What is a Christian?

Is a Christian someone who lives a good life? Or someone born in a Western country? Or someone pretty much the same as any other kind of religious person trying to reach God?

The Bible says a Christian is none of these things, and certainly not just a good person – in fact, the opposite. Jesus was from the Middle East. Christianity did not originate in the West, and large numbers of Christians live in Africa, South America and Asia today. Nor is the Bible’s definition of Christianity to do with trying to live a moral life. The Bible’s picture of the world is that none of us are ‘good’ enough, by our own efforts, for God’s good standards for our world. We can see this when we look at the pain and injustice caused by the human race. We are not good enough for a just God to gloss over our wrongs and the hurt caused between individuals, family members, ethnic groups, and whole nations.

Christianity’s message is not simply a moral code. It is not a book of rules but the message of what God has done to deal with the problem of our wrongs and our broken world. He came to the world to pay our debt and mend our relationship with him. He made a way to restore our connection with him, and give us his spirit to change us from the inside out. Instead of giving us rules to follow he has made a way that we can be set free from the condemnation these rules only highlight. He has made a way to give us a relationship with him in order to change what is wrong in our lives and hearts. The Bible says:

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. – Romans 3:23

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. – Galatians 5:22-23 (This part of the Bible in Galatians talks about how Christians live life following God’s spirit not following their own human desires).

Becoming a Christian means two things – firstly admitting we have wronged God and others. We have all been proud, jealous of others’ lives and belongings, and not completely honest. We’ve all acted with hate, anger, bitterness, unkindness and so on. We humans may have a good and beautiful side, as valuable people made in God’s image, but we also have the ability to destroy our and others’ happiness. God is not longing to condemn us but longing to forgive us and make things right between us and him, as soon as we admit our need for his forgiveness and help.

Secondly, becoming a Christian means making a new start, with the God who invented human life as the god in our lives. It means not living with ourselves as the highest motivation driving our choices and actions. We are no longer living with our happiness as our highest goal in life but living for God, and for what matters to him. When we do this, with God’s help, we begin to live selfless lives and see the reality of God at work in this world.

To become a Christian we don’t need to pay a penance for our sins, or first eradicate our faults in order to face God, he simply wants to help us. He has paid the punishment for all our wrongs in Jesus, who died in our place on the cross. There is nothing left for us to do to earn God’s favour – it is a free gift.

We simply need to ask his forgiveness, relying on what Jesus did for us to make this possible, and beginning to follow Him, with the change of direction described above. The Bible says that when we do this God gives us his Spirit, in our hearts – we are more than just physical human beings trying to change ourself but will see him working in our lives, as we pray and try to follow him. We can see God answering our prayers and find that he is real.

We don’t do this alone. God is building a community of people who should reflect what true community is like. It’s called the church (the people in it not the building). The Church is not perfect, it is full of sinners after all, who are not perfect yet! But if we want to follow God, and believe in Jesus, we do this as a community, learning to relate as people were designed to – people from all backgrounds and ethnicities who value and help each other. We can learn from church leaders who have studied the Bible and can share their knowledge, as we read and discuss the Bible together. Sadly, churches around the world have not always been built on true understanding of the Bible and have not reflected God’s values at all. But in many places around the world you can find genuine followers of Jesus, where barriers between different people have been broken down, and there is a powerful expression of what real friendship and community should be.

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Finding Peace at Christmas

The Bible says God is real, perhaps more real than you imagine, but there is something seriously wrong between us and him. There are a few things it tells us we need to do:

Face up to the problem

Most of us think of ourselves as decent people. But although we may not be murderers or thieves, we’ve all been angry or proud, looked down on others, said or thought bad things about others, tried to hide the truth. The Bible says all these things mean we fall short of God’s standards. It’s not just our actions but our wrong thoughts – the things on the inside – that are sins in God’s eyes and where the problems in our world start. We may not seem bad in our own eyes. It is easy to justify our own behaviour to ourselves. But God is perfect, and he doesn’t share our compromised and desensitised standards.

Stop relying on ourselves

We find it hard to forgive others’ words or actions that have hurt us. Yet we feel God will forgive all our wrongs, help us in this life, and accept us into heaven as if we were friends. But the Bible says that God is good, and he has a sense of justice. He cannot ignore wrong but will judge all of us as he brings about justice and divides the good and bad in heaven and hell. We are guilty of breaking God’s rules and the shocking truth is that the Bible says we are ‘alienated from God’ and his enemies because of our wrong behaviour (Colossians 1:21), facing his condemnation not reward. It is a dangerous place to be. We cannot rely on our own merit.

Yet the Bible says God loves us and doesn’t want to punish us. He gave everything to offer us a way out. He has paid, himself, what his justice demands, so he can forgive us. This is where the Christmas story starts – God entered our world, not to condemn us, but as a baby in humble settings, to sympathise with us and help us – ultimately to die in our place on the cross, paying for all our wrongs. Unbelievably, the Bible says, God himself ‘did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45)! This is how valuable we are to God and how much he loves us, though we have ignored him. 

Make a new start

God wants us to know him, and to start living life following his good instructions in the Bible. We desperately need to do this, and to take up his offer of forgiveness, to make things right between us and him, in this life and the next. Christianity is not about doing good to earn a reward or escape guilt, but simply coming to God, faults and all, to live with his help. As we do this we can start to experience the reality of his existence and help in our lives. Why not do just that this Christmas?

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Easter – What’s it all about?

She cheated on him.

He loved her. He gave her everything she could want.
But she wanted more. She wanted to be the boss.

It’s how the Easter Story starts – right back at the beginning: a story of him and her. The Bible describes it as a lover’s betrayal – but it’s talking about God and us. He created a beautiful world, perfect satisfaction of every kind, but we left him. We broke the rules. We’ve gone against the loving morals God created for life. In every unkind word, thought or action, we rebel against God.

What happened next? We cut ourselves off from the maker of the universe, and the world we see shows it – war, natural disaster, and human evil – suffering, in this life, and in the next. But …

… He didn’t give up. He didn’t owe her anything, but he loved her. She meant everything to him. He gave everything to get her back.

Wrongs cannot be ignored or swept under the carpet. But she had nothing to give to make it up to the one who had given her everything. So he sent someone to rescue her – to rescue their relationship. Someone to pay for her wrongs. And not just anyone – he paid for them himself.

Easter is the story of the greatest act of forgiveness – a man called ‘Jesus’ (meaning ‘Rescuer’), unjustly executed in AD33. His good life and teaching had created enemies with the religious hypocrits of the day. Even worse to them, he claimed to be God – something incredibly arrogant, unless it were true. But this God came not to condemn – as they were so good at doing – but to serve a human sentence, die a human death, and pay for the things that hurt him most – our wrongs.

He, she – did they meet again?
He forgave. Did she return?

The Easter Story has an open ending, we write it ourselves. Will you keep running, or will you return to the one who loves you more than anyone ever can – the one who gave everything for you – the relationship that makes us truly alive: spiritually, emotionally, physically?

Jesus died and returned from death to prove he really was God’s rescue plan – the one who could take away the sentence we have brought on ourselves. He made it possible for people to do the unthinkable, to become friends with God – forgiven and accepted, in this world and the next – not through our merit but his.

It’s Easter. Are you ready for a new start? Are you ready for a new relationship?

All of us have done wrong, and fallen short of God’s goodness. But God treats us much better than we deserve … Even when we were God’s enemies, he made peace with us, because Christ died for us. From Romans chapters 3:23 and 5:10, The Bible

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