And as I just stated, those two scenarios are biblically impossible! So why is there such wide-spread use of the term?
Is a born-again Christian more Christian than one who is simply a Christian? Is a born-again Christian more spiritual than someone who is simply a Christian? According to Wikipedia: The term “born again is a phrase used by many Protestants to describe the phenomenon of gaining faith in Jesus Christ. It is an experience when everything they have been taught as Christians becomes real, and they develop a direct and personal relationship with God.” Interesting definition. But my question of the definition is this: Before everything they have been taught becomes real and before they develop a direct and personal relationship with God; are they really Christians? Can one really be a Christian and not have a direct and personal relationship with God? Could it be that many people today use the term “Christian” to denote some political or social identity while the term “born-again Christian” is used to denote the ones who are Christians in the biblical sense? I don’t know, but I think it’s more of a case of people making something simple complicated! Or it might be a case of people using terms because they sound good, not realizing they are not sound. But it’s not just ordinary people, I’ve heard the term used by preachers and pastors; some of national and international renown! The term sounds good! It sounds spiritual! It sounds “deep!” But it really makes no sense! It’s redundant! It’s like a person of Caucasian ethnicity calling themselves “a White Caucasian!” Or a person of the Negro ethnicity calling themselves “a Black Negro!” Technically speaking, there are no Black White people and there are no White Black people (Now, I know some people who would argue this point, but note that I said “technically speaking.”).
Now this post is just a case of me; thinking-out-loud. It’s really not a big theological issue! Keep calling yourself “a born-again Christian” if you want to. I just merely brought it up to help us understand that maybe some of the things we say and some of the terms we use in Christian circles should be given some more thought. And it could very well be that we say a lot of things without giving them much thought at all!
In Acts 11:26, the Bible says the disciples or the followers of Jesus were first called “Christians” at Antioch. Historical evidence suggest that it was a derogatory term given by unbelievers. Today the term is used to describe anyone who has even a loose association with the teachings and character of Jesus or to describe one who has made an authentic profession of faith. For some, the term “Christian” is merely a political label, used to distinguish those who advocate a certain political agenda. For others, the term is used as a synonym for church membership. For years, I thought all church members were Christians! It wasn’t until I became a church leader that I discovered that was not the case! But, even though all church members are not Christians, all Christians should be church members!
So, the problem today is an age-old one. Many who claim the name “Christian” have caused the name to be dishonored and cursed. There are just so many un-Christ-like Christians! It is because of these un-Christ-like Christians, the name of God, is as the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 2:24, blasphemed, or spoken evil of, among unbelievers. I think the real problem many unbelievers have with Christianity is not so much with Christ, as with those who profess to be followers of Christ! By and large, those of us who claim to follow Christ have not been very good representatives of him.
For many people, Christians are considered to be narrow-minded, bigoted, judgmental, and hateful. To those people, I would say: “Please don’t judge the Father by the short-comings of his children!” Real Christians are by no means perfect people, they are just people who have been perfectly forgiven! And often, they forget that just as they have been forgiven, they have been commanded to forgive others. A real Christian is a works in progress; unfinished, still in the growing process.
But what is the difference between a real Christian who is a work in progress and a person who is not a Christian at all, but just is merely claiming the title? Well, for the real Christian, there was a definite point in time when their lives were transformed by the power of God. At some point in time, God transformed their lives and His Spirit took residence in their hearts. At that point they were “born again” and the growth to spiritual maturity began. The person who is merely trying to act like a Christian has not had this experience.
But my purpose is not to discuss the differences between those who are Christians and those who are not. What I want to point out is some of the un-Christ-like attitudes and actions that even genuine Christians might from time to time perform. For instance, there has been so much talk since the death of Bishop Eddie Long of the New Birth Baptist Church in Lithonia, GA. Many so-called Christians have used the occasion of his death to demonize him and his legacy. Truth is; Eddie Long was not a perfect man! (But neither are any of us perfect people!) He made his share of mistakes, but he also did a lot of good things. While I did not personally agree with his theology and many of the things he did, I dare not defame him or his memory. The Apostle Paul asked in Romans 14:4 “Who are you to pass judgment on another’s servant? Before his own master, he stands or falls.” (Rom. 14:4 NET) No matter what any of us think of Bishop Eddie Long or anyone else, in the final analysis, it really doesn’t matter! We don’t have a heaven or a hell to send anyone to! And besides that, we should also remember; the same rule we use to measure or judge others, we will be measured and judged by!
