This week I had the occasion to speak to three individuals about the difference between Christianity and other religions. While all religions have certain beliefs which generally qualify a person to be an adherent of that religion, Christianity is starkly different. Of course there are some essential beliefs that define Christianity, but simply believing that these things are true is not what qualifies a person as a Christian. The reason is that belief is often confused with faith. And unlike all other religions, which are built on their Creed (set of beliefs), Christianity is a Faith with a Creed, not just a Creed. This distinction is not insignificant. It literally has eternal consequences. The three individuals whom I shared this with this week were each at a point in their life-journey where perhaps for the first time in their lives they could appreciate the gravity of the distinction. You see, each one had recently been confronted with the frailty of their own humanity. One of them had been told by doctors that they had only weeks left to live. The other had an incurable disease. The third had just come out of critical care. Here’s what I told them.
I WANT TO HELP YOU DIE WELL
After listening a bit to the first person’s story and having them tell me that they only had weeks left, I gently told them, “I want to help you to die well.”
“Thank you” they replied, “I am a Christian, but I’m not one of those church-going Christians.”
“Many believe what Christianity teaches to be true,” I responded, “but they often confuse their understanding of three key words – belief, faith, and trust.”
I explained that a belief was simply an acknowledgement that something was true. Faith was being persuaded by the reasons that a claim was true and had implications for the believer. Trust was the result of that implication.
“For example,” I said, “one may believe that a plane can fly. You can even have good reasons to have faith that a plane can fly. But trust is boarding the plane to fly!”
This was, I explained, how Christianity was different from all other religions. While religions have sets of beliefs, common to all of them – except Christianity – is the belief that if a person does enough good they can outweigh the bad and qualify to enter Heaven after they die. Reaching for one of the Legana Passports, which will be used in our KiDS Church over the next three Sundays, I drew the analogy that each time we did something wrong it was like receiving a blemish stamp in our life passport. No matter how many merit stamps we may get in our “life passport”, they could never cancel out the blemish stamps. It was like a convicted murderer being shuttled to the court for sentencing when on the way there a school bus laden with children falls over the edge of the bridge. Somehow, the convicted murderer breaks free from his chains and escapes to dive off the bridge and begin rescuing all twenty-eight school children from drowning. After saving their lives, Police once again secure him into the back of the van and take him to court. The Judge declares that this murderer has been found guilty and should be sentenced to the severest punishment. But the convicted man interrupts and says, “Not so fast your Honour! On the way here this morning I rescued twenty-eight lives, so I think we’re even now – in fact, I think you owe me!” As noble as the man’s actions were in rescuing those doomed children, no fair-minded judge is going to be persuaded by this appeal because when the man violently took the life an innocent human being it was a crime with capital (life-long) consequences. How much more then are we guilty when we sin against an eternal and infinitely good God?
Reaching for the other Legana Passport on my desk I continued.
“Imagine if when we die we stand before God with our blemished life-passport and have Him examine it. We cannot bear to look up into the face of God because our guilt and failure is obvious and undeniable. In that moment we know and accept that as the Judge of the Universe we are about to be sentenced and condemned for eternity” I told them. “But then Jesus comes over to us and offers us His perfectly unblemished Passport and tells us that with this Passport we have unfettered access to the best that Heaven offers. He then offers it to us. What would your response be?” I asked.
“Thank you” they replied.
“Precisely. And this is exactly what Jesus Christ did on the first Easter when He died as our Substitute on the Cross.”
“This is why” I went on, “we spell ‘religion’ as D, O, – it’s all about what you do. And it’s why we spell ‘Christianity’ as D, O, N, E, – it’s all been done for us by Christ.”
The question now is, I offered, whether you will move from belief to trust and get on the plane (Jesus)?
I had a colleague tell me that he had a man who had come to him and say that despite attending his church for over three decades he felt that something was missing in his life. The pastor listened to his story and then startled the man with, “I don’t think you’ve ever truly become a Christian – because what you are describing is someone who believes it to be true but has never actually put their trust in Jesus as their Saviour.” The man’s response to this was equally startling. “Thank God then, because if this was true Christianity I don’t want it because all I feel is empty!” The Pastor led the man to put his faith into action and to trust in the Saviour. The difference from that point was also startling!
This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! ¶ And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.
Second Corinthians 5:17-18