The difference between Christianity and other religions is that Christianity is something you are, not something you do.
The entire world (that is, culture by culture) views religion in the same way. If you were born in Asia to Buddhist parents and you say you are Buddhist, then you are Buddhist. If you were born in India to Hindu parents and you say you are Hindu, then you are Hindu. If you were born in the Mideast to Muslim parents and you say you are Muslim, then you are Muslim. And they say if you were born in the West to Christian parents and say you are Christian, then you are Christian.
But that's not the way Christianity works.
Yes, you can be born to Christian parents. You can even go to seminary and become a priest. You can serve in the church your entire life. You can minister to others, do good deeds, and even write theological books. But what did Jesus say?
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
Jesus was talking about Christians in the future. We know it was about Christians, because they are the ones who call Jesus, "Lord, Lord," not the Jews. We know it was in the future because the Christian church had not yet begun.
So look a what these people – these "Christians" – did. They prophesied in the name of Jesus. They drove out demons in the name of Jesus. They performed miracles in the name of Jesus. But what did Jesus say? "I never knew you." With God, it is a matter of a personal relationship, not how closely you identify with a Christian church, nor the skills you have, nor the wonderful things you can do..
Look at a parable that Jesus told:
Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
”‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
”‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
The scene here is that of a farmer planting his crop; perhaps it was wheat. His enemy came at night and covered his field with weed seeds. When the seeds began to grow, the farm workers saw that the field was filled with both wheat and weed. So they asked, "Should we pull up the weeds now?" The farmer answered, "No; let them both grow to maturity. When the time is ripe, then separate the wheat from the weeds. Throw the weeds into the fire to be burned and bring the wheat into the barn.
.It's a parable of the church and the day of judgment. The enemy is Satan, who has filled the church with "bad seed." Jesus said, "Let them grow together, until the day of harvest." And so, the church is filled with good seed, Christians, and bad seed, Pretend Christians.
The world looks at the Pretend Christians and say, "If that's what being a Christian is all about, then I don't want anything to do with it." They don't know better, because the rest of the world – all the other religions – believe that if you are born to Christian parents and say you are Christian, then you are Christian. They don't understand that's not the way God acts and that's not the way Christianity is.
Not all Pretend Christians know they are Pretend Christians. They believe and present themselves as real Christians. The even become leaders, priests and ministers in the church.. Thus, at the judgment they are confused and ask, "But Lord, didn't we prophesy in your name and do miracles in your name?" You would feel sorry for them, and you should feel sorry for them, because they think they're on the road to heaven only to find themselves rejected at the last minute. But they should not be confused and they have no excuse, because they have the Bible and they have the doctrine of the church from the beginning. The Bible plainly says it's not your good works or deeds in the church that counts with God, it's your personal relationship with God that counts. Are you wheat growing in his field, the church, or weed?
Before you despair over Pretend Christians, let me hastened to tell you two things. First, there's no need for you to be a Pretend Christian. Right now, if you have never done so yet, pray to Jesus and ask him to save you and be your personal Lord and Savior. Second, as you read this, be aware that we don't know everything that's going to happen at the judgment. Just because we are told thus and so shall happen in the Bible, that doesn't mean nothing else will happen. What we need to know right now has been told us. But what Jesus does with people who think they are saved and want to be saved but have never made it a personal relationship, that is up to Jesus. I do not know what he will do in that case. However, I do know what God said through his prophet Ezekiel,
As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! For why do you want to die?
When God created mankind, he set the standard for what he intended.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”
Here we have a picture of God (appearing in human form) walking in the garden of Eden and wanting to walk and talk with his creation, Adam and Eve. If our God was a wrathful, vengeful, wayward God who demanded abject servitude of his subjects, can you explain why he was wanting to walk and talk with them? God does not want a master/servant relationship with us. He wants a father/son relationship ("Son" in this case is not masculine but generic). Jesus said,
The Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.
God portrays himself as a Father, not as a despot.
Have you ever wondered about the verse, "So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" in Genesis 1:27? How are we in the "image of God"?
Let me explain it this way. The Bible says,
Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
If we ourselves had no government – if we were like dogs or snails and had no government – then how would we understand God has a government? What is a government? It would be meaningless to us. If we were lower creatures, how would we understand the government or peace of God? Because we ourselves have peace and government, we know what the prophet means when he said, "Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end."
If kingdoms did not exist among us, how would we understand that God has a kingdom? If we did not have families, how would we understand what it means to part of the family of God? If we did not have fathers and mothers, how could we understand that God is our Father? For the scripture says,
I... will be a Father unto you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.
2 Corinthians 6:18
How can we be sons and daughters of God if we are not made in God's image? But do you say, "We shall become sons and daughters when we get to heaven"? How can that be when the Bible says,
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
1 John 3:2
God made us like himself that we might be fit for the Kingdom of God. And because we are like God and created in his image, God can and does have a personal relationship with us.
There was a man named Nicodemus who visited Jesus. Nicodemus was an expert in the Law. This was the Jewish Law, the books of Moses, the first five books of the Old Testament. The Law of Moses was the law of the land, like the U.S. Constitution is the law of the land in the United States. It was in following this law that the Jews had their hope and expectation of being acceptable to God. Nicodemus was like a constitutional lawyer, and an expert in his craft, in the Law of God. He was also among the ruling elite of the Jews in Jerusalem. Of all the people on earth, Nicodemus and his kind would have known more about God than anyone else.
Immediately, Jesus said to him, "You must be born again." That was like telling a priest, or bishop or the pope, "You must be born again." If you wish to see God; if you wish to please God, then you must be born again. That story is told in John 3:1-21. It is not like saying, "You must be converted," that is, to leave one religion and join another. It is a whole new way of thinking. Just as we are born into our human family and have a familial relationship with our parents, God wants us to be born into his spiritual family, and have a familial relationship with him, our Father.
A Christian, a true Christian, is a person who has a personal relationship with God the Father and Jesus his Son. Do you ask, "How can this be?" When you are born again, at the very beginning you may feel nothing different. You may not have any special feeling of relationship with God or Jesus. That is because, as a baby, you know nothing. A human new-born baby doesn't know his mother or father, but his parents know him, and the parents care for him until he grows up and understands that he is indeed part of this family. In the same way, when you ask God to forgive your sins and save you because of Jesus' death on the cross, you are born again but you may not be able to detect a difference. The difference is in God's eyes.
As you grow, just as a baby grows, you are transformed more and more into the image of Jesus, just as a baby is gradually transformed into an adult. To grow, you must eat good food, lest you die in infancy. This good food is reading the Bible, praying to God, practicing the Law of God, and attending church so you may be fed and helped by those older in the faith than you.
The Law of God is this:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Everything written in the Bible, all the law and the prophets, hang on these two commandments.
And thus, you have a personal relationship with God. It's personal.