What does it mean to be a Christian? For years I struggled to answer that question. My first attempt at an answer was that a Christian is one who affirms the truth of the Gospel. I figured if I could say “yes” to the Apostles’ Creed, I must be a Christian. Then it dawned on me that anyone can affirm the tenets of the Apostles’ Creed. After all, that ancient creed includes a litany of historic events about Jesus Christ that Satan himself must acknowledge as having taken place. How could he not?
These days I understand Christianity, not just as a belief system, but as a way of life. I prefer to describe myself as a Christ-follower. More specifically, I understand my identity as one who has responded to a threefold call of Christ.
The first call I heard was to trust Christ for the forgiveness of my sins and the promise of eternal life. Jesus called out, “Come to me for I am the resurrection and the life.” I heard that call and responded. Looking back, I see that my response included more than belief or assent to the truths of the Gospel. It also included trust in the promise of Christ to forgive us of sin and grant us eternal life. There was no peace in my soul until I understood that Christ paid the penalty for my sins and then granted me the promise of eternal life. In this way the call of Christ powerfully reshaped my life. The sting of sin and death was removed, replaced with a peace that passes human comprehension. I no longer feared death. As the apostle Paul once wrote, “though we die, yet shall we live.”
The second call I heard was to follow Christ. In Luke 9:23-24 I read, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” In response that call, I offered myself to Lord as a living sacrifice. While I repeatedly removed myself from the altar, I tried to live for the Lord by loving my neighbor as I loved myself.
In the process of following Christ I discovered that the call to follow transformed everything I did. There was no longer a distinction between Christian activity and non-Christian activity, Christian work and non-Christian work. Everything I did was to be unto the Lord – whether in word or deed, I was called to live my entire life as a follower of Christ.
The third call I heard was to serve or work for Christ. In Colossians 3:23 I read, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” We refer to this calling as vocation. The word vocation comes from a Latin word that means “I call.” Christians use the word “vocation” to describe God’s call to each individual believer. Following the teaching of Paul, we, who trust the Lord for salvation and follow the Lord, offer ourselves in service to the Lord.
Through this third call I learned that our Triune God, the creator and sustainer of all things, has work in this world for every Christ-follower. The Lord doesn’t really need our help to care for creation or to build His kingdom. He could do it all himself. He could teach every child, perform open-heart surgeries, coach teams, haul garbage, preach sermons… he could do it all. But he has called us to work on his behalf. So, instead of God milking the cow, we milk it for him. Instead of God teaching a child, we teach the child for him. Instead of God preaching, we preach for him. Consequently, God calls some to be pastors and others teachers, some to be plumbers and others electricians, some to be husbands and others wives, some to be parents and others children, some to be corporate executives and others homemakers, some to be truck drivers and others mechanics, some to be students and others teachers, some to be laborers and others pray-ers.
God calls each believer to particular tasks, jobs, positions, or roles in life. No matter how menial the task, a Christian’s daily assignments constitute that persons vocation. There is power in this call for it obliterates the distinction between sacred and secular work. Whether a pastor or a plumber, that person works as unto the Lord. This means that our work is not a job; it is a ministry; it is not secular, but sacred; it is not an occupation but a vocation.
With all that in mind, I have thought often about how God would have me work for him while I live in this his world. Currently, I have several calls or vocations, including those related to my role in my family as husband, father, son, and brother. I have others related such as professor and pastor, friend neighbor. I try, with all my heart, to fulfill these calls while trusting in and following Christ, the one who ties all my calls together.
What does it mean to be a Christian? For me, a Christian is the person who has responded to the threefold call of Christ to trust Him, follow Him, and serve Him. Surely there is more, such as the call into the community of believers, but I have discovered that the threefold call of Christ is a good foundation upon which to build our identity as Christ-followers. Plus, this threefold call has power to shape the lives of Christ-followers, and to do so in ways beyond our imagination.