About Jesus - Steve Sweetman
Why do most people say that they believe in God, and yet the world around us is full of misery, crime, hatred, adultery, and all sorts of other such things? Why do so many claim to be Christian yet live like sinners? Are there any answers to these questions? I believe that there is an answer, and this is what I will try to show you as you read the paragraphs in this little booklet.
The Worldly Mans Perception
Ask any man or woman on this planet if they are a believer in God and they will most likely say "yes". Ask them why they believe in God and you will likely get a multitude of answers, differing with great variety. The reason why they believe might be based on an emotional experience, a rational explanation, a whim, or even a guess. Whatever their reasons are, the vast majority of people do believe in the existence of God. There are very few atheists in the world, and many who hold to this thinking have not thought it through sufficiently enough to reach a logical "no God conclusion".
In reality, it takes just as much faith, if not more, to not believe in the existence of God, than it does to believe in His existence. Dedicated believers in God are often criticized because the foundation of their belief is a simple faith. This faith is perceived to be a leap away from sound reasoning that is based on some type of emotionalism which is not scientifically proved.
Ask the man on the street why he believes in God. One man will say, "there must be a supreme mind behind creation. Life could not have happened by mere chance. There had to have been a rational mind in the process of creation. We will call Him God if you like".
Ask another man why he believes in God. He will say, "in my heart I just feel it is right. There must be a God. I cant explain why, I just know in my heart that there is."
Ask another man why he believes in God and this man will say, "because I see the conflict between good and evil. This conflict seems beyond the capability of mankind. It appears that there are other forces involved, spiritual forces, which we call God and Satan".
Once again, find another man to ask the same question to. He will answer, "I feel a certain presence when I meditate, something that is outside and apart from myself, some other presence. This must be God."
It does not matter who you ask. If they say they believe in God, they most likely have an answer, whether it is rational, or irrational.
Has Such Belief Helped Our World
For all of these people who say they believe in the existence of God, can you see that their belief makes any difference in the quality of their lives?
There are Arab believers, and there are Jewish believers. Both of these groups of believers have been in an ongoing battle for centuries over the claims of their beliefs.
There were the European believers who settled the Americas. As they discovered America, they discovered the native people who lived in America. These native people claimed the knowledge of God in their culture as well. Yet the battles raged from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
The United States of America and Canada once claimed with great pride their religious heritage, yet within their borders are found great disparities between people. You have the rich, and you have the poor. You have the nice person, and you have the nasty person. You have murderers, adulterers, deceivers, and all manner of so called ill-reputes. Has their religion made a difference in their quality of life? Has their belief in the Supreme One changed any aspect of life and society for the good?
These questions make one wonder just who or what a "true believer" really is. Is there someone out there with claims to faith whose life shows the difference?
Ask the man on the street if he is a Christian. Many, if not most will say, "yes I am a Christian". Here again, when you ask them why they are Christian, you will hear a multitude of answers. "I am a Christian because I believe in the existence of God". "I am a Christian because I go to church". "I am a Christian because I have grown up in a Christian family and a Christian country". "I am a Christian because I am good." The different answers go on and on.
Within this group of people who claim to Christian belief we have had countless divisions. There has been wars and battles between Catholic and Protestant nations. There have been great disputes among different persuasion in the church. There has been strife, bitterness, factions, unfaithfulness in marriage among other things in the individual who calls himself or herself a Christian.
My question in response to these people is, "does their claim to Christianity make any substantial difference in the quality of their lives"?
Evangelicals are those Christians who believe that "salvation for the soul comes by believing in what Jesus did for them on the cross, not by just being good" At this point in our discussion there is a major turn in our definitions. The Evangelical person claims to be a believer, just like the rest of Christendom does. The difference lies in "who they believe in" and not just what they believe in. They believe in God, yet they also believe in Jesus to be Gods Son, thus making Him God. This is where we get the word Christian. A Christian is one who does what Christ Jesus wants him to do.
The Evangelical Faith is founded on the idea that God became involved in the human experience by becoming a man. This man was named Jesus. He was Gods Son. By the humiliation of Jesus which was seen in His earthly existence and in his death as a criminal, and by His resurrection from the dead, people could find salvation.
There are many who lay claim in our society to being such an Evangelical Christian. Yet within this circle of Christians we see strife, division, factions, bitterness, back stabbing, along with many other things as well.
So here too I ask the same question. Does the belief of these people really make a difference in the quality of their lives?
The Root Of Evangelicalism
The Evangelical movement within the Christian church began in the early fifteen hundreds because of men like Martin Luther.
Martin Luther came to see that there were major discrepancies between what the Bible taught and what the church actually taught. The main point of irritation to Marten Luther was over the idea of "working your way to salvation", or "working your way to heaven".
The church taught that if you did certain things and you were really good, then you could "earn" your salvation, "earn" your way to Heaven. The church also taught that some super saints had extra merit with God. These saints could vicariously credit your account with God by allowing their goodness to spill over to you. In practical terms that meant this. You would pay the church so much money and they would release some extra goodness from a deceased super saint and put it on your account with the Lord. As a result, you would be saved and end up in Heaven when you die.
Martin Luther was infuriated with this teaching because he knew that the Bible did not teach this to be true. This idea of buying your way to Heaven, or working your way to acceptance with God was merely a tradition of men. It was simply a man made idea. Luther realized that man made ideas concerning Gods Salvation doesnt sit very well with God. So he began to change things by teaching what the Bible says about this subject. Thus the Evangelical movement began in the church.
