What Christianity Means to Me
I was raised by parents who taught me the Bible and took me to church. I could see the difference their faith made in their lives. When they were kind, it was because of their faith. When they cared for and helped other people, it was because of their faith. When they struggled in life or made hard decisions, their faith helped guide them.
Of course I wanted to be like them and have faith like them. But Christianity’s biggest draw for me was the stories I heard from the Bible. They felt real and alive and applicable to me. So one day I prayed to God and asked him to forgive me for my sins—the wrong things I did all them time when I was selfish or lied or disobeyed—and to live in me and help me to be a better person. I felt changed after that; not perfect, but changed for the better. Of course I learned more about what I believed as I grew older, but from that point on, faith wasn’t just ‘faith’ to me. It was trust in a living God I could interact with through prayer and his words in the Bible. My reliance on that God made me a kinder, better person because I had a model to pattern my life after. I became a Jesus-follower.
My faith became more my own as I grew. I read the Bible for myself. I prayed more myself. I learned lessons about my Christianity from books, sermons, teachers, and my parents. But the lessons that stuck with me most were the ones I gleaned myself from reading the Bible on my own time. I learned what real love is from the stories of Jesus’ life. I learned about kindness, justice, mercy, and forgiveness from colorful stories in the Old Testament part of the Bible. The stories of faith came alive to me as I learned about its great history and my forefathers and mothers who participated in its founding epic.
Those stories wouldn’t let me sit still in a church pew. They moved me. They moved me out into the world where people were hurting and living and laughing. They moved me to learn what I could about and from the people of the world; and just like any other favorite book or cause or passion, they set a fire in me. Those stories enriched my life and helped me to live well. I couldn’t keep them to myself.
I learned that I love hearing and telling stories. The stories people tell explain their lives, their passions, and their spirituality. I live my life gleaning as many stories as I can. You tell me your favorite stories, and I’ll tell you mine. Our stories shape us and connect us—and whether they’re about Jedi, WWII soldiers, Middle Earth, or superheroes, the narratives we tell spin the threads of our belief. I learned that I am a keeper and teller of stories. I listen. I observe. And I tell the stories I hear. As a Christian, I see that our stories fit into a vast narrative that gives them meaning and purpose.
I could write books about why I’m a Christian, if anyone would read them. But there’s a better book I’d prefer you to read. It’s the book Christ-followers have been reading for centuries. It connects me to poor paupers, social activists, benevolent kings, historical figures, and great movers and shakers of the world who have all read the same book. Intelligent and powerful men and women for 2000 years have been reading this book, and it has shaped their lives. If they’ve read it carefully, it’s shaped their lives for the better.
The Bible has its rough edges. It can be hard to understand sometimes, just like any old literature. But it’s at once both gritty and real and soaringly beautiful and poetic. It tells about the building blocks of every day life, like families, governments, poverty, and celebration. It has elements of the fantastic, the mundane, the extraordinary, and eternal truth. It holds stories about rape, incest, coups, insanity, bravery, bribery, prostitutes, child kings, the rise and fall of nations, the cuss words, the graphic scenes, the victory songs, the nighttime weeping, crazy parties, and the simple contentment of dawn. In short, this ancient book relates to every aspect of life, both modern and ancient. It’s an anthology of music and poetry, philosophy, ethics, and epics and short stories. But it also traces the meta-narrative of history that gives our lives meaning beyond their narrow scope. Have you personally ever read the Bible’s engaging books? John, Genesis, or Acts? The Bible’s stories have real answers for real questions that have changed my life.
Lots of people today think the Bible is old or outdated. And in some sense, I suppose it is. We don’t ride around in chariots today, and our neighboring nations don’t sacrifice their children to statues of gods. The Roman Empire is long gone, as are the days when we raised our own livestock and grew our own produce. But family relationships aren’t all that different nowadays. People are oppressed today just like they were when it was written. And humans still ask themselves the same questions: why am I here; does this life matter; why would a good God let bad things happen; is it worth it to try to be a good person? In its own words, the Bible says, “What has been will be again, / What has been done will be done again; / There is nothing new under the sun.” In many ways, history repeats itself, so we have a lot to learn from the past. And if Shakespeare managed to tell stories that still move us 400 years later, perhaps a book that’s stood the test of time for 2000 years might be more relatable than we think.
Quite a few people think the Bible isn’t reliable, and that it has changed a lot since it was first put to paper. And those people have a valid point; can I base my entire belief system on some collection of stories that’s been warped from its original in the intervening years? First I’ll tell you that we never think about the reliability of our copies of Homer’s Iliad or Odyssey. We don’t care much how accurate our Aeneid is to Virgil’s first manuscript. Those books read as if they were whole stories. They move us, teach us, and intrigue us, so we give them credit for their worth. But the Bible is the most historically unchanged ancient book around. It has more fragments through history than any other book to attest to its integrity. Our copies today, in their various translations, are more accurate to the originals than our copies of the Iliad or the Odyssey.
