Being a Christian means knowing who Christ really is. Being a Christian means having a relationship with Christ. Being a Christian means following Jesus.
It does not mean acting good, having a one-time spiritual experience, “confessing Jesus” while your behavior goes on unchanged, just being “moral,” building your life around one or two verses, repeating the “sinner’s prayer” and then sitting back and doing nothing as you await His return, or surrendering to God only those areas of life that aren’t too costly. The word “Christian” means “little Christ” and that is exactly what we are supposed to be—an on-going transformation into the image of God’s son.
As I thought about this post, I collected quotes from famous authors and re-read some of the books that have had the greatest impact on me. But honestly, I don’t want you to hear about Jesus and His expectations from me or anyone else. So I read through the book of Matthew and underlined every directive, description, or warning that Jesus gives to Christians. Here’s what Christ has to say to His followers in Matthew chapters 4-7:
4:4 It is written, ‘Man(kind) does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’
4:7 It is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’
4:10 …For it is written ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’
4:17 Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.
4:19 Come follow Me… and I will make you fishers of men.
5:3-11 Blessed are the poor in spirit… those who mourn… the meek… those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… the merciful… the pure in heart… the peacemakers… those who are persecuted because of righteousness. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.
5:16 …let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
5:19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments [the law and the Prophets- a euphemism for the Old Testament] and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
5:22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment… But anyone who says “you fool!” will be in danger of the fires of hell.
5:23 Settle matters quickly with your adversary…
5:28 …anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body that for your whole body to be thrown into hell…
5:32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman causes her to commit adultery.
5:37 Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
5:39 Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
5:42 Give to the one who asks you, and to not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
5:44 Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.
5:48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
6:2 So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets.
6:5 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
6:14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
6:17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting.
6:21-24 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth… but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven… For where your treasure is there will your heart be also… You cannot serve both God and money.
6:25 …do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.
6:33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you as well.
7:1 Do not judge, or you too will be judged.
7:5 First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
7:13-14 Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
7:21-23 Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
That is four chapters out of 89 chapters in the gospels. As I type these verses, I am overwhelmed again by how far I have to grow and how much I have to learn. I am amazed at the breadth of teaching, the nearly unreachable standards and the non-negotiable tone of Christ.
True Christianity demands everything we have. There is not one passive statement in the above quotes. We must love God supremely. We have to be willing to sacrifice everything. The gospel transforms our words, our bodies, our thoughts and the way we use our money. Our relationships will be affected. There is no area of our life that we can hold on to and control. It will all be brought under the rule of Christ if we truly belong to him. If your head is swimming and you feel like you need a little help knowing what all this looks like in real life, God wisely has provided a great cloud of witnesses to help you apply what Jesus taught. He also has preserved the law and the prophets (the Old Testament) and the writings of several disciples (the New Testament) which can illuminate this narrow path for you.
It’s easy to make Jesus into just some great moral teacher- if you don’t actually read His words. He is a self-proclaimed King (John 18:37). He says that He is the only way to God (John 14:6). He is the giver of abundant life on earth (John 10:10). He is the giver of eternal life (John 5:24). He says that if we do not believe in Him we will die in our sins (John 8:24). C.S. Lewis makes this statement, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg–or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”
If you like some of what Jesus said but aren’t striving to apply everything that He taught, then call yourself ‘Gnostic,’ or ‘spiritual,’ or ‘new age,’ or invent a different term like ‘only-when-it-doesn’t-hurt-Christian.’ True Christianity is difficult. True Christianity will cost you. True Christianity states that we must die to our self, take up our cross and follow Christ– it’s the cross, not a cruise, people.
You would have to be really desperate to take this whole “Christianity” thing on. Or maybe just so thirsty for a spring of water welling up to eternal life. Or maybe just frantic for Someone who can truly provide rest. Or for Someone who will love you unconditionally. Or for Someone who can offer real healing. Or for Someone who can set you free.
In summary, Jesus died so that we might live. The life I now live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. His gift of life is free to me, but growing in Christlikeness will cost me—ME: my desires, my appetites, my emotions, the control of my life, the direction of my life, my comfort, my resources… everything.
It comes to this: Jesus died. Now it’s my turn.