The basic principles of Christianity are explained here.
The differences between Christianity
and other religions are also discussed.
Whereas an explanation of ‘what God is’ is provided in the article, “So, what is God”, this particular section of the website (see the Menu Bar above) discusses ‘who God is’ and how he relates to each of us personally.
Essentially, this section of the website aims to give a deeper understanding of where Christianity is ‘coming from’. I maintain that Christianity has simple core truths. And they are, in fact, what sets it apart from the other great monotheist religions, Judaism and Islam.
However bear in mind that, as far as I am concerned, followers of all the three monotheist religions believe in the same God. That is true even though they do call him by different names.
I personally chose Christianity for a number of reasons. Although perhaps surprising to the uninitiated again, one reason was the probability of fact that becomes evident when studying the Christian scriptures, and supporting secular (non Christian) writings of that era. This is allied to the apparent self proving nature of Christianity when it is applied with faith to our individual lives. And regular attendances across the broad Christian Church importantly provided me with the chance to witness God’s presence there. Look, I know … I know … very well indeed, this may be hard to accept initially. But please see details of my own experiences introduced in the article, “God’s presence in the Church”. I certainly admit I was surprised by what I saw and experienced there during my early years of faith!
But, what impresses me most about Christianity though is the value it places on ‘love’. Importantly, from our human understanding of God, his love of us is encapsulated in the concept of “grace”. And it was actually grace that ultimately drew me to Christianity. More on that later.
This particular article, the first in this section of the website, begins with a brief overview of Christian beliefs. If you wish to gain deeper knowledge on any of the subjects that follow, then (as with the other sections of this website) you can drill down into following and supporting articles. This can be done either by using the links as they appear within this article, or by accessing the articles directly from the drop-down menu above. The article continues with explanations of Christianity’s rules of love and the behavioural attitudes that Christians are expected to display within their lives.
Now, if all this seems a bit too much for you … say if you are even struggling with the possible existence of God … please begin by reading the article, “How to believe in God”. Trust me on this one: if you are ready to believe, then you can!
2. ESSENTIAL CHRISTIAN BELIEFS
What follows here is a brief overview of Christian beliefs. It endeavours to provide a solid platform for understanding the balance of this article and other articles within this section of the website.
2.1 God’s Love for Us
As I wrote earlier, “grace” was what drew me to Christianity. The term relates to the way our loving God is always ready to give us human beings far more than we rightfully deserve (not to be confused with financial riches). Through his outpouring of grace, God demonstrates that he really wants a loving personal relationship with each one of us. I read somewhere that the concept of grace is so far out there, that no human could ever have ‘dreamt it up’. I’ll expand on that later.
So, God’s love for us is the underlying theme in Christianity. Hence the subtitle for this article. I add that this subtitle should not be construed as meaning that God loves Christians more than Jews or Muslims. Look, I do not think that for a moment. Rather, the title highlights how we, as Christians, primarily think of ourselves within our relationship with God.
2.2 The Holy Trinity
The vast majority of Christians hold the Holy Trinity, the concept of a triune God, as a central belief of their religion. Christians believe that Jesus is an essential identity within the ‘Trinity’. The Trinity consists of God the Father, God the Son (or Jesus the Son of God) and God the Holy Spirit – three persons in one God. So, despite the concept of the Trinity, all Christians believe that there is only one God.
The concept and God’s reason for it, is not as complicated as at first imagined – again please see the article, “The Holy Trinity.” The Trinity, as explained there, began with God’s need to place his loving presence in human form on Earth whilst still maintaining the existence of all that is.
2.3 Jesus and the “Cross”
Following on then, most Christians believe that Jesus, whilst alive amongst us as a fellow human being over 2000 years ago, was God incarnate, i.e. Jesus was, and still is for that matter, God.
The price that Jesus paid for us
Because of God’s love for us, Jesus provided himself as a living sacrifice, the Lamb of God, in order to pay for humankind’s wrongdoings (sins).
Jesus felt the pain of pre-execution torture and humiliation at the hands of his captors, and then experienced physical exhaustion when forced to carry his own cross much of the way to the place of his execution. He felt the nails go through his flesh.
Once on the cross, he felt the agony of losing his ability to breathe freely. In effect he experienced the slow and tormented death that he had known awaited him.
