A Proper Understanding of Christianity: Part I
What is It? Do Definitions Matter
Introduction: The four-part series: A Proper Understanding of Christianity confirms the validity and value of Christianity as the one true religion. Some would consider the statement arrogant, ignorant or both. Such it is in God’s fallen world. The Triune God is in the business of turning mankind upset down. Fallen man in their ignorance and arrogance deny the truth about themselves and the Triune God. Christianity links faith and reason.
The questions seem straightforward and rather bland. Yet you will get any number of answers to the questions. Some may want to qualify the question by asking: what is a biblical Christian? And others may pose the question this way: what religion are you? This series is designed to help formulate a proper understanding of Christianity.
First, definitions matter so I begin with the dictionary definition of religion. It is the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods. It relates to particular a system of faith (belief) and worship. It is said that it is a state of religiosity. It is a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affair. Some have written and said that its definition has little meaning outside of western cultures. Others doubt that it has any specific, universal meaning. The key terms are belief in, faith, and knowledge.
Theology is defined as the systematic study of the nature of the Divine and, more broadly, of religious belief. Religion and theology overlap. The word theology comes from two Greek words – theos, which means “god,” and logos, which means “words.” The simplest definition of theology, then, is “god words” or words about god. It is also known as the “science of God.”
Any way you pose the questions in the first paragraph, you are presupposing something whether recognized or not. That something is this: everyone is religious and a theologian including the atheist. How so? Considers these facts: man asks questions and looks for answers; man is a moral being interested in right and wrong however defined; man is a thinking being.; and man is a worshiping being. How are those facts possible? Man is a created, rational-thinking, faith-based, dependent being who is the image of God. As such he has a relationship with God, beliefs about God and himself, and is dependent on God. Of course these facts are often denied but their denial does not negate their validity. These facts may be denied but their denial does not change their validity. They flow from a proper understanding of Christianity. Even their denial (like Voltaire: I doubt therefore I am) accentuates their truth. If you agree with the secular-derived definition of religion, you are a poor theologian and there are consequences for bad theology.
The mere fact of asking questions and searching for answers tells you something about man and God. Evolution is not science but a religion designed to eliminate the Creator, Controller, and Savior. It places man at the “head of the pack.” The fact that man asks and answers questions raises the issue: how is that possible? The answer hinges on your source or standard for answering all questions related to life (actually God’s providential control) and living (mindset, worldview and resultant lifestyle). We must begin with Scripture and the God of Scripture (Isaiah 8:20; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; 2 Peter 1:3-4).
Scripture teaches that man is a religious and a faith-based being. He worships (Genesis 4:1-6); he is religious (Acts 17:22-31); he is moral being (Romans 1:18-23; 2:14-15); he is a rational-being called to think God’s thoughts after Him (Isaiah 55:8-9; 1 Corinthians 2”16; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5). He exercises faith in something – in himself, in his own reasoning, in an expert (and he decided who that person is), or in science to mention a few. By nature, man is a theologian.
In our quest for a proper understanding of Christianity, the next question follows: how does Christianity differ from other religions? There are a myriad of distinguishing features. We begin with man. Here are a few truths to consider:
- Christianity is a sinner’s religion. Scripture teaches that the unsaved sinner has a bad heart and a bad record with resultant guilt and condemnation (Romans 3:9-19; Jeremiah 17:9-10; Ezekiel 36:25-27). Christ came to save sinners. The angel commanded Mary to name the child Jesus because “he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Jesus came to the save the “sick” – the unrighteous (Matthew 9;13; 12:7; Luke 19;10; Mark 2:17; Luke 5:31-3). Sinners have problems with God (and God with them), each other, and themselves.
- Christianity is a bloody religion (Hebrews 9:18). Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin (Hebrews 9:22). Blood must be shed. The question: whose and why? It is not your blood. It is not the blood of bulls and goats (Hebrews 10:3). The Old Testament sacrificial system pointed to the once-for-all-sacrifice of Christ as the perfect sacrifice, both in His active obedience before the cross and His perfect death (9:23-26). Christ’s blood via the cross is the key and outstanding feature of Christianity. Christ, fully-God and fully-man, did shed His blood. As a result, there was atonement for sins with resultant forgiveness of sins of all believers – in the Old Testament and the New Testament (Leviticus 4:26, 31, 35; 5:6, 10, 13, 16, 18; 6:7; Romans 3:21-26; 8:1; 2 Corinthians 5:21). The cross focuses on the substitutionary, sacrificial atonement of Christ on behalf of each of His children. While it was not necessary for God to decree salvation, once the Triune God decreed it, the cross was necessary for the salvation of His people. But it was not simple a cross and a man dying on it. It was who – Jesus Christ – who lived and died perfectly paying the penalty.
