THE CHRISTIAN FAITH
On this page we consider what a Christian is and why Jesus is so important.
What a Christian isn't
Before we come to look at what a Christian is it is worth us first of all looking at what a Christian isn't. That is not to be argumentative, but in life some of our pre-existing views can cloud our judgement when we come to consider something new. That can be true when thinking about what a Christian is. To help us think about this we are going to think about the interactions that Jesus Christ had with people.
Being religious and even attending a church does not make somebody a Christian. Jesus was surrounded by deeply religious people during his life on earth, but most of them were not his followers or did not want to associate themselves with him.
Being born in a particular country (such as the UK) does not make somebody a Christian. Jesus was surrounded by people who grew up in the same country as he did (Israel) and again they were not his followers.
Being a 'good person' does not make somebody a Christian. Jesus was surrounded by people who were far more devout in legalistically following various laws than most of us today are, but they were not his followers.
Believing in Jesus does not make somebody a Christian. The devil and the demons believe in Jesus but they do not in any way follow him.
There are those in our society who might argue for some of those views above, but the Jesus Christ of the Christian faith does not find that to be true in his experience and what he says is even clearer.
What a Christian is
As we read the history of the earliest Church in the Book of Acts in the Bible we read that the followers of Jesus were first of all known as followers of 'The Way'. The term 'Christian' was a nickname that was first given to followers of 'The Way' in a place called Antioch (Acts 11:28). Those 'Christians' are said to be the 'disciples' of Jesus. That is, they are his followers and they seek to learn and apply his teaching and to continue his ministry.
So, what is a Christian in 21st century Britain? The answer is that they are a disciple, or a follower, of Jesus Christ. When people say it is anything less than that they demean the Christ at the heart of the Christian faith.
Why follow Jesus Christ?
The first answer to that question is because God sent him to be our greatest ever guide. Jesus shows us the best of our humanity and how God intended us to live and interact with each other in the world. As we follow Jesus we follow his example.
But, there was something all the more special and significant about Jesus. Jesus came into the world to save us from our sins and to make us right with God again. Jesus came to fix broken people and broken hearts. Jesus came to repair the relationship with God that human beings had wrecked, due to our desire to live it our way and in doing so turning our backs on God. Jesus' death on the cross and resurrection from the dead made it possible for our relationship with God to be repaired.
"Don't call me a sinner!"
Many people in our society don't like to be called a sinner. They find it offensive, as if they are being attacked in some way. But, we should be clear here that it is not a preacher or a Bible teacher or anybody else who comes up with this adjective to describe a person. The Bible itself does so, and does so incredibly clearly. Romans 3:23 in the Bible tells us that, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." A sinner is simply somebody who has sinned and the Bible says that all have sinned.
Most people in our society tend to think of themself as being quite a good person. The way they make such an assessment is by comparing themself with other people. So, for instance, we might take a scale of how good people are from being somebody like Mother Teresa at the best of humanity and Adolf Hitler at the worst of humanity. As people think of themselves and how good they are, they most likely think of where they are on that scale, and most people would put themselves in the higher half, meaning more good than bad. In all honesty, if we are to think of ourselves on such a scale then that might be quite an accurate assessment for many people.
However, that is not the scale that God sets in the Bible. God is not subjected to looking around at fellow human beings in order to work out what he thinks the plumb line for 'good' is. God is objective and he gives the scale.
If Hitler is viewed as bad and is the level of our boots, and Mother Tesera is viewed as being good and is as high as our heads (in our scale) then the scale that God sets is the sky. That is, it does not matter how good we think we are compared to each other, compared to the standard that God sets we are all a long way short. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
Jesus summed up the whole Bible when he said that the greatest commandments are to 'love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind', and to 'love your neighbour as yourself'. Most people might try a bit at the second of those, as far as it is convenient, but probably do very little in terms of loving God. We might try to be good people and we might think of ourselves as being better than we really are, but we have all sinned and fall short of God's glory.
This is where the breakdown in our relationship with God takes place. Imagine being married to somebody who constantly goes out of their way to ignore you and do their own thing and then they say that they are actually a really good spouse. That is what we do to God when we disobey him, when we ignore him (even though what he commands and guides are what is best for us).
But, all is not lost for humanity. God saw the damage that we had done in our relationship to him and he set about fixing it. He came into the world (Jesus Christ) and died for us on a cross. Why die? Because God is a just God, and those who are guilty are seen and a punishment is required. There is no getting away with it or miscarriages of justice where God is concerned. But, sin causes death. It stops us from being with God in the fullness of life now and it stops us from being with him in eternal life when this temporary life is over. Our sin leads to death and that is the just punishment. So, Jesus voluntarily took that death punishment onto himself. He took it, so that we do not need to take it. He took it so that we could have life in all its fullness instead; that is a repaired relationship with God our Father.
Jesus died for us. But, not all of us. Speaking in metaphor, Jesus once said of himself, "I am the gate." Another time he said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. Nobody comes to the Father except through me." Jesus makes it clear that he is the only way that people can have their relationship with God the Father restored, but we have to go through the gate in order to go to the Father. There is no point standing by a gate, looking at it as a gate and then not walking through it. We don't get anywhere that way. So, it is with Jesus.
On the day of Pentecost the apostle Peter was preaching about these things to a great crowd and some people found themselves being convicted and realising their need to change. Somebody in the crowd shouted out to Peter, "What shall we do?" to which Peter replied, "Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins."
How do we go through the metaphoric gate of Jesus? We repent. That's an old religious word, but its meaning here is to change direction. It means to realise that we have been going the wrong way, that we can't live this life the right way in our own strength, that we need forgiveness for our past and guidance for our future. It means fully giving our lives to Jesus and following him.
But, the great promises in the New Testament are that when we do this Jesus does indeed save us from our sins and our death punishment has then already been dealt with by him, on the cross 2,000 years ago. But, we must first repent.
So, what is a Christian? A Christian is somebody who has repented of their sin, has looked to Jesus for forgiveness and salvation and seeks to follow Jesus for the rest of their life.
A part of that is being obedient to Jesus' call for his followers to gather together and support each other (the Church) and to take his message of love and salvation to the rest of the world. A Christian faith can never be something that is only personal, because one of it's requirements is to share that great faith and hope with others.
If you would like to know more then do contact us using the contact details on this website, or better still come along to a church service where the Vicar or one of the Readers will be very glad to talk things through with you further.
We also offer regular Alpha Courses and other courses that explore the basics of the Christian faith. You can find further details by clicking the link below.