How Do You Define the Christian Faith?

How do you define Christianity? Strange as it may seem, many people who attend church are quite confused as to what it is. How does the Bible answer that question?

Many people are confused about the Christian faith because they listen to others who define Christianity as they understand it. These people are also quite confused, so it becomes the blind leading the blind. For example, say you are in a group that is discussing this question. One person explains his understanding of the Christian faith, which does not agree with the Word of God. Is it, perhaps, because the sermons on Sunday do not sound a clear note on a regular basis that God in Jesus Christ has come to die for the sins of the world? That He was raised on the third day so we might have the promise of eternal life and the assurance that Jesus walks with us on this earth?

Others have definitions of Christianity, which are applied in its own way, according to the circumstance.

Examining some of these beliefs, we find they have omitted some basic teachings and added some that should be missing. Let me give you some examples.

¥ Jesus could not have been born of a virgin, as described in Luke chapter 2.

¥ Jesus was a “God-intoxicated” man. His death on the cross of Calvary was not for the sins of the world.

¥ His resurrection was only spiritual, not physical.

¥ Jesus will not return.

¥ Salvation is for all people. Everybody is going to heaven (universalism).

So it is good for us to look at the Bible’s understanding of Christianity in order to remain true to the Word of God.

In today’s text, it was the first day of holy week and a lot of people were grouped together celebrating the Passover. The Greeks were always seeking after the truth, so some were there also. A few of them went to Jesus’ disciple, Philip, and said, “We would like to see Jesus.” Philip went to Andrew, and they in turn told Jesus.

Jesus did not reply at that particular time. Instead he began to speak: “The time has now come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” The climax to his ministry was close at hand. He had been ministering to the people for three years. He had proclaimed that he was the Messiah of the world, taught what God’s will was for their lives, and told how the kingdom of God would be extended to the far corners of the earth. However, he was ministering primarily to Israel, and most people turned a very dim ear to his words.

But now he says, “If a kernel falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed, but if it dies, it produces many seeds.” What he is predicting here is that, if he were to remain in that part of the world, his message would only reach the ears of those nearby. But Jesus was more than just a local religion, he was the Son of God and the Savior of the whole world. And so he would suffer, he would die and be raised again. Then he would ascend into heaven and inform the disciples that their primary mission on this earth is to proclaim that message. That is the core of the gospel.

And so, as Jesus Christ stood there talking with his disciples, a strong voice came out of the heavens saying, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.” The crowd that heard it said, “It has thundered.” Jesus replied that God gave them this message to help the people understand who he really was. He is saying, “You are going to have the light just a little longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.”

In verse 30, Jesus explains, “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world (Satan) will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.'”

Jesus will draw all people to himself Ð Jews to be sure Ð but all others as well. His Word will extend out into the world until he returns again. This means that the message he was proclaiming would find its way into the hearts and homes of people in 2012. It is the message that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.

When he finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them. These were his closing words. My friend, this is Christianity.

I would like to turn your attention to verse 27. “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ÔFather, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”

I love this portion of scripture, because it points out that Jesus was human, but without sin. He knows his task is to go and make atonement for the sins of the world, but his heart is troubled by the real temptation. “What shall I say, ÔFather, dismiss me from this hour’? Or ÔFather, wait another 10 years, then we’ll have this hour’?”

But then he follows with this bouncing “No! It was for this very reason I came to this hour.” (Here he is defining Christianity.) God has come into the world in the person of Jesus Christ. He was God to be sure, but he was also man Ð the God/man. He was man in the sense that he understood what sin could do to an individual. He was man in the sense that he understood what temptation was all about. Yet he was also man who, empowered by the Holy Spirit, knew that God himself had come, the God/man, to suffer and then die in order to free man up to be one with Jesus Christ forever.

Biblical Christianity has Jesus Christ at the heart of its message. It is far more than a fine moralism or a general religion. It is the glorious truth that Jesus Christ has come as the God/man. When you give someone a definition of Christianity, don’t forget that Christ is at the center of it all.

Many of us who have heard this gospel through the years believe it is true. We believe Christ is all he says he is in the scriptures and we are the people of God. Others have been in the church for a long time and believe they are good Christians, but cannot believe everything scriptures say about Jesus. They have sort of a worked-over Christianity. They don’t take some of those doctrines as seriously as the scriptures do. So they chalk off some cardinal and ethical teachings until soon it is not a Christianity of the scriptures, but a Christianity according to human beings.

