I have seen and heard so many misrepresentations of the term ‘Christian’ or ‘Christianity’ to the extent that the one-line statement I could have used to answer this question proves a little futile. Therefore, instead of providing an immediate answer to the question, I humbly ask that you follow me closely as I put some bits and pieces of information together first.
This question interests me a lot. It’s got to do with the fact that it captures the word ‘choose’. Becoming a Christian was, is and will always be a matter of CHOICE and not COERCION. In addition, it isn’t genetic too; you don’t become one by inheriting some genes from your parents who are Christians. You don’t become one by associating yourself with people who have deep reverence for God. It doesn’t work that way. It’s a decision you make on your own after weighing all the options in life; no one else makes (or has to make) that decision for you. People can be of positive influence to you in helping you make that decision but it still boils down to you. It’s a personal choice. Please note that.
The best way to know and understand what we are actually choosing when we choose to be Christians is to first know and understand what it means to be a Christian. I prefer we make a very short journey into the past for the purpose. The reason? Simple. I believe strongly that the usage of the term has lost critical weight in this modern era because of how it’s been emptied of its true meaning. That’s rather unfortunate. A Christian must be a disciple of Christ. I’ve been looking for a better way to describe this term and thank goodness, I found one simple power-packed definition by the Methodist Minister, Rev John Farrar (1804-1884). He said a disciple of Christ is “one who believes His doctrine, rests upon His sacrifice, imbibes His spirit, and imitates His example”.
It’s not just about belonging to a Christian church or just practising some ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ recorded in an ancient manuscript. It’s much deeper than that. If you’re in to follow Christ’s lead, it means you’re ready to listen and accept the fact that the wisdom from His teaching works. Of course, you cannot do away with valuing what He values most. Wisdom. Integrity. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Honesty. Selflessness. All of these encapsulated in what He holds dear most—Love. Once you’ve established that, you’re ready to move onto the next step: Act. Stepping out to think, talk and act just like how Christ thought, talked and acted. For example, Jesus told His disciples to love their enemies. Love my enemies? You mean those seeking my downfall? Well, let’s look at the statistics. Does that kind of wisdom work at all? What happens when you genuinely love your enemies? Well, there are a lot of benefits: emotional, psychological, spiritual, even physical. Some people develop nasty heartaches not because of high salt or fat intake but because they’ve harbored some bitterness in their hearts for a long time. They could have avoided that unpleasant feeling if they chose to let go and let love lead. You won’t experience that kind of health benefit if you choose to sit and just believe. You have to act by forgiving the other party. That’s imitating His example. You’re out there to do a live presentation of how He lived. To represent. RE-PRESENT. Let that word sink in. ‘RE-PRESENTING’ Christ wherever you find yourself. If He was a person of influence, you have to be a person of influence. If He was down-to-earth, the same goes for you. Having this foreknowledge at hand, you quickly get an idea of what it is you’re choosing/about to choose.
Now, let’s tackle the crux of the matter briefly. Choosing to be a Christian means choosing to reshuffle priorities. You are in to exchange what you feel is more important to you with that which God knows is more important to you. That exchange doesn’t look pleasant at all in the beginning. Take the rich man who approached Jesus as an example. Jesus gave him the opportunity to reprioritize his life by exchanging his love for riches with something far more valuable, but he rejected that precious offer. I’m pretty sure he thought accepting it meant no association with money anymore. In other words, poverty and misery all the days of his life. And that’s how most of us feel sometimes.
There’s that feeling that once we become Christians, we will be quarantined from so many things like sex, beauty, money, power and so forth. That sounds funny considering the fact that God created all these for us to enjoy to the max (within proper limits). So what’s the problem? Our problem is that we allow these things to have us instead of us having them. These things easily possess us when we fail to prioritize rightly. Now, remember that ‘possession’ is a very strong word so we have no business playing around with it.
Knowing the danger it carries, isn’t it rather safe to trust the Creator of the universe when He says that we should look out for Him first in everything we do so that every other thing on the priority list falls in its pleasant place? I believe it is! We get to enjoy all that He has created fully with no limits – signed from above! You find true fulfillment in them too! When we fail to see through heaven’s eye, we begin to get greedy, lustful, corrupt and materialistic. We fail to set the balance between fun and fulfillment and we miss the beauty of everything. When Jesus said ‘REPENT’ (change your mind for the better), it was because He saw misplaced priorities among His audience. You and I also mean a lot to Him that’s why He still speaks to us. Repent! Change your mind for the better. It’s for this reason that when you make the choice, you’ve actually chosen to revamp the entire show of your life.
Having said all this, I proceed to answer the question: What we are actually choosing when we choose to be Christians is choosing to live the Christ-like life.