So you’re a Christian! Excellent! You are one of more than two billion people throughout the world who also claim the name.
By definition a Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ. Does that also apply to you? “Of course it does,” you say. “I go to church. I try to live a good life, being kind and helpful as Jesus showed us.”
Sounds good — and so it is.
But is that quite enough? Do you really know what Jesus taught and what he asks from those who claim to follow him? Or have you sheltered under the umbrella provided by official church teaching and not investigated things for yourself?”
This book is a deliberate challenge to every Christian, of whatever race, colour or creed. How strong is your belief In Christ? How firm are your Christian foundations? What hope does Christianity hold out to you for this life — and the next? How sure can you be of what it offers?
A question of authority
I don’t know if you have ever experienced this, but when I chat to people about what they believe and why they believe it, they so often start by saying: “Well, I think…”. Often they have excellent and firmly based reasons for what they then go on to say, but sometimes these personal views of the different people I talk to are so divergent that one wonders whether all of them can be true.
So, is “what I think” enough when our eternal future is at stake? More important, where can we turn to for a really authoritative statement on Christian beliefs?
Probably most will look to their church. “I’ll ask the vicar”, or “I’ll talk to the priest”. Each of the major denominations has a clearly laid down set of beliefs and practices that have developed over many years. It could be thought that with these available the pastor or priest should easily settle the matter for any enquirer.
But one of the problems is that throughout Christianity these statements, or creeds as they are called, differ in several fundamental aspects. The Roman Church has one set of beliefs and rules, the Church of England has another that differs considerably and the Orthodox Catholic Church has yet other variations. Why the differences? As the Apostle Paul said:
Is Christ divided?1 Each of the differing sections of Christianity believes that its view is correct, otherwise they would all unite. And the other disturbing thing is that many claim divine guidance by the Holy Spirit. How can that be when they are so different? The Bible says:
God is not the author of confusion,2 so why the variations?
There clearly needs to be some firmer foundation, and we have it in what the nineteenth-century British Prime Minister Gladstone termed: “The impregnable rock of Holy Scripture”.
But you will probably say: “All the organised churches accept the absolute authority of the Bible”. Yes, they do, but often only in theory. They are content to deviate from the Bible’s teaching when they perceive the need. Long-held traditions sometimes take precedence over Scripture.
The very basic feature of a real Christian must be that he or she follows Jesus in what he taught and the sort of life he lived. The word “disciple” means just that — “a follower”. Christ’s comment is very relevant — and soul-searching:
Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?3 So in these pages let’s put church teaching alongside the teaching of Jesus.
Jesus and the Old Testament
It’s easy to forget that Christ’s only Bible was what is now called the Old Testament, consisting of 39 separate “books”, mainly concerned with God’s dealings with the nation of Israel. Because much of it is ancient history many people regard it as irrelevant to modern Christianity, although admitting that it contains some moral guidance.
So what did Jesus — the one whose disciple you claim to be — have to say about his Bible, today called the Old Testament? He made some very important pronouncements about it:
- He calls it
the word of God.4
- It is absolutely reliable:
The scripture cannot be broken;5
All things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms.6
- He used it as a basis of his teaching. Three times he refuted his tempter with
It is written, before quoting from the book of Deuteronomy. He repeatedly rounded on his opponents with
Have you not read…before going on to allude to an Old Testament incident.7
Christ’s complete reliance on the Old Testament is shared by all the New Testament writers. Their teaching, without exception, is based firmly on the events and the instruction contained in the Old Testament. The Apostle Paul actually said that these
holy scriptures of the Old Testament, all of which were given by
inspiration of God, could make the reader
wise for salvation8 — something all Christians are striving for.
Do you know that the New Testament has 350 direct quotations from the Old Testament and over 600 allusions to events it records? Even more important, as we will show later, the New Testament firmly bases the true Christian hope on certain events described in the Old Testament.
Jesus, your leader and founder of your faith, accepted this vital importance of the Old Testament. Is this also your view? Do you share his opinion? Many who claim to follow Christ say that the Old Testament was a book for the Jews and is now irrelevant because the New Testament has superseded it. But do they know better than Jesus?
As a professed follower of Jesus, where do you stand on this?
What about the New Testament?
“We’re on much firmer ground here”, you might say: “This is the real textbook for Christianity.” But do you accept it implicitly and in its entirety? Although the New Testament was not actually written until after Jesus had gone to heaven, his influence on all its contents and his endorsement of its teaching is immense.
Here are just some of the comments by Jesus and his Apostles:
Just before he ascended to heaven Jesus promised his disciples that the Holy Spirit would
guide you into all truth.9 He further said that the Holy Spirit would
teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.10 Thus, all the pronouncements by the writers of the New Testament were guided by the Holy Spirit, so all that they said and wrote must therefore be regarded as accurate and authoritative.
Because of this Holy Spirit guidance the writers of the New Testament claimed divine authority for what they taught. The Apostle Paul told the Galatian church that,
the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.11 So Jesus personally told Paul what he wanted him to preach. Thus, Paul could insist that the things he wrote were not pushing his own ideas (as some today disparagingly suggest), but were in fact the direct teaching of Jesus. As he said:
The things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.12
In his inspired letter, the foremost of Christ’s disciples, Peter, puts Paul’s writings on a par with the then existing Scriptures, the Old Testament.13
An integrated book
Thus, the original Christians firmly believed that all of what we now call the Bible, consisting of Old and New Testaments, was a God-sent and therefore completely accurate and reliable basis for Christian life and beliefs.
As a Christian in the twenty-first century, can you honestly say that this is also your firmly held view of the Bible? Or do you pick and choose which parts of the Bible you accept and respond to?
If you do, what is the basis for your selection? Do you go along with those who say that we have now moved on, and that we should adapt our beliefs to the changing times?
These are important questions, because in the very last chapter of the Bible Jesus himself gives a stern warning to any who would add to or water down its message:
For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.14
With this foundation we can now look at some specific aspects of Bible teaching in relation to current Christian belief.