Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Exploring Christianity

I. The Old Testament Summary

The Christian faith begins with the idea that there is a spirit called God who is not a part of our world, but is responsible for creating the world we live in. God created people to be a pure reflection of Himself.

We were made with the ability to think like God does, to feel what God feels, and to make choices that can change the world like God does - although our choices are made on a smaller scale than His.

The Bible tells us this in Genesis chapter 1 verses 26 through 27, which says this in the English Standard Version of the Bible:

"Then God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them."

From there, the Christian faith begins sharing a version of human history that is full of broken lives and shattered dreams because we decided we did not need God. We tend to believe that our lives can be better off without Him.

The end result of that way of thinking on our part has been described in the Bible by Psalms chapter 53 verses 2 through 3 which say this in the English Standard Version of the Bible:

"God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one."

So before Jesus Christ came, God began working to convince people that we were made in God's image, and that we are no longer a pure reflection of God's image. All of the work God did in the past to convince people of these two things took place among a very specific group of people who today are called the Israelis.

So in order to be a Christian, you have to believe that we were created in the image of God, and that image has been corrupted by what God considers to be evil. Anyone who does not hold to these two ideas will not be recognized by God as a Christian. This is the whole point of what is commonly called the Old Testament, and is the environment in which the Gospel of Jesus Christ can be shared correctly.

II. The Gospel of Jesus Christ Summary

Now that we have considered the basic point of the Old Testament, we can pay attention to what the Bible says about Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Jesus Christ can be summarized with four basic points.

The first point of the Gospel is that God the Creator became a creature, a man, and he lived in our broken world. Let me give you one place in the Bible where you can see this clearly. In the Gospel according to John, there are two Bible verses that show this and I want to share them with you by quoting the English Standard Version of the Bible.

The first Bible verse is John chapter 1 verse 1, which says "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." The second Bible verse is John chapter 1 verse 14, which says "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."

The reason I am sharing this point is because there have been many efforts made in the name of God to make Jesus something else, to distract or mislead people away from believing that Jesus Christ is God the Creator, and I do not want you to be deceived. If Jesus Christ is not God then his life and everything the New Testament says is of no importance to humanity. Let's be clear on that.

Now we can talk about the second point of the Gospel.

The second point of the Gospel is that the entire time Jesus Christ lived in our broken world, the image of God in his life and character were never corrupted by what God considers to be evil. Jesus Christ was able to live his entire life without ever telling a lie, stealing, lusting or being angry enough to kill someone. Jesus Christ was so pure of heart that he lived his whole life without ever once thinking any of those things were a good idea.

The Bible tells us this in Hebrews chapter 4 verse 15, which I want to share from the English Standard Version of the Bible. Listen to this carefully.

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin."

This brings us to the third point of the Gospel.

The third point of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ died so that we could avoid being held responsible by God for everything we have done in our lives that hurt God and hurt other people.

The Bible mentions this in 2 Corinthians chapter 5 verse 21, which says this in the English Standard Version of the Bible: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

I personally find it to be fascinating why Jesus Christ was arrested, tortured and crucified. The reason he suffered was because he told the truth. His enemies were asking him questions about whether or not he was God, and all he had to do to protect himself was tell a lie.

If Jesus had lied to them, he could have saved himself, but he was so pure of heart that he would not do it, he never crossed that line. In the private conversation he got to have with the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, Jesus Christ left Pilate no choice.

Jesus had been accused of being a king, and in the Roman Empire anyone claiming to be a king would be executed. Jesus was so pure of heart that when Pilate tried to give Jesus a way out by telling a lie, Jesus would not do it.

Here is something for you to think about. In Western culture today one of the worst things that can happen to a person is for them to be condemned by a corrupt politician. In Eastern cultures today things are different. In Eastern culture one of the worst things that can happen to a person is for their family, clan or tribe to decide they are not going to protect you from your enemies.

Both of these things happened to Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was so pure of heart that he would not tell a lie to protect himself from being condemned by a corrupt politician when his own people had decided they would be better off without him.

So Jesus Christ died and was buried, but the story does not end there.

Let's consider the fourth point of the Gospel.

The fourth point of the Gospel is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, a historical event in the past that God used to prove He will not hold us responsible for the corruption in our hearts by bringing Jesus Christ back from the dead.

After Jesus had been dead for 3 days, God performed a miracle and Jesus' soul and spirit were reunited with his body, and even today some two thousand years later Jesus Christ is alive. 

Listen carefully to what the Bible says to the Church in 1 Corinthians 15 verses 1 through 8 in the English Standard Version of the Bible:

"Now I would remind you brothers, of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received; in which you stand, any by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you - unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me."
The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ "presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the Kingdom of God" in Acts chapter 1 verse 3 and if you are wondering who he appeared to, just look at the 1 Corinthians passage again.

III. The Christian Church Summary

Now we can talk about the difference that Jesus Christ makes in people's lives.

When people decide to listen carefully to the information I shared about the corruption in human nature along with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and make the choice to trust it, there is a change of heart that takes place in their lives.

In the past, I have met people who have experienced this and were not able to explain it. They realized something changed in their heart, but were confused about it because their understanding of what happened to them is clearly seen in what one person told me: "I am not myself anymore."

So let me explain what that means.

Jesus Christ came preaching a message about the Kingdom of God, and part of his message was explaining how we can become citizens of the Kingdom of God. Jesus Christ explained the conditions for citizenship in the Kingdom of God to a man named Nicodemus this way:

"Truly, Truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."

This quote is from John's Gospel, chapter 3 verse 3 in the English Standard Version of the Bible. The Apostle Paul offers an explanation of what Jesus Christ was talking about in 1 Corinthians chapter 5 verse 17 which says this in the English Standard Version of the Bible: "if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold the new has come."

The Apostle Paul also explained more about this in his letter to the Galatians by writing this:

"Now the works of (sinful) flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control; against such things there is no law."

This quote was taken from Galatians chapter 5 verses 19 through 23 in the English Standard Version.

So the goal of living the Christian life is to be free from the corruption that exists in human nature, and the way God accomplishes that is when we begin looking closely at how pure of heart Jesus Christ is, and that is the challenge we face.

There have been many times in the past when people stopped paying attention to how pure of heart Jesus Christ is and still believed they were living the Christian life. Every generation of the Church around the world has struggled with this, and it is this struggle that is responsible for racism in the American South, for Apartheid in Africa, the Crusades against Muslims, the concentration camps in Germany, the KGB informants among the Orthodox Church in Russia and more.

Yet the work of God to clean up the corruption in human nature continues, and I am sharing this because I want to be a part of what God is building in the world today. Being a part of the Kingdom that God is building in the world today is known as Discipleship.

I want to begin explaining Discipleship next time.

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