Why bother with Christianity?
Jude Grundy learned about Christianity from her Christian parents and when listening to a preacher at the age of seven experienced an overwhelming sense of conviction that she was personally someone who rebelled against God and needed his forgiveness. She therefore asked God for the forgiveness she had been taught was offered as a result of Jesus' death on the cross. Jude taught English in a secondary school until the birth of her first baby. She is now a full time mum to two little girls.
There are some people who feel very strongly against religion in general or Christianity in particular. These people would feel very angry and passionate at any mention of Christianity and devote a great deal of time and energy to seeking to dissuade believers from their faith and preventing any potential converts from making such a terrible mistake. However, most people's thoughts and feelings about Christianity are far less extreme. If they think about it at all, their feelings in response would be mild - perhaps vague annoyance, or pity for those who need such a crutch, or possibly a positive feeling that it's a nice thing to have faith in something. The way that Christians are often portrayed in the media says a lot about the mainstream view of Christianity. While Muslims must battle the terrorist stereotype, Christians are faced with the likes of Dot Cotton and Harold Bishop - certainly not threatening, kindly and well-meaning if often misguided and irritating; they wouldn't make anyone want to ban Christianity but they wouldn't make anyone feel much like finding out more about it either. Life is short and there is so much to cram into it - education, parties, holidays, career, relationships - there are so many positive, fulfilling ways to spend your time and make yourself feel happy. So why waste time with any religion, let alone an old-fashioned one like Christianity?
The simple answer to that question is that you must bother with Christianity because the claims the Bible makes are so important and all-encompassing that you owe it to yourself to be absolutely sure that you know whether or not these claims are true. If what the Bible teaches is true then Christianity offers the only right way to live your life - right as in morally right and also right as in truly meaningful and good for you in the most ultimate sense. And if what the Bible teaches is true then at the end of your life you will face God's judgment and receive either dreadful eternal punishment or wonderful eternal reward. These statements might sound ridiculous but they are surely the kind of statements that at least warrant some investigation to check that you are 100% sure they are not true. If they are not true then all you have lost is a few hours of your life, and you will at least have gained some knowledge and understanding of something that millions of people believe. But if they are true then it means that obeying the teachings of Jesus can give you hope and love and peace and purpose right now, followed by an eternal existence wonderful beyond anything we can imagine. You might feel that right now your life is working just fine without Christianity in it, and it's possible - although not very likely - that you will live your whole life without experiencing any bleak times where you wonder whether this life can really be all there is. But you can't take it or leave it when it comes to death, it's something that we're all going to face. If it's true that Christians know the truth about what happens after death and know what you need to do to make sure death is the beginning of a fantastic new eternal existence, then don't you want to know about it?
Many people, without knowing too much about Christianity, have a basically positive view of Jesus. They know that he brought a message of love and forgiveness, and that he advocated a moral system which fits with most people's view of what 'being good' looks like. However, the problem with this view of Jesus is that, while it is a positive view, and while it is true that Jesus did teach those things, it fails to provide us with much motivation to bother with him now. It's nice that he advocated love and forgiveness and good morals, but surely I can have those things in my life without needing Jesus? Yes, possibly, but the truth is that there was much more to Jesus' teaching than that.
The central truth that is easy to miss about Jesus' teaching is that he didn't come primarily to tell us to be good and to love each other, but rather to deal with the truth that we are all sinners, rebels against a loving God, and that our greatest and most urgent need is to be forgiven by God before we face his judgment and condemnation. Not many people today think of themselves as 'sinners' - the word itself sounds laughably archaic and totally irrelevant to the way we perceive ourselves. However, by the Bible's definitions, we are all sinners because a sinner is anyone who has failed to live up to God's perfect standards. Even if we might claim to never have done anything we are ashamed of in terms of our moral conduct, Jesus taught that God was equally concerned with our thoughts and feelings, and that includes how we think and feel about God himself. When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was, he replied that it was to, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength' (Mark 12:30). If you have not done that then, according to Jesus, you are a sinner and therefore cut off from a relationship with God. Most people in our society live without giving God more than a passing thought - the very idea of loving him with every fibre of your being seems totally alien. That, the Bible teaches, is the reason for all the struggles and difficulties that prevent our lives from being perfect - and no-one, however good their life is, claims that absolutely everything in their experience has been perfect. Everyone and everything in the world is affected by the fact that we live in rebellion against the God who created us, loves us and wants what is best for us. Jesus also said that the second most important commandment was, 'Love your neighbour as yourself' (Mark 12:31). We should treat those around us with the kind of total care and consideration we afford to our own needs and desires, at all times and under all circumstances. It's another standard we all fail to live up to and the consequence is that not only do we not have a relationship with a loving God but our relationships with one another - even the best relationships - are also hurtful and difficult and imperfect. Most people would recognise that the world would be a better place if everyone loved one another. However, the thing that we overlook is that the reason for that lack of love in the world is that we are cut off from the God who is the source of all love. Willing ourselves to be more loving will not achieve anything - we need to get back in touch with God, who is the only one who can change not just our behaviour but our hearts - the thoughts and feelings that motivate all of our actions.
