Anyone can claim to be religious. We might believe in a supreme being, or angels or, even the tooth fairy. Such beliefs are personal and no-one can deny our right to believe what we want and to describe ourselves as “religious“.
But to call ourselves “Christian” is something completely different. That is a specific designation of faith, whereby we are announcing to the world that we believe in, and follow, the teachings of, the one and only Christ, Jesus. We cannot follow Jesus if we believe or teach something contrary to the things he taught. For example, Jesus was very clear on the matter of prejudice. He would not treat anyone negatively because of their religion, sex, or race. While it is true that many people today also have that positive attitude towards others, they do not need to be a Christian to have these qualities. But, conversely, a person must have those qualities to be a Christian.
Who decides what it means to be a Christian? Surely, the one who’s teachings a person claims to adhere to, Christ Jesus himself. If someone claims to be a follower, a disciple, of Jesus Christ, isn’t Jesus the one who should tell them if they are acceptable to him as one of his followers? Jesus is not on the earth today but, his words, his teachings are, in the pages of the Bible. If a person looks carefully at Jesus’ instructions in the Bible, they can measure themselves against the model of Christianity he set. The Apostle Peter wrote that Jesus left “a model for you to follow closely in his footsteps“ (1 Peter 2.21). Jesus set specific standards and indicators for Christians, and only by looking at these can we determine whether we are his followers or not.
Of course, there are obvious indicators as to what Jesus’ followers would be like. For example, Jesus expects his followers to do good to others, especially those in need. Jesus gave us the golden rule to live by, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7.12). However, Jesus was also realistic when he warned us that “there will be poor always” and that “in the last days, there will famines” (Matthew 24). These things would be prevalent until the kingdom comes.
Another indicator of real Christian behaviour would be a person’s attitude toward violence and war. Jesus warned that “whoever takes up the sword shall perish by the sword” and that Christians should “love your enemy and pray for those persecuting you” (Matthew 5.44). So, no Christian would take part in wars or battles, even for the country they are born in, even to stop injustice. Peter tried to fight for Jesus’ life but was stopped by Jesus himself. If a Christian can’t defend Jesus, the founder of Christianity, what cause could they possibly use violence for?
If Christianity has a badge, a uniform or an identifying mark, what is it? In all other religions in the world there are identifying characteristics or emblems, almost like flags. When we think of Islam we picture the beards of men or the “Hijab” that Muslim women wear. The Jewish people are identified by the skull cap or the “Star of David” even though this symbol has nothing to do with King David of the Bible but was actually adopted from a pagan religion centuries after David's death. Buddhists, (or at least the devout eastern ones), are known for their shaven heads, saffron robes and the symbol we see on many statues and books. But what of Christianity, what represents Christians?
Apart from the lavish robes, golden instruments and grandiose titles that the clergy award themselves, most denominations of Christendom use the cross as a sign of Christianity. Some more modern Christians use the sign of the fish. Catholics use statues of Mary and Jesus, as well as the cross. Why are these symbols used and would Jesus or His Father, Almighty God, approve of them being used to represent them?
There is some considerable doubt among scholars as to the type of implement that Jesus was executed upon. The cross (Latin “Crux”) may not have been used at the time of Jesus' death. In fact the cross was used as a religious symbol by pagan nations long before Jesus walked the earth. The ancient implement described in the gospels is the Greek word “stauros” which means a “stake” or even a “tree.” This was a piece of upright timber where a prisoner was hung by his wrists to die. Originally the stake was where dead people were hung as a symbol of warning and shame. This was reserved for those who had disgraced themselves in God's eyes. After they were killed, according to the law, their body would be hung up for all to see, as the Bible says at Deuteronomy 21.22; “And in case there comes to be in a man a sin deserving the sentence of death, and he has been put to death, and you have hung him upon a stake, his dead body should not stay all night on the stake; but you should by all means bury him on that day, because something accursed of God is the one hung up.” This was one of the reasons why Jesus resisted His death, because He would be publicly labelled a blasphemer, an accusation that was painful to Him.
