life raft in the seaSomebody once said that you will never find atheists on a life raft. This is another way of saying that when people are in desperate situations, they cannot afford to leave God out of their reckoning.

The stark fact is that we are all in a desperate situation, always. In these days of wars, terrorism, disasters, disease, famine and terrible hardship for many people, life is more uncertain than ever before.

Doubts creep in

Some people say they cannot believe in a God who lets all these things happen. Others say there is no evidence for the existence of God, or they prefer to leave ‘religion’ out of their lives.

But if you feel a need for God in your life, or you just want to understand what ‘Christianity’ is all about, exploring this site will help you decide for yourself whether believing what’s written in the Bible is something you want to do.

Background

Christians started believing and following Jesus Christ almost 2000 years ago, and they were glad that they did. It helped them understand why they are here and what God has in store for the world he created “in the beginning”.

The word “Christian” was used first as a derisive nickname for the followers of Jesus Christ {Acts 11:26}. But it’s a name that has stuck and has now become a way to describe a person who belongs to any of the various branches of Christianity.

Unfortunately, Christianity is now a very ‘broad church’, with “Christians” today  holding a wide range of different beliefs and practices – unlike the first followers of Christ 2000 years ago.  To understand what was originally meant by the term “Christian”, we need to turn back the clock and find out what that ‘nickname’ was originally used to describe.

People often invent nicknames to emphasize something about another person’s proper name, or to describe something significant about that person. So why did the followers of Jesus Christ get the nickname “Christians”?

The answer is that the most significant thing those first Christians believed and preached was described best by using the second part of Jesus Christ’s own name. In those days, the name Jesus was quite common, but the name ‘Christ’ was so special that it was central to the preaching efforts made by the followers of Jesus {Acts 17:3}. The name ‘Christ’ means ‘anointed’.

In those days the Jews were waiting for God to keep his promises – given in the ‘Old Testament part of the Bible – and send someone to be anointed again as their king. So, when the followers of Jesus preached about “the things concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ”, the Jews – who were longing to anoint their new king and re-establish the Kingdom of God – pricked up their ears! The long-promised King

But even though the Jews were ready and waiting for their new king, for various reasons they didn’t see ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ as their long-promised king. So they had him crucified as a blasphemer and an imposter, just as the Bible predicted they would. However, many other people in those days, most of whom weren’t Jews, didn’t have any preconceived ideas about what to expect when they heard the first ‘Christians’ preaching their ‘good news’ – the ‘Gospel’ as we now call it. To them it certainly was good news, because it told them how they could be part of God’s plan to remove everything that’s bad in the world and make his son, Jesus Christ, a worldwide king.

But first they needed to understand God’s plan, believe it, show they believed it by being baptized, and then try to live the sort of life that Jesus Christ had just lived. Being a Christian So “Christians” 2000 years ago were people who recognized Jesus as their ‘saviour’ (‘Jesus’ means Saviour) and wanted him to be their Christ, to be anointed as their King over a beautified world. And they were prepared to try and copy him in their lifestyle and keep his commandments.

Being a “Christian” today is no different. As the Bible tells us, Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday, and today, and forever”. But Christianity has changed as the years have passed, taking on some false ideas. However, what the first “Christians” believed and how they lived their lives, should be exactly the same for true “Christians” today. Jesus Christ is still the one and only ‘saviour’ people can turn to, and he is the one who will be ‘anointed’ as King of God’s new worldwide kingdom {Acts 4:12; Hebrews 13:8}.

When people were first called “Christians” only the first part of the Bible existed, the part we now call the Old Testament, written on scrolls, not in a book. Jesus Christ not only understood and believed everything he read in the Old Testament, he also made an important statement about the things he read there: Jesus said “they testify of me” {John 5:39}.

What did he mean?

One of the writers of the second part of the Bible, the New Testament, gave the answer to that question when he wrote one of his letters to a young Christian. The apostle Paul wrote these words to Timothy:

“From a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures (for Timothy that was our Old Testament), which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

So clearly Paul knew how important it was to read and understand the Old Testament, because Timothy could learn there what he needed to know about Jesus Christ. And Timothy had every reason to trust what he read there, as Paul went on to explain:

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”

Now anyone reading the Old Testament for the first time will wonder why Paul thought it was so important for Timothy to read it, as lots of it is Jewish history! And perhaps when we read it, it isn’t always obvious what Jesus meant when he said parts of it were about him.

