#1: What makes a person a Christian?
who you ask, you're likely to get a wide variety of answers to
that question. For example, some people see a Christian as someone
who . . .
goes to church
was raised in a Christian family
tries to live by the ethical teachings of Jesus
has had a particular spiritual experience
believes intellectually that Jesus was God
And those are
only a sample. How can we sort through all these different opinions
and isolate the correct one? Well, the best way is to go back
to the One who started it all, Jesus, and discover what he said
on the subject . . .
the way . . ."
In John 14:6,
Jesus makes a startling statement: "I am the way and the
truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through
me." Jesus is saying that he is the only way to a relationship
with God and spiritual life. How can that be?
lies in the purpose for which Jesus came to earth. Jesus said
he came "to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matt.
20:28 ). Scripture teaches that each of us has done things we
know are wrong. We all do hurtful things and struggle with self-centeredness,
which the Bible calls "sin." This sin has the effect
of separating us from God and the relationship with him we were
designed to enjoy. In the person of Jesus Christ, God came to
earth and paid the "ransom" (or price) for our sins
through death on the cross. This provided a way for us to restore
a relationship with God.
me . . ."
But it's not
enough to know that Jesus was God and that he died for our sins.
We must make a decision to accept the forgiveness offered to
us in Christ and begin to follow Him as the Lord of our lives.
An appeal Jesus made time and time again during his ministry
was "follow me." Jesus addressed this appeal to everyone
from fishermen to religious leaders because all stand in need
of the new life he offers.
How do I begin
to follow Jesus?
following Jesus involves . . .
we have sinned (done things that hurt ourselves and others and
have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Romans
God's forgiveness and accepting His gift of eternal life.
wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in
Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 6:23
Jesus as Lord of our lives and allowing Him to shape our character.
". . .
if you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord,' and believe in
your heart that
him from the dead, you will be saved." Romans 10:9
you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the
Lord Jesus. . ." Colossians 3:17
Christian means entering into a new life filled with joy and
purpose. Many people throughout the centuries have experienced
this new life first-hand, and we pray that you will too.
#2: Why do Christians place such an emphasis on Jesus Christ?
Wasn't he just one of many great religious leaders?
Jesus was a great religious leader and teacher. But the key fact
about Christ that separates him from Buddha, Mohammed, and other
spiritual leaders is that Jesus claimed to be more than a teacher--indeed,
more than a man. Jesus identified himself as God and the only
way to spiritual salvation. His contemporaries understood the
radical nature of this claim, and it led directly to his death.
John 5:18 says, "For this reason the Jews tried all the
harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but
he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal
this claim in itself is not enough. Anyone could claim to be
divine, and in fact people have often done just that. However,
we generally label such individuals as unstable and consign them
to mental institutions. Did Jesus give evidence of having an
unstable personality? No. Quite the opposite. His life and teachings
evidenced tremendous depth, power, compassion, and wisdom. A
group of men sent to arrest Jesus returned empty-handed and could
only offer this reason: "No one ever spoke the way this
man does" (John 7:46 ).
others have agreed since the time of Christ and have followed
him as Savior and Lord. History itself is divided into the time
before he arrived on the scene, and the time after. Even non-Christian
religions revere Jesus as among the most spiritual and insightful
people who has ever lived. Unstable? Deluded? No one familiar
with his life could come away with such an impression.
And there is
also evidence beyond Jesus' earthly life and ministry. His first
followers were a small, motley band of first-century Jewish men,
women and children. Like all members of their faith, they were
fiercely monotheistic. Yet somehow they came to believe that
this man Jesus was God, and they believed it with such certainty
that they overcame their own preconceptions, fears, and internal
squabbles to, in the words of one observer, "turn the world
upside down" (Acts 17:6). There is no adequate explanation
for the acceptance and spread of Christianity apart from the
fact that Jesus was who he said he was, and that his divine power
rested upon his followers.
So the Christian
emphasis on Jesus is not false veneration of a great human teacher.
It is not a narrow-minded swipe at other religious leaders. Rather,
it is a willingness to take this unique man on his own terms.
Those who have done this have found, like his first followers,
that their lives are never the same again.
How can Christianity claim that Jesus is the only way to God?
That seems very exclusive and arrogant.
