Writing -- Home -- Part 2
Misconceptions .. Christian Beliefs
There are some common misconceptions about what it means to be a Christian.
Christianity isn’t being religious
As strange as it may sound, religion – or religiosity – can get in the way of knowing God. When Jesus was on earth, he said some strong words against the most religious people of his day (the Pharisees). He called them hypocrites who just wanted to look good in front of others, but forgot about love and actually prevented others from knowing God. The Pharisees were proud of their relationship with God but were the furthest from him. It is possible to be a very religious person and miss the point entirely.
Christianity isn’t being a good person
Being good and doing what is right isn’t the essence of Christianity! This can be a surprise to people, because the Bible says a lot about the kind of life God wants for us. We were created to love God and love others, and to be like Jesus. Part of being a Christian is being restored to the original “image of God” that was broken when sin entered the world. But all this is a consequence of knowing God, not the cause. You don’t have to be good and get your life together in order to become a Christian. You come as you are without changing a thing, God accepts you unconditionally, and then he changes you: both instantly (you have “new life” with a new set of desires) and over time (to become more and more like Jesus, as the person you were created to be).
As wonderful as this restoration is, it is not the heart of Christianity. The main focus is not on our behaviour or on ourselves at all, but on knowing God and having a relationship with him – then everything else follows.
Christianity isn’t just agreeing with a set of ideas
A Christian is someone who believes in Jesus. But the word “believe” is used in the Bible in a slightly different way to modern English. It means to have faith in someone. It is not just agreement with a set of ideas, but dependence and trust in a person. Believing in Jesus means depending on the sacrifice he made (dying on the cross) so that we could be restored to God. This kind of belief is relational, not just mental: knowing God personally and trusting him to save you, rather than just knowing about God at a distance.
There are some basic truths that are non negotiable for Christians: that Jesus is God; that he died for our sins and was raised from the dead; that we will be raised too, and there will be a final judgement; and that the Bible is trustworthy. Being a “believer” certainly includes acceptance of statements like these. But the primary meaning for Christians is faith and trust in a person, Jesus, and in what he has done for us.
To expand on the basic truths mentioned above:
Jesus is God
The Bible says very clearly that there is only one God. But equally clearly, Jesus claimed to be God, and the writers of the New Testament agree. The idea of there being a trinity (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit) but still only a single God is paradoxical, but is the way God describes himself.
Another paradox is that Jesus became completely human, while still remaining God. He did this for several reasons: to show us what God is really like; to demonstrate what a life of loving God and people looks like, so we could follow him; and so we could know for certain that he understands what it is like to be human. He also became a man because as God alone, he could not be killed. And he wanted to be killable.
Jesus died for our sins
The central truth of Christianity is that Jesus took the punishment for our sins so that we could be forgiven. There was an exchange: Jesus took all of our guilt, and we got his innocence.
In some churches this is presented in reverse – that we should feel guilty that Jesus died for us. Which is crazy, because he took away all our guilt and shame! There can also be a sense that Christianity is all about paying Jesus back for his sacrifice, which misses the point. His death is a gift – and gifts are free. We receive them, we don’t pay for them. What the death of Jesus really shows is that there is no limit to what God would give us out of the depths of his love.
To comprehend the extent of this love, we need to understand the state we were in. Because of the fall (“original sin”), we were born with a sinful nature, helpless and unable to restore ourselves, and separated from God. Jesus died for us as his enemies so that we could become his closest friends.
He was raised from the dead
While Jesus’ death took away our sins, the resurrection is all about new life. Jesus described it as being born again, having a totally fresh start as a new person. When someone becomes a Christian, they experience a death and resurrection of their own: their old self dies and they are raised with him to new life. Jesus said he came to give us “abundant life” or “life to the full”; one translation puts it, “full to overflowing.”
When Jesus rose from the dead, it signified that he had defeated everything we had been under since the fall: sin, death and Satan. Not only are our sins forgiven, we are free from their control; death is no longer something to be feared, but is a gateway to eternity with God; and Satan has lost his position of authority over this world. When Jesus died on the cross, he appeared to be completely defeated – even his followers thought so. The resurrection was an overwhelming victory that showed he had conquered all of our enemies, even death.
We will be raised too, and there will be a final judgement
It’s normal to have negative associations with the word “judgement,” but for Christians this is a time of rewards. Which is surprising in a way: God’s forgiveness and acceptance is a gift that doesn’t depend on our own goodness in any way. Rewards aren’t something God is obligated to give us, they are just another aspect of God’s grace: he rewards his children just because he wants to! He wants to publicly praise his people for the things they did on earth out of love for him, and give them new things to do in eternity. Work can be a burden here on earth, but in heaven it is restored to the totally enjoyable and satisfying activity it once was.
Not only that, but our relationships with God and people will be restored to the way they were meant to be. We will know and be fully known by God and others. All of our relationships will be perfect and untainted; you will be loved fully. There will be no more sadness or pain – God will wipe away all tears. We will have new bodies that no longer decay, while still being ourselves – in fact we will be more “ourselves” than ever, since there will be no sin to distort our personalities. Creation will be restored to the way it was intended to be too. God has designed into this world small pictures of eternity. In heaven they will be no longer pictures, but the things themselves: love, peace, freedom, hope, joy, satisfaction, adventure and life as it was intended to be. It will feel like home.
For those who have turned away from God, judgement is a time of justice. No one will have a thing to say against him; it will be clear to absolutely everyone that God has acted fairly. God has made people genuinely free, and so he will not force them to be with him in eternity if they don’t want to. The tragic alternative is eternity outside his presence, eternal death rather than life. Jesus died and went through hell so that no one else would ever have to experience that, but he will never override our freedom.
The Bible is trustworthy
The Bible is a record of God’s interactions with people, and demonstrates what kind of person he is. If he didn’t reveal himself to us in this way, there would be no way to deduce what he was really like. But God is more than willing to make himself known to us, particularly in the life of Jesus. Everything Jesus said and did reflects God’s heart towards us perfectly.
Truth is foundational to Christians, and the Bible is its source. There have been disagreements about how to interpret certain passages in the Bible, but when minor things become the main focus there is a problem. Jesus prayed that his people would be “one,” and must be saddened when disagreements lead to splits and fighting in the church. There needs to be room for different opinions as we grow in understanding.
But the central truths of Christianity must be held onto firmly. Many “Christian” cults have appeared through history, denying one or more of these truths; and many actions such as the Crusades have been done in the name of God, but deny his heart and character. Whether a group is actually Christian depends not only on whether they affirm the basic truths of the Bible, but whether they have God’s heart of love as well.
The Holy Spirit is called a Teacher and Counselor, and he makes the Bible alive for Christians. God’s words are life giving and refreshing, full of wisdom, comfort and encouragement. They are both protection and a weapon against the enemy. Reading God’s thoughts also renews our thinking and helps us to grow, and imparts faith, hope and strength to us. It feeds and nourishes our souls.
Sometimes the Bible has been misused, leaving people afraid to even open its pages for fear of feeling condemned. This is a symptom of spiritual abuse; if this is your experience then I recommend Ken Blue’s talks on this subject or his book about it. The answer to spiritual abuse is the grace of God, which is at the heart of the Christian message: you don’t have to work or do anything else to be accepted by God; Jesus has already done everything for you. All you have to do is accept his acceptance as a free gift and it’s yours.
Part two – implications of becoming a Christian, and how to do that.
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