The word “Christian” is tossed around with such frequency (and often ferocity) that many don’t really know what it even means any longer. In the Upstate of South Carolina it is difficult to drive further than a couple of blocks without passing a church, and there are more Jesus fishes and bumper stickers on the back of cars than one can count. Every Sunday morning people put on their “Sunday finest” and drive to the house of worship of their choice. People sing, listen to the preacher, and head out for lunch. The problem is that none of these things makes one a Christian.
A Christian is, quite simply, a follower of Christ. To follow Christ, one must know who He is, believe that what He teaches is true, and submit to Him as the Leader. One cannot be a follower if he or she does not, in fact, follow. Many church goers claim to follow Christ. They would be quite insulted if it were suggested otherwise. Upon closer examination, however, how close are they to the One they claim to follow? The night before He was crucified, Jesus commanded His disciples three times to “love one another” (John 13:34; 15:12, 17). If we follow our Leader, then we will love as Jesus loved, forgive as He forgave. Do our modern churches demonstrate this? How many times do we as Christians offer forgiveness and restoration to a fellow believer who has stumbled, much less someone who does not know Christ at all? More often than not, it seems that the pattern is one of condemnation rather than mercy.
When the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery before Jesus (John 8:3-11), their intention was to both condemn the woman and confound Jesus. Quite the opposite occurred: those “righteous” who offered nothing but condemnation were themselves rebuked, while the “sinner” was offered forgiveness and the hope of restoration. This was not a blank check to sin; quite the opposite, Jesus told the woman to change the course of her life and not continue in sin–a concept called repentance, which literally means to change course 180 degrees. Nevertheless, He offered her a fresh start from her sinful life. That is the message of forgiveness—“therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
If we are truly followers of Christ, we must never forget the message of the One we follow was broadcast in its ultimate form through the Cross. The substitutionary death of Christ on the cross means that forgiveness is available to any who will believe. The responsibility of the Christian is not only to tell that message, but to show it through the way we treat others. If we do not treat others the way Jesus did, especially other believers, can we really say we are following Him?