Thursday, June 20, 2013

What is Christianity?

I recently read an article expressing concern about the political influence and power the "Christian right." Christianity today is viewed more as a political power opposed to gay rights, women's rights, and abortion. Yet the term Christian originally meant a follower of Christ. A follower of Christ meant one who is trying to be like Jesus. Jesus was not a political figure. He did not oppose government or policy. His greatest opposition was to the religious political powers of the time. He opposed hypocritical religious leaders who laid heavy legalistic, moralistic burdens on their followers. He opposed powerful religious people who vied for political power and influence.  

Jesus never condemned people as his followers do today. He accepted people, forgave people and loved them as they were. He certainly wanted and encouraged people to change but not by demand or coercion but rather by showing love and grace. 

After Jesus rose from the dead, ascended to heaven and his followers received the Holy Spirit, people were drawn to Jesus by his followers. It was not a forced conversion. People simply saw how the followers of  "the Way" were loving each other, giving to each other and helping the community. Followers of Jesus shared wealth and material possessions. Followers of Jesus helped the poor. Followers of Jesus accepted people of both genders, all races and all economic status as equals. It was love that marked the Christian. Today it seems the Christians are branded as haters. Christians are seen as hating the political left, gay people, abortionists, the poor and women. Jesus must be weeping to see how his named is marred by the very people who claim to follow him and his example of love and grace.

The gospel message is hidden by the view of Christianity as a political power and the poor example of those who claim to follow Jesus and yet condemn others. The gospel was and is good news. The gospel does not condemn. People are already condemned by their own conscience and sense of guilt. The Holy Spirit is doing his job of convicting people of their guilt. We are all guilty of not loving ourselves, others or God perfectly. We know this in our heart of hearts. We know that if we stood before a perfect, holy and just God, we would be condemned and deservingly so. The gospel is simply that we can be forgiven of our wrongs, be set free from condemnation and reconciled to the God who longs to love us and embrace us as his own children. That forgiveness is available because Jesus was condemned on our behalf. He paid the penalty for our wrongs, the penalty of death that we deserve. We are all condemned to hell. It is not that gays and abortionists are condemned over all others or are under some special condemnation. We are all condemned. It doesn't matter if we are gay, straight, pro life, pro choice, conservative, liberal, male or female. We are all equally condemned.  The only way out of condemnation for all of us is faith in the sacrifice and love of Jesus. Believing that he died and rose from the dead proving he was very God is the only way to receive forgiveness for our wrongs.

Christianity is not a religion. It is not a political force. It is not an exclusive club. It is not a moral institution. It is not even the means by which we may be saved from condemnation. A real Christian is someone who has surrendered to Jesus and is trying to follow him and his way of love and grace. A Christian understands grace and the forgiveness is a gift from God. A Christian is not perfect. A Christian does many, many things wrong and contrary to the teachings and examples of Jesus. A Christian is simply forgiven by grace through faith in Jesus. In other words, a Christian is not condemned for wrongs committed but believes the condemnation was paid by Jesus who is very God. It is this acceptance of love from God that motivates a Christian to follow God's perfect law of love. Though a Christian often fails, the Christian does not rely on success or failure but rather on the grace and love of God. 

Yes, Christians should be agents of change in the world but not through political force, coercion or condemnation of others.  Christians should be the change, the example, the way. As followers of Jesus, Christians should seek to love others not condemn others. Christians should change the world through acts of kindness and love as his Jesus' original followers did 2000 years ago. 

No one can change on their own including Christians. Christians rely on the Holy Spirit to change them from the inside out. Christians don't expect to change on their own. Why should Christians expect the world to conform to a holy standard which they themselves cannot conform without the Holy Spirit? Anyone can changes external behavior through will power but no one except God can change the heart. Only as God draws a soul to Jesus and that soul surrenders to Jesus can the Holy Spirit be received and begin to change the person. Change will not happen by politics, by laws, or by effort. Change will happen as a person is drawn to the love of Jesus, receives forgiveness and the power to be changed by the Holy Spirit.

What is a Christian? A Christian is someone who has received forgiveness by accepting the sacrifice of Jesus on their behalf. A Christian is someone who follows Jesus and is like Jesus not by personal effort but by reliance on the Holy Spirit. A Christian is someone who brings change to the family, the church, the community, the nation and the world through examples and acts of love and charity. 

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