Learning from history Paul gave us part of the answer when he wrote another letter, this time to the new Christian church in Corinth. Writing about the Bible’s record of Jewish history he told them:

“These things happened unto them (the Jews in the past) for ensamples, and they are written for our admonition.” (1 Corinthians 10:11)

In other words, the Jewish history in the Old Testament is there so we can learn important lessons from it about what God is like, what he does when people disobey him and how to please him – that is, how to be a proper Christian.

Another New Testament writer adds to what Paul wrote:

“They (the Jews in the past) could not enter in (to the land God had promised they could have) because of unbelief…Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.” (Hebrews 3:12,19)

So the Old Testament account about what happened when the Jews in the past didn’t have enough faith to do what God asked them to do, is there to teach Christians how important faith and obedience always is to God, whether it’s Jews in the past or Christians today.

Some people don’t believe bits of the Bible, like its claim that God created the world “in the beginning”. Putting aside discussions about when or how God created the world, if we ignore that claim we also ignore something very important, because one of the Old Testament prophets wrote:

“He (God) created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited.” (Isaiah 45:18)

The Bible tells us that the world is here for a purpose, it has a future, and so do we!

The end of life?

But cemeteries are full of people who don’t seem to have a future, humanly speaking. Their lives have ended and, as even the Bible says, they don’t have any involvement in what’s going on now and even less it seems in what might happen tomorrow. Unless, that is, they can be saved from staying for ever where they are now – in the ground.

To see how that could happen, we need to know first why it is that all of us eventually end up dead.

Why do we die?

The Bible gives us the reason why it is that we all eventually die. The Jews whose history fills much of the Old Testament were condemned by God because they disobeyed his instructions. The Bible calls disobedience to God’s laws ‘sin’.

But they are not alone: we all do the same, we all sin to a greater or lesser extent. Nobody obeys all of God’s instructions all of the time, so we ‘earn’ the punishment God put in place when people first started to disobey him. He said they would die, and they did. And that’s happened ever since.

But, according to the Bible, being punished for our sins in this way is not the end of the story. If it was, then God’s intention when he created the world – “he formed it to be inhabited” – would never be achieved! So God not only created people “in the beginning”, he also provided a way for his punishment for disobedience to be lifted. That’s what God’s plan of salvation is all about, to save those who want to be saved from staying dead for ever, to be released from the natural consequence of their disobedience to God’s laws.

Which is where Jesus comes into God’s plan. The fact that Jesus has that name was not simply because it was a popular name 2000 years ago! As the Bible records, his mother was given clear instructions about what to call him:

“…his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” (Luke 2:21)

“And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

What is ‘sin’? ‘Sin’ is not a very popular or common word now, mostly because people prefer to think it’s up to them, not God, to decide what’s right or wrong. But if the Bible is correct when it tells us that ‘sin’ is the cause of the biggest problem facing mankind – death itself – surely it’s vitally important to know what God regards as ‘sin’, and how we can be saved from the ultimate consequences of our sins?

That’s two very good reasons why we should read the Bible, because it answers both those questions. The Bible tells us all about ‘sin’ – how God defines it, how we can try and avoid it, and how we can be saved from death itself, God’s punishment for sin.

The Bible makes it very clear that there is not only a link between sin and death, but also a link between Jesus Christ and the one way God has provided for us to be released from death and given eternal life:

“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

“Salvation is only found through Jesus Christ; in all the world there is no one else whom God has given who can save us.” (Acts 4:12)

So Jesus Christ is the key to salvation from death, the one way by which God will give us eternal life. For anyone who wants to be included in God’s plan for a better world, understanding what part Jesus Christ plays in God’s plan is vitally important.

Why did Jesus have to die?

Christians 2000 years ago not only knew very clearly why they eventually all died, they also understood why the recent death of Jesus had been so important. Some of them were Jews, very familiar with the God-given Jewish laws of animal sacrifice. They had been brought up to know how God said he would forgive their sins if they offered regular sacrifices. You can read about those laws and sacrifices in the Old Testament.

