What is a real Christianity? What does it actually mean to follow Jesus?
Today, more then half of Americans would call themselves Christians, or say at some point they've prayed some variation of the sinner's prayer to be saved. But, only a small fraction of these same people live their lives any differently then the people around them. So, what's that mean?
Well, it means that either Christianity doesn't really change anything... or that the people that aren't changed, aren't actually Christians. So, the question is, which is it? Here are a few portions of scripture that address this question, showing us what it really means to be a Christian. Take a look...
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
"He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit," - Titus 3:5
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved." - Matthew 24:9-12
"Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." - Romans 10:9
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” - John 13:34-35
"Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." - John 14:6
"Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple." - Luke 14:27
"So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple." - Luke 14:33
"What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?" - James 2:14-20
"By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples." - John 15:8
"For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life." - John 3:16 Wow - That's a lot! How does all that fit together? Today, the most common belief about God is that if you work hard enough, and your good outweighs your bad, you get to go to heaven. And if your bad outweighs your good, you would go to hell. These seems reasonable at face value, but when you really dig into it, it really doesn't make much sense, from a legal standpoint. Legally, when you commit a crime, you need to be held accountable for that crime - it doesn't matter what good you've done. Why would we think God would judge any differently?
But just as importantly, this is clearly not biblical. As we see throughout scripture, we are saved by grace, through faith alone - not by the things we do. This is not because God just decided he wouldn't carry out justice, but simply because he choose to absorb the wrath of his justice into himself. This was what Jesus did on the cross. And because of that, we're all offered pardons for our wrongs. If we think about this too, this also makes sense. After all, if someone stole from you, they have to ether pay you back, or you can take the loss, yourself - but regardless of how it happens, someone has to take the loss. In this case, God chose to.
So, what do we have to do to receive this pardon? Well, according to John 3:16, the prerequisite is one word: believe. Now, when you hear the word "believe", what's the first thing that comes to mind? For me, it's "to be convinced something is true", but that's not what this is saying - at least not fully. It means something much deeper. The original Greek word used here for "belief" is "πιστεύω", (which transliterated is "pisteuō"). What's that mean, in English?
It's to believe... but with action. Another word that would have worked just as well here is the word "entrust". That's the big idea that Jesus is conveying here: a deep rooted belief, in trusting action. It's the difference between knowing in your head that someone can catch you, and leaning back and letting them catch you. It's the idea of placing the weight of your life on Jesus. It's entrusting Him with your future, your eternity, your control, and your destiny. We use the word "belief" for both: but the second one is so much more powerful, and that's the kind of belief Jesus is talking about.
So, what's that mean, practically? It means that to be a real Christian, you don't need to do a bunch of things to get God's acceptance. To receive his gift of acceptance, you simply place the weight of your life on Him, trusting that He's got you covered.
"Hold on, wait a minute!" You might say, "But what about 'inviting Him into your life to be your Savior and Lord'?"
Good question! That's just terminology we use to describe what Jesus means by "believe". When you truly entrust your life to God, you're trusting Him with everything, including command and lordship of your life - and in that decision, God does save you. But that's all that phrase is, "terminology". This is where so many people get it wrong. They're asked to recite a prayer with the words, "Lord and Savior" in it, but don't actually entrust their lives to Christ. All they're doing is making Jesus another authority in their lives, and they think that because of it, they'll get free Heaven. And even more scary, is that because so many pastors keep saying, "Once saved, always saved", they think that even if they remove God as their authority figure, they'll still be good no matter what (even though they were never really saved to begin with). Needless to say, that's not how this works!
True salvation is entrusting yourself to Christ, with total surrender. This, in turn, cause complete life-change. It's like getting hit by a semi-truck: you always will come out of that walking differently! It's getting infused with the Holy Spirit inside you, to guide you, help you, strengthen you, and never leave you. It's a new life that produces the fruit of the spirit. That's why the Bible often talks about faith being dead without works - because if the works of God never appear, then it's safe to assume that the spirit of God never changed you - and thus, never saved you. Of course, Christians aren't going to be perfect (we still have free will), but real, genuine faith will cause major life change - every time. That is what it means to be a Christian. And that is what it means to believe.