The Solution

In the previous article, we looked at the human problem, which affects all of us and is summed up in the word: "selfishness".

It is this nearly-universal realization of this problem that has driven every major religion of the world for all of history. They are seen as a means of overcoming the innate human brokenness. Each has its own set of rules that, if followed faithfully, will lead to paradise, a better reincarnation, or enlightenment. The "big five" religions constitute nearly 80% of the world's population, which indicates the widespread interest in addressing the problematic aspects of our humanity.

I won't go into an exhaustive comparison of the world's religions, but I want to explain what it is about Christianity - and only Christianity - that appeals to me. Other religions involve efforts on the part of the adherents to reach some level of purity - in other words, to deal with the problem of selfishness - either by gaining the approval of a Supreme Being, or becoming a Supreme Being. The basic behavoral tenants of nearly all religions are very similar - no murder, no theft, no adultery, etc. Christianity however, as defined by the Bible, is different in this way: it says there is nothing that humans can do to be saved. Salvation is a free gift. There are a thousand other differences, but this is the most fundamental difference. Christianity is thus a faith, but not a religion to my mind. In fact, the use of the word "religion" in the Bible is usually a translation of the Greek word "threskos", which means "ceremonial observance". And I think that is a good definition of a religion: something focused on ritual.

Now, it is important to note that there are forms of Christianity that seem to me to be little different from the other religions. There are versions of "Christianity" which focus on following rules and rituals: going to church, reading the Bible, praying, tithing, etc. Real Christians may do these things for purposes of enjoyment or spiritual growth, but not because they are required for salvation. Remember: it is a gift. But I don't call these other forms by the label "Christianity". Perhaps, "Churchianity", or by the names that the various sects call themselves.

I cringe when I hear people say things like "The Bible says that God helps those who help themselves". Not only does it not say anything resembling that, it really says the opposite: God helps those who can't help themselves and admit it.

The problem with real Christianity is that it strikes at our human conceit. We want to earn our own way, and it is irksome to be told that nothing we do can ever possibly be enough. So, not only do we humans have big character problems, we are also utterly unable to do anything about it.

But, you may ask, don't many paths lead to God? Jesus answers this by plainly stating "No one comes to the Father but by me." (John 14:6). Other passages echo this fundamental truth. The Father accepts faith (trust) in Jesus as the only means by which we flawed humans can escape the eternal consequences of our behaviors. "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

So, how do we discern what is real Christianity as opposed to the pale imitations that are nothing more than religious attempts to earn our way into heaven? That is where the Bible comes in. I'll cover this more in a future article, but the Bible is how we know which way is right. The words of Jesus and his disciples are the foundational doctrine of true Christianity. Yes, there are some minor areas of difference which men of good will can disagree on, but the fundamentals are very clear. Nonetheless, it took me many years to learn some of these fundamentals because I had to first unlearn some of the things I had been indoctrinated with earlier in my life.

I'm not saying that religious people can't be Christians - I've known some that are both. Fortunately, we don't have to have perfect doctrine to be a Christian.

If I had to sum up what Christianity is, it is this: it is a loving relationship with God. He loves us even more than we love ourselves. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

Because salvation is a free gift, it means that no one is excluded unless they want to be. You don't have to perform to earn it. You don't have to be smart, wise, talented, rich, or attractive. You "qualify" whether you are young or old, male or female, whatever your skin color, whatever your nationality, whatever you've done in your past. There is no sin that is bigger than His forgiveness. And as long as you have a heartbeat, you have the opportunity to humbly accept the free gift.

Of course, if you don't believe that, or don't believe that you suffer from the human condition then there is no reason you would accept the gift. So, I'd have to say that there are two requirements for salvation: 1) admitting you need it, 2) believing that Jesus will provide it for you. Those are the only requirements. There are many other important issues, but these are the only essential ones.

Some people never go much past this, which is a shame. You can be saved by Jesus but live a spiritually immature life. But if you truly realize what He has done for you and how you do not deserve it, you are going to be grateful and desire to get to know Him better. In fact, if you feel neither of those things, you would be right to question whether you truly believe. But, if you desire to know Him better, He will work in your life so that you can. He doesn't just change our account status in some heavenly ledger; He works in our lives to change us more and more into His character. What was impossible for us by ourselves, becomes possible because of Jesus. Over time, we become less selfish and more loving.

Because of Jesus, people are set free from the chains of addiction and other self-destructive behaviors. Sometimes immediately, sometimes over time. But Jesus will make you a better person until the day you die and get to see Him face to Face. You see, real Christianity isn't a matter of words or rituals - it is a matter of power. But that doesn't mean that you are going to have an easy life. We are in a war between spiritual forces of evil and forces of good. Before we are saved, we are spiritual corpses - already causalties of this war. But when we commit our lives to Jesus, we are raised up to spiritual life and become soldiers in the army of the Kingdom of heaven, and war is never fun. God is deadly serious about His business on Earth and we ought not to treat Him or His business with contempt. In any case, it is better to be a live soldier than a dead corpse.

The foregoing ought to be an adequate description of Christianity, but some strange ideas have been ingrained into our minds by books, magazines, Hollywood, and even some individuals that we've encountered. So, let me take a moment to say what being a Christian isn't. It doesn't mean you are already perfect (none of us are). It doesn't mean that you become perfect this side of heaven (even life- long Christians sometimes mess up). It doesn't mean you look down on the "less spiritual". In fact, that kind of pride is a warning sign that you aren't any more spiritual than anyone else. It doesn't mean you are going to be rich or have an easy life. It doesn't mean you are going to be respected or loved. It doesn't mean you are associated with a particular nationality, ethnic group, church or religious organization, or political party. It doesn't mean that you like a particular style of music. It doesn't mean that you speak using words like "thee" and "thou" and "ye". There are, perhaps, four things we can expect: 1) we get to live forever with the One who loves us most - and with a huge family of fellow believers, 2) we are rescued from our own destructive human nature, 3) He will be with us through everything we face, and 4) we will suffer persecution of some kind. That is pretty much what God promises us.

I hope to revist some of these topics in greater detail in future, articles, God willing, but the above text is the most important point I can make. This is my understanding of the essence of Christianity.