There is a perception among many Americans that ours is a Christian nation. As usual, this belief resonated throughout the 2016 Presidential election cycle, as it has in many others. Not only did candidates offer their positions on various issues, they could be heard regularly emphasizing the fundamentals of their Christian faith. Sadly, in politics, as elsewhere, a religious label has become nearly as meaningless as the labels advertisers use on their products—Organic, Natural, New and Improved.
It’s often difficult to distinguish any difference in the actual conduct of politicians who have embraced the label Christian. Even the media has joined in the chorus of religious affirmation. Throughout the electoral process, media pundits have kept an eye on how evangelicals, especially those in southern states, were viewing respective candidates. The clear suggestion being made is that religion is important in every aspect of American life, even politics. But is that true? The question of the nation’s Christian stature is perhaps a topic for another time. However, the current state of religion in America certainly should draw our attention.
Data from a 2015 Pew Research Center study shows that in this professed Christian nation, the percentage of the population who claim some religious affiliation is is declining. A sampling of some 35,000 adults across the country has revealed that the number of Americans who maintain belief in God, have a daily prayer life, and engage in regular church attendance, has dropped over the past few years. Additionally, while the percentage of American adults professing belief in God has dipped slightly from 92% to 89%, the number of Americans who declare with absolute certainty that God exists has plunged from 71% to 63%. Which raises an interesting question: Are believing, praying and attending church weekly the markers of authentic Christianity? It may be that rather than question whether America is a Christian nation, perhaps the central question should be:
Are Christians in America, Christians at all?
A study of God’s Word reveals that self-professed labels, a legalistic approach to serving God, is hardly adequate to qualify one as a Christian. Yet, there is no mystery as to the characteristics that define what it means to be a Christian. The Bible provides us with an enormous amount of information.
Certainly, John 3:16 is one important indicator. Those who believe on Jesus “shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” However, it’s important for us to understand that belief in Jesus is more than mere admiration of the sacrificial life and death of the Lamb of God. Such belief needs to translate into action. Christians take action to respond to the words of Jesus to Nicodemus in John 3:3. They seek the “new birth.” For Christians being born again means taking the steps Peter outlined in Acts 2:38 as he called believers to repentance, baptism, and acceptance of the gift of the Holy Spirit. The importance of the Holy Spirit’s arrival is found in the work of transforming the hearts of believers, so as to bring alive the words of 2 Corinthians 5:17 that to be in Christ is to be “a new creation.” Further, 1 Corinthians 11:1 counsels that Christians should be followers of the example of Christ, just as Paul was.
For those who are redeemed by Jesus, Christianity is much more than the wearing of a religious label. To be a Christian is to model the life of Christ, a victorious life lived not one day a week, but every moment of every day. To live each day as led by the Spirit of God enables believers to move beyond the religious labels of our society, while projecting the reality of Philippians 1:21, “for me to live is Christ, to die is gain.”