What is a Christian?

The following post was written by T. Austin-Sparks. I’m publishing it on the heels of my Answers to Skeptics series because it’s a natural progression. The term “Christian” was first used in Antioch in the first century to describe the early followers of Jesus. Sparks does a great job redeeming the original meaning of the word in a day where the term has become quite murky.

“And Agrippa said unto Paul, With but little persuasion thou wouldest fain make me a Christian” (Acts 26:28).

Let us say at the outset that we are using the word “Christian” strictly according to what is found in the New Testament, and it is assumed that this will be accepted. Our enquiry will take the form firstly of a process of elimination, and we shall observe

What a Christian is Not

(1) To become a Christian is not to become ‘religious’, or to adopt a new ‘religion’.

Among non-Christian peoples, a turning to Christ is often referred to as ‘accepting Christianity’, and in what are called Christian countries conversion is frequently referred to as ‘becoming religious’. Such expressions, with their associated ideas, are altogether inadequate and indeed fundamentally false.

There was no more religious man on the earth, in his time, than Saul of Tarsus. Read what he says of himself in Acts 22 and 26, and Philippians 3. Here was a man who was just aflame with religious zeal and passion. No argument is necessary, with history before us, to prove how wide of the mark religion can be.

And that is true of ‘Christianity’, when it is merely a matter of religion. To be a true Christian is not to accept a creed or statement of doctrine, to observe certain rites and ordinances, attend certain services and functions, and conform more or less diligently to a prescribed manner of life.[Continue Reading...]

Answers to Skeptics Part V: Aren’t All Christians Hypocrites?

This post is part of a series called “Answers to Skeptics.” The series contains some of the thoughts I’ve shared with my non-Christian friends over the years. Each post is written directly to skeptics. If you find them of value, feel free to share them with others. Join over 25,000 other readers and receive free blog updates. You can receive them by RSS or by Email.

“So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.” ~ Romans 14:12

In the Bible, there is a letter called “James.” Many Bible scholars believe that James was Jesus’ half brother.

James talks about two kinds of faith. False faith, which is mental assent. The demons have this kind of faith because they give mental assent to God’s existence.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.  You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? (James 2:18-20)

The other kind of faith is true faith, which is a matter of the heart. True faith is a yielding to the reality that Jesus of Nazareth is Lord and Savior of the world.

If a person really believes this, it will change the way they live their lives.

True faith has nothing to do with trying to be good enough to merit God’s favor. It is simply entrusting one’s life to Jesus as Lord and Savior.

For James, true faith will produce good works. The Bible uses the phrase “good works” to refer to deeds which help alleviate the suffering of others[Continue Reading...]

Answers to Skeptics Part IV: Can a Good Person Be Condemned?

This post is part of a series called “Answers to Skeptics.” The series contains some of the thoughts I’ve shared with my non-Christian friends over the years. Each post is written directly to skeptics. If you find them of value, feel free to share them with others. Join over 25,000 other readers and receive free blog updates. You can receive them by RSS or by Email.

“All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes . . .” ~ Proverbs 16:2

Most of the non-Christians I talk to believe that God exists. They also believe in eternal life and eternal judgment after death.

But . . . they equally believe that receiving God’s favor and inheriting eternal life is a matter of scoring brownie points with the Creator. And to their minds, they are “good enough” to be awarded with eternal life when they die because they aren’t “bad people.”

From my experience and observation, this is the prevailing view among most Americans.

Yet the truth is that God stopped keeping score a long time ago. He grades on a completely different curve.

Let me paraphrase a story that Jesus once told. The point of the story is that God does not like “good people.” Instead, He favors “bad people.” [Continue Reading...]

Answers to Skeptics Part III: Is the Bible Reliable?

This post is part of a series called “Answers to Skeptics.” The series contains some of the thoughts I’ve shared with my non-Christian friends over the years. Each post is written directly to skeptics. If you find them of value, feel free to share them with others. Join over 25,000 other readers and receive free blog updates. You can receive them by RSS or by Email.