Perhaps you believe that, if you have more time to work through these beliefs a bit better, you will come to trust them. Jesus knows how tempting Satan can be. He knows it would be easy to say, “I am just out of college, and I’m not so sure I want to give my life to Jesus Christ now. Perhaps in a few years, after I’ve had a look at the emptiness of the world, I’ll know best. “

Jesus says, “Now is the day! Now is the day for you.” He will continue to walk with you. In the meantime, he is urging us to invite him into our hearts Ð by the power of the Holy Spirit Ð so we can know the glory of this gospel.

How do you define the Christian faith, is a very important question, and we need to give it a great deal of thought. Don’t put it off. Don’t let Christianity be confused in your mind simply because of what you might have read or what others might have told you. To not be sure about it is one thing. But to deny the Christian faith is unbelief, and that is sad.

There is no question that we live in a very confused world, and that confusion certainly extends into Christianity. One of the basic reasons for all the confusion is the world continues to deny who Jesus is and that he has the answers for our problems, no matter how serious and how big they are. Turn to your Bibles, and remember the words God has given us. If we want to be his followers, we are to take up his cross and walk with him, the light of the world. If you hear his voice, open your heart and let Jesus in today.

A Christianity That Costs Nothing Is Worth Nothing

In many ways life is much easier than it was years ago. It is therefore natural for us to also like a Christianity that is much easier too. But Bishop J. C. Ryle from England reminds us, “a Christianity that costs nothing, is worth nothing.” These are important words.

In today’s text, Jesus is predicting his death. He will be rebuked by many people Ð the teachers of the law, scribes, Pharisees, and the hierarchy of the religious order of his day. They were going to get him out of their way. He also said that he would be killed and three days later be raised from the dead.

Those were difficult words for the disciples to hear, and as a result Peter stepped aside to Jesus. I can imagine him saying something like this to Jesus: “You don’t know what turmoil your words bring us. Are hearts are heavy. We love you. We’ve walked with you now for nearly three years. And then to learn that you are going to die? That cannot happen! You are God. Don’t you remember at Caesarea Philippi when you asked me, ÔWho do I say that you are?’ and I turned and said, ÔYou are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And you blessed me for it. You said, ÔBlessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona for flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven!’ But now you are telling me and the others you are going to die.”

But then Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” What Peter was thinking is that if he just takes a little bit of the Christian message off here and a little bit off there, it might be palatable for the people and then they would let Jesus go on living. They had a comfortable little religion of their own. It could stay. After a few years they would die, and that would be the end of it.

But that was not the way it would be. It was God’s will for Jesus to go to Calvary to suffer and die on the bloodstained cross as a payment for the sins of the world. This was sin’s payment for Peter and everybody else who receives him as Savior and Redeemer. The world believes Jesus’ sacrifice may hold something for them, but it’s not a payment their for sin.

Then Jesus invites the crowd to go with them. And on this very day Ð March 18 Ð Jesus extends the same invitation to us. He says, “I need you. This is the way my kingdom is built. Will you come after me? Will you follow me?”

Jesus promised peace to the crowd peace in the New Testament Ð “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” The crowd has not changed much in the past 2,000 years. We have a mission. Whenever we find tension between what God wants and what the world wants, if we follow Him, we will have peace in our souls at the end of time, for we have chosen to follow the will of God.

However, following Jesus can sometimes cause a bit of suffering. Sometimes it can hurt a bit and for just a moment we want to be part of the crowd.

We will fall short when we come to Jesus. Peter fell short many times. However, because he confessed his faith in Jesus as the Son of the living God, he was granted the forgiveness of his sins until his dying day. God offers you this as well!

Sometimes we would rather cover up our sins and continue in them. I see it every day in my own life. But if you are a believer in Jesus, his spirit lives in you and you are forgiven. In the meantime, you must also forgive others, which can be difficult.

However, when we know God loves us and gave us the Lord Jesus Christ, we realize that we’ve never experienced a love like it, not even from the ones dearest to our hearts. Jesus Christ came with an everlasting love, he lived and died for us so we may live with him forever in the kingdom of heaven.

