WHAT IS BIBLICAL CHRISTIANITY?
We are in the Lenten season heading toward Resurrection Sunday. It is a good time to remember what Christianity is about. It seems that in recent history, many have tried to redefine Christianity either to water down the scandal of the Cross or to make it more palatable to the world. Either way, the meaning of biblical Christianity has been so changed that many have stopped calling themselves Christians and now refer to themselves as Christ followers. There is nothing wrong with the term and it is very accurate, but the word Christian is a biblical term and we need to preserve it and its meaning.
The other problem is moral shame. Scandal after scandal has rocked the Christian world by men and women who practiced various kinds of immorality. Examples of such scandals are sexual immorality or deception in regarding one’s place in the world such as education or awards, or other sins like racism, exploitation of the poor or the reckless love of money. Many parasitic “preachers” have resorted to preaching a prosperity gospel that leeches the poor and make them rich. Internet theology has reduced Christianity to what has been called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Declining denominations fight over relatively minor things while elevating celebrity pastors and praising worldly churches. We all should be both angry and distraught because of those who seek to destroy Christianity from within.
Christianity is primarily about the redemption of sinners. Often, the message of Christ gets lost in the clutter of our modern society. Christians themselves do not understand the message. Practically speaking, many Christians have turned Christianity into magic where God can be manipulated into providing whatever we want. Prayer is like rubbing the lamp of the genie, who grants wishes. Or, for many, prayer becomes casting a spell. We think that God exists to do our bidding, to make us happy.
No wonder so many reject Christianity. Christians have forgotten our message and what God has given to us. The first and primary message is not how to be happy, how to have a good marriage, how to be successful, how to avoid death, or how to avoid problems in life. The Christian life is not primarily about being a do-gooder or a social worker or being a part of a charity organization. It is not about what most people think. The primary teaching of Jesus is how to be right with God.
To understand this, we must have a realistic view of ourselves. It would help us to understand the nature of God, who is utterly separate from us. His holiness destroys us, his justice condemns us, his purity burns us, his beauty and light overwhelm us. We cannot stand before such a Being. Why would God need us?
God does not need us. He does not care how good you are because you can never be good enough. He is not impressed by your work or your education or your income or your social status. He is not interested in your looks, whether you are pretty or ugly. How bright or dumb you are does not impress him. Your strength is nothing in his sight. He could care less about how popular you are on social media. Your accomplishments are trivial. He is not counting on you to accomplish anything. What would a Sovereign, All Mighty God “need” you to do for him? We don’t have much standing before God and we have absolutely no rights. We do not have a right to expect his compassion, his interest or even a modicum of his attention.
Yet, God has chosen to love us. We are sinners eternally separated from God by our very nature. Yet God has chosen to love us with an incomprehensible love.
Because of the love of God, our status has been changed from nothingness to sons and daughters of God. I don’t know if we can ever explain why God loves us. It is beyond our understanding. Scripture never really tells us. And if we are to understand this, we need to not only understand our sorry state before him, we need to understand what the love of God has done for us. We need to know how far God would go to love us.
Sin drives an eternal wedge between God and us. His holiness rejects us, and his justice condemns and the penalty is death. Any sin, one sin, all sin, has put us in this position. We are born sinners. We are slaves to sin, never able to escape its control. We are never able to pay for the offense in God’s court. The penalty of death hangs over us all.
In this bleak situation, only God can change our status. God has done that in such a way that it satisfies His holiness and justice. Jesus, who is God in the flesh, did this on the Cross.
This is called the Doctrine of Atonement. God produced a kind of history that would help us all understand what is necessary for our salvation. It is expressed in the Old Testament practice of the Day of Atonement. It happened year after year for a thousand years to weave into our minds what Christ would do for us.
You can read about the details in Leviticus 16. On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest made preparations for himself and the people of God. The High priest would enter the Holy of Holies with a great deal of fear because he was entering the presence of God. He held an incense censer which would produce a cloud of smoke so that the Priest could not see the Ark. Then he would pour some of the blood, seven times, upon the Mercy Seat to make atonement for sins.
In the New Testament the Mercy Seat is translated as propitiation. This act meant two things. God’s wrath was propitiated. His wrath was turned away from us. And our sins were expiated. Our sin is forgiven and removed from us.
Two identical goats were selected. One was chosen to be to for the Lord and the other was chosen to be for Azazel which means “scapegoat.” The one selected as the goat for the Lord, is killed and its blood is caught in a golden basin. The High Priest takes the blood and enters the Holy of Holies as the representative of the people. He takes the scapegoat, and lays his hands on the head of the goat and confesses the sins of Israel over the goat. Thus, he transfers the sins to the goat and the goat is lead away into the wilderness to die.
The Book of Hebrews points out one flaw yearly act of atonement, it was not permanent. It had to be repeated yearly. It was not a permanent solution. The Day of Atonement was a pointer to the day when Jesus became our Atonement.
The writer says that the earthly tabernacle was but a copy of a heavenly one, in other words, a symbol. The sacrifices in the tabernacle cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience (9: 9). But, when Christ came, the real and final thing came as well. God himself tabernacled among humanity and became both our high priest and our sacrifice. He offered his life for ours.
The model for atonement is life for a life. When Jesus came to John at the river Jordan to be baptized, John looked up and said, “behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” John knew that Jesus had come to be our sacrifice. Jesus is the God-Man, the unique One who is able to completely and with finality take away our sins. God in the flesh himself became our sacrifice, our substitute, our life for a life.
What Jesus did on the cross was once and for all time. The Tabernacle was no longer necessary. The Sacrificial system was no longer necessary. A priesthood was no longer necessary. Jesus is our sacrifice. What he did was once and for all time. And it covered all the sins of all the people who would believe in Him. The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus became the mediator of a new covenant and all of those who have been called receive the promise of eternal life.
We are sinners, yes. We stand guilty before God. But, Jesus became our Atonement for sin. He became our sacrifice. He died in our place. And as many as receive him, he gives them right to become children of God.