April 05, 2015

Why am I a Christian? An Easter reflection.

Roughly one third of the population of the earth would identify themselves as Christian. What each individual might mean by that varies greatly, but I want to simply take my definition from the Apostle Paul. I believe what he "delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep." 1 Corinthians 15:3-6 (ESV).

Jesus Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the Old Testament Scriptures which predicted this would happen. He was buried, and He rose to life on the third day (also in accordance with the Scriptures). He appeared to witnesses, more than five hundred of them. Through placing our faith in Jesus and the work that He did in dying in our place and rising again, we can receive eternal life (John 3:16) and be reconciled to God (Romans 5:11).

Now, why do I believe this? Of course there are a multitude of answers to that question. I was raised by Christian parents, grew up in the church, and had older Christian men who spent a lot of time pouring into my life, even when I was not listening to much of anything they had to say. God has been very gracious to me in those areas. Theologically, I can see the reality that it was the Holy Spirit breathing new life into me (John 3:3-8) according to the predestination of God the Father (Ephesians 1:4-6) that caused me to be awakened to my need to trust Christ.

But on a conscious, make this decision, level--what compels me to believe what I read in Scripture? Why don't I just think my parents and the church I grew up in are a bunch of religious wackos? It begins simply: The narrative the Bible tells is the most compelling explanation of life and its meaning which I have ever heard. I can't express it in full detail here, but I want to give you a taste of what I mean:

There is a God who created us in His own image (Genesis 1:26-28), loving us perfectly, this explains why we instinctively feel like our lives should matter, and that the lives of others matter as well. We rejected His kind and loving rule over us (Genesis 3), and this is why the world is the train wreck of death, hatred, war, disease, and decay that it is. God promised a redeemer at the time of that first sin, and then repeatedly throughout the Old Testament (Genesis 3:15, 2 Samuel 7, Isaiah 53, etc), providing a basis for the constant human hope that things might change, that they might get better. The coming of Christ to rescue and purchase a people for Himself (Ephesians 5:25-32) proves to be the greatest of all rescue stories, with the vanquished foes of Satan, sin, and death dealt a decisive blow, which will be finally consummated in their eternal destruction when Christ returns one day to usher in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

It all sounds a little too good to be true, doesn't it? I've read Tim Keller in a couple of different places use a phrase to the effect that the Gospel shows us two things: we are far more sinful than we had ever imagined, and far more loved than we ever dared to dream. This is the truth of Christianity. There is no dancing around what any honest observer will note: human beings are truly horrendous. On an individual and collective level, the evil that we are capable of is astounding. Holocaust, KKK, Columbine, ISIS. Yet there is something incredibly unique and amazing about human beings. The kindness to a stranger in need, the ability to design the iPhone, the building of B-2 bombers. That we slogged it out through 7 billion years of evolutionary process to become the cream of the earthly crop is, if I may suggest, a pretty hollow sounding explanation for either of these twin realities. It might explain the evil, but it does nothing to explain why I think evil is evil.

You might say, all well and good: you take your religion, I'll take my facts. But therein lies the most fascinating part of the Christian message: though its compelling nature is often the way it resonates with us on an emotional level, the entire message hangs on its basis in historical fact, and one fact in particular: that Jesus was raised from death. That passage from 1 Corinthians 15 which I quoted at the beginning is the introduction of a fairly extended argument from the Apostle on the topic of resurrection. There were people in the city to which he was writing who did not believe in life after death; who were teaching that Christ Himself was not raised. Paul's response to this is clear:
If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.- 1 Corinthians 15:19 
That is to say, if Jesus isn't raised from the dead, and belief in Him only affects this life, Christians are a joke. The message is a joke. The world ought to pat us on the head for being a bunch of little dunces. But notice what Paul appeals to earlier in chapter 15. Jesus' resurrection was attested to by over 500 witnesses at one time. That doesn't figure in those others who saw Him over the course of 40 days. Paul continues his argument in 1 Corinthians 15:20-21:
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.- 1 Corinthians 15:20-21
Jesus is alive. This is the foundation of Christianity. This is our hope for life eternal. We serve a risen Savior. This is why I am a Christian.

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I love Jesus, my wife, and my kids. Writing and teaching are two things I have a passion for. Gardening and fishing are cool, too. I blog @ willdole.com, you can reach me @ contact@willdole.com