What the cross means for us
Through his own death by crucifixion on the cross, Jesus thereby justified our sins. As a result, ‘faithful’ Christians can be assured of eternal life through the grace of God. (Note this explanation makes use of the essential Biblical jargon that has been used for over two thousand years.)
In simple English, the average Christian believes that Jesus thus died for them, and his physical death on the cross has paid for any sins they have or might yet commit. Essentially, the cost of all our sins accrued throughout our lives, i.e. which would normally mean a punishment of permanent death, is brushed aside as a result of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.
It is also believed that the ‘resurrection’ to new life and ‘ascension’ into heaven by Jesus, after his death ‘on the cross’, demonstrates most positively the victory over death that is offered to us.
Again, the Christian religion’s view of Jesus as God is essential to understanding the depth of God’s unconditional love for us, and his “grace”. That is God became human so that he could physically sacrifice himself for us. (Please see the articles, “Jesus as God” and “Evidence of Jesus” for a better understanding).
For Christians, the common symbol of the ‘cross’ signifies: God’s love for us; his grace, our forgiveness and victory over death.
2.3 Jesus as “Our Lord and Saviour”
Although some ‘conjecture’ exists between theologians on the subject, we Christians are saved from our sins so as to receive eternal life, if we:
- admit to our past wrongdoing (sins) and try to turn our backs on our old ‘its all about me’ way of life.
- commit ourselves through ‘faith’ to Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.
A great proportion of Christians do accept these commitments.
Now the words “Jesus as our Lord and Saviour” is a common term and therefore deserves an explanation here, even though it is revisiting some of the beliefs already explained.
The ‘Lord’ aspect of the above term firstly requires an explanation. It refers to Jesus as being God himself, i.e. the God of the Old Testament (the pre-Jesus Books of the Bible); the great “I AM”. As I have already indicated above, the Father and the Son are two persons of the Holy Trinity. Both declared themselves to be I AM within the Bible. The Father did so in the Old Testament (Exodus 3:14), possibly 500 to 600 years before Jesus was born, and then the Son did so in John 8:58. Two related verses are quoted in full on the “About” of this website. The ‘Lord’ aspect secondly relates to Jesus (as God) being ‘the boss’ to us humans, who are trying to obey him in life; to follow his guidance.
Christianity ‘came to pass’ at the point of history that God knew would come. It was time to relax on dogma (the world was becoming civilised). It was time to restructure rules and relationships. Clearly now, we have a ‘boss’ who dearly loves us all and deals with each and every one of us (and humanity as a whole) in an all knowing pragmatic manner.
The ‘Saviour’ aspect of the statement, as explained under the previous sub section, is straightforward. We are to believe that Jesus laid down his physical life in a very painful manner to pay for our wrongdoings; our sins, so as to enable us to have eternal life. He has saved each of us Christians from permanent death after our physical lives end.
As a result of being saved through faith, Christians are freed to concentrate on a close loving relationship with God. In essence, that is what God desires above all else; that is why we individually have been created.
Further discussion on what it ‘takes’ to be saved, as mentioned above, is included in the supporting articles, “Christian rules and laws” and “Heaven and hell”. The moral dilemma of wrongdoing (sin), and its impact on our lives now, is also expanded in the next section of this article.
3. CHRISTIANITY’S SIMPLE RULES OF ‘LOVE’
The three great monotheist religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) maintain that every one of us can enter into a personal relationship with a God who: listens to each of us, tries to speak to each of us and offers guidance/ support to each of us. All three religions believe that God wants each of us to enter into that relationship with him. Actually, he attempts through whatever means that become available to him to draw us into it – encouraging us to respond to him. And, as with most religions, despite God’s love for us (or more likely because of it) Christians accept that God has laid down rules to be followed. But unlike Judaism and Islam, Christianity views its rules in a different context.
3.1 Jesus’ answer
I have repeatedly mentioned in this article why I chose Christianity over the other two monotheist religions: Judaism the oldest of the three, Islam the youngest. Simply put, it is Christianity’s principle of ‘love’: God’s love of us, encapsulated within his ‘grace‘ that is given freely to us; and our love of him. The rules of Christianity, or “Commandments” as they are called, are also ‘love’ related.
Two new commandments
When it comes to actual laws and rules for guidance in our lives, Jesus himself provided clear advice.
