Being A Christian Means . . .

2Timothy 2:1-6

Rev. Bryn MacPhail

A number of years ago I found myself talking to a friend who professed to be a Christian but, as I soon found out, he had no idea what that meant. So I asked my friend, 'What makes you a Christian?'. He proceeded to give me his answer: 'Well, I'm not Jewish, I'm not Hindu, I'm not Muslim, and I'm not a Buddhist'.

For my friend, being a Christian was determined by a process of elimination. Sadly, there are many people that think as my friend does. What makes a Christian then? The first part of this answer comes directly from chapter 1, verse 9: "(God) has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity ".

What does it mean to be a Christian? A Christian is one who is called by God according to His eternal purpose and according to grace in Jesus Christ. This is how the Christian life begins. God calls us and saves us through the atoning death of Christ. Salvation is not a result of our own efforts, but is entirely a work of God(2Tim. 1:9; Jonah 2:9). This, however, does not entirely answer our question. If being called according to God's purpose, and saved by grace in Christ, is how the Christian life begins, how does the Christian life continue? What does it mean to live everyday as a Christian?

Many people think being a Christian is primarily about upholding a certain level of morality. Some think being a Christian means dedicating one hour a week on Sunday to the Lord. Others think being a Christian is about dedicating one's life to 'paying back' the debt we owe to God's grace. All of these people are mistaken.

The apostle Paul accurately summarizes what it means to live every day as a Christian when he exhorts Timothy to "be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus "(v.1).

Paul is not questioning Timothy's morality here. Paul is not questioning Timothy's work ethic in ministry here. Timothy's problem is not that he needs to do more, but rather, that he needs to do less. Paul recognizes that being a Christian is not about 'gritting your teeth' and doing better, being a Christian is about being "strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus ".

The key to living for Christ is allowing Christ to do the living . Paul's imperative to "be strong " is in the present tense which more precisely means, "keep being strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus ". You see, the Christian life doesn't simply begin with grace, but it continues with grace . As the famous hymn reads, 'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home'. No one ever became a Christian without past grace, and no one can be a faithful Christian moment by moment without future grace.

Being a Christian means letting grace lead you home . We learned last week that the Holy Spirit gives every Christian power, love, and sound judgment(1:7). If power, love, and sound judgment is ours in the Spirit, why would we ever try to serve God with our own strength? Being strong in the grace of Christ means that when you serve Christ, you do so with the strength He provides(1Pet. 4:11).

If you are unmotivated to follow Christ--if you are unmotivated to attend church, unmotivated read your Bible, unmotivated to pray, then you are not being the Christian you are called to be. If you are doing all of these things, but find yourself exhausted, you too are not being the Christian you are called to be. If serving Christ, if following Christ, makes us feel exhausted then clearly we are serving by our own strength. On the other hand, if you are serving Christ through the grace He provides, you will be energized and overflowing with joy.

You wouldn't believe the number of days I find myself sitting, with my Bible open in front of me, in front of the computer, telling God 'I can't do this. I can't figure out what this passage means. I don't know how I'll ever get this sermon done'. . . This happens more than I would like to admit. How do I overcome this? I don't . . . He does.

What is chronically my problem, and what is likely your problem as well, is that we think that the Christian life depends on us. We're like the mouse who walked with the elephant over the wooden bridge. The mouse, after walking over the bridge, looked back and seeing the swinging bridge said to the elephant, 'Wow! We really shook that bridge!'. We must recognize that without God's grace we can accomplish very little. Our success as a faithful Christian depends on being "strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus ".

There is a way, I'm afraid, to misinterpret what I am saying. There is a way to hear Paul's exhortation and to conclude that since success depends on God, there is no need for us to work very hard at being a faithful Christian. This would be a mistake. Although, success as a Christian depends ultimately on God, Paul gives us 3 metaphors to describe how we are to approach the Christian life.

The first metaphor Paul employs is that of a soldier . Just as a soldier accepts suffering as a normal part of being a soldier, so should the Christian accept suffering for the sake of the gospel. I'm not speaking here of suffering from disease or broken relationships, but of suffering that is a direct result of being a Christian. Timothy is expected to share and defend the gospel even though he may, as a result, be abandoned by others and even imprisoned.

