I usually try to avoid describing myself as a Christian, instead using the term Christ follower. Why the attempt to differentiate? Because the terms Christian and religion have such a broad application that they don’t truly represent what I have come to learn about God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit and our personal relationship with each element of this Trinity.
Merriam-Webster gives three definitions for the word “religion”:
- the belief in a god or in a group of gods
- an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods
- an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group
This is what the public generally thinks of us who identify ourselves as Christians. Their view of us tends to be around their perception of the rules and ceremonies. The multitude of Christian denominations has not helped clarify this perception either, especially with some seemingly focused on the rules and ceremonies instead of Bible teaching.
These definitions don’t come very close to describing the true nature of a Christ follower. What does Merriam-Webster say about “Christian”? “A person who believes in the teachings of Jesus Christ”. That is certainly a true statement in a broad sense, but leaves out many elements of the relationship between a Christ follower and Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit. The key elements beyond believing in the teachings of Jesus are the commitments that Jesus is my Savior and my Lord. Savior means that Jesus is the only way to be with God in Heaven after we die. Lord means that we are in continual submission to Jesus everyday of our lives. My relationship with God is that He is my Father. The Holy Spirit is my guide and advocate, helping me to make wise choices and helping me communicate with a God who is truly beyond full understanding.
So what does it look like to be in a relationship instead of a religion? It starts with purposefully spending time in the relationship. The communication elements of a spiritual relationship include reading the Bible, which is how God talks to us (revealing who He is and His plan for humanity, as well as how we should conduct ourselves), praying, which is how we talk to God (with the help of the Holy Spirit when we don’t have the words) and worship, both alone and together with other Christ followers. Submission happens when what I want contradicts what Jesus wants for me and from me.
These are daily elements of the relationship, not once a week for an hour or two on Sunday morning. They should be elements you are participating in throughout your day. In addition to my daily habits of Bible reading and prayer in the morning I regularly get wisdom and guidance from online Bibles and prayers when confronted with a decision or request for help or advice from someone. With the easy access to Christian radio and podcasts I am able to worship in my car and at home, as well as listen to Bible teaching from a number of qualified pastors. Sundays I am able to worship with other Christ followers at Bible teaching churches in my town or other towns when traveling. Every choice and decision, including business ones, that I make is rooted in these elements of this relationship I began 20 years ago.
How about you? Are you in a relationship with Jesus, reflected by your daily choices and activities? Or, are you in a religion, practicing ceremonies without a true understanding of what they mean? Are you participating in a religious ceremony on Sunday morning, then leaving every other aspect of following Christ at the door as you leave? Read Matthew chapters 24 and 25 and think about your life and your relationship with Jesus Christ, Savior and Lord.