What comes to mind when you hear someone talking about Christianity? Perhaps you think of people who go around bashing other people with their Bible! Perhaps you have a vague recollection of a man called Jesus Christ who lived in Palestine thousands of years ago? Or maybe Christianity makes you think of endless Church services with long sermons? Well here’s news for you. Being a Christian is none of these things. Being a Christian is about having an active, personal relationship with the Almighty living God.
You don’t have to look too far to realise that today’s world is full of problems: Greed, selfishness, hunger, war, terrorism, hate, broken relationships and more. Throughout the world, there are people doing their best to improve the situation but their efforts only seem to scratch the surface. Have things always been this bad? What is the root cause of these problems? Here’s the bad news. We’re the problem. When God created the world, He created a perfect place. He created men and women to live in the world under His authority and enjoy a fulfilled personal relationship with Him.
“Acknowledge that the Lord is God! He made us and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” (Psalm 100:3)
But God doesn’t force us into the relationship. He lets us choose. He gives us the free will to choose whether to accept or reject Him, to choose whether to accept or reject His Commandments.
Maybe you have never consciously accepted or rejected God. Maybe you have.
Imagine the whole of your life projected onto a massive screen in front of you. The film shows every single aspect of your life – everything you have ever done, said or even thought. Nothing is omitted. I wonder how you would feel about watching that film – especially in the presence of everybody else involved!
You might feel like the man in court who pleading innocence, listens for several hours to the court proceedings, and then shouts, “I’m guilty!” the judge turns to him and says, “Why didn’t you say that several hours ago?” “Well,” replies the man, “I didn’t realise I was guilty until I heard all the evidence!” Often we go through life thinking we haven’t done anything wrong – until we stop to examine the evidence.
How do you view God’s commandments? As out-of-date, irrelevant rules and restrictions that stop us having fun – or as wise instructions on how to live in harmony with God and with each other?
Here are God’s Ten Commandments in modern English. How do you score?
1. Have you always put God at the centre of your life, where He ought to be?
2. Have you ever put anything or anyone else in the place of God in your life?
3. Have you ever used the Name of God, Christ or Jesus carelessly or insincerely?
4. Have you always kept one day each week for worship of God and for rest?
5. Have you always respected and honoured your parents?
6. Have you ever murdered anyone – or even hated anyone?
7. Have you ever committed adultery? Have you ever had impure thoughts about another person?
8. Have you ever stolen anything?
9. Have you ever told a lie or half-truth to another person or about another person?
10. Have you ever been jealous of what is not yours?
Failure to keep these instructions that God has given us is called sin and it affects us all.
“Sin” is a word that has lost its true meaning. Because we use the word “sin” lightly, we don’t take its reality seriously. Most people think sin doesn’t matter, or that it is quite fun.
God however does take sin seriously. When we ignore God’s instructions, we are ignoring Him. We are turning our backs on Him and rejecting Him. Because God is perfect, He can’t tolerate our sin and so it creates a barrier between us and Him. It prevents us from having the loving, personal relationships He wants us to have with Him.
“Now the Lord observed the extent of the people’s wickedness, and he saw that all their thoughts were consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them. It broke his heart. ” (Genesis 6:5-6)
When there is a breakdown between two parties, a mediator is often brought in to represent the two sides and bring them back together. We have a breakdown between us and God, but who is qualified to represent both God and humankind? Only someone who is both God and human.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God came into the world as a human to restore communication between us and God and to give us a new relationship with Him.
“Christ also suffered when he died for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners that he might bring us safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit.” (1 Peter 3:18)
Think back to that man in the courtroom. Having heard all the evidence, the judge pronounces his judgement: “Guilty”. And the punishment – the maximum fine. The man just stands there in the dock, shocked at the severity of the sentence. Then suddenly, the judge comes down from his seat, walks over to the man and hands him a cheque for the full amount of the fine.
