What's it all about - this Christianity? is it a form of religion or a code of ethics? The words, 'religion' and 'ethics' are well wide of the mark when it comes to describing what it means to be a Christian.
The word, 'life' is the word used by Jesus: "I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10).
Jesus did not say, "I have come that they might have religion (or ethics)."
Jesus came to give us life - the life of God.
When we have received this life from Him, we come to understand that being a Christian is about a personal relationship with God. It's not just a matter of following a certain code of religious or moral behaviour.
This personal relationship with God is entirely bound up with Jesus Christ. Apart from him, there is no life. There is only the emptiness of life without God, in this world and in the world to come. With Jesus Christ, there is life - a life given by God, a life dependent on God, a life lived for God.
- (1) A life given by God
What is a Christian? Is it about being kind to others, giving to charities, not committing crimes? A humanist does all of these things. Is it about going to church services? the New Testament says something different: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20).
Note the contrast between the things which we do and the New Testament teaching that Christianity is Christ .
This contrast is emphasized in the Gospels. The religious leaders of Jesus' day had become so tied up with rules and regulations that they had neglected their relationship with God. Jesus, offering them something better - a life that is to be given to us by God. He told them, in no uncertain terms, that they needed to be "born again."
This is a message that we need to hear today. Like the Pharisees, we tend to complicate the simplicity of the Gospel. We turn it into a complex system of rules. God invites us to come to know Him as our loving Father. Why do we insist on thinking of God as a kind of heavenly policeman, who is constantly trying to catch us out when we do wrong? The idea of God as a kind of heavenly policeman, who's trying to catch us out, needs to be rooted out of our thinking.
There's another idea we need to get rid of - the idea that God is a kind of heavenly skinflint, a tight-fisted character, who's only interested in what he can get out of us. The idea of a god, who is on the make, s the exact opposite of the god and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is a loving God, a giving God - "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son" (John 3:16).
It's often said, "You only get what you pay for." If you approach the Christian Faith from this angle, you will come up with the most complete misunderstanding of the Christian Gospel imaginable.
If God were to give us what we've paid for, there would be nothing, for us, but judgment and condemnation. This is what we deserve from God - nothing more, nothing less: judgment and condemnation. The amazing thing is this: God has, in His Son, paid the price of our sin. this is the Gospel. This is the Good News that comes to us from God. In Jesus Christ, God has taken the punishment for our sin. At the heart of the Christian Faith is the death of Jesus Christ as our substitute. He took my place and died for me. This is what the Christian has come to know. Those who have come to the Cross and accepted Jesus Christ as their Saviour can truly say, "The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).
There is no room, at the Cross of Jesus Christ, for a 'skinflint' god. It is, at the Cross, that we must receive the gift of God, the gift for which we can never even begin to pay, the gift which has been paid for the death of Another - our Lord Jesus Christ. At the Cross, we learn that it is not we who give to God. It's God who gives to us. we learn that we can only receive from God. From Him, we receive the gift of Jesus Christ, our Saviour.
- (2) A life dependent on God
We must avoid carefully the idea of a god, who is always on the make. We must also take care not to take God for granted. The kind of person, who tries to get as much as he can out of God with the least personal involvement, has misunderstood completely what it means to have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. To have faith in Christ is to "live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). The Christian life is lived in the light of the death of Jesus Christ, who loved us and gave Himself for us. It doesn't make sense to say, "I believe the Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me", and, then, hold back from giving ourselves to Him, in glad surrender.
The question may be asked, "Can I accept Jesus Christ as my Saviour without submitting to Him as my Lord?" This question is based on reveals on a serious misunderstanding of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are saved by the grace of God. We can do nothing to deserve His grace. We must receive the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ as God's free gift. We must never lose this emphasis. It is the heart of the Christian Gospel. Building on the foundation of God's grace, we must emphasize that Christian commitment is a privilege before it is a responsibility.
Trusting Jesus is not like wearing a lucky charm. It's not just a way of getting on the right side of God, and making sure of a place in heaven. We are called to a life of faith: "Trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey."
- (3) A life lived for God
If the life of trust and obedience is to be real in you and me, we must take great care to avoid two very dangerous misconceptions of the Christian life.
(a) The first is that we become so heavenly-minded that we're no earthly use. This kind of person is very concerned to make sure that he himself is going to heaven, but he shows no real interest in serving the Lord and serving other people here on earth. He needs to understand that real faith is more than booking a place in heaven. We need to be wary of a self-centred desire to get to heaven, which doesn't lead us to serve God and other people here and now. Salvation leads to service.
(b) The second is that we become so earthly-minded that we're no heavenly use. Some people throw everything into their work., their family life and their personal interests. The Christian has a higher priority: serving God and pleasing Him. This doesn't mean that we should all be preachers or missionaries. What it does mean is this: use your gifts and abilities to the full for God. The Bible never separates believing and doing. Faith and work belong together. We are not saved by works, but we are saved for works. When faith is real, it will lead to good works.
Live for God. This is very important. Words mean nothing, if we're not living for the Lord.