Jesus Christ is one of the most influential men who have ever
lived. History itself is divided into the time before his life
("BC") and the time after ("AD"). Virtually
all the major religions of the world recognize him as, at the
very least, a great and wise teacher. Yet, Jesus remains a subject
of much controversy, largely because he made some rather radical
claims about himself . . .
the Father are one." John 10:30
"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to
the Father except through me." John 14:6
you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent
me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed
over from death to life." John 5:24
Jesus and his
earliest followers clearly taught that Jesus was not merely a
great moral teacher, but that he was actually God in human form,
and that he serves as the only path to salvation and a relationship
with God. Needless to say, this claim rankled many people during
the time of Christ, and it continues to stir up dispute today.
Even many committed Christians feel a bit uncomfortable with
this aspect of their faith, especially since they live in a time
which emphasizes tolerance and the acceptance of diversity. So
what is to be done with Jesus' claims?
Some Food for
First, we need
to realize that Christianity is not the only "exclusive"
belief system. The fact is that everyone's beliefs exclude something.
For example, few people would argue that a path to God that emphasizes
human sacrifice and cruelty is as valid as one that calls for
compassion and justice. Further, even a belief system which states
that all paths to God must be seen as equally valid automatically
excludes any religion that sets itself apart as unique! In reality,
to believe anything (such as the existence of God) means that
we must "exclude" something else (such as the non-existence
is important to point out what Christianity does and does not
exclude. Believing in Jesus as the truth does not mean that we
must see all other religions as containing no truth. Scripture
clearly teaches that God has revealed himself not only in the
Person of Jesus Christ, but also in creation (Romans 1:19 -20).
With this evidence being available to all, it only makes sense
that some truth about God and reality can be found in all religions.
However, since contradictions exist between religions, it is
apparent that error is present somewhere. Christians need make
no apology for holding to the teachings of Jesus at points where
they diverge from other faiths.
In the final
analysis, arrogance and intolerance are not so much a function
of the contents of a given belief system, but rather how those
beliefs are communicated. True intolerance does not stem from
having a certain "exclusive" belief (as we've pointed
out, all beliefs exclude something!). Rather, it stems from one's
attitude and the approach one uses in dialoguing with those of
another faith. It is possible to disagree with someone and still
fully accept them by treating them with respect, courtesy, and
love. Although Christians have often failed to do this, it is
certainly the example left them by their Savior.
The Christian faith seems very dependent on the Bible, but hasn't
Scripture been altered over the years? How do we know what it
At its heart,
the Christian faith is based upon the Person of Jesus Christ
and his life, death, and resurrection. Still, virtually all of
our knowledge about Christ is taken from the New Testament portion
of the Bible, so it is absolutely critical to know that the record
of Scripture is accurate. For example, what if it could be demonstrated
that many of Jesus' teachings and miracles were attributed to
him centuries after his death? Christianity's claims about him
would then be on very shaky ground. But is that the case? Has
the biblical record been corrupted or embellished over the years?
A careful survey of the evidence produces a resounding answer:
document (such as the New Testament), is derived by analyzing
the copies of hand-written manuscripts which are still in existence.
The reliability of such a document, then, is a function of the
number and age of the manuscripts still available to us. And
based on these criteria, there is no writing from the ancient
world which is as well-attested as the New Testament. In fact,
there is not other document which even comes close.
there are in existence about 5,000 Greek manuscripts of New Testament
writings (the NT was originally written in Greek). In addition,
there are nearly 19,000 other versions which have survived, many
of them written in Latin. This brings the total to approximately
24,000 manuscripts. By comparison, the second best-attested ancient
work would be Homer's Iliad, which can boast less than 650 surviving
copies. Other documents whose reliability no one would question,
such as The History of Herodotus, have fewer than 10 manuscripts.
Also, the dates
of the New Testament manuscripts lend a great deal of credibility
to the document. The earliest surviving fragment dates to about
130 AD, and other manuscripts date to the 3rd century. The earliest
copy of The Iliad, on the other hand, was recorded some 500 years
after the book was originally written and the gap for The History
of Herodotus is 900 years!
addition to demonstrating that the New Testament we now have
is an accurate version of the original writings, it should be
noted that the NT books were written and distributed during the
1st century, when many people were still alive who were eyewitnesses
of the life of Christ. For Jesus' biographers to have falsely
attributed miracles and other divine characteristics to him would
have been foolish, as they could have easily been refuted (think
of a modern author claiming that Harry D. Truman healed the blind!).
In the final analysis, one is certainly free to dispute or ignore
the teachings of the New Testament, but there is little room
to doubt their authenticity.
Why are there so many branches of Christianity? Which one is
denying that Christians have splintered into a staggering number
of denominations and sects. IN America there are well over 150
Christian denominations, and doubtless many more exist worldwide.
Which of them, if any, is "right"?