Even if Jesus did die on a cross, is it right to adopt that symbol as the sign of Christianity? Many argue that they use the cross as a reminder of Jesus' suffering and sacrifice. But imagine if someone you loved was falsely accused of a crime, framed and sentenced to death. Despite their innocence, they were executed by hanging. Would you wear or display a noose around your neck or on your wall? Furthermore, would you make a little image of your friend and put their head inside the noose? I love Jesus, but I think of Him as a glorious king, not a corpse in a deathtrap.
But what of the statues of Jesus and Mary that people use, are they any better? The Bible tells us that we should not worship any human being and that prayers can only be accepted by God through Jesus Christ, no-one else. When the Apostle John went to kneel before the angel in revelation, the angel stopped him and said “Be careful! Do not do that! All I am is a fellow slave of you and of your brothers who have the work of witnessing to Jesus. Worship God” (Revelation 19.10). The Bible tells us “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, a man, Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2.5). Regarding humans, including “the saints”, God's word says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
If any doubt remains that Christians should not use any images (of people or fish), or crosses in their worship, consider one of the commandments in the Bible, commandments which Jesus himself obeyed and upheld;
“You must not make for yourself a carved image or a form like anything that is in the heavens above or that is on the earth underneath or that is in the waters under the earth” (Exodus 20.4).
“That you may not act ruinously and may not really make for yourselves a carved image, the form of any symbol, the representation of male or female, the representation of any beast that is in the earth, the representation of any winged bird that flies in the heavens, the representation of anything moving on the ground, the representation of any fish that is in the waters under the earth” (Deuteronomy 4.16).
The Apostle John confirmed this teaching when He warned “Guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5.21).
Is it not crystal clear in God's word that symbols and statues do not represent Christianity?
So is there a “sign” of Christianity, an identifying mark? Yes there is. Jesus told us what it would be. After warning about the turmoil and chaos that would engulf the earth in our time, He revealed that “all will know that you are my disciples (Christians) if you have love among yourselves” (John 13.35). Yes, love (Greek - “Agape”), self-sacrificing love would be the mark of a true Christian. It is not worn or hung on a wall. It cannot be mass produced and sold in churches and religious stalls, and unlike wood and metal, it never wears out, or, as the Bible puts it, “Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13.8).
What should be the most important thing in a Christian's life? Well, what was the most important thing in Jesus’ life? Jesus tells us at (John 4.34);
“It is my food to do the will of him that sent me”
Who sent Jesus? Jesus goes on to tell us in the gospels. He says, “no one can come to me unless the Father, who sent me, draws him” (John 6.44). We are forcefully told in Matthew 7.21,22 that, when Jesus judges the world, “many will say to me “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name?” Yet, Jesus rejects these ones because, in his words, they do not “do the will of my Father who is in heaven“.
Later Jesus publicly prayed to his Father “I have made your name known among men”. Who is this “Father” who’s name Jesus made known? Is he important to Christians? He obviously is to Jesus.
The name Jesus was referring to is the name of his Father, Almighty God. That divine name is recorded in the original manuscripts of the Bible. In Hebrew, the name would read something like “Yahweh.” The nearest modern English equivalent, which has been used for centuries, is “Jehovah” (please see Psalm 83.18). This is the Father that Jesus loves so much and does the will of. (For more information on God's name, please see the chapter “The Bible's Greatest Secret” in my other book “A Supernatural Book – The Bible”).
Now, every person who claims to be a Christian needs to ask themselves, “Do I know and recognise the Father? Do I do his will? Do I love him the way that Jesus loves him?” Some may object and say that the only one we need to know is Jesus but, Jesus himself emphasises that Christians should worship his Father (John 4.23). Jesus also describes his Father as “my God” (John 20.17, Revelation 3.12).
In prayer, Jesus said “This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and the one you sent forth, Jesus Christ” (John 17.3). Everyone claiming to be a Christian needs to ask themselves, “Do I take in knowledge of Jesus and his Father? Does my church recognise the Father?” If not, then perhaps we are just religious rather than Christian.