Are you married?
Relationships are complex arrangements but they are also definitive. You’re either married, or you’re not. You’re a mother, or you’re not. You’re a brother, or you’re not. I guess some things really are still black and white.
If I were to ask if you were married, I wouldn’t expect you to humm and harr before offering: “I’m not sure…”, “maybe…”, “I was a long time ago…” or “it depends…” You would fire back an answer within a few seconds – perhaps with a qualifier or two – but a definitive answer all the same.
Yet here’s a relationship question that still provokes greyscale answers: Are you a Christian?
It’s not a trick question. ‘Christian’ simply means follower of Christ; one who has a relationship with Jesus. Like any ‘earthly’ relationship, there are complexities – doubts, times of intimacy or distance, conflict and confusion. These are part of any relationship, part of testing it and making it stronger, yet when asked THAT question, it’s not uncommon for the response to be, “I’m not sure…”, “maybe…”, “I was a long time ago…” or “it depends…”
I’ve just done The Alpha Course, which is touted as “an opportunity to explore the meaning of life”. UK course presenter Jamie Haith added this to the discussion, “Being born in a Christian country or family doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being born in McDonald’s makes you a Big Mac Hamburger!”
Deep. So what does make one a Christian? Haith points out that there are three prongs in proving any relationship – earthly or otherwise:
The material evidence.
I am married and the proof stands in the event of my marriage on January 10, 2004, the material evidence of my Marriage Certificate and the experience of 10 years living in partnership with my husband.
You can’t argue with that. Ditto for Christianity.
The event was Jesus’ death and resurrection – paired with our personal choice to believe and receive His forgiveness. The material evidence is the Bible, the Word of God, which provides a plumbline and a sounding board for our changeable whims. And the experience is the transformation that can only come from a life lived faithfully, radiating the character of Jesus and the relationship we cultivate with Him.
There’s no room for greyscale here – it’s a deadly serious matter, one that Paul, the writer of 2 Corinthians, stressed when he said, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realise that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you failed the test.” (13:5)
In 1853, William Holman Hunt painted an allegorical depiction of Jesus now known widely as The Light of the World. The oil on canvas portrays Jesus holding a lamp in his left hand, knocking on an overgrown and long unopened door. His disposition is alert but not aggressive, patient but not pushy. He’s not about to break the door down, that’s for sure.
Hunt’s painting is based on Revelation 3:20, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”
Perhaps the most telling feature of the pre-Raphaelite painting is in what has been omitted; there is no handle on the door’s outside. The door can only be opened from within.
Are you a Christian?
Before you offer an, “I’m not sure…”, “maybe…”, “I was a long time ago…” or “it depends…” – remember that the door handle’s on your side. Jesus will never force His way into your life.
First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday May 12, 2014.