After preaching a chapel service for a local Christian school, a student approached me and asked, “How do you become a true Christian?” What a great question, right?
I began by explaining that we must get first things first. Jesus gave His entire life for us. When we repent of our sins and give our lives to Him, He pours His life into us through the Holy Spirit. We are reborn from above with Jesus’ life flowing through us. As we walk with Him by faith each day, He begins to transform us to be more like Him in our thoughts, desires, dreams and actions.
The next step, I told the young man, is to find an older Christian man that is passionate about following Jesus. I urged him to ask if they can meet up on a regular basis so the man can mentor him in the basics of Christian life. Finally, I encouraged the student to pass on what he learns in his walk with Jesus to his siblings and friends.
I thought I had given the young man a fairly solid reply. However, I soon realized that I had not addressed his actual point of interest. He told me that he has been in the Church for many years, and has come across so many hypocritical Christians. I asked for some clarification, so he gave me an example of what he believed a genuine Christian looks like.
The young man said that he recently saw the movie, Hacksaw Ridge (which is based on a true story), and was inspired by the main character’s integrity and desire to live out the simple words of Christ. Hacksaw Ridge tells the story of WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa but refused to kill people, and eventually became the first Conscientious Objector in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
Doss believed that the Sermon on the Mount is not merely a high and lofty ideal Christians are to aspire to, but are not actually called to live out. No. Doss believed that followers of Jesus are actually supposed to follow Jesus’ lead. Though Private Doss’ approach to the simple words of Christ may seem novel or exceptional to modern Christians, in many ways he would just be considered a normal Christian in the first 300 years of the Church.
Aristides is one of those Ante-Nicene Christians. His 2nd century letter to Emperor Hadrian is one of many apologetic works that reveals how the early Christians’ steadfast adherence to the red letters of Jesus is powerful evidence of the validity the gospel message.
The Christians, O King, went about and searched, and they have found the truth. As I have learned from their writings, they have come nearer to the truth and genuine knowledge than the rest of the nations. For they know and trust in God, the Creator of heaven and of earth, in whom and from whom are all things. …
Therefore, they do not commit adultery or fornication. They do not bear false witness. … They do not worship idols made in the likeness of man. Whatever they would not wish others to do to them, they do not do to others. They do not eat food consecrated to idols, for they are pure. They comfort their oppressors and make them their friends. They do good to their enemies. … Falsehood is not found among them, and they love one another. From widows they do not turn away their esteem, and they deliver the orphan from him who treats him harshly. And he who has, gives to him who has not, without boasting. … They follow the commandments of their Christ with much care, living justly and seriously, just as the Lord their God commanded them. – Aristides 125CE, Volume 9, p. 443-444 [CD-ROM]
How many Christians like that have you met throughout your life? How many Christians have you met that seriously seek to follow the commands in the Sermon on the Mount? I’m guessing if you’re a typical American Christian, you probably haven’t run into a lot of them. And yet, if you were alive in the first three centuries of the Church, that type of Christian would basically be all you encountered.
So, why do Christians today often look very different from the fathers of our faith? Francis Chan says it quite well:
“When I was a kid we would play follow the leader. … We would play outside and one guy would flap his wings, and so you’d do the same thing. It’s so crazy but in the Church we’ve twisted things around, and follow Jesus is different than follow the leader. With follow Jesus you just have to do something in your heart that no one sees. …
We all played Simon says, right? Simon says pat your head, and that’s what you do. But Jesus says is a totally different game. If Jesus says pat your head, you just memorize it. Jesus says go into the world and make disciples of all nations, and you get that memorized. It doesn’t make sense." – Francis Chan
The early Christians took Jesus simply and seriously, and so they ended up looking a lot like their leader. Christian academia over the last several centuries has influenced our leaders to feel justified in paying lip service rather than life service to our Lord.
How do you become a true Christian? Follow the Leader. It may be hard and scary to do, but it really is that simple.