What is Christianity?

July 29, 2014.

There are a few fundamental philosophical questions that I think most people encounter at some point in their lives. Who am I? Why am I here? What is the purpose/meaning of life? Is this all there is? These questions have been asked time and again throughout the ages, with different peoples and cultures coming to different conclusions and answers. I’m sure these questions will continue to be asked as time goes on. The question of “is there an absolute truth/answer for these questions” is in and of itself a fundamental question that has been argued for a long time. Some people choose religion, some people choose science and still others choose a combination of both or even neither. Who is right? Is anyone right? Does being right even exist?

I am both a scientist and a devout Christian. Contrary to popular belief, these two designations do not implicitly contradict one another. In the realm of science, even for those who hold to the Big Bang theory and the process of evolution of all life from a common ancestor, a question of faith remains. What (or who) caused the initial bang? An honest scientist in this camp will tell you that they don’t know and it is not science’s place to discuss or decide that. It is a question for philosophers and theologians, so to speak (there is a smaller camp of scientists who believe that the universe simply always has existed, but there are fundamental problems with this theory as well). Once it is decided that there must be a supreme power from which the universe originated, then the question turns to “Which god is God?” There are many evidences I could discuss as to why I believe in God (such as moral law) and more specifically the God of the Holy Bible (such as fulfilled prophecy, Messianic prophecy and uniqueness). Whereas I am very interested in Christian apologetics and love to discuss what evidences I see for Christianity, today I would simply like to tell the Christian story for those who may not know what we believe.

The Origin.

Christianity is deeply rooted in Judaism. Not the Judaism you might find today, but rather the history of Judaism. The God of the Jews historically is the God of Christians. Our bible consists of two parts, the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament are the Hebrew Scriptures originated and handed down by Jews. This is better understood through the creation story and God’s choosing of a people.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
(Genesis 1:1)

This is how we believe it all began, both Jews and Christians. God created the heavens, the earth and all that lies therein in six days, resting on the seventh (some taken this allegorically and some literally). God created man and woman, Adam and Eve, and placed them in the garden of Eden in perfect fellowship with God, walking with Him. This was the original plan of God, man and woman in perfect harmony and fellowship with their God without sin or death. But then sin entered into the picture when the woman transgressed the command not to eat of a certain tree in the garden, being tricked by the advisory and giving the fruit to her husband. When sin entered, death entered and Adam and Eve were banished from the garden. We call this the “fall of man.”

But their decision to transgress his command was not a surprise to God. He knew they would fall and from the beginning he had a plan to reconcile all mankind to him. With this, we find the first prophecy of the coming Messiah who would bring salvation to all who would obey.

“The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
(Genesis 3:14-15)

Thus began human history and the awaiting of the Messiah. Generations after Adam, when the human race had multiplied, some clans following the word of God and others not, God called a man named Abram, later renamed Abraham, to be the father of God’s people and of the Messiah.

“Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. […] Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. ”
(Genesis 12:1-3, 7)

Paul, a New Testament writer, shows this as a Messianic Prophecy when he writes to the Galatians:

“To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.”
(Galatians 3:15-16)

So, Abraham obeyed God and he became the father of the children of Israel, God’s chosen people to bring salvation to the world. Abraham, a man who lived some 4,000-6,000 years ago, was such an influential figure that three major world religions today cite him as a founding father, so to speak. This fact in and of itself gives credence to the God of the bible.

The History of the Jews.

The children were God’s chosen people to bring a light to the world. However, they did not live up to this calling very well. At times they were doing great, walking in step with God, and at times they were completely against God. As prophesied, a few more generations after Abraham, the children of Israel grew into captivity of the Egyptians, a slaverly that would last 400 years. God then sent Moses, an Israelite raised in the household of Pharaoh until he fled into the wilderness of Midian, to lead his people out of Egyptian bondage. God sent ten plagues on Egypt to prove to Pharaoh that He was supreme and to convince him to finally let the children of Israel go. Finally, Pharaoh had had enough and let the Israelites go, only to pursue them and loose a mighty army when God split the Red Sea to let his people cross on dry land and let the waters fall on the Egyptians who followed.

After they had escaped, God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments, a law that would govern them until the time of the Messiah. This is an essential story in both Judaism and Christianity, though it is regarded differently.

“And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. “You shall not murder. “You shall not commit adultery. “You shall not steal. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
(Exodus 20:1-17)

These commandments and others laid out in the following Books of Moses (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) make up the Jewish culture and though, at least historically speaking. The Jews went on to have a long history of clinging to God and falling away from God, a cycle that repeated itself time and again. They went through Judges and Kings, prophets and false idols, falling away and restoration. But all this, the law and the prophets, were looking forward to a time when the coming Messiah would place his kingdom and bring salvation to the world. The law was a guardian until the Christ came, as Paul continues in his letter to the Galatians:

“This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. […] Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”
(Galatians 3:17-19, 23-29)

Throughout the Old Testament there are over 365 prophecies about the Messiah, the Christ, coming to bring salvation to the world, not the least of which are found in Psalm 22 and Isaiah 52-53. The Jews were (and unfortunately still are) looking for the Messiah.

