So, what is the point of Christianity? I reject the answer that it's about 'getting to heaven'. To steal a line from N.T. Wright, the scriptures are pretty clear that God's purposes aren't about getting us into heaven, but rather getting heaven into us.
There's talk of us having the fullest possible life. There's the part of the Lord's Prayer asking for God's kingdom and will to be present on earth. In John 17, Jesus prays for everyone who will ever believe in him (v.20) and he specifically says, "I’m not asking you to take them out of the world..." (v.15).
No, our goal isn't to escape this world. It is to be part of God's restoration of this world. To prepare the way for God's justice and redemption by seeking those things in the areas of our life where we have the opportunity to make a difference.
So then, back to the question at hand. How do I know if I'm doing this correctly?
I think we tend to look at certain practices: do we read the bible enough, pray enough, attend church regularly, give enough, etc?
I think these questions have a valid place, but I also think that they are secondary.
Gaining understanding from the scriptures isn't the goal of our lives, but it can be a useful tool.
Acting better for an hour a week at church isn't the goal of our lives, but it can be helpful when genuine.
Praying regularly and giving faithfully are also both valuable activities, but God didn't create drones who must stroke his ego with money and time. If not done in the midst of healthy engagement with faith, these things can very well be much less meaningful than they are meant to be.
The goal of being a follower of Jesus is being transformed. To realize the original purpose for which humanity was created.
We were created to join the community of God himself, but in our fallen state, we cannot fully fulfill that purpose; so we must be transformed in order to fulfill that purpose.
Please know that this isn't about making yourself 'good enough' for God. None of us can do that. Jesus' death on the cross was necessary for that very fact, and through his sacrifice, we can accept the gift of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit bringing forth fruit in our lives. Jesus speaks of us doing greater things than even he did with this infilling.
So the way we can gauge whether we are healthy in our lives is to ask this question: 'Are you different than you were 6 months ago, or 3 years ago?'
Do you love people more? Are you more patient and joyful? Has your level of peace and kindness and faithfulness and self control increased?
These are some of the specific traits of the Holy Spirit transforming us outlined by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23.
And I'm not talking about seeing these things for an hour at church each week.
The effect of God working in my life should be more evident at home and at work and with those who are around me the most than it should be at church.
Anyone can act spiritual for an hour. None of us can put on a front 24/7/365.
As a follower of Jesus, my best ministry should happen in my home, and if that isn't the case, something is wrong.
If I think I'm doing a good job, but I keep getting feedback from those closest to me that I'm not quite achieving that 'Christ-like' standard in my actions and attitudes, I need to take that seriously.
Before you think I'm heaping condemnation on you in regards to this whole spiritual growth thing, please know that the only person who I'm pointing a finger at is myself.
I've got a selfish streak a mile wide and the place it shows up most is in my own home. That's not how it should be. So I'm in a season of praying and asking God to help me make sure I don't just talk about the transformation God brings in our lives and instead live it first and foremost.
I love talking and reading and thinking about the life giving principles Jesus gives us, but if I stop there and don't let him transform me, what good is any of it?
So take a moment and do some introspection. Give some consideration to whether you are changing. Because the woman or man whom God wants you to be - the best, healthiest, happiest version of yourself - isn't going to magically appear in your life one day.
It's a slow process, and only God can accomplish it, but only we can invite him to do it in our lives.
If you're feeling stuck, here's a short and quick couple of ideas to orient your life toward the one who was called 'a friend of sinners':
1. Take a look inside
Ask God to help you take an honest look at your life. Where have you not allowed him to transform you? Where would you like to open your life to his life giving ministry over the next 2 or 3 or 6 months?
2. Make a list
What are the ways that you can invite God into those areas of your life? Does it look like being more generous to others at work? Being more patient when you're driving? This is not about you doing if 'for God', but rather being aware of areas where you want to allow God to bring transformation.
I use this quote so often I should have to pay the author William Nicholson for it: "Prayer doesn't change God, it changes me."
We must keep in mind that this isn't us doing something for God. It's us doing something with God. Prayer reminds us of that.
4. Be patient with yourself
When you fail on day 3 or day 7 or day 45, don't say it's hopeless and give up. That's the opposite of the Good News of Jesus. Nothing is impossible with God's involvement. If being perfect was fast or easy, we'd all do it. But this isn't even about being perfect in this life - it's about getting healthier and have a fuller life than we could have on our own. It's about being healed, and healing takes time.
If I had a gash on my arm, I wouldn't put a bandage on it for 2 days, then look at the wound and declare that it would never heal. I would pay special attention to it. I would treat it gently. I might seek professional help in dealing with it. But I wouldn't give up and start rubbing dirt on it.
You are incredibly valuable to God, because God does not have any wasted sons or daughters.
God wants what's best for you, so keep following, keep growing and keep getting back up when you fall.
Because 'doing Christianity right' isn't about perfection, it's about transformation.