The idea that Christianity began with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth is, perhaps, the most common misunderstanding in the religious world. Without a doubt, Jesus’s birth was a pivotal point in history, but Christianity originated long before that. In fact, Christianity is as old as time. …
The opening narrative of the Bible speaks of God creating the cosmos – the structure of reality as we know it – and all it contains. Humanity, though part of this creation, was completely different from everything else. Unlike stars and planets, unlike matter and antimatter (whatever that is (or isn’t?)), unlike birds, fish, trees, tomatoes, elephants, or platypuses, the Bible describes man as a being “created in the image of God”. No other creation is awarded this distinction. What does it mean?
In many ways this is a mystery, but at least part of bearing God’s image means that we reflect him in our being, our reason, emotions, and imagination. It also means that we have the ability to choose whether we will bear his image accurately and faithfully, or whether, instead, we will corrupt it.
Not long into the Bible’s narrative, the first man and woman made their choice. They chose to rebel against community with Gods perfection and strike out on our own in autonomy. Their declaration of independence from God brought with it the seeds of brokenness of individuals, society, and everything else in this biosphere.
Billy Joel sings, “We didn’t start the fire. It was always burnin’ since the world’s been turnin'”.
There’s a lot of truth to that. Every generation since Adam and Eve has lived with the destruction brought about by their decision. At the same time, we all get to make the choice for ourselves. The really sad part is that, in one way or another, we all make the same choice. We all choose independence from God over fellowship with him.
For some, this choice results in substance abuse, for others violence. Others choose idolatry (worship of cars, houses, chunks of wood and stone, whatever). In the end, it’s always “NO!” to God and “YES!” to me.
And yet, God created us with this ability to choose. He allows this autonomy. Why? Because he made us in his image and he longs for a relationship with us based on love and trust, not on coercion. He allowed the shattering of his utopia, but he also allowed pain and brokenness to remain as a reminder that we cannot live without him.
It’s easy enough to believe that an intelligent designer created our universe and everything in it, including us, on purpose. Our ultimate insanity is that we can believe in this designer and at the same time ignore that designer’s intention for our lives. This insanity of thought and will is what the Bible calls “sin”. It separates us from God, and in the moral dimension of reality, demands both consequence and justice.
Try to plead ignorance in the courts of our land. It doesn’t take long to find out that “Ignorance of the law is no excuse”. The same thing is true in the moral dimension of the universe: ignorance of our sin does not excuse our behavior.
Newton’s observation that “every action has an equal and opposite reaction” applies to spiritual action in the same way it applies to physical action. According to the Bible, the equal and opposite reaction to sin is death. This death is more than just the end of physical existence, it’s the death of everything, body, soul, and spirit. This death that the Bible describes as the “wages of sin” is ultimate and utter separation from God through eternal and everlasting distance from God.
Does that sound dark, sad, and depressing? I hope so, because it is. But God didn’t leave us with this consequence without doing everything he could to restore our relationship with him. He loves us, every last one of us. He doesn’t want to loose a single person to this forever death, but instead desires that all be found and brought home to him.
To bring about our restoration, he decided to take the penalty of justice upon himself. God himself became a man and lived a human life. This god/man, Jesus of Nazareth, lived a human life, but not the same life as you and me. He faced all the same struggles as you and me, even the struggle to choose to rebel against God and live life on his own terms.Unlike us, however, Jesus chose fellowship with God over independence from God. He chose obedience over rebellion. He lived the perfect life that we have failed to live. But instead of receiving the reward for the perfect life he lived, Jesus accepted the just punishment for the imperfect, rebellious life the rest of us live. Jesus, called the Christ, meaning the “anointed one”, the messiah, died as an act of justice, taking our place in the moral courtroom of the universe. With Christ’s death fulfilling God’s moral obligation to justice, God himself provided for us a way back to relationship with God – if we choose it.
If we choose it, God chooses relationship with us, promising “whosoever believes shall not perish, but receive everlasting life”. This everlasting life, poured into us by the very essence of God, makes us into a new creature of soul. Our soul, which had previously been dead, trapped in the zombie existence of autonomy, rebellion, and slavery, is set free to live in community with God. This new community allows us to live according to our initially design: in a dynamic, real relationship with a dynamic, real God. This relationship, and the healing it brings, overflows to touch every aspect of our existence. Our right-relating to God brings about right-relating with other people and even with ourselves. But we still struggle in the shadow of our former nature, and God is graciously, patiently in the process of reforming us into our true selves, reordering our emotions, moral behavior, and thoughts to make them what he wanted them to be from the beginning. This renovation takes time. It’s completion awaits our physical death and the subsequent glorification and perfection of our own essence. Until then we grow in relationship with God. We may start out in a master-slave mentality, but as we mature, we begin to understand the Bible’s teaching about the relational dualities of companionship with God, and even a spousal [in a metaphysical sense] relationship with God. In designing our universe, God has opened himself to vulnerability and loneliness, longing for us even as we long for him. Christianity is all about discovering this grand, epic story, not as a conjecture of imagination, but as the revelation that explains the meaning of life. Eventually, you must take your place in the story. You must decide whether to integrate your life into this story, or continue in autonomy, rebellion, and isolation, distant from God. You can accept his offer by admitting that you’re distant from him and accepting the renewed relationship that comes through the sacrifice of Christ, the innocent, for your guilt. If you choose relationship with God, he is gracious to enter in and rescue you. Once you are rescued, you are not left on your own, but God provides a variety of invaluable resources to help you grow and explore this new relationship and state of being. The Bible provides his explanation about how to live much of life. Prayer and Worship offer a conduit for relational communication on a variety of levels. And there is more and more. The community of the church is one of the means by which Christ helps us to grow and mature. The church isn’t a building or a religious club. It is a gathering of those who have discovered Christ and have been changed. The church is a universal and timeless construct, made up of people who have passed from certain death into eternal life. Church also is a family on earth, which includes non-believers. For non-believers, it functions as a sanctuary in which to explore, test, and experience Christianity before making a final decision about the meaning of life. Doubt is a reality for everyone, Christian or not. Church is the place where we wrestle with this concept and others in an environment of safety and nurture. This is why we have started a community of faith called Mosaic. It is a Mars-Hill fellowship including both those who are Christians, as well as those seeking to understand worldview and lifestyle.