The Essence of the Faith and Why it Matters
Christianity is grounded in history. While some might think of the Bible as a disjointed collection of ancient writings, the events recorded in the Bible really happened, and there is an overarching, central theme and message. It is in understanding this theme, this metanarrative, that we find God’s purpose for humanity, and by extension for each of us as we seek to make sense of the world and find meaning for our lives.
The writers of the biblical texts never attempt to show any beginning for God; they simply posit that He exists. “In the beginning, God.” He preexists creation. (“He” because the Bible uses male pronouns. “He” although God of course does not have a human body, incarnate God – Jesus – was a man.) As God, the eternally existing God, the One by whom and through whom and for whom all things exist, God’s great design in all His works is the manifestation of His own glory. Properly so; God is God.
The Introduction – Creation
The Bible teaches us that we were created “in God’s image,” in some limited sense corresponding to Him and resembling Him, able to reason, able to choose, able to and meant to live in relationship with Him as well as with each other. God created mankind out of His love and goodness in a condition of communication with Him and knowing Him. It is here that we find the introduction to the grand story of human existence.
It is easy for those of us who accept creation as fact to get caught up in debates about details (and the details are not unimportant) and miss the point that ultimately cannot and must not be missed. Eternal God, for His own purposes and in great display of ability, power, knowledge, and wisdom, created by fiat what we know as creation. He created the physical universe substantially as it is, the celestial bodies, the earth, all designed and created as part of His plan. He created the earth substantially as it is (great geological changes have occurred). He created life on the earth, plants as plants, animals as animals. All of this creation was designed as a home for humanity. And he created humans – as humans. Innocent of evil, in the image of God, mentally, morally, socially able to interact with Him, created for His divine purpose. The Bible says in Colossians 1:16-17, “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” This truth is both assumed and restated throughout scripture.
The Conflict – The Fall
Everywhere around us we see the manifestation of God in creation. The world as we know it, humanity as we know it, all that we can perceive, is simply unimaginable without a Creator far beyond anything we can contemplate, far beyond anything of the natural world, far beyond chance development from eternal space-plus-time-plus-energy/matter. Simultaneously, all around us we see disaster and destruction. We sense the obvious, that something is not at all right. The Genesis story of the creation of man is quickly followed by the story of man’s rebellion against God. Made in God’s image, Adam had the capacity to make free choices. Fully in relationship with their Creator, Adam and Eve made the disastrous choice to rebel against their Creator. Life in obedience and harmony with God was an existence of enjoyment, life, knowledge, and achievement, but sin – disobedience to the Creator – brought disaster, loss of life, eternal death.
The aftermath and consequences of that rebellion against God is the story of human history. The earth itself became tainted, a punishment to mankind for sin, becoming less hospitable to humankind, with famines, plagues, pestilence, earthquakes, floods, droughts and disasters and hardships throughout time. Disease, various maladies, and physical death became the fate of all. Genesis chapter 6 records the great Flood, a dramatic act of divine destruction against an ancient world deeply in sin. Untold millions have died in wars. Persecution against perceived enemies, greed, selfishness, pride, murder, human sacrifice, and slavery, have characterized human history.
Humanity exists amid this Fall, the great rebellion against the Creator. The divine nature demands justice and judgement against that rebellion; God’s nature as God demands that He doesn’t merely tolerate rebellion. Humans are not somehow merely flawed yet perfectible. We are rebels against God.
None of this came as a surprise to God. The scriptures help us to understand that God is not the cause of sin, but for His own divine purposes allowed sin. He is all-knowing and all-powerful, who exists outside of creation, outside of time. As difficult as it might be at first to accept, God knew when He created man “in His own image” that man would sin and rebel against Him. That rebellion, and more importantly the solution to that rebellion, is the heart of the great metanarrative.
The Resolution – Redemption
God in His grace provided the way that we can be forgiven and restored. The apostle Paul wrote of Christ in Colossians 1:19-21, “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled . . .” This was the plan of God, for His own glory, before creation, before time began. Ephesians 1:4 reminds that God “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world.” It is here we find the culmination of history, the grand purpose of God, the reason for human existence.
Jesus is God incarnate, born into humanity for the express purpose of dying for us, to demonstrate the consequences of sin and to pay the penalty for our sins. After His death on the cross, Jesus rose again from the dead in triumph over death that came with human sin. All who trust Him for salvation will be forgiven and made new, as Jesus’ death was the payment and full atonement on behalf of the people of all nations and of all history who turn from their sins and embrace Christ as Savior. This is, essentially, the gospel, the essence of Christian teaching. The gospel is based on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 15 and elsewhere in his writings. For since by sinful man death and destruction came, by the incarnate God Man came resurrection and restoration. In Adam all died, even so in Christ we are made alive. God created man, physical death and destruction came because of disobedience, and the Cross brought atonement, reconciliation, and the promise of a new heaven and earth. The solution to human estrangement from God is not to be found in sacramentalism, ceremony, religion, or reformation. Jesus Christ did the only needed and acceptable work. What is required of us is acknowledgement of our guilt, humble admission of our rebellion both individually and as a human, and acknowledgement of Christ as Savior and Lord. We must admit that we are rebels who must lay down our arms.
