On the threshold of Holy Week, many Christians understand the importance of what Marcus Borg called Meeting Jesus Again For the First Time. Have you met Jesus again for the first time?

Many people worship Jesus. For the vast majority of Christians, there is only one way to embrace Jesus. But many of us aren’t satisfied by the conventional answers.

Many Christians believe there is only one true way to see Jesus, only one true way to be a Christian. I don’t. But I do understand from whence this desire for dogmatic certainty comes.

At the age of ten, I climbed aboard a church bus on my way to a Billy Graham Crusade in San Francisco. Our group of about thirty adults and a handful of children was filled with holy excitement and sanctified anticipation and we pumped ourselves up by singing gospel songs with great gusto all the way.

Inside, I saw a vast, elliptical auditorium filled to capacity. The place was buzzing with expectant energy. The Crusade Choir had assembled on the platform in front of the big, bright blue banner proclaiming, “I am the way, the truth, the life.” Crusade choir director Cliff Barrows raised his arms and several hundred voices sang out. Billy Graham delivered his sermon with his typically winsome presence and compelling words.

Then, at the dramatic climax of the service, the choir and audience sang together and I knew it was my time to take the walk. In the presence of 15,000 witnesses, I publicly declared that I believed in Jesus Christ as my personal lord and savior.

Following the service, I met with one of the Crusade counselors. He told me that because I had accepted Jesus Christ as my personal lord and savior, everything in my life would be taken care of. I would know real peace because I now knew Jesus. And most importantly, when I died I would claim heaven as my prize.

It was heady stuff.

But after only a few days, the glow of that night faded. The newness wore off, and I realized my life was proceeding pretty much as it always had. I still had problems, fears, and doubts. Worse yet, I was still overweight. Over the next few years, as life went on without much change, the light of my evangelical exuberance waned.

But something from that evening has remained a part of me. In recent years, I have realized that the one thing about the Christian tradition that is inextricably woven into my spiritual DNA is Jesus. But now I know a different Jesus than the one I met at the Billy Graham Crusade.

I know what it means to believe in Jesus as personal lord and savior. But in real life, in the here and now, I have experienced Jesus not as one who saves me but one who challenges me to see everyone as Christ.

In this way, believing with Jesus is more spiritually challenging than believing in Jesus.

There is the story about Thomas Merton, who had taken up residence in the Abbey of Gethsemani, the Trappist monastery not far from Louisville, Kentucky. One day he went into Louisville for some monastic errands.

As he stood on a street corner in downtown Louisville he had an epiphany. Looking at all the people walking around he said: “Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time, there would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed . . . I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.”

The deeper message of Jesus and the gist of Merton’s vision is that one and all, we are Christs in the making.

This is the vision Thomas Merton had on that Louisville street corner. This inexplicable vision didn’t come as a result of religious dogma or church teaching. It’s one thing to have a religious identity but quite another to see the Divine in every face.

When I was a child I thought the most important thing was to believe in Jesus. It’s not hard for a Christian to believe in Jesus.

But just as Jesus challenged the religious orthodoxy of his day, he challenges ours. Time and time again he said what really matters is not the purity of doctrine but the purity of heart. What matters is how we see life and live with each other. All else is sound and fury.

To believe with Jesus is to see that we are all Christs in the making. Our biggest problem is that we don’t know who we are—Jesus calls us to wake up.

Christ without religion.