Once a Christian but not Really One Now? Never a Christian? So Why Are You not a Christian?
Could it be that you do not even believe Christianity is based on real people in history? If so, I understand. What is the evidence, you may ask. Certainly conspiracy theorists have claimed that the stories of Jesus in the Christian Bible are fictional particularly in the Gospel of John, which is different from the other Gospels. I will address only a couple of important data to rebut this groundless claim. Outside the Bible the historian Josephus who lived in the first century, CE (AD) has provided historical evidence of Caiaphas who according to John’s Gospel spearheaded the killing of Jesus. According to Josephus, Caiaphas was appointed high priest in 18 CE by the Roman prefect who preceded Pontius Pilate, Valerius Gratus. There was a real life Caiaphas! The man who made the decision to crucify Jesus was Pilate, whose historical existence was long questioned by critics. His existence was finally verified by the discovery in 1961 in Israel of a stone inscribed with the name Pontius Pilate, Prefect. Pilate was a Roman administrator in Judea (approximately 26-36 CE.) during the time of Christ. Eusebius the ecclesiastical historian of Caesarea has also written about him. So Pilate too was a real person who filled the role reported in the Bible. Therefore we can and should rely on the Bible as factual. This means Jesus and His teachings are true; and what He says assures us that the powerful Christian God is the loving Father of believers, even if our much limited understanding cannot always connect certain bad experiences with this truth.
Take for example the moral failures and hypocritical righteousness of human individuals in their religious roles through the centuries till today and no doubt into the future. These unchristian behaviors have unfortunately created a screen that hides or distorts the truth about the focal point of the Christian faith. Also the unnecessary competition between science and theology has resulted in mutual estrangement and created barriers to even well- educated individuals including persuasive leaders understanding let alone accepting God (see the article entitled: Who Has It Right, Science or Christianity? -on http://www.findinnerpeace.co/topics/ scroll down). When you leave your mind open and curious you may discover for yourself what has not been known about the Christian faith: namely, our unique three-in-one (Triune) God and the incredible opportunities that this faith offers everyone equally.
Consider this fantastic resume that clearly tells the kind of God He is. The bible describes him as a Protector, Benefactor, Benevolent Guide, Good and Loving Father, Healer, Comforter; a God who feeds and refreshes us; is trustworthy, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, peace-loving, unchanging, just, completely untainted (holy), is objectively moral, patient and forgiving and who sacrificed His son because He wants all mankind to be with him and wants us to want Him. It is baffling that any right-thinking person would turn down or reject a chance to have a relationship with this God. “If He is real”, you say? Well, this part of the faith process. You probably have beliefs about other things for which you have no personal evidence.
Think about it and do not allow previous non-belief or doubt to stop you from coming over to the bright side. If you don’t believe just give yourself a chance to learn more and ask questions of qualified individuals, especially if your behavior can influence young people. Nothing to lose; everything to gain!
Despite his awesome attributes, becoming a member of God’s family is quite simple but seriously important. It is not a game nor is it a tactic. The Apostle Paul describes the process this way to the Roman people of his day and it’s not any different today for anyone. He said:
“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.”
To be saved means to become Christian. That’s it! And you’re on your way to heaven, already.
St Paul’s statement repeats what Jesus Himself told people – that He would rise from being dead, which will show he is God’s true Representative. For those who were not there to witness the actual event believing is all we can do. The truth of the Resurrection of Jesus is the basis of Christianity. It confirms the divinity of Jesus and therefore establishes the validity of His teachings including about heaven and hell; and that He is Christ, the Son of God sent to earth from heaven where He has returned. In long-view hindsight we can appreciate how unacceptable was our separation, for God to send his one and only Son to mend the rift. God’s solution was to die in our place, represented by His Son, as otherwise would have happened to us permanently and inescapably because of sin. “Sin” means: turning our back to God; and this is what He forgave by the death of Jesus. As a result, the death of Christians is now a temporary means to leave this world or a passageway to heaven. As such we understand the reason for Christmas, which is so that we will receive the Message to choose to return to God because He loves us and wants us in heaven with Him.
