What does it mean to be a Christian? How do you become a Christian? What does it look like to be a Christian? What are Christians supposed to do or not do? These are some of the questions I’ve been thinking about lately. I thought I knew the answer to these questions – I grew up in the church, after all. However, the more I read the Bible and listen to Christian leaders I respect, the more questions I have. Maybe there’s more to it than just “asking Jesus into your heart.” And maybe it’s infinitely simpler than that.

When Jesus was asked to distill the Law down into one greatest commandment, he responded:

“‘“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: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” (Matthew 22:37-40, NIV).

Love. Love God and love people. He didn’t say the greatest commandment is to ask for forgiveness or to preach salvation to the lost. He said love. Brad Jersak, author of the book A More Christlike God, said in an interview on the Nomad Podcast, “[God] is love and all he does is love” (NomadPodcast, 2015). Love is not just one of God’s attributes, rather, love is His essence. All of the attributes we ascribe to God must align with His essence of love.

God is love. He asks us to love. Maybe the essence of what a Christian means or does is love. Every aspect of our being, every word we say, action we commit, or belief that we hold must align with God’s good and perfect love. And God showed us what His love looks like in human flesh through the person of Jesus, the Christ. So, how did Jesus love? He ate with the poor, he healed the blind, he gave comfort to the outcast, and he rebuked the religious elite who thought they had it all figured out.

I do not know exactly what it means to be a Christian, or what all the dos and don’ts are, but I do know this: it all starts with love.