What do you think of when you learn that someone is a Christian?
Do you assume they…
Don’t drink alcohol?
Boycott R-rated movies?
Spend every Sunday in church?
Won’t talk to girls in short skirts or guys with tattoos?
Hate Muslims and homosexuals?
While some of the above may or may not be true, every Christian is different. Even after considering the variations of each denomination and sub-sect of the Christian tradition, each individual will live out those beliefs and practices in different ways.
The basic definition of “Christian” is “Christ follower,” someone who believes Jesus Christ is the Son of God, died for our sins, saved our souls, and that we should follow his teachings.
But what does that look like practically? How does being a Christian affect how people live their day-to-day lives?
There will be as many answers to the above questions as there are Christians, because our beliefs (whether Christian or not) and how we live them out are so individualized. I cannot assume how another person lives their life or what they consider the most important aspect of their faith.
I can only answer the question “What does it mean to be Christian” as it relates to MY life. And that answer won’t be the exact same as anyone else (so please please do not assume you know who I voted for in the 2016 presidential election).
What it means to be a Christian (according to me).
I define being a Christian as having a relationship with the person of Christ. You might have heard the phrase “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.” As corny as that sounds, it has a lot of merit. My life shouldn’t be defined by a list of Do’s and Don’ts, but rather getting to know Christ and following his direction.
What does having a relationship with an immaterial being look like?
You get to know God the same way you get to know a physical person: by spending time with Him. That means spending time reading the Bible, attending biblically-based sermons, joining Bible studies, listening to Christian Life podcasts, etc, and, most importantly, speaking and listening through prayer (the equivalent of face-to-face conversations).
The concept of listening during prayer isn’t as wide-spread as you might think. Most people consider prayer just talking to God, not with God. Consider a friendship where all you do is talk about yourself and never stop to listen to what the other person has to say. That friendship wouldn’t go very far, don’t you think?
When I first tried it, I asked God to tell me what I needed to know in order to be a better Christian. I expected to hear something I needed to do or stop doing, insight into what I was doing wrong.
There was no shining light or voice booming down from heaven, but I did hear a whisper in the back of my mind, like a thought placed there, but not by me. The gentle whisper said three words:
I love you.
There’s a lot more to that story, but suffice it to say, I’ve been slayed ever since.
How does being a Christian change my day-to-day life?
Being a Christian does NOT mean all my problems disappear, or that God will answer every single one of my prayers like wishing on a star. Being a Christian will not make me richer, or healthier, or more successful. However…
1. Being a Christian can make the hard times easier to bear.
God does not promise an easy life. In fact he promises the opposite. But he does promise that He will be with us and He will bring us peace in all circumstances. So no matter what we are going through, we have a supernatural being who will support us and stand by us and equip us with what we need for the moment (even if it isn’t what we want).
How I apply this to my life: I recognize that as a white, middle-class American, my life is objectively #blessed. But even my privileged life isn’t all butterflies and roses. I’ve been raped, lost a pregnancy, betrayed by those closest to me, and am battling clinical depression. I have felt abandoned and hated by God.
In retrospect, I know God was with me every step of the way. No, I was not happy at the time about the events that occurred. I am still not happy about them (and I don’t think that’s what God intends either).
But I have experienced that inexplicable peace in the midst of a terrible situation. I have felt his arms around me as I cried. Feeling His presence and His voice has helped me weather the darkness of 3 AM when all else looks hopeless.
2. Being a Christian should affect how I treat other people.
Have you heard of the golden rule? Did you know it is in the Bible? Expanding upon the original “treat others the way you want to be treated,” Christians are commanded to love others just as God loves us, even if they are not Christians.
Not only are we meant to love everyone sacrificially (you know God loves us to the point of dying for us, even when we sin, even when we don’t love Him back, right?), but that love should define us as Christians. Not the WWJD bracelets we no longer wear (throwback), not our perfect church attendance, not the Jesus fish bumper sticker on the back of our minivan, but the love with which we treat others.
Not to point any fingers, but this is something the church today (and yesterday and tomorrow) needs to remember.
How I apply this to my life: Simply, I try being nice to everybody.
That means the cashier who double-scanned three items, DMV employees, drivers who don’t use their turn signals, internet bullies, your best friend of 12 years who stabbed you in the back but keeps contacting you and pretending that it never happened.
Being kind doesn’t always come naturally. Sometimes it is reeeeally hard.
I recently relearned this lesson with someone close to me: someone who hurt me, who broke my heart, who I thought needed to hear an itemized list of all of their sins and then be cut from my life. But God reminded me that even that person was loved unconditionally by Him, and I should treat them as such.
3. Being a Christian does NOT make me perfect.
No matter how hard I try, no matter how many Bible verses I memorize, no matter how many Christian Life books I read, I, Jessica E Mondy, will never be perfect. Ever. No one will. Not even you. Sorry.
That is both incredibly depressing and impossibly freeing. We’ll focus on the latter.
Knowing I’ll never be perfect takes the pressure off any performance anxiety or overwhelming guilt that can often be associated with living the Christian life. I don’t have to worry about keeping every single commandment or worry about being condemned for slipping up.
Realizing we are imperfect beings should keep us from judging other (should being the keyword here). Christians are often associated with looking down on others and being intolerant and judgmental. The Bible speaks directly against this. Also, see point 2.
How I apply this to my life: I have a lifelong habit of internalizing failure. I put high expectations on myself (they aren’t even necessarily Christian–school was the worst) and then have a very hard time forgiving myself when I don’t meet them. I got a C+ in Linguistics so obviously I will never amount to anything and all my previous accomplishments mean nothing.
Learning that imperfection is not only inevitable but also perfectly (see what I did there?) acceptable has breathed new life into me. This attitude has helped me in other areas of my life as well: parenting, housework, writing, fitness. Being able to accept my setbacks in stride has given me the courage to move forward and try new things. This blog only exists because I’ve learned to be comfortable with imperfection!
4. Being a Christian DOES come with a code of ethics.
Just because Christians aren’t perfect doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to keep God’s commandments. Much of the Bible is instruction on how to live–don’t ignore it! Not only should we listen to what God tells us to do because we love Him and want to make Him proud, but His decrees are for our benefit and the benefit of those around us.
As Christians, we are representatives of Christ here on this earth. We are meant to be recognizably different from non-believers. As such, it is our responsibility to emulate Christ and try to be as much like Him as possible. This is rather unfortunate for Him, because we’re terrible at it. But practice makes perfect, so we should never stop trying to improve ourselves.
How I apply this to my life: This is where I (and probably most Christians) struggle most. The best thing to do is really lean in to the first part of this blog; getting to know Christ. If you are taking your faith seriously, you need to pray and read the Bible. Every. Day (I’m not great at that second part… good thing we’re allowed to be imperfect). The more you get used to hearing His voice, you’ll be able to hear that still small voice as you make decisions throughout your day.
Christians love God and those around them, rely on God during the hard times, and try their best to follow his instructions (although imperfectly).
So there you have it. There is so much more I could write, but this covers the basics. I’m sure other Christians (including you if you are one) would give different answers to what being a Christian looks like. Let me know in the comments what I missed!