So again, knowing this much about the Christian faith is it as offensive as you were perhaps led to believe such that you would not choose heaven? Undeniably individuals and groups have made Christianity to look very bad, from Popes to people performing a church function or other, to someone you know who has described themselves as Christian; and back through the history of the faith. You may be someone who has experienced suffering, directly or indirectly, from or offended by such so-called Christians. But as already stated Christian life is based on faith in the Gospel (or Message) of Christ; and the primary rules and expectations of behavior are stated in the Bible. Nowhere else!
… I suppose you may need time to digest or grasp this new information. In the meantime here’s food for thought. I don’t suppose you will never again have anything to do with the functions of the police because you were told or found out some members of the police force have been guilty of theft or murder. Or will you shun firefighting because you believe that their profession is hypocritical to be “preaching” fire safety while some of their own commit arson? Are you turned off even more so and not use their services because their chiefs have sometimes seemed to shelter the guilty?
Becoming Christian that is, accepting or acknowledging Christ means I make up my mind to follow the Teachings of Jesus including to repent, which means acknowledging the many ways I’ve turned my back to Him in the past and not care and pledging to discontinue or turn away from such behavior in future. The new Christian is not required to confess sins necessarily to anyone.
As believers on the way to heaven we’re inhabited by the Holy Spirit and are called to live differently in repentance. Repentance is important because it sets the stage for living differently from before agreeing to follow Christ. The intention to renounce what is against God is consistent with wanting to be in his family; and God wants us as we are, regardless of our history.
Consider this comment on a woman named Rahab who is the only one known in different parts of the bible by the title: “the prostitute”. Insisting that faith is the only basis on which God accepts us St James asks: “… was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous…?” (James 2:25) No one has been too sinful for God! It is by Grace alone from God that we are saved! On the cross, every believer received God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense (G.R.A.C.E.) and that alone makes us righteous and reconciled in God’s sight. It is freely given at no cost to or contribution from us. Therefore we are not required to offer repentance first or in return. By Jesus’ saving grace alone can we come into the right relationship with God.
We read in the bible:
“… In our natural condition we, like everyone else, were destined to suffer God’s anger. But God’s mercy (compassion) is so abundant, and his love for us is so great, that while we were spiritually dead in our disobedience he brought us to life with Christ. It is by God’s grace that you have been saved…” (Ephesians 2:3-5)
“For it is by God’s grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God’s gift, so that no one can boast about it.“ (Ephesians 2:8-9)
“For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.” (Romans 3:25-26)
So then have you considered what if you may be missing out on important blessing by refusing to acknowledge Jesus’ words and actions? Wouldn’t it be smart to at least play it safe? On the other hand those holding back from accepting Christ because they fear the embarrassment or shame in confessing past sins need to know that God anticipated those sins long before they were committed, when He decided to send Jesus to cancel out the incriminating and lasting effects of those sins by His death. It is not your repentance or even less consequentially your confessing past sins that you may or may not remember or be aware of, which gives you admittance into Heaven (salvation). It is by God’s grace alone! That is, we get saved only on the basis of favor or goodwill from God. Would it be absolute grace if He imposed a condition to receive it? (Romans 11:5-6) No!
Everything to do with God is absolute and must be, for Him to be God. For example, of what effect on my salvation at the age of 20 or any age is the “requirement” to confess that I stole a cookie at the age of six or so? So we can count on God to forgive totally. Actually faith in Jesus means believing in and following the Teachings of Jesus and with this comes the believer’s strong desire to sin no more. In fact this desire by itself is repentance. For after all, the biblical meaning of repentance is: a transformative change of heart; that is, a person’s conversion from a former way of life. Indeed when we turn away from our previous lifestyle and begin our Christian life it is with a guarantee of forgiveness already given. Repentance is built into the believer’s acceptance of Christ!
St James, Jesus’ apostle, encourages us to confess our sins to each other (James 5:15-16) but not as a condition or an obligation for salvation. He is addressing the specific case of relief for people with illness in which the healing combination consists of requesting “the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord”, as he puts it; and if the illness is believed to have occurred because of some wrongdoing, confession is appropriate; ”…so that you may be healed” says James. According to this prescription in the Book of James, it follows that the “righteous person” doing the praying will need to hear the confession to customize his prayer to the sick person’s specific prayer need.
