I am a lot of things: husband, father, son, musician, writer, editor, TV production guy, photographer, teacher, friend, listener. All these characteristics are important to me, but the number one thing that defines me and directs everything else in my life is: I am a Christian. Don't misunderstand - I'm not really religious, at least not the way I define religion.
I think religion is man trying to please God through actions. It's as if there's a giant balance scale in heaven, and we think all the bad stuff we do is piled on one side and all the good stuff goes on the other side. The idea is, if the good outweighs the bad, we get into heaven. And most people think they're doing a pretty good job. Virtually all world religions are based on some sort of works righteousness. If you follow the rules, God will like you and you'll have right standing with Him. Of course, the rules are different depending on which religion you choose. For example, Islam has its Five Pillars; Buddhism principles include asceticism, simplicity and alms; Hinduism, Shinto, Sikh religions all have their tenets. (This is, of course, a massive oversimplification.)
Even many Christian groups have lots of rules - what you can wear, what you can eat or drink, how you wear your hair, what kind of people you can associate with, the kind of entertainment you can enjoy - the list is nearly endless.
But the Bible says 1> all of us have sinned (Romans 3:23) and 2> it doesn't matter how many commandments you keep, if you break even one you're guilty of them all (James 2:10).
That's the bad news. The good news is 1> While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8) and 2> salvation comes to us through faith in Christ, freely offered through God's grace - it's not based on any works we can do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
There are lots of very sincere, God-loving people who define religion differently from me, and I'm fine with that. Don't question their salvation, don't think they're heretics for disagreeing with me. I'm learning there are lots of ways to relate to God, and He's big enough to meet us where we are and reveal Himself to us if we honestly and diligently seek to know Him. (see Jeremiah 29:13) But for me, a key understanding of Christianity is that it's a relationship, not a religion.
Jesus said He is the vine, we are the branches. The only way to succeed as a Christian is to stay connected to Him. (John 15:5) God is so much more interested in our attitudes than our actions. If you're seeking to impress God and people with your actions, you're just a Pharisee.
If your heart attitude is correct, your actions will follow.
Nearly 40 years ago I made a choice to follow Jesus with my whole heart. I've made lots of mistakes - I am far from perfect. But Christianity has been the guiding principle of my life. Jesus has given me hope and purpose. I've found joy in serving God and serving my fellow man. I have learned what it means to really love. My life has had high and low points, triumph and tragedy. But through it all, Jesus Christ has never failed me. Over time, I'll discuss a lot of this in further detail.
I really don't intend all my posts to be this serious. But now and then there will be some like this one, because this is a lot of who I am. In my next post, I'll look back to 1972 and tell about the best decision of my life, how I came to Christ.