Even in the matter of obvious sins, we should be careful that we don’t attempt to usurp the authority of God in judging people. We often quote John 3:16, but very few people remember John 3:17 which says: “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. (Jn. 3:17 NLT) If we call ourselves Christians, that means we are Christ-like or like Christ. Well, if Jesus wasn’t in the business of judging people and we’re supposed to be like him, then why are we so quick to be judge, jury and executioner? Now, I hear somebody saying: “Preacher, I’m not judging, I’m just telling the truth!” That might very well be, but the Bible teaches that we are not to use the truth as a weapon to harm others! Ephesians 4:15 teaches us to speak the truth in love. In other words, our motivation for speaking the truth shouldn’t be to tear others down or to belittle them, but rather to lift and build them up! Now, this doesn’t mean that we are not to condemn sin. No, we are to love the sinner and hate the sin! Just because you may point out someone’s sin, that doesn’t mean you’re being judgmental or hateful. In fact, if it is done correctly with the right motivation; it is an act of love! It is a mean and hateful person who sees me headed for destruction and does not say anything to warn me! It’s a poor parent that doesn’t say anything to a toddler who is about to tip boiling hot water on its head because the parent doesn’t want to hurt the child’s feelings!
I didn’t mean to go off on a rant, but I felt compelled to write this in view of all the hateful, mean-spirited, words that are being spoken and written by those in and out of the church today! The bottom line is this: If we claim the name “Christian,” the least we can do is act Christ-like! Do we honestly think Jesus would say some of the things we say and act the way we act? The Bibles says, the same mind that was in Christ Jesus should be in us. Let us pray that as we live our lives, we will be shaped into the image of Christ and be strong enough to resist the temptation to try to shape Christ into our image. Let us pray that we will truly be “Christ-like Christians.”
Recently I heard someone describe themselves as a “New Testament Christian.” I laughed inwardly when I heard it because I didn’t think there was any other kind of Christian a person could be! I had the same reaction when I first heard someone say that they were a: “Born-Again Christian!” I mean, aren’t all Christians born again? Now, I wasn’t too critical of them because I understood what they were really trying to say. They used the term: “New Testament Christian,” but what they really meant was: “New Testament saint,” because there were no “Old Testament Christians” in the Bible! Every Christian, who is truly a Christian is a “New Testament” Christian because there were no “Old Testament Christians” in the Old Testament! People who were saved during the Old Testament era were technically not “Christians” at all because at that time Christ had not come!
However, in a practical sense, I think there are many in the church today who are indeed attempting to be “Old Testament Christians!” Let me show you what I am talking about! In the Old Testament era, people were saved based their trust or faith in what God was “going to do.” The Bible says that Abraham believed God (concerning what God had told him in regard to the future promises) and it was counted unto him for righteousness (Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23). Therefore, Abraham had a saving-faith-relationship with God based on Abraham’s faith that God was “going to do” what God said God would do. Abraham, along with all the other Old Testament saints, was saved based on faith in what God was going to do. He and they looked forward to the time when God would send a Redeemer to come and redeemed mankind.
Now, while the Old Testament saints were saved based on faith in what God was going to do; the New Testament saints are saved based on faith in what God has already done! You and I, that is, those of us who are saved today, are saved based on our faith, trust and belief in what God did through the sacrificial atoning work of Jesus upon the cross and the resurrection. The Christian is saved by grace based on faith in what God has already done through His Son; the Lord Jesus the Christ on the cross.