Jesus Christ, the son of God.

After years of waiting, one night an angel appeared to a young Jewish virgin named Mary to bring her news that she would be the mother of God on earth. Though she was a virgin, she would conceive a child who she was to name Jesus, Immanuel, God with us.

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” which means, God with us.”
(Matthew 1:22-23)

Jesus is called by many names in prophecy, but they all have reference to who he was, the son of God, God on earth, God with us, salvation, prince of peace. He who was foretold by the prophets was finally coming to seek and to save the lost.

We aren’t given much about the early life of Jesus, but we know he grew in wisdom and favor with the people. Around the age of 30, he began his public ministry signified by his baptism by John, a prophet who was foretold to run before the Messiah, preparing the way of the Lord. For three years, Jesus traveled around Jewish lands teaching and proclaiming the kingdom of God, the good news of salvation for mankind. Jesus came to fulfill the prophecies and establish a new covenant with man that wasn’t exclusive to the Jews but to any who would accept Jesus as the Christ, the son of the living God. The public ministry and words of Christ can be found in the four gospels of the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom of heaven was at hand and that men should repent and turn towards him, that he might give them rest.

But there was a problem. Jesus was not widely accepted by the Jewish leaders. These Rabbi’s and teachers who were trained in the law, who knew all the prophecies of the Messiah, who constantly awaited their savior, failed to see Him. Though he fulfilled the prophecies, though he came with power confirmed by wondrous signs and miracles, they failed to see because they were steeped in their tradition, too prideful to let the Messiah in. So, as was also foretold, the Jews took and crucified the Christ whom they so long had looked for out of jealousy and blindness.

If the story ended there, Jesus would truly be no more than a noble prophet, a good moral teacher who was rejected by his people. But Jesus claimed to be more than a good moral teacher. He was the Messiah. He was crucified and laid in the tomb for three days, only to rise on the third day, conquering death, never to die again. What a glorious triumph, one that his own disciples didn’t believe until they saw his risen body with their own eyes. From that time forward, their lives were changed. They knew then that Jesus was exactly who he said he was. They knew that he was the son of God. They knew his words to be true and that there was a life after this one that was awaiting them once they left this one. And not to them only, but to all who would truly believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus had died for their sins, while they were still in them (Rom. 3:23). Now it was their mission to spread that good news, in the face of persecution. (More on this here.)

The Mission.

This is the good news of Christianity: the human race is fallen, sinful and separated from God by our sins. This was the curse from the fall.

“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separationbetween you and your God,and your sins have hidden his face from youso that he does not hear.”
(Isaiah 59:1-2)

But, before the foundation of the world, God had a plan to reconcile man to him through the sacrifice of Christ. Jesus died for our sins and raised to conquer both death and sin and bring hope of eternal life with God, as was set up in the beginning. The Jewish faith before Christ had used the sacrifice of animals to forgive sin. In reality, the blood of bulls and goats had no power to forgive sins, but rather put a placeholder on judgment until the perfect sacrifice could come. Christ then came to die, once for all.

“For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. […] When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” these are offered according to the law, then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
(Hebrews 10:1-4, 8-10)

This is the message preached, that the Messiah came, was rejected as prophesied, died and rose again. The unique thing about Christianity is the concept of God coming down to save many, not on merit of our own doing. All other religions have a concept of humans getting better and better to hopefully climb up the moral latter to reach God. But God came to us, through Christ, to grant that which we could never do on our own. Faith through obedience to Jesus is the door that will lead to God. It is not what we have done, but what he has done for us. Salvation is offered to all, and that is the mission of Christians today- to spread the gospel. These are some of the last words of Chris before he ascended into heaven:

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
(Matthew 28:18-20)

This is known as the great commission. And this is what the apostles and disciples did once they had seen the risen Christ. The first recorded sermon by the Apostles is by Peter to the Jews that had crucified their Messiah. It culminates like this:

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”
(Acts 2:36-41)

This is the same message we preach. We live by the words penned in the New Testament and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the third being in the Godhead (God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit). God in three persons, but one, who came to earth to offer salvation through his perfect sacrifice and comfort through his Spirit.

We are followers of Christ. This is Christianity.

Suggested Daily Reading: Genesis 2-3, Isaiah 53, Malachi 4, John 1, Hebrews 10.

All praise to His name.

-Walter

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