Christianity: Definition, Characteristics and Significance: Part I
This series addresses the issue: Christianity: Definition, Characteristics, and Significance. The statement raises questions which seem straightforward and even rather bland. Yet you will get any number of thoughts regarding the statement: Christianity: Definition, Characteristics, and Significance. Some may want to qualify the statement by asking: what is Christianity and what is a biblical Christian? And others may pose the question this way: what religion are you? More often people don’t care: any old religion will do!
First, in order to answer give an answer: Christianity: Definition, Characteristics, and Significance, we must remember that definitions matter. I begin with the dictionary definition of religion before moving to the Bible. Religion is defined as the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or impersonal gods. It relates to particular a system of faith (belief) and worship. It is said that it is a state of religiosity.
More specifically, it is a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when creation is considered the result of superhuman agency or agencies. In addition, devotional and ritual observances are associated with it as well as a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs. Some have written and said that the definition of religion has little meaning outside of western cultures. Others doubt that it has any specific, universal meaning. The key terms for a definition of religion involve belief in, faith, and knowledge.
Let’s move to a definition of theology. It 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, not necessarily words from 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? 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).
Man is a created, rational-thinking, faith-based, dependent being who is the image of God. As such he has a belief about God and himself and is in relationship to God and others. These facts may be denied but their denial does not change their validity. Even their denial accentuates their truth. Like Voltaire who said, I think therefore I am, included doubt as a form of thinking and thus evidence of being.
Man is a created, rational-thinking, faith-based, dependent being who is the image of God. As such he has a belief about God and himself and a relationship with God and others. By nature, man is a theologian. These facts may be denied but their denial does not change their validity. Even their denial (like Voltaire: I doubt therefore I am) accentuates their truth. If you agree with secular-derived definitions, you are a poor theologian and there are consequences for bad theology.
To answer the query: Christianity: Definition, Characteristics, and Significance, we must begin with God and Scripture (Isaiah 8:20; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; 2 Peter 1:3-4). Scripture teaches that man is a religious and morally-responsible being from the hand of God. Morality and ethics did not evolve. 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.
The next question follows: how does Christianity differ from other religions? As we discuss Christianity: definition, characteristics, and significance, we discover a myriad of distinguishing features. We begin with man. Here are a few truths to consider:
1. 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; Mark 2:17; Luke 4:18-22; 5:31-32; 19:10). God has problems with sinners and sinners have problems with God, each other, and themselves.
2. 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 at the cross (Hebrews 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 the 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 simply a cross and a man dying on it. Rather it was the God-man Jesus Christ who lived and died perfectly paying the penalty.
3. Christianity is a religion for losers and bad people. Jesus did not die for good people. That seems rather straight forward given Psalms 5:5; 7:11; and Romans 5:6-10 but it is 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, on the cross, was considered a loser by His Father and 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.
4. 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 in Adam, 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 5:3-4).
1. What is your answer to the question: What is Christianity?
2. What is y our 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?
Christianity: Definition Characteristics Significance: Part II
The Unchangeable God
This series Christianity: its definition, characteristics and significance addresses fundamental for every person who is by God’s design a theologian. The issue what kind of theologian are you? Christianity is a religion based on and attested to by the Person and life of, the teachings of, and the signs, wonders, 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. That true gave rise to the article before: Christianity: Definition, Characteristics, and Significance.
Christianity has a distinct teaching regarding the Triune God. The Bible, and therefore Christianity, teaches that the Triune God God is self-existing and self-sustaining. He is uncaused in His Being who exists out of the necessity of His being. If 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. He would not be God!
Theologians speak of God’s omnipresence and immensity. These terms indicate that God 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 all-powerful and all-knowing, then He is changeable. If He is, He is not the Lord of lords and King of kings.
Moreover, He is unchangeable in trustworthiness and He is ‘locked in’ to be and do what He has determined to be and do. He is the Promise-maker and Keeper. He reaches out and down to His creation by revealing truth in His Son and His Word by and through the Holy Spirit. 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; Hebrews 13:8; 2 Corinthians 1:20-22). 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 individually – the believer, corporately – the Church, and cosmically – the world. Individually, in eternity past the Triune God chose each of His people to be in Christ by the Holy Spirit and 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: on a cosmic level, a complete renewal and a restored universe (Matthew 19:28-30; Revelation 21:1-4; 22:1-6). Creation and believers following creation’s example groan as they await the second coming of Christ and 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 rightly understood (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.
a. Do you see God’s hand at work?
b. Seeing for the believer comes through the eyes of saving faith via the Holy Spirit: whose eyes do you have?
c. What must you do and how will you do it?
2. God expects and deserves change:
a. Do you desire change in yourself?
b. Why and why not?
3. 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.
a. What does the statement tell you about God?
b. How do those facts help you get busy becoming more like Christ?
