What does it mean to be a Christian? That is a question I have been pondering quite a bit. And it seems like every Christian has a different definition of what it means. Some people believe that being a Christian is about rule following and a God who is controlling. That is what I thought during my years as a non-believer. And I can see how it is easy to get caught up in thinking that being Christian is all about rules. You could easily perceive the Bible as a big book of rules. But it is not.
In ancient times God gave the people the 10 Commandments. These were a set of rules to live by, and in fact there were many other rules besides these listed in the Torah or the Jewish Written Law. Life was completely different at this point in time though. People did not have the gift of God living among them, to instill in them truth and love. They needed rules and guidelines to follow in order to understand right and wrong. It may sound funny to hear that, but the truth is that when people are left on their own devices to do as they please, they will most likely choose the path with the most fulfillment of their own desires. Sometimes those desires will cause harm to others, but most often it will lead to a path of self-destruction and dissatisfaction. Are all people inherently bad? No. But we all want to fulfill our own desires first. We have to be taught to do what is good and right and fair. Face it, it just doesn’t come naturally.
Take a small child for instance. If you watch a toddler you will see their motivation is all for self gain. They will cry to get what they want and throw a tantrum when they don’t get their way. And really, it is neither good, nor bad, it just simply is. It all started with the Original Sin. Try as we might to stop doing things that are mean or harmful to ourselves or others, it is nearly impossible to do. That is, when we try to do it on our own. It is only with the help of Jesus Christ we can move into a life that is not based on our own wants and desires.
The thought of that may completely turn you off. I know when I was a pagan, it was exactly those sorts of things that really got me angry. I did not want to hear anything about sin or following rules or not being a good person. I was absolutely sure I was a good person. I cared about people and the earth and animals. I wanted to grow and be a better person and strive to not harm others, but to be helpful and loving. No one was going to tell me that I was not a good person after all the effort I had put into it. I was most definitely not going to listen to someone on their soap box telling me I was going to hell. That was one thing that caused me to find Christians to be judgmental and hypocritical.
There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Romans 3:10-12
I just didn’t understand sin and what it was though. I didn’t understand that life isn’t about being a good person and working hard at doing good. We can fill all of our days helping others and taking up causes and being kind and recycling to save the planet, etc., but at the end of our lives, what do we really have to show for all of it? Notoriety? Awards? Satisfaction of a job well done? These are all just temporary things that will fall away. We need to look to the eternal. Unfortunately even as a Christian I fell into the same trap of doing good works for acceptance from God.
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:21-27
When I first came into the Christian faith I wanted nothing more than to devote my life to pleasing God. I wanted to follow my convictions to change the way I lived, thought, and acted towards others. I begged God to show me what I could do to make Him happy – to do good things for Him. It is not that there is something wrong with wanting to please God. That just comes naturally from the great love in a person’s heart. The problem is that a relationship with Jesus Christ has nothing to do with what we can do for Him. He is God – He does not need us to do anything for Him. He only needs our love and devotion and adoration. Nothing more. After all, what can one person do for God? The one who created the heavens and the earth and all life inside of it? That is kind of like asking what kind of gift do you buy a millionaire?
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9
It has taken me some time to process this reality though. So much of being Christian can turn into the works we do. And even other faith-based groups such as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are based on the good deeds they do in life, and not on the work that Jesus did on the cross. But doing good deeds for others will not provide us a relationship with God. It will only move us further away from Him as we continually try to satisfy whatever moral rules we have put in place for ourselves. That is why it is so important we keep our focus on the fact that Jesus did the ultimate work on the cross – a work that can never be duplicated and has been completely finished.
So what does it mean to be a Christian? It means to have a relationship with Jesus, your Savior and Redeemer. To know He is a part of you, living inside of you. To know that you have been giving a chance to live a life through Him, a life filled with incredible hope and love. Not a perfect life, not a life driven by rules, but a life that has been forever marked by His blood. And Jesus’ blood is all you need to stand in the presence of God. Before Christ, there was a gap between us and God. With Christ we have a bridge in Him who brings us before the very throne of God. Rejoice in the knowledge that there is nothing you need to do to earn His love or approval!
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16