What is Christianity, really, and what do Christians believe and how do they live? There are lots of platitudes and stereotypes around, but very little real understanding.
The purpose of this note is to try to cut through the misunderstanding and answer these and other related questions in simple, direct and common language.
The first thing to know is that Christianity is a wholly unnatural belief system. Nobody, having learned something about it and the expectations on its members for living, would ever just decide to “do” Christianity because they somehow thought it sounded like a cool thing to do.
The premise of Christianity is that 2000 years ago God Himself chose to manifest Himself as a man, Jesus the Christ, to teach, in person, how it was that He expected us, His created humanity, to live. Having done so, He was then murdered and, after His corpse was put in a guarded tomb, rose out of it after three days, appearing to many of those who had followed Him during His life and ministry, over a 40-day period. Thus, Christianity teaches that Christ has destroyed death, itself.
God is the intelligence and power that created our Universe and everything in it, including you and me.
Why did God Create Us?
The Bible says He created us “for My glory”. By this is meant that through some characteristic of us humans, or some actions involving us, God intends to be glorified. “But”, you might object, “we’re such a mess! How can God be glorified by our hating and killing and cheating and stealing and abusing and all the rest of it?”
Great question! The short answer is He intends to be glorified by redeeming us from all of that mess.
The basic story is that man was created “perfect”, but the first thing the first man did was disobey the one and only rule God who created him had given him. Man’s disobedience set the pattern for all of us who followed.
This disobedience the Christian calls “sin” – literally “missing the mark” of right living. It is from this state of sin that we need to be redeemed, and thus God glorified.
The essential answer is your faith in and subsequent obedience to God. For the Christian He is Jesus.
What happens if you don’t do that?
The Bible teaches that there will be a final day when God judges everyone as to whether or not they lived in accordance with His standard of right-ness. Those that pass get to live forever with Him. Those that fail don’t. Lots of Christians call this fate Hell. The Bible does say there will be some punishment applied to these later folks. (Whether or not that punishment is applied to the person forever is debated. Some believe yes, some don’t.)
How am I supposed to live up to God’s standard of “Right-ness” (or “righteousness”)?
The story told throughout the Bible is that you can’t, by yourself. The entire history of the Israelites, as God’s chosen people, is a documentary of the failure of people, even with the benefit of detailed instruction, to live up to God’s standard on their own.
Christians believe that if they repent of their previous lives, put their trust in and obediently follow Jesus, they inherit His righteousness, which was total. If they do so they are said to be “saved” – that is, saved from having to be judged un-right by God on the last day. They achieve “salvation” from this judgment. God judges the follower of Christ as if he is Christ Himself, since the follower lives “in” (meaning in total dependence on) Christ.
The Christian Bible also teaches that the Christ-follower is saved from having to continue to live as he once did. This change in pattern of living is the work of God’s Spirit within the believer (more below).
Repentance is a rejection of, a repulsion from, the way in which you have been living your life without God (Jesus) as your Lord. If there is something in your life that you want to hold on to, that you just can’t imagine doing without, then you haven’t repented of it – that is, you haven’t allowed God to be in charge of it.
Christianity teaches that if you sincerely repent and ask Christ to be your Lord (not just your savior), your request will be honored. And you then will be given a “helper”, God’s Spirit, to enable you to live in obedience to Him. But, this Spirit doesn’t take control of those things in your life that you don’t cede the control of to Him. As the Christian relinquishes more and more control to the Spirit, the Spirit takes that control, in effect conforming the Christian more and more to the nature and likeness of Christ Himself. When the Bible talks about “dying to self” and “take up your cross and follow me”, this is what it’s talking about.
The presence of the Spirit of God is the thing that distinguishes a true Christian from others. No indwelt Spirit, no Christian. No indwelt Spirit, no “fruit” of the Spirit such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control.
Christianity teaches that when the would-be Christ-follower receives the Spirit of God, he is “regenerated”. This means that he is transformed from what he had been to someone who is intimately aware of God’s will for his life. He no longer desires lots of things he once desired. Now he desires the things of God, and to grow in his closeness to God.
This profound transformation of the Christ-follower is a little known aspect of the Christian faith, even among professing Christians. You would think it would be the headline of the faith. But, sadly, it is not.
Why Haven’t I Heard About This Spirit?
The reasons for this are found in the modern institutional church. Many of them believe their only job is to get you “saved” – by which they mean have you believing and saying the right things so that you get to go to heaven when you die. Others focus simply on doing “good things” in the world – giving to the poor, championing “social justice” issues, and the like, and just don’t mention redemption or transformation. Still others are little more than social clubs, not unlike a Kiwanis or Rotary, focused more on providing a pleasing experience for their Sunday attenders than teaching true Biblical Christianity.
There is truly nothing else in any other religion on earth approaching the Christian doctrine of the Spirit of God indwelling, strengthening and living through the believer. At its core, Christianity is about having the person and power of Christ living within you so that you are changed to be like Him.