“All scripture is inspired by God . . .” ~ 2 Timothy 3:16

Those who know me are aware that I firmly hold that the Bible is fully reliable, fully inspired, and fully authoritative. This is why my books are packed to the gills with references to Scripture to buttress the points I seek to make.

As would be expected, I’ve received a good deal of push back on my belief in the truthfulness of Scripture from skeptics. But I’ve also received criticism from some fellow Christians, most of whom hold to a “canon within a canon” perspective or who hold to the idea that the Bible is only the Word of God when it’s accompanied by personal “revelation.” I reject both views and for that reason I’ve garnered some unpleasant mail.

That said, most of those whom I’ve had conversations with on the issue of the Bible’s reliability are people who presently reject Jesus. In this post, I’ll list their key objections along with my responses.

Suffice to say that in my experience, the majority of those who insist that the Bible is unreliable and untrustworthy have never investigated the evidence for themselves. They’ve just heard arguments put forth by others and repeated them without examining the subject for themselves.

The most notable are . . . [Continue Reading...]

Answers to Skeptics Part II: Is Jesus the Only Way?

This post is part of a series called “Answers to Skeptics.” The series contains some of the thoughts I’ve shared with my non-Christian friends over the years. Each post is written directly to skeptics. If you find them of value, feel free to share them with others. Join over 25,000 other readers and receive free blog updates. You can receive them by RSS or by Email.

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” ~ Acts 4:12

In the first post of this series, I gave four evidences for God’s existence. Many people believe that God exists. They just don’t believe that biblical Christianity is true or that Jesus of Nazareth is the human face of God and the Lord and Savior of humankind.

Certainly, Christianity is by no means the only faith that lays claim to having “the truth.” There is also Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and Islam as well as many other religions that claim to hold “the truth.”

All serve a different deity, all have their own sacred writings, and all teach a different path of salvation.

There is the view that all of these religions are true. But I have always found this idea unconvincing as the different religions cancel one another out logically. (For instance, one religion affirms that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah; another says He isn’t. Both cannot be true.)

Here are a few points to consider about the uniqueness of the Christian faith: [Continue Reading...]

Answers to Skeptics Part I: There is a God

This post is part of a series called “Answers to Skeptics.” The series contains some of the thoughts I’ve shared with my non-Christian friends over the years. Each post is written directly to skeptics. If you find them of value, feel free to share them with others. Join over 25,000 other readers and receive free blog updates. You can receive them by RSS or by Email.

“Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God and Savior of Israel.” ~ Isaiah 45:15

The question of God’s existence has plagued philosophers and theologians for thousands of years. For that reason, I don’t have any canned answers on the question and I’m not about to solve the problem.  But I do have some thoughts that may cause you to rethink your position and help you reach your own conclusions.

I have met many people that have struggled with believing in the reality of God. This is especially true for very intellectual people. They feel that there is zero proof for God’s existence. How can a person put faith in a God who cannot be seen, felt, heard, touched, or smelled with his or her physical senses?

Some people deny God’s existence because they love their lifestyle. They surmise that if there were a God, they would have to be accountable to Him and change their behavior. As a result, they simply reject the notion that God exists so they would not have to feel accountable to anyone for their actions. For them, to believe that there is no God helps to appease their conscience in some way.

Others have experienced deep pain, sorrow and heartbreak in their lives. And many of them cannot understand why a good God would allow such things.

Even for the most devoted Christians, when tragedy strikes, faith is put into the salt-shaker.

No one can prove that God exists. Only evidences can be offered. I learned that early on. [Continue Reading...]

Will Durant on Jesus

Today I officially end my temporary blog break. Thanks for your patience.

Beginning tomorrow, I plan to publish a new series of posts entitled Answers to Skeptics.

Each post will give my answers to specific objections I’ve received in my conversations with those who do not yet know Jesus.

Today, I’d like to introduce the series by quoting renowned historian Will Durant. Durant, who was not a Christian, wrote the following incisive statement in The Story of Civilization, Vol III: Caesar and Christ.

