Is a Christian someone who lives a good life? Or someone born in a Western country? Or someone pretty much the same as any other kind of religious person trying to reach God?
The Bible says a Christian is none of these things, and certainly not just a good person – in fact, the opposite. Jesus was from the Middle East. Christianity did not originate in the West, and large numbers of Christians live in Africa, South America and Asia today. Nor is the Bible’s definition of Christianity to do with trying to live a moral life. The Bible’s picture of the world is that none of us are ‘good’ enough, by our own efforts, for God’s good standards for our world. We can see this when we look at the pain and injustice caused by the human race. We are not good enough for a just God to gloss over our wrongs and the hurt caused between individuals, family members, ethnic groups, and whole nations.
Christianity’s message is not simply a moral code. It is not a book of rules but the message of what God has done to deal with the problem of our wrongs and our broken world. He came to the world to pay our debt and mend our relationship with him. He made a way to restore our connection with him, and give us his spirit to change us from the inside out. Instead of giving us rules to follow he has made a way that we can be set free from the condemnation these rules only highlight. He has made a way to give us a relationship with him in order to change what is wrong in our lives and hearts. The Bible says:
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. – Romans 3:23
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. – Galatians 5:22-23 (This part of the Bible in Galatians talks about how Christians live life following God’s spirit not following their own human desires).
Becoming a Christian means two things – firstly admitting we have wronged God and others. We have all been proud, jealous of others’ lives and belongings, and not completely honest. We’ve all acted with hate, anger, bitterness, unkindness and so on. We humans may have a good and beautiful side, as valuable people made in God’s image, but we also have the ability to destroy our and others’ happiness. God is not longing to condemn us but longing to forgive us and make things right between us and him, as soon as we admit our need for his forgiveness and help.
Secondly, becoming a Christian means making a new start, with the God who invented human life as the god in our lives. It means not living with ourselves as the highest motivation driving our choices and actions. We are no longer living with our happiness as our highest goal in life but living for God, and for what matters to him. When we do this, with God’s help, we begin to live selfless lives and see the reality of God at work in this world.
To become a Christian we don’t need to pay a penance for our sins, or first eradicate our faults in order to face God, he simply wants to help us. He has paid the punishment for all our wrongs in Jesus, who died in our place on the cross. There is nothing left for us to do to earn God’s favour – it is a free gift.
We simply need to ask his forgiveness, relying on what Jesus did for us to make this possible, and beginning to follow Him, with the change of direction described above. The Bible says that when we do this God gives us his Spirit, in our hearts – we are more than just physical human beings trying to change ourself but will see him working in our lives, as we pray and try to follow him. We can see God answering our prayers and find that he is real.
We don’t do this alone. God is building a community of people who should reflect what true community is like. It’s called the church (the people in it not the building). The Church is not perfect, it is full of sinners after all, who are not perfect yet! But if we want to follow God, and believe in Jesus, we do this as a community, learning to relate as people were designed to – people from all backgrounds and ethnicities who value and help each other. We can learn from church leaders who have studied the Bible and can share their knowledge, as we read and discuss the Bible together. Sadly, churches around the world have not always been built on true understanding of the Bible and have not reflected God’s values at all. But in many places around the world you can find genuine followers of Jesus, where barriers between different people have been broken down, and there is a powerful expression of what real friendship and community should be.