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CHRISTIANITY EXPLAINED
God's Beloved
ed

This Lead Article pulls together all information
contained in this section.

The major principles and beliefs of Christianity
are presented here, with the intention
of demonstrating what sets this religion
apart from others
.

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

-----------------------------

1. INTRODUCTION

An earlier section of this website, “Faith and reason” tries to present a credible 21st Century explanation of God’s being and his relationship to the existence of our universe and ourselves. Importantly, you will note that there is no conflict between modern scientific and religious theory in explanations provided there.

The following section of the website, “Believing in God” explains how we can, in a ‘monotheistic’ sense, recognise God’s presence in our lives through the practical application of faith. Surprisingly to many people I guess, we really can in effect prove to ourselves, beyond reasonable doubt, that God does exist.

Whereas an explanation of 'what God is' is provided in Faith and reason”, this particular section of the website discusses 'who God is' and how he relates to each of us personally.

This section then aims to give a deeper understanding of where Christianity is ‘coming from’. I maintain that Christianity has simple core truths. And these simple truths are, in fact, what sets it apart from the other great monotheist religions, Judaism and Islam.

However bear in mind that, as far as I am concerned, followers of all the three monotheist religions believe in the same God, even though they do call him by different names. I have absolutely no misgivings towards those who choose either Judaism or Islam as their religion.

I personally chose Christianity for a number of reasons. Although perhaps surprising to the uninitiated again, one reason was the probablity of fact that becomes evident when studying the Christian scriptures and supporting secular writings of the era they were produced. This is allied to the apparent self proving nature of Christianity when it is applied with faith in ones life. Regular contact across the broad Christian Church has also importantly provided me with the chance to witness God's presence there.  I know ... I know ... this may be hard to accept, but see details of my own experiences throughout the article God within the Church.  I admit I was surprised by what I  saw and experienced there during my early years of faith!

But, what impresses me most about Christianity though is the value it places on 'love'. Importantly, from our human understanding of God, his love of us is encapsulated in the concept of grace. And it was grace that ultimately drew me to Christianity. More on that later.

This Lead Article, in the website section of the same name, begins with a brief overview of Christian beliefs. If you wish to gain deeper knowledge on any of the subjects that follow, then (as with the other sections of this website) you can drill down into supporting articles. This can be done either by using the links as they appear within this article, or by accessing the articles directly from the Section Contents at the top left of the page. The article continues with explanations of Christianitys rules of love and the behavioural attitudes that Christians are expected to display within their lives.

2.    ESSENTIAL CHRISTIAN BELIEFS

What follows here is a brief overview of Christian beliefs. It endeavours to provide a solid platform for understanding the balance of this article and other articles within this section of the website.

2.1    God's Love for Us

As I wrote earlier, "grace" was what drew me to Christianity. The term relates to the way our loving God is always ready to give us humans far more than we rightfully deserve (not to be confused with financial riches). Grace, more than anything else, demonstrates that God really wants a loving personal relationship with each one of us. I read somewhere that the concept of grace is so far out there, that no human could ever have dreamt it up. I'll again expand on that later.

So, God’s love for us is the underlying theme in Christianity. Hence the subtitle for this article. I add that this subtitle should not be construed as meaning that God loves Christians more than Jews or Muslims. I do not think that for a moment. Rather, the title highlights how we, as Christians, primarily think of ourselves within our relationship with God.

2.2    The Holy Trinity

The vast majority of Christians hold the Holy Trinity, the concept of a triune God, as a central belief of their religion.  Christians believe that Jesus is an essential identity within the Trinity. The Trinity consists of God the Father, God the Son (or Jesus the Son of God) and God the Holy Spirit ... three persons in one God. So, despite the concept of the Trinity, all Christians believe that there is only one God.

The concept and God's reason for it, is not as complicated as at first imagined again please see the article, The Holy Trinity”. The Trinity, as explained there, began with God's need to place his loving presence in human form on Earth whilst still maintaining the existence of all that is.

2.3    Jesus and the "Cross"

Following on then, most Christians believe that Jesus, whilst alive amongst us as a fellow human being over 2000 years ago, was God incarnate, i.e. Jesus was, and still is for that matter, God.