It is “The Cross” and what happened there that is the centerpiece of the metanarrative. The Old Testament points to and predicts it, the New Testament presents and explains it. By it the sins of Christ’s people are atoned for; they are reconciled to God. Everything else is subordinate to this plan, put in place by God’s providence for the sake of this plan. In Jesus Christ on the cross divine holiness was demonstrated and justice was carried out. God put the punishment of all our sins on Him, so that He might freely and graciously pardon believers, to the honor and exaltation of His justice, grace, and mercy, as Paul explained in Romans 3.
We should and must also consider the earthly ministry and teaching of Jesus and live our present lives in light of his teaching, but we should always remember that the purpose for which Jesus came was to die on the cross. In the Bible’s book of Acts, chapter two, recording a sermon of the apostle Peter, one reads, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know— Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, . . .” The reason for the incarnation and death of Jesus plainly centered around His death for us. He was not merely a great leader or teacher or martyr who died for a cause. It is here – the incarnation and the cross – that we begin to understand the grand plan for humanity. Creation showed his abilities and much of what characterizes God as God, but it only went so far. God’s ultimate purpose was not merely creation; it was Jesus Christ on the cross and on His eternal throne worshipped as savior by His redeemed for all eternity.
The Bible indicates that outside of the creation we inhabit, there are “the hosts of heaven,” other created beings such as angels. We might expect that an eternally existent infinite God would create throughout timeless eternity. And in Christ and what He came to do God uniquely manifested Himself not only to humankind but to these numberless created beings. When man sinned, God did something startling, grand, unexpected. He demonstrated divine grace and love. Infinite holy God provided a way for humans to be saved by the sacrificial substitutionary death of Christ. It is here that we find the grand purpose for human existence. God vividly displayed His infinite grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness.
In the Bible’s book of The Revelation, we observe that the “hosts of heaven” worship this “Lamb that was slain.” The centerpiece of worship in heaven for eternity will be the display of the glory of the grace of God in the “Lamb that was slain.” The suffering of Jesus Christ will be at the center of our worship and our wonder forever. This is not an afterthought of God. This was the plan before creation, the goal and purpose of creation and human existence, the reason why we exist. The sacrifice of Christ is the focal point of the ages and of eternity for us. It forever removed the sins of those who believe. Angels and the redeemed of earth will sing of the suffering of this sacrificed Lamb forever; the suffering of the Son of God will never be forgotten. We exist for God. Jesus satisfied the Father’s justice, made the necessary atonement for sins, and created a people for God.
The Epilogue – The Consummation
Over the last two thousand years, in the wake of the life of Jesus and the spread of Christianity, the gospel has been taught, people throughout the ages have believed that gospel and entered the spiritual kingdom of Christ’s followers. Millions have believed the gospel, and in His divine plan God continues to add to the ranks of His eternal worshippers. They have physically died but live on as worshippers of God, as subjects of His eternal kingdom. They have left this life and entered a new existence with their Savior. There is a consummation for each of us individually – we will all pass from this world and enter the eternal state.
But the world still “groans” as the Bible says, still largely existing in the consequences of the Fall. Of Christ’s first coming, Paul wrote in Galatians 4 that “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” Christ came “in the fullness of time,” at the time planned from the beginning. After His resurrection, as He prepared to ascend into heaven, Jesus told His assembled disciples (Acts 1:6-11),
Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”
The epilogue of the metanarrative tells us that in God’s divine plan the present age will end at a divinely chosen time. In His time, Christ will return suddenly and dramatically, as Earth’s rightful King to reclaim His country. Judgement on the sins of the unrepentant will come. God will intervene and bring righteousness, equity, and justice to the world, and believers will live eternally in unending praise of the One who died for their sins, in a world free from sin and its effects on a restored earth that will be ours to inhabit for eternity.
Revelation 5:12-14 tells, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!” And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: “Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!” Believers of the ages will eternally worship, thank, and praise the Lamb who was sacrificed for our salvation. This is the eternal plan and purpose of God.
This is essentially Christianity 101. But, one might ask, so what?
For the Individual. Creation in its grandeur displays something far beyond natural processes. Observing creation, one does not necessarily come to conclude that the God of the Bible exists, but one must at least be open to the existence of a creator beyond creation. The Bible causes us to understand that it is more God who seeks man rather than man seeking God, but observation of God demonstrated in creation and the created world coupled with the human conscience to some degree makes it incumbent that men do seek Him. “God . . . now commands all men everywhere to repent.”
