Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Why become a Christian

The answer to the question "why become a Christian" is both simple and complex.  The simple answer is that it is true (1).  The more complex answers lie in the follow-up questions, the most immediate one being "how do we know Christianity is true" (2)?  Once we accept the truth of Christianity, I think it is important to understand what it means for us (3) and how to become a Christian (4).  Each of these topics can be discussed in much greater depth; however, this post only gives a basic explanation.  I will discuss these topics in greater detail at a later point.

1.  It is true!
Because it is true, there should be no other reason necessary to believe.  Yes, many people identify as Christian due to a prescriptive upbringing or because they think the Bible is a good but imperfect guide to human behavior.  These are unfortunate instances, as we should never believe or follow anything that is untrue, even if it might appear to be beneficial.  This means that if Christianity was false, but it led to people being happier and kinder, we should not believe or follow it.  On the other hand, if it is true, but we don't like it, we should still believe and follow it.  For instance, I may not like gravity because I'd rather float through the air effortlessly, but it exists regardless of my liking or believing it.  Additionally, the air that I breathe, the water I drink, and the planet the houses them all depend on gravity to hold them together.  If I were to deny gravity simply because I disagreed with it, not only would I be wrong, but I would be dismissing one of the most important forces that are necessary to keep me alive.  This means that we should not choose to accept or dismiss Christianity on the basis of our likes and dislikes or pending the result of a cost-benefit analysis, but on the basis of what is logically and empirically true.

In practical terms, we cannot logically deny Christianity by using arguments such as "I want to have pre-marital or extra-marital sex and the Bible says these things are sinful, therefore Christianity is wrong or just not for me".  The other example would be denying Christianity out of the fear that it may bring persecution and possibly death or that it will cost too much time (serving) and money (tithing).  Dismissing Christianity for these reasons is a not a logical decision, it is an emotional reaction stemming from fear.  This type of argument also ignores the fact that God is necessary for the existence of the universe, He set the laws that govern the universe, and He created the time and money we're too fearful to give away.  Fortunately, God is loving and wants what is best for us (which isn't necessarily what we always think is best).  This means that the costs will always outweigh the benefits and when we commit our lives to Him, our will (likes and dislikes) becomes His will.  Coming from a position in my past that was directly opposed to just about all things righteous, I can honestly say that the way God has blessed me, shown me love, and changed my will and behavior, has already exceeded my wildest imaginations of what He could or would do.

2. How do we know it is true?
The Bible makes some pretty miraculous claims.  It records multiple people coming back from the dead, instantaneous healings, and a man living in a fish three days.  These claims and many others, such as God exists and created the universe, there is an absolute moral law, and that Jesus will come back to earth, cannot be empirically tested.  So how do we know what the Bible says is true and not just make believe?  Jesus said "If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?"  This means that is the Bible tells us of earthly things and it is wrong, then we can expect it to be wrong when it speaks of heavenly things.  Additionally, the Bible says that God cannot lie, is all knowing, and inspired the Bible. This means that if there is a single error in the Bible, it was not written or inspired by God.  So to answer the question, is the Bible true, we must evaluate the Bible for accuracy, consistency, and reliability, in addition to experiencing the power of God through a relationship with him.

The first check is accuracy.  There is a misconception that the Bible is opposed to science, but this is not true.  Yes, the church and many believers have made or are currently making mistakes regarding the claims of the Bible.  This problem essentially comes down to people imposing absolutes on ambiguous verses.  There is not a single line in the Bible that contradicts science or history.  In fact, as we learn more about science and history, empirical evidence has repeatedly reaffirmed the claims of the Bible.

Consistency is the next test of truth that the Bible must pass.  This is a logical test of the law of non-contradiction, which basically says that something cannot contradict itself.  If the Bible makes a claim and then makes the opposite claim at a different time, then at least one of the claims must be false, which would discredit the entire Bible.  Once again, the Bible passes this test at every turn.  This is not to say that there are not difficulties within the Bible, but there are no genuine contradictions between any two parts of the Bible.  If you want to know more, these first two checks fall under the heading of the inerrancy of the Bible.

