Chapter 6: Following Jesus
Two big questions can be asked of any worldview. For a Christian, the answers are –
What is the purpose of my life? - Answer: to become more and more like Jesus
How should I live? - Answer- in a way which always reflects God’s love for people and Creation.
The first of these implies a progression over time. Becoming a Christian is a point-in-time commitment. It is not the end of the story, but just the beginning of the person’s lifetime pilgrimage towards the goal of thinking and acting as Christ would live, according to God’s original intention for Humanity. The experiences of coming to the point of commitment and of becoming more like Christ are different for each person. For some the point of decision is blindingly clear or dramatic, for others it may be hard to identify, having been developing over some time. For some the learning curve of the spiritual life may be very steep at first, while for others it may be more gradual. How it happens is not a fixed process, but is again reflective of human diversity. There is no “right” way for it. In becoming more like Jesus we become more our true selves.
The second question relates to the day-to-day perspective, and the answer reflects Christian morality. It means trying to view and treat other people as God sees them and the situation at hand. Jesus pointed to the 2 main principles of living, the first being to love God and the second to love your fellow humans as you love yourself. These are indissolubly linked. You cannot be reconciled with God if you are at variance with any person whether you know them personally or not. Among other things this means no hating, injuring, stereotyping, exploiting and neglecting of others, even if you regard them as enemies.
Sometimes this is fairly easy, such as when we like someone or something. However it can be very difficult when we do not like someone or something, especially if there is going to be a cost to us whether physically or emotionally, or we are called upon to forgive them. Among other things a Christian is to be generous, hospitable and compassionate to others, forgiving, not making judgments about them, loving enemies, and not paying back evil when wronged. It is the heart’s attitude which is important because that drives one’s actions and behaviour. This disposition also tries to be proactive towards helping others, to actually go out of our way, to make some kind of sacrifice, to engage constructively in those areas in society where the value of human lives is being devalued or neglected. This is why Christians engage in charitable and missionary work, being motivated by God’s love of people, justice and mercy. It is true of course that non-Christians do some of these things too. This comes as no surprise to Christians since all humans, whether Christian or otherwise, have been endowed by God with a measure of the divine Goodness and Compassion. The difference is in the rationale for the motivation.
To be serious about living the answers to those big questions requires discipline, because the self will want to continue following its own inclinations in living its life. To become more like Jesus and reflect God’s love require motivation and regular practice. In addition to regular reading and reflection upon the Bible, a Christian prays for God’s guidance and help, and tries to engage in activities of service which demonstrate God’s love for all people. In addition, by becoming part of a local Christian community (Church) these practices and motivation are reinforced and supported in an encouraging environment which provides opportunity for worship, learning and service among like-minded people.
There are 2 important events in the individual Christian life, and both are held in the fellowship of the Christian community, ie the Church. The first is Baptism. A Christian becomes a member of the church by being baptised in the presence of the church community. Baptism means that the person declares publicly that they turn from following self-interest to following God’s way of seeking the welfare of others and the Creation. The ceremony always involves water as symbolic of cleansing from the former unreconciled patterns of life and its attitudes. The water may be applied to a person by as little as a sprinkle to as much as full immersion in a bath or natural water body like a river, lake or ocean. Baptism is a once-only life event for a Christian.
The second important event is participating regularly in the Lord’s Supper. This event recreates the meal that Jesus shared with his close followers on the night before he was executed. It is a regular remembrance of and thanksgiving for the cost to God in Christ in enabling the world to be reconciled to God, and looks forward to the time when Christ will come again to judge Humanity and fully defeat Evil and Death. The meal usually consists of pieces of bread and a sip of wine (or substitute), which symbolise the body and blood of Jesus. Participation need not be confined to full members of the church, because there are people not yet fully committed nor baptised but who are still seeking to love God and wish to participate.
In Church community life there are 2 main celebrations – Christmas and Easter. Christmas celebrates the Incarnation of God as a human being. In 2 of the Gospels this story is told in terms of the birth of Jesus as a baby. Easter celebrates the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, progressing from grief on Good Friday to joy on Easter Sunday to reflect the sequence described in the Gospels.