One of the things people within the Christian community like to talk about is what we cannot or are not allowed to do as Christians e.g. A girl can’t have short hair, we can’t wear short skirts or show cleavage, we’re not allowed to swear, we can’t drink, you can’t have a tattoo and claim to love God and on and on we argue without ever reaching a consensus… or maybe it’s just a Congolese thing. I don’t know, you tell me. I like to believe that God looks at the heart, its intentions, its purity; He delights in a heart that seeks His justice and love. That’s what I want to address in this post, how does one switch from “what is it that I can’t do as a Christian?” to “what do I get to do?” something I wish I had been told sooner. Well the simple answer is love. You get to encounter love and you get to show love.
In Matthew 22, Jesus tells us that to love is the greatest commandment:
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
This passage gives us a formula for love: love God, love yourself, and then love your neighbour. So how do you love? I like to look at Romans 12 to answer that question.
Loving God is giving Him permission to take the center place of your life. You get to enter His presence give Him your heart; lay all your problems, your worries and your dreams at His feet. Then, you let Him guide you. Romans 12: 1 says:
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.
The beauty with offering yourself to God is that He accepts you just as you are; no need to pretend to be someone else, no need to pretend to be perfect, no need to run because you feel imperfect. He wants you. Whatever demons you may have, whatever guilt or shame you may feel, He will take care of it. You just have to be willing to take the first step. This is shown in verse 2, which goes as follows:
2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
God wants to show you who He is, His character, in addition to showing you who you really are. He transforms you into a new person, or more like into who you have always been in His eyes. He reveals the plans He has for your life and shows you your true identity: if you were a negative person, positive thoughts start to take over, if you were judgmental or always complaining about what others do wrong, you learn self-control and empathy; if you were insecure, you find your worth; if you were weary, you find peace that transcends all understanding (Phil. 4:7). He will take your dreams and make you realize that you’ve been dreaming too small. Love God by trusting Him with your life and He will show you amazing things.
Love yourself by accepting the truth God reveals about you. God is a gentleGod (gentleman, get it? anyway), He can’t force Himself into our lives and He can’t force us to believe Him – which is why we have to make the conscious choice to OFFER our body as a living sacrifice in the first place. If believing is hard for you, ask Him to give you faith; faith that you are loved, faith that you are worthy, faith that He has plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Romans 12:3-8 teaches us to do that: recognize your strengths and your weaknesses and believe that you are accepted as you are, that you have a seat at the table, that you have a part to play. God gave you a combination of talents and abilities and a personality that no one else on this earth possesses. He wants you to find pleasure in being all that He created you to be. You will not only find pleasure in your purpose, but also in the fact that what you accomplish will have a lasting impact.
Love your neighbor
When you have this new understanding of who you are, you can begin to love on others. Romans 12:9 says “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them.” Love is not a feeling, it’s not an emotion. Love is an identity (God) and it is revealed through actions – giving. Give your time, give encouragement, offer your talents, offer your knowledge, give respect etc. Romans 12:10-13 paint a picture of different ways to love your neighbour: be charitable and hospitable, honour one another or don’t speak badly of someone. When you learn to love yourself and see your worth, you realize that others also have worth: instead of seeing them as competition, you help them realize their own worth. Verses 14-16 say:
14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!
In other words, you are given the ability to truly connect with people. You have the power to not be moved by the number of likes on your Instagram feed because you know you are loved. You are given the freedom to accomplish your dreams without looking for validation from people because you know you are accepted.
In a world where competition is the driving force behind everything we do, you have the freedom to not feel threatened by someone else’s success. You realize that what you do, no one else can do; that the impact you have is different from your neighbour’s but it’s just as important. In a world where people find it unusual for someone to cry on the bus, you have the freedom to lend your shoulder to that hurting person and let them know that they are not alone. In a world where everyone is struggling yet everyone pretends that everything is ok, you get to be that person who is transparent and says: I don’t have it all together, and for that reason you don’t have to be ashamed to tell me about your financial problems and your loneliness. In a world where people like to keep grudges, you get to be the one who shows mercy and forgiveness.
Let’s not fall for the everyone-does-it mentality; “don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good (verse 21).” Doing good is hard. It’s easy to blend in with the crowd and follow the current. It’s easier to hate and curse than to forgive and love. But the beauty of things is you don’t have to force anything. It all begins with that sign of surrender to God. He will take care of the rest.
So no, being Christian is not about judging people for what they’re wearing or for the ink on their arm (syke!). It’s about love, embodied in Jesus and the salvation he brings, and the peace he gives, and the purpose he reveals. Shaming people never amounts to anything: God’s love is stronger than any person’s condemnation.
With that in mind, go conquer!