As a child my parents taught me that becoming a follower of Jesus Christ meant choosing that. One evening, full of heart-hunger, I echoed after my mother a prayer something like this: “God, lots of times I think and do things I know don’t please you. Please forgive me. I believe you love me and that Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins, then rose again so we could live forever with you. Please direct my life and help me to always follow you. Amen.”
I prayed that prayer sincerely. But eventually I began thinking, “That’s way too easy! Surely God expects more than a little prayer in trade for a forever home in heaven with him.” Obeying the Ten Commandments, at least. Perhaps promising to be a missionary in Africa. But also things like reading my Bible daily, attending church weekly, obeying authorities, never piercing my ears, getting a tattoo or wearing gaudy jewellery. And never working or shopping on the day of rest.
That wasn’t all. No wearing skirts above the knee, blouses below the collarbone or two-piece swimsuits. No swearing, playing cards or listening to secular music. And especially no drinking alcohol or dancing. I worried that even one tiny slip would cancel my salvation.
In the years since, I have often not measured up to what I once believed necessary to “be Christian”. I have run afoul of the Ten Commandments. I have put other things above my loyalty to Jesus. And I have failed, so badly, in loving others. Those sins, I know, have grieved God.
But decades of reading scripture, praying and learning from wise teachers have corrected my misbelief about salvation. Every time I run to him for forgiveness, God reminds me that his grace covers that sin. That I am still his child, and a wanted one, at that.
Since childhood, I’ve experienced the humbling reality of friendship with Jesus Christ. I remain a work in progress, but as the Holy Spirit has kneaded God’s Word and gift of salvation through my life, I’ve noticed that we’ve slain a few inner dragons.
Being Christian has nothing to do with impressing God (or anyone else) by our goodness and everything to do with living in relationship with Jesus. “Love God and do as you please,” I’ve told younger Christ-followers. That startles them at first. Then I explain that someone truly in love finds joy in pleasing the one they love. In fact, most would rather take a body blow than intentionally do or be something that would grieve that lover. Right-being and right-doing, then, flow naturally from loving, truly loving, Christ.
A song from the musical Godspell paraphrases the prayer of twelfth century Anglican bishop, Richard of Chichester. “Day by day, oh, dear Lord, three things I pray. To know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly and follow thee more nearly.”
No one is born a Christ-follower – but anyone can become one. Jesus gave the invitation two thousand years ago, and it still stands.