When asked, in the form of a challenging question, which of the Ten Commandments (from the Bible’s pre-Jesus Old Testament) was the most important, Jesus answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” Then continuing, Jesus added, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” [Luke 10:27]
In answer to that ‘trick question’ then, Jesus in effect provided two new commandments that more than adequately covered the essence of all the old Ten Commandments.
What they mean for us
So, love of God and our fellow humans fundamentally underpins Christian ‘law’. Mind you, this is not to say that other laws, i.e. within the Old Testament, are of no relevance at all. Also Jesus himself added further standards for us to follow, and these are documented in the New Testament. Please see the article, “Christian rules and laws” to better understand how rules and laws affect Christians.
God will definitely try to guide us into what is appropriate in our actions, if there is any doubt about what is ‘right or wrong’ within our lives. This in effect provides us with an element of proof of God’s existence.
By the way, the word ‘love’ in the Bible (in relation to our fellow humans) means more ‘to deeply care about’ than as we apply the word today. That is a deeper or more significant emotion reserved for those who are very close to us personally.
3.2 Love of God
Now it is no surprise that if God did love us enough to become human and subsequently die for us in agony, then he would expect love from us in return. And Jesus highlighted the extent of love that is expected of us, “…with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”.
Note too that Jesus provided us with the ideal example of a human being to follow – himself! The Gospels (New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) contain the words and actions of Jesus. The concept of Jesus’ ‘revealing’ nature is incorporated within one of his alternative titles, “The Word”. With regards to loving God (in his case the Father) the human Jesus clearly demonstrated that he did.
From God’s point of view, it is a case of the more Christ-like we can become with his grace, the closer our loving relationship with him becomes. As the Word, in this context, Jesus is our guiding light. Ultimately, contentedness with life improves as growth towards Christ-likeness takes place, and our love of God increases. And look, do not worry too much, if that all seems a bit too much. It just happens. Slowly but surely, as our faith becomes sound.
3.3 Love of our Neighbours
With regards to our neighbours (i.e. our fellow humans), it basically comes down to ‘love’ again. Each one of us is a loved child of God, and he wants us all to deeply care for his other children. When we grasp that, we can see that the old Ten Commandments, i.e. those ones that relate to our fellow human beings, should not need to be stated. For example, everybody should understand that it is wrong to steal from people we love (i.e. people that we ‘care about’ as much as we ‘care about’ ourselves)! Similarly, we would not covert (lust after) or enter into adultery with the life partner of someone we deeply care for etc.
In other words, Jesus’ new love-based law again encompasses the essence of all those older laws, and indeed goes beyond them! Please read “Christian rules and laws” for a better understanding.
I suppose we can look to the twentieth century example of Mother Theresa of Calcutta for the personification of love towards neighbour. This way of life (loving care for others) offers so much in return to us. All Christians are called to it. And, there is no better medicine for the human psyche than assisting others in their time of need. It has the potential to lift us from the mire of self indulgence – leading us away from our all too common self destructive tendency to dwell on our own problems, needs and wants.
Just as God himself came to serve his beloved children through self sacrifice, in the person of Jesus, so we Christians are called to serve our fellow humans.
Even to the coldest enemies of Christendom, it must be obvious how much good that Christians do in the world through their outreach services. Committed Christians always seem to be in the thick of it, where there is pain and suffering throughout Western nations and the world as a whole. It is their commitment to faith, and recognition of the commandment to love one another, that drives these people on. And at times they may even put their own mortal lives at risk. Simply put, it is what Jesus would have done.
3.4 If we are saved anyway, why obey the rules?
Most Christians accept that while obedience to rules and laws (the ‘two rules of love’ or for that matter complying with the Ten Commandments etc) is important, it is not necessarily critical for the soul or its salvation. Christianity essentially places faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour above all else, although it certainly does not ignore obligations that we should meet.
This is the big difference between Christianity and the other major monotheist religions of Judaism and Islam. Those religions place ‘compliance with religious rules/ laws’ at the same level of importance as ‘belief in God’.
We must try hard to be faithful
The best summary in the Bible of how the law itself (rules, commandments etc), God’s saving grace, and upholding those laws, all fit together is provided by St Paul. Please read Romans 3:19-26.
