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. Jesus was from the Middle East, Christianity is not a Western religion. Nor is the Bible’s definition of Christianity to do with trying to be a good person, in fact the opposite. The Bible’s picture of the world is that none of us are ‘good’ enough – not good enough, by our own efforts, for God’s good and caring standards for our world. We can see this when we look at the hurt and injustice caused by the human race in our world. Not good enough for a just God to gloss over our wrongs and pretend nothing is wrong between us and him.
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, so that he could restore our connection with him, giving us his spirit to change us. Instead of giving us rules to follow he has made a way that we can be set free from the condemnation these bring. 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 their lives, following God’s spirit not following their own human desires, and this is the fruit that God’s spirit helps to grow inside).
Becoming a Christian means two things – firstly admitting we have wronged God and others – through our pride, jealousy of others’ lives and belongings, not being completely honest with others, hate, anger, bitterness, unkindness and so on. We may have a good and beautiful side, as valuable people made in God’s image but we also have this human nature that destroys 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 God as the god in our lives. It means not living with ourselves as the highest motivation behind our choices and actions. We are no longer living with our happiness as our highest goal in life but living for God, for what matters to him. When we do this we begin to live selfless lives and see the reality of God at work in this world, as we see how he can change our lives and others’.
To become a Christian we don’t need to pay a penance for our sins, or even sort out our faults to come to God clean, 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, in 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 humans 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’s full of sinners after all, who are not perfect yet! But if you want to follow God, and believe in Jesus, it will help you to meet up with people who know God and are learning to follow him, and to learn from church leaders who have studied the Bible so that they can teach it accurately and help others learn from it.