Friday, September 10, 2010

The Essence of Christianity

A topic that has been very much on my mind lately is the essence of Christianity.   Do we who calls ourselves Christians really know what we mean when we say we are Christians?  What is real Christianity?

So many people have so many different ideas of what Christianity is and means.  To some it is attending a church as opposed to a mosque or a synagogue, believing about God, and perhaps being baptized by one form or another.  To some it is merely doing nice or good things, and having good feelings about God.  To others it is yelling, "Beware of the judgment to come!", "God hates gays!" and "You're going to crack hell wide open!" at the top of their lungs, burning Korans, and slamming various individuals who don't think just the same way as they do; or it is to dress a certain way and refrain from certain holidays and practices in order to stand out from anyone else.  I am afraid that over half of the people who call themselves "Christians" don't even know what true Christianity is, much like the Pharisees of Jesus' day did not know what true religion is, and are very tragically deceived.

Christianity is not merely a "faith" or a name by which to call oneself.  It is not doing "nice" things or violently defending a cause, however good the cause may be.  In fact, these things done apart from Him disgust Him. Over and over throughout the Bible, particularly in the prophets, God expresses his abhorrence for religionist's ritualistic practices, fancy prayers, and smart words with no true passion for Him.  Repeatedly, He voices His displeasure in those who honor Him with their lips, but whose hearts are far from Him...who teach as doctrines the commandments of men". 

However, He does tell us very clearly, and very frequently, what true religion is.

"For You will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; You will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." (Psalm 51:16,17)

"But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word." (Isaiah 66:2b)

"For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord." (Ephesians 5:8-10)

"'With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?'  He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:6-8)

INTERRUPTION:  There you have it in three simple, straightforward phrases that cannot be debated:
Do justice.
Love kindness.
Walk humbly with your God.

In the new testament, Jesus words the same message in another way and sums up the essence of Christianity in not three phrases but in one word-- LOVE, which goes hand in hand with the humility spoken of in the previous verses (because neither love or humility can have any thought of self).

"And he said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.'" (Matthew 22:37-39)

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)

In the letter to the Philippians, Paul, inspired by God, confesses that everything-- his distinguished heritage, his flawless behavior, his zeal and works-- were nothing, absolutely nothing, they were all loss because of "the surpassing worth of KNOWING CHRIST." (Philippians 3:2-11)

There you have it.  These verses and hundreds more tell me that the essence of Christianity is, in the words of George MacDonald, to "know God and grow like Him".  And as we come to know God as He is, we will most certainly come to love Him, and as we grow like Him, we will think less of ourselves and come to have in us that same love for others with which He loved us.  For there cannot be true Christianity without the fruit of works pleasing to God, and there cannot be true Christianity in a heart that is marked by and full of hate or pride.  And there can be no Christianity without coming to know, for oneself, and to love with all that is in us, Jesus Christ of whom the Bible speaks, Jesus Christ who created, saves, and sustains us.

To know God and grow like Him.

This is the essence of Christianity.

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