Paul said it well, “My grace is sufficient for you.” He received that message by divine inspiration and passed it on to us. God will never ask us to do something for which his grace will not be sufficient. It may cause us sorrow or death. It may even cause us to be disbarred from a group who does not want us around. Being a follower of Christ will not always be easy, but suffering of one kind or another is bound to happen as a follower of Christ.

In today’s text, Jesus gives us a few things to ponder as we consider the question, Do I really want to give him my all? These questions shape our life both now and for all eternity.

“What does it prosper a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?” Is life about gaining a lot of prestige and wealth? It is not wrong to be wealthy. Many people in the Bible were wealthy. But it all depends on what we do with our wealth. If we are greedy and worship our wealth, it is sin. All my wealth, all my possessions, and all the prestige of my position in society, in and of itself, are not bad. In fact, it might be used for some good. But if the wealth and prestige are my basic goals in life, then I am losing out. Then I have not taken up my cross and followed him.

I can want to be a good influence in society, but it should not be used to bring a great deal of praise to myself. Instead it should be used to bring people closer to God and make the will of God known in a society that can often be so far from him.

“If anyone is ashamed of me and my word in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” What does it mean to be ashamed of him?

Visualize a business meeting where an important decision is about to be made. That decision is legal, but is not moral. The decision could make you quite wealthy. When called upon for your vote, you respond as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, by saying, “I’m afraid I cannot go along with you, for I am a committed Christian. I live in a personal relationship with my Lord, and as I sit here now, the Christ who lives within me tells me not to do it, for it is contrary to his will.”

You could suffer for your stand and be excluded from the group. You could even lose some prestige.

Imagine our government officials having some burdensome questions to answer. Within the quietness of their homes they sit alone with their Bible and listen to God speaking. Then the next day they bear testimony as a follower of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world to those who are present and to the nation whom they are seeking to guide and to lead.

Just think of how it could be if those men and women would be willing to bear the shame. Whether it is the businessmen or the congressmen, the Senator or the President, whoever it may be. Even if it’s me in my own little community saying to my friends and family, “I cannot participate because I am a child of God.”

That is the message of today. A Christianity that costs us nothing is worth nothing, but a Christianity that gains my loyalty and my faithfulness is worth everything for both now and for all eternity.

He Knows What He’s Talking About

As we listen to the political candidates, we have to wonder if they really know what they are talking about. We may even wonder about statements Jesus makes, such as:

¥ “. . . forgive one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).

¥ “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

¥ “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:25).

Forgive my enemies, love them? Really Jesus? Do you know how much they have hurt me? The world doesn’t work that way? Who is going to take care of me? We ask sometimes if Jesus really knows what he is talking about.

In today’s text, Peter is having those same kinds of questions. As Jesus stated that he must die, it was too much for Peter, so he took Jesus aside and tried to correct him. But then Jesus reprimanded Peter. What a scene it must have been! Harsh words were chosen. “Get behind me, Satan!” The disciples had shocked looks on their faces. They had never heard such talk from the lips of their master except to demons, and now he was using it on a disciple.

Why did Jesus use such devastating language? Because he knew something they had not realized: He was under attack by Satan who was trying to thwart God’s purposes. God sent him into the world so that he would intentionally die on a cross as a sacrifice for the sins of all. The voice of the tempter was behind Peter’s words trying to derail God’s cosmic plan of salvation for sinners.

Jesus then went on to outline what life in his kingdom was about. Following him meant sacrifice, possible suffering, and hardship for the kingdom of God. This did not fit into Peter’s picture of what the world was about, and so he was confused and rejected the notion.

We can well imagine the questions rolling in Peter’s head: Who is this person called the Christ? He said some outrageous things. Can I really trust him? Does Jesus really know what he is talking about?

During the next six days, Jesus probably gave Peter a little space and was sensitive to him, as only Jesus could be. But on the seventh day, Jesus said to Peter, “Go get James, and John. I want to show you something.” The next thing Peter know, Jesus was leading the group up the side of the mountain.

On this day, something big happened for Peter, James, and John. They had a visual lesson about Jesus from God himself as Jesus was transfigured. Jesus shone in a dazzling way that they had never seen before. He deity burst through the confines of his humanity and they had a glimpse of his glory and his majesty. Then they saw two figures Ð Moses and Elijah Ð talking with Jesus. This was a sign that the fulfillment of the Jews’ expectations would be right around the corner. And then, they received an auditory lesson about Jesus as well. It was an affirmation: This is MY SON, THE BELOVED. They heard God himself say, “This is my Son.” Jesus is the Son of God. He knows what he is talking about.

