I’m working on my sermons for this week (that’s right, I get to preach TWICE; time to panic) and one of the questions that keeps popping up in my mind is why are people even Christians in the first place?
The believer in me says that it’s because any person who has labeled themselves Christian has obviously committed their life to Jesus Christ. But what does that mean practically? How does that work itself out in the recesses of our souls?
The cynic in me says that many people label themselves Christian because that’s the label they were assigned growing up. If they’d been born in Hyderabad, they’d most likely be a Hindi or a Muslim. In Tibet, a Buddhist. In Soviet Russia, a Marxist. In Richard Dawkins’ house, an atheist. But because they had the good fortune of being born in the United States, a country where religion is involved in everything from politics to beverage selection, they roll with the Christian label and don’t give it a second thought. That point of view gets powerfully augmented when people who purport to be Christian can’t even tell you the last time they prayed or did anything else associated with the faith.
The pragmatist in me says that many people are Christian because, while they don’t quite believe in ALL of the religious mumbo-jumbo, they do believe that there’s something more to this life than just what’s in front of us. And American Christianity seems to offer the quickest and easiest solution to the nagging problem of an eternally red ledger: just confess Jesus as your Savior, say that you’re a Christian, and bingo – you’ve got one free pass to the big Playland in the Sky, expiration date never. The faith, for some, is but a grand cosmic CYB, an escape plan for whenever this fun fleshpot existence comes to a standstill. You can tell the person who’s faith is on this level because they only show up to church on one of five occasions: Christmas, Easter, a wedding, a funeral, or when the crap hits the fan (personally or nationally/globally).
I’m sure you could parse it out even further: people who have been guilted into belief; people who have found it to be a source of comfort during a trying time; the list could go on.
And if you were to man up and actually ask people why they’re a Christian, I’d imagine that you’d get an answer somewhere in between all of them.
I was raised a Christian. Told a church full of family and friends when I was eleven years old that I believed Jesus Christ died for my sins, was buried and rose again on the third day. And I did believe it.
I was an apostate by 18. Too many unanswered questions, too many small minded views.
College was an anger- and alcohol-fueled haze, a place where I tried to live outside as many of my religious boundaries as possible – when I had the courage. Deep down, there was a part of me that knew my life was a rolling mess, and while I quite often talked of wanting to live it up, I more often wanted to just find my own little space and get away from the world.
Eventually, my internal struggles could offer no resistance. Put in a position to make a choice between the values with which I’d been raised or the hell in which I’d chosen to live, I chose the former. I fell on my face before God, poured out my heart, surrendered my will and made peace with Him.
And I learned that I didn’t have to quit being me to do that. I was just as much a Christian with my doubts and questions and weird way of looking at the world as the sweet little old lady who never so much as thought a discouraging word. I look back on that time now as the moment that I took control of my faith; it was the moment that I sincerely became a Christian. Not because someone told me to, or because it was all I knew, but because it was what had proven to be truth in my life. After trying so many other ways of living, I knew faith in Christ was what was true.
(As an aside, if I weren’t a Christian, I would be a very happy agnostic. It would make the most sense to me. And I tell you this for honesty’s sake, lest you think I’m just picking one fuzzy-feel-good mode of thinking over another.)
Really, I guess that’s the question that’s driving me: do you own your faith? Do you own your way of religious thinking/philosophy? Or is it merely something transmitted to you by birth or chosen as a sense of insurance?
So how about it?
Why exactly are you a Christian? Or, if you’re not, why are you what you are? I’d love to read your comments.