What does it mean to be a Christian?
In short, a Christian is a person who realizes that they cannot achieve salvation on their own. That is, a person who accepts that Jesus Christ died on the cross so that all of our sins, both now and in the future, are forgiven. You may wonder why God just didn't create us perfect from the beginning. I used to wonder that same thing. For me, the answer and reassurance was found in the complex and beautiful concept of free will. God created us to love, worship, and obey only God. In order to love someone freely, you must have a choice. You cannot force someone to love you. Therefore, God gave us the choice. We chose ourselves over God from the very beginning. The night before Jesus died on the cross, after wrestling and grieving about what He knew was going to happen, He said to God, "Not my will, but your will be done." At that point, Jesus was choosing to reconcile our own sinful nature with the perfect nature of God.
God's grace is given freely, to all who ask. All we have to do is accept and watch as God transforms us from the inside out. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come." If you don't believe me, try it out for yourself. You won't be disappointed!
Once you try on your new diggs, everything around you will start to look and feel differently. If you keep our eyes set on God, He will help put the things of this world in order (and perspective) for you. I ask God every night to take away everything that does not come from Him. To take it away from me, destroy it, and leave only what is of value to God. The pruning process is neither fun nor easy, but rest assured the spiritual blessings will flow. Philippians 4:7 says, "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." Notice that it says God's peace will transcend ALL understanding...that of the smartest people you can think of, that of your counselors and advisors, professors, and noble prize winners.
Why is being a Christian different from other religions? Well, Christianity is the only religion that explains the beginning, end, and everything in between. God attempted to do this through prophets in the Old Testament and then by sending Jesus, the human form of God, to show us how to live and to reconcile our sinful nature (through Jesus' death on the cross) to that of a perfect God. Personally, I believe a lot of us Christians get it wrong when our words and actions suggest that we are exclusive, or that Christ died for only us. Christ died for all people and all sins, wants everyone to know to this, and those of us who do know and understand this truth, have the obligation to share it and spread it, not keep it to ourselves.
Is it good enough to just believe in God? Doesn't God love all of us? I believe that God does love all of us and wants all of us to love Him. God is our Father and just like fathers everywhere, He wants to love and protect His children. The Christian doctrine says that the only way to get to God is through Jesus. John 14:6-7 says, "Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.'" So, God does want us to know and love Him, but He also wants us to understand that the way to know and love Him is by knowing and understanding Jesus. Jesus chose God's will over his own human will and that is the big take away from Christianity. Not my will, but God's will be done.
If we truly love God, we will seek to be like Him. The best example He gave us on how to be like him was his son, Jesus. If we truly love and seek to follow Jesus, we will start to be transformed into God's image and likeness. So, yes, Jesus really does matter and God wants us all to know this beautiful and transforming truth.
If you are struggling with your own beliefs, I challenge you to accept that there is indeed, one truth, the truth that eternal life comes through Jesus Christ. Bring your questions, doubts, beliefs, complaints, and convictions to God and ask Him to show you the truth. That is what I did as a twenty two year old (outwardly successful, inwardly void) lost soul. What God has shown me over the past ten years is nothing short of His amazing grace. How He has and continues to transform me is nothing short of a miracle. Without Him, I am nothing. With Him, all things are possible. For all of us!