I read this in a book I just downloaded on my Nook. I stopped at this sentence.
"The essence of being a Christian is placing all our hope in God, knowing we can trust Him to fulfill all his promises..." (Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room, by Nancy Guthrie)
That is the essence. I agree, and it is something that is easy to lose sight of. Obviously, there are plenty of details left out of this statement... specifically about Jesus and what He did for us. The promises contained in Jesus are the main promises to which the author refers. But in essence, being a Christian is about God's promises (in Christ) and us trusting those promises.
It isn't primarily about living a more moral life, though if you really trust God's promises you will want to come down to earth and live a more humble life, which includes following Him. It isn't about going to church more, though if you really trust God's promises you will want to join others in worshipping Him. It isn't even primarily, in essence, about being kinder and more loving to others, though if you really believe in what God did for you in Jesus, sending Him to die for your sins while you were an enemy and rise from the grave for you, and trust in God's promises for you in what He did you will soften and want to be more compassionate, even toward your own enemies.
Part of the reason being a Christian isn't primarily about these things is because you can do all of these things, on the outside, and have it still really be all about you. You can be a "good person," and have it still be about you being good. In other words, you can look great on the outside and have it be utterly disconnected from a living trust in God.
And being a Christian definitely isn't about becoming more religious or trying to perform our way into heaven, which is impossible anyway -if getting into heaven and being acceptable to God by our own good deeds was possible, then Jesus died for no reason (paraphrase of Galatians 2:21). That is the whole point and the "prerequisite" to being a Christian: realizing that you are lost, that your "goodness" is a sham, and that you need a Hero.
No, the essence is primarily about God doing something and God promising something, and us believing that He will be faithful. Our belief in His faithfulness is our faithfulness... and all that flows out of that in our lives.
This is not an easy thing to do. That is why it is likened to a race of endurance, or a "walk," or any of the other such metaphors. What happens when tragedy strikes your life? What happens when you try to do the right things and bad things still happen? Why did God allow it? Did He give up on you? This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where you must look again at what it all means to believe and give up on the notion that you can or should be able to control your universe by being "good."
This is where you face a challenge: will you believe Him? He hasn't given any answers for why this bad things happened. He doesn't even tell you what He is doing or when it will end. All you have, the fullest and clearest expression and revelation of God, is found in the Son of God, Jesus, hanging in shame, like a weakling, on a cross... only to raise from the grave as the first of a new creation. That's it. In that is the heart of God revealed. That -He- is the encapsulation of all of God's faithfulnes and all of His promises.
Walking by faith, believing in Jesus, means that this is enough. I may not like how things are going. I may not like that God allowed it and continues to allow it. I may be suffering painfully. But can I still look at that scene, at Him hanging there, bleeding, and then at the empty tomb, and say, "That is enough. I know God is still here, with me. I know He has not left. I know He will fulfill all His promises to me." That is where the rubber meets the road. That is where the superficiality of feel-good spirituality and churchy religion and push-pull-morality-to-get-an-easy-life doesn't address real life. That is where we either begin to enter the cross or walk away from it.