Whether you're learning about Christianity for the first time, or you came to the faith decades ago, you may wonder what it means to live a Christian life. It can be especially challenging to determine how to live a Christian life in a secular world, where many aspects of a modern lifestyle conflict with God's design. We're going to look at several ways Christians can live life the way God intended: one of dependence on and dedication to Him.
Follow the Teachings of Jesus
Any discussion of how to live a Christian life should focus first and foremost on the teachings of Jesus Christ, which we can read about in the Bible. The entire Bible is full of insight into who God is, our sinful predicament, God's plan to redeem us, and how we should live in light of these realities. As 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness."
Jesus' teachings in the Gospels, in particular, encapsulate the themes found throughout Scripture and help us understand what it means to be a Christian. For this reason, we often encourage people who want to learn about Christianity to start by reading the Gospels.
We have to read the Gospels to learn about Christ's teachings. We can't get to everything Jesus taught in a single post, so let's focus on what Jesus said was the greatest commandment: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." Jesus went on to add a second commandment that goes along with the first: "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Notice the theme of love. We could boil these commandments down to "Love God, love others." It's as simple as that. Though Jesus taught about many topics, everything comes back to that ultimate goal of loving God and loving our neighbor. It makes sense, then, that Jesus says to his disciples in John 13:35 that people would know they were his disciples because of their love for one another.
Following the teachings of Jesus is, first and foremost, about loving others. According to Christ himself, this is the mark of a true Christian. If you want to follow the teachings of Jesus to live a Christian life, don't overcomplicate things. Focus on these overarching commandments, and let them inform the way you live each day.
Remember, the Pharisees tried to create rule after rule to make sure they pleased God and followed his law, and Jesus had nothing but harsh words for them. It was the sincere sinners, those who saw their need for forgiveness, who truly loved God and let that love overflow to others, that Jesus saw as his genuine followers.
Heed the Parables of Jesus
One of the characteristics of Jesus' teachings throughout the Gospels is his use of parables. Jesus tells parables, or stories meant to teach a spiritual lesson, more than two dozen times in the Gospels.
If you didn't grow up reading Bible stories, you might find some of Jesus' stories a little odd. You wouldn't be the only one. The people who were there to hear Jesus tell his parables in person were also confused at times. That is because they took the stories at face value, instead of realizing they were metaphorical.
Jesus used imagery that was accessible to the people at the time. That's why his stories often centered on things like bringing in a harvest, shepherding, and trying to make ends meet. These were things people in that area and at that time understood well. You may not relate as well to the imagery Jesus used, but you can still see the message he's trying to convey.
The goal of many of Jesus' parables is to explain what the kingdom of Heaven is like. Some of the things He likens the kingdom of Heaven to include:
- A mustard seed
- Yeast in a lump of dough
- Hidden treasure in a field
- A valuable pearl
- A net full of good and bad fish
- A wedding banquet with unexpected guests
- A field of wheat and weeds
How do these explanations of Heaven help you live a Christian life? Their goal is to help you avoid getting bogged down by the mundane things that fill up our days and, instead, remember that you're living for a different kingdom: one that's worth far more than your brief life on earth.
Christians place their hope in Christ and his kingdom, and it informs our day-to-day lives. For example, it should cause you to care less about things like money and fame and care more about serving God with your time, energy, and finances. We look to the eternal life to come, and focus on making a lasting spiritual impact.
In addition to explaining what the kingdom of Heaven is like, Jesus told parables that taught a variety of spiritual lessons. Let's look at some other takeaways from the parables of Jesus. We encourage you to read these stories for yourself, but this is our cheat sheet on what Jesus tells us through these parables:
- You should share your faith with others instead of hiding it.
- Focus on bettering yourself before you pass judgment on others.
- People respond differently to the Gospel.
- We have an enemy in Satan.
- Our hearts are deeply sinful.
- Forgiven people should be forgiving.
- You must prepare yourself for Jesus' return.
- Be a good neighbor to anyone who needs help.
- Persistently ask for the Holy Spirit and whatever you need.
- Don't focus on laying up earthly treasures.
- God gives the same gift to people, regardless of when they come to faith.
- God elevates outcasts who are sincere in their faith over religious leaders.
- God seeks the lost like a shepherd.
- God will exalt the humble.
- The angels rejoice over every sinner who repents.
- God welcomes prodigals back into his arms.
All these truths can help inform the way we live, so we can live a Christ-centered life. Jesus covered a lot, but we can see some major themes shining through, such as God's love for us and our call to extend God's love to other people.
God's word is full of lessons that can help us understand what it means to live a Christian life, but the parables Jesus told remind us of the central truths of the Gospel, approaching these same truths from a variety of angles. Read Jesus' parables, and you'll see how loving God is and how all Christians should feel motivated to live for Him.
