While there are points of intersection in how Christians respond to this there’s hardly a unified and agreed upon answer to this important question. Why is this? Isn’t it remarkable that you get almost as many answers as they are Christians? Maybe a better question is: should there be a one size-fits-all answer for what it means to be a Christian?
At the very core, a Christian is a follower of Jesus. The gospels give us a helpful narrative of what it means to follow Jesus in the lives of His disciples. What we see in their lives is more of a journey of slow (sometimes we would say, way too slow!!!), ongoing transformation. Instead of Jesus trying to make them all look the same, He allows for their own uniqueness, their personalities, and their backgrounds to shape who they are as his disciples. It was a process that started with three years and even at the end of these years, one wonders if there was much of a progress. I mean Peter, of the closest circle, denies Him. The rest of the disciples loose faith in Him after His death. They don’t take Him seriously that He is actually going to rise from the dead, as He clearly told them in many occasions. Even after His resurrection, upon personally seeing Him some believed and some still had doubts. They didn’t all believe the same thing; they were all over the board! And yet Jesus was not bothered to call them His disciples and even more, commissioned them to be his representatives.
Now, does that mean that what we believe, our theology does not matter? Of course not. Our belief system determines who we are and what we do as people. But IT has not been and IT should never be our identification as Christians. If you could have interviewed Jesus’ disciples about their theology most likely you would not have gotten a unified, clear answer. Jesus Himself said His followers (Christians) will be recognized by their love (not by their theology). What do Christians believe in? Well, all kinds of things, depending on where they are on their spiritual journey.
You are a Christian not by what you believe but by
who you are following.
Now what should Christians believe is another question. This assumes you are a Christ follower and as such you should seek to embrace a certain way of looking at life and the world you live in, you should have a belief system, you should believe certain things. This, however, is more of a transformative process than an entry point.
You do not get to know Jesus by believing certain
things; you start believing certain things by knowing
Paul wrote most of the New Testament theology to Christians. He didn’t tell them what they needed to believe to become Christians, but what they needed to believe because they were Christians. Some got it, others didn’t. To some he had to repeat over and over. The Corinthians, for example, were Christians who were wrestling with the idea of resurrection. Yet he did not see this as an inter-faith dialogue, but a conversation inside the family (see how he addresses them in 1 Cor. 1:2).
Christians, before anything else, are people and as such they are diverse, each with unique stories and backgrounds. Inevitably Christianity will look, feel, and be different depending on who you’re talking with. So Christianity does not annihilate our humanity but emulates it and boosts it. Jesus said he came so we can have life and have it abundantly.
What does it mean to be Christian? What does it mean to follow Jesus? Well … for me it is different than what it means for you. I have my own distinct set of circumstances (geographical, ethnical, cultural, theological tradition etc) that determines what kind of Christian I am. Can we interact and help each other in following Christ? Definitely! Should I make you a Christian in my own image? God forbid! We all find ourselves at different stages in our life and we have our own pace. God has designed us like that and it is a beautiful thing. Let’s not mutilate each other but embrace the kind of people God has made us to be.
What does it mean to be Christian?
To follow Jesus in your own shoes.