Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What's so special about Christianity?


Every religion has a method by which one may obtain a desired state of being, which in this discussion will be called salvation.

In a generic definition, salvation may be seen as a state of being. A state which in it's ultimate form, is absent of pain and suffering (whether inflicted upon us by ourselves or others) and free of sin. Sin is defined as the propensity of man to disobey (one or more times) a given moral law or code.

Thus, salvation is seen as the ultimate condition to which a person may aspire, and it is defined in contrast to man in his worst condition - as he is, living on earth in pain, suffering and sin. Salvation, therefore, is man being saved from the a condition of sin and suffering into a perfect state of being where the grip of pain, suffering and sin does not exist, neither can it ever lay hold upon man again.

Every Religion Has It

Every religion defines a process by which the undesirable is made null and void, hence salvation obtained.

The question many people have, or at least consider, is this: what must I do in order to be free of sin, what must I do to be free from pain and suffering? To answer that question, we're going to briefly review Buddhism, a religion that has touched the lives of many pious people. By doing so we will provide a general foundation by which other religions can be understood. Once we've done that, we're going to answer the question, “what's so special about Christianity?”

Buddhism

Buddhism identifies the burden of life in the two-fold problem of sin and suffering. The question Gautama Buddha (the founder of Buddhism), sought to answer was, “why is there pain and suffering?” In addition to this, he also held a belief common to Hinduism called reincarnation – being reborn to an earthly life in either an higher or lower form. So, one might return as a man, woman, a flea or a rat, depending upon one's good and bad deeds in the previous life. The point of reincarnation is ascension to a higher form all the while shedding that which encumbers you from reaching enlightenment, and subsequently, Nirvana.

How does one ensure they reach Nirvana? It is obtained via the eight-fold path, which is defined (briefly) as follows:

The “Right” …
  1. Views. One must accept the four noble truths
  2. Resolve. One must renounce all desires (lust, bitterness, cruelty, selfishness)
  3. Speech. One must speak only truth.
  4. Behavior. One must abstain from sexual immorality, stealing, and all killing.
  5. Occupation. One must work in an occupation that benefits others and harms no one.
  6. Effort. One must seek to eliminate any evil qualities within and prevent any new ones from arising.
  7. Contemplation. One must be observant, contemplative, and free of desire and sorrow.
  8. Meditation. One must be disciplined in meditation in order to overcome sensations of pleasure and pain so that one may enter a state of transcending consciousness and attain a state of perfection.
Therefore, in the most basic of statements, Buddhists believe that through self effort one can attain the state of peace and eternal bliss called Nirvana, or salvation. This effort which results in salvation is called atonement. Atonement is compensation for wrongdoing.

It's no Different Elsewhere

Seriously, it's not that much different in any other religion. In any of the world's religions the most basic tenant is this: man through his efforts provides his own atonement for his condition. Some people obey the Four-Fold Truths and the Eight-Fold Path resulting in Nirvana. Others place their faith in a creed followed by doing good works and possibly obtain the favor of their god resulting in salvation (The Five Pillars / Islam). And yet others follow another type of creed and/or asceticism that they hope will result in a type of liberation.

Christianity: There's Good News and Bad News

In Christianity, there's good news and bad news. Isn't there always? Someone always asks you “do you want the good news first, or the bad news first?” Most people prefer to receive the good news first – they think it will soften the bad news, but it never does. In lieu of this, someone once said, “do the hard part first and the easy part last, then the easy part will be easier.” So that's what we're going to do here – you get the hard part first.

