A couple days ago, an acquaintance of mine came up to me and said "I need to talk with you about Christianity." Of course, me being how I am said 'absolutely' and followed them to a quieter place to discuss it. And the conversation went something like this:
"I hear so much about 'becoming more like Jesus' and taking on the characteristics of the Savior from so many Christians. Yet, I am not looking for that. I am not looking for becoming somebody or taking on characteristics of someone else. I have tried that so many times throughout my years and it has never made me happier or more satisfied. Yet, Christian's claim that taking on the characteristics of someone else, this one person, is supposed to fill me up? I really don't get it. I don't want to become someone; I want to be who I am and stay that way.""I see what you are saying, but I think you have it all wrong. God isn't asking you to change who you are; God is asking you to follow Him. Jesus isn't looking for a duplicate of Himself; Jesus is looking for someone who is willing to follow Him in achieving the same purpose in life. Sometimes people make Christianity more into a religion than the relationship it actually is. Religion demands you change; relationship gives new direction.""Okay, so am I actually supposed to change?""No, you are not supposed to change. In fact, you cannot make yourself change. The change happens as the Lord shapes your life around His purpose."
While there was more to that specific conversation, this little bit started me thinking. I find so many Christians who are seeking change and cloaking themselves with rigorous schedules or enhanced knowledge simply to get further towards that change. Sometimes we naturally begin to equate 'becoming more like Christ' to 'changing who we are.' We make Christianity a religion rather than a relationship. We create expectations for ourselves that cannot be achieved by ourselves. And we deceive ourselves into thinking that God will help us achieve what we have now set out to accomplish.
Let me explain it this way: come to the Lord as you are, with the characteristics that you already possess, and continue to possess those characteristics throughout your relationship with Him. God is not going to strip the characteristics you already have in order to make you a brand new person, but He is going to give you a new purpose for which you are to use those characteristics for. Before you were brought into His grace, the purpose by which you lived your life by amounted to nothing other than self-fulfillment and sin. But, upon entering into a covenant with Christ, the purpose by which you live your life becomes one of glorifying Him and being a light to Him. Those same qualities you possessed before are the same that you possess afterwards. However, the purpose with which you implicate those characteristics and the goals in which you strive to achieve through utilizing those qualities changes.
If you are naturally sacrificial in nature, then you will continue to be sacrificial, but to a different end. If you are naturally an introvert, then you will continue to be an introvert but to a different purpose. If you are naturally a talker, then you will continue to be a talker but to a different message. If you are naturally a wood-worker, then you will continue to be a wood-worker but to a different result. Your identity and who you are will never be lost; they will be redefined. You can be your complete and total self with the Lord, but do not expect to stay the same throughout the relationship. God loves to let His light change people by the way of making each and every one of their individual characteristics be a magnetic to Him.
I know in my life I run across people who have completely different qualities and beliefs on certain issues than I do; they have different strengths or outlooks. Too often a time have I looked at their qualities and coveted them because I think they are better or more developed than mine are. Recently, I have begun to fully realize that if I took on their qualities, I would lose my identity and end up pursuing another identity. When we are walking with Christ, we do not lose our identity; we give it a new focus. My tendency to give up my life for another without hesitation is a gift from God that I can pursue all for His glory. Another person may view my attitude as reckless and that view can be used for the glory of God as well. We are not all to become clones to one another; we are to provide balance to one another.
That is why the body of Christ, the church, is so important; that is why fellowship is so important. Where others go one way, there is always someone else who goes the opposite way. And we need those people to occasionally knock sense into us and realize that we may not be using our qualities to the glory of the Lord as much as we think we are. The whole message of Christianity is not to change into another person but rather to let the relationship with the Lord of Heaven and Earth change the ideals that we so desperately pursue, to change the direction we are headed. So, we may all take comfort in the fact that we are not called to be someone else; that is religion. Instead, we are called to pursue something else; that is relationship.