Commentary: What does it mean to be a Christian?

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

In its most basic definition, a Christian is someone who is a follower of Jesus Christ. And we follow Christ by embodying both the beliefs of the Christian faith by believing in Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection (orthodoxy), and also by putting that faith into action as true disciples of Christ (orthopraxy). But that faith in action is missing from the majority of the bills being signed into law this year by Governor Bill Lee, who publicly confesses a faith in Jesus Christ. Injustice and inequality in the areas of health care, poverty, and the criminal justice system are all indictments on leadership when the ethics of Christ are not being implemented in policy.

Our faith and faith in action refer to both the entrance into the Kingdom of God, but also the ethics of the Kingdom of God. While Jesus repeatedly referred to his community of followers as the Kingdom of God, as Christians in America a better term might be “The Beloved Community” or the “Kingdom of God”. Christians are related to each other (kin) through the blood of Christ, and are called to bring the ethics of God’s kingdom of heaven here to earth (the world as it is) in order to establish justice, mercy, and peace in “The Beloved Community” (the world as it should be.)

Gov. Bill Lee ending his third State of the State address. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Gov. Bill Lee ending his third State of the State address on Feb. 8, 2021. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Looking at Romans 10:9, the Apostle Paul tells us that our entrance to the Kingdom comes “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” But confessing with our hearts and mouths is just the beginning of living out our Christian faith. As Christians we are called to live as Jesus called us to live. He made it simple and clear in Matthew 22:37-38 when he said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” These two statements are inextricable, meaning, it is impossible to love God without loving neighbor.

Many Christians forget to come back to the foundation of our faith – Jesus Christ. We can look at how he called his disciples to live out the ethics of the Kingdom here on earth.

 “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’” Matthew 25:42-45

In these verses Jesus talks about health care, economics, housing, food insecurity, prisoners, and poverty. These are all problems that plague us right here in Tennessee, where we are at the bottom of national rankings in all of these areas that care for  “the least of these.”  To live out the ethics of the Beloved Community to which Jesus calls us, we need to be sure that we are standing on the side of Jesus when it comes to mass incarceration, affordable housing, livable wages, food insecurity, and health care, all of which are mentioned in Jesus’ parable. These are the ethics of Jesus Christ, and as such, should be the ethics of Jesus’ followers as well. 

As Christians we are called to bring the Gospel of Jesus to the world. And the Gospel literally means “Good News”. Thus, if we are not bringing the good news of the hope and joy of Jesus by being the salt and light of Christ, we are not truly living out and sharing the Good News of Jesus. Jesus was always on the side of justice for the oppressed, feeding the hungry, and clothing the naked. 

How can we claim to be followers of Jesus Christ yet neglect his most basic call for us? Bill Lee must not only focus on the beliefs required for the entrance to the Beloved Community, but live out the ethics Christ calls us to as well.