There are two reasons that prompted me to start this blog; the first being that it was necessary, in line with Jesus’ instruction and command, for me to share what I have come to know about this wonderful experience called Christianity. The second – and probably more profound reason for me – was the realisation that too many people fail to come to Christ simply because of how Christianity is misrepresented mostly by outsiders, but sadly even more so by those who are inside, and worse still, those at the very apex of leading the church.
The picture that most people have about Christianity is that it is firstly about attending boring Sunday services, and it is about being told not to do the things that you actually want to do. It is about people who consider themselves “holier than thou” and yet often are caught practicing the very things they lecture against (i.e. they are hypocrites). It is about committing to a lot of rituals and superstition, and nowadays it has become about giving money to the church, a.k.a sowing. In short, Christianity is anti-fun, anti-living, unscientific and probably anti-logical.
Yet Christianity is not like that at all, and I dare say it is actually the opposite of what most people think. The first thing that Christianity is about, is salvation. Specifically, salvation from sin and death through Jesus Christ.
If you are one of those who don’t think that living forever is an appealing notion, then obviously Christianity is not for you and you may as well live your life in whatever way you feel best, for the seventy or so years that you can get. After all, King Solomon, the second-wisest man who ever lived, decided to do just that. The book of Ecclesiastes outlines how he tried everything, but towards the end of his life he realised that the only important thing on this earth is to fear God and obey His commandments. I just hope, for your sake, that you do not realise too late like he did that you took the wrong path.
Most people however do have a notion of there being a life after this one, and this is the whole basis for religion. Most people, too, want to maximise on that “next life”, and are willing to do what it takes in order to ensure things are better there than here. It is not surprising, therefore, that atheists are a minority compared to those who claim one religion or another. I exhausted the issue of whether or not the Christian God is the right one in the last article, so I will not re-visit it here.
So what does Christianity require of us? The first thing, as I mentioned above, is salvation. This happens at the point that we accept and believe that Jesus Christ was, and is the Son of God, that He came down and died for our sins, and was raised up and given all authority in heaven and on earth. Once we accept and believe this, the next responsibility is to become disciples of Jesus (Matthew 28:19), and this is where the misconceptions start.
The first thing to understand is what exactly is a disciple? A disciple is simply a follower, or a student. It is one who hopes to become like the master, through following their leading or teaching. So a disciple of Christ is one who hopes to become like Christ, through following Christ’s example and teaching.
We of course get that teaching in the bible, and primarily the New Testament. If you look at the make-up of the New Testament, it consists first of the four Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which are four versions of the story of Christ’s life, as seen by two of his apostles (Matthew and John), a disciple (Mark) and a historian/researcher (Luke). Then it moves into Acts, another historical record from Luke and from there it gives letters written by different apostles and disciples, writing to different churches or congregations. It concludes with the Revelation to John.
If you want to understand who Jesus was, and what He taught, you therefore simply have to read the first four books of the New Testament. Not a tall order at all! Some of the things which you are bound to notice are:
- Jesus’ main occupation was preaching and teaching about the Kingdom. He also performed several miracles to demonstrate that He was indeed the Son of God as mentioned in the prophecies.
- Almost everything that Jesus taught was and is common sense. He was simply telling people how to avoid getting in trouble through lying, dishonesty, cheating, being hypocritical, being too legalistic [like the Pharisees] and through worrying too much about the material. He taught about marriage and family life, and how to make the best of these.
- Jesus, teachings, while centred on the Kingdom, were actually mostly about how to live this life in a fruitful and productive manner. Jesus was challenging the way people were living their lives, and teaching them a better standard that would not only improve their lives in this lifetime, but would also guarantee them everlasting life in His Kingdom.
- Jesus never had any routine, or ritual practices. In fact, most of the time He was speaking against rituals and traditions! (Matthew 5:34-37, 6:1-8,16, 15:3-11).
- Jesus never created any hierarchies or “ways” to God (Matthew 23:2-12), other than through Him. Priests and church leaders who present themselves as the way to Christ or the conduit through which we access Christ’s blessings are thus simply re-instituting the practices of the Law, which were abolished by Jesus’ death.
- Jesus never collected an offering, tithe or asked people to pay Him, whether for teaching, preaching or for healing. Rather, He fed those He taught, and served everyone including His disciples.
- Jesus never instituted any holidays, or rituals to be performed. He actually did away with the need for all of that through His death. Festivals, new month rituals, anniversaries – everything that existed prior to His death and establishment of His Kingdom – was abolished. Christmas, Easter and every other “Christian” holiday or festivity that you can think of, mass, confessions, fastings, ritual prayer, sermon rituals .e.t.c – those were never instituted by Jesus, His disciples or any of the first century Christians.
In essence, Jesus taught a better way to live life. It was a higher and more challenging standard than what people were used to but when one looks at it closely, there is no doubt that it is superior from an absolute point of view, than living according to “conventional wisdom”.
Conventional wisdom takes a “me first” approach which ultimately leads to failure. Even in modern business practice the people who excel most are those who are able to offer the best value for money to their customers. Those whose primary concern is making money for themselves often end up taking short-cuts and short-changing the customer, who ultimately abandons them.
The world respects people of character a lot more than they respect people whose aim is simply to get rich even at the expense of others. Even those who do not want to hold themselves to any moral standard still expect others, and especially leaders, to be of high moral standing. A criminal expects justice, even if they are not just while committing a crime. In short, everyone actually wants the higher moral standard that Christ teaches, and they especially expect it from others, even if not from themselves.
Of course, Jesus also taught how we should pray and how we should worship God. Surprisingly, though, the paragraphs on this are actually very few, and nowhere near the plenteous doctrines, traditions and practices that the church has come up with.
In short, I dare say, if one reads about Jesus’ life and teachings from the gospels, one would be hard-pressed to match it to what the church is teaching and practicing today. His message is far simpler, even if it asks for a higher moral standard. And ultimately that higher standard is not for Jesus, it’s actually for our own personal benefit!
Of course, there is more to Christianity than just the four gospels. But they form the core, or centre, of it all. To fully understand Jesus, you will need to understand everything in the bible (2 Timothy 3:16). I used to struggle with reading the bible, but now I do so every day. Not out of compulsion or as a habit/routine, but because since I discovered what Christianity really is all about, I am curious, driven to understand it more.
The bible is much more than a good idea. It contains the foundation and the path to all wisdom and understanding, especially of the world around us. It explains exactly why things are what they are, but more important, gives unparalleled wisdom and insight about how to deal with and succeed in the world, now and into eternity.
Its definition of success and wealth do not conform to those of the world, but if one is to be honest, is having a lot of money more important than a happy family life? Would you gain more satisfaction from raising the best kids regardless of your financial status, or from being a wealthy baron with spoilt offspring? As Jesus famously put it, would you rather gain the world and lose your soul?