First, it should
be noted that differences of opinion among Christians are nothing
new. The New Testament contains a number of accounts of disagreements
and factions among the earliest believers. Unfortunately, this
ancient trend has never changed and is unlikely to do so, given
the weaknesses and shortcomings of Christ's followers. Though
Jesus himself expressed the desire that his Church be characterized
by love and unity (see John 17), Christians through the ages
have rarely lived up to this standard.
that, it is also important to realize that the vast majority
of differences among Christians have arisen from disagreements
over "non-essential" issues. While some of those questions
may be important and worth debating, none of them can be considered
absolutely essential to the faith.
And with all
that disagreement over peripheral issues, Christianity has remained
remarkably consistent on the central beliefs that define the
faith: the divinity of Christ, his sacrificial death for our
sins, and the need for repentance and faith to enter into a right
relationship with God. That is the heart of the Gospel, and it
has never changed. Sure, some people have called even those basic
beliefs into question, but in doing so they have placed themselves
outside the Christian faith.
So it is probably
impossible to find one group or denomination that is right about
everything, but we can all be right about what matters most.
Haven't Christians been responsible for a lot of violence and
hatred throughout history?
answer to this question is: absolutely. Without question, people
calling themselves Christians have participated in acts of murder,
torture, persecution, bigotry, immorality, and much more. The
Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition are two notable examples,
and many others could be produced with little effort. So Christianity
can't really be true, right?
Well, not so
fast. Although this distinction can be difficult to maintain,
it is critical to understand that we are called to be followers
of Jesus Christ, not of the Christian religion, the Church, or
any individual believers. Therefore, in determining if Christianity
is valid, one must look to Jesus himself to see if he is worthy
of being followed as Lord and Savior. The fact that many who
use Christ's name have failed to imitate his life and teachings
is very disturbing, but not a legitimate indictment of Jesus
or his message.
Also, we are
all aware of the human tendency to emphasize the negative (watch
any evening news broadcast to see evidence of this). Violence
and prejudice make for good copy, while hospitals, orphanages,
soup kitchens, and prison ministries generate little interest.
Yet, the latter have characterized the lives of run-of-the-mill
Christians much more than the former. From the earliest days
of the faith, Christians have won others over more by compassion
and service than the use of force. The true weapon of Christianity
has always been love, not violence. May God forgive us for forgetting
this too often.
FAQ#7: Doesn't becoming a Christian mean adopting
a bunch of rules that limit a person's freedom (and fun)?
is not a system of rules -- it is a relationship with the God
who created us and loves us. Christ said, "I have come that
they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10
). He talked about bringing people freedom and liberty, not enslaving
them to guilt and rules.
Yet many people
do associate Christianity with, well, guilt and rules. And, we
must confess, not entirely without reason. Living as a follower
of Christ does mean adopting some moral and ethical standards,
the most important of which is to treat others with love and
not just look out for our own interests. Ephesians 5:1-2 says:
of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of
love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a
fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
That is a good
summary of Christian ethics -- because God has loved, forgiven,
and accepted us, we are then called to treat others with the
same love and mercy. This means, for example, that we should
choose to use our sexuality as an expression of lifelong love
and commitment, rather than as a vehicle for personal pleasure.
It means that we should work hard and be honest rather than try
to get ahead by trampling on the rights of others. It means that
we should remain humble in the face of human frailty, whether
our own or someone else's.
it doesn't always work that way. Human nature being what it is,
we find it far easier to blindly keep rules than to truly live
a life of love. Christians sometimes turn love into legalism
and freedom into bondage. We do what is right for the wrong reasons--in
order to feel better about ourselves or find acceptance with
God. And when we do that, we miss out on the joy and liberty
that Christ wants to give us.
So, yes, there
are some "rules," but they emerge from an understanding
of God and his grace, not an attempt to pacify him. They are
there to keep us from hurting ourselves and others, not to limit
us or spoil our fun. In reality, walking with God is the surest
way to increase our freedom. Not our freedom to act as we please
and gratify all our desires (which is actually a form of slavery),
but rather our freedom to move beyond fear and selfishness to
become all that God created us to be. You have to admit, that's
a pretty good trade-off.
How does Christianity account for all the suffering and evil
in the world?
It must be
acknowledged up front that there are no complete answers to this
question, and that the partial answers we can relate may offer
little solace to a person who is going through a time of personal
pain or loss. No one can say for sure why a particular evil event
happens, or why an individual suffers as they do. However, there
are some things that can be said about the state of the world
in general, and we would do well to start there.
of suffering has arisen throughout human history in response
to the strange dual nature of our world. On the one hand, we
find ourselves inhabiting a place of remarkable beauty, majesty
and complexity, leaving us convinced that there must be some
benevolent power beyond ourselves that set it all in motion.