The Bad News

You're dead, spiritually speaking that is. God said to Adam and Eve, “if you eat from that tree, then you will die.” And Adam and Eve did die, spiritually speaking. And just like some of us inherited blue eyes and blond hair form our mother, we inherited spiritual death from Adam. That's the root of the suffering, pain and sin that we see and experience in the world today.
 Therefore, just as through one man {Adam} sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men … (Romans 5:12) 
It doesn't feel too good, does it, thinking of ourselves as spiritually dead sinners? What we really want, deep down, is to be free from the bondage of sin and suffering. So we like to think better of ourselves - we don't sin that much and we do a lot of good things, surely God takes notice. In a real sense, you're correct: God does take notice and we will be judged according to our deeds, but you can no more enter a Corvette into a Formula-1 race, or make an apple pie with pork chops, than you can make a spiritually dead man persist in the presence of a living God for all eternity: they don't mix - death cannot comprehend life.
God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24)
As thou knows not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knows not the works of God who makes all. (Ecclesiastes 11:5)

They will not frame their doings to turn unto their God: for the spirit of whoredoms is in the midst of them, and they have not known the LORD. (Hosea 5:4)

More Bad News: It's Your Nature

When was the last time you went to a funeral and heard the deceased give the eulogy? When was the last time you used wholly rotten apples in an apple pie? When was the last time an aborted baby re-assembled itself, came back to life and punched the Dr. in the family jewels? It doesn't happen – death cannot comprehend, abide or persist with life. Think of it this way: as a spiritualy dead person, you're a penny. In God's Coke machine of Eternity, only quarters make it to the money box, pennies are ejected out the bottom. You don't fit, you're the wrong size, you're spiritually misshapen to abide in spiritual life after physical death. That which is spiritually dead remains spiritually dead after physical death.

More Bad News: You've Got the Wrong Currency for Atonement

As a Spiritually dead person, not only can you not abide in life, you've got the wrong currency needed for atonement. Every time you sin, you earn wages. That sounds about right, doesn't it? Paid for the bad things, paid for the good things, and if the good out-weighs the bad, then you're in like Flynn. Wrong. You're getting paid with – you guessed it – death.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

But, what about all the righteous things you do? Surely my righteous deeds can wipe away my death, right? Lets take a look:
For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on Your name, who arouses himself to take hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us and have delivered us into the power of our iniquities. (Isaiah 64:6-7)

Your "righteousness" deeds cannot cleanse your death - who among us uses a greasy rag to clean a window? What's the point? It will be no better than when you started. Secondly, since the the power of your iniquities is death, when you die physically you will spend eternity reaping spiritual death:
... who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power ... (2 Thessalonians 1:9)

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. (Revelation 20:12-13)

God has a Pattern - A Method Resulting in Eternal Spiritual Life

God's method and pattern is simple:
  1. God's Redemption
The first step in God's pattern is redemption. The Israelites were redeemed by God from the bondage of Egypt. If the Israelites could have left the bondage of Egypt on their own, without a savior, without a redeemer, without the action of God, then they would have. What they needed was a deliverer, which is what they got:
And it came to pass in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died; and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God saw the children of Israel, and God took cognizance of them. (Exodus 2:23-25)
Wherefore say unto the children of Israel: I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments; and I will take you to Me for a people, and I will be to you a God; and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning which I lifted up My hand to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for a heritage: I am the LORD.' (Exodus 6:6-8)
  1. God's Law
The second step in God's pattern is Law. After the Israelites were redeemed and given a new life in the promised land, He gave them the Law - a basis by which they were to live their lives and understand their relationship with Him and others:

And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thy hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that the law of the LORD may be in thy mouth; for with a strong hand hath the LORD brought thee out of Egypt. Thou shalt therefore keep this ordinance in its season from year to year. (Exodus 13:9-10)

And thou shalt teach them the statutes and the laws, and shalt show them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do. (Exodus 18:20)

And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, with the two tables of the testimony in his hand; tables that were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written. And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables. (Exodus 32:15-16) { The 10 Commandments - received after exiting Egypt}
  1. God's Temple
The third step in God's pattern is the Temple - the place you commune with God.

