Christianity is invariably misunderstood – even by its adherents.
Over the centuries all sorts of ideas and practices have attached themselves to what was originally a very simple faith.
It’s essence, however, is expressed by its founder in the words, ‘Love God – love your neighbour as yourself’. In saying this, Jesus took the decalogue [the Ten Commandments given to the Jews] and not only reduced them to their two essentials, but expressed the entirety of his teaching and philosophy.
It is not about observing a set of rules or rituals; it is about an attitude giving rise to actions expressing allegiance to our Creator.
It is about taking God’s wisdom – the teaching of Jesus Christ – and incorporating it into your life. It is about his teaching determining how we think and therefore how we act.
It is about the Word – the teaching and so thereby the very life of God – becoming real in us.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, says Jesus disciple, John, in his Gospel account, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
Jesus came teaching a message, but he also came as the living embodiment of that message. He came as the ultimate Prophet of God, the one with the final, definitive message to mankind from mankind’s Creator.
And, as if to emphasize the point, every claim since that time to express another message or add something to Christ’s teaching has manifestly resulted in a clear denial of what Christ taught. Just look at the fruit of sects and religions since Christ…
The message was to live his teaching – God’s teaching – by God’s presence and by God’s grace, trusting that in every trial and tribulation which must inevitably result, that God is with us: Emmanuel.
This God was ‘born’ to a human being, lived as a human being, was heralded as God’s messenger by John the Baptist, taught, suffered, was falsely accused, judicially murdered, and died.  Yet was resurrected by the power of God because he had trusted and obeyed God, then testified of his resurrection and his future Return to reward the obedient and punish the disobedient.
The example is clear.
To live the teaching of this Saviour God, the disciple will endure suffering and the crucifixion of their sinful, self life. But trusting to God and his very presence in their lives they will supernaturally endure the trials and tribulations accompanying their love and allegiance to God their Creator.
They will know his presence and his power in their lives to live as he commands, not by human effort or resources, but by God’s grace – his unmerited favour and power.
To do that, they will have to have faith – trust – that God will be with them and that God will reward them as they live obeying him, simultaneously disobeying the expectations and demands of the self centred, self aggrandizing world about them which refuses the message of Christ and prefers to live in the sinful condition which Christ came to save us from.
And God even gives the Faith to live as he knows best …
The process which the disciple of Christ is called to live out is called sanctification. It is a process at the very centre of the Christian life, around which all else revolves.
The apostle Peter refers to it when he cites God’s words recorded in the book of Leviticus [the book of the priesthood]
But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation [ie behaviour] because it is written – Be ye holy; for I am holy
Both the principal apostles of Christ, Peter and Paul, taught that every Christian is called as a priest, that is as one whose God given duty is to offer up sacrifice to God, daily.
And in the teaching of Christ and his apostles, that sacrifice is their own life.
In times of severe persecution, that sacrifice is literal – the believer is put to death for their Christian faith. This has happened down the centuries and still happens today.
More usually, however, the sacrifice required by God is to give up the selfishness of the corrupt inner being found in every human life.
Letting go of pride, self effort, lust and all sorts of negative impulses in the human ‘heart’ is of the essence, and the circumstances of our lives challenge us to face these things and to surrender them to God, replacing them with the grace and love of God towards others.
The apostle Paul explained it to the believers at Rome in this way.
I beseech you therefore brethren by the mercies of God that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world [that is to selfishness, pleasure seeking, hatefulness, deceit etc] but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
This stands in stark contrast to the religion of Materialism now prevalent in the formerly ‘Christian’ western world today.
Materialism focuses on the here and now, what we can see and feel, and experience. It concerns itself with sensory  gratification and indulgence.
It is essentially man-centred, not God centred. It is thoroughly selfish and self indulgent.
It therefore perverts all moral thinking and standards to what human beings want, not what is best for them.
It dispenses with moral imperatives like duty, discipline and honesty in preference for indulgence, for the rejection of restraint and for making the world fit in with our own selfish desires.
Both reality and moral conduct are now what mankind in its selfish sinfulness decides –  not what an objective and caring Creator God knows best.
