In his thirties, Jesus began his public teaching and display of recorded miracles, yet still never travelled more than 200 miles from his birthplace. Over a three year period, despite his efforts to keep a low profile, Jesus’ reputation spread nation wide. The Roman governors and rulers of Israel’s provinces and the leaders of the Jewish people (the religious counsels) took note of him. Jesus’ key messages included:
God loves you and is with you
Love one another
Immense value of each person
Good news: kingdom of God has come to earth
Reality of judgment to heaven or hell
God forgives those who ask
Many have asked “Who is Jesus Christ?” Jesus’ most controversial act was that he repeatedly claimed to be God, which was a direct violation of the Jewish law. Therefore the religious leaders asked the Roman government to execute him. In each of several official trials, the Romans found that he was not guilty of breaking any Roman law. Even the Jewish leaders recognized that other than Jesus’ claim to be God, Jesus followed the Jewish law perfectly.
Still the religious leaders, using the argument of political disfavor, persuaded Pilate, a Roman governor of the Southern province of Israel, to authorize an execution.
Jesus was brutally tortured and then hung by his hands, which were nailed to a horizontal wooden beam (cross). This method of execution restricted the airflow to his lungs, killing him in three hours. However, according to more than 500 witnesses, Jesus returned from the dead three days later, and over the next 40 days journeyed in both the southern and northern provinces of Israel.
To many, this was conclusive proof that Jesus’ claims to be God were real. Then Jesus returned to Jerusalem, the city where he was recently executed, and according to witnesses, he left the earth alive by rising up into the sky. As a result of these miraculous events, the number of his followers increased dramatically. Only a few months later in that same city of Jerusalem one record states that some 3000 new followers were added in a single day. The religious leaders responded by trying to stomp out Jesus’ followers.
Many of these people chose to die rather than deny their belief that Jesus was truly God. Within 100 years, people throughout the Roman empire (Asia Minor, Europe) became followers of Jesus. In 325 AD, the following of Jesus, Christianity, became the official religion of the Roman Emperor Constantine. Within 500 years, even Greece’s temples of Greek gods were transformed into churches for followers of Jesus. Although some of Jesus’ messages and teachings were diluted or miscommunicated through the expansion of a religious institution, Jesus’ original words and life still speak loudly for themselves.
Where did Christianity come from? How did it begin? What is it?
Christianity is the greatest intellectual system the mind of man has ever touched. Francis Schaeffer
Christianity was from the beginning, essentially and fundamentally, life’s nausea and disgust with life, merely concealed behind, masked by, dressed up as, faith in ‘another’ or ‘better’ life. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy
Christianity is one of the strongest and perhaps most misunderstood movements in the world. Perceptions of the religion and its adherents range from Nietzsche’s, which borders on the militant, to Schaeffer’s, which celebrates Christianity as the climax of humanity. Indeed, as the last two thousand years of history attest, Christianity has been—at the very least—a polarizing movement.
In the Beginning
Many people place the beginning of Christianity some two thousand years ago with the life of Jesus. In actuality, Christianity began as a reform movement within Judaism, which had been established nearly two thousand years earlier. To understand Christianity, we must go back to the roots of Judaism. We find aspects of the history of the Israelites recorded in the Bible, which is ultimately a collection of writings conveying the story of God’s relationship with humanity. “In the beginning,” the Scriptures state, “God created the heavens and the earth.”1 However, sometime after creating humanity, things began to go awry. People chose to defy God’s command, and sin entered the world.
As a direct result of this disobedience, humans have since been struggling with broken relationships with God, themselves, others, and creation.2 Even worse, through that act, death was introduced to the world. In order to restore everlasting relationship with his creation, God chose one righteous person—Abraham—and initiated a plan of redemption. Through Abraham’s family, a people became a nation that was destined to be a light, a blessing, and a model to the entire world: Israel.3 Though there were moments when they forgot who they were and neglected God’s commands, in time the Israelites succeeded in being God’s faithful people—despite threats and attacks leveled against them from surrounding nations. In the Christian understanding, the Israelites’ presence in the world and their message of the one true God prepared the peoples of the earth for the next phase of God’s plan.
Hope for Resolution
Through his prophets, God foretold a final resolution to the broken relationship between God and humans: God himself would enter the world in the form of a human being. He would experience what we experience. He would suffer the pain that we suffer, endure the temptations we endure, feel the emotions we feel. But more than that, he would be beaten, broken, and crushed.4 In his death he would take on all the sins of man, until “by his wounds we [would be] healed” and set free from the bondage of sin.5 And in the end, he would restore his scattered and dispirited people, ushering in an era of unending peace.
The Promised One?
Enter Jesus. A Jewish carpenter who lived two thousand years ago, Jesus is called the Son of God.6 Christians believe Jesus to be fully man and fully God, equally human and divine. Early in his life, Jesus distinguished himself as an unusually precocious child, demonstrating tremendous spiritual wisdom and maturity.7 When Jesus sensed the moment was right, he left behind his home and embarked on a new path. He began to preach, teach, perform miracles, and gather around him a band of rag-tag disciples. Eventually, they recognized him as the hoped-for messiah. What his followers did not realize was that God’s plan was going to take an unusual turn. He was going to restore the nation of Israel, as they hoped, but he would do it in a most unexpected way—not through shows of power and the oppression of enemies but through selfless love and compassion. According to Christians, Jesus, the Son of God, was crucified, died, and rose from the dead. He conquered sin and death in order to restore humanity’s broken relationship with God, the Father. Jesus did what we cannot: he lived a perfect, sinless life and paid the price for our transgressions. Christians believe that Jesus’ sacrifice for humanity saved us from the permanent consequence of our sins—eternal separation and isolation from God. Through Jesus, we can attain eternal life in relationship with God. Indeed, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life,”8 and that whoever “believes in [him] will live, even though they die.”9 One day, Jesus promised, he will return to reign over his faithful followers in a peaceful kingdom where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.”10 In the interim, he has sent the Holy Spirit to live and dwell with his followers, leading them in the way of truth.