The reason to bother with Christianity is because it not only offers a diagnosis of the root cause of our problems - our rebellion against God - but it also offers a solution to this ultimate problem. Jesus said, 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners' (Mark 2:17). Jesus didn't come to tell people who wanted to be good how to be good; he came to tell those who knew they were bad how to come back into relationship with God. When Jesus died on the cross, he took upon himself the punishment that we deserve from God for our rebellion against him. The Bible says that, 'He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree (the cross)' (1 Peter 2:24). When Jesus rose from the dead, God was demonstrating that he had accepted Jesus as a substitute for us, and that sin had now been dealt with. The consequences of this are incredible. If the Christian message is true then, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, our sin has been dealt with and we are free to have a relationship with a loving, all-powerful God. Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to live in his followers - this means that Christians have the presence of God with them at all times to comfort them, teach them and empower them. Christians can live their lives free from guilt and fear and empowered by the Holy Spirit to change as God gradually reveals to them the things about them that are not good and teaches them how to live a better, more loving, more fulfilling life. Life has a sense of purpose; nothing that happens is meaningless and everything is working together to bring about God's good purposes.
That is not to say for a minute that life as a Christian is easy and free from suffering. In fact, Jesus was clear that to follow him meant embarking on a more difficult life, because living as a follower of God in a world hostile to God would bring his followers exactly the same rejection and persecution he experienced himself. However, as Jesus put it himself, 'What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?' (Mark 8:36). If the Christian world view is correct then there is no point in spending this brief life pursuing meaningless pleasure when there is the possibility of a deeper, better, if more difficult life experience, followed by an absolutely perfect eternity. Jesus promised that, 'No-one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields - and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life' (Mark 10:29-30). The promise for this present age refers to the loving family the follower of Jesus is brought into in the Church - the community of believers. The Church is a flawed community - everybody, inside and outside of the Church, knows that - because it is made up of imperfect people; but it is still one of the great gifts God gives to those who trust Jesus - a supportive, loving family which God uses to support his people as they face the difficulties that come with following him.
There's no catch - you don't have to do anything to earn all this - Jesus has done everything that needed to be done for you to receive all this as a free gift from God. That's why Jesus' message is described as the gospel - that means 'good news'. If all this is true then simply by not bothering to investigate and assess Christianity for yourself, you are missing out on the way that life is really meant to be. Even more troubling than that, however, you are risking the condemnation of an angry and powerful God. If you come across any mention of hell in our society today, it is most likely to be as an idea to laugh at and to refer to entirely flippantly - we picture a cartoon red devil complete with horns, stirring a bubbling cauldron. Many people feel that, compared to our cartoon picture of heaven as sitting on a cloud playing a harp, hell, if it exists, is probably where most of the fun will be found after death. However, Jesus taught that hell was a terrible and fearsome reality to be avoided at absolutely any cost. He said, 'If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out' (Mark 9:43). Jesus didn't intend for his followers to actually start hacking off their body parts - the rest of his teaching shows that the real source of sin is our hearts with their rebellious attitudes and desires, not anything physical. His point is to shock his hearers into understanding how serious the threat of God's eternal judgment is - losing a hand or a foot or an eye is nothing in comparison to the prospect of spending eternity in hell. Heaven, on the other hand, is not a boring eternity sitting on a cloud, but rather a new world, like this one, but the way this one would be if we worshipped and obeyed God instead of rebelling against him - a world with no selfishness, no wars, no suffering, no loneliness, no boredom, no death. The Bible foretells a time when it will be declared, 'God's dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away' (Revelation 21:3-4).
According to Jesus there are only two options. Either you continue to ignore God, don't bother with Christianity, and live a life in pursuit of ultimately meaningless goals. In that case, you will have to face God after death and take the punishment you deserve for your sin - being cut off from God and everything good in his eternal hell. The other option is to trust and obey Jesus and live a fulfilling and meaningful life knowing that even the suffering you experience has a purpose. If you do this, then when you face God you will have nothing to fear because your sin will be covered by the punishment Jesus took on your behalf, and you will be rewarded for your faith with an eternity spent in a perfect world with no suffering and every possible blessing. That is what Jesus taught and what millions of people believe and have believed for centuries. One of the great things about Christianity is that it is built around a historical person whose life, teaching, death and resurrection were all witnessed by hundreds of people. You don't have to believe in what someone says God showed them in a vision or whispered in their ear. Christianity stands or falls on whether or not Jesus rose from the dead and his resurrection is a historical fact which proves the truth of his identity and his teachings. It really is possible to investigate the claims of Christianity and make a decision for yourself about whether you believe them and, without a doubt, if the offer of unconditional love, freedom, fulfilment, forgiveness and eternal life is true, it is definitely worth bothering to find out. No-one is suggesting you mindlessly accept a whole new world view just because it is a nicer way to view life. Just take the time to look at the facts for yourself and see whether you are definitely, completely certain that Christianity has nothing to offer you. You have absolutely nothing to lose and, potentially, eternity to gain.
© Jude Grundy 2008
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