And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: 'On the first day of the first month shalt thou rear up the tabernacle of the tent of meeting. And thou shalt put therein the ark of the testimony ... Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. (Exodus 40:1-3, 34)

First, we must be redeemed. Redemption results in spiritual life. It takes us out of the bondage of sin (Egypt – spiritual death) and into the freedom of life (the promised land – spiritual life).
Second, we listen to and understand the Law which results in knowledge for two things: proper relations with our fellow man, and our ability to do the third thing …

Which is communion with God.

Man has a Pattern - A Method Resulting in Eternal Death

Mankind does not like God's pattern - we like being in control of our destiny, we like proving that we're able to do it ourselves, and we like being able to say that we are better than someone else. So we want to take control and do God's plan backwards, assuming all the while that it will be acceptable to Him.
  1. Our Temple (Worship)
First, we worship at our temple. Call it what you may, be it a lifestyle of asceticism or church on Sundays, man has a way in which he worships that which he believes will provide eternal value to him.
  1. Our Law
Second, through his worship man believes he will be changed by gaining knowledge of law and shedding of sin (pain, suffering, etc) which will improve his relations with mankind, resulting in good deeds.
  1. Our Redemption (Heaven – Enlightenment – Nirvana )
Third, through his knowledge of the law and the resulting improved relations with himself and his fellow man, he believes that he will atone for his misdeeds, thereby redeeming himself before his god, in that the good deeds will out-weigh the bad deeds.

That is the absolute basis of every world religion, with the exception of Christianity.

What's So Special About Christianity?

Grace. Grace is the single, defining quality of Christianity – no other religion in the world has it.
In Christian circles, grace is poorly defined by an an acrostic: God's Riches At Christ's Expense. What exactly is that supposed to mean? It's an incredibly weak definition given that the people who are spiritually dead need to understand it the most. Seriously, what's the first image that “riches” engenders? Gold? Silver? Tons of money? Given the natural condition of man, that's just about as far as he can get.

What is Grace?

Grace is a gift which makes you become something, gives you a position that you cannot be or achieve through your own actions or merit. For example, a fireman rescuing a non-breathing victim and resuscitating them – Grace. Rescue workers digging victims out of the ruble of an earthquake – Grace. Giving a jobless person a job just because you can, not because he/she is qualified for the position – Grace. Providing a home to the homeless – Grace. Making someone your spouse – Grace. Human life – Grace (it's a gift given through the the graciousness of the mother and father).

Releasing the Israelites form the bondage of Egypt – Grace.

Grace is that external force acting upon a thing by which the means of becoming something better is provided. Grace provides improvement that cannot be obtained without the provider. A grain of wheat cannot become a stalk full of life giving seed by itself. It must fall to the earth, and it must have water and sunshine. It needs an external force acting upon it before it can transform from death into life.

You Need the Potter

What you need is something to make you alive. You need something to make you into that which you cannot become by yourself – you need grace. Consider again these verses from the Old Testament:

For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on Your name, who arouses himself to take hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us and have delivered us into the power of our iniquities. But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; and all of us are the work of Your hand. Do not be angry beyond measure, O LORD, nor remember iniquity forever; (Isaiah 64:6-9)

We are the clay? He is the potter? He is our Father? What does that mean?

It means you're a penny, not a quarter. It means you're an unfired mound of clay, not a bowl useful for good works. It means He is the one that makes the dead come alive. It means that you cannot, through any amount of self discipline, work or asceticism make yourself alive – you need Grace – you need an external force making you into something you cannot become through your own efforts.

The Good News

The good news is that positionally, you've won the lottery. That's right. In the Death vs. Life quandary that you find yourself, you've been given the winning ticket as a birthday present. The present is this: your sins have already been judged, in Jesus Christ:

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. (Romans 5:6-9)

For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. (Romans 5:10-11 KJV)

Well, you might ask, if that's so, then why do some people go to hell, and others go to heaven? That's a good question! The answer is simple - Faith - in God's order.