In essence, as Christians, we should want to do his bidding because we do not want to disappoint our loving God – not because we are afraid of losing our souls. Of course, God expects us to ‘run the best race’ that we can, with the help of his grace. And when we do wrong (commit sin) we should admit it to God and try hard to not do it again. We love him, as we should love our human parents, and as with them, we don’t want to disappoint him.
The cost of being unfaithful
A further issue surrounding serious sin, is that it can grow to a stage where the wrongdoing can become more important to us than our relationship with God. Not good? Those sorts of bad life choices, can actually dis-engage us from our relationship with him. Then we will just plain miss out on the rewards that faithfulness offers us.
Yes, faithfulness to God should be a major objective in any Christian’s life.
This principle, based on love and faith, rather than rules and faith, obviously offers a shift from the Jewish and Islamic concentration on laws/ rules or ‘legalism’ as it is termed. Again, and all importantly, it is not primarily about the rules, it is about having that deep personal, loving relationship with God that we are called to.
4. CHRISTIAN ATTITUDES
Much of what is expected of us by God in our day to day lives relates to this love of fellow humans – ethical dealings, monogamous relationships, placing other people above our personal desires, etc.
Without doubt, next to our relationship with God, caring for our fellow human beings is our most important requirement in life. Our general attitudes towards our fellow humans should obviously flow from Jesus’ second commandment. We must be ready to assist any human who we consider needs our caring help.
Jesus would certainly have denounced the ‘holier than thou’ attitude held by so many Christians over the centuries. As to our personal presentation within the community, the prophet Micah offered this guidance 700 years before Jesus’ birth:
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Even as a Protestant Christian myself, I recognise that the late Catholic Pope John Paul II presented us with an excellent example of holy humility during his papacy. The present Pope Francis is shaping up in a similar manner.
The Christian principle of deeply caring for, and helping, others in need is in direct conflict with the negative and memorable associations that so many people have with Christianity. Of course that includes the ongoing behaviour of its bigots, its history of holy wars, sexual abuse of children by those in authority etc. These all rest so sadly with our religion of love. (Of course fervent atheists forget to balance Christianity’s past and present good works against these misdeeds.)
Christianity should be a religion where its followers judge no one [Matthew 7:1-6, James 4:12]. I offer the example when Jesus was asked whether an adulterous woman should be stoned to death as punishment [John 8:1-11]. What was Jesus’ response? It was perfect, “Let whoever has not sinned, throw the first stone!” Shamed by the answer, the small crowd drifted away leaving Jesus and the woman alone together. Jesus compassionately requested only that the woman change her ways, i.e. repent.
Christianity is about recognising the problems in our own lives, primarily trying to do something about that, and not fussing too much about the wrongs in the lives of others. In essence, the life of a Christian should be his or her statement to others on how to live.
This is not to say we must condone all wrong committed by others. The laws of our society should be served for instance. And Christians are expected to stand up for the oppressed. We should also make a non violent stand against those who would threaten the lives and souls of our fellow humans.
Nothing better explains desirable Christian attitudes than the following verses provided to us by Jesus, referred to as “The Beatitudes”.
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger
and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are
persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Most importantly, remember that Christianity is a religion that does not need a lot of theoretical knowledge, upfront, before you can practise it. Just be open to God; begin that relationship with him, and see how Jesus can transform your life. Yes, engage with him.
If you need guidance on how to develop your belief in God, then read the article, “How to believe in God”. You will see there how to involve our loving God in your life; to walk the walk. I am confident, just like so many other Christians, that anyone can prove to themselves, well beyond reasonable doubt, that God is real by simply putting faith to work within their lives.
Let God love you freely, and love him back. He has an awesome presence once faith has been fully established. After recognising this, life will never be the same again.
There is no denying that deeper knowledge of the Bible can, and should, come later due to the incredible depth of wisdom and guidance that is contained within it. It is not difficult to see God’s purpose for Christianity through the Bible’s themes – which I have tried hard to summarise in this article.
Exposure to Christianity, through church attendances, also offers us the opportunity to experience this essence at work. That is to feel it! Further evidence of God’s presence can be witnessed there as well. It is also there within the Church that we are provided with the opportunity, when finally ready, to formally commit ourselves to Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.
‘Love’ is at the heart of Christianity – God’s love for us, our love for God and his other children. Initially, it demands little of us as individuals, other than developing a relationship with the God who became human and then painfully sacrificed his mortal life for us.
Join in please. Ask questions. Leave a comment. Etc.