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What does it take to be a Christian?

December 3, 1987



AS a young child I loved to sing, ``Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart.'' I didn't know the meaning of the words, but I could tell that it embarrassed my older brother to hear me. That made me curious about what being a Christian is, and my frequent questions were answered with ``It means going to church, believing in God, and being nice.'' Is that all it takes? Would that kind of religious practice solve the challenges posed by a burgeoning population, by the spoiling of natural resources, by hunger and loneliness? Is it even possible to practice Christianity in a way that will help lessen those difficulties?

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Yes it is, but we must go beyond confessions of faith, attendance at church, and general good conduct if that is all Christianity has meant to us in the past.

What's required of us to be better Christians is a more spiritual understanding of what God is and what man as His creation is. How many Christians have longed to live up to Christ Jesus' words ``He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also''?1 To do so it is essential to follow what Jesus taught of God and man as closely as we can.

Jesus taught -- not only in words but in deeds -- that God is omnipotent, the exclusive lawgiver and creator of the universe. He taught that God's presence and love for man are more real than any of the problems that people can face.

It was Jesus' understanding of God's kingdom -- of His absolute, perfect government of man -- that brought about such wonderful healings of sickness and sorrow. ``If I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you,''2 he said. Jesus showed that it is natural for man, as God's likeness, to express the health, joy, and purity that characterize his Maker. Jesus' healings brought to light something of the reality of man's being as spiritual and whole, as the image of indestructible divine Spirit.

Clearly, this isn't the picture of man that we see with our eyes, but from the record of Christian healing from New Testament times on, shouldn't we be willing to rely on something other than our eyes? No one should callously say that personal and world problems are easy to solve; but it is just as wrong to say that God is so distant or unrelated to man that He allows evil to multiply in His universe. Such a false view of God is what keeps people chained to troubles. It forces the conclusion that material conditions hold the upper hand in every case. According to this false view, God is felt to be unloving or uncaring.

There is no help to be found in this kind of reasoning. To Jesus, God's all-presence was not theoretical but universally practical, to the point that his correct knowledge of God and man brought healing to all that he did.

Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered and founded Christian Science, writes in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: ``While respecting all that is good in the Church or out of it, one's consecration to Christ is more on the ground of demonstration than of profession. In conscience, we cannot hold to beliefs outgrown; and by understanding more of the divine Principle of the deathless Christ, we are enabled to heal the sick and to triumph over sin.''3

Simply knowing the words of Jesus isn't so much the goal of a Christian as is living the spirit of what he said. This requires reformation of character. As we learn to love and obey God, to be pure-minded in the face of sensualism; as we practice justice and honesty with both friends and strangers; as we are meek in the presence of arrogance, our life is being Christianized; we are living our true spiritual nature. What this does for the world is measured in the harmony that is brought to friendships, the conflicts that are dissolved, and the health that is restored through Christian healing. And the changes for the better don't stop with us; their influence can't help being felt more widely.

What does it take to be a Christian? A love for God and man that prompts us to take the needed step of reformation whenever our thinking and conduct don't measure up to the standard given us by Jesus, always remembering that the true nature of God's creation is spiritual perfection, which must progressively come to light. Then the healing influence of the Christ-spirit working in us will help move mankind toward solutions.

1John 14:12. 2Matthew 12:28. 3Science and Health, p. 28. DAILY BIBLE VERSE: Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only... James 1:22