In the middle of a society and generation that is quick to turn everything into one massive gray area, I believe there are many people who aren’t sure what Christianity is actually based on anymore. We use the poetic, fluffy, and convenient parts while often tossing out or even forgetting the rest. Maybe there’s even a blend of other religious teachings in there like karma or regeneration.
Since truth is being taught more often as a relative concept than a concrete reality, we are free to each make our own micro-religion based on feelings and cultural pressures. Maybe that’s always been the case. But we can’t do that–believing our own convenient ideas or the ideas of other religions–and still call ourselves Christians. I hate to sound exclusive, but Christianity is exclusive to Christian teachings. So it’s important to know them if you want to call yourself one.
For some, Christianity has become synonymous with simple good works and some friendliness sprinkled on top. For others, the entire religion is represented by people’s hard-hearted bigotry that hates anyone who disagrees with them. Defining it this way has shifted Christianity to a set of individualistic attitudes and neglected to recognize the universal principles it was originally founded upon–the ideas that make it definable beyond a personality or individual. Contrary to some people’s beliefs, the Christian message is not the slightest bit wishy-washy in its foundations. And I fear there’s a growing group of “Christians” who are attempting to morph those foundations into something more friendly to the trends of sexual expression and individual truth which have taken over the last half century.
Maybe that’s actually your biggest issue with Christianity– that it doesn’t roll with culture or the most current scientific discoveries. Two quick thoughts on that. The first is that current culture has in no way discovered a better way to live that leads to more satisfaction and fulfillment. We might think it does, yet we are seeing the degeneration of relationships all around us and have plenty of statistics to make us question if we’re really heading in a good direction. The second thought is this: no matter how advanced our scientific discoveries have become, they have yet to prove anything in the Bible to be false. In fact, there are a number of remarkable scientific claims within the Bible that science has only started to prove correct. If what Christians say is true, and the Bible really is inspired by God and therefore timeless, why would it ever need to change or be updated? On the contrary, that would make it the most trustworthy piece of literature in the history of mankind. That’s not to mention the dozens of warnings within the Bible about how man-made culture in all of its brokenness and selfishness will always be offended and at odds with God.
Anyway, I’ve put together a quick test consisting of five statements that work together to sum up the very basic, non-negotiable views of the gospel of Jesus that is taught through the Christian Bible. This is based on the material used to train missionaries in presenting the gospel.
You may notice that you struggle to fully believe one of these statements (or more, since they do overlap with each other)–even though you can regurgitate the “right” answer if someone asked you. That’s okay. Identifying which elements of the basic gospel message you struggle with the most might actually be the most helpful thing you can do for your faith. Take that struggle to God in prayer, to scripture, and to trusted mentors. The goal for every Christian has and should always be a total trust in God with full devotion to who He is– a trust that is displayed through action in every area of our lives. That is most definitely not accomplished by the push of a button. It’s a process that takes self-honesty, time, and a constant pursuit of God from the very center of our hearts. I think that pursuit was actually part of God’s design, successfully making each of our lives an active, never-ending relationship with Him.
Okay so here we go. Five statements that form the foundation of the non-negotiable Christian faith:
1. God is the perfect Creator of the universe.
Verses: Genesis 1, Colossians 1:16, Matthew 5:48, Romans 11:36, Revelation 4:11
Implications: He is the One who put it all into motion and is now keeping it going. He is the indescribable and invisible Attribute that Atheist scientists are still scratching their heads about– the One who answers how to the universe and the very concept of life. Why does He do it? Good question… that’s what makes Him so worthy of our worship and reverent fear.
The key word that might unexpectedly snag some people for this one is “perfect.” It’s not a perfection measured just by worldly standards, either. It simply means that He is without any flaw whatsoever, which takes into account all that we can’t know or discover from within this life. God does not make mistakes and has never thought “oops” to Himself. His mind does not change because only something imperfect that is dependent upon something else needs to change. Everything good exists because He created it; and everything bad exists because He allowed what He created to be rejected, resulting in the lack of good, or as we would say “evil.” Therefore, all good and evil are within His power. The only reason we ultimately exist or have the ability to consciously know that we exist is because of God.
2. We cannot earn our way into heaven, and we do not deserve to be there.
Verses: Ephesians 2:8-9, Acts 4:12, Isaiah 64:6, Titus 3:5, Romans 5:18
Implications: This is the idea of grace. If I can accomplish good standing with God just by having good intentions or reasonable behavior, then there is no need for Jesus to have been sacrificed as a ransom for the world. If God would let me into his eternal presence (heaven) despite my lack of credentials, then He is no longer perfect and, therefore, unworthy of the worship He asks of me. Do you see how this can unravel very quickly if we approach the idea of heaven as something that God owes us, or something that He grants carelessly to us? Our acceptance into heaven has to be purely a gift from God that He has chosen to offer us out of His own, perfect love. That is how the focus remains on what God has given to us rather than what man has done for himself. Earning heaven immediately makes our faith self-focused, which is ridiculous since not one of us is alive according to our own efforts. We are unworthy to be worshipped, by ourselves or by another.
