The simplest way to define a Christian is as “a follower of Jesus.” That means, someone who tries to learn from Jesus Christ what he has to teach about God, about life and how to live it, and about death and how to deal with it. In a sense, a Christian is a student of Jesus the Teacher.
If that is a Christian, then what is the church? Again, at its simplest, church is when followers of Jesus get together. Why do they get together? To learn more about how to follow Jesus, to pray together, and to encourage one another in their faith. In a sense, the church is the school of Jesus. And, in many churches, they also break bread and drink wine together (variously called the Mass, Communion, Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper) as Jesus told his followers to do. They also get together because one of the things Jesus taught was that God is interested not just in individuals living good lives, but in people learning to live as a diverse and harmonious community.
Another way to think of a Christian is as someone who has responded to the Good News—or gospel—that Jesus taught. What is that Good News? It is about something he called “the Kingdom of God”—the state of affairs where things are done in the way the Creator intended. Jesus said that this Kingdom came into the world in a special way when God sent him into the world—in effect, that he was the King of this Kingdom
So what is the Good News of “the Kingdom”? That God in love has not given up on our world, with all its hurt and folly and wars. Rather, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, God is at work to put things to rights, to shape a world where all pain and self-centeredness is done away with. And God invites human beings everywhere to be part of this new thing he is doing in the world.
How do you become part of God’s work, part of God’s “kingdom”? That’s where becoming a follower of Jesus comes in. Why? Because it’s from Jesus that we learn most clearly what it means to work with God in this project of restoring the world. Jesus demonstrated the Kingdom himself—by the way he lived, but also by his brutal execution and by his miraculous coming back to life three days later—and he taught others how to walk that same road. And that’s why, if we want to work with the Creator in this amazing global restoration project, the best way to do it is in the school of Jesus.
How do you become a follower of Jesus, then? Jesus used two old-fashioned-sounding words to describe it: “repent” and “believe.” “Repent” means to turn away from one thing, and “believe” means to turn towards something else: a 180 degree change, as if we set off walking west and then turned right around and start heading east. Another word for turning around like this is conversion. For some people, that turning around is sudden, but for others it takes a long time.
So what does that journey in a new direction look like? As you might expect, it means a complete change of view. (After all, if you were heading west, you would have been walking towards the sunset; now, facing east, you’re heading towards the sunrise.) Before, it meant living my life as though it belonged to me. Now I realise that it is a gift from the Creator. Before, it meant setting the priorities of my life according to what I thought was important. Now it means learning what God’s priorities for my life are. Before, I could be as selfish as I wanted to be; now I am learning to serve God and others. The changes are huge.
Does that sound difficult? Well, yes, Jesus never said it would be easy: he was very clear that in some ways it would feel like a death, and any experienced Christian will tell you that following him is often difficult. But the good news is that in following Jesus, you are actually learning to follow the Creator’s way, which means you’re learning to live your life with the grain of the universe, not against it. And in the end that means experiencing what Jesus called “life in all its fullness”—becoming the person that you were created to be, and doing what you were made to do—and in the company of the God who made you and who loves you.
If this sounds intriguing, come check us out one of these Sundays. As you can tell, becoming a Christian is a big thing—in fact, the biggest decision you could ever make—and nobody wants you to rush into it. Come see what church (this followers-of-Jesus-getting-together event) is like. How do they experience Christian faith? How do they handle the difficulties? What are the joys? How do they keep going? How do they experience the love of God? Listen in on their praying, their singing, their teaching, their conversation. They will welcome your eavesdropping!
And if, after a time, you decide that this is indeed what you want, talk to the priest about baptism. If being a Christian is being a student in the school of Jesus, getting baptized is the way you register in the school. It’s a public ceremony (you can’t be a private Christian) and involves you stating your desire to be a follower of Jesus. And the whole Christian community (your fellow students) is there to cheer you on, promising to support and encourage you in your new life.
Perhaps you were baptized as a baby, but have never really done anything about it. In that case, if you decide you want to be a follower of Jesus, there is something called “Re-affirmation of Baptismal Vows,” where you are not baptized again (that’s not necessary), but you take the promises that were made on your behalf as a baby and make them your own as a thoughtful adult choice. And that can be just as meaningful as baptism itself.