Luther knew that going back to the Bible to learn about Jesus only made common sense. The Bible is the original book documenting all we need to know about Jesus. Why would we need to look elsewhere? Why not go to the source? The Bible, being the source for knowledge about God was pretty well ignored by the church in Martin Luthers day and age.
What Does The Bible Say
The Bible says that all men are unrighteous (Romans 3:10), that the whole world is guilty before God (Romans 3:19), and that there is only "one" way to change this situation. Romans 3:23 says that "all have sinned and have fallen short of what God wants".
This unrighteousness, or wrong living apart from God was a direct result of Adam and Eves rejection of Gods command to them in the Garden of Eden.
There is only one way back to God. There is only one way to Heaven. There is only one way out of our sinful, or wrong lifestyle. That is through properly believing in Jesus and what He has done for us (Romans 3:21-22). If you take the time to read Romans chapter three you will see this very clearly. This is what Martin Luther saw almost five hundred years ago.
We now come to the crux of the matter, and that is, the definition of the word believe as seen in the Bible. Our modern day definition of the word believe is, "to give mental assent to an idea". One might say, " I believe I saw that TV show before". This means that in the persons mind he believes he saw the TV show before. You might say, "I believe the world is round". This belief is a mental concept that you have concerning the world being round. You might say, "I believe in Jesus". By saying this you are stating that in your mind you believe that there is a real person called Jesus, and that He is Gods son. You are giving mental assent to something that is true.
When it comes to what the Bible means by the word believe, what we have just said is only the beginning. The Bibles definition of the word believe, as seen by the original language it was written in, is to "have a committed relationship with Jesus that is based on trust". As you can see, believing goes far beyond acknowledging the existence of God or Jesus. It is seeing from your heart that Jesus really exist, and as a result you give yourself over to Him and what He wants for your life. Your believing thus changes the way you live. It does make a significant change in the quality of your life. Your belief moves from the realm of thinking only, to a new lifestyle. This new lifestyle is based on your committed relationship with a real person. This person is Jesus.
Do you see the difference between just believing in your head, and having a personal relationship with Jesus? The first produces no real change in a life. The second brings about a major difference in the way one lives.
The Present Day Evangelical Problem
In those churches that claim to be Evangelical, there has arisen what I see as a big problem. The tendency for man historically, when it comes to the things of God, is to always fall back on their own thinking. Gods way of thinking and our way of thinking often, if not always clash, and is in conflict. Although we know this we still fall back on our own ways of thinking. As I see it from my vantage point today, this is what has happened with many Evangelical Christians. They have fallen back to a mere man made Christian faith. When they say that they believe, their belief is merely mental assent. In their heads they accept the existence of Jesus. They follow a written code that their church has nicely laid out for them, thinking all along that this makes everything okay. They think God is happy with them. They believe they will be in Heaven when they die, because in their heads they believe in the existence of God, and they obey the ten commandments.
Yet as we have already seen, believing is more than this. Even the devil believes in the existence of God and trembles at the thought (James 2:19). So there has got to be more to the things of God than just simply believing in His existence. Yet many modern day Christians have left it at this. Their life as a Christian is based on what they think a Christian should be like, not what God in His Written Word has stated. Their life as a Christian has become a duty filled life, just follow the rules and you will be okay.
Obviously the solution is to understand what the word "believe" really means from a Biblical standpoint, and to lay aside our own thinking about the subject.
What did we say believe really meant? We said that it was a committed relationship with Jesus based on trust. That means it is more than a way of thinking. That means a true believer is one who has begun a relationship with Jesus based on trust that He is who He says He is. You might ask at this point, "how can this come about? I know about having a relationship with a human being, but how does that work with God and Jesus?"
The only way in which you can begin such a relationship is the result of Gods Holy Spirit coming to live within you. He cannot come and live within you unless you make a decision. That is, you decide to have a change in life. You forsake your own way of doing things to follow His way of doing things. Once you have made this decision, you can properly believe, and ask His Holy Spirit to come and live inside of you. He will come and do just that because you believe in your heart, not just your head, that He exists and that there is a relationship to be had with Him.
Jesus took the penalty for our sin on the cross. That means, He was punished for our improper lifestyle. Once we realize this and accept this as fact, our sin, our own ways of living is forgiven. As a result of being forgiven, His Spirit can then come and live in us. Without being forgiven Gods Spirit cant live in us, because a Holy God cant live in an unholy person. But if you see this truth, He has made us holy by forgiving us.
This is the simplicity of Gods good news for mankind. We are separated from God from birth. We are all guilty of doing what we want for our lives. This is called sin. We all need help. Jesus was punished on the cross. We should have received this punishment, but He received it for us. Once we realize this fact and decide to let Jesus make us into a new person, which is called "repentance", then His Holy Spirit can come into our lives when we ask Him to.
For some this is instantaneous, happening in a moment of time. For others it is a process, taking the time to sincerely seek Jesus out. But if you are sincere, and God knows if you are, then He will meet with you. He will come and live with you and in you. This will be very evident to those around you. When the God who created all that there is visits with you and comes to live with you, you will be different. You will live different. There will be visible changes in your life. The quality of your life will improve remarkably for all to see. This is how my original question is answered. "Does your faith make an obvious change in the quality of your life?" The change can only come about when "true believing" as defined by the Bible becomes a part of your life.
One might argue successfully that the Evangelical movement did not start in the fifteen hundreds. Historically speaking this was called The Reformation. The Evangelical movement in later centuries does lay claim to Salvation by Faith as Martin Luther taught. In this respect you might say that Evangelicals find their roots in Martin Luther as does the Reformed Church.