What does it mean to be a Christian? Most people would say that it means that you are a follower of Jesus or that you believe a certain set of doctrines.
The BBC published an article this past Sunday about the beliefs of people in England regarding the resurrection of Jesus and life after death. The report corresponded with some comments I made this past Sunday about how there is a correlation between rising standards of living and a decrease in religious adherence in many societies of the world, and what some of the reasons for this are. You can listen to the audio of that message here.
Here are some of the statistics listed in the article:
- 25% of people who call themselves Christians in Great Britain do not believe that Jesus resurrected from the dead.
- Only 17% of the general public in Britain believe word-for-word the account of Jesus’ resurrection.
- 10% of non-religious people in Britain believe that the Easter story is true.
- 21% of non-religious people believe in life after death.
- Of these, 65% said they believe that their soul would go to heaven or hell, and 32% believe they will be reincarnated.
And here’s the one that I find most shocking:
- 31% of British Christians surveyed said they do not believe in life after death.
This brings up a very important question: What do you actually have to believe in order to be a Christian?
Or to put it another way: Are there any things which, if you don’t believe them, you can no longer legitimately call yourself a Christian?
When I was 16 years old, one of my Christian friends from school told me I wasn’t a Christian. I was offended – because, you see: I grew up going to Lutheran school. I was catechized and confirmed in the Lutheran church, and I sincerely believed in God’s existence. In fact, I believed that Jesus was God the Son and the Son of God and that he literally died and rose from the dead just as the Bible describes.
So how dare she say that I was not a Christian, right?
But she was right. I wasn’t a Christian.
And I knew it.
Here’s the text she turned me to if you’re interested: Matthew 7:21-23
But here’s why, in spite of believing the biblical doctrines were true, I was not a Christian: because that is not the kind of belief by which a person is saved and becomes a child of God.
But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, (John 1:12)
Because here’s the thing: the Bible says that the devil also believes all of those things about God: in God’s existence, in the fact that Jesus was God and that he lives, died and resurrected on the third day. (James 2:19)
The word “to believe” in Greek is the word πιστεύω (pisteuo).
It doesn’t mean less than believing in something’s existence or acknowledging that something happened, but it does mean more than that. It means: to trust in, to cling to, to rely on, to adhere to, to commit to.
This is the kind of belief that the Bible is talking about when it says:
- But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, (John 1:12)
- these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)
- Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:29)
- For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
I have a few more thoughts to share about this, but I’ll save them for tomorrow.
Stay tuned for Part 2.