What do Christians believe?
I have heard that question asked a number of times, in various ways the past few weeks. It has involved topics ranging from gay marriage, to is there a hell, to issues surrounding justice and the poor, or other religions, to unfortunately, the gut wrenching events in Connecticut. At the risk of being accused of dodging the question, I would say that before you can get to these issues, you have to start at the heart of what Christ’s followers have taught from the very beginning.
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It was called the Good News. You see, if you don’t start there, you are putting the cart before the horse. The Gospel (good news) is the central tenet of the faith, the seed from which our spiritual fruit grows. It is the source of our ethics and the foundational truth of our creeds. Without it, you may have an ethical system, a religious organization, but you no longer have the Christian faith as it was understood by Jesus, his earliest followers or historic Christianity as it has been understood for some 2,000 years. There are any number of ways to unpack it, but I appreciate the way Tim Keller, a pastor, has explained it. When Jesus said he was the “way, the truth and the light” he was saying to a world that had up until then put its faith in 2 main ways to live life, either self satisfaction (hedonism or irreligion) or self righteousness (legalism or religion), but that Jesus had come to bring a third way, the Gospel way.
The first, self satisfaction (hedonism) says that life is all about getting the most you can, because all we we have is this life and then there is nothing. So “eat it, drink it, sleep with it, hoard it, control it, conquer it”, do whatever it is that makes you happy. Life in this view is, in a sense, a blank canvas and therefore paint whatever picture you want, because at the end of the day, there is no meaning other than the meaning you give it. Jesus however painted a picture of this life in the story of the prodigal son, who took his inheritance from his father and left for a far land to spend it on wine, women and song. The son ended up spent, broken and alone. See Luke 15 for the full story.
The second way is self righteousness (legalism) which says that life is given meaning by self discipline, obeying commands, preserving rituals and pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, spiritually, ethically or morally. It is a life that believes the universe is not a blank canvas, but a moral universe, and the best way through it is to toe the line, to be spiritual Horatio Alger’s, spiritually self made men and women. Another way to put it is the idea that a moral universe will reward a moral life. If I live a life of good deeds, I will get back good will and success. In the same story in the book of Luke, Jesus gives us a picture of this life as well. It is the example of the older brother, who worked faithfully for his father while his “prodigal brother” partied away. He did everything asked of him. While it looked good on the surface, in the end, it is revealed he simply wanted his father’s wealth, just like his younger brother. But instead of asking for it, his strategy was to keep his head down, be the good and dutiful son and in the end, inherit his father’s land and possessions. Jesus’ story makes it clear this elder son had no love for his father. He was just as self serving as his younger brother, and in the end, just as lost and frustrated.
The Gospel though, as Pastor Keller says, is a third way, the way of grace. It says the universe is not empty, but created by a good and gracious heavenly Father. It is a universe that is both filled with good things to enjoy, as well as moral laws that give structure to our lives. But the chief goal and aim of life is neither enjoying the good gifts, or obeying the laws, but in knowing and being known by the Creator who made the universe, which includes us as well. And this knowing is only possible through grace, received as a gift from the Creator.
When we try to fill our lives with created things and not the Creator, we end up empty and burned out. On the other hand, when we try to live our lives by simply obeying a list of rules, whatever they are, we inevitably fall short and are frustrated and disillusioned. But neither of these are the ways we were intended to live. We were intended to live in relationship with the God who made us, as well as each other.
I recently came across a video that unpacks this in a creative way, that I would recommend you to view. Here it is.
What do Christians believe?
First and foremost we believe Jesus is the Son of God, who lived a life that both revealed to us the Creator (Hebrews 1:1-4) and told us who we truly are: dearly loved image bearers of God, who suffer in a broken world even as we are agents of that brokenness. And that by Jesus’ entrance into this broken world and suffering along with us, even to the point of being murdered on a Cross, there is redemption, restoration and hope. Acknowledging that brokenness (or as the Bible calls it, repentance) and Christ’s claims as Redeemer and Lord (faith), brings us into that relationship.
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