In order to get the money from the Lottery Commission, you have to exchange the winning lottery ticket for the cash. You've got to make the trip to the lottery office, sign the ticket and turn it in to the officials. You have to trust and believe (provide faith) that the lottery officials will give you the money in exchange for your ticket. If you don't apply that little bit of faith and act upon it, then you'll never get the money you've won.

A Righteousness that's not Yours

But what if you don't believe they will give you the money? What if you believe someone will steal the ticket from you on the way to the lottery office? What if you believe you'll lose the ticket on the way there? If you believe those things, then you will live in and act out those beliefs and in doing so, you will stay in your home, clutching a winning lottery ticket, but never receive the money that belongs to you.

In the very same way you must also turn away your arrogance that you can become righteous in and of yourself. You must be willing forsake those things which keep you away from placing your Faith and Trust in God. You must be willing to receive His righteousness through His redemption, before doing the deeds of the Law or the self sacrifice of Worship which cannot, and never will, result in redemption, atonement or salvation.

How is Grace Obtained?

So how is this grace given? Exactly like it was given to the Israelites. Look again:

the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God ...

What does it take to cry out to God? It takes faith. And what is faith? It is believing that God is (as the Israelites did when the cried out to Him), it is believing and trusting that God will do what He said He will do.

without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)

But isn't faith works?

No, faith is not works. Faith is trusting and believing, and when you trust and believe, you produce works, as in crying out to God, as in the trip you make to the lottery office. Before you can cry out to God, you must believe He is. Before you can make that trip to the lottery office, you must trust and believe that they will honor their lottery ticket they sold to you. 

Therefore, grace is provided through trust and belief (faith) that God has done and will do the work for you, through the atoning work of the High Priest, Jesus Christ.

Once the Israelites were out of Egypt and had received the Law and the Temple (take note of the order – redemption, law, temple) atonement for common sins was provided through grace, by faith in the Word of God. This faith was acted out through the those who brought the sacrifices and through the actions of the High Priest. It was the priest that made the offering, but God who made it acceptable.

Why did He make it acceptable? Because of their faith. How did He make it acceptable? By His Grace.

Through these actions, God provided an imperfect picture of the perfect sacrifice to come, of the perfect High Priest, Jesus Christ on the cross, by which He Himself entered into the Spiritual Holy of Holies – rather than the earthly holy place found in the earthly temple – thus making a way of salvation for all mankind, not just the Israelites.

God Provides Atonement and Salvation By Grace Through Faith

And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him {Abraham}, saying: 'This man shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.' And He brought him forth abroad, and said: 'Look now toward heaven, and count the stars, if thou be able to count them'; and He said unto him: 'So shall thy seed be.' And he {Abraham} believed in the LORD; and He {the LORD} counted it to him {Abraham} for righteousness. (Genesis 15:4-6)

This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. Surely the LORD'S mercies are not consumed, surely His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness. 'The LORD is my portion', saith my soul; 'Therefore will I hope in Him.' The LORD is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeketh Him. It is good that a man should quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD. (Lamentations 3:21-26)

For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. (Romans 4:13)
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:4-9)

The point is this: God has done the work, the High Priest, the Christ, has done His job: He has made the sacrifice. Our job is to humble ourselves before Him, accept the work He has done and turn away from our arrogance, our sins, and our disbelief. Through faith we can be clay in His hands, and be made vessels of Grace.

When we place our trust and belief in Him, He will do precisely what He promises to do: provide Salvation by Grace through Faith.

2 comments:

Tidbits of Torah said...

the reason there are many religions in the world is because G-d is testing us whether we will serve and worship him alone.Deuteronomy 13:3
you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul.

Tidbits of Torah said...

Shalom again, David. I created a new website. Would love to have you input as always.

http://newtestamentversustorah.blogspot.com/2009/12/what-does-g-d-say-about-sin-part-1.html

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