Because of Gods love for us, Jesus provided himself as a living sacrifice, the Lamb of God, in order to pay for humankinds wrongdoings (sins). Through his own death by crucifixion on the cross, Jesus thereby justified our sins. As a result, faithful Christians can be assured of eternal life through the grace of God. (Note this explanation makes use of the essential Biblical jargon that has been used for over two thousand years.)

Jesus felt the pain of pre-execution torture and humiliation at the hands of his captors, and then experienced physical exhaustion when forced to carry his own cross much of the way to the place of his execution. He felt the nails go through his flesh. Once on the cross, he felt the agony of losing his ability to breathe freely – in effect experiencing the slow and tormented death that he had known awaited him.

In simple English, the average Christian believes that Jesus thus died for them, and his physical death on the cross has paid for any sins they have or might yet commit. In essence, the cost of all our sins accrued throughout our lives, i.e. which would normally mean a punishment of permanent death, is brushed aside as a result of Jesus sacrifice for us.

It is also believed that the resurrection to new life and ascension into heaven by Jesus,  after his death on the cross, demonstrates most positively the victory over death that is offered to us.

Again, the Christian religion's view of Jesus as God is essential to understanding  the depth of Gods unconditional love for us, and his grace, i.e. God became human so that he could physically sacrifice himself for us.  (Please see the articles, Jesus as God” and Evidence of Jesus” for a better understanding).

For Christians, the common symbol of the 'cross' signifies: Gods love for us; his grace, our forgiveness and victory over death.

2.4    Jesus as "Our Lord and Saviour"

Although some conjecture exists between theologians on the subject, we Christians are safe if we accept the view that the major requirement for being saved from our sins, and coming to receive eternal life, is to commit ourselves through faith to Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. And a great proportion of Christians do accept this commitment. It is a common term and therefore deserves an explanation here, even though it is revisiting some of the beliefs already explained.

The ‘Lord’ aspect of the above term requires explanation. It firstly refers to Jesus as being God himself, i.e. the God of the Old Testament (the pre-Jesus Books of the Bible); the great “I Am”.  As I have already indicated above, the Father and the Son are two persons of the Holy Trinity. Both declared themselves to be I Am within the Bible. The Father did so in the Old Testament (Exodus 3:14), possibly 500 to 600 years before Jesus was born, and then the Son did so in John 8:58. The two verses are quoted in full on the Home Page of this website. The ‘Lord’ aspect secondly relates to Jesus (as God) being the boss’ to us humans, who are trying to obey him in life; to follow his guidance.

Christianity came to pass at the point of history that God knew would come. It was time to relax on dogma. It was time to restructure rules and relationships. It is clear now that we have a boss who dearly loves us all and deals
with each and every one of us (and humanity as a whole) in an all knowing pragmatic manner.

The Saviour aspect of the statement, as explained under the previous sub section,  is straightforward. We are to believe that Jesus laid down his physical life in a very painful manner to pay for our wrongdoings; our sins, so as to enable us to have eternal life.

As a result of being saved through faith, Christians are freed to concentrate on a close loving relationship with God.
In essence, that is what God desires above all else; that is why we have been created.

Further discussion on what it takes to be saved, as mentioned above, is included in the supporting articles,  Christian rules and laws and Heaven and hell”. The moral dilemma of wrongdoing (sin), and its impact on our lives now, is also expanded in the next section of this article.

3.    CHRISTIANITY'S SIMPLE RULES OF 'LOVE'

The three great monotheist religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) maintain that every one of us can enter into a personal relationship with a God who: listens to each of us, tries to speak to each of us and offer guidance/ support to each of us. All three religions believe that God wants each of us to enter into that relationship with him. Actually, he attempts through whatever means that become available to him to draw us into it – encouraging us to respond to him. And, as with most religions, despite God's love for us (or more likely because of it) Christians accept that God has laid down rules to be followed. But unlike Judaism and Islam, Christianity views its rules in a different context.

3.1    Jesus' answer

I have repeatedly mentioned in this article why I chose Christianity over the other two monotheist religions: Judaism the oldest of the three, Islam the youngest. Simply put, it is Christianity’s principle of love: God’s love of us, encapsulated within his grace that is given freely to us; and our love of him. The rules of Christianity, or Commandments as they are called, are also love related.