Those who have come to Christ and understand the great story of God’s plan for human redemption begin to understand that there is meaning and purpose to the world, to life, and to themselves. Life is moving forward and heading toward an ultimate perfect eternal existence with God. Our faith dictates the way we see the world, our attitudes and actions toward others, and our view of our self. Individuals find their significance in knowing God. Our existence has meaning; therefore, my existence has meaning. As a believer, one comes to understand that we as human are sinful and fundamentally flawed, acknowledge our sin and rebellion, and humbly come to God. We must live a repentant life, forming our attitudes and behavior in obedience to Him. We understand that God our creator loves us so much that Christ died for us, and therefore we can and should live joyous, purposeful lives. “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.” Despite difficulties, or enjoying positive circumstances, we live with an eternal perspective, understanding that our losses and our gains are both transitory. God is sovereign and ultimately in control of His great grand purpose for creation and in His presence and purpose for us individually. We are eternal worshippers of God; that is at the center of His reason for creating us, and we worship Him now in the totality of life. As followers of Christ, it is He whom we worship in attitudes and actions, in giving excellence to the tasks in life, and serving those around us. We worship Him when we learn and practice His ways outlined for us in the Bible. While secularism and postmodernism cannot adequately answer the quest and longing for significance, meaning, and worth, Christianity with the unchanging central theme of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior brings the answer to those questions.
There is an eternal Creator who has created and expressed His love toward us; thus, He is the source and definition of truth and knowledge. Truth becomes absolute, not relative, in the Christian metanarrative, and this profoundly affects our perspectives and our behavior. Our understanding about reality and how we see the world and therefore how we live, becomes completely different from those who have a different worldview not informed by an understanding of God’s program. The great Christian metanarrative is the source of concepts long taken for granted in western culture, like human dignity and basic human rights. The cultures and nations influenced by Christian teaching have historically developed in expression of those virtues. Believers are uniquely able to be a positive force in society.
Benevolence, charity, equity, fairness, justice, deference, humility, and respect for rights, are ultimately rooted in this understanding that God created and loves people. Christ’s followers should love those who like us are created in God’s image. Our virtues are to be an expression of our identity as a follower of Christ, and our desire to demonstrate the love of Christ is the primary motivation for expressing those virtues. Christ died for sinners, so we declare the gospel, persuade, and convince sinners to end their rebellion and acknowledge Christ as Lord and become worshippers of Him.
Paul wrote in Philippians 2 that ultimately every knee will bow at the name of Jesus Who humbled Himself to death on the cross. All of creation—in heaven and on earth—ultimately will bow before Jesus Christ and Him alone (Philippians 2:10). Believers will worship Him eternally and are called to worship Him supremely in this present life. We live in anticipation. We live with hope and optimism.
For the Church. Biblical churches are assemblies of followers of Christ, and churches have been found in cultures and societies throughout the centuries. There is no liturgy given in the New Testament for the assembly of the local church, and those assemblies are very different in various circumstances and times. Two ordinances have been given to the church, baptism and communion, and the central feature of both is the central truth of Christ. In baptism, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is pictured, and the individual being baptized identifies with Christ and with the church. In communion, the broken body and blood of Jesus is vividly remembered. These ordinances are acts of worship, remembering and commemorating Christ as the atonement for one’s sin. They put the work of Christ in the central place in the church. That centrality is to be present in everything that the church is and does.
It might be easier for a persecuted church to remain focused on Who God is and what Christ has done for us. But too often the American church seems to have set the central metanarrative aside. In previous decades especially, many in Fundamental and Evangelical circles embraced a decisional approach that often used some combination of ease and convenience, guilt, and emotion to elicit a “repeat after me” prayer that would then pronounce the convert as “saved.” The danger here is that the person fails to understand the gospel, understand true repentance, and genuinely turn to Christ as Lord and Savior.
The bigger failure today is the failure of churches to emphasize anything of the gospel at all. Too often the concept of Jesus that is presented is as a great teacher, a martyr, an affirmer, a friend, a social reformer. He is a source for inspiration, principles of success, and prosperity. He condemns no sin, instead affirms every action and choice. The Jesus that might be put forward is “radical” or “revolutionary,” with an emphasis on various social issues. The church assembles more to be entertained than to glorify God and commune with Him.
The metanarrative with the central truth of Christ as Savior and Lord are to be the core subject of what the church teaches, the superstructure on which all else is supported. Scripture addresses a vast number of subjects, helps us understand how we should live, and so the church continuously addresses those topics. We must learn to live successfully in the present world as a believer, to overcome the corruption present in society, to live out our faith in the totality of life. We should enjoy interactions with other believers and help each other in life. But if one attends a church and does not regularly hear of human sin, the need for repentance and faith, and the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the atonement for human sin, there is something wrong in that church. If the themes and concerns of contemporary society crowd out the centrality of Christ, there is something wrong. If the corrupt entertainment of the world is used in place of congregational singing of the gospel, there is something wrong. If the blood of Christ is thought to be unattractive to a target audience and so is never mentioned, is never remembered in song, something is wrong. The Lamb is the subject of the eternal “new” song and so should be now.
Jesus at Calvary is the center point of human existence. It is the theme of human sin and Christ as the solution to that sin that is to remain central – to the individual believer, and to a church.
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!”