What we believe
Written by Gilmour Lilly
There is something in our humanity that is always reaching out for something spiritual. You can see it in the prayers and rituals done by ordinary people after events like 9/11 or in TV programmes like "Spiritual Shoppers" and "The Force" of the Star Wars movies. It may be why you're reading this feature. Although it's a bit on the long side, I've tried to sum up what Christians believe and why. Read on...
We Believe… in a God worth bothering about
What's God Like?
For a start, he's God. He's totally divine! God is totally "other". Different to us. Different to life on the planet. Different to humanity. Different because he is spiritual, not physical. He doesn't actually need a body in order to exist. The Bible says "God is spirit". That is different.
So when a guy called Moses met God, the word was "Take your shoes off, you're standing on holy ground". This God is so different, even his name was too special for Moses and his people to mention.
And God is different because he is good. He is perfect. He keeps the rules. We are basically self-centred, and it is an exceptional person who will do things for others with no possibility of reward or recognition (so much so we have a special word to describe such actions: "altruistic"!) But God made people, looks after people, rescued people, and promises to make a new world for people to live in, because he loves people.
So what's God like? He's a unique, spiritual being, totally good, personal, but bigger than any person. What's God like? Well, he's like Jesus. He shows us the stuff we really need to know about God.
We Believe…in Jesus.
In Jesus, God became "flesh". In Jesus the great truths about God, become a story. A biography. One man's life. A life that begins in mystery: you know the Christmas story. It's not a fairytale. It's far too honest for that. Teenage pregnancy. Fiancé ready to break off the engagement because he's not the father. And the explanation? "Actually, this child is the Son of God". Nobody would believe them; and in fact no self-respecting Jew would dream of saying such a thing. They took God too seriously. A Jew would spread a story like that, for one reason only. Believing it to be true.
Where did Jesus come from? He came from God. John makes the amazing claim that Jesus existed "in the beginning". God became a person, called Jesus. All that God is, Jesus is. Although God doesn't need a body to exist, he took on a body so that we could relate to him.
The main bit of Jesus' story is squashed into a few years, when he went around healing the sick, setting people free from evil spirits, and preaching about "the Kingdom of God", often using riddles, word pictures and stories. This "Kingdom of God" thing is crucial. It isn't a place. It isn't affairs of state, it's a state of affairs. It's what things are like when God rules. So when Jesus made sick people better he told them "the Kingdom of God has come near to you". And when he challenged people to change their way of living, he said "The Kingdom of God is near".
The end of this story is the important bit. In fact the last weeks of Jesus life, take up 1/3 of the chapters in the Gospels. So why did Jesus die?
The guys who wrote the Gospels obviously thought this was Jesus' "destiny"; he said himself "this is why I came". Paul, the greatest teacher in the early church, confirms this. His letters have several different angles on the death of Jesus: he took the punishment for sin; he bought us back from being slaves because of sin; he defeated evil and rescued us from being the devil's hostages.
Years before Jesus’ death, somebody wrote about it as if it had already happened: He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53. 5, NIV)
How can one person’s death make a difference? That’s another of these mysteries. But George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, says “it all depends on whose death we are talking about.” Jesus’ death makes a difference because he is good, and because he is God; his was no ordinary death. When he died, God was at work, in him, to sort out our mess.
Because the job is done, Jesus has conquered death, and risen again. We firmly believe that Jesus rose again, bodily (because getting through to us matters to him.) The resurrection stories, the radical change in Jesus’ closest friends after the resurrection, not to mention the survival of the Christian message for over 2000 years, needs some explaining; the best explanation is that Jesus rose and lives on.
We Believe…in a God who meets us today
Jesus promised to be with his friends, and that happened and still happens, in a way that is mostly unseen but no less real. Jesus talked about his friends having “The Holy Spirit” live inside them, and giving them power to live life for him, focus on him, show his Kingdom and spread his message. The Holy Spirit, like Jesus, is God; only instead of coming in human form, he comes into us.
What does the Holy Spirit do?
He makes people new. If the God of surprises comes to live inside you, you can’t remain the same. When it happens, a person is “born again”.
He helps us to love and to show in our character, some of the qualities that demonstrate love to others. He makes these things grow in us like fruit.
He gives us power to do some of the things Jesus did: maybe special insight or discernment, a word or two from God, the ability to bring God’s healing to body or mind.
He points to Jesus. What he does is always in line with Jesus, and centred on Jesus.
People like us can be the channels for God’s activity today. We believe that, because it is happening to us.
