I’m curious…

about when we started making judgements on whether someone is or is not a Christian based-on a test of theology?  I’ve been thinking about this off and on.  Evangelical Christians tend to have somewhat stringent requirements for belief.  While we will proclaim ’til the day we die that it is by grace that we are saved and not by works, we turn the very concept of grace into a marker of faith that keeps many who would call themselves Christians on the “outside.”  We doubt the faith of entire churches because we disagree with part of their theology.

“True Christians” believe the following:

1. Salvation is a gift, not based-on your works.  So, if you’re not totally clear on that, and you still wonder if justification is based-on your actions, you probably aren’t a real believer.

2. Jesus was the Son of God, a member of the Trinity, fully God and fully man, born of a virgin, without sin.  Perfect Christology.

While I would agree with that theology, I’ve noticed a tendency in some to let good theology be a checklist that helps us determine if someone is really a believer.  Others will add many  more requirements to this list like believing in a literal 7-day creation, belief in the Trinity, etc…  Maybe I’m missing something, but I just don’t see anything in the words of Jesus that point to a requirement of having perfect theology in order to follow Him. 

I notice in the Gospels that Jesus calls people in a very simple way:  “Come follow me.”  He asks that they leave everything behind, count the cost, and follow Him as a disciple.  A disciple is a learner, one who sits at the feet of a teacher.  These people left behind their old lives, gave-up everything for love of Jesus, and oriented their life around following His teachings.  The good theology came later, I imagine. 

What if it’s really that simple today?  What if someone can belong to a church that we think teaches heresy, have an unclear understanding of how salvation actually works, be confused about the nature of God and the Trinity—and still love and follow Christ with a wholehearted devotion?  What if it’s more about the person of Christ than about what He represents….more about knowing and following Him than learning about Him.  Maybe we should judge the fruit of a person’s life rather than his theology. 

Of course, believing and understanding what is true about God can lead to greater intimacy with Him, just like the more I learn about who Clay is, the more I love him.  And we should always be pursuing truth about God, staying open to learn from others and for Him to reveal Himself.  But should we cast doubt upon someone’s eternal soul based-on imperfect belief?  Jesus said to judge a tree by its fruit:  a good tree cannot produce bad fruit, a bad tree will not produce good fruit.  If someone truly knows Christ and the Spirit has transformed their hearts and made them one with Him….the fruit will come. 

What do you think?  Am I missing something here? 

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10 responses to “I’m curious…

  1. This paragraph says a lot: “I notice in the Gospels that Jesus calls people in a very simple way: “Come follow me.” He asks that they leave everything behind, count the cost, and follow Him as a disciple. A disciple is a learner, one who sits at the feet of a teacher. These people left behind their old lives, gave-up everything for love of Jesus, and oriented their life around following His teachings. The good theology came later, I imagine.”

    Great observation. I was just reading the end of Luke 10 today, about Martha, the woman bound by a relentless sense of duty, and Mary, the girl who showed her devotion by laying at the Lord’s feet and listening to the Word. That’s the “good part” that “cannot be taken away.” I consider your post to be part of my teaching on this, thank you and I agree with what you are writing.

    We all need to be disciples, not judges with score cards.

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  2. Hey Emily,
    I love that you are asking these questions. I ask the same ones.

    I think that without the indwelling Spirit & Love of Christ inside of a believer’s heart, then theology is bunk.

    The more important scriptures for me, in regards to recognizing true followers of Christ, are not the theological arguments of Peter & Paul to the Jews & Romans (that’s to WIN unbelievers to Truth), but the words of Jesus himself. We can even assess OURSELVES and where we are at with God. That is the most important thing..to look to Him & our own hearts.

    He says “I stand at the door and knock, open the door and I will come in ” “My sheep know my voice” & “Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me… And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.”

