Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A lifestyle, not a ticket to heaven

I've been thinking a lot recently about what a Christian is. What it means to be a Christian. What it means to believe.

A lot of people would say someone who believes in Jesus. Fair enough.

But the problem is that some people think Christianity is a ticket to Heaven.

People who believe that say that once you've confessed and believed, that's it, you're in.

The rest of the time is spent trying to convert, going to church, getting religious and going about your life as you always did.

Hold on though. The Greek for believing means "to put your total and complete trust in something".

Being a Christian is being something. Its not just about having faith in something.

When Jesus talks about how we get to God He is clear."I am the way, the truth and the life, no-one comes to the Father except through me" John 14 v6. Jesus words, and they are, on face value, simple to understand. Jesus is the only way to God. The original Greek translation says "no one comes in the father apart from via with me"

Jesus makes this point again in other pieces of scripture. In John 10 v 9 he says "I am the door, if anyone enters through me, He shall be saved".

Basically the truth we see here is that only through faith in and living our lives with Jesus can we be saved, and I affirm that and agree with it completely. There is no generalisation.

But I do think there is an added interpretation which people don't talk about. If we are saved through and with Christ, as the Greek translation says, it means we have to go through Him to get to God. It also means we need to walk alongside, with Him. We need to be where He would be, do what He asks us to do. Almost walk in His shoes. Live like Jesus.

Jesus says in Matthew that we must enter through the narrow gate and that few people find that gate. That means its not easy, its not simple. It involves commitment, sacrifice, making tough choices about our lifestyle and attitudes which may not be easy, but will be right.

That all means not just accepting the Bible and Jesus and thinking we've done it and have our ticket to Heaven.

Going through and with Jesus, going through the narrow gate means going His way, His path, His values. If He is the way, then being like Him is the only way to God. Only through truly believing in Jesus - that is, putting our trust in Him - and trying to become like Jesus - following His way through His door - can we be saved.

Jesus says it Himself.

"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' (Matthew 25 v 35-36).

He goes on to say "I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me. Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.' (Matthew 25 v 40-43)

Does that scare anyone else? Do we not feel the fear of the Lord reading those verses?

If we don't then I would humbly say that we're don't understand what being a Christian is.

Being a Christian is about believing in the truest sense. Putting your complete hope and trust in Jesus. But its more than that even. Its about living like Jesus. Its about being Jesus to people. Doing and living what he did.

If we are real followers of Christ we need to be serving, giving, forgiving, blessing, and be actively involved in our communities and in the world standing up for Jesus' values and living like Him - as a church and as individuals.

If we don't, we could end up being told "I never knew you" by Jesus. And that's not something I ever want to hear. We in the West have so much, we have so many opportunities, we have so much privilege. We have the opportunity to really make a difference for Jesus.

So what are doing with those resources? With our money? Our time? Our gifts and abilities? We need to answer those questions honestly. Then if something isn't right, do something about it. Do you really want Jesus to say to you "You had all these opportunities to be me to people, and you wasted them. I never knew you. Leave me"?

No. Neither do I.

And its such a challenge to us all and it should make us feel uncomfortable. It scares me. Live like Jesus, follow His example, serve Him by serving others and standing up for the things He stood up for. By taking action.

I'm not saying we are saved by works. Far from it. The Bible makes clear we can't receive salvation merely through works.(Ephesians 2 v 8-9). Its by God's grace that we have the opportunity to be saved. God chooses to save us - He does this through the cross. The ultimate expression of love, mercy, grace and forgiveness. The ultimate example for us. Jesus chose the cross and that's the key to salvation.

However, if we have true faith in Jesus, if we truly believe in Him then that has to effect everything we do. It has to be the root of everything we do.

If we understand that believing in Jesus isn't just about a ticket into heaven but is a lifestyle, an attitude, a way of living - like Jesus lived - and is totally putting our trust in Him then we understand that truly confessing Jesus is Lord, truly calling on the name of God, true faith and the only way to see God at work in us, is to become like Jesus and live like Him.

His values, his standards, standing up for justice, truth, peace, love and for those who have no-one else to stand up for them. The least, the lost and the abandoned. Practising grace, mercy and forgiveness when others wouldn't. Not judging others. If we are truly wanting to get to God then we must not only believe in, but try to become like Jesus through our actions, not just in our words.

Living like Jesus is the only way to become a true follower of Jesus and the only way to truly see God. If we're living like Jesus, then people will see Jesus in us.

Then they will see God. It is only through Jesus we can be saved. We can't be saved by our works. But believing and going through Jesus, and being a Christian is a lot more than just saying the words. Its living His way. Its a lifestyle, a culture, an attitude.

The best thing is that Jesus doesn't expect us to be perfect and get it right all the time.He calls us to try, to do our best, to make the effort with all we have, fully relying on Him. If we do that, we can get there.

Then we'll be right where God wants us, living for His glory, in His will, totally trusting in God. Being Jesus to people around us and showing people who He is.

Christianity is a lifestyle, not a ticket to Heaven.