This is the sixth part in a series called “Simple Faith”, examining the simple concepts of the Christian faith. You can read the previous posts by following these links: SimpleFaith, God, The Bible, Sin and Death, and Jesus.
“I’m a Christian”. The statement sounds so simple, yet it can have many layers of meaning behind it which cause confusion. The speaker might simply mean that they have been raised in a Christian culture, and are not buddhist or muslim. Or they might (likely will) have a specific “brand” of Christianity behind the statement – Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Baptist, Reformed, etc. There are a million of them. There are also those who would use it for its explanatory power – to say why they do or do not participate in a certain activity or event. All in all, it can be a confusing term.
So how do we cut through all of the complexity to get to the heart of Christianity and what it means to be a Christian? If we look at the historical concept, it originally meant, quite simply, to be a follower of Jesus. This captures much of the idea intended by the term, but I have chosen the following phrase to try to capture it: We live in relationship with Jesus. What does it mean, though?
I would say that there are two underlying concepts that help us to understand this, and then a few practices that can help us live it out. But at the end, I want to add a personal testimony of what this really looks like.
The first underlying concept is this: Since Jesus rose from the dead and went to heaven to be with God, he is alive to guide us and interact with us. We will get to the practical details of this shortly, but when we try to make Christianity all about just rules and regulations instead of relationship, we begin to lose the interactive aspect that is at the heart of Christianity. Christianity, we believe, is about a relationship.
The second concept is that we have been united to God (and Jesus) through the Holy Spirit. The Bible tells us that each person who enters into a covenant with God receives the Holy Spirit. This Spirit, alternately called the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ, is who allows us to connect with Jesus and interact with him.
So what does this look like on a practical level? I would argue that there are a few simple practices that have been foundational to Christians throughout the entirety of history. The forms of these might look different in many different traditions, but someone wanting to live in relationship with Christ will return to these simple practices over and over. They are so simple that they can almost seem boring or too easy, but the ability they have to impact one’s life are so significant that they should never be looked down on. They are:
- Read the Bible – Christians have always held that God can speak to us, and that the primary method of Him doing so is through the Bible. We believe that the Holy Spirit guided the authors of Scripture to record what we need to know God and to live out our faith. We also believe that the same Holy Spirit can speak to us through the words. While the Holy Spirit may speak to us in many different ways (“nudges”, the words of others, life’s circumstances, dreams, visions, and even an audible voice at times), the Bible was given to us as the steady guidebook that allows us to evaluate all of these other methods of hearing the Holy Spirit. And I have found the more that someone accepts the Bible as God’s Word and takes it seriously (when it says to forgive your neighbour, you forgive them!), the more their lives reflect Jesus.
- Pray – Prayer is a method given to us to both listen to and speak to God. If we believe in a relationship, then interaction is important. Obviously God knows everything about our lives, but as we pray we both pursue that relationship with God and take deliberate time and energy to listen to Him. Again, there are many different forms to do this, but the heart of it is interacting with God.
- Gathering – Christians have always met together to praise God and grow in their faith. There are two principal ways that Christians meet. The first is in a large group, almost always on Sundays, to praise God together, learn and visit. The style of these larger gatherings can vary wildly, but the purpose is more or less the same. The second way that Christians gather is in smaller groups, often during the week. This format works very well to “personalize” the teachings of Jesus, applying them to to the particular situation of the individual. It’s an excellent way to hear the voice of Gd through the counsel of others, as well as to encourage one another, challenge one another to growth, and seek the will of God together.
- Obedience – Of course, the ultimate purpose of all of these practices is to live the way that God wants us to live – both in a general sense and also in specific instances where he wants us to do particular things to bless and help others. We read the Bible, pray, and gather together so that we can learn to live as the people of God and to be His representatives here on earth. This ought to touch every aspect of our life – work, leisure, family, friends, hobbies, etc. We seek to honour God by obeying Him.
But let’s be honest – this all sounds very boring in some ways. You go to church, pray, and read the Bible. Where’s the adventure? The adventure comes when we really begin to implement the “obedience” part. For us, that has meant leaving our comfortable life in Canada and heading off to Costa Rica, and then Mexico, to serve in churches there. The picture at the top is our family on vacation in a small mining town in Mexico. The entire process of obeying God has been an adventure, to say the least!
Of course, most people won’t leave their home to serve God in another country. But we are still called to be obedient to God. This means we don’t just pray, read the Bible and go to church – it means we act. It means we step out of our comfort zone and love people as Jesus called us to. It means we go to work, but also that we pray for the people at work, and show them love. It means we fill our spare time not just with our own hobbies and interests, but with some activities that will be a blessing to others. It means volunteering at the Food Bank, visiting sick neighbours, praying with people going through difficult circumstances, making immigrants feel welcome, contributing financially not just to the church, but to other organizations that need help. It also means choosing discipline and service over freedom and rights in our own life. It means sacrificing to follow God – whether that’s building a strong marriage rather than running around in multiple relationships, investing more time and energy into your kids’ lives, working less hours so you can invest in other activities, or undergoing significant counselling and changes to become the person God wants you to become. That’s why I focused on living in relationship with Jesus. It’s more than just going to church and praying and reading the Bible. It’s living a life in response to what Jesus says. And therein lies the adventure.
So there you have it. While it is very challenging to live as a Christian, at its heart, it’s very simple. We live in relationship with Christ, listening to his voice and trying to obey what he is saying and follow where he is leading. We are Christians – followers of Christ living in relationship with him.