    If He lives inside of my heart, I can live the beautiful, abundant life that He wants for me. If He does not, I am a whitewashed tomb. Theologically sound, but hollow and without the indwelling presence of the Savior.

    I do not think we are to walk around inspecting others people’s fruit. I think we are to walk around putting compost, fertilizer, tending, pruning, and pouring out the water of love.

    Thanks for letting me share my heart with you.
    Blessings,

    Corwin

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  3. “Come, follow me.”
    “Yes Jesus”

    Enough said.

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  4. “What if someone can belong to a church that we think teaches heresy, have an unclear understanding of how salvation actually works, be confused about the nature of God and the Trinity—and still love and follow Christ with a wholehearted devotion?”

    This really made me think. I often have problems with the modern day church because I feel like many have strayed from the original teachings of Jesus because it doesn’t fit into the lifestyle they want. I’ve been struggling to think differently about this and to not judge a book by it’s cover. Thanks for making me see it differently:)

    -Melissa
    http://www.simplyonelife.org

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  5. Amen to that bajanpoet!!!!!

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  6. Emily, I agree with the two items you listed at the top of your post (Salvation is a gift, Jesus is the Son of God). But where does Repentance come in? Do we need to turn away from our sin?

    BTW, I found my way to your blog after reading the post on saving money at the grocery store. God’s funny like that!

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  7. Yes, I would totally say that repentance is a major part of following Christ. When Jesus called people to follow Him, like the woman at the well, He called them to repent, i.e., to turn from their sinful and fleshly lifestyle and enter a new kingdom way of living and walking with Him. Maybe repentance is not just an internal “being sorry” but also a reorientation of your your life as you knew it into a lifestyle governed by Jesus…basically, a discipleship process. If a person is drawn by the Spirit to follow Christ, and then indwelt by the Spirit, I think true repentance is going to follow…whether or not the person has a well-ordered theology of what repentance IS or what to do next, I think it’s gonna happen. How can someone be one with the Spirit and not repent? But can someone do all that still not look like what we expect a “real Christian” to be? Maybe. What do you think?

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  8. What a perfect description: “…reorientation of your your life as you knew it into a lifestyle governed by Jesus…basically, a discipleship process.” Ultimately being a Christ-follower is between Christ and the “follower.” For me to define that for anyone else is totally judgmental. Yet, I read 2 Timothy 2:23-26 and don’t know exactly how to come along side a wayward brother and avoid being judgmental in the end.

    I think what you are asking is: can someone be fully living the fruits of the spirits and not have that show in the way they conduct themselves?

    Just when I think I am starting to get my mind around this a little bit, it gets all boggled in my mind again.

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  9. Well… if someone IS living the fruits of the Spirit, that would HAVE to show in their conduct, don’t you think? I’m mainly thinking can they be doing all of that but have an imperfect understanding/theology of God/Christ/salvation, etc… (as far as we understand it) In my mind this is crucial as we look at other people who claim to be Christians but don’t meet our theological “qualifications” for being included, like people who belong to other Christian traditions that hold to theological positions we may not agree with or people who are in the very beginning of their journey with Christ and don’t really understand all that it means.
    The verses you mentioned:
    23Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
    I think that’s a great description of how we are to be toward others…gently teaching them, not getting in pointless arguments, praying for them… I’m a great proponent of learning about the Bible and doctrine, and I think those verses talk about our responsibility as believers to gently point others toward truth, my thought is that whether they actually AGREE with our interpretation of certain points, we shouldn’t “disqualify” them from belonging to the Church. Am I making sense?

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  10. You are. Well said.
    I’ve added you to my blogroll. I am sure you will hear from me again soon. God bless you in your move.

    BTW, is it a woman thing that y’all can remember the price of any one item at 12 stores at the same time? My wife has that gift too. Not me—that’s why she does the shopping and sends me to the store as a last resort with a list and detailed instructions not to deviate from that list. Thank God for wives who love us even when we try to spend too much money!

    Jeff

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