Maybe we tend to judge the book by its cover. And maybe the cracked leather and fading gilt letters Holy Bible seem a little powerless or stuffy in an age of brightly colored news feeds, pixels, and immediate digital updates. But the Bible’s words pack just as much punch today as they did thousands of years ago when they were first spoken or written. Its harshest words are toward the prideful, the arrogant, and the self-righteous oppressors. Its kindest and most soothing words are to the poor, forgotten, repentant, and voiceless. It seems to me our world could use more of those words today. Just this morning I read in it that Jesus came to unite people near and far, to be our peace, and to destroy the barriers of hostility that divide us (that’s in the book of Ephesians, if you want to read more of it). As a citizen of a country ripped and bleeding by the divisions between race and gender and economics, those words are powerful to me. And when you come down to it, either they deliver on their promise or they don’t. That question lies with the most disputed, most intriguing figure of the entire Bible.
Jesus is a character you can’t make up. He yelled and whipped people who charged others to come to the temple to worship. He stopped his busy schedule for children to listen to his stories. He wasn’t pompous or arrogant. He was kind and peaceful. He shared what he had and gave his time to everyone. He was a man who wept freely, but refused to speak a word in his defense when false accused of a crime. His love for his band of friends was self-sacrificial. He washed their dirty desert feet like a servant, spent every waking hour with them, and didn’t betray them when he was on trial. If anyone could unite people across nation, race, gender, and wage, it would be him.
He knew that the only way for generations to be able to personally know a God who hates sin but loves the people he created was to pay for their sin personally—to take our just punishment of death himself. Do you know anyone else who literally died for you? God came to earth himself as Jesus to deal with all the ugliness and limitations of our human existence so we could know him. And how could you not want to know him? He is so intriguing. He cared personally for women, children, sick, outcasts, thieves, educated, simple, shunned, oppressed, and foreigners no one liked. He himself was a refugee, most people assumed he was a bastard child, and he performed miracles you’d have to be crazy to believe.
I admire quite a few historical figures, but if you ask me which one I’d want to be like, hands down it’s Jesus. Many people admire Jesus as a historical figure, but they don’t believe everything he said. You may not have to believe everything a person says to admire them—I adore Tolkien, but I don’t agree with him on any and every topic—but if somebody claims to be God, and to be God’s savior for mankind, that colors everything else he says. You either believe him, you don’t, or you think he’s crazy. You can’t ride the fence with Jesus. You can’t say he was a good man and dismiss his claim of divinity as a little white lie or a moment of insanity. You have to take the whole package or leave it.
Jesus is the founder of my faith, and the founder of Christianity. He claimed to be the Christ, which means ‘the messiah,’ or God’s chosen deliverance for his people. Jesus came to deliver people from their bondage to sin. And if we think we can free ourselves from our own human nature, which prompts us to lie, to cheat, to be unfaithful, or to lack character, we’re wrong. It’s impossible to always do the right thing. Sin is a monumental slavery to break, and it requires a supernatural power who is unfailingly good. It required Jesus. That’s why Christians name themselves after him.
How Can Christians Bear the Name Today
So, to answer the questions I started with, how can I be a Christian when there’s so much hate today and in history connected to that name? When Trump, a man who spews hate the likes of which I’ve never seen in my life, calls himself the same name? When people who claim to be Christians value themselves and their fears too much to want refugees to find a safe haven in their county? When people claim the title who ignore the cries of the poor or oppressed?
It’s a matter of definition. Being a Christian means you should look and act like Christ. I want to be like Jesus—to love like him, to speak truth like him, to tell life-giving stories like him. But if I never act like him, I’m not a Christian. If I tell you I’m an astronaut, or an oak tree, or a purple baboon that lives in a zoo, I’m lying. I don’t look or act like those things I claim to be, so I’m not. Anyone who doesn’t act like Christ, but claims to be a Christian, they’re pulling your leg. We all make mistakes and we aren’t perfect on our own. But real Christians will tell you that God’s Spirit lives in them. And if he does, they’ll act with that same inexplicable love and compassion Jesus showed, that same fury at the self-righteous and self-assured. I’m a Christian because I want to act like Christ. Not I, nor anyone else, have a right to bear that name we don’t live by it.
I hope that you all have the chance to read about Jesus in the Bible. And I hope he rocks the world you’re standing on like he did mine. I hope that, as a Jesus-follower, I look recognizably like him to you. And if I don’t, you have every right as my friends to say something to me. If I do look like him, and that intrigues you, let’s sit down and talk.