The last claim is one of reliability.  How do we know the Bible was written or inspired by God or that the men who penned God's Words did not make any mistakes?  We start with the Old Testament.  Jesus confirmed the Old Testament, meaning that we can automatically accept it as reliable, assuming we trust Jesus and the New Testament.  We know the NT is reliable for a few reasons.  It was recorded by personal eye-witnesses to Jesus' life and resurrection, except for Paul and Luke.  Paul had a personal encounter with the resurrected Jesus, performed miracles in the name of Jesus, was confirmed by the other apostles, and wrote during the lifetime of eye-witnesses to the resurrection.  The last one also applies to Luke, who wrote the Gospel of Luke and Acts.  The authors were also clearly tools of God as they performed and recorded many miracles.

Additionally, the writers of the Bible included parts that would not have been thought of as reliable at the time, such as Mary's testimony that Jesus was risen.  If the writers of the Bible were trying to sell a false story as true, they would have made it a man that first witnessed this because women were not considered reliable eye-witnesses back then.  Many of the authors and apostles died for their beliefs, too.  Many people today die for their beliefs, but they do not die thinking their beliefs are false.  If the writers of the Bible knew the resurrection was fake, they would not have died for it.  However, we have no indication from the Bible or any other source that they did not die for Christianity.  To assert that they didn't die as martyrs or were possibly delusional would be unfounded make believe.  Lastly, the Bible was written within a generation of Jesus' life.  This means that any false doctrine that was spread verbally or in writing, likely would have been removed or corrected by the apostles, disciples, or other eye-witnesses

The last piece of evidence that I feel I must mention here is fulfilled prophecy.  The Bible makes specific predictions about events hundreds of years before they happened.  Attempts have been made to explain these away as fabrications or coincidence, but these counter claims do not fit the evidence.  If we truly accept the prophecies as true, then there can be no denying that the Bible was inspired by an all-knowing God.  This is especially true when one considers how Christianity spread through peace and love while Christians were being persecuted.

Once again, this is a very brief explanation regarding the reliability of the Bible.  For more information on this, see the post Is the Bible True (when I finish it).  It will still be brief, but will be much more in-depth than this small section.  For a more comprehensive understanding of how we know the Bible is true, see the works of Gary Habermas or Lee Strobel.

3. What does it mean?
If  Christianity is true, then there are many implications for humanity.  It would mean morality is objective and absolute as opposed to relative, the universe is coherent and ordered, life has purpose, people have intrinsic value, and there is an afterlife where we will be held accountable for the choices we made during this life.  Although this list is not all encompassing and the points are all related, I want to focus on the final one, that there is an afterlife.

The truth of the afterlife is a very powerful personal and emotional truth of Christianity. Death can be scary and we have a tendency to desire positive immortality.  We are eternal beings, made to live forever, and what we do in this life determines where and how we will experience the afterlife.  God gives us the opportunity to have everlasting life or to go to hell/perish. John 3:16 says "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." Once we accept the truth of Christianity, we realize that we are imperfect sinners, unable to achieve the perfect standard of God.  Some of us blatantly sin (stealing, killing, etc.), while some of us have more subtle sins (speeding, drunkenness, selfish ambition, etc.).  Ever since the fall of man (Adam and Eve's original sin) we have fallen short of the glory of God.  As a result of God's everlasting love, He shows us grace through Jesus so that we can be saved, but it is up to us to accept this free gift.

4. How to become a Christian
So then the final question becomes, how does one become a Christian?  You will be a Christian, "if you confess with your mouth 'Jesus as Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation." (Romans 10:9-10, NASB).  Once you have done this, I recommend that you begin reading the Bible on a daily basis, starting in John (the NT starts with the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which essentially give us the same information).  I think it is also important to find a church and get involved with other believers on a regular basis(Hebrews 10:25).  Join a small group through your church and connect with other believers (Matthew 18:20).  Get baptized to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts2:38), but also as a public profession of your faith to be part of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13)

Verses mentioned above are NASB, unless otherwise stated.  To check look up verses, read them in their context, find cross-references, and read commentary, go to http://bible.cc/

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail (jaymedenwaldt@hotmail.com).  For daily updates, go to my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/ChristianityForEveryone).  Thank you for reading.

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