The Book of James, a letter written by a guy who may or may not have been Jesus's brother, writes about what it means to live a Chrisitan life. Unlike Hebrews, in which Paul says that faith alone is needed for salvation (because your soul will be saved because of God's grace, which is greater than anything you could possibly do or not do), James talks about how real faith is always manifested in good deeds (because the proof of faith in God and love for Christ is shown through loving others).
"For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." -- James 2:26
It's important, James says, that a Christian not simply believe in Jesus and what his death on the cross meant for the salvation of humanity, but that if people are to be truly faithful and follow Jesus's teachings, they need to do good works, like look after the poor and needy, and help show others how to be good so they can also come to know God.
I understand all this to mean that while the most important thing is to believe, to have faith in Jesus -- who he was, what he did, etc. and that faith alone is needed to be saved -- a person cannot truly be a Christian, following Jesus fully, unless what is in one's heart (a love of Christ) is made manifest in one's actions (love for others). Jesus embodied, literally became love itself, by sharing in the physical experience of being human; walking among us, sharing our suffering and helping us through his teaching, healing and radical acts of kindness.
How cool is that? You've got God, an abstract entity up there somewhere, being a judgemental and angry Lord, who is separate from his people, down here on earth live in fear and trembling, following his laws as best they can (thanks to Moses for passing on the message), but who have never seen him, have never felt his physical presence, and can't connect with and be part of Him until they die. Then suddenly one day you've got this guy who's totally human, who eats and sleeps and feels pain and who you can talk to, and touch (I wonder how many hugs Jesus gave?) and who completely understands what it's like to be in physical or emotional pain... and who just so happens to be God, too. What a mind-blowing concept!
He showed us how much He cared by becoming one of us and setting us an example of what a perfect person is. It's like He said, this is what I want you to be and do, and then when He saw us scratching our heads, He said, "Okay, here, let me show you."
Jesus bridged the gap between God and humanity, proving God's love for us by allowing Himself to become one of us, sharing fully in our humanity. The best part, of course, was that the Word of God (everything God said through the teachings in the Old Testament, through Moses, Abraham, David, and all the prophets and others) was suddenly manifest in the form of a human being.
Love = Jesus = Love.
Imagine a kid with an ant farm who decides one day to turn himself into an ant and crawl around in the dirt to show the other bugs he cares enough about them to lower himself to their level, and not only that, but allows them to kill him even though it's in his power to squish them all under his thumb. Crazy. Beautiful.
**NEXT: I & II Peter