While most religions put a focus on acts of devotion (i.e. attendance to meetings, giving of money, studying of scriptures, etc) Christianity puts a primary focus on the lifestyle you live. More specifically, the first Christians focused on living a life of love toward people and a lifestyle of holiness out of reverence for God.
The emphasis that the first Christians put on love is evident in the letter that Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome. Here are a couple of excerpts from that letter:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.
Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “you shall not commit adultery,” “you shall not murder,” “you shall not steal,” “you shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
The lifestyle of love that is described in this letter is pervasive throughout the other 27 New Testament documents within the Bible. Love was the central “do” of Christianity from the beginning. Without love, there is no Christianity. And anything called Christianity that lacks the focus on a lifestyle of love is an imposter religion made up of man made teachings and rituals.
This is why Paul wrote elsewhere, the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
Living a lifestyle of holiness was taught from the beginning as the only proper response to coming to an understanding of who God is. Just as “we love because he first loved us” we aim to live a holy life because God is a holy God. Gleaning from Paul’s letter to the Romans again, here is short description of this lifestyle:
Let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.
As with love, this basic teaching of living a holy lifestyle is all throughout the New Testament. It is presented as a way of living in response to what God has done for us and in us. God has saved us, forgiven us, rescued us from darkness, and given us his Spirit as well as the promise of eternal life. In response to this, and out of appreciation and reverence toward God, we aim to live holy.
It has nothing to do with trying to earn God’s love or forgiveness, that is impossible. It is simply a lifestyle that is good and right, one that keeps us out of trouble, one that is beneficial to those around us, and one that is in direct response to who God is and what he has done for us.
Can’t have one without the other
What happens when we try to live a life of love but not one of holiness? For one, it is very confusing to those we love, especially to those who look up to us. It can potentially turn a person off from listening to you or encourage someone to ignore a holy lifestyle as you are doing. Basically, it is hypocritical.
What about living a holy lifestyle but not one of love? This, in my opinion, is the more dangerous option because it is the most deceptive. When we can live a lifestyle that is free from most vices yet at the same time be unloving toward people, we will most certainly become self-righteous. This benefits nobody and typically ends in constant judgment of others and a very cold form of religion.
As a believer, our lifestyle that we live on a daily basis far outweighs any other religious devotion we might have. When we evaluate our lives and test ourselves to see if we are truly in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5), this should be the test. Are you living a lifestyle of love that others could testify to? And along with that love, are you aiming to live a holy life that is pleasing to God? If not, change your paradigm and begin thinking of Christianity as a lifestyle of love and holiness rather than a list of religious rituals.