What’s Expected of a Christian
Christianity is essentially starting and maintaining a relationship with God. As in all relationships observing certain rules is essential to keeping the relationship. All close intimate and strong relationships require mutual trust. From this flows many other virtues of the relationship. Trusting God is an essential requirement of the Christian in order to keep the relationship alive. This expectation is stated for example in Psalm 32. The Message Version of the Bible gives a great reading, which you will find on the following website: https://www.biblestudytools.com/msg/psalms/32.html. This kind of translation helps to interpret the Word of God (same as words of God) at a basic level. Understanding the Bible more fully however, can get complex. This does not mean it is too difficult to understand or that its content is confusing nor moreover that its interpretation is totally up to the reader as there cannot be a correct or wrong interpretation. Certainly, by actually reading the bible within a community of believers makes its understanding and interpretation become clearer. Our relationship with God is put in the correct perspective when we master the fact that coming to God with trust, honesty and openness strengthens not only the relationship but also our character.
Here are other statements of obligations for Christian as they develop a relationship with God:
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:12-14).
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
“Therefore (having received everything from God needed for a life with Him), make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.” (2 Peter 1:5-7)
“Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else” (1 Thessalonians 5:13-15).
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low positions Do not be conceited” (Romans 12:15-16).
“The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy” (Proverbs 12:25).
These passages provide selected though representative sampling of biblical values. They explain that the Christian is expected to have faith and trust along with other qualities they need to develop and maintain.
Having Faith or Doing Good: Where Do You Stand?
You may wonder about or feel stomped by the question of which of these two better represents Christian life. There need not be any disagreement about which of faith or good actions has precedence in a Christian’s life because it is not a matter of either-or. Christian life always starts with believing in who Jesus is. Once we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior we understand the necessity of and value in doing good, because we follow after the behavior to us of the One in whom we have come to believe. The bible says: “We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19); and Jesus himself says: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). Therefore good works are a natural outcome of faith in Christ.
The believer who says: “I do good things. That is better than merely professing a belief” is actually thereby motivated by the Christian belief to do the good actions. On the other hand to say: “My belief is all I need to demonstrate where I stand” means you have not examined your behavior to see to which action(s)—represented in the Christian message—your faith leads. Belief and action are always inseparable.
So if you have no problem with believing in a God Who loves everyone enough to sacrifice his only Son to prove it (a Son who is as good as God himself in human form) and you are able to do good things then you are Christian in theory. You only need now to confirm to yourself and this God that you accept Him as your God and Jesus as your Lord and Savior. You may use words like:
“Father God, I have decided to accept Jesus your Son as my Lord and Savior and intend to learn about and follow His Teachings from this time forward. Thank you for loving me no matter what.”
The Bible makes a big deal of this simple act of confession, describing such a person as “a new creation”, “born again”, “child of God”! I recommend as the next step in your new, born-again life that you purchase a bible written in language easy for you to understand, such as the Message Bible, Good News Translation or the Contemporary English Version and start reading (perhaps for starters, the Gospel of Luke, followed by the Acts of the Apostles and then the Book of Ecclesiastes followed by The Psalms); or find these versions and books of the Bible on the Internet, to become familiar with what God says, expects of believers and most important, why. The advantage in getting a paper Bible is you can underline passages and write in the margins. And then I suggest you find a mainstream church where you feel comfortable enough to stay. Ask for recommendation or discover one and Google the name to see if it appeals to you.
It is in a pastor-led community of Christians that you will learn why the bible says what it says. Even with a PhD degree I cannot do without a church! Please stay neutral about any controversy, whether the issue is “biblical” or social and proceed as your conscience dictates. In due course you will feel more confident in your knowledge or ability to take your stand or move. You need to know that Christians are also required to pray to keep our relationship with the Lord ongoing. You are encouraged to make specific requests in prayer and you don’t have to use special or many words, just enough to clearly state your mind. Actually praying is talking to God. Until you’re comfortable with shaping different kinds of prayers of your own, use this one:
“Dear Lord, teach me how to follow you with sincerity
Make your way plain before me as I go through this day and always. For it is only you Lord that can make me live in happiness and safety. Thank you.” (adapted from a song)
So my friend it’s now your choice to go to heaven or not. I have done my best to show you why you have nothing to lose and much to gain if you choose heaven.