- Christianity is a religion for losers and bad people. Jesus did not die for good people. That seems rather straight forward (Romans 5:6-10) but not well-appreciated. Consider: if Jesus did die for good people he would have been ignorant and even stupid. Jesus went to hell on the cross for you believer. He went there in your place not because you were good but because you were hellishly and exceedingly bad – sinful and repulsive to God. Jesus was considered a loser by His Father as your substitute. At the cross, God passed the judgment of “scum” on Christ and He became the recipient of God’s holy, just wrath – in your place, believer.
- Christianity is a lawkeeping religion. That fact may startle you. Law and lawkeeping has been part of God’s plan since creation. God placed man in the Garden and gave him marching orders (Genesis 1:28). These commands were not burdensome. Pre-fall man was in state of innocence but it was unconfirmed. Perfect obedience by man was required for him to remain in that state. It was then that God gave to man the test of covenantal faithfulness: do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil lest you die (Genesis 2:15-17). Man chose his way: his law and his style of lawkeeping. As such man was plunged into the cesspool of sin, misery, and death (Romans 5:12-14). Yet God did not abandon lawkeeping or modify His perfect law. Jesus is the perfect Lawkeeper of God’s perfect law. Salvation rests not on your imperfect and prideful lawkeeping. It rests on Christ’s perfect lawkeeping on behalf of each of children which is received by saving faith. With salvation, the joy of lawkeeping is restored (1 John 5:4).
1. What is your answer to the question: What is Christianity?
2. What is your reaction to the four points discussed above?
3. What changes do you need to make in your thoughts and desires regarding your view of Christianity and its impact on you daily?
A Proper Understanding of Christianity: Part II
The Unchangeable God and Change
A proper understanding of Chr9istinaity begins with Christ. It does not stop there however. Christianity is a religion based upon the teachings and miracles of Jesus. The biblical meaning of Christian is one who is an “adherent of Christ.” The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26). Agrippa recognized Paul as a Christian based on Paul’s preaching and teaching (Acts 26:28). Peter accepted the name Christian in itself as a basis for being persecuted (1 Peter 4:16). The name was first imposed by Gentiles and adopted by the disciples as they considered themselves “Christ’s men.”
The basic idea of religion is that of a life with a god, God as you know Him, or the true God. Christianity is the religion that proclaims a life lived in recognition of the Triune God – who He is and what He does. All others are imposters. If this concept of religion is correct, and it is, there is only one true religion: Christianity.
A proper understanding of Christianity Christianity has a distinct teaching regarding God. The Bible, and therefore Christianity, teaches that God is self-existing and self-sustaining. He is uncaused in His Being who exists out of the necessity of His being. He did not exist nothing would or could exist. God is independent in His Being and of everything else (Psalm 94:8-11; Isaiah 40:18-25; John 5:26; Acts 7:25-28).
In His essence He is infinite – eternal in regard to time and omnipresent in regard to space. God is free of all limitations including time-space limitations (Psalm 90:2; 102:12; 145:3). The Triune God is Infinite in His very being – He has no beginning, no end, and no succession of moments. He always was and always will be. God is not bound by time. Yet He is the Creator of time such that my time is in His hands (Psalm 31:15. If God is not eternal, then He is changeable and perhaps willy-nilly. Therefore, he would be unreliable and untrustworthy.
What theologians call God’s omnipresence and immensity, He is everywhere and everywhere He is, all of Him is there. He is man’s environment (Psalm 139). If these are startling and mind-boggling, consider that He is also immutable – unchangeable (Psalm 102:24-27; Habakkuk 1:12; Revelation 1:18). Further, if He is not be all-powerful and all-knowing, then He is changeable. If these were are true, He would not be the Lord of lords and King of kings. He would not be God!
He is unchangeable in trustworthiness and He is ‘locked in’ to be and do what He has determined to be and do. He reaches to His creation by revealing truth in His word. Moreover, there was never a time that he was not, and there will never be a time that He ceases to be. He has not evolved, grown, or improved. All that He is today he was in eternity past. He can’t get any better, He can’t wrinkle or grow old – He is majestically perfect, He can’t change himself or His attributes: He is always the same – “I am that I am” (Exodus 3:6ff; John 8:58). Therefore, believer, there is hope, comfort, wisdom, and strength for you and other believers because God is steadfast and His supply of himself is unlimited. He is the Giver of every good thing – blessings that don’t stop coming (James 1:17).