3. Every human is incapable of accomplishing pure goodness on his own.
Verses: Romans 3:23, Romans 5:12, Isaiah 59:2, 2 Corinthians 5:21
Implications: Something is broken inside each of us that makes us especially vulnerable to corruption, greed, hatred, lust, and all-around dishonesty. The Bible calls this “sin.” When we trust ourselves over God’s leadership, we are motivated by selfish desires in a really destructive way that undeniably puts us at odds with God and all of His perfection, with other people, the rest of creation, and even with ourselves. Left to ourselves, we will always and inevitably screw things up in royal fashion. If this was not true, then it would be possible to earn a ticket to heaven, which, again, takes all glory away from the Creator and places it solely onto man’s exceptionalism.
4. Jesus was born of a virgin mother with no biological or “earthly” father. He possessed the heavenly Spirit of God, lived a remarkable and sinless life, was killed as the only sacrifice capable of paying for the sins of the world, rose from the dead, and will return at the end of time as we know it.
Verses: Matthew 1:23, Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 53:3-7, Zechariah 9:9, Hebrews 4:15, 1 John 3:5, Mark 10:45, Mark 16, Luke 24, 1 Corinthians 15:4, Romans 4:25, Matthew 24, John 14:1-3
Implications: The virgin birth and perfect life are tough ones for a lot of people to accept. It cannot be folklore, though. A virgin birth was absolutely necessary in order to be without the brokenness that the rest of mankind suffers from. Part of Him had to have been more than merely a man to achieve what no man could do for Himself. This is how Christians will almost-casually say He was “fully man and fully God.” Jesus possessed the fatherly “DNA” of God Himself, not through sex, but through God’s Spirit, which is able to do and create anything. If you say that God could not have impregnated a woman without sex, then you have to also say that God could not have created the universe.
Jesus was killed as a sacrifice, which was ultimately a response to God’s perfection. Because God is perfect, He needed a way to justify our acceptance into heaven. Without a perfect sacrifice to punish our imperfections, God would again be imperfect for letting us be in His presence.
Believe it or not, much of this is actually historically reliable by our own scholarly standards. Many different sources agree that Jesus was an exceptional person whose miracles and influence were widely known about despite having no good political reason to be remembered historically. Those same sources, including non-Christian sources, also attest to the way He was killed, which Jesus actually predicted Himself. This prediction and dozens of other details of Jesus’ life were in line with the predictions of several books that are each believed to be written from the inspiration of God several hundred years before Jesus was born. To add icing to the cake, the men who were closest to this historical man we call Jesus each thought it worthwhile to give up their own lives over the alternative of simply recanting their astonishingly identical claims that Jesus rose from the dead. They chose death despite receiving no earthly wealth or pleasure from this belief. They simply believed it was true and that its implications were worth their earthly lives.
It’s important to note here that it was only Jesus’ death that paid for our sins. His resurrection only made that death something to talk about for the next two thousand years.
5. Believing that Jesus was who He said He was and did what history tells us He did is the necessary requirement that allows His sacrifice to cover our own sins as well.
Verses: John 3:16, John 5:24, Romans 5:1, Philippians 3:9, Romans 10:9, Acts 16:31, Matthew 7:21, Galatians 5:6
Implications: This means true belief, not an apathetic and nonchalant “yeah sure” shoulder shrug. Everything that a man or woman truly believes ultimately has an immediate and wide-reaching impact on actions, purpose, and worldview. Belief simply because it would be convenient if it were true fails to take our motives outside of our own selfishness. True belief comes with this little thing called “humility” that recognizes God’s pure worthiness above our own. If He has done this, then God can be trusted above all things, including our own thoughts that are influenced by the constant battle of selfishness. What we firmly believe is inevitably shown by our willingness to live by it and even offer our lives in defense of it.
Friends, that is the gospel message. There are different details, personalities, and even abuses that get mixed in by different folks, but these are the five elements of Christianity that you cannot change or take away and still call yourself a Christian. So the question is, do you believe this? What parts do you struggle with when you take a good, honest look at all of it?
If you’ve been ascribing yourself to the Christian title but have fundamental issues with any of these and simply cannot accept them, it’s okay to stop calling yourself a Christian. I think it would be healthier if you did, actually. However, I hope you at least see how this is a topic that, given the ramifications it claims, deserves more than one skeptical opinion shared by a friend about why people can be trusted more than our creator on issues like homosexuality or abortion. It deserves a closer look at what Christianity is and also why it views those issues with such a firm stance. I promise it’s not hate. I’m sorry some Christians have done such a terrible job at living and loving like Jesus that people think it is hatred.
My prayer is that you won’t just leave your doubts unpursued. If you’re a church-goer, keep going and don’t be afraid to ask some tough questions of your pastors. Do some research and find out what Christian scholars would say about your objections. There’s an entire field of research that is dedicated to answering those tough questions. It’s called “apologetics” and it honors observations from every other field of science–cosmology, biology, psychology, and even forensics. It may be encouraging to see that some of the most astonishingly brilliant and articulate minds of not-just-ancient history have maintained a Christian worldview despite thinking of the same questions you have, and more. Two examples that make great reads are C.S. Lewis and Ravi Zacharias.
And to those of you who passed the “test” and believe in the entire gospel, we’re all united under a single cause: mission. It hasn’t changed. Our purpose is still to represent and share these five elements of reality to the people God has put on our path. We are the ambassadors He has chosen to make His appeal to others. Let’s let every aspect of our lives–our careers, friendships, families, marriages, and even our pleasures– be motivated by this responsibility.