“May not many a man who cannot believe these doctrines be far more truly a Christian, far closer to the spirit of Christ, than some who do?” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 1952) That sure sounds like wisdom. I would be willing to bet that most people can take a look at the people in their lives and find at least one non-Christian that acts more like Jesus than most people who claim to be Christian. In the question above, C.S Lewis was demonstrating the flawed thinking of many in the world, and I would say particularly in America. We have decided, all on our own, that it was up to us to define the word “Christian”, and make it easy for anyone to wear the title.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis uses the analogy that just as the world has redefined the word “gentleman”, they are also trying to redefine the definition of who is and is not a Christian. For instance, can you be a Christian and support abortion? Can you be a Christian and support gay marriage? Some of you be saying, “Yup. You sure can.” To which I would say, not according to Jesus. He spoke in absolutes, and he was very clear about who was on his side and who was not. He is the Word of God, according to John 1:1, and God’s word is Law. God’s Law clearly states his position on issues like murder and homosexuality. You can choose to believe something other than his Word if you want to. You can even choose to pretend to be following him if it placates you and makes you feel secure, but you are not following him. His Law was never open to our interpretation.
“When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Luke 18:22 NIV. In this passage, Jesus is speaking to a rich young ruler who had asked what he must do to be saved. He even went so far as to tell Jesus that he had obeyed the Law for his entire life. Jesus told him to sell all of his earthly possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow him. If he had done that, he would have been a Christian in the sense that Jesus would have defined the word. You might be saying, “Who are you to say how Jesus would have defined the word, Christian?” To which I would pose the very same question back to you. I do not have to take any guesses. I am willing to take the words of Jesus at face value. He wanted that man to reject the pleasures of this life and follow him instead. That is a lot to ask, and Jesus knew that.
Now take a look at this, “When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy.” Luke 18:23. Look that scripture up and see for yourself how Jesus reacts to the man at that point. What Jesus did is turn around and go on teaching the people. He did not beg the man to stay. He did not make a few exceptions and say, “Well you seem like a nice guy, maybe we can work something out. After all, it is the spirit of Christianity that really counts.” Yes I realize that Jesus never actually heard the word Christian, that is not the point. The point is, Jesus drew a line and made it clear that the people on his side were Christians and going to heaven, and everyone else was his enemy.
Can you be a Muslim and go to heaven? According to Jesus, no. “… for whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” There is nothing ambiguous about that statement. The only people that try to interpret that statement, are the ones that need an excuse to go on living the way they want.
In the book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis explains that a “gentleman” used to be someone that owned land and a coat of arms. Those were absolute prerequisites. You could be the nicest guy in the world, but without a coat of arms or land, you were not a gentleman. Then, with nothing but the best intentions, someone decided that any nice guy should be able to call himself a gentleman. As soon as they did that, the word lost all meaning and all value. Suddenly, we had two ways to describe a polite male, and no way to describe a man with land and a coat of arms.
Where is the value in redefining words to fit our mood? If I decided that I really wanted a can of soda, but all I had was a glass of milk, would it help my situation to start calling my drink soda? Would it suddenly become fizzy and sweet? No. If you want to be a nice and generous person without following Jesus and believing him to be exactly who he says he is, go ahead and be a “nice person” and stop trying to be a Christian. If you want soda in your glass, you will have to empty the milk, rinse the cup, and fill it with an entirely new liquid. Renaming it will just make you a confused person with a glass of milk.