I’ve shared many times about how I became a Christian when I was sixteen as a cynical, relationally broken girl who experienced the astonishing love and forgiveness of God and started on an incredible journey of healing and growth that has continued until now.
Sometimes, I say instead that that was when I began ‘following Jesus’.
What does it mean to follow Jesus? Before, I probably would have called myself a Christian, because I thought that it was a family thing - we went to church (sometimes), so we were Christian (right?). Later, I would tell people that I only really became a Christian at sixteen, because I had known nothing about Jesus before. That was when I began following Jesus.
Following Jesus means acknowledging that he is completely right and has charted the way forward in the best possible pattern for life. Jesus is dynamic, unexpected, scandalous, raw, truthful, strong, compassionate, loving. Jesus is the person whose every word, every action, is full of life and truth and goodness. He eats with the marginalized and defends the oppressed. He preaches to the poor and rich alike, and radically criticizes the corrupt religious authorities of the day (he even upturns tables in the temple courts, and his sarcastic comments are a bonus). He heals sick people and feeds the hungry. And if you acknowledge that he is completely right, one must believe he is who he says he is - the Son of God! He lets himself get crucified on the cross - the ultimate act of self-sacrificial love - taking the punishment for all the wrong things we have ever done, so that we may be completely forgiven and brought into relationship with the God who loves us so much that he sent his own son to save us and bring us back into his family.
It’s definitely true that since I started following Jesus, God has been working in me to heal, grow, and change me in ways I could never achieve on my own. On my part I strive to live like Jesus and do what pleases God, because I love to please him. But you know what’s beautiful? I never have to prove anything to God or earn his acceptance (or anyone else’s for that matter), because I know that through Jesus’ sacrifice I am already completely loved, completely forgiven, for all eternity, by the person who matters most. It is the source of joy, freedom, and peace, allowing me to love others freely because I am already secure in God’s love. Following Jesus is life-changing, and continues to change me each day!
(Extra note: I highly recommend reading the records of Jesus’ life found in the Bible! They are very short. My journey of practically following Jesus started with a great curiosity to actually read the texts Christians consider authoritative, and I did. They are not only literary gems, but are also historically reliable. It never hurts to take a look!)