In the same way, God judges our lives. He looks at all of our thoughts, words and actions. He weighs up the evidence and pronounces His judgment: “Guilty”. Guilty of turning our back on God, and failing to live by His instructions. And the punishment – separation from Him, not only now but for eternity.
“He will come with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, bringing judgement on those who don’t know God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction, forever separated from the Lord and from his glorious power.” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9)
But, having judges us, God then acts to save us from serving that eternal sentence by sending His only Son, Jesus Christ, to take the punishment we deserve. Jesus died on a cross and, because He died, we don’t have to face the punishment for our sin. He took our place. As well as showing us how much God hates sin, this also shows us how much He loves us. God sent His only Son. He was the cheque, signed with His own blood that puts us right with God.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
But Christianity does not end with Jesus’ funeral.
Imagine you are walking down the street. You reach a point where the road branches into two and you don’t know which way to go. Two men are lying there – one is dead, one is alive. Which one would you ask for directions?
Three days after Jesus died on the cross Jesus came back to life again. Jesus is alive today, which means that we can communicate with Him and find direction in our lives.
“However, God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life again, for death could not keep him in its grip.”
Jesus is not physically on earth today, but His living Holy Spirit is within every person who has become a Christian. The Holy Spirit is within every person who has become a Christian. The Holy Spirit guides us and strengthens us and helps us in our relationship with God and with other people.
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not be presenting his own ideas; he will be telling you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future.” (John 16:13)
If you’re wondering how your relationship with God can be restored, then look to Jesus. He is the only way to God. Jesus said these words:
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
The first thing to do is to admit that we are separated from God because we have ignored Him. We need a mediator who will step in and mend the broken relationship between us and God. We must admit that we deserve punishment because of our sin.
As we look at what Jesus did on the cross for us, we realise that He has taken the punishment we deserve and has therefore dealt with our sin. Committing our lives to Jesus Christ brings God’s forgiveness and new life. In the physical world, a new life is created as soon as conception takes place. In the spiritual world, new life begins when someone commits his or her life to Jesus Christ and so receives the Holy Spirit and the new life Jesus offers. That person is ‘born again.’
It is one thing to admit that we have sinned and to begin a new relationship with God by committing our lives to Him. It is quite another thing to continue that relationship and live it out, day by day. Submitting to God involves living as God wants us to live. We must allow God to work in our lives and gradually change us into the kind of person He wants us to be. God does not leave us to handle this alone. It is not like turning over a new leaf or having a moral clean-up. His Holy Spirit comes into our lives to help us become more like Jesus. Every day, He guides and strengthens us and helps us to serve God.
If you want to begin a new relationship with God, then say these words as a prayer to Jesus, who is the way to God:
“Thank you, Jesus, for dying on the cross.
Thank you, Jesus, that I can come to You now because you are alive.
I admit that I have lived my life without You and that I have broken Your laws.
I commit myself to You and I ask for Your forgiveness.
I receive You into my life by Your Holy Spirit.
Help me to submit my life to Your teaching and to your direction from this moment on. Amen.”
Asking Jesus into your life is just the first step – like shaking hands with someone you have just met. But getting to know someone well takes time and effort. It is the same with Jesus.
We can get to know Jesus better through the Bible, through prayer and through the local church.
The Bible is a library of sixty-six books, in two parts – the Old Testament, and the New Testament. Don’t be tempted to think that only some of the Bible is relevant. It is God’s Word and full of sound and vital advice.
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realise what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
The Old Testament teaches us that there is one true God. It tells us about many different aspects of His character and shows us how to live in a way that is pleasing to Him. The New Testament starts with the Gospels. What Jesus said and did as presented from different perspectives by four of his disciples: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Next is the Book of Acts, which explains how the Christian Church started to grow. Then come twenty-one letters written to churches and individuals to guide them over difficulties and misunderstandings. The last book, Revelation is an encouragement to look beyond the present to what God has in store for his people.
