I know what you’re thinking, you can’t believe someone you know well or not at all has shared this with you. I totally understand the need for an eye-roll right about now. Maybe they do need some coaching when it comes to appropriate social media behavior. But just for a moment, let’s assume good intent on their part. Let’s assume they shared this with you because they really do care about you. Maybe they even love you.
They have probably already read everything that’s in here. They know this isn’t a “finger-wagging” type of rant. I despise those kinds of communication tactics myself, so this isn’t going to be that. This is more of a “wondering aloud” type of reflection.
I have non-Christian friends and family members whom I care for deeply, so I’m actually writing this as though they will read it. And the first thing I would want them to ponder with me is this: do you really know what Christianity is?
This question isn’t meant to be insulting or patronizing. The reason I ask it is that there are people who call themselves “Christians” and attend church most Sundays who don’t know what Christianity really is. If they don’t and they’re around it all the time, do you know? I have often wondered if those who don’t want to be Christians know what they don’t want to be.
One of the big misunderstandings that exists out there is that Christians are those people who work really hard to be good, nice, and fair and God rewards them for this behavior. You might be surprised to find out, that’s not Christianity!
Christianity isn’t “I obey, therefore I’m accepted.” Christianity is, “I’m accepted, therefore I obey.”
The difference seems small, but it's actually ginormous! Understanding the difference is the key to deciphering the line between real Christianity and “fake” Christianity.
Take the first definition: “I obey, therefore I’m accepted.” Imagine living as if this is Christianity. There are numerous irritating questions I would live with each day. Like, “How much do I have to obey in order to be accepted?” “Do I ever reach a point where the amount of my disobedience becomes too much to overcome?” “How can anyone live under the uncertainty of not knowing where they stand?”
These are irritating questions. If this is what Christianity was, I wouldn’t want any part of it.
But in actuality, the Scriptures define Christianity very differently. Let's look at each of these questions:
How much do I have to obey in order to be accepted?
Too much obedience is required for any human being to gain God’s acceptance through their moral performance (Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 1:9). In the New Testament, we are told we are worse off than we can imagine so our moral accomplishments come up woefully short. The reality is: I’m not a Christian because I’m obedient and moral.
Do I ever reach a point where the amount of my disobedience becomes too much to overcome?
No. This is the beautiful thing about NOT being saved by my moral performance. My past moral performance is irrelevant to becoming a Christian (1 Timothy 1:16). Nobody is unsavable!
How can anyone live under the uncertainty of not knowing where they stand?
Christians don’t have to live with uncertainty. Because Christians know they aren’t saved by their moral accomplishments, they aren’t prone to a fluctuating view of themselves that vacillates with their moral ups and downs.
To wrap this up, let me try to explain the second definition: "I’m accepted, therefore I obey.”
How do I come to be accepted? We’ve already seen, we aren't accepted by God because we’re good, nice, and fair. So how exactly does that happen? In short, through Jesus.
Here is the most concise definition of Christianity I know:
Christianity, real Christianity is: Jesus lived the life I should have lived and died the death I should have died so that when I put my faith in him, I credit for all of it.
I’m not saved by my moral performance…I’m saved by Jesus’ moral performance.
When I put my faith and trust in Jesus alone for my salvation, I get credit for the life he lived and the death he died.
Seem too good to be true? Well, it’s certainly too good, but it’s not too good to be true. In fact, the “too good” part of Christianity is what makes it the most unique religion in the world today. The “too good” part of Christianity can be summed up in a single word: grace. Christianity is the only religion in the world today that demonstrates grace on a level like this.
That’s enough for now. At the very least, I hope you have a better understanding of what Christianity is and isn’t. If you don’t want to be a Christian, that’s fine. I would just hate for you to reject it based on a faulty definition of it.
The first definition of the gospel I taught my kids was: Jesus died for our sins. When looking at those five words with adult eyes, you realize that short statement begs more questions. So what is the gospel?
This is where historical theology (i.e. what Christians in different ages believed about the Bible) can be helpful. Throughout the history of the church, additional questions have been asked to try to gain a better understanding of what exactly the gospel is. Some of those questions have been:
1. Who made us, and to whom are we accountable?
2. What is our problem?
3. What is God’s solution to our problem?
4. How can I be included in his solution?
Throughout the centuries, the four answers given to these four questions have been:
1. We are created by and accountable to God.
2. Our problem is our sin against him.
3. God’s solution is salvation through Jesus Christ.
4. We come to be included in that salvation by repentance and faith.
This is as concise and accurate a definition of the gospel as any I've seen. And this understanding of gospel doctrine affects our lives. If we live by gospel doctrine, it does change us. How so?
1. We have been created by and are accountable to God.
What are the implications for our lives of the fact that God created us and we are accountable to him?
If I am a contingent being under the authority of God existing for his purposes alone, I should be supremely interested in what he thinks and wants. This aspect to gospel doctrine should cause us to hunger and thirst for God’s Word so that we can learn and discover what he thinks and wants. And we should want to see our lives lived in harmony with it; to think God’s thoughts after him.
2. Our problem is our sin against him.
Part of gospel doctrine is that we are sinners. We are deeply messed up people. We have rebelled against and disobeyed God. How does this aspect to gospel doctrine change us?
3. God’s solution is salvation through Jesus Christ.
Part of gospel doctrine is that God saves us on his initiative alone through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This changes our view of God and in so doing changes us. Consider these beautiful elements to this aspect of gospel doctrine:
4. We come to be included in that salvation by faith and repentance.
Part of gospel doctrine is that we get credit for the life Jesus lived and the death he died simply by repenting of our sin and putting our trust in him alone for our salvation. How does this change us?
Part of the problem in Christianity today is that we have given up or just become lazy in attempting to portray the full glory of the gospel. We are settling for two dimensional snippets of it. Does the gospel take your breath away? Have you ever been overwhelmed by the enormity of it?
There is one general way the gospel changes us and it’s this: awe. The desires of our hearts, the words of our mouths, the behaviors of our bodies, are driven by a longing for awe.
The most fundamental way our hearts become awe-filled is through the 3 dimensional glory of the gospel. Isn’t it awe-inspiring to consider that though we have rebelled against and defied the God who made us, he still out of his love, mercy, and grace sent his Son into the world to the life we should have lived and die the death we should have died so that we can be saved by his radical grace. That is the 3-dimensional glory of the gospel.
This is why ABC will be a church that gives people multiple exposures to the happy news of the gospel from one end of the Bible to the other. We will be a church that seeks to convey the gospel in all of its 3 dimensional glory in order that we may respond to the enormity of it with breath-taking awe.
I love reading biographies of Christian leaders who have gone before me. I am inspired by them. I get ideas from them. Often the nature of their struggles make me grateful to God for the nature of my own. These are subjective reasons to read biographies, but there are biblical reasons to read biographies as well. Consider these verses:
"Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Cor. 4:16-17).
"Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do” (Phil. 3:17).
A sinful, fallen, but redeemed follower of Christ is exhorting other Christians to follow his example; to imitate him. Some of us get nervous about this. But this is a case and point where we need to let Scripture correct our discomforts. Imitating someone who is following hard after Jesus is a good thing!
This is a biblical reason to read biographies. Not only do they contain interesting information about times past, they can offer us examples to imitate. Below are three biographies of Christian leaders from times past. Read them and learn from them. Enjoy!
Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther - Roland Bainton
John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor - W. Robert Godfrey
Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word: A Model of Faith and Thought - Edwards