God conferred authority upon Jesus before the disciples, when he then said, “Listen to him!” Trust him, obey him, take him serious. Jesus knows exactly what he is talking about.

When our children were little, and my wife and I would go out for the evening, we left them in the care of a babysitter. As we left, we’d often say, “She’s in charge. You listen to her.” She was the one we’d authorized to take care of our children. Likewise, God is doing that with those disciples that day. “This is my Son; listen to him.”

Then as quickly as the scene began, it ended. The disciples looked around and saw only Jesus, looking as normal as can be. Many years later, Peter reflected on this experience in his letter to some Christians; he was trying to get them to listen to what Jesus had passed on. Listen to what he wrote to them:

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ÔThis is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:16-18).

As we read on in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus continued to challenge and at times even upset the disciples, but they listened and learned. As they stood before Jesus on that resurrection day Ð having watched him die on the cross, and now standing before them alive with his nail-pierced feet and hands and side Ð they knew again that Jesus knows what he’s talking about.

That is God’s message to us this day. We also struggle with some of his teachings. This story was saved for us, so that we also can hear God’s message: Jesus was my Son. He’s the real thing. He died on the cross to save you from your sins. I raised him on the third day and have exalted him. He is the Lord. Listen to him and learn.

If you are listening today and are not a follower of Jesus Christ, listen to him. God is speaking to you. Listen to the words of his Son, who promises, “Truly I tell you, whoever believes in me has eternal life.” Jesus promises, if you would believe in him, trust in him, you will have eternal life.

Listen to him. Jesus knows what he is talking about.

And if you’ve experienced the power of his promises in your life and been a follower of his for some time, the message is the same. Listen to him and learn. Jesus really does know what he is talking about when it comes to living out the days of your life. Trust him with your life. Instead of trying to correct him, let him correct you. Instead of trying to direct him with your steps, let him direct your steps. Keep listening and keep learning. That is the encouragement of God today.

When God says, “Love your enemy” (Pray for him or her who is making your life miserable), Jesus really does know what he is talking about. I’ve listened to that myself, and I’ve tried it.

Forgive that person who has deeply wounded me? I’ve tried that one too. I’ve experienced it, and it is a freeing experience. It frees us from bitterness and allows us to love again more fully.

If you are a follower of Jesus, remember that you are on a journey with him toward heaven. And along the way he has some things to share with you and so much more to teach you.

Listen and learn, because Jesus knows what he’s talking about.

The Story That Never Grows Old

In our text for today, Jesus is making known to the disciples that the basic reason he came to this earth was to suffer and to die for sins of the world. Repetition makes the point better understood, which is why when you read through the New Testament, you are reminded over and over again that Jesus died for the sins of the world.

Let me give you an example of how we use that same factor. I was sitting one night at a basketball game with a person who had played the game and knew quite a bit about the technical parts of it. As the coach called a time out and the players huddled around him, you could see that he was talking very emphatically. So I asked my friend, “What do you think he is saying?”

“Well,” he said, “I never played for that coach, so I don’t know for sure. But I would think he is telling them something like this: ÔHave you noticed that all the action is around player #23? He is their key man. He is leading them in the scoring, rebounding better than any of the others, and playing good defense. Remember, in preparation for game, I warned you about this particular person. He is the heart of the team. You have to slow him down or we’re going to lose the game.’ Emphatically the coach was repeating again and again: ÔWatch #23!'”

When the second half started, number 23 was really covered by two men most of the time. As a result, they shut him down and won the game. But the coach had to repeat again and again what was necessary Ð that the players understand this team and why they were having such a fine year.

You see, repetition is necessary. When I was a child, my mother said to me many a time, “Will you please hang up your coat?” “How many times must I tell you to hang up your coat?” I finally I got the message, and today I hang up my coat when I come into the house. Had it not been repeatedly said, I might still be throwing it on the chair.

