What does it mean to be a Christian? It is a question that will undoubtedly come with lots of answers. Some might say that because they said the “sinner’s prayer” that makes them a Christian. Or, because they go to church that makes them a Christian. And finally, some will say that because they try to treat others in the way they would like to be treated that makes them a Christian. But is there something deeper meaning? What does God ask of us?
First, I grew to understand that I no longer had to live according to a list of do’s and don’ts. I no longer have to perform for God in order to receive His undeserved or unmerited favor – known as grace. “For it is by grace, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
What that means is that I am now free to live how I should, not because I have to, but because I want to – because I love Him and am grateful for what He has done in my life. His grace – His undeserved favor is a free gift that I cannot and do not have to earn. When someone give you a gift, you freely accept it with no reservations and you don‘t try to earn it. To try to earn that gift diminishes the gift. Does it mean that I can live any way I want to? No! Because to do that, would abuse the gift of grace God has given to me and make it cheap and meaningless. Jesus also said, “if you love me, keep my commands.” (John 14:15). If I say I love Him, but lie, cheat, and steal, my actions say to Him that I don’t really love Him.
I’ve also grown to understand it that the Christian life is not easy. Many well-meaning Christians lead others to Christ telling them that life will get better – or easier. This is the farthest thing from the truth! Jesus said, “whoever wants to be my disciples must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matt 16:24). I must be willing to give up anything I want or seek that hinders me from doing the will of God. Does that mean that if I want something it is wrong? No. It means that I must be willing to take my wants and desires down from the throne and put Christ on the throne of my life. There is only room for one master and I must be willing to “to take up my cross” and make Christ the Lord and Master of my life.
Jesus instructs us to love our neighbor eight times in the bible. I thought it must be pretty important to Him. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27). You know what? Sometimes my “neighbors,” co-workers, friends, relatives, and just people in general are not very lovable. Sometimes they’re just downright mean. I could tolerate them. I could put up with them but Jesus wants more from me. He said he wants me to love them as I love myself. But how do I do that? That means learning to love the unlovable and being kind to those who don‘t deserve kindness. It’s putting the needs of our neighbors above our own. It seeks to lift up and elevate the downtrodden, feed the hungry, cloth the unclothed, and reaching out to the lost. This is genuine Christianity and what people are looking for from Christians.
Finally, Jesus wants to use me to reach out to others for Him . “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matt 28:19). He wants us to go to the street corners and invite anyone who will come to (heaven) the wedding banquet. (Matt 22: 1-14) He also said, the “harvest is plenty but the workers are few” (Matt 9:37). He clearly wants me to be willing to share my faith with others in love.
When asked what denomination I belong to I’ll answer none. My faith is centered around being a disciple of Jesus Christ – and that’s it! It has nothing to do with a denomination or with religion. Do people think I’m religious? Absolutely, but that has more to do maybe with their lack of understanding than me being “religious.” Religion is man’s attempt to reach God by earning His favor through works, sacraments, and rituals which can never be done. Genuine Christianity seeks to accept the gift of God, which is His forgiveness, grace and mercy; not because of what we’ve done but because of what His Son did on the cross on Calvary. In gratitude for His shed blood, I seek to make Jesus Christ the Lord of my life; to live in His grace, love my neighbor, feed the hungry, and have a heart for the spiritually lost. Then, and only then, am I able to truly take joy in the love, forgiveness, and devotion He has shown me. That’s what makes living the Christian life worth living and what it means to me.