Christians receive their identity from Christ, not from the world, not from the law, not from the accuser. But that identity reorients and resituates them, makes them to live like Christ. It shapes their whole disposition. (Mark C. Mattes Martin Luther’s Theology of Beauty)
Christianity is a compelling message about Jesus Christ, and what I have always found most compelling about Jesus was his death on a cross. Let that sink in. Christians believe that through the execution of a Jewish man, Jesus of Nazareth, salvation comes to the entire world. This salvation, this gospel, is a bloody story of self-sacrifice. It’s a love story disguised as a tragedy. For the people who see the love of God revealed in the self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Christian message is the most beautiful reality the world will ever know. It’s a beautiful message of love and self-sacrifice that we Christians participate in. St. Paul wrote,
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:3–8)
We who trust in Christ for salvation are also participants in God’s love story. Our lives are sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, and through humility, taking the role of a servant, we are to show forth the love of God. This is the high calling of Christian discipleship. Our good works add nothing to God’s grace, but they do reflect God’s love. Christianity offers a salvation that shows itself in a new way of life—a life that imitates the love and compassion of Jesus.
Since I was a kid, I loved to watch boxing: the precision of their footwork, their commitment to a strategy, the coordination between their legs, waist, and fists. It’s amazing to see a world class boxer slip past his opponent’s power hand and, through a combination of footwork and precise punching, round after round, wear down the bigger, stronger fighter. Great boxers use coordination, speed, strategy, and power together to win in a sport that is as unforgiving as life.
Jesus shows us a picture of a beautiful life of self-sacrifice: he stood against the powers of this world and won through humility, service, compassion, and love. Imitating a world-class boxer as a kid, I never fooled myself into thinking I could whip a heavyweight champion. In the same way, as I strive to live like Jesus, I haven’t fooled myself into thinking that my life is a winning strategy to earn salvation. My imitation is admiration. It’s a life of praise and thanksgiving for what Christ has accomplished.
As Christians, we should strive to live like Jesus. We should desire to care about people. We should seek to show compassion and love to people who don’t deserve it, the people who hate us, the people who oppose us, the people who want to hurt us.
If you want to live the beautiful Christian life, the life that imitates Jesus, you need to get over yourself. You need to stop trying to prove your worth; you need to stop demanding respect. You need to stop using forgiveness as a tool to manipulate people into doing your will. You need to embrace being wrong. You need to accept that most of your best works are foolish. You need to learn how to say you’re sorry. And most of all, you need to find your identity in Christ because it is through faith in Christ that we receive salvation, and it is through faith in Christ that our lives become a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Luther said it better than I could ever say it:
Behold, from faith thus flows forth love and joy in the Lord, and from love a joyful, willing, and free mind that serves one’s neighbor willingly and takes no account of gratitude or ingratitude, of praise or blame, of gain or loss. (Martin Luther The Freedom of the Christian as quoted in Mark C. Mattes Martin Luther’s Theology of Beauty, 186)
Like me, you will continue to fail, but Christ’s mercy and grace are enough to cover all our failures, and the Holy Spirit is enough to help us in all our weaknesses. Through God’s grace, you can live the beautiful Christian life, giving evidence that the compelling message of Jesus Christ can take root in dead souls who once were drawn to the cross only because of its apparent ugliness.