Yet our unchangeable God is in the business of change – not in himself but in three spheres: the individual, the corporate, and the cosmic. Individually, in eternity past the Triune God chose each of His people to be in Christ by the Holy Spirit to be holy and blameless (Ephesians 1:4). God’s plan becomes a fact at a definite point in time in history. At regeneration, the believer, formerly an enemy of God is radically and supernaturally changed into a child of God. He becomes a member of God’s family and kingdom (Romans 5:6-10; John 3:3-8).
Corporately, the church, God’s body of believers, is changing and thus growing. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:25-27 that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Christ’s love is purposeful and constructive: to bring about change in the church so that she will be holy and blameless (these are the same terms used for the individual believer in Ephesians 1:4). Ephesians 4:11-14 records one function of the church: to help each member to “grow up into him who is the head of the Church.” In other words, becoming more like Christ is a fundamental truth and activity of the believer and the church as a whole.
Our unchangeable God has something larger in view: a complete renewal and a restored universe (Matthew 19:28-29; Revelation 21:1-4; 22:1-6). Creation and believers following creation’s example groans as they await the second coming of Christ and its release from bondage – the new heaven and the new earth (Romans 8:19-22, 23-24; Revelation 21-22). Each sphere of change speaks to the power, majesty, glory, and beauty of the unchangeable God.
There is no other God like our God, the Christian God. And I did not even mention the Trinity much! Our God is an awesome God – He rules, reigns, and cares. How much do you know about the Triune God? If you have facts, what do you do with them? Are they correct? How do they match up with Scripture? God’s love, goodness, mercy, justice, and power can be summarized by the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18-31). Start with God or yourself. Once you truly know God, you will know yourself. Once you truly yourself, you will begin to know God.
1. Stop and take stock of yourself, your church, and the creation.
2. Do you see God’s hand at work?
3. Seeing for the believer comes through the eyes of saving faith via the Holy Spirit: whose eyes do you have?
4. What must you do and how will you do it?
5. God expects and deserves change:
6. Do you desire change in yourself?
a. Why and why not?
b. Reflect on the fact that God is unchangeable but through change in people and creation by the Holy Spirit He is bringing all things to pass for His glory and your good if you are a believer.
c. What does the statement tell you about God?
d. How do those facts help you get busy becoming more like Christ?
Christianity is Joyful: Part III
Continuing our study: A Proper Understanding of Christianity, it is important to reflect on the fact that I have discussed man and God under the heading: What is Christianity? Christianity is a religion. It is a faith-based system of thinking, wanting, and doing. But the faith utilized is not man-made or man-derived. It is given by the Triune God via the Holy Spirit. At every point, Christianity is “out-of-this-world.” It is supernaturally-derived, supernaturally-given and –maintained, and supernaturally-applied. Yet, the believer is not o his own. The indwelling Holy Spirit works in and with him but never for or against him. Salvation is 100% God and 0% the individual (John 6:35-48). Growth in Christ is 100&% the Holy Spirit and 100% man (Philippians 2:12-13; 2 Peter 1:5-10).
Christianity is the true religion because its foundation is the Triune God. The true Christian acknowledges this and rejoices! A non-joyous Christian is an oxymoron. Let’s be clear: problems, trouble in varied and multiple forms abound. This is the result of God’s judgment on our first parents and all those who follow after them – the curse of Genesis 3:15-17 (Romans 5:12-14).
Being a Christian does not immunize the person from trials and tribulations. It does give the believer the capacity for a complete about-face in his thinking and wanting and subsequent actions. He moves from self to God. He acknowledges and embraces God’s call to all believers: imitate My Son! Therefore, saving faith and true hope must be strengthened and matured (Romans 5:1-5; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6-7l; Hebrews 1:1, 6; Romans 8:24-25). In that way God is most glorified. Pleasing God becomes the driving force and motivation in the believers life as it was Jesus’ (John 4:31-34; Hebrews 12:1-3).
