Sometimes I check out the online comments after my column. One post from last month bothered me: “Brenda Norris: admirable intent but I get the impression that your drive toward spirituality is too exclusive for many people of faith, including those who consider themselves Christian but would not be considered so by many more conservative selfd-proclaimed (sic) Christians or ‘believers’.”

Come again? What’s the true definition of CHRISTian? It obviously means different things to different people. The Gospel has been watered down to the point where Christ has little or nothing to do with it, so it’s no wonder confusion reigneth.

Some ministers and churches have gotten so far away from accurate Bible teaching, I’m afraid Jesus and his early disciples wouldn’t even recognize their original message, which was, and is, and always will be, “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31)

Theirs is a pervasive message of tolerance and inclusion; love your neighbor and do unto others …; join a church, a denomination, a religious club, and all will be well with your soul. While there’s nothing wrong with social justice, it’s not the defining issue of Christianity. That distinction belongs to the One who says, “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6 New King James Version). “Through Me” IS exclusive, as my online buddy suggests, and that’s the difference between Christianity and religion.

Being a Christian is Christ in you; a personal relationship made possible through grace. Religion is a man-made system of dos and don’ts, rituals and traditions going back to the beginning of time and is evidenced by no grace, (which explains why I shudder when people say I’m religious. Grrrr).

Jesus described this in the parable of Luke 18:10-14. The Pharisees were members of a Jewish sect noted for their strict observance of rites and ceremonies of the traditional law (Webster’s Dictionary). Here, a Pharisee prayed, boasting to God about how generous he was, how he adhered to all the religious rules of his order, and was so much more righteous than the lowlifes around him, especially the tax collector standing nearby. The tax man bowed his head, beat upon his chest, and prayed, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” He humbly asked for grace and received it.

Was God impressed with the Pharisee’s legalism and arrogance; his critical superior attitude? Hardly! Before his conversion, Paul was a disciple of the Pharisees; here’s what he says about it: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” (1Timothy 1:15 NKJV) We can truthfully say, “Move over, Paul; we’re all sinners!”

Taking all this into consideration, it’s clear that the only way one could “consider themselves Christian” is if they’ve accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.

As for the second part of the equation: those who … would not be considered so by many more conservative self-proclaimed Christians or “believers” — Huh? I don’t get it.

Luke 16:15 says, “He said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.’” (NKJV)

What would be an abomination in God’s sight? The world’s focus on the humanity of Jesus: just another prophet; a good man to be emulated, but just a man.

That’s not what the Bible says. C.S. Lewis was spot-on when he said, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher … either this Man was, and is, the Son of God — or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool; you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

1st Timothy 2:4 tells us Jesus “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” And remember, Jesus IS Truth.

What he does intend for his believers is to shine as his light in a dark world, and our world has never been darker! I think sometimes we’re so busy, we forget this. Oswald Chambers said: “There is a danger with the children of God of getting too familiar with sublime things. It is perilously possible to mistake the exposition of the truth for the truth; to run away with the idea that because we are able to expound these things, we are living them too.” We live them by following Paul’s admonition: “[C]lothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ … .” (Romans 13:14, Weymouth New Testament)

Whether someone else considers me to be one or not, I am a Christian. It’s not for the conservatives or liberals, or anyone else, to decide; it’s between God and me.

Your relationship with Christ is up to you. If you choose your way rather than his, why not consider calling yourself Me-ian?

The effectiveness of a believer is directly proportional to that believer’s values (Bill Crowder, Our Daily Bread 2/4/2010). What do your values say about you?

Brenda J. Norris is assistant Sunday school leader and choir director at the West Lubec Methodist Church. She may be reached at Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.