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What makes Christianity different to any other religion?
There are many answers to this, but put most simply, despite common assumption, Christianity is not just rules and rituals. It is not about the number of prayers or amount of money donated, it is not about leading a rigorously self-disciplined or outwardly perfect life (though we do need self-discipline!). At it’s core, it is about love, grace and forgiveness. It is about a state of heart, about truly knowing your creator and the reason we’re all here. True Christianity is real and living, and has to be experienced to be understood – words are sometimes inadequate. It is, I believe, far from grand buildings, big ceremonies, and libraries of complex doctrine. It is simple. And it’s really rather beautiful.
It is also focused on a living man, Jesus Christ, as opposed to a historical figure who died thousands of years ago.
So what, in a nutshell, do Christians believe? What’s it all about?
Christianity is about establishing a relationship with your creator, God. Christians believe in God, that he created the world and us for a purpose, but that we messed things up through sin and self will. God therefore sent his son to die for us to bear the punishment of our sins, thus paving the way for forgiveness and the beginning of a relationship with himself.
John 3:16, possibly the most famous verse in the bible, sums Christianity up in a nutshell: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes on him may not perish, but have life eternal.” In essence, it is about forgiveness, reconciliation and the start of something beautiful and eternal which explains the purpose of life on earth.
Why do you believe this?
Thousands of Christians have taken thousands of paths to finding God. Many grow up in Christian households and make a decision that the beliefs that their parents hold are real, whilst others may come to God through miraculous events and traumatic experiences. Some people come from a background of addiction and violence and realise that – like all of us – they need help, and they need forgiveness. They find exactly that in Jesus Christ.
Personally, I was brought up in a Christian household and came to believe in God. To me it just makes sense. If you look for God, if you open your heart and mind, you find him. The Bible says “seek and you shall find” (Matthew 7:7) and it’s true. You begin to see God, the work of a creator, in simple details, whether a beautiful sunset or a bite from a fresh, juicy nectarine.
Once you realise that God is there, you have a responsibility to respond to him. You become conscious of how you aren’t that great and are insignificant in comparison to his greatness (although, wonderfully, you are very significant to God). I came to the point (and still do regularly) where I felt that I needed help and forgiveness. And then you get the gospel message. That God indeed created us, and this beautiful world for us, and that he loves us as his children and that there is forgiveness in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. As you look at the character of Jesus, his teachings and his actions, you can see that Jesus was like no other man, that he was indeed God, manifest in flesh.
But couldn’t God just forgive us? Why did Jesus have to die?
Simply because Christians believe that God is just and perfect. It would compromise his justness (justice wouldn’t be done) if a penalty were not paid for sin. Imagine someone murdered a close friend or relative. Then in court, the judge said “as I’m a loving judge, I am going to forgive the murderer. You may go free.” How would you feel? Incensed and angry, because justice hadn’t been done. That’s why Jesus died in our place, so that justice would be done; that sin would be punished, and that we would then be free to have a relationship with our creator.
A christian isn’t perfect (though there may be those who think otherwise!). A christian is a real, messy person who has been made perfect for a relationship with God through Jesus’ death.
And what about resurrection?
Jesus Christ appeared alive and well to over 500 people in the 40 days after his death and before his ascension. The resurrection is the proof of the pudding, if you like. It proved that the sacrifice of Christ was thorough and finished; it was witness to a work complete. It proved that the power of death had been broken, which is one of the greatest joys for the Christian. The apostle Paul could say “Where, oh death, is thy sting? Where, oh death, thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).
What about the bible?
Contrary to popular belief, the bible is not a set of rules, nor is it a history book. The bible tells us about a person. It tells us about God, and it tells us about his son Jesus and how we can establish a relationship with him. It is a love letter from God, that shows the woeful history of man and how despite this, through thousands of years God has patiently persevered and still loves us today. It does contain law and it does contain history, but that is not the primary focus. I suppose you could also call it a guide for life, a Haynes manual for living or a life handbook.
But it was written over a period of thousands of years, by many different authors. Yet Christians call it God’s Word?
Yes. A good way to understand this is to look at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. A man called Sir Christopher Wren was the architect. He didn’t lay every brick down in the building, others did that work – but it was all designed and orchestrated by him. Likewise, God is the architect of the bible. The apostle Paul wrote to a young believer called Timothy and said that “every scripture is divinely inspired and profitable for teaching” (2 Timothy 3:16).