Now, not only is the Christian saved by faith in what God has already done, our salvation is also complete in Christ (Colossians 2:10-14). In other words, there is nothing that God needs to do as far as our salvation is concerned, that God hasn’t already done in Christ! Now this brings up an interesting point, which is the basis for my assertion that many today are attempting to practice “Old Testament Christianity.” If we are saved based on our belief, faith, and trust in what God has already done through Christ and we are indeed complete in Christ, then why do I constantly hear people who claim to be Christians today praying and believing God for what God is “going” to do? When Jesus was on the cross, before he died, he said: “It is finished!” In reference to our salvation, there is nothing more that God needs to do! Now, the blessings of God are part of the salvation of God. Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:3-7; “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace. . .” (ESV). Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1:2-3: “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” (NASB) Do you see what I see? Paul said that we have been blessed (already) in Christ with every spiritual blessing! You might be saying at this point: “Yes, we have all the spiritual blessings, but I need a physical blessing!” But the physical or material blessings are derivatives of the spiritual blessings! Whatever is now physical or material had its inception in the spiritual! It is the spiritual that produces the physical! There is nothing physical or material now that was not spiritual first! Now, Peter said that He (that is God) has (that’s already, note that it’s in the past tense) granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. Do you see that? According to Peter and Paul, God has “already given us” every blessings and everything we need for life and godliness! Now, if God has already given us everything; what is there left for God to give? And if God has already given everything, then God cannot give what God has already given!
So, the real problem today is not that we lack the blessings of God. The real problem is that we’ve been blessed but we don’t know how to access the blessings! We have the blessings in our account, but we don’t know the account and PIN numbers; we don’t know how to gain access! And in most cases, we don’t know how to translate the spiritual blessings from the spiritual into the physical! As a consequence, we’re are praying and waiting for God to bless us, while at the same time God is waiting on us to appropriately act on and respond to the blessings we already have! In a practical sense, many Christians today are acting and living as if Christ never came! They relate to God in the same way (with the exception of offering the burnt offerings!) as did the saints in the Old Testament who had not yet received the blessings of the Promise! It is because of this ignorance and spiritual immaturity in reference to the fact that God has already blessed that many Christians are constantly and insistently asking God to give them what God has already given them! But bless God today! Jesus did come and die over two thousand years ago! The coming of Jesus was so influential that it changed the way we count time! His coming change the way we tell time from reckon time from B. C., to A. D. However, those who are still praying and waiting of God to bless them are still living in B. C., and are in a practical sense; Old Testament Christians!
Now, you can listen to some of the so-called modern-day-prophets and keep fasting and praying for God to bless you if you want, but to constantly ask God for what God has already given is a vain attempt to be an Old Testament Christian. And when you stop to think about it, it really is theological nonsense to keep asking God to give what God has already given! But, as for me, I’ve read the Bible and the Bible says that, in Christ, I have already been blessed with every blessing I will ever need! Therefore, the real issue for me today is not in trying to get blessings from the Lord; the real issue is learning how to manifest (translate from the spiritual to the physical) blessings I already have!
When I was a growing up, I remember a popular television show about an astronaut who, upon returning to earth from a space mission, discovered a bottle on the beach which contained a genie. The running plot of the show consist of the various magical antics this genie would perform, attempting to please her master, while all the while, her master was trying to conceal her real identity from the outside world.
Well, it seems as though many so-called Christians today have the God of the Bible confused with the genie in the bottle! You see, when Major Nelson (the astronaut) didn’t want Jeannie to interfere in his life, he would order her to go back into her bottle and then he would put the cap on it so that she couldn’t get out. Too many people want the blessings of God, they want Him to perform various tasks and miracles in their lives, but after God has done those things, they do not want any interference from Him in their lives! They want Him back in the bottle, so as not to place any demands upon their lives!
There is even a theology being espoused today that suggests that God is like the genie in the bottle. This theology has man as its center and not God. This theology suggests that we can in fact order God around and manipulate him with our faith, our prayers and our praises. But the fact of the matter is this: The God of the Bible is NOT like the genie in the bottle! We were created to serve Him: He was not created to serve us! We can’t order Him around, nor can we manipulate Him with our faith, prayers and praises. There is no real correlation between praises going up and blessings coming down! The God of the Bible will not suspend His agenda or His will in favor of ours!