Today, Christianity is practiced in three primary forms: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant. Within each of these three branches, there are numerous subsets and denominations. However, each group concurs on the general story and purposes described above; they divide mainly in the details of how principles should be applied practically. Over the years, Christianity has seen its fair share of glorious, proud moments and all too many humiliating, shameful ones. But this is less an indictment on God, Jesus, or Christianity than it is on his followers. Mahatma Gandhi allegedly once said, “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” He voiced the inconsistency found between the Son of God and those who claim to follow in his footsteps. And yet, should that surprise anyone? The Bible tells story after story of those who failed to live as God called them to live. This is not true just for Christians but for all people. This is why we need a messiah, a redeemer, a savior.
Chuck Colson once said, “Christianity is an explanation of all of reality.” Simply put, we all know the world is broken. The whole world, including me and you, needs fixing. And no matter how many different fix-it methods we try—whether self-help or sex, missionary work or money—none of them can fill the void that all of us feel. Christianity, from creation up through God’s restoring work in Jesus, is both the explanation of and solution to that emptiness. Ultimately, Christianity is the story of God’s powerful, redemptive love for his people.
LIVING AS A CHRISTIAN
Some people have strange ideas about what it means to live as a Christian. Some think it means you have to always be well presented, go to church twice every Sunday, not stay out past midnight, and never, never have fun. Others think it means giving up all trace of individuality, giving all your money to the church, and living in some sort of commune. Still others think it’s about withdrawing from the world, losing touch with reality, and only ever mixing with other Christians. Unfortunately, some Christians also believe these myths, and give the rest of us a bad reputation. Happily, we can tell you that none of the above is what real Christian living is about. Christianity is all about having a relationship with the God who created us. So to live as a Christian, you actually have to be one. That may sound obvious, but many people try to ‘live a Christian life’ without having any understanding of what Christianity is all about. If you haven’t already, check out the God Makes Sense section to find out the answer.
Becoming a Christian begins with a prayer.
The first priority is to repair the relationship between you and God, based on what Jesus has done. A person becomes a Christian by asking God to forgive them. This heartfelt act of turning back to God is all that is required.
Dear God, I know that I have not lived as you want me to. I have not loved you as I ought nor loved the people who live around me. I am sorry and want to change. Thanks you for Jesus. Thank you that he lived and died for me and rose again and is now the Lord. Please forgive me and help me to live as you want me to. Amen.
By praying this prayer you have become a Christian and your relationship with God has been renewed, you have been reconciled to God.
You also made a commitment to start living as a Christian – to love God and to love your neighbour. Living as a Christian is a life long commitment to your relationship with God. This involves:
1) Letting Jesus Rule
If Jesus is the Lord, God’s chosen king, then being a Christian means having Jesus as your Lord. It means obeying Jesus and living with him as your boss. Like every other person, there will be lots of things in your life you need to change. You will have to stop your old rebellious habits (greed, anger, selfishness, and so on) and start some new ones that please God (like generosity, kindness, love and patience). It’s important to remember that all this stuff doesn’t save us. NOTHING we do can make God love us any more than he does. But if we love him – which is what being a Christian is all about – then we should want to do those things that please him. This process will go on for the rest of your life, but God will be with you all the way. He’ll keep speaking to you through the Bible; he’ll keep listening to you and helping you as you pray; he’ll empower you to change and to live his way by his Spirit that lives within you; and he’ll provide brothers and sisters to encourage you along the way.
2) Speaking with God
We communicate with God by praying. There’s nothing magical about prayer, and there’s no right or wrong way of doing it. It’s simply talking to God, it can be out loud, or just in your head, but we can be certain the God listens to us, and like all good communication, the more regular and honest it is, the better. God communicates with us through the Bible. The Bible is full of what God wants to tell us about how we should live. Things like ‘love one another’, and ‘look after the poor and needy’. At first glance, the Bible seems like a big forbidding book, and you probably won’t know where to start. But don’t be put off by this, it’s basically a collection of books that tell the story of how God has related to people throughout history. The best place to start is in the New Testament (the second section of Bible). You might like to start by reading the following New Testament books – Luke, then John, then Acts, then Romans, then Colossians. If you don’t have a Bible you can read the Bible online or even search the Bible for key words and topics.
3) Relating to God’s People
As Christians we need each other, for support, encouragement, learning and growing. Living as a Christian can be hard and meeting with other Christians encourages us to keep going. So try to find a group of Christians to read the bible and pray with. They may be members of your local church, school or work situation. It may seem daunting to go up to them and talk about having become a Christian but they will be overjoyed to meet you.
4) Telling Others About Your Relationship with God
The more you grow in your understanding of what God has done in your lives, the more you will want others to know about it, and how God can change their lives for the better. As you relate to God, and live according to his direction, others will notice a difference in you. God has given us the great privilege of sharing his love with others.