When it comes to actual laws and rules for guidance in our lives, Jesus himself provided clear advice. When asked, in the form of a challenging question, which of the Ten Commandments (from the Bible's pre-Jesus Old Testament) was the most important, Jesus answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” Then continuing, Jesus added, “Love your neighbour as yourself” [Luke 10:27]. In answer to that question then, Jesus in effect provided two new commandments that more than adequately covered the essence of the old Ten Commandments.

So, love of God and our fellow humans fundamentally underpins Christian law. Mind you, this is not to say that other laws, i.e. within the Old Testament, are of no relevance at all. Also Jesus himself added further standards for us to follow, and these are documented in the New Testament. Please see the article, “Christian rules and laws to better understand how rules and laws affect Christians.

God will definitely try to guide us into what is appropriate in our actions, if there is any doubt about what is right or wrong within our lives. This in effect provides us with an element of proof of Gods existence. Please see the article, Finding God within our lives” which includes  an explanation of Gods guiding hand. 

By the way, the word love in the Bible (in relation to our fellow humans) means more to deeply care about than as we apply the word today, i.e. a deeper or more significant emotion reserved for those who are very close to us personally. 

3.2    Love of God

Now it is no surprise that if God did love us enough to become human and subsequently die for us in agony, then he would expect love from us in return. And Jesus highlighted the extent of love that is expected of us, "...with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.

Note too that Jesus provided us with the ideal example of a human being to follow – himself! The Gospels (New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) contain the words and actions of Jesus. The concept of Jesus revealing nature is incorporated within one of his alternative titles, The Word”. With regards to loving God (in his case the Father) the human Jesus clearly demonstrated that he did.

From God’s point of view, it is a case of the more Christ-like we can become with his grace, the closer our loving relationship with him becomes. As the Word, in this context,  Jesus is our guiding light. Ultimately, contentedness with life improves as growth towards Christ-likeness takes place, and our love of God increases.

3.3    Love of our Neighbours

With regards to our neighbours (i.e. our fellow humans), it basically comes down to love again. Each one of us is a loved child of God, and he wants us all to deeply care for his other children. When we grasp that, we can see that the old Ten Commandments, i.e. those ones that relate to our fellow human beings, should not need to be stated.  For example, everybody should understand that it is wrong to steal from people we love (i.e. people that we care about as much as we care about ourselves)! Similarly, we would not covert (lust after) or enter into adultery with the life partner of someone we deeply care for etc.  In other words, Jesus’ new love-based law again encompasses the essence of all those older laws, and indeed goes beyond them!  Please read Christian rules and laws for a better understanding.

I suppose we can look to the twentieth century example of Mother Theresa of Calcutta for the personification of love towards neighbour. This way of life (loving care for others) offers so much in return to us. All Christians are called to it. And, there is no better medicine for the human psyche than assisting others in their time of need. It has the potential to lift us from the mire of self indulgence – leading us away from our all too common self destructive tendency to dwell on our own problems, needs and wants.

Just as God himself came to serve his beloved children through self sacrifice, in the person of Jesus, so we Christians are called to serve our fellow humans.

Even to the coldest enemies of Christendom, it must be obvious how much good that Christians do in the world through their outreach services. Committed Christians always seem to be in the thick of it, where there is pain and suffering throughout Western nations and the world as a whole. It is their commitment to faith, and recognition of the commandment to love one another, that drives these people on – at times putting their own mortal lives at risk. Simply put, it is what Jesus would have done.

3.4    If we are saved anyway, why obey the rules?

Most Christians accept that while obedience to rules and laws (the two rules of love or for that matter complying with the Ten Commandments etc) is important, it is not necessarily critical for the soul or its salvation. Christianity essentially places faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour above all else, although it certainly does not ignore obligations that we should meet. This is the big difference between Christianity and the other major monotheist religions of Judaism and Islam. Those religions place ‘compliance with religious rules/ laws at the same level of importance as ‘belief in God’.

The best summary in the Bible of how the law itself (rules, commandments etc), Gods saving grace, and upholding those laws, all fit together is provided by St Paul. Please read Romans 3:19-34.

In essence, as Christians, we should want to do his bidding because we do not want to disappoint our loving God – not because we are afraid of losing our souls. Of course, God expects us to ‘run the best race’ that we can, with the help of his grace. And when we do wrong (commit sin) we should admit it to God and try hard to not do it again. We love him, as we should love our human parents, and as with them, we don’t want to disappoint him.