The phrase – “rejoice in the Lord” – is a common command in the Bible. The command indicates that a person has the capacity to rejoice. The believer has a different drumbeat and barometer of what he should and do especially in hard times. Only the believer can and will rejoice in the Lord. Only the believer has had a heart change and is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Both of those are required to fulfill the command to please God. In this case, rejoicing in the Lord pleases God.
Moreover, the command indicates that the person can and will rejoice and trust either in the Lord or in something or someone other than the Lord (see Psalm 3:5-8; 46:10). As an unbeliever the now-believer learned how to please-self by trusting self. He learned well from Satan. Now the believer is released from the bondage if mantra: to self, for self, by self. That lifestyle may have brought brief times of less trouble but never joy. Joy is not happiness. Happiness refers to happenings and a person’s response to them. Joy looks through and beyond the circumstances to the God of circumstances. Joy is the person focusing on his God and being thankful that He is.
The command to be joyful also recognizes the biblical teaching regarding antithetical and mutually exclusive contrasts in terms of lifestyles, mindsets, thoughts, and desires. A person’s thinking may be right or wrong; he may be saved or unsaved, in light or darkness; and his life may be characterized by joy or dissatisfaction and discontent. Joy is always possible in any situation because joy enables the believer to “see” a good God via the eyes of saving faith and true hope working for his glory and the person’s good. It is not get any better than that! The cross proofs that fact.
Among other truths, the Bible teaches that joy is dependent on a relationship. It is most closely associated with the believer’s fellowship with God through the Son by the Holy Spirit and with fellow believers (2 John 12; Philippians 3:1; 4:4, 10).
Inherent in the concept of biblical joy is the idea of enjoyment, and more specifically, enjoying God. It carries with it the theme of satisfaction and delight. One way the believer rejoices and enjoys God is by being gripped by His greatness. Every believer has the capacity of knowing God and enjoying Him. Joy is radical because our God has done remarkable and supernatural things: salvation (regeneration/new birth) and growth in Christlikeness. God has declared Himself to the world, and every believer has a growing knowledge of Who God is and what He has done in Christ.
Joy is a deep-seated satisfaction and inner contentment in the fact that God is God and His agenda is being accomplished. Moreover, it also rests on that fact that the believer is a child of the King! He will never lose his position and status in God’s family. This understanding and response to God and His control is antithetical to the culture’s “wisdom.” Joy involves proper thinking about God and self and biblical application of biblical truth. It flows from the knowledge that God is God and from trust in a good God and His control. Joy promotes trust in a good God and trusting a good God brings joy. They are reciprocal. Joyfully, biblical truth through saving faith and true hope are the believer’s grid for evaluating circumstances not vice versa. Therefore, the believer responds to his situations and others in a radically different manner than he did as an unbeliever.
Moreover, joy is an attitude of confidence that is expressed in thoughts, desires, and actions. It is based on the non-negotiable truth that God’s plan, promises, purpose, presence, power, and provisions for life are sure and certain. What is best for God is best for the believer. Joy is a whole-person activity – inner and outer man. It properly controls one’s thoughts, desires, and actions toward God, others, and circumstances. Therefore, joy is not dependent on people or circumstances but rather on the God of circumstances.
1. According to Psalm 16:5-11, Psalm 33:21, and Nehemiah 8:10, where does joy come from?
2. What characteristics of God did David emphasize in Psalm 16 that led him to be joyful?
3. What does each of these psalms say is the reason for joy and what is the result in the psalmist’s life? Psalms 5:11; 40:16; 51:12; 63:11; 64:10; 86:4; 90:15; 92:4
4. How will you apply these truths in your life? Be specific.
Christianity is Humbling: Part IV
As we continue out study: A Proper Understanding of Christianity, we are fact with the reality that Christianity is a whole- person change and activity. By whole person, man as outer and inner man. A proper understanding of Christianity is based on a proper understanding of man’s origin, identity, purpose, and destiny. Man was created a whole person formed from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7). God breathed into the inanimate dust and his nostrils the birth of life – God, most likely the Triune God, interposed Himself. Thus, man became a living being. But there were other living creatures (1:20, 24, 30; 2:19). The uniqueness of man flows from the fact of his direct correction via God’s interposition of Himself and that man is the image of God (1:26-28).
