I’ve been wanting to write for a while a missive on why I call myself a Christian. There was a time in my life when I would have found even the idea of calling myself a Christian distasteful, much less stating it publicly. But we all grow and evolve in time.
I am not trying to define what it means to be a Christian in any absolute sense. I’m not even trying to set forth how I discern whether or not someone else is or is not a Christian.
What I am trying to do for myself is strip away all the layers of allusions and historical artifacts and get to the basic building blocks of my testimony of Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ. What do I personally mean, at its most basic, when I say I’m a Christian? What does it personally mean to me to call myself a Christian?
First and foremost, to be a Christian to me has always been aspirational. To be a Christian is to aspire to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Whether following very closely or from a distance, to be a Christian is not to be Jesus Christ, but to aspire to be like Jesus Christ. As a Christian I should strive to be like Christ with the understanding that fully matching his example is beyond the reach of any of us.
Along with the idea of being a Christian being aspirational is the message preached by John the Baptist, the need for repentance. The need for repentance is based upon the recognition that we all, and of course myself included, fall short of Christ’s example. Christians are followers of Christ, but no Christian is Christ. We all fall short. Far, far short. We must bring forth “fruits meet for repentance” in an attempt to recognize our failings in the past and to strive do better in the future. This is necessary in any endeavor in life, no less so if we strive to follow Christ’s example.
This brings me to what is the most difficult aspect of being a Christian, to define with any sort of conciseness what was Christ’s example that I should strive to follow? This is, to me, an endlessly complex question in some ways but in others very simple. And I think Jesus of Nazareth gave us more than a few clues to guide us.
When asked what was the greatest commandment of all, the Savior said:
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. [Matthew 22:37-40]
Later the Savior gave this analogy to help us determine if we are following these two greatest commandments. First, the Savior speaks of those who have followed the commandments and then the Savior speaks of those who have not:
For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. [Matthew 25:35-45]
I think it is important here to recognize that one can be spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, or physically hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, or imprisoned.
Another clue, very similar to the ones before, that the Savior gives as to what we should do if we love Him and want to follow His example is given in John 21:15-17:
So when [Jesus and His disciples] had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
As the Savior said, from these teachings “hang all the law and the prophets,” and the essence of stiving to be like Christ; Everything else is an elaboration upon and a tool to get us to do these in theory very simple things, but in practice very difficult tasks. As a Christian, or if I would like to call myself a Christian, I should seek to feed His sheep, and myself, in all ways. Spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, physically.