Whatever being a Christian might mean today, we can be sure its original meaning didn’t refer to someone who goes to church. I say this because Christians existed before churches. If I’m not mistaken, the followers of Jesus were first called “Christians” over a decade after Pentecost. It was a term used by pagans in what is now modern-day Turkey to describe the disciples of Jesus because they were followers of the Way [John 14:6, Acts 19:9,23]. This implies that a Christian could be spotted because of how he or she lived. Or put another way, they could be identified by how much they resembled Jesus.
So, what was Jesus like? Yes, He was and is God but while on earth, He didn’t walk around with a halo or any other features that made him stand out. Isaiah tells us that there was nothing remarkable about His appearance [Isaiah 53:2]. However, something about Him made others abandon everything to follow Him and become His disciples. This wouldn’t have been possible if they couldn’t stand His company. As you read through the gospel, it becomes clear that Jesus was an attractive person. There was something about Him that made people seek out His company, irrespective of their socio-economic status, creed, gender or reputation. He was the consummate blend of humility and integrity, and this was evident to all who met Him.
Before returning to heaven, Jesus promised His disciples – those present and those who would come to believe in Him in the future – that He would send them a Helper. This Helper would empower them and enable them to become His witnesses throughout the world [Acts 1:3-8]. These witnesses were to preach what He had taught them and also live it out by example [Matthew 28:19-20]. This is why Paul would later tell the churches he planted to imitate him as He imitated Christ [1 Corinthians 11:1]. It was upon witnessing how men and women who claimed to be disciples of Jesus lived out their faith that their pagan neighbours gave them the nickname Christians – which literally means followers of Christ [Acts 11:26]
The question those claiming to be Christians must ask themselves is: “what do others see when they observe my life?” As with many things in life, we don’t get a choice about being witnesses. We can only choose what sort of witnesses we are going to be. That said, if we’re going to follow the examples of Jesus, then we will invariably be different from the culture around us, just as our predecessors were. This is because the standards Christians are to follow and the character traits we must embody are set by Jesus, not by the surrounding culture. Therefore, if we follow Jesus’ examples, we can’t but be different.
I mentioned earlier that Jesus was a perfect blend of integrity and humility, character traits His followers must emulate. Sadly, in our day, it’s nearly impossible to trust anyone, even Christians. Yet, integrity goes hand in glove with godliness, which as Christians, we are to model in word and deed [1 Timothy 4:17]. In truth, our hopes for this life and the next hang completely on Jesus’ integrity [Hebrews 6:18]. While we aren’t going to display perfect integrity in this life, we must seek to imitate Christ and like Him, despise hypocrisy. As such, we must ask ourselves: “what is my witness in the area of personal integrity?” Do the people around me take me at my word? Do they trust that my behaviour will be consistent with my beliefs?
Here’s the thing with integrity, it’s a level playing field. We aren’t advantaged or disadvantaged because of our different situations and it usually comes at a price for each of us [2 Timothy 3:12]. It might mean we don’t get what we prefer or others might get ahead of us because they play by different rules. Nevertheless, it’s worth remembering that it’s God who is keeping score. Moreover, this is where being humble will help. I read somewhere that humility is never embarrassed. It made me think of Jesus, and I realised that He was never embarrassed. Therefore, we ought to learn humility from Jesus. If we do, we will find rest for our souls [Matthew 11:29].
Think of the things that cause you to become embarrassed or easily offended, and you’ll find potential areas of pride in your life. However, when you find pride in your life, you must ruthlessly eliminate it because pride can’t coexist with the grace of God that we desperately need. Moreover, God opposes the proud [James 4:6]. Yet, just like integrity, humility comes at a price, and that price is our ego. Consequently, we must understand that once we profess to be followers of Jesus, we’re declaring that people ought to look at us and see something of Jesus. If Jesus is humble, what is your witness in the area of humility? I struggle with that question because humility is so countercultural these days. Therefore, I have to unlearn certain behaviours and ways of thinking. That isn’t easy.
Even so, I’m comforted that Jesus knew we would need help to follow Him and so, He sent us a Helper – the Holy Spirit [Acts 2:1-4]. If we let the Helper, He will make us more like Jesus. He will give us both the desire and the power to live in a manner that pleases God [Philippians 2:13]. As this transformation takes place, it will not only be countercultural, it will also be evident to those we meet. Being a Christian isn’t a church affiliation, nor is it a political affiliation. It is following the example of Jesus in word and deed, with the singular aim of becoming more like Him every day. Is this your goal in life? How high on your priority list is being more like Jesus?