I didn’t coin this term (and I am not sure who did). I have, however, heard it used in interviews and sermons to describe those who associate – albeit loosely, even though they wouldn’t see it that way – with Christianity, but are in many ways not actually adherents of it. They are for the most part Christian in name only. They are cultural “Christians”.
I am sure this phenomenon is a reality in many regions of our nation, but I have found it to be especially true here in the South where you are likely to find at least two churches within blocks of each other, if not on the same one, and where a large segment of the population identifies themselves as Christian. Making mention of the vast number of churches in this region is not a slight in any way. How I pray for more Gospel-centered, Bible-regulated, Holy Spirit-filled, mission-focused churches here and beyond. I only make note of it because it provides some credence to this claim. The Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project lends further evidence to the affirmative. When you combine all three Protestant categories, 57% of those polled say they are affiliated with Christianity. That number jumps up to around 80% when you add in the Catholic tradition.
Though many people would check the Christianity box on a survey, it wouldn’t be true. As Jesus put it, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven…” (Matthew 7:21a; ESV) Well, how can one know whether he or she is truly a Christian? I think a good way to determine this is to place five common characteristics of cultural ‘Christianity” side-by-side with those of authentic Christianity. I am sure there may be more than five, but these are the ones I have observed from my vantage point.
- Knows about Jesus (familiar with the Bible and believes in the existence of Jesus), but hasn’t turned from sin and trusted him personally (Acts 26:24-29)
- Does religious and good deeds (e.g., attends church, gives, serves in ministry, etc.) in an effort to justify themselves before God and earn eternal life/forgiveness – a works-based salvation (Acts 15:1)
- Exhibits general assent to the person and work of Jesus devoid of personal faith as evidenced through no life-change and continuance in sin without repentance (1 John 3:6b, 8, 10)
- Does not have the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9b)
- Lacks love for others and the church (1 John 3:10b, 14b-15, 4:8)
- Knows Jesus through personal repentance of sin and faith in his Gospel (John 1:12-13, 3:16; Ephesians 2:8)
- Does religious and good deeds in an effort to please God because of being granted eternal life/forgiveness through faith in the Lord Jesus – a faith-based salvation (Romans 3:21-25a, 5:1; Ephesians 2:10)
- Exhibits personal belief in the person and work of Jesus as evidenced through distinct life-change and a continual Spirit-enabled practice of righteous living and turning from sin (1 John 3:6a, 9)
- Does have the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9a; 1 John 4:13) who produces a lifestyle that progressively demonstrates the fruit of the Spirit instead of the works of the sinful flesh (Galatians 5:16-24)
- Increasingly demonstrates Jesus-like love (i.e., selfless, sacrificial) towards others and the church due to personal acceptance of the Gospel of Jesus by faith (1 John 3:14, 4:7, 9-10, 19)
So looking at these two lists, where would you say you are? Where do you stand with God? Are you a cultural “Christian” or an authentic one? If you fit the description of the former, you are actually a “churched”/religious non-Christian. I know that sounds quite direct in tone, but please understand it is spoken in love. The stakes are too high to speak any other way. Your eternal destiny hangs in the balance. The good news though is that you can move over to the latter. You can become an authentic Christian. What must you do? Believe on the Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
“And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
(1 John 5:11-12; ESV)
Trust in Jesus today, my friend.