The name of the show was: “I Dream of Jeannie!” And I would like to suggest that those who advocate, adhere to, and believe in the theology I just described, are just dreaming! The God of the Bible is NOT like the genie in a bottle! We have no power or authority over HIM! It is He who has made us; we didn’t make HIM! Therefore, the real question is not what can God do for us; but rather what is His will for our lives? What is His purpose for our sojourn on this third rock from the sun? Our daily prayer should always be: “Thy Kingdom come! Thy will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven!
Who are you serving? Who are you praying to? Is it the Genie in the bottle or the God of the Bible?
Beside the fact that Jesus is the Lord and the Savior, I think many people who claim to be Christian forget that he is also the Model! Let me show you what I’m talking about! How many times (I’ve lost count!) have you heard someone who is supposedly a Christian say something like this: “Nobody’s perfect! The only perfect person who ever lived was Jesus!” They usually say this as an excuse for a failure or a mistake. Or they may something like this: “That was Jesus, but I’m just human!” The point of their excuses is that they don’t think they should be expected to live like Jesus! But isn’t that the whole point of being a Christian; to live like Jesus? By the way, although Jesus was and is the Son of God, he lived his life on earth as the Son of Man! Whatever Jesus did on earth, he did it as a man fully indwelt and controlled by the Holy Spirit. He did not use any of his divine prerogatives! In other words, whatever Jesus did on earth during his earthly ministry, we have the potential to do also! In fact, Jesus said in John 14:12, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whosoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” (ESV) The primary goal of Christianity is not a ticket to Heaven or a pass from Hell; it is to be like Jesus!
Luke wrote an interesting point in his introduction to the Acts of the Apostles. Luke wrote: “In the first book (a reference to the Gospel of Luke), O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach. . .” (Acts 1:1 ESV) Do you see that? He didn’t say that his first work was about all that Jesus did and taught, he said it was about all that Jesus “began” to do and teach! The implication is that although the atoning work of Jesus was finished at Calvary and with his resurrection, there are certain aspects of the ministry and work of Jesus that were NOT completed! The work goes on! All that Jesus began to do and teach is to be continued by those who live in his name; by those who wear the name: Christian!
Just as Jesus did not live for himself, but was totally consumed and occupied with the will of his Father, so should the life of the Christian be today! The life of the Christian is a life lived in the name of Jesus! The Apostle Paul put it this way: “To live is Christ!” In the Greek text, there is no verb. Paul literally said: “To live, Christ!” The terms “live” and “Christ” stand in apposition to each other. For Paul and for the true Christian; life equals Christ! Therefore, everything we do and everything we say should be in the name of Jesus. The Christian life is a life in which Jesus lives through the life of the Christian. Just as the Father did His work through Jesus; Jesus does his work through the Christian. Therefore the life of the Christian does not belong to the Christian to do as he or she pleases, but rather to do the will of Christ! That is why the first requirement of following Jesus is that a person deny (that is say “no” to) their self! (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23)
So, what should the “Christian” be doing today? They should be continuing all the things that Jesus began to do and teach while he was on earth! The life of the Christian is not just about preaching and teaching the Gospel, it also involves getting involved with people to make their lives better! It is also about providing a physical and practical demonstration of the power of the Gospel! If every person in the United States who claims to be Christian would actually “be Christian,” many of the moral and social evils that are present in our society would be gone in a matter of years, perhaps even months or weeks! The ministry of Jesus was about relieving the suffering of people in addition to helping them establish a relationship with the Heavenly Father. He didn’t do one or the other; he did both! He preached to the multitude AND he fed the multitude! He preached the Kingdom of God AND he demonstrated the power and validity of the kingdom by casting out demons and healing the sick! Jesus was concern about and ministered to the whole person; mind, body and soul! Therefore, if we are to be truly Christian; we are to be models of him! We are to continue to do what he started in his name! We are to be the visible, physical, and practical agents and representatives of the invisible spiritual God!