Christianity is Joyful: Part III
I have discussed man and God under the heading: Christianity: Definition, Characteristics, and Significance. Christianity is a faith-based religious system of thinking, wanting, and doing. It is true based on true theology and involves knowledge, trust, and obedience. The faith utilized is not man-made or man-derived. It is given by the Triune God via the Holy Spirit as a gift. 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 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 3:3-8; 6:35-48, 60-64). 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 recorded in 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 1:6-7; Hebrews 11:1, 6; Romans 8:24-25). In that way God is most glorified. Pleasing God becomes the driving force and motivation in the believer’s life as it was for Jesus (John 4:31-34; Hebrews 12:1-3).
In our study: Christianity: Definition, Characteristics, and Significance we encounter the phrase “rejoice in the Lord.” This is a common command in the Bible. The command indicates that a person has the capacity to rejoice. Sin did not remove that capacity. However, it did remove the capacity for the person to rejoice God’s way for His glory. With regeneration, the believer is now able to rejoice God’s way. The believer has a different drumbeat and barometer of what he should think, desire, 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 as a believer, he has been released from the bondage that was characterized by 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 an activity and results from the activity in which the person focuses on his God 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. However, true joy is always possible in any situation for the believer 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 will not get any better than that on this earth! The cross proofs that fact and the resurrection testifies that resurrection life is now to be fulfilled in heaven.
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 personal satisfaction and delight. Joy involves the core of one’s being. 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 by and through the Holy Spirit.
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 the 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 and personal God and His control. Joy promotes trust in a good God and trusting a good God brings joy. They are linked and 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 and the Church. 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
I have discussed Christianity: Definition Characteristics and Significance under the heading of the Triune God, truth about God and man, lawkeeping rightly understood, and joy. Christianity is a whole-person change and activity. By whole person, I mean man as originally created. 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 breath of life – God interpose Himself. Man became a living being. But there were other living creatures (1:20, 24, 30; 2:19). The uniqueness of man rests in the fact that he is the image of God and God interposed Himself probably as the Triune God (1:26-28).
Moreover he has a body but he is not only body. He has a soul/heart but man is only spiritual. He is a unit – inner and outer man, heart/soul and body. As such he thinks, desires, and acts as a whole person. David in Psalm 8 was simply amazed. David opened the Psalm with words about 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; 38-41). Man was simply a speck and you 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. But early on, he was placed in distressing and unpleasant situations. He was running from Saul, his own family, and friends. At times he was placed in humiliating circumstances. Take another person – Job. Job was some kind of person – God said so (Job 1:1; 2:3). He was a godly man, a man after God’s own heart. Both these men experienced tough times, even humiliating ones as part of God’s providence. Both were not Christ, but they were types of Christ. Each came to their senses as the counseled themselves with God’s truth.
Theologians speak of Christ’s humiliation. He left heaven and was born and lived as a child, youngster, and a man; hid His glory; was born under the law; experienced as a whole person the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and death on the cross; was buried and His body remained in the grave for three days. All these are descriptions and realities that 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 language indicates bringing oneself low as a result of considering self as small and even deserving of that condition. Jesus was both humiliated and He humbled Himself. Imagine: the Godman of necessity thought of Himself as deserving His position in the world. This is strong language. The humiliation and being sinned against was one thing but what Jesus did in humbling Himself actively, cognitively, and purposeful is another matter. One can humble or exalt himself irrespective of circumstances. Jesus placed Himself in the position of a sinner deserving of hell. He became not in being but in function what He was not. To the world, He was a loser. To the Triune God including Himself He was the Winner. He first had to be considered the Loser.
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 deserve eternal humiliation. Hell must be a most humiliating place! Christianity: Definition Characteristics and Significance focuses on both the truth of the bad news and good news.
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 himself all the way to the cross. The cross did not humble Him. The humble Lord of lords and King of kings put Himself on the cross as the Victor.
When the Christian thinks of himself and his destiny before salvation, he reminds himself that he was destined to misery in this life in spite of “good efforts” and hell eternally. Before salvation, he had nothing to offer the Triune God. After salvation, he simply offers himself to God because he is in Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Joyfully the believer humbles himself irrespective of circumstances. He does not have to look for humiliating circumstances. They will come in some form and fashion. 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).
Return to Psalm 8. David was humbled. His frame of reference was the magnificence of the created world and the Creator. God took Job to the zoo in Job 38-41 and Job humbled himself among God’s creation. How much more does the believer humble himself when he considers Jesus the Creator of the heavens, the earth, the zoo and its animals, and Redeemer (Colossian 1:18)! Christ humbled Himself for a purpose – redemption and to please the Triune God. 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.
a. Why was he humiliated?
b. How did He humble Himself?
3. 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)?