This principle, based on love and faith, rather than rules and faith, obviously offers a shift from the Jewish and Islamic concentration on laws/ rules or  ‘legalism’ as it is termed. Again, and all importantly, it is not primarily about the rules, it is about having that deep personal, loving relationship with God that we are called to.

4.    CHRISTIAN ATTITUDES

Much of what is expected of us by God in our day to day lives relates to this love of fellow humans – monogamous relationships, ethical dealings, placing people and his other creations above our personal desires etc.

Our general attitudes towards our fellow humans should obviously flow from Jesus’ second commandment. Jesus certainly would have denounced the ‘holier than thou’ attitude held by so many Christians over the centuries. As to our personal presentation within the community, the prophet Micah offered this guidance 700 years before Jesus’ birth:

And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

[
Micah 6:8]

Even as a Protestant Christian myself, I recognise that the late Catholic Pope John Paul II presented us with an excellent example of holy humility during his papacy. The present Pope Francis is shaping up in a similar manner.

The Christian principle of deeply caring for, and helping, others in need is in direct conflict with the negative and memorable associations that so many people have with Christianity – the ongoing behaviour of its bigots, its history of holy wars etc. These rest so sadly with our religion of love. (Of course fervent atheists forget to balance Christianity’s past and present good works against these misdeeds.)

Christianity should be a religion where its followers judge no one [Matthew 7:1-6, James 4:12]. I offer the example when Jesus was asked whether an adulterous woman should be stoned to death as punishment [John 8:1-11]. What was Jesus’ response? It was perfect, “Let whoever has not sinned, throw the first stone!” Shamed by the answer, the small crowd drifted away leaving Jesus and the woman alone together. Jesus compassionately requested only that the woman change her ways, i.e. repent.

Christianity is about recognising the problems in our own lives, primarily trying to do something about that, and not fussing too much about the wrongs in the lives of others. In essence, the life of a Christian should be his or her statement to others on how to live.

This is not to say we must condone all wrong committed by others. The laws of our society should be served for instance. And Christians are expected to stand up for the oppressed. We should also make a non violent stand against those who would threaten the lives and souls of our fellow humans.

Nothing better explains desirable Christian attitudes than the following verses provided to us by Jesus, referred to as The Beatitudes [Matthew 5:3-10].

        Blessed are the poor in spirit,
            for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
        Blessed are those who mourn,
            for they will be comforted.
        Blessed are the meek,
            for they will inherit the earth.
        Blessed are those who hunger
            and thirst for righteousness,
            for they will be filled.
        Blessed are the merciful,
            for they will be shown mercy.
        Blessed are the pure in heart,
            for they will see God.
        Blessed are the peacemakers,
            for they will be called sons of God.
        Blessed are those who are
            persecuted because of righteousness,
            for theirs is the kingdom
of heaven.

5.    CONCLUSION

Most importantly, remember that Christianity is a religion that does not need a lot of theoretical knowledge, upfront, before you can practise it. Just be open to God; begin that relationship with him, and see how Jesus can transform your life. If you need guidance on how to develop your belief in God, then read the article, “Believing in God. You will read there how to involve our loving God in your life; to walk the walk. I am confident, just like so many other Christians, that anyone can prove to themselves, beyond reasonable doubt, that God is real by simply putting faith to work within their lives.

Let God love you freely, and love him back. He has an awesome presence once faith has been fully established. After recognising this, life will never be the same again.

There is no denying that deeper knowledge of the Bible can, and should, come later due to the incredible depth of wisdom and guidance that is contained within it. It is not difficult to see God’s purpose for Christianity through the Bible’s themes – which I have tried hard to summarise in this article.

Exposure to Christianity, through church attendances, also offers us the opportunity to experience this essence at work; to feel it! Further evidence of Gods presence can be witnessed there as well. It is also there within the Church that we are provided with the opportunity, when finally ready, to formally commit ourselves to Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.

‘Love’ is at the heart of Christianity – God’s love for us, our love for God and his other children. Initially, it demands little of us as individuals, other than developing a relationship with the God who became human and then painfully sacrificed his mortal life for us.



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