But, on the other hand, we also experience incidents of unspeakable
evil and suffering. Innocent children are abused or suffer starvation,
natural disasters sweep away entire towns, people kill each other
over pocket change. And when things like this happen, we can't
help but feel that there is no God; that the world is a place
without ultimate meaning or hope.
G.K. Chesterton wrote, "Bad is so bad that we cannot but
think good is an accident; good is so good that we feel certain
evil could be explained." Most of us can relate to this
ambiguity, but in the end, how is evil to be explained?
Well, the Bible
goes a long way toward describing how this present state of affairs
came about. First, it tells us that the world was created completely
good and perfect, with no evil or suffering. However, the possibility
of evil was present, because God gave the first humans free will.
They could choose to live in harmony with God, or they could
rebel and take life on their own terms. Unfortunately, they chose
the latter course, and evil was introduced into the world.
Now, one might
well ask why God allowed even the possibility of evil. Certainly
he could have eliminated any choice, but God did not want humans
to be automatons who would be compelled to obey and love him.
He wanted an open, mutual relationship with his creatures, and
that required freedom. Indeed, one must admit that the vast majority
of suffering in the world today is still a direct result of human
choices. Some of us choose to hoard our resources and others
starve, for example.
But what of
other kinds of suffering? The kind that results from earthquakes
or genetic disorders rather than any person's choices? The Bible
is not totally clear on that subject, but it does seem to indicate
that all of creation has been marred by the sin of humanity,
which results in some outcomes that God did not originally intend.
Also, it must
be noted that the Bible emphasizes over and over that this present
life is not the final story. It is only a brief prelude to the
world to come -- a world which will finally be free of evil and
injustice, a world in which the wrongs will be set right and
every tear will be wiped away.
Now, does any
of this console the parents whose child has died, or the person
who has just learned they have inoperable cancer? Probably not.
In those kinds of times we want clear answers. We want to know
why our child had to die, why we had to come down with cancer.
God could have done something, but he didn't.
best answer is that God has done something, though not what we
expected. God has not chosen to step in and eliminate every single
incident of evil and suffering (if he did, each of us would be
swept away in the house-cleaning). Instead, he decided to invade
earth himself in the Person of Jesus Christ to walk among us
and share in our pain. Although suffering still exists, through
Christ God redeems that suffering and brings good out of it.
We can receive forgiveness for our own sins and strength when
impacted by the sins of others.
So where is
God when we suffer? He is offering to walk with us. If we are
willing to receive him, he longs to guide us, teach us, comfort
us, and prepare us for that day when we will see him face to
face and wrong will be no more.
Bottom line, why would a person want to become a Christian?
most pure motive for becoming a Christian is that you have conducted
a thorough examination of Jesus Christ and his claims and have
determined that he was exactly who he said he was. Convinced
of this, you have then chosen to place your faith in Christ and
embrace him as your Savior and Lord. Such a process would be
commendable, but very few people actually become Christians that
To be perfectly
honest, the vast majority of people reach out to Christ because
they're hurting. Maybe they're sick; maybe they've gone through
a divorce; maybe they're just overwhelmed with their own weaknesses
and shortcomings. Whatever the case, it becomes obvious that
they need something beyond themselves, and Christ offers forgiveness,
freedom, and hope that don't seem available anywhere else.
And then their
life changes. A sense of peace, hope, and strength emerges that
wasn't there before. Jesus becomes a real person and a friend,
not just a quaint historical figure. He shows himself to be just
who he said he was.
So the best
reason, indeed the only reason, to become a Christian is that
Christianity is true. Jesus really was the Son of God; he really
did die for our sins; he really can offer forgiveness and eternal
life to all who come to him. A few of us arrive at that truth
by philosophical inquiry, but most of us through personal experience.
more. Any complete answer to this question must acknowledge that
Jesus will not solve all our problems (chances are, he'll create
some new ones). He will not make us rich or cause us to feel
good all the time. Following him can be difficult because we
are forced to face up to our own failings; we are called to go
against the flow of our surrounding culture; we are asked to
serve others and not just think of ourselves. Jesus urged people
to "count the cost" before following him, and with
But in spite
of the hardships (and perhaps because of them!), following Jesus
is worth it. We were created to live as children of God, to be
active in bringing about God's purposes in the world. Nothing
else can ever fully satisfy us. In the words of St. Augustine
, "Our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee."
May you find that rest by opening your life to Christ today.
want to know about your decision and help you grow as a Christian.
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