I just don’t get it. Why is it I meet so many people that think ‘just because’ they were baptized that means they are Christians and will be saved. It is as if baptism is some sort of magic pill that guarantees entrance to heaven. Others think, “I believe in Jesus. That’s enough.” Then there are the ones sitting in the pews every Sunday as if ‘just’ sitting in Church makes them Christian. It just isn’t that simple.
Brethren, what does it profit if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But some one will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness”; and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.James 2.14-26
You cannot just sit. You cannot just believe. You cannot just be baptized. Being a Christian requires effort. You must put that belief into action. Once baptized, you must live the faith you joined. You must pray and beg for God’s mercy and forgiveness when you are sitting in Church.
When you go outside the Church, when you dry off the baptismal waters, after you declare your belief in God, that is when the real work begins. That is when your real faith is revealed. That is when your heart is exposed to God and others.
Let’s unpack this a bit today. You simply cannot be a Christian and ignore the needs of others. All the sitting in Church is useless if you refuse to help others. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t sit in Church. Sitting in Church is supposed to soften your heart to the needs of others.
This is accomplished by becoming one with God in Holy Communion. We don’t just ‘sit’ in Church. We go to Church to commune with God. That is part of the problem. So many people view attending Church services as obligatory rather than transformational. Too many people treat worship as a spectator sport, and never fully participate.
When you commune with God, and pay attention, you see the needs of others and can’t avoid wanting to help them. When you commune with God, you can’t imagine holding a grudge against your neighbor. When you commune with God, how you see life transforms. You begin to see the world as God sees the world.
When you can see the world as God sees the world, then you have finally become a Christian. It doesn’t happen ‘just because’ you were baptized or sit in Church. It happens because you put your faith into action and live with others as if God is part of your relationship.
How does living the Orthodox way of life help you see the world as God sees the world? Through prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and Holy Communion, your heart changes. At your baptism, you (or your godparent if you were an infant) were asked, “Do you join yourself to Christ?” When you said yes, the Church offered you a way of life that would help you change your heart.
This all starts long before you are baptized. It starts long before you ever even enter a Church. It starts when you change the way you think about God and about life. We call that repentance, and Christ’s first sermon began with a call to repentance.
“Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3.2)
If you want to become a Christian, even if you were baptized many years ago, it starts with repentance. Change the way you think, and you will change your heart toward others. Change the way you think, and you will see there is not such thing as automatic Christianity.