In this newest series, Real Christianity, we will be exploring three letters from ancient Christianity. First, Second, and Third John are our texts for the remainder of spring and summer, and we’ll be poring over John’s letters verse by verse as we explore this concept of real Christianity.
What are the marks of “real Christians”? What should followers of Christ really look like? These are important questions because nominalism—being a nominal Christian or being a Christian in name only—is a problem in the church today. Here a couple of statistics that I find both interesting and revealing:
Over 80-percent of Americans claim to be followers of Jesus! And if we could broaden the definition of “Christian” to be “anyone who believes Jesus existed,” then that number is probably fine. But that isn’t what it means to be a Christian. Consider this, even the devils believe in Jesus. But they aren’t claiming to be Christians. (By the way, James used that gem of an argument in his letter in the first sentence.)
What we’re going to see in John’s letters is that real Christians are marked by changed lives. When a person grasps whom Jesus is and what he has done, that life-changing truth does exactly that—it changes his or her life. John the Pastor points out over and over again that real Christians are different. They are becoming like Christ. They are not perfect, but they are different.
We run a very grave risk of allowing the word “Christian” to become virtually meaningless. When a word loses its true definition through misuse and misapplication, the sense of the word—the power of it—fades. If everyone is a Christian, then the word is useless. And if simply claiming to be one is really all it takes to be one, then we are in trouble. So how then do we lay claim to real Christianity? How do we return to the true definition of the word, not as the dictionary defines it but as the Bible does? How do we set ourselves apart as authentic Christians in a world full of intentional imposters?
The letters of John help us answer these questions. John addresses a real problem in the early church, one that still echoes in our culture today. Are you here for the crowd, or are you here to follow Christ?