“The Christian evidence for Christ begins with the letters ascribed to Saint Paul. Some of these are of uncertain authorship; several, antedating A.D. 64, are almost universally accounted as substantially genuine. No one has questioned the existence of Paul, or his repeated meetings with Peter, James, and John; and Paul enviously admits that these men had known Christ in his flesh. The accepted epistles frequently refer to the Last Supper and the Crucifixion…. The contradictions are of minutiae, not substance; in essentials the synoptic gospels agree remarkably well, and form a consistent portrait of Christ. In the enthusiasm of its discoveries the Higher Criticism has applied to the New Testament tests of authenticity so severe that by them a hundred ancient worthies, for example Hammurabi, David, Socrates would fade into legend. Despite the prejudices and theological preconceptions of the evangelists, they record many incidents that mere inventors would have concealed the competition of the apostles for high places in the Kingdom, their flight after Jesus’ arrest, Peter’s denial, the failure of Christ to work miracles in Galilee, the references of some auditors to his possible insanity, his early uncertainty as to his mission, his confessions of ignorance as to the future, his moments of bitterness, his despairing cry on the cross; no one reading these scenes can doubt the reality of the figure behind them. That a few simple men should in one generation have invented so powerful and appealing a personality, so loft an ethic and so inspiring a vision of human brotherhood, would be a miracle far more incredible than any recorded in the Gospel. After two centuries of Higher Criticism the outlines of the life, character, and teaching of Christ, remain reasonably clear, and constitute the most fascinating feature of the history of Western man.”

Here are two posts I’ve written in the past that serve as a preface to the series:

Rethinking How We Present the Gospel

Why I’m a Christian

LikeWithBorder

He Has Anointed Us – New Song & Amazing Recording!

I’ve previously shared that a strong part of our Christian heritage is the practice of writing new lyrics to well-known tunes. This practice goes back to at least the Reformers. But I suspect it precedes that.

Back in February, I delivered a message to a Christian community entitled Living in the Divine Parenthesis. The night before I brought the message, I wrote a song as a companion to the talk called “He Has Anointed Us.”

I wrote it to the tune of Wavin’ Flag by K’naan — a specific version of it performed by the Young Artists for Haiti. I regard their version to be one of the most inspiring melodies of our time.

Recently, a group of Christians I know took the lyrics I wrote and recorded the new song in a studio. And . . . well . . . it blew me away.

The lyrics follow below so you can read them while you listen to the recording. The talk I delivered (above) gives the context and meaning of each line.

Click here to listen to the recording

These saints did an amazing job.

I hope you’re inspired by the song.[Continue Reading...]

The Gospel for the Middle – A Synchroblog

Today’s post is a synchroblog. Meaning, I want you to answer a specific question on your own blog (for those of you who blog).

If you don’t have a blog, just put your answer in the comments section here. (If you subscribe by email, don’t click Reply and answer. No one will see it. You have to comment on the blog itself.)

Please don’t use Facebook in place of your blog as it doesn’t count. But feel free to click the Facebook button (or link) below to share the post with others.

Here is how it works. Read carefully. [Continue Reading...]

How Jesus Reaches His World

I have often stressed that the church’s calling to continue the ministry of Jesus in the world (a la, Luke 4:18-19) is just as much a part of God’s Eternal Purpose as living as a face-to-face community that makes a home for the Lord to lay His head.

(I’m speaking here of the church in local expression . . . a tangible, touchable, locatable body of believers in a locale, in whatever form or shape it may take.)

We Christians seem to fall off one side of the horse or the other on this subject.

Some make the church a shallow “soul-winning” / “world-improvement” station with little depth, relational life, or spiritual substance. Others make the church an insular, isolated, navel-gazing community.

I believe the church must know both inreach and outreach . . . it must know what it means to be “built together” as well as “being Christ” for the world. And it must learn how to discern the season for each.

As I’ve argued in From Eternity to Here, the ekklesia is called to embody Jesus Christ as a bride, a house, a body, and a family. This is God’s Eternal Purpose.[Continue Reading...]