The message of the gospel will not be acceptable as our society grows more and more 'politically correct'. The gospel confronts sin while society increasingly accommodates sin. The gospel judges people's lives while society preaches 'judge no one'. Christ insists that He is the only way(Jn. 14:6), while society claims 'there are many ways'. In the next chapter, Paul states what should be obvious to us: "all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted "(3:12).

I don't enjoy criticism. I am not pleased when a friend is offended by my insistence that Christ is the way to eternal life. But as a soldier of Christ, I am called--and you are called--to be bold in our proclamation of the gospel.

Continuing with the metaphor of a soldier, in verse 4, Paul reminds us that, "No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier ".

Surely Paul's advice to Timothy is a rebuke to us. It is not that "the affairs of everyday life are sinful "--because they aren't. Our problem is that we have become a society dedicated to "the affairs of everyday life ". We are a generation that has made a god out of "the affairs of everyday life ". Attending to the affairs of your family, attending to your responsibilities at work, taking time to enjoy your hobbies---these are all reasonable pursuits. The trouble is, most of us have become "entangled " in these pursuits to the extent that we are ineffective as a soldier of Christ.

We have become entangled in our career. We have become entangled in social clubs. We have become entangled in family life. We have become entangled in home renovations and gardening. Yes, the Lord wants you to be a good family person. Yes, the Lord wants you to be a good worker, but not at the expense of the gospel. Your first responsibility is to "please the one who enlisted (you) ". Being a Christian means putting Christ first in your life .

The second metaphor Paul employs is that of an athlete . Paul says, "if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules "(v.5). I don't want you to envision the "rules " as being simply the commandments of Scripture. "Rules " can represent any expectation that God has for His people. We see that a Christian does not invent what it means to be a Christian any more than an athlete creates the rules for a competition.

This sounds straightforward, yet from what I can see, Christians setting their own "rules " has become epidemic. Some want to call themselves Christian, but don't want anything to do with Christ's Church. Some want to call themselves Christian, but don't have any desire to curb the sin in their life. Some want to call themselves Christian, but have no desire to share their faith with anyone else. Some call themselves Christian, but think that giving 2% of their income is enough for the Lord's ministry. Christians are to be like athletes in the sense that we do not invent the rules of the competition--we follow them. Being a Christian means living according to the standards given in Scripture .

The third metaphor Paul employs to describe the Christian life is that of a farmer . Paul says, "The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops "(v.6). Not just any farmer, but the "hard-working farmer " gets the "first " share of the crops. The attention we give to our development as a Christian should resemble the attention a farmer gives to his crops. We must not neglect corporate worship, prayer, and Bible reading and expect to mature as a Christian. To expect your faith to grow without doing any work would be like a farmer expecting a crop without preparing the soil and without planting any seed. Being a Christian means working diligently with the resources we have been given .

Paul's 3 metaphors provide us with 3 principles for Christian living. Like the soldier who desires to please his commanding officer, being a Christian means putting Christ first. Like an athlete who must compete according to the rules, being a Christian means living according to the standards given in Scripture. And like a farmer who works hard for his crops, being a Christian means working diligently with the resources we have been given.

What is our motivation to live this way? Our motivation is not simply backward looking gratitude for what Christ has done in the past, but forward looking faith that anticipates receiving the first share of the crops, faith that anticipates receiving the prize for finishing the race.

The gospel, the ministry of Christ is not some charity case that we are expected to contribute to. Following Christ is an investment that pays eternal dividends . There is a medal awaiting those who put Christ first. There is a prize for those who follow the standards of Scripture. There is a share of the profits for those who work diligently with the resources given to us.

'But so much is expected of us, how can we ever do all of the things that Christ has called us to do', you ask. There is only one way to be the Christian you were called to be-- "be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus ". Being a Christian moment by moment means living by grace .

Grace is not simply your ticket in the door, it is your fuel for the journey. To become the Christian that you were called to be, you must resolve today to live moment by moment fueled by grace. Amen.