This is a question that I've been pondering on and off in my life, especially when someone really visible in the Christian community made the news headlines for something not so fun. Plus, it's so easy to spot hypocrisy in so many people who call themselves Christians, including myself. So yeah, it's been bothering me for a while. Then recently, I heard some sermons that helped to clear up this issue a bit and thought I'd share a summary (and semi-rant) of what I've been processing through.
Basically, being a Christian means to be a mini-Christ. That means, not only do you have to believe in God (which so many people say they do) but you have to do what He says. I think it's this second part that trips us up so much. A lot of my Christian life was spent thinking the main crux of Christianity is believing and it is. You obviously can't be a Christian if you don't even believe in God. But just because you believe He exists doesn't mean you're a Christian. I mean, even the devil believes that God exist and he's definitely not a Christian. Also, this belief is not just in the existence of God, it has to be a total belief that He is who He is and that He can do what He says He can do (ie healing, changing people's lives, etc). And this belief has to change your life and the way you act. For example, say you've never seen a chair but someone tells you about how great it is and how it can support your weight and give you a break from having to stand up all the time. Now if you really believe them, you'll sit in it. So the belief prompts an action. But if you don't want to sit in it, it's very likely that you don't believe that the chair will support you. Not a perfect example, but you get the idea. :)
Throughout my Christian life, I've heard arguments about works vs. faith re: salvation and it's still not very clear to me but I like the stance that my church takes, which is they really just work hand in hand. If you have the faith (and the belief) you will just do what God has called you to do. And if you do what God asks of you, it's pretty obvious you have the faith. (James 2) I still remember being shocked when I heard John Bevere say that he believes many in the church are currently not saved because they have no works and by that, their faith is dead. (James 2:17) But the more I think about it, the more I feel that's true....because the more I look at the church in America, the more I feel that it's so lifeless. Jesus has called us to care for the poor, the orphan, the widow and to bring justice to the oppressed, among other things. But yet, I feel the church is sorely lacking in that department. It's not merely a Sunday thing, a Wednesday night thing or something entertaining during Holidays. Christianity is supposed to be a way of life. And none of that 20% of the church does 80% of the work thing....the whole body needs to be working together. :) And the faith sustains the works - otherwise you can get burnt out quickly. That's another reason why I love the church I go to now - they are heavily vested in their community, serving them, helping them and meeting their needs. [They also preach the true gospel - none of that prosperity gospel or comfort gospel but the real thing! People need to know that Jesus died for them not to make them rich or comfortable...it's nothing about that. :P] And if all the churches were doing that, we would not need all these government programs that are mostly wasteful and ineffective. And truly, people need more healing than intervention, anyhow. For me, faith is such an intangible, hard-to-understand/grasp thing, that I can only look at if I'm doing what God calls me to do to know whether I'm growing in my faith. And I realize that as I really, truly believe who God is, who God tells me I am and what He can do, the more I obey and do. :)
There's also a difference between conversion and having a genuine relationship with God (being a Christian). It's more than just praying a one time prayer to believe in God and all that He has done so we can be saved from our sins. The 'sinner's prayer' (conversion) is really just the start of the relationship. My current pastor feels that, from that day forward, we have to wake up and choose Christ everyday, every moment, every decision, because it's usually not easy to make the right choice every day of our lives. Basically, 'working out our salvation' everyday by submitting to God. (Phil 2:12) And that reminder of how it's a daily thing made me finally realize what 'taking up your cross DAILY and following Me' meant. (Luke 9:23) And that kinda helped answer my question of how these great men of faith who were so close to God and did so many great things for him can fall - it might be that one day that they didn't submit to God and decided to do what they wanted to do that got them to the place where they are now. It was a reminder for me to do a good job submitting daily because I'm not even as close to God as they were. And just like any relationship, you have to do things to keep it going. The Bible likens our relationship with God to marriage, which is one of the hardest relationship to keep flourishing. There are sacrifices to be made, compromises to be made and decisions to be made. You can't just start it and expect it to grow on its own based on similar personalities, interests, attractions, you have to invest in it and fight for it...and that's what a relationship with God is like, too. Not easy but so worth it! :)
Still more to process through but I think I've already said a mouthful. :) Any thoughts?