The commonly accepted definition of being a Christian is someone who accepts Christ’s death on the cross, who accepts that he is a sinner, and who believes that only by Christ’s crucifixion can he be saved.
But something much more central than that is found in the first chapter of the Gospel of St. John. Here it says, “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God.”
Opening ourselves to God’s grace
Yogananda quoted this passage often, because he was trying to teach us that spiritual progress all comes down to attunement. Ultimately it’s a matter of completely offering ourselves up to God to be transformed, and receiving the Christ consciousness within. Only in this sense can we get rid of our sins, or “darkness,” as Yogananda put it.
He said that you can’t drive darkness out of a room by beating at it with a stick. But by turning on the light of divine consciousness, it vanishes forever.
It’s true that only the grace of God can save us, or take us out of delusion, but we have to open ourselves to that grace. This effort encompasses the whole of the spiritual path.
A demanding and courageous act
In the Bible parable of Martha and Mary, Martha was busy serving and cooking for Christ and the other guests, while Mary was sitting quietly absorbing his vibrations. Martha became upset, because like most people of an active temperament, she thought that if you weren’t being outwardly useful, you weren’t doing your duty.
She said to Christ, “Rebuke thy disciple.” Jesus replied, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things. But one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen that good part.”
What is that one thing? Was it to sit there passively and let Him do it all? No. What Jesus meant was the very demanding and courageous act of totally opening yourself to God to receive him.
On another occasion, when Jesus was being jostled by a large crowd of people, many of them shouting “Lord, Lord” to get his attention, he suddenly stopped and asked, “Who touched me?” This seemed like a bizarre question considering that he was being crowded by scores of people, all trying to get close to him.
“Virtue hath gone out of me,” he said—meaning that someone had drawn on his divine energy. Someone from that crowd had enough faith to know how to draw spiritual power from him to be cured.
The ability to draw God’s power is not something that comes by sitting passively and saying, “Lord, if you want to come in fine. I won’t stop you.”
Only we can open the door
In the Book of Revelation, Christ said, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone opens the door, I will come in and sup with him, and he with me.” But it isn’t Jesus who opens the door—we have to do it.
There is a famous painting that shows Christ standing at a door and knocking. Someone once said to the artist who painted it, “But you’ve left out something – the handle on the door.”
The artist replied correctly, “No, for this door represents the human heart, and the handle is on the inside.”
To be a true Christian, we have to open the door of our hearts ourselves. This is no easy task. It takes great will power and inner focus. But more than that, it takes great devotion. When we love enough, we open the door to the flow of grace in our lives.
“I want to be free.”
When we love enough, if thoughts come into the mind like, “I want to use my own talents. I want to follow my own way of thinking and doing things,” we can repudiate them. With devotional self-offering, we can replace them with the thought, “I want to be free.”
We can say, and it takes courage to do it, “Alright God, here I am. I don’t want to hide from myself. I offer my darkness to your light, even if it hurts. I offer it to you, because I only want your light.” In this way we gradually purify our hearts.
I know from my own experience that you must pass this kind of test again and again until the nail finally gets driven in. How many times must you hit a nail for it to go through the board? Not once, but many times.
But as often as I have opened myself to God with devotion saying, “God, Master, use me according to your will,” there has been a flow of grace and I have gained great inner freedom.
The meaning of Christ’s death
It’s beautiful that Jesus died on the cross for others, but if he hadn’t been crucified, would his teachings be meaningless? Not at all.
What his death shows is how absolutely perfect and pure his love for humanity was. As he said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
What makes the crucifixion one of the most important spiritual acts in history is what it demonstrates and asks of us. Christ said, “No one is worthy of me who does not take up his cross and follow me.”
He is telling us that just as he totally gave up his life for others, we must give ourselves totally to him. When we can give ourselves completely to Him, when we can say—“I don’t want anything but you,” then we have understood Christ’s message.
“By their fruits, ye shall know them.”
Being a Christian means living it in your heart. How do we know if we are doing this? Christ said that the real test was this: “By their fruits, ye shall know them.”
One of the most important proofs that he gave was, “Love ye one another, just as I have loved thee.” In other words, someone who is living in the flow of God’s grace will manifest it. He will become an instrument of that love and grace in the world.
Seek to be nothing
Ultimately God will demand that we lay everything that we have at his feet. But when we offer everything to Him, then we become Him.
St. John of the Cross said, “He who would own everything, should seek to own nothing. He who would be everything, should seek to be nothing. He who would know everything, should seek to know nothing.”
When we refuse to accept any wisdom as our own, to take credit for anything that we do, or to consider anything we have as our own—then suddenly, we find that we are a part of everything.
Then the Infinite One can shine through us. A stained glass window is colorless and dull until the sun shines through it. We, too, are without beauty and brilliance until, through total self-offering, the divine light can shine through us.
Each of us becomes beautiful when we are cleansed of ego, desires, and attachments. Christ and all the great masters have come to show us that this is what it means to be a true Christian.