To be a follower of Jesus is not a matter of keeping particular rules or rituals. It is a relationship of love. It means loving and being loved by God. It means loving and being loved by others. Christians behave in particular ways out of gratitude for that love.
Because there is no special style of dress or daily ritual associated with being a Christian, many people call themselves Christians without it appearing to make any practical difference to their lives. They live in a culture which has been shaped over many centuries by the teaching of Jesus. That impacts on the freedom of the society, its justice, its compassion and its festivals.
The benefits of being a nominal Christian are very great indeed. It means living in a country in which (for the most part) poor people are not left to starve and minorities do not face execution without trial if their views are inconvenient. Many things that make life joyful spring from a Christian heritage – public holidays such as Easter, and magnificent music and architecture.
However, those who have decided to allow Christianity to have a real impact on them find that their lives are vastly improved. They live in a relationship with God. Of course, there is no proof that God exists, so this requires faith. But that faith is not vague, because it is founded on the teaching and promises of Jesus. This is a reliable basis for faith, because it is virtually undeniable that Jesus existed. They worship and serve Jesus as their living God – very different from being just a nominal Christian.
Jesus taught and promised that having a relationship with him would offer ‘life in all its fullness’. Christians find in him a sense of purpose, security and self-worth.
To live with faith in Jesus means that his followers are aware that their human lives are only a small part of an eternal existence. So they experience the highs, lows and mundane parts of life in a different way from those who have no confidence in anything except their own flesh and bone.
Christians are able to face bereavement and their own end knowing that God loves them through and beyond death.
Christians have someone to thank for experiences which can barely be explained by a godless view of existence – a new birth, a stunning experience, or a heartfelt love.
Christians have a way of moving on from wrong they regret doing, because of the forgiveness that God promises.
Christians facing times of real torment feel the assurance that God is going through terrible events alongside them, and that his ultimate plan for the universe is good.
Christians who have made their faith central to their lives sometimes describe themselves as having a complete certainty of being loved, and an inner peace.
What the Bible says about it
An extract from the Bible:
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Where to find it:
About these words:
Paul, whose letters form a large part of the New Testament, writes about how faith in Jesus has made him strong and continually sustains him.
And they said…
Fabrice Muamba, Bolton Wanderers midfielder, for whom millions of people prayed after his heart stopped for 78 minutes during a televised football match in March 2012:
It’s unbelievable, man! Just to be able to walk freely with no machine, with no wire in you. Just to be able to breathe. Just to be able to see my little boy and play with him … There’s no money in the world that can buy that … If circumstances won’t allow me to play football again, I can say I gave everything. I’ve worked hard. We’ll see … There’s a verse in the Bible that goes, ‘If God is with me, who can be against me?’ I died literally. I am alive. There is nothing now to be in fear of.
Victoria Coren, broadcaster and two-time European poker champion:
I believe in God. I have always believed in God. I tried not to, but I do. To some people that is as crazy as believing that green is unlucky, that a seven will come if you say its name near a dice table. It is as impossible to explain faith to someone who does not feel it, as it is to explain being in love to someone who is not.
Harold Kushner, North American rabbi and writer:
God who exists but does not matter, who does not make a difference in the way you live, might as well not exist.
John Stott, British church leader:
Christianity is not primarily a theological system, an ethical system, a ritual system, a social system or an ecclesiastical system – it is a person. It’s Jesus Christ, and to be a Christian is to know him and to follow him and to believe in him.
Dag Hammarskjöld, 1905-1961, secretary general of the United Nations:
God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason.