This is a seven-part series on why everyone should be a Christian.
Click on the following links (soon to come) to explore the various installments:
(1) The Claims of Christ
(5) The Care of Christ
(6) The Condemnation of Christ
(7) The Change to Christ
British theologian Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998) observed that it
“has become commonplace to say that we live in a pluralistic society — not merely a society which is in fact plural in the variety of cultures, religions, and lifestyles which it embraces, but pluralistic in the sense that this plurality is celebrated as a thing to be approved and cherished” (Newbigin, p. 1).
There is indeed a smorgasbord of faiths from which to choose in the world, causing Babel’s cacophony to echo bewilderingly in the halls of religion today.
Ordinarily, this level of religious confusion would be so unsettling that no reasonable mind could ever think a logical and loving Creator endorsed it (1 Cor. 14.33). But our modern religious climate instead insists that such conflicting diversity is comforting — even commendable.
Biblical Christianity affirms the opposite of all that. It insists that there is “only” one “true God” (Jn. 17.3; 1 Cor. 8.4); that all other forms of religion are idolatrous and false, from which we ought to “flee” (1 Cor. 10.14); that there is only one “way” to Heaven (cf. Jn. 14.6; Acts 4.12; 14.15); and that though Christians are to be forbearing, civil, and neighborly to those who oppose us (cf. Mt. 5.44; Rom. 12.14, 20; 1 Cor. 4.12-13; 1 Pt. 2.11-12, 18ff), we must also take a spiritual stand for the truth and against religious error (cf. 2 Tim. 2.25-26; 4.1-5; Eph. 4.14-15; 6.12ff; 2 Pt. 3.17; etc.).
In light of this dichotomy between the religious atmosphere of our time and the Christian faith, why should anyone today become a Christian? What is so unique or compelling about Christianity that makes it stand out from the rest of the world’s religions? What is it that persuades us to go against the currents of religious sentiment when so many others are heading in the opposite direction?
In a previous article, we explored what being a Christian means (“What Is A Christian?”). Now, we begin a seven-part series on why everyone should be a Christian.
Jesus Christ At The Core
There is at least one thing Christianity has that no other religion in the world can offer: Jesus Christ.
Tim Challies clarified that
“pluralism cannot do justice to the privileged place the Bible gives to Jesus Christ. Every knee must bow before Him. He will judge all peoples. The God of the Bible, revealed as Yahweh in the Old Testament and incarnated as Jesus Christ in the New, is nothing if not a universal God who accepts no rivals. To reject the unique person and work of Jesus Christ is to make an utter mockery of the Bible. To reject His claims is to reject God Himself and to steal from Him the glory that is rightly His” (Challies, p. 130).
These are indeed exalted claims.
On one hand, conscientious Christians look back at the history of the institutional divisions that have arisen in the name of Christianity over the centuries with a fair amount of criticism, disappointment, and even shame. These confusing divisions are by no means endorsed by the Lord (cf. Jn. 17.20-23; 1 Cor. 1.10; 14.33).
But the earlier back to Jesus you go, the more unity you will find among those who profess to follow Christ (cf. Acts 1.14; 2.46; 4.24; 5.12; see “Pre-Denominational Christianity”). Though people may be critical of sectarianism — and rightly so — there is one thing nearly everyone (Christian or otherwise) can agree upon: Nothing is disappointing or shameful about Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the very “foundation” of the Christian faith (1 Cor. 3.11). So before we make the case for Christ (and thus of biblical Christianity), let us learn something about who he was.
The Historical Jesus
In my study “Jesus Christ: Real Or Myth?” I document the evidence of the historicity of Jesus — i.e., that he was a real figure who lived in Palestine two-thousand years ago.
Christianity is indeed more than a set of ethics or ritualistic observances. It is based on the facts of history. Myths like Snow White and Cinderella may be appealing emotionally; they may even engender learning morally; but they are tales that originated in the fanciful imagination of men. Christianity is in an altogether different class.
If the eyewitnesses of Jesus did not hear, see, and touch Jesus in the flesh as they claimed, then Christianity falls apart (cf. 1 Jn. 1.1-4). Professor Donald Hagner put it like this:
“True Christianity, the Christianity of the New Testament documents, is absolutely dependent on history. At the heart of New Testament faith is the assertion that ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself’ (2 Cor. 5.19). The incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as a real event in time and space, i.e., as historical realities, are the indispensable foundations of Christian faith. To my mind, then, Christianity is best defined as the recitation of, the celebration of, and the participation in God’s acts in history, which as the New Testament writings emphasize have found their culmination in Jesus Christ” (Hagner, pp. 73-74).
In part four of this series, I will flesh this point out a bit more. But for now, let us simply note that it is untenable to contend that Jesus of Nazareth did not exist.
So what is so compelling about the historical Jesus?
Sadly, modern culture has watered down the real Jesus. In many circles, he has been reduced to a mere purveyor of platitudes — an agreeable, milquetoast figure about whom anyone can write their own truth; a sort of
“sweet Victorian nanny who pats the heads of boys and girls and offers such advice as, ‘Now, children, you must be nice to your mummy and daddy’…someone kind and reassuring, with no sharp edges at all—a Mister Rogers before the age of children’s television” (Yancey, p. 13).
Others think that Jesus was not just a good man, but a wise man as well, offering a bit more sage philosophical advice than the “sweet Victorian nanny” might. But, just like many of the thinkers of our time, they think he was nothing more than that — a good, wise man. Consequently, we can take what he says or leave it. Unfortunately, most choose to leave it.
In our culture, examining the details of Jesus’ life, teaching, and works is not worth the bother. The apathetic sentiment of today reasons like this: If there is nothing to this Jesus story, then it is not worth my time. And if there is something to it, he is someone who will love me and accept me for who I am anyway, even if I ignore him.
The real Jesus was so much more than these misguided sentiments suggest. Indeed, it was in part due to his fierce confrontations with the religious leaders of his day that his enemies were motivated to kill him. The real Jesus was a radical.
Who Was He, Really?
So let’s briefly explore the very question Jesus posed to his disciples: “What do you think about the Christ?” (Mt. 22.42). What did he say about himself? Who did he claim to be?
A Self-Centered Teacher
The things Jesus said — if not true — are shockingly egocentric.
The prophets of the Old Testament famously prefaced their messages in the third person: “Thus says the Lord” (Isa. 44.6; Zech. 1.3-4; Ezek. 25.3; etc.); “the Lord says” (Isa. 1.24); etc. They did not dare to presume the right to command others purely on their own authority. It was not them but God who issued orders and offered promises.
By contrast, Jesus frequently taught in the first person: “I say to you” (Mt. 5.18ff; 8.10-11; 10.15, 23; 11.9, 11; etc.). This first-person approach “astonished” the crowds, for he was claiming that he had the intrinsic “authority” to tell others how they ought to live (Mt. 7.28-29; cf. Jn. 17.2; Mt. 28.18).
More than that, Jesus’ teaching itself was literally self-centered. “I am the bread of life,” Jesus claimed (Jn. 6.35); “I am the light of the world” (Jn. 8:12); “I am the door” (Jn. 10.9); “I am the good shepherd” (Jn. 10.11, 14); “I am the resurrection and the life” (Jn. 11.25); “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me” (Jn. 14.6); “I am the vine” (Jn. 15.1, 5); etc.
Each of these self-descriptions implies that everyone else in the world was malnourished, in darkness, dead, lost, closed off from heaven, and false. He alone was right and good. He alone can “give them eternal life” (Jn. 10.28). Morally and spiritually speaking, he claimed to be in a category all by himself.
“Come to me,” he urged. “Learn from me” (Mt. 11.28-29), “believe in me” (Jn. 6.35; 11.26), “follow me” (Mk. 1.17; 8.34). Anyone who failed to do so is “not worthy of me” (Mt. 10.38) and shall “die in [their] sins” (Jn. 8.24). “I”s and “me”s proceed from Jesus’ lips with stunning regularity.
If Jesus was just an ordinary man, he was one of the most egotistical human beings the world has ever known! How can anyone call him good and humble, if what he said about himself is false?
The Central Figure of All Prophetic History
What’s more, Jesus claimed to be more than a prophet or teacher; he was the fulfillment of the prophets (cf. Mk. 1.15; Lk. 24.44).
Moses “wrote about me,” he said (Jn. 5.46; cf. John 1.45; Acts 26.22). “Abraham rejoiced to see my day” (Jn. 8.56). Indeed, Jesus claimed that “many prophets and kings desired to see” him (Lk. 10.24; cf. 1 Pt. 1.10-11). He was Daniel’s ascended “son of man” (Dan. 7.13; cf. Mt. 24.30; 26.64; Mark 13.26; 14.62; Luke 21.27; Jn. 12.23). He was Isaiah’s suffering “servant” (Isa. 52.13-53.12; cf. Lk. 24.46; 18.31-33).
“Wise men” came to worship him, recognizing the fulfillment of prophecy (Mt. 2.1ff). He pointed out that the prophets said that “they shall all be taught by God” (cf. Isa. 54.13). He then suggested that he was the one fulfilling that prediction! “Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father,” Jesus concluded, “comes to Me” (Jn. 6.45).
If Jesus was just a wise teacher — deserving of equal respect with the likes of Plato, Confucius, or Einstein — then he was deranged for falsely thinking that all learning and all prophecy focused on him.
The Divine Son of God
Furthermore, while every human being is, in an ultimate sense, an “offspring” or child of God (Acts 17.28), Jesus claimed to be the “Son of God” in a unique way (cf. Jn. 3.16; Mt. 26.63-64).
He said he “came down from Heaven” (Jn. 3.13), for he was divine just like the father (cf. Jn. 10.30-33), making himself “equal with God” (Jn. 5.18), worthy of being honored “just as” we “honor the father” (Jn. 5.23).
He identified as the eternal “I am” — the self-sustaining God (Jn. 8.57-58). As such, he claimed to be qualified to judge the entire world (Jn. 5.22; cf. Acts 17.31; 2 Cor. 5.10).
And so he blessed those who called him “Lord and God” (Jn. 20.28-29) as well as those who “worshiped him” (Mt. 8.2-3).
The Savior of Mankind
Finally, Jesus made all of these self-important claims — not because he is arrogant — but because
(1) that is what his heavenly father wanted him to say, to which he humbly complied (Jn. 8.28-29; 5.19, 30), and
(2) he — due to his abiding love for our race — was on a mission to establish a concrete relationship between us and God, showing us that there is only one way to live with God forever in bliss.
During his time on earth, Jesus touched upon five critical components to his mission.
First, he said he came to earth to show us what God himself is like (Jn. 14.8-11). We need not doubt whether there is a God, nor need we wonder what he is like. He has shown himself to us already!
Second, he came to assure us that God cares for us and wants us to live with him eternally (Jn. 3.16; Mt. 6.26; Jn. 14.1-3).
Third, he came to teach us that sin prevents us from living in the kingdom with God (cf. Lk. 13.27-28) and that we — the people of the “world” — are under “condemnation” for our “evil” (Jn. 3.19; cf. Rm. 3.9-23).
Fourth, he claimed that God has enacted a plan — involving the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (Mk. 9.31) — by which the world can be saved from our sins (cf. Jn. 3.15-21; Mt. 26.28).
Finally, as the one who shall judge the world righteously and fairly, Jesus claimed that he shall reject those who ignore him and his plan, and shall only accept those who repent of our sins (Lk. 13.3, 5; Mt. 4.17; 11.20-24) and faithfully follow him — and him alone (cf. Mt. 10.32-33, 38; 12.30; 16.24; Mk. 8.38; Jn. 14.6).
Therefore, perhaps the most important of all his claims — the very reason he made any of them — is his claim to be the savior of the lost (cf. Jn. 3.17; Lk. 19.10). But note this especially: He came to teach us that he will not save us merely with the wave of his hand. Rather, he came to save us through the gospel plan of salvation.
It is incumbent upon us, then, to listen, learn, love, and live that plan if we want to go to Heaven with him in the hereafter.
Jesus was unlike any man in history. His radical claims are extraordinary — viz., that everyone must listen to him, follow him, obey him, come to him, believe in him, honor him, and worship him as the divine Son of God, for he shall judge us all at the end of the world. Either these claims are true or they are not.
At this point in our study, one thing is certain. It is unwise to ignore his claims, for if they are true, then you must decide to follow him or blithely to ignore the evidence at your peril; and if they are false, then you can no longer believe Jesus was merely a good, wise man — he was either the most egotistical charlatan the world has yet produced, or he was absolutely insane.
In the next few studies, let us explore the objective evidence of his claims, including the character of Christ, the credibility of Christ, and the conclusions about Christ (in which we’ll further develop the logical case concerning him).
After that, let us explore the subjective evidence for why everyone should be a Christian, including the care of Christ, the condemnation of Christ, and the change to Christ.
Isn’t it time to face the evidence for yourself? Your decision — whether to ignore, reject, or embrace it — will determine your eternal destiny.
Why not keep studying? Move on to part two: