Pastoral Perspectives

The Uniqueness of the Christian Faith

I don’t have a religion. I have a relationship. The Christian faith is a relational faith. It is a great privilege for us as creatures to be able to commune with our Creator. This is a relationship that is not initiated by us. We didn’t reach up to God. As sinful people, we only know how to rebel against him. It was God’s initiative when he reached down to us through his Son, Jesus Christ, who left heaven and entered into our world. He was born both fully God and fully human. A mystery? Yes! He wasn’t conceived the natural way. If he was conceived through normal sexual relations between a husband and a wife, he would be born a sinner, just like anyone of us. Instead, he was conceived miraculously when the power of the Holy Spirit came upon Mary. Although Jesus’ conception was supernatural, his birth was natural as he emerged from the birth canal of his mother. He was therefore born as a human, a perfect human even as he is God.

We have a God that walked our dirty streets, interacted with the worst of sinners in society, and ministered to the down and out in perfect love. He stood up for justice and would not hesitate to point out the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. He attended to the poor, the marginalised, the sick. He knew their pain, their rejection, the injustice they faced, the shame, the loneliness, and he experienced all of that as a human being. Ultimately, he died. Yes, the Son of God died! He died as a criminal. To be crucified on the cross was the most humiliating way to die. He however wasn’t punished for his crimes. He had committed none. He was punished for the crimes of the whole world, a perfect human being bearing upon himself the weight of the sins of the imperfect human race. He drank the cup of God’s wrath that was meant for us to drink. ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ (2 Corinthians 5.21) What a great exchange – his righteousness exchanged for our sin.

That was not the end of the story. If his death was the end, Jesus would be no different from any other man. He rose from the dead three days after he died! He had to rise. He is God. His resurrection vindicated him since he was innocent; his resurrection showed that God accepted the sacrifice he had made for our sake. Having completed his work on earth, he was ready to return to his Father’s side.  The uniqueness of who Jesus is, the uniqueness of his work of salvation, the uniqueness of how God’s wrath and love were so vividly demonstrated on the same cruel instrument of death, the cross, point us all to the uniqueness of the Christian faith.

There is a big difference between religion and Christianity. The difference is in how they are spelled. Religion is spelled ‘DO’. It consists of trying to do enough good things to earn our salvation. The problem is we will never know when we have done enough. How much good is enough to cancel out the bad? Can we do good consistently? What if the good work is driven by a bad motive? The Bible makes it clear that we never can do enough. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s perfect standard (Romans 3.23) and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags that will not measure up (Isaiah 64.6).  We may observe that there are ‘good’ people around us but if we are honest with ourselves, ‘our heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?’ (Jeremiah 17.9) There is no one but God who looks into the depths of our hearts.

While religion is spelled ‘DO’, Christianity, on the other hand, is spelled ‘DONE’. That’s because Jesus has done for us what we could never do for ourselves. Just before he died, he said three very significant words – ‘It is finished.’ (John 19.30) It is DONE! God’s salvation plan had successfully been carried out by Jesus. There is nothing more we can do to save ourselves. We have been asked to simply exercise our faith in what Jesus has done for us. ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith.’ (Ephesians 2.8) Some people find this a difficult thing to swallow. They asked about a criminal who had harmed many people. If he should come to faith in Jesus, will he be forgiven of all his sins? The answer is ‘yes’.  The one who humbles himself and acknowledges his need for Jesus will be saved. This is grace – to be given the gift of salvation when we don’t deserve it at all.

Does that mean that good works are not important? On the contrary, Christians are often known for the good works they do. The motivation however is not because we are dependent on good works to get to heaven. We are not saved by doing good works; we are saved to do good works. Our motivation to do good comes from our love for God and we love because God first loved us.’ (1 John 4.19) We are so moved by his love for us, so deeply grateful that we very naturally want to respond in obedience to him. And he has commanded us to love one another, to do good unto one another. Herein lies another unique aspect of the Christian faith. Jesus in his humanity has already modelled for us what it means to be obedient. He has set the example. He has shown the way. Therefore, he was able to say: ‘As I have loved you, so you must love one another.’ (John 13.34) He also said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’ (Luke 9.23) The fact that Jesus could say ‘follow me’ means that he has taken the lead and we are to walk in his footsteps.

Christianity is a reasonable faith meaning that it is coherent and not contradictory, rationale and not blind. We must however humble ourselves and accept the fact that God is infinitely more profound than us. We can never fully grasp him. Since he is the one who has taken the initiative to reveal himself to us, he has done all that is necessary for us to know him and to have a relationship with him. Do you want this relationship or would you prefer religion?