I was asked a question yesterday by commenter NW, about what qualifies a person to be regarded as a Christian - and this led to the following reflections...
I don't like the implications of being 'qualified' to be a Christian! I think that gives the impression we are trying to plead before a judge, or satisfy and examiner. But our God is a loving Father, who wants the best for us - wants us to accept his gift of creation and join with him in the great work.
The way I regard definitions of being a Christian is that we need to 'believe' in Jesus - that is to have faith and trust in him; we need to believe that he was the Son of God and was creator of this world; that his incarnation, deeath and resurrection enabled us to have 'life eternal' which involves our own resurrection.
The above passage contains several key bits of terminology, and I don't think it is crucial to being a Christian that everybody agrees on them all... it is mostly (as usual) a matter of motivation. I think one can be a Christian by accepting that Jesus is 'in some way' personally essential to our salvation - without being sure of exactly how it works, or being sure of exactly what salvation consists in.
As you know, I am reading and re-reading the fourth Gospel ('John') as an eyewittness account by the beloved disciple. What Jesus teaches is very simple, and is mostly about 'belief' - the impression I get is that Jesus will lead us to salvation like a shepherd leads his flock... the flock trusts the shepherd (who will sacrifice his life for the least of the sheep) - and follows him to safety.
In a simple and profound sense, it is by trusting Jesus that we *follow* him through death and into the life eternal. I think that we need to ensure during mortal life that we are ready to do this after death, that we trust Jesus to lead us.
This implies that non-Christians, who have never even heard of Jesus, can also meet him after death and recognise him and trust him, and follow him to eternal life.
Indeed, it is probable that thsoe who have never heard of Jesus are more likely to trust and follow him after death than the typical modern person who has been poisoned-against Jesus.
(This is our particular test in the modern world, and why these times and this place is particularly hazardous to salvation.)
I think Jesus understood this double-edged aspect of his incarnation, and refers to it several times in the Gospels. In that sense Jesus brought Hell as well as Heaven, and an unavoidable decision - because since the incarnation, many/ most people have *hated* Jesus, when they encountered him. So they actively-reject his gift.
And if we do not trust the Good Shepherd when we encounter him after death, then we will not follow him to life eternal - we will reject Heaven, and prefer the Hell of isolation-from love.
(This choice of Hell may not be irreversible, in principle. For example, I think that the dead may be reached by prayers from those who love them, and may 'change their minds', may revise their choice and accept the gift of Christ. Thus our love of neighbour, love of fellow-men, (when genuine) is potentially an instrument of salvation. But everything suggests that the decision whether or not to believe in Jesus Christ during our mortal life is extremely important - and I think we must assume that in practice such decisions are not easily or often reversed; even though the door to salvation is always kept-open by our loving Father in Heaven.)