Moreover he has a body but he is not only body. He has a soul/heart but man is not only spiritual. He is a duplex unit – inner and outer man, heart/soul and body. As such he thinks, desires, and acts as a whole person – in his body – the brain – and the heart or inner man. David in Psalm 8 was simply amazed. David opened with God and His majesty (8:1-2). Next, he asked: what is man? It is an interesting question that has been asked through the centuries. David through the Holy Spirit had an answer. The backdrop of David’s question was the vastness and majesty of the created, visible world (8:3 – Psalm 144:4; Job 7:17; 25:6). Man was simply a speck and God entrusted him with dominion. David went back to the Garden and God’s initial marching orders (Genesis 1:28-30). Wow, David said.
As you follow David’s life, early on he is on the run. He is God’s man, the anointed one picked by God to establish a kingdom of peace and righteousness. He pointed ahead to the greater King and the greater David, Jesus Christ. But early on, he was placed in distressing and unpleasant situations. He was running from Saul, his family, and even friends. At times he was placed in humiliating circumstances. Take another person – Job. Job was some kind of person – God said so (1:1; 2:3). He was a godly man, a man after God’s own heart. Both these men had tough times, even humiliating ones. Neither were Christ, but they were types of Christ.
A proper understanding of Christianity requires a proper understanding of Jesus. Theologians speak of Christ’s humiliation. He left heaven and hid His glory. He was born and born under the law; He lived as a child, youngster, and as a man. He experienced as a whole person the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and death on the cross. He was buried and His body remained in the grave for three days. All of these speak of the circumstances and the events that Jesus experienced. Circumstances don’t humble a person. They are the context and the vehicle for the person to humble himself.
What is humility? Humility is a whole-person activity in which a person makes an honest assessment of himself using a standard. The word in the original indicates a bringing oneself low as a result of considering yourself as small and even deserving of that condition. Jesus was both humiliated and He humbled Himself. Imagine: the Godman placed Himself by necessity into His position in the world. He knew he was God but He knew the eternal plan of redemption and His r=ole in it. This is strong language. The humiliation and being sinned against was one thing but what Jesus did actively, cognitively, and purposeful is another matter. Jesus placed Himself in the position of a sinner deserving of hell. To the world, he was a loser. To the Triune God including Himself He was the Winner.
The only way for the salvation of God’s enemies to occur was for Him to take their place and receive from God what they deserved. He stood in their stead. He was their substitute. They deserved not simply to be on the cross but complete humiliation. Unsaved sinners deserved humiliation. Hell must be a most humiliating place! A proper understanding of Christianity requires a honest of sin, man, hell, and the Triune God.
Jesus knew who He was. He knew the eternal plan of redemption – He was there. He knew His role in it. He knew He must humble Himself in His humiliation. There was confidence as He humbled all the way to the cross. The cross did not humble Him. He humbled Himself. The humble Lord of lords and King of kings put Himself on the cross as the Victor. The picture of the seeming loser actually being the Winner must be recognized, accepted, and acted upon for a proper understanding of Christianity and the God is Christianity. The believer has to taste Christ (Psalm 34:8; 1 Peter 2:1-3).
When the Christian thinks of himself and his destiny apart from Christ, he is destined to misery in this life in spite of “good efforts” and hell eternally. He has nothing to offer the Triune God. In Christ, joyfully the believer humbles himself irrespective of circumstances. He does not have to look for humiliating circumstances. They may or may not come. But humbling oneself is what the believer is to do. Sometimes God brings humiliating circumstances to help the believer along the humility path. Without humility Jesus would not have succeeded and he would not have returned to heaven as the Victor. Similarly, the believer will not grow in Christlikeness unless he humbles himself. James 4 speaks of it in the context of repentance (4:6-10). Peter speaks of it in terms of pride (1 Peter 5:5-7). A proper understanding of Christianity leads the believer desire to be i9n Christ and to grow in Christlikeness.
Return to Psalm 8. David humbled himself. His frame of reference was the magnificence of the created world and the Creator and the smallness of man. God took Job to the zoo in Job 38-41 and Job humbled himself. How much more does the believer humble himself when he considers Jesus the Creator of the heavens, the earth, and the zoo (Colossian 1:18)! Christ humbled Himself for a purpose – to please the Father by redeeming His people. The believer humbles himself non-redemptively but in that way he fills full Christ’s sufferings (Philippians 1:29; Colossians 1:24!
1. Differentiate and define humility and humiliation.
2. Christ was both humiliated and humbled.
3. Why was he humiliated?
4. How did He humble Himself?
5. Job (in Job 38-41) and David (in Psalm 8) were excited:
b. What did Job do in response (42:5-6)?
c. What did David do (8:9)?