Bo Wagner

“What is REAL?” asked the rabbit one day. ... “Does it hurt?”

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or who have sharp edges, or have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” (“The Velveteen Rabbit,” by Margery Williams)

Real. It is a lovely word for a child’s story book. But it is lovelier far in those instances in which it can be applied in the real world, and especially to Christians. And, like the sage advice given to the Velveteen Rabbit by the wise old Skin Horse, I have found that “Real” is the process of years and use, not the instantaneous creation of a prayer. Salvation happens instantly; of that there is no doubt. The thief on the cross accepted Christ one moment, and not many minutes later was with him in Paradise.

But salvation and Christianity are not quite the same thing. To be saved is simply to be redeemed from sin and on your way to heaven. To be a Christian is to go far beyond salvation; to be a Christian is to become like Christ. And, interestingly, that title was not one that people chose for themselves; it was a banner applied to them by others. Acts 11:26 says, “And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.”

They did not name themselves Christians, they were called Christians by others. People saw their manner of living, their attitudes, their faithfulness, and reasoned, “those people remind us so much of that man they called Christ! We should call them Christians.”

They were real.

Twenty years ago I became fascinated by that thought as I read “The Velveteen Rabbit.” I really have no idea the particular religious affections, if any, of the author. I just know that the process she described seems so much like the process by which a person becomes a real Christian.

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or who have sharp edges, or have to be carefully kept.”

Bingo. Becoming a real Christian certainly does seem to take a long time. Day by day the Word of God molds us and shapes us, and year by year that process makes us more like Christ. It doesn’t often happen to people who break easily; the attacks of Satan and the cares of life and conflicts with others shatter them before they can become Real. It doesn’t often happen to people who have sharp edges; they cannot be used and worn in because everyone is afraid to be near them. It doesn’t often happen to those who have to be carefully kept; people who always manage to have their feelings hurt never stay in any one place long enough to have God’s Word, God’s man, and God’s people do them any good.

Generally, by the time a Christian is Real, most of their hair has been loved off, and their eyes are getting dim, and they get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once a Christian is Real they can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand, though there will always be plenty of those.

Christ was Real. He stood hard against sin and yet loved sinners. He was beaten and battered and abused by and for those that he loved, yet he never quit. He could have lashed out in anger, but Isaiah says that through it all he “opened not his mouth.” He cared only for those he came to save, and was willing to be mocked and abused along the way. And when he rose again the third day, his “Real” went to a whole new level. There was never anyone like him, and yet we are commanded to be like him.

Let’s be real.

Bo Wagner is pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Mooresboro, N.C. He is a widely traveled evangelist and the author of several books. He can be reached by email at 2knowhim@cbc-web.org.