Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.– Jesus, quoted in Matthew 6:33
One of the questions that people sometimes ask is ‘what do I need to do to be a good Christian?’ I appreciate that this question is usually asked by people who want to take their faith seriously, but don’t know what that looks like. I also appreciate that they are coming to me to help them in their Christian journey. The only problem is that this is the wrong question. Before I get to my answer, let me reflect for a moment why this is the wrong question.
1. God and My Laundry List
There are two problems with this question. First, it assumes that Christianity is a list of things that you can do, and that once you do them you are a good Christian. But that is not the case at all. In Matthew 19, when a rich young man asks Jesus a similar question, Jesus tells him to sell everything he has and give the money to the poor! There is no end of actions you can perform to try and be a good Christian.
God asks for everything. But you don’t need to stress about this, because Christianity is not about getting things done. It isn’t even about being a good Christian! Christianity is about having a relationship with God, and a God-centered relationship with life and the world. We will see that there is a better way to ask the question.
2. Getting God to Like Me
Second, this question often betrays the fact that the person asking it feels the need to win God’s approval: What do I need to do to be right with God? Here is the good news of the Gospel: you don’t have to do anything to be right with God. There is no amount of services you can attend or good deeds that you can do that will make God love you more. And on the flip side, there is no amount of terrible things that you can do that will make God love you less. God’s love doesn’t change.
God has done all of the heavy lifting for salvation in Jesus Christ. You don’t have to lift a finger. This is grace. Yes, you can walk away from God. But even then, know that his love never diminishes and that the hound of heaven is at your heels. The Good Shepherd never stops seeking for the lost sheep.
A Better Answer to a Better Question
What then is the answer to the question? I quote from what is called the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Jesus tells his disciples to stop worrying about the things that the rest of the world worries about. He finishes the thought by telling them there is really only one thing they need to focus on: strive first for the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33).
This means more than I can write about here, but for the sake of this article, let me say that your call is not to do a laundry list of religious things. There is no set list. The answer to questions like how you should pray, and how you serve your neighbour and how much you should give to charity depends on your life situation. What you can do is take your faith seriously, and that is the point.
A Call, a Vocation, and a Centre
You are part of a world that is fundamentally different since the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The kingdom of God is at hand, and you have been transformed. You are a redeemed child of God. God has given you a calling and vocation. Take that truth seriously. Live out of it by placing God at the centre of your life. Yes, you still need to ask what it looks like concretely in your life. But the point is not about getting things done or impressing God. It is about growing in faith, hope and love.