Many will quickly get negative associations when they hear the word Christian or Christianity: Zealous, condemnation, joylessness and naive. Much of this is the christians own fault. God’s name has been used and abused in many ways throughout history. Some have bad memories after being condemned from Christians, and the warning of Matt 23, 13 is interesting here: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven before men. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” Other have been hurt by the church’s many sins of omission; how it has overlooked some aspect of our life’s hardship or not speaking out loud against injustice or bigotry.
What does the Bible and the teachings of Jesus say about what it means to be a Christian? Luke 6,37 and Matt 7, 1 states: “Judge not and you shall not be condemned”. Matt 5, 7-10 seems to be a shout that the church should be the champion of mercy and justice for all: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Christianity belive that the greatest commandment is to love God and one another as we love ourselves (Matthew 22, 36-40). Or what about “whoever does not love has never known God” (1 John 4: 8)? I wonder if being a Christian, is not to be flawless, but to confess our mistakes to ourself, God and our fellow man (Luke 5, 32)? Christian theology talk about surrendering to a living Love that we can not fathom. To a being that has created us to love and be loved.
Am I a Christian? Do I have enough faith? A question many have asked themself, and often more than once during their lifetime. The Bible give some answers here, but they will lead to consequenses for our life. Paul wrote in Romans. 10, 9: “For if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved.” Jesus said in Matthew 10, 32: “Whoever confesses Me before men, him I will confess also before my Father in heaven.” And we have the Apostle John in his first letter 4, 16: “We have come to know the love God has for us, and we believed in it. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” There are three things mentioned here: Confess, faith and love. But in addition, we must mention the belief in a real relationship with God. The Bible specifically says that God wants fellowship with us, cf. Rev. 21, 3: “From the throne I heard a loud voice saying,” Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them.”
The first element was to publicly confess Jesus as Lord. We are expected not to hide our faith in fear or shame. It’s not only because it is important to recognize and give glory to God, but also because such testimony would mean very much to those around us. Thus it’s connected with the great commission found in Matthew 28, 19: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” How can people find “the good news” if we don’t dare talking about it to them?
The second thing was to believe in our heart that God raised Jesus from the dead. To believe in the heart is not so much an intellectual conviction as we’d might think. Perhaps it’s rather to “throw ourself at the 70,000 fathoms” as Kirkegaard once said. Daring to pursue something we can’t fully document scientifically and touch with your hands. To pursue acting from something we do not see clearly. A choise to follow God, this personified Love, and His will for our lives. We will not always succeed, but is asked to strive toward it through our choices. Faith is thus not a purely intellectual exercise, and not a religion of abiding the right laws. In christianity we are not saved by our performances.
As noted christian faith is to choose some actions over others, and not just something passive and irrelevant. If we had knowledge that armaggedon would happen in 24 hours, this would result in a major change of our plans for the next day. Most would spend the time with family and friends. And what about the knowledge from our faith? A belief in a God, evil powers opposing Him, eternal life after Death… This is rather huge news or what? If you believe in marxism you are misplaced in the conservative party. If you believe in love it’s also misplaced to simultaneously let hatred and indifference fill your life.
This is something the Apostle James – Jesus brother adresses in James 2: “ What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if
someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily
food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is
it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the
demons believe that—and shudder.”
Relationship, grace and confidence
The consept about faith and deeds have historically led to some misinterpretations where faith has been an achievement exercise in good deeds. Then you have lost a fundamental aspect of God’s grace. The Bible say that it’s God’s grace that saves us (Acts. 15, 11; Eph. 2, 5 and 8, 2 Tim 1, 9), and that faith and not deeds who save us (Rom 9, 32; Tit 3, 9).
The loving deeds is the result of deeper faith, it’s the fruit and not the foundation of our salvation. According to the Bible there is only one Foundation; Jesus (1 Cor. 3, 11). Christianity teaches that one should live out the faith in love, but that salvation is not based on our actions. It’s just something we have to accept in trust. And this bring us to belief as a relationship. Ultimately, when we peel away all other words, it all come down to this: Believing in Christianity is about choosing to be in a relationship with Jesus.
We talk about trusting Jesus to be God and that He has good plans for our lives. To have so much faith in Jesus that we let him enter our lives. To dare, choose and try to keep the focus on Jesus. A story from Matt 14, 28-31 can be used as illustration. Here we are told about Peter and the disciples that saw Jesus walking on the water: “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” The story tells of Peter’s faith that goes over in disbelief when he focused on the waves instead of on Jesus. But it also shows that Jesus received the Peter when he lost faith and courage.
For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith. 1 John 5.4.
* Globally, it is estimated to be about 200 million Christians in at least 60 countries that are subjected to persecution and religious gagging because of their religious beliefs. 167,000 Christians are martyred each year according to the International Bulletin of Missionary Research 2004. The countries with the least freedom of religion today is found in Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
* In 2004, there were in the thousands: 2,090,763 Christians in the world, 1,271,884 Muslims, 841,078 Hindus, 774,800 non-religious (including people who have not taken a position on religious matters), 400,600 chinese traditional belief system, 376,574 Buddhists, 242,882 with different nature religions, 149,564 atheists, 106,937 new religious, 24,402 Sikhs and 14,956 Jews.