From stagnant tradition to living hope
What exactly does being a “Christian” mean? I have used this word to describe myself for a long time now but my life has been a journey to find out its true meaning.
I once read an article which described my hometown as “the buckle on the Bible Belt” of Northern Ireland. Going to church, reciting the Lord’s prayer in assembly, learning hymns off by heart — this was my upbringing in the local community culture. I believed in God because that was the logic that I was taught and the tradition that I followed. I was never really challenged about it nor did I question it much myself. To me, it was just my local culture.
As a teenager, I began to wonder if being a “Christian” meant more than just belonging to a certain culture. Could there be a living God beyond the logic and tradition upon which I based my Christian identity? One event which stands out was the passing of my beloved Granny. When I was 14, she became very ill and, in a leap of faith, I prayed earnestly for healing. Granny passed away a month later and I was devastated. However, I found out that a young Christian had visited her every week for the past year to study the Bible together. After months of asking questions and learning, she eventually put her faith in Jesus despite never having much faith in anything before. In my grieving, I dusted off my Bible and searched the pages for some sort of comfort. I found myself reading this verse:
‘My flesh and my heart may fail but God is my strength and my portion forever’ (Psalm 73v26)
Although my grandmother had not been physically healed, she believed in an eternity with God, beyond pain and death. I wanted to be assured of this hope and continued to read the Bible more. And suddenly, logic and tradition became truth and joy! I was captivated by God’s love and faithfulness to his people despite their wrongdoings and felt humbled that God’s grace had been revealed to someone as flawed as myself. I had learnt John 3v16 off by heart as a child but, in reading the verse with fresh eyes, I now saw that Jesus had defeated death itself in his sacrifice. I realised that my prayer for Granny’s healing had been answered above and beyond what I could imagine. Physical healing would have prolonged her life on earth but, through Jesus, she had eternal life. I rejoiced and knew then that I firmly believed in the same message of hope.
Coming to Oxford was putting myself in a much more secular environment. I could no longer live a life unchallenged about my faith. I wanted to tell others about Jesus but was unsure about how I would do that in such a new context. Then I remembered Jesus’ words:
‘A new command I give you: As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this they will know that you are my disciples’ (John 13v34-35)
While in Oxford, I developed a love for the people around me, who had shown me such kindness when I was missing home. To this day, I am striving to love people back in the same way and ultimately to share the news about the greatest love of all, Jesus’ sacrifice.
So what exactly does being a “Christian” mean to me? I have found the words of theologian Charles Hodge to sum it up best: “It is being so constrained by a sense of the love of our divine Lord to us, that we cannot help but consecrate our lives to him.”