Communicate With God Through Prayer
So far, we've focused on listening to and following God's word. The Bible is one of the central ways God speaks to us today, but it's not the only way. Prayer is also a vital part of any Christian's life. For many people, the concept of prayer conjures up rote recitations like "Now I lay me down to sleep" or the Lord's Prayer, along with images of "praying hands" emojis.
There's nothing wrong with memorizing some prayers, especially the Lord's Prayer, but prayer should be genuine communication with God, not something we rattle off without even thinking about what we're saying. Sincere prayer is vital for a Christian life because it sustains us, grows us, and helps us connect with God every day. Let's look at a few reasons you should prioritize prayer if you want to live a Christian life.
1. Prayer Changes Our Hearts
Many of us feel prompted to pray when we need something from God. These are excellent times to pray, but we may miss the fact that prayer isn't strictly a transaction where you ask God for something, and He either gives it to you or doesn't. Instead, it's an interaction that should leave us feeling closer to our Heavenly Father and conformed more into the image of His Son.
Christian author Lysa TerKeurst says, "The reality is, my prayers don't change God. But, I am convinced prayer changes me. Praying boldly boots me out of that stale place of religious habit into authentic connection with God Himself." As we pray, God changes our hearts so that we are after the same goals, care about what He cares about, and can genuinely say, "Your will be done," just like Jesus did.
2. Prayer Provides Much-Needed Help
Frankly, following God's Word is hard. If you want to live a Christian life, you need the help of the Holy Spirit. You need God to strengthen you and sustain you during tough times, and you need Him to provide for your needs. Prayer gives us the opportunity to ask God for help, knowing that He will listen.
1 John 5:14 says, "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: That if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us." Notice that phrase "According to his will." James says when we don't receive things we ask for in prayer, it's because we have the wrong motives. We're asking for things that don't align with God's will. If we ask for things we need, like more of the Holy Spirit, God promises to grant our requests.
3. Prayer Helps Us Build a Relationship
Regardless of what we're praying about, talking with God helps us build a relationship with Him. If you want to have a relationship with your husband, wife, boyfriend, or girlfriend, you have to talk with them. Communication is central to our earthly relationships, and it's just as central to our relationship with God
Paul Miller, in his book A Praying Life, puts it like this: “What do I lose when I have a praying life? Control. Independence. What do I gain? Friendship with God." He goes on to list many other things we gain through prayer, but friendship with God alone is enough reason to pray. Who doesn't want to feel a real sense of closeness with the Creator?
Maintain Faith Through Trials
Sometimes, new Christians are gung-ho about living a Christian life full of joy and fulfillment until they run smack-dab into a challenging circumstance. The Bible calls these trials. James tells us we should "[c]onsider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
This verse gives us a lot of insight into why we go through difficult circumstances in this life. And James isn't talking about sitting in traffic on your way to work or the ice cream machine being out of order at McDonald's. No, James is talking about trials we go through, things that can make or break us as Christians. Life's challenges can either cause us to become angry with God and push Him away, or they can drive us into a closer relationship with Him.
A Christian who continues to praise God through the midst of a job loss, a death in the family, a debilitating injury, or even a stressful season of life is a testament to what it truly means to live a Christian life. It's not only about riding a spiritual high or enjoying nothing but prosperity. Instead, it's about maintaining faith in God, regardless of what circumstances we encounter in life, because we know He is in control and we trust His plan.
Share Your Faith
Finally, living a Christian life means sharing your faith with others. That means being a Christ-like example to everyone you interact with and, when it's appropriate, sharing the Gospel with people. It means living boldly instead of shying away from the topic of religion. If you're squirming in your seat just thinking about this, it's time to ask God for help.
Ask for the Holy Spirit to help you look for opportunities to share your faith, and to know what to say when these opportunities arise. When you're feeling afraid to share your faith, as yourself why. Are you worried you'll look backward or foolish to your friends and colleagues? Are you afraid they'll get the wrong idea about you? That they'll assume you're there to judge them and they can no longer crack a joke around you? Or maybe you're afraid it will make things awkward between you and a friend moving forward.
We can easily make excuses for not sharing our faith, but this is an essential part of being a Christian. Remember Jesus' love for parables? In Matthew 5:14-16, He compares Christians to a lamp that should be on a stand rather than covered by a bowl. Jesus says to "Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven."
Let Others Encourage You in Your Christian Walk
God didn't mean for us to live Christian lives in isolation. He calls us to community with other Christians. Together, we can help each other live grace-filled lives that bring glory to God. If you live in the San Francisco Bay area and you're looking for a community of believers, join us at Cornerstone. We're a non-denominational, diverse, faith-based community of people who are helping each other as we figure out what it means to live a Christian life in this crazy world.