In today’s text, Jesus is telling his disciples very clearly that he had to suffer and die for the sins of the world. That is the central message. Everything else must be secondary to it. Although Jesus did many other wonderful things, like giving us good teachings that make us better people, unless he lives in our heart and we understand that he is who he says he is Ð the crucified and risen Savior Ð none of these things will happen.

Jesus rebuked Peter for telling Him that it was not necessary for Him to say that he would have “to suffer many things,” for this would not happen. Although he might be rebuked, no one would ever kill Him! Why would anybody kill a person who would raise the dead?

Jesus could see that Peter had no understanding of His last days and purpose for coming to this earth. And so he said, “Peter, you keep still! Satan is using you now. He wants you to believe that I have not come to save somebody, but just to teach them some good things. And that is not true! Many of the prophets did that. But I have come to suffer and to die to forgive your sins and to bring you into the kingdom of heaven.” Peter couldn’t understand these teachings and probably didn’t until after the crucifixion was over, for he denied Jesus.

Of course, Jesus had done many great things. For example, one day he put a little child on his knee and said, “Unless you become like a little child, you can never enter the kingdom of heaven.” What a lesson on honesty! What a lesson on humility!

Another day Jesus went to Zacchaeus’ house Ð a man who had stolen from his fellow men in the collection of taxes. After their visit, Zacchaeus was a changed man. He said to the people, “If I have stolen from any of you, I will restore it fourfold, and I will give half of my goods to the poor.” That was a wonderful thing that Jesus had done. Wouldn’t they want to keep him in the crowd? Why would they want to sacrifice him?

He healed the sick and raised the dead. He was a great person. All these things should be mimicked by His Church in the days that were to come in as far as it had power. But the main mission of the church was to tell that old, old story: Jesus must die in order that people might live and have everlasting life. The crucified and risen Christ is to live in our hearts Ð not just in our heads Ð in order that all of these good works might flow from us.

We need to hear this often in our individual Christian life. We can do good in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is important to feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe those who are naked. However, something else is much more important, and that is to point them to the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe that today we are seeing the danger of forgetting the primary message of the church and emphasizing the secondary.

We now have the ability to blot out malaria in our world. Part of the Church has taken up the mission to do just that. Our congregation decided to raise a lot of money in this effort.

This was a thrilling goal, and my wife and I were excited every Sunday to hear the report on how much money was being given to this campaign. We enjoyed being a part of it and were thankful when the church reached their goal. On that Sunday, we had a celebration with applause and rejoicing!

This malaria project is a very worthwhile goal. And the fund happened because our congregation knew that Jesus had suffered and died for them, and they had become new people because of it. Christ’s love flows out of their hearts to people who are having serious bouts with malaria. They come in the name of Jesus Christ with money to help blot out this terrible disease. However, if it is not done in Jesus’ name, it is just another project that a service club could do. Although service clubs have done some marvelous things, the Church must come in the name of Jesus Christ! That is something different!

Now let me give you another example. Mike is one of the custodians at our church. We became acquainted, and I have to admit that, after seeing the tattoos on his arms I had questions about his past. So one day I asked him if he would tell me his story, and he did not hesitate.

He began by saying, “I am a new person in Jesus Christ. I was born in a small town in California. My father deserted the family, and at times my mother lived irresponsibly. By the time I was in the sixth grade, I had to care for my two younger siblings, making sure they were fed breakfast and ready for school.

“It was about this time that I quit school and eventually joined a gang. I became involved with street drugs, alcohol, and stealing. I fathered a child and was the same kind of parent my father had been to me.

“Later I married, and we moved to Iowa. I became hooked on prescription drugs, which sent me to the state prison in Anamosa. I was placed in a cell with no windows. In that cell was an old, torn Bible, which I began to read. While reading that Bible, the Lord spoke to my heart, my life was turned around, and I was converted. Now my wife and I are growing in our faith and are committed to raising our children in the faith.”

Now I ask you, should this man’s conversion be celebrated as much as giving money to blot out malaria?

It is that old, old story that we always need to hear. It first changes lives, and then prompts these same lives to do good works in the name of Jesus Christ.

Catherine Hankey wrote this hymn that tells so much:

“Tell me the old, old story of unseen things above.

Of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love.

Tell me the story simply, as to a little child,

For I am weak and weary, and helpless and defiled.

“Tell me the old, old story. Tell me the old, old story.

Tell me the old, old story, of Jesus and his love.”