Luke 9:23-25

What does it mean to be a Christian? If you ask any number of people, you will inevitably get different answers. Some will say it means you follow one of the three main world religions. Others will give a more discrete definition–that you go to church, or read the Bible and pray, or try to love others. Yet none of these get to the heart of the issue. So how, really, are you different if you follow Christ?

“…If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?” (Luke‬ ‭9‬:‭23-25‬)

Christianity is peculiar in that it is not defined by self-identification. Jesus clearly points out that there will be people who believed they are Christians who aren’t:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew‬ ‭7‬:‭21-23‬)

So what is Christianity–how can we tell if we are really following Christ? At its heart, Christianity changes people. Granted, other religions and philosophies win converts and change minds too, but none of them deal with who we are in our heart of hearts. Jesus explained:

“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John‬ ‭3‬:‭3, 5-6‬)

There is a basic change that has to occur in us to cause us to care about God and want Him. Without it, we will never feel drawn to Christ; to the contrary, we will try our best to avoid Him. This is why we say that conversion is a supernatural act of God–why one person cannot superimpose it on another, no matter how much they want to. Yet when it happens, you can’t miss it. Again, Jesus explains:

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (‭John‬ ‭3‬:‭8‬)

Someone who has been born again, whose heart has been turned toward God, is unmistakable. Just as you know the wind exists because of the leaves blowing around, you know someone has become a member of God’s family because of the change in them. But what is this change–what is its purpose?

The entire purpose of Jesus’ activity in our lives is to counteract the effect of sin in us–to save us from our sins:

“But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.'” (Matthew‬ ‭1‬:‭20-21‬)

Mankind is born sinful. Whether you frame it in this particular phraseology or not, it is inescapable. The atrocities we are capable of, the incessant draw to what is harmful and wrong. The words of a popular song describe it perfectly:

“I feel something so right
Doing the wrong thing
I feel something so wrong
Doing the right thing
I could lie, coudn’t I, could lie
Everything that kills me makes me feel alive.”
(Counting Stars by OneRepublic)

Because I am born selfish and foolish, my natural bent is toward what is harmful to me and hurtful to others–toward what is wrong. I can try to do what I think is right, but even that frequently ends up being misguided. Yet Jesus’ death and resurrection opened the door for us to something better:

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man [what Jesus called Himself] be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John‬ ‭3‬:‭14-17)

But what is the “belief,” the “believing” Jesus spoke of–what is it? It is such a trust in Him that is willing to live as He commands regardless of the loss it causes me personally. It is the losing of my life for His sake of today’s verses that ultimately causes me to save my life. And it is at the same time incredibly easy–all we have to do is give in to Him and trust that “…all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans‬ ‭8‬:‭28‬)–while at the same time being incredibly hard, because this requires that we “…walk by faith, not by sight.” (II Corinthians‬ ‭5‬:‭7‬) And isn’t it amazing that Jesus didn’t come to condemn us–that He came to give us a way out! So why, why do so many people not do it? Again, Jesus gives the answer:

“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (‭John‬ ‭3‬:‭18-21‬)

The reason so many people reject Jesus is because they want to continue living their own lives doing wrong. The person who wants to do right–who “does the truth” “comes to the light”–comes to Jesus–“that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”

So, what does it mean to be a Christian–how are you different if you follow Christ? The real definition is that you “walk by faith, not by sight;” that you believe in Jesus–trust Him–so much that you “deny…[yourself] (your own fear of what will happen) and follow Christ.”

Dear Lord,
Help me walk by faith–trusting You in everything to be faithful to Your promises–not by sight. Amen.

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About essentialdailyscriptures

Do you want to grow in your knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but aren’t sure where to start? Essential Daily Scriptures is a ministry for people who want to study God’s Word, but don’t have a lot of time. Each day’s study covers one verse and takes approximately fifteen minutes, incorporating significant amounts of Scripture directly from the NKJV Bible, so you’re able to get right into God’s Word with a minimal time investment on a daily basis. May “the Father of glory…give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.” (Ephesians 1:17b)
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