Saturday, March 15, 2014

Why is Christianity Different? (2 Reasons)

I've been a Christian for the majority of my life, however a lot of that time I was Christian in name only.  It's been just over ten years since I truly understood what a dedicated life of Christ would mean for me; a ten years full of struggle, challenge and adventure.

My fridge magnet says, Faith makes things possible, not easy.

Last week, I listened to a radio program that distilled the difference between Judaism and Islam.  That got me thinking about what makes my faith - my acceptance of and life with Christ - unique.  This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but it boils down ten years of trying to articulate my faith.  It has not always been easy to say why I'm a Christian - even though the biggest reason remains God's faithfulness.

Because the Lord didn't just give me a heart, He also gave me a mind, I wanted to understand.  As my best friend says, I want to know that I know that I know.  I'm getting there.  This is but a glimpse into why Christ is attractive to me.  There are many mysteries I have yet to grasp and perhaps never will this side of eternity.  But for now, this is my comprehension of why Christianity is different from any other religion in the world; just two reasons:

1. Love;
2. Life now and in eternity.

The Apostle John wrote the definitive work on love, both in the Gospel that bears his name and in the pastoral letters he wrote.  In his first letter to the churches of old, he talks about a kind of love that gives us the ability to respond differently then we ordinarily would.  In 1 John 3:16, he writes this,

This is how we have come to know love: He laid down His life for us.  We should also lay down our lives for our brothers.

It is a different rendering of Jesus' command in Matthew 22:37-40 (which I'm currently writing a trilogy of books on!),

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command.  The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.

I will tell you why God's love makes all the difference.  Because God's love brings forgiveness from sin, reconciliation, redemption which leads to a meaningful (and purposeful) life.  God's love means that this religion is a relationship(I shared a story about that on Wednesday, read it here.)  We don't have to be great, or even good, to be in relationship with Our Creator.  We have a Savior, in Jesus, who makes things plain, makes the way back possible.  He reveals the very heart of God.  He is, as John also writes, The Word made Flesh. (John 1:14).

No other religion on the planet makes the claim to be God and to do all Jesus did, and because of love.   No other religion gives a way to Heaven that is based on God's work, not our own.  It seems almost ridiculously easy to me sometimes.  It seemed far out, hard to believe for many years - but in the end, who wants a God you can understand?  I'd rather live in His unending love and grace then really understand the depth of His mystery.

Which leads to my next point: living it out.  Donald Miller, in his epic book Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Spirituality, states this,

Dying for something is easy because it is associated with glory. Living for something is the hard thing. Living for something extends beyond fashion, glory, or recognition. We live for what we believe.

We pitch Christ, often, as the way to be saved from the fiery furnace of Hell and be in the eternal glory of Paradise.  Other religions have a way to do that too.  Other religions also have a way to live fruitful, good lives.  But no other religion really has a way to combine both, until Jesus.

We only tell half of the Gospel if we don't communicate Christianity as a way to Heaven and a way to Heaven on Earth.  If Jesus' life shows us anything, we are to focus on life here and now just as much as eternity.  They are not mutually exclusive.  He said in John 10:10,

I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows). (AMP)

No one else in history was more about the present tense AND the eternal at the same time then Jesus.

He enjoyed His life on Earth, lived the very best He possibly could.  The catch is: He did it in God's power, not His own human strength.  Eugene Peterson, in his introduction to the Book of Proverbs, articulates this difference in the Christian faith, 

...the way we think of and respond to God is the most practical thing we do.  In matters of everyday practiciality, nothing, absolutely nothing, takes precedence over God. 

Living our live in response to God's love, finished work and future promises leads to the most joyful of ways to walk through this world.  We find freedom, from sin, heartache, addiction.  We find victory over those things that consistently hold us back.  We find an inexhaustible source of hope, peace, joy, patience, kindness, etc.  We bless others at the same time.

For me, I've found much needed perspective.  I've found a way to remove the self-created drama from my life.  I don't have to be stuck in the everyday frustrations, aggravations and troubles.  Certainly, troubles will come (Jesus promised that too) but I don't have to be crippled by them.  Walking with Christ has made me thoughtful, insightful and clever.  I was these things before the Holy Spirit started His work, but now in a much greater capacity because I'm not weighed down with reacting solely out of what I know.

I'm not so much result oriented now as process directed. Certainly, study, introspection and a teachable heart are integral to this process of sanctification. The summary of this second point comes from one of my favorite films, The Shawshank Redemption.  I'll save you the plot, except for this one line,

Get busy living; or get busy dying.

Love and whole-living are things that last. They are legacies to be grasped now.  Yes, I will love and live imperfectly - all of God's people do.  The Church isn't perfect and we should cut it's members some slack.  We should cut ourselves some slack.  Perfection will be attained, one day, when we join Christ or He comes back to us.  For now, reaching for His love and His life is what really makes Christians different from the rest.

I look forward to any comments on this, and how you've articulated your faith in Christ to others.  Let's make this good discussion fodder for the Church to grow, not wallow in our differences.  

Oh, and thanks for listening.

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