I don’t know what your experience is, but more often than not, when I hear “Christian” being used in everyday conversation, it is not just used as an adjective, but as an adjective that denotes quality of behavior. For example, “That was not very Christian of him,” or, “That’s not a Christian thing to do.” It is similar to the absurdity of “earning forgiveness,” and it scrapes the drums of my born-again ears like so much sandpaper to skin. At the end of the day, “Christian” is not really an adjective at all, but a noun, having everything to do with our identity as God’s children, and nothing to do with the way Christians behave.
Considering “Christian” as an adjective is comparable to what Anne Lamott says about God having a sense of humor: if He doesn’t have one, “I’m so doomed, none of this matters anyway.” “Christian” as a description of behavior implies an exclusivity, that Christians are not Christians unless they behave a certain way. This is ridiculous. And praise the Lord that this is ridiculous, because if being a Christian has anything to do with behavior, myself and many of my brothers and sisters in Christ would be so doomed, none of this would matter anyway.
Being free of any behavioral qualifications for being saved is much more wonderful than, Whew, now I’m not going to hell. Oh, no, friends. The identity of a Christian is the most beautiful thing I know. My spiritual siblings and myself are “little Christs,” we are the kid brothers and sisters of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, and we share the same heavenly Father, are made one by the same Holy Spirit. We can try to deny or ignore the love of God, but we cannot shake the spiritual reality that He is always our Father, Jesus is always our Brother, and the Spirit always lives in us.
It’s not about how we feel either. Wherever we are on the palette of human emotions, whether we are in ecstatic elation, sullen remorse, fist-clenching anger, or serious doubt, God is our Father. When we mess up, or fail to keep in toe with whatever doctrine we’ve decided is right, there’s really nothing we can do to change how He loves us. He loves us to the core. He created us and as God said about his Creation: it is good.
Accepting this love of God, whether in the heart or in the head, is easier said than done; I know I puzzle over it. It’s not “of this world,” as they say, because when facing the divine, all the worldly, cultural importance of competition and grudges and categorizing dissolves, and they are revealed as the toxic, false measuring sticks of human value that they are. But God comes in and says, That’s nice that you have a Bachelor’s, I’m genuinely happy for you, but I value you and love you the same as I did yesterday, today and tomorrow: infinitely and indiscriminately. He takes these measuring sticks of value and says, They are finished.
It is not because of us, but because of God, that we are Christians.
It doesn’t mean our bad behavior isn’t bad, and it certainly doesn’t make bad behavior excusable. It doesn’t stop making good behavior good either, or say that good behavior isn’t worth practicing. It doesn’t mean we won’t be held responsible. It means He loves us, He claims us as His own. Christians say, I want in on that love, and God says back, You’ve been in on it since day one.
When we say someone isn’t Christian because of their behavior, it's like saying that God’s indiscriminate love is not enough, or Jesus being our Lord, Savior, and brother, is not enough. There are things we do and things that others do that we don’t like. The disgust manifests in how we use language. Say a Christian does something bad, like rape, pillage, murder, or make a robot to be their a girlfriend. There is a strong inclination to lose sight of divine unity, and loathe that something so precious and primary (the identity of being children of God) is being shared with someone who demonstrated their capability to do something awful. What’s worse: to continue to acknowledge that something so deeply personal is common with the transgressor, we might have to acknowledge that not only are we capable of the behavior displayed by them, but also that we experience versions of the same human condition as them, and we are capable of doing the same things. It can be very uncomfortable, and makes sense culturally to reject the “heathen,” the “witch,” the “infidel,” by saying, That person is a rapist/killed my dog/has a robot for a girlfriend, for that reason, I will not use my words to acknowledge their Christianity no matter how much they use their words to profess it. Spiritually, however, this is rubbish.
I may not like or agree with some things my brothers and sisters do. But they are and always will be my brothers and sisters.
And it’s beautiful, really: the strength of God’s spiritual bond between his children. Because of God’s love, I can claim them as my family.
Because of God’s love, I can love them.