We Christians are well-meaning people, at least some of the time. Perhaps you’ve been in the situation in which your non-Christian neighbor (family member, friend, or coworker) asks you the question, “Why are you a Christian?” This is the moment that the Apostle Peter wrote about in his First Epistle: “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is in you” (3:15)! You’ve been through confirmation, and have diligently attended retreats, worship, and Sunday School. It’s as if you’ve been preparing for just these sort of interchanges for years now.
And you do your best, you really do. You wrack your brains to remember all those potentially hostile historical witnesses contemporary with Jesus who attest that He really did live in first century Judea, that He was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and that His disciples proclaimed that they saw Him alive again after His resurrection. You explain that the early Christians would not have faced martyrdom if Christ had not really been raised from the dead.
You said all the right things, you think. But then your non-Christian friend says, “Yeah, but I just don’t agree with what the Church thinks about [in-vogue social issue],” or they parrot the popular caricature of postmodern sentiment which says that what’s true for you isn’t necessarily true for them.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Apologetics is a useful tool which can help remove excuses for unbelief. But the answer to the question, “Why are you a Christian?” isn’t because the historical facts are on the side of Christianity, even though that’s true.
Christians are made, not through intellectual argumentation, but through death and resurrection. Luther famously wrote in his explanation to the third article of the Apostles’ Creed that “I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” All who are dead in sin do not have the mind, will, or ability to choose the Savior whose Spirit kills the old sinful Adam in them by washing them in the saving tide of Jesus’ blood and Holy Baptism. No one can be reasoned out of their nature or talked into trusting that the Creator behind the carnage and chaos that by all appearances is the only order in this world is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
We shouldn’t be afraid to give a Christian answer to a question about our Christianity. Besides, the logic of faith will never be impressive to a world for which Christ crucified is foolishness and the things of the Spirit of God are folly (I Cor. 1:25, 2:14).
So, why am I a Christian? Sure, it’s true that our Scriptures are inspired and Christ truly rose from the dead. But who would ever choose to believe that? I’m a Christian because the Holy Spirit gave me the gift of faith through His gifts of the Gospel. I’m a Christian because I was baptized into the death of Jesus Christ and was raised to walk in newness of life, and because God nourishes my weak faith with the true body and blood of His Son. I’m a Christian because Jesus of Nazareth is the only one who has ever done anything to save humanity. I’m a Christian out of desperation. I’m a Christian because Jesus says so.
And if Jesus can still make Christians by the simple proclamation of His redemption and by attaching His promises to water, bread, and wine, you can trust that His tried and true means will also work on those who don’t yet confess Him. If He can redeem you, your neighbor won’t be a problem for Him.
Timothy Sheridan is a member of Our Savior Lutheran in Raleigh, NC