We Believe…in people
We believe that people are special. Every human being is unique. Even “identical twins”. It’s not just our fingerprints but something much deeper: our own personalities, and our own irreplaceable contribution to the world we live in. Yet we have certain things in common. That goes for male and female, old and young, black and white. Every human being has a spiritual side, something that reflects at least a bit of what God is like. God loves and cares for everyone, even the people rejected by their fellow human beings. That’s good news: it means we’re all special to someone!
Sin? Sounds a bit old-fashioned… But let’s face it: people don’t seem to be making a great job of running the world. We have our good points; there’s something of God’s image in all of us. But there is a mean side to each of us, too. That has its roots in our relationship with God, or rather, in our lack of it. One of these things that binds humanity together is that we each tend to think we’re the centre of the universe. We don’t want anybody else to rule our lives. That leaves God either on the fringes or on the outside. And one is as bad as the other. After all, if God is God, he deserves to be at the centre..
We Believe…in a fresh start
Once God is squeezed out, it takes a whole fresh start to restore that relationship. Basically because of what Jesus did for us, the huge garbage disposal bill for our lives is already paid. We can experience a radical change that makes it possible for us to put God at the centre. God comes into our lives, and we begin again. All we need to do is
admit we we’ve messed up and need a fresh start; the church often calls this "confession".
allow God to be in control, in charge of our lives; the big word is "repentance"/
accept this fresh start as a gift - receive it "by faith".
God will do his bit, if we are serious. He will deal with the past. Guilt, gone, permanently! He will begin to change your life and your attitudes, bit by bit, at the pace that’s right for you. God’s Spirit will live inside you (See p. 6). He will always stick with you; and you will live for ever.
We Believe…in the Church
Well, we’d have to… or would we? What is the church we believe in? Not buildings, nice though they may be (scary if you’re responsible for finding the dosh to keep a cathedral going, though!). And not an institution, complete with rituals and distinctive costumes. The real church is people, united by Jesus (despite differences of race age, gender and culture). It is people who show they are united by some sharing of their lives: worshipping and studying together; challenging and encouraging each other; sometimes sharing some resources. (Occasionally living under the same roof.)
We believe we need the church. We need each other. The Christian life played as a game of solitaire is at one and the same time, to difficult, and too easy. We need the encouragement; we need the challenge of getting on with people who are different from us. And as we do that, God comes through: the Church (the real church) is Jesus’ “body” today, expressing his life in the world. Sound interesting? Give it a try.
We Believe…in the future
We believe in the future, because we believe the future is God’s. Desmond Tutu, retired Archbishop of Cape Town and a campaigner against apartheid, once said, “I am never optimistic; but I am always hopeful.” That is the result of knowing the future is in God’s hands. 9/11, global warming, nuclear holocaust, or an asteroid strike, don’t phase us. The future of the planet is in God’s hands and one day he will make it all new. Christians may argue about how the future is going to pan out. What we have in common is hope: Jesus will have his “kingdom”; it will, one day be “on earth as it is in heaven”. And we believe we’re going to be there. We believe in the future.
We Believe…in the Bible
How do we know all this stuff? We need to know that some things are true, some things false. The idea that “it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere”, is OK, so long as your life, or someone else’s, doesn’t depend on it. That’s why surgeons, train drivers and airline pilots have to pass exams before they can do the job. To get the job done, they need the facts. It’s the same in matters of faith. We need some sort of standard, some sort of authority above and beyond feelings and impressions. That’s where the Bible comes in. It records the main bits of God’s dealings with mankind, over several thousand years. Its roots are in a consistent and developing stream of real experiences of God. We believe God was in the experiences that resulted in the Bible being written. So through the Bible, God speaks as a record and reflection of that experience. So learning from the Bible is a fascinating mixture of faith and science.
Faith to believe that God speaks through it, and to accept that God did what the Bible says he did.
But science, to have the best texts, and to interpret them as accurately as possible, trying to understand how the people in the Bible really lived..
We believe that we’ve got in the Bible a reliable record of God’s dealings with people. The Christian Bible is a uniquely preserved set of historical documents. And for these reasons, we believe we’ve got a book from God to help us make sense of the world we live in.
The rest of what we believe is built on what the Bible says. You’ve been looking at some of the main things we believe as Christians. If you've got this far, you may want to explore a bit more. If you want to discuss something further with us, you will be welcome to visit a church near you and introduce yourself. Alternatively send us an email or letter or if you prefer to be anonymous but would like free information about Jesus Christ and the Christian faith the Links page will help you find what you need.
© Gilmour Lilly, June 2005