Hence we abort the child in the womb as a Woman’s Right to Choose [conveniently ignoring that she had already chosen to act in a way which invited pregnancy, and that the male partner likely cast off all sense of any responsibility for her] and we replace the norms of marriage and family to meet the ambitions of the most radical homosexual.
In such a climate Christians have been persecuted for speaking out, and the possibility of imprisonment for holding views contrary to ‘Human Rights’ becomes more likely.
The Christian remains, however, wedded to the truth as determined by God’s  perspective and God’s teaching described in the New Testament of the Bible.
In that perspective, human beings are lost and indeed enslaved by ‘sin’ – the propensity to think and behave in an immoral way. Such thinking and its consequent behaviour inevitably do damage to others.
In that perspective, human beings will go to any lengths to avoid the truth of what they are and that they need God’s help to save them from the perversity within their own hearts.
They will even say good is evil, and evil is good …
In that perspective, human beings will persecute and denigrate those who stand up and say that evil is evil, and that evil resides in us all …
Because in its perversity, the human heart hates to acknowledge the truth about itself – it  would rather damage another human being than acknowledge its own evil …
God alone knows what we are, God alone identifies it to us, and God alone can do something true and lasting about it for us.
And indeed has done so in Jesus Christ.
Those who begin to accept the teaching of Jesus Christ will find themselves drawn to God. They will recognise the truth of what he says, and will respond.
At some point they will understand that they are sinners in the presence of a holy – a perfect – God.
At some point they will understand that they can only be cleansed and forgiven their sin because of what Jesus Christ has done at the Cross.
At some point they will come to see the need to be baptised by full immersion in water in order to identify with Christ’s death and resurrection, and confirm its blessings to themselves.
Then they will see the need to walk in newness of life, in allegiance and obedience to God their Creator. As the apostle Paul wrote to the Romans in the section we know as Chapter 6 of his epistle [letter]:
What shall we say then ? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound ?
God forbid !
How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein ? Know ye not that so many of us as were baptised into Jesus Christ were baptised into his death ? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life…
A fundamental error down the ages has been to ignore this vital gestation of the Word of God in the ‘heart’ of a believer. Instead this organic process gets formalized in some way. Child sprinkling or saying the so called ‘sinner’s prayer’ are two formulated ways in which people are told how to become a Christian.
In the final analysis, it is only by the Word of God – the teaching of Jesus Christ – coming to fruition in the human heart that a person becomes a Christian, that a person comes to awareness of the need to obey Christ: both full immersion baptism and living the resurrection life reflect a faithful and obedient response to the Biblical message about Jesus Christ.
Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God the apostle Paul tells the Romans in chapter 10 and to the Ephesians he wrote: in chapter 2:
By Grace are ye saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them…
The bottom line is that only by submitting our lives to obey the Word of God – Jesus Christ and his teaching – that we live Christianity.
This is clear in so many places in the Bible but one reference in the Gospel of John [chapter 8, verses 31 to 32] citing Jesus himself,  will suffice:
If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
But we cannot actually do that by means of our own corrupted human effort; we can only do that by the presence of God himself in our lives by the Holy Spirit. That starts with the God inspired Word from God to our hearts, and the proof that we have received such a gift from God is shown in our response. God given faith according to God’s word will always challenge to obey God’s Word.  And God has ordained baptism by full immersion in water to cause us to associate with Christ’s death on the cross as and his resurrection – note again Romans chapter 6. But note also the vital teaching about faith according to James in chapter 2 of his letter – faith without deeds is dead ! In other words, if we do not act on what we have faith for, it is pointless and meaningless.
Jesus Christ was explicit when he charged the apostles to take care of his church in Matthew chapter 28, verses 18 to 20. Jesus told them to  teach and to baptise. The commission as recorded by Mark in his Gospel leaves no doubt whatsoever as to whether baptism is optional. Mark 16, verse 16 says, He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved.  Baptism will follow true faith in a truly receptive heart.
It is by receiving the Word of God and acting upon it – that we can know the resurrection power of God to live as Christ taught us.
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