Reading and studying the Bible, in a modern translation such as the New Living Translation will increase your understanding of God. It will help to develop and strengthen your character, and show you the person God wants you to be in today’s world.
If you are not very familiar with the Bible, the Gospel of John may be a good place to start. It describes the life of Jesus, and some of the amazing things He did. It tells of His death on the cross and how He rose from the dead.
Jesus longs for us to have a deep friendship with Him. The key to any friendship is communication and the way that we communicate with Jesus is through prayer. Just as the Bible is God’s way of speaking to us, prayer is the way we speak to God. Jesus’ twelve disciples asked Him how to pray and He said:
“Pray like this: “Our Father in heaven, may your name be honoured. May your kingdom come soon. May your Will be done here on earth, just as it is in heaven. Give us our food for today, and forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but deliver us from the evil one”.” (Matthew 6:9-13)
The first three statements of this prayer are all concerned with God and how great He is. It is always good to start our prayers by remembering how great God is and praying that what He wants will be done. As you do this, you may become conscious of things you have done wrong since you last spoke to Him. Acknowledge that you may have hurt Him, someone else or even yourself. Say sorry to God and you will receive His forgiveness.
“But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.” (1 John 1:9)
Jesus then said, ‘Give us today our daily bread.’ Pray about the day ahead and ask God to provide for your basic needs.
‘And lead us not into temptation.’ Pray for God’s strength in the various situations that you will find yourself in. Pray for wisdom and insight. Pray for guidance in knowing how to react in those particular situations.
So, spend some time each day praying to God. You don’t have to use long or special words, God will always hear you. However, because He knows what’s best for us, He does not always answer our prayers in the way we expect. Sometimes God says ‘yes’, sometimes, ‘no’ and sometimes the answer is ‘wait.’
If you are a Christian, you are part of the family of God. So don’t go it alone. Belonging to a church, particularly a small group within it, will bring you regularly in touch with other people who also know Jesus and are part of the same family. They can encourage you – and you can encourage them.
“And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:25)
In a church, you will be able to worship God – to give expression to the joy and thankfulness that is in your heart. And you will be able to receive teaching to stimulate your mind, to inspire you and to nourish you.
The church is not a cruise liner on which we glide to heaven. It is a battleship that requires all hands on deck as it fights its way through life to a tremendous destination. So get involved! As well as joining some kind of small group, why not try to find some way you can help out – Sunday School, the Youth Group, servicing coffee or helping those in need?
You may be experiencing a whole range of feelings – or you may be feeling no different at all. It is important to reflect on the implications of the commitment you have made. At some stage, you will need to explain to your friends what you have done.
It will not be long before you realise you are in a fight. The Christian life is not a bed of roses. The Devil, who is also called Satan, does all he can to ruin our relationship with God. There will be hard times but those hard times produce character and the goal of eternal life with our Heavenly Father makes it all worth it!
“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us – they help us to learn to endure. And endurance develops strength of character in us, and character strengthens our confident expectation of salvation And this expectation will not disappoint us. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” (Romans 5:3-5)
So don’t give up on reading the Bible, talking to your Heavenly Father and going to Church. Once we have committed our lives to Jesus, we can have complete assurance that our relationship with God is restored. It doesn’t depend on our circumstances or on our feelings. As Christians we base our assurance on three facts:
1. The Word of God - the Bible
We can be sure that the Bible is true and that God will keep His promises. He will keep His Word and never let us go.
2. The Work of Christ
We can be sure that, on the cross, Jesus Christ took the punishment for our sin, dealing with it once and for all. His rising from the dead is proof of this.
3. The Witness of the Holy Spirit
That the Holy Spirit helps us to pray and to call God ‘Father’ is a witness itself. We can be sure that He will help and protects us and bring us into God’s Kingdom.
Those three facts are rather like the legs of a three-legged stool. When all three legs are there, we are secure. So when you come up against hard times, persevere. Keep on keeping.
“I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.” Philippians 3:14
This article is used with kind permission from The Philo Trust