Continued from here.
Deciding that there is a God and that Christianity is God’s preferred religion does answer some important questions. As with science, however, the more answers you have, the more questions you can pose.
What Does God Want?
What could the God of Creation want from creatures barely capable of flinging themselves off a puny ball of water and dirt? Why were we created? The standard Christian answer is that God created us:
To know, love, and serve Him during the short course of his pilgrimage in this world, and then to be taken up to heaven, and be happy in the possession and enjoyment of God himself for all eternity.
That sounds good, but does it really say much of anything? I did not think so. That is why, I suppose, I had to read the Bible.
Imagine knowing you are about to be crucified. You are about to eat your last supper. What do you do? Would you wash your disciple’s feet? Not me.
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
Christ set an example. How can I follow it?
Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God and to love our neighbor (see here). And he set as an example of how God wants us to love.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
From the Bible, we know Christ knew his fate well in advance. Yet he steadfastly marched to it. Knowing he would be beaten. Knowing he would have a crown of thorns placed upon his head. Knowing he would be nailed to a cross. Knowing he would die.
Subsequently, many Christians died painful deaths as martyrs. To gain eternal life, these men and women gave up their lives by following in the example of Christ.
Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.
What does such a life have to recommend it? Such is the puzzle that even the most humble may look upon Christianity in bewilderment.
Here is how some describe the covenant we must make with God.
Wesley Covenant Prayer
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
(as used in the Book of Offices of the British Methodist Church, 1936).
This appalling sacrifice is what my pride had already once before rejected. More than mere humility is required to accept such a fate.
I must learn to believe in Christianity. I must have Faith in what Christ taught. That means more just convincing myself the Christian faith is Truth. In his book, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis says Christians use the term “Faith” in two senses or two levels.
In the first sense it means simply Belief — accepting or regarding as true the doctrines of Christianity. That is fairly simple. But what does puzzle people — at least it used to puzzle me — is the fact that Christians regard faith in this sense as a virtue. I used to ask how on earth it can be a virtue — what is there moral or immoral about believing or not believing a set of statements?
Lewis goes on to say that you can know something to be true and still be tempted from acting on that belief. The human mind is not ruled entirely by reason. Lewis gives several examples. When we have no other reasonable choice, we can be persuaded by fear not to accept the risk of anesthetics and the surgeon’s knife. A man can become so enthralled by a pretty woman, he trusts her with a secret when he ought not. Or consider the example of a boy learning to swim. The water can be so frightening. When his instructor takes his supporting hand away, will the boy have faith in his lessons or suffer a moment of panic?
It is not enough to believe that the Bible is reasonably and logically true. I must learn to trust in God and obey his commands.
When I am tempted, will my faith break? Am I not a mere man? And so I must study the Bible and seek to become ever more steeped in Faith.
If I have Faith, why do I need Hope? My Love is only human. My Faith in God is not perfect. Perhaps the Apostle Paul described the problem best.
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
To fully know the Truth of God, I must die. In the meantime, I build must build my Faith in Hope, by acting in Hope. Paul described the importance of Hope to Faith this way.
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
As C. S. Lewis put it:
This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do.
To be Faithful in this world, we must think of the next.
For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Or as C. S. Lewis put it.
Aim at heaven and you will get the earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither. –C. S. Lewis
And what is this Heaven that gives us Hope? It would seem to be a hope no one can fully describe. Jesus said not to worry.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Why Did I Write This?
Well, the obvious answer is The Great Commission. Jesus told us to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Like most Christians, I could fulfill that obligation by supporting missionaries. However, we are called to do more.
Early Christians served as witnesses (see Act 10:39-43, for example). They testified to Christ death and resurrection. What can modern Christians do? Christian scholars study and testify to integrity of the Bible, and they help their fellow Christians read and understand its ancient text. Yet to some degree, all Christians must study scripture. We should not pester anyone. When people do not want to listen, they will not listen. But when our friends and neighbors ask, we each must testify as to why we believe and how our faith brings joy to our lives.
And so I have written. What is my joy? I know this life is not futile. I have the hope that each person I have known and loved will live on, even after their memory has faded from this earth. And I know my sins and my faults have been forgiven. By accepting Jesus into my life, I have received the gift of salvation.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.