What is Christianity?
To be a Christian is to be an apprentice of Jesus Christ. To be an apprentice (or disciple) is to be learning to live and think as Jesus teaches us to. Living the way Jesus taught us means we are people of God’s kingdom. “The kingdom” is where God is king. A kingdom is where the king’s will is done. When God’s will is done, God’s kingdom becomes a reality in our lives and in the world around us. Sometimes we think of the kingdom of God as the afterlife, but according to Jesus’ teaching the kingdom is a reality right now, though it is not in its fully developed form yet. God is the Source of all joy, beauty, love, and peace. The kingdom is an expression of God’s character and will reflect that joy, beauty, love, and peace.
When Jesus began preaching he proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near: repent and believe in the Good News!” (Mark 1:14-15). The “Gospel”, or “Good News”, is understood in a variety of ways in the New Testament:
- victory over death and eternal life;
- freedom from bondage (guilt, sin, evil, shame);
- a new relationship with God;
- a new understanding of God and His love;
- the fulfillment of God’s plan for humanity, etc.
The Good News means that God’s kingdom is available in all its multi-dimensional reality. To “repent” means to change your direction. It means both to turn away from the unhelpful and towards the good. To become disciples we have to realign our thinking and our lives with the kingdom. We make God our ultimate focus and everything else finds its proper place under God who is our highest priority. Jesus is about bringing the kingdom and seeing it develop fully so that it encompasses all of human experience.
The story Christianity tells is that God created the universe and that it was good and beautiful. Human beings were created to exist in an intimate relationship with God in paradise. God wanted human beings to exist in a free loving relationship where they choose to love Him. To choose to love someone means you also have the freedom to reject them. Human beings used their freewill to turn their back on God. Choosing to reject God meant rejecting the source of life, beauty, joy, and peace. Paradise was lost. Human beings sought to fill the God-shaped hole in their soul with things like wealth, power, and sex. These things are not evil in themselves, but when worshipped they enslave us, and are ultimately unable to fulfill the desires of the soul. Human beings found themselves trapped and overwhelmed by the mess they got themselves into.
God, however, was not content to leave humanity lost and began the process to win them back. He initiated a relationship with certain individuals and their families. Over hundreds of years God formed this family and worked through them to fight against the tide of sin, and spread his love. God desired to restore humanity back to the relationship with Him they were made for, which is where they will find their ultimate happiness.
Eventually, to reveal Himself most clearly, God came to us (mysteriously and amazingly) as a human being- Jesus Christ. When we look at Jesus and hear his words, we experience God. He came to teach us how to live and who God truly is. Eventually, Jesus was killed on a cross by the Romans and his own people. After 3 days he arose from the dead and ascended into heaven.
One of Christ’s mysteries is his death. We are alienated from God and we can’t repair that brokenness on our own. God needs to rescue us. Somehow, Christ’s death heals the separation between humanity and God. While there are many theories about how this works, it is more important that it does work. Christ died on the cross to express God’s love to the world and to heal the divide between God and His creatures. God’s love, expressed through the cross, is a love that sacrificially offers everything for the benefit of the beloved. Jesus, in vulnerability, suffering, forgiveness, and resurrection, (rather than conquest, power and violence) triumphs over the crisis the world finds itself in. Jesus came to teach a new way of life made possible by his life, death, and resurrection- to show us how to live in God’s kingdom on earth.
Christians are those that have accepted Jesus as their king and are apprentices under him learning to live in his kingdom. Empowered by God’s Spirit, we follow Jesus’ teachings in the presence of other Christians (God has most often worked in and through communities and families). As we do so we are constantly being transformed. Our character more and more reflects the character of Jesus Christ. In this transformation we are saved from death and granted eternal life, and also given freedom from things that enslave us (like anger, lust, and worry). This new life is marked by joy, peace, patience, kindness, integrity, generosity, and stability in the face of difficulty. The Christian life is a life where our character is continuously transformed as we learn to live as people of God’s kingdom. This life also reaches out in love to others to serve them in a variety of ways, just as God reached out to us. As we do this God extends His kingdom in our world.
Within Christianity there are numerous kinds of churches. The largest categories are Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox. Each category contains numerous kinds of churches. They each have slightly different emphases and history that has created unique identities and gifts, but it is important to remember that have an incredible commonality at their hearts. We live in an exciting time when many are working to bring greater unity and cooperation to the many varieties of churches. In God’s eyes, there is one church.