I am not a Christian because my parents fed me something to believe as a child and I have not yet found something better. I am not a Christian because it is culturally acceptable or appealing. I am not a Christian because I think Christianity is merely the best of many options. And I am not a Christian because life is too demanding and I need a crutch to help me through.
Only fools throw their life away to religion because it is expedient or beneficial. I am the most contemptible of all people if I base my entire life on mere transient desires for respite and ease. Christianity calls me to die—to give up my life in love and sacrifice for others. It is an impossible calling and not one I would accept haphazardly or by default.
I am not a Christian because it helps me feel better about my life. Left to my own devices, I might design a religion that allowed me to do good to as many people as possible. These good works would then be measured by a god or being of some kind who would then grant me a small measure of favor in return for my contribution to humanity. Basking in my earned favor, I would be compelled to do more and work harder to merit yet more favor for my good works. This religion would appeal to me because I like control. A bad day today could always be remedied by a good day tomorrow. Like counting calories and losing pounds, results would be predictable and measurable. Left to my own devices, good would be weighed against bad, and love would be weighed against hate. In the end, if the scales were tipped in my favor, I would be granted access to some reward. It would be a perfect religion.
Except, I know my heart. I know the depths to which I will go to make myself look good. I know my pride, and I know how little I truly love others. When I honestly behold myself, I have nothing to bring forward for this god. I have no acceptable sacrifice. Even my noblest deeds are tainted by a desire for acceptance, recognition, or praise. I feel ashamed because I know the depth of my depravity. I feel guilty because in doing these good works to satisfy this god, I know that not one of them is truly good. So I pile them higher and higher. I hope to please this god, and I hope to gain acceptance with people, but I strive completely in vain.
And I fail. I fail to measure up to even my own standard of goodness. And failure brings shame and guilt and a burden that no one can be expected to bear. Deep down, during my efforts to please this god, I know that the “god” is nothing more than me. If I walk through life, constantly judging for myself what is good, and what is not; what is acceptable and what is not; what is loving and what is hateful—I am doing nothing more than making myself the final arbiter and the final judge of whether my life has meaning. And I already know my own heart—a heart that is, above all things, deceitful.
I have a problem, and it is a problem I have been carrying with me since birth. There is nothing I can do to fix it, because I know myself, and I have already tried and failed on my own. In my effort to fashion my own religion, I have failed, because it is a religion designed only to make myself a god, to make myself a final judge of whether my life has been worthwhile or not. And I know I am no god. My life is testament to that fact. I have done wrong and can never be judged as perfect. All my “good” deeds are nothing more than tattered rags when I am honest with myself. I have fallen short, just as you have.
So in my search, I have landed here. I am nothing, and I bring nothing to the table. Any pretense of goodness, success, likeability, or power has been left behind in the ashes of man-made religion. In my journey, I have realized one thing: I am a great sinner, and I am in need of a great savior.
This savior cannot be me—my very life has established that. I am not a Christian because I bring anything to the table. Conversely, I am a Christian because I bring nothing. I am not a Christian because I am better. Indeed, I am a Christian because God saw me at my worst and came to rescue me. While I was still destitute in my sin, God showed his love for me by providing Jesus Christ as an acceptable sacrifice for my sin.
I did not run to find God—indeed I could do no such thing, and would not have known how even if I wanted to. He came and found me. He showed me what I already knew in my heart of hearts—that I was dead, and I needed saving. There was no way that I could have saved myself, because I had already tried doing that through my man-made religion in which I was god. The only way I could be saved is outside of myself, by someone different than me. That person is Jesus Christ, who, though he lived a perfect life, was sacrificed on a cross, bearing the sins of the world. Jesus, through his death and subsequent resurrection, made a way back to God—a way that I had been trying in vain by my own effort to make for myself.
I am a Christian because I have put my entire faith and trust in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. When God looks at me, He no longer sees my pitiful efforts to please Him. He no longer sees my failures and empty sacrifices. He sees only Jesus. My life is bound up with Jesus. His sacrifice covered me, and God no longer sees my brokenness, but only sees Jesus. My salvation does not depend any more on the amount of good works I can do. It doesn’t even depend on how much faith I have. I am a Christian solely because of my faith in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ on the cross. He bore my sins and failures, and through his sacrifice I have life.
I am not a Christian because I am a man of great faith, or I somehow have the rare ability to “believe the unbelievable.” Not at all. Once I became a Christian, God did not leave me to follow my own path. I am a Christian because I have a relationship with Jesus Christ. I experience Jesus in my life, and my experiences with Jesus are more real than experiences in the physical world around me. My relationship is not based on a faint hope that the things I believe are true. I know they are true because of the changes Jesus has made in my life. I live not by my own power, but I live by the power of Jesus living in me.
Jesus has made me free to become who I really am. I am now free to do good works, because I am not bound by trying to earn favor with a god. I am free to love people, because I do not see them as competition or rivals—I now see them for who they really are—people who, like me, are desperately in need of a Savior. Christ allows me to live without fear—without fear of failure or rejection. My worth is not bound up in what I accomplish, because I am already loved and forgiven because of what Christ did on the cross. It is settled.
I am not a Christian because I was good enough, had the right parents, or just felt like it was the right thing to do. I am a Christian because God pursued me when I was lost. I am nothing more than a sinner saved by the grace of God.