What Is Christianity?
by Rich Deem

Introduction

In its broadest sense, Christianity is a religion based upon the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, who lived in Palestine during the first century. However, if Christianity is lived as merely a set of teachings and rules to be followed, it misses the main points that Jesus taught. First and foremost, Christianity is anchored in love—God's love for us and our response to that love. This page will examine what is Christianity and how it should be lived by those who profess to be its followers.

Why Religion?

Many skeptics think that religion is a waste of time—or worse. I tend to agree. I am a Christian, but I don't consider myself a particularly religious person. Christianity is much more than just religion.

Rich Deem

The basis of Christianity

Christianity was derived from Judaism. Under Judaism, the Hebrew Old Testament writings formed the basis of a covenant between God (Yahweh) and the people of Israel. According to the prophecies found in those writings, God was going to send the Messiah (anointed One), who would bless not only the Israelites, but all the peoples of the world. The prophecies set out not only the nature of the Messiah, but pinpointed His place and date of birth, along with dozens of other specific characteristics. Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled these prophecies in exquisite detail. Jesus' purpose was two-fold. First, according to both Old and New Testament writings, Jesus was God, who took on human form to teach us about Himself and His path to salvation (eternal life). Second, Jesus was to provide the ultimate sacrifice (death on a Roman cross) for sins (the bad things we do), so that we could be with Him forever in heaven. To prove that He was God and that the sacrifice was efficacious, Jesus rose from the dead. So, according to Christianity, Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah—the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies and God of all.

Teachings of Jesus

Although Jesus did not teach anything radically different from that of the Old Testament, He simplified the main points so that people could not escape into a pure exercise of religious ceremonies. The Old Testament describes many laws (both moral and ceremonial) that were to be followed by the people of God. With so many laws, people tended to become selective, preferring to follow the easier ceremonial laws over the more difficult moral laws (Matthew 23:23).1 The religious ruling class was especially susceptible to selective obedience of the law, resulting in moral hypocrisy. Jesus explained that the moral commandments were not to be followed merely to the letter of the law, but also to the intent of the law. So, it was not enough to abstain from adultery, but God required that one not even look on a woman with lust (Matthew 5:27-28).2 Likewise, it is not enough to abstain from murder, but God requires that nobody hate another without cause, with calling another person "a fool" making one guilty enough to suffer the judgment of Hell (Matthew 5:21-22).3 So God's laws require not only perfect performance, but also perfect attitude and motive.

Jesus said the entire law of God could be summarized into a mere two commands:

Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:37-40)

So, the fundamental principle that defines the Christian experience is love—love of God and love of our fellow human beings. So, a person who merely loves his fellow man is only fulfilling half of the law, and is neglecting what Jesus said was the most important partóloving God.

Salvation

Since God's standard for behavior is perfection in thought and deed, we are going to find it very difficult to meet God's standard. However, since God loves us so much, He has provided another means by which we can attain perfection. Jesus, as God, took on the form of a human being and lived on the earth in the first century.4 Besides teaching, His main purpose was to provide the ultimate sacrifice for sins, by living a completely sinless life,5 dying on a cross,6 and rising from the dead.7 It is through belief in Jesus and His sacrifice for sins that one is declared righteous and free from sin.8 One who believes in Jesus follows Him,9 being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who guides Christians as they become conformed to the image of Christ.10

Sanctification

Sanctification is a fancy theological term that describes the process by which a Christian becomes more and more like Jesus.10 Perfection is not possible in this world, but God wants us to love Him and our fellow human beings more (Matthew 22:37-40). So, a Christian's life is not over once he/she makes a commitment to Jesus. To be a fulfilled Christian, a follower of Jesus is to study the Bible, the source of God's word to His people. In addition, Christians are to attend a fellowship of other believers on a regular basis for instruction, fellowship, worship, and service.11 God has prepared ahead of time a lifetime of good works that we should do (Ephesians 2:10),12 which fulfills both great commandments—love of God and love of our fellow human beings.

Conclusion Top of page

Christianity is more than a religion. Christianity is a way of life based upon one's love of God and love of people. Christianity is also a commitment to personal integrity and truth. Unfortunately, these days many Christians tend to be characterized by political activism and rhetoric, rather than doing the works of Jesus. My prayer for you, the reader, is that you become a true disciple of Jesus, with love for one another (John 13:34-35).13



References Top of page

  1. "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. (Matthew 23:23)
  2. "You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY'; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28)
  3. "You have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. (Matthew 5:21-22)
  4. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)
  5. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
  6. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)
  7. The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told you." (Matthew 28:5-7)
    For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. (Romans 6:9-10)
  8. We are justified (declared righteous) on the basis of faith (belief in Jesus Christ):
    • Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, (Romans 5:1)
    • Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Romans 10:4)
    • God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
    • For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith." (Romans 1:17)
    • Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— (Romans 3:20-25)
    • What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Philippians 3:8-9)
    • know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:16)
  9. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. (Matthew 4:19-22)
    But Jesus told him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead." (Matthew 8:22)
    As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. (Matthew 9:9)
    "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:37-38)
    Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)
    Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." (Matthew 19:21)
    Peter answered him, "We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?" Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matthew 19:27-28)
    As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." (Mark 1:16-17)
    AAs he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. (Mark 2:14)
    Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. (Mark 8:34-35)
    Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." (Mark 10:21)
    and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon's partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men." So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:10-11)
    After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. "Follow me," Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:27-28)
    Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24)
    He said to another man, "Follow me." But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family." Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:59-62)
    "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26-27)
    When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." (Luke 18:22)
    The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, "Look, the Lamb of God!" When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. (John 1:35-37)
    The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, "Follow me." (John 1:43)
    When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12)
  10. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29)
  11. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:25)
  12. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)
  13. "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35)

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Last Modified August 10, 2011

 

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