Writers of the New Testament explained how that same principle still applied to Christians, but in a very different way. Whereas the Jews had to offer sacrifices year after year, something had just happened that meant they no longer had to do so. One sacrifice had been made that marked the end of those old Jewish laws and the beginning of something new.

They explained how the crucifixion of Jesus had been a sacrifice too, but a very different one as far as God was concerned. Not only had God provided his own son as the ultimate and final sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins, unlike animal sacrifices the sacrifice of a perfect person – Jesus Christ – had removed the need for any more sacrifices.

That’s because Jesus didn’t deserve to die in God’s eyes, because he had never sinned. And most importantly the New Testament writers proclaimed the ‘good news’ that by the unjust death of Jesus, God decreed that everybody else could have their sins forgiven too!! No more sacrifices of any sort were needed.

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ, almost 2000 years ago now, marked the beginning of Christianity. Before he died the early Christians may sometimes have had their doubts about belonging to this new religion. After all, being identified as a ‘Christian’ in those days could result in imprisonment, torture and a death sentence. So it wasn’t unusual for those first-century Christians to keep their beliefs a secret.

But then everything suddenly changed. Before a week had gone by since Jesus died, groups of dejected Christians changed into the bold preachers of that ‘good news’ – the ‘gospel’ as that word means – to anyone who would listen.

Why? What had happened to change timid Christians into gospel preachers?

A miracle

To put it simply, a miracle had happened. Jesus had certainly died a terrible death, as some of them had seen for themselves. But now lots of them had seen him again, alive and well. They had talked with him, touched him, seen him eat something. They had no doubt whatsoever that he Jesus had risen from the dead, and they certainly were not going to keep that ‘good news’ to themselves!

This was certainly not a figment of their imagination, as subsequent events show very clearly. They could have carried on being Christians, meeting in secret, keeping a low profile for fear of being killed.

But they didn’t. In fact they were so convinced about what had happened and what it meant to them and to anybody who believed what they said, that they were prepared to die rather than keep quiet.

Not everyone believed

But even so some non-Christians didn’t believe the gospel and decided Christianity wasn’t for them. And as time went by, even some of those early Christians started to have their doubts, wondering whether Jesus had actually risen from the dead at all.

Which prompted one prominent Christian – the apostle Paul – to write and jog their memories about what had actually happened. Fortunately we can still read what he said in his letter, about how many people had actually seen Jesus alive again and what that fact means for Christians today. One of the points he made in his letter just cannot be ignored:

“For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep (ie died) in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (1 Corinthians 15:16-19)

To put it bluntly, being a Christians means you believe in the resurrection of the dead. And not only that, Christians believe that Jesus Christ was only the first to be raised; his followers will be raised from the dead too!

The rest of the story

And that’s only part of the gospel. If we are honest, life for many these days is not that good. In fact far too many people might see death as a welcome release from the suffering and hardship they have had to endure in a very unpleasant world. So is the resurrection ‘good news’ for them too?

Yes it is! Because the promise of resurrection is only part of the Christian gospel. God has also promised that those who are raised from the dead will come back to a different sort of life, free from all the things that curse the world now. God has promised to give the government of the world to the son that he raised from the dead, as we are told in the New Testament:

“[God] hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge (or ‘rule’) the world in righteousness by that man (ie Jesus Christ) whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” (Ac 17:31)

Now that really is good news! You only have to read about all the good things Jesus did 2000 years ago and you start to see how different his government of the world will be compared with what happens now.

So God has big plans for the world using Jesus Christ, his own son, to create a ‘brand new world’. But does that include everybody who has ever lived and everybody living now?

The Bible has the answer to that question too, and it’s very simple:

“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16)

The importance of baptism

So the gospel message in the Bible has been welcomed by Christians since it was first preached 2000 years ago and it can be ‘good news’ for us too, IF we believe it and show our belief by being baptized in the same way as the first Christians.

If we believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins, that he was raised from the dead, and that he will one day sit as the king of the world – just as the Bible promises – then we just need to demonstrate our belief by being baptized. After all, if that is the one way we can be saved from “the wages of sin” – death – and be raised to life again, to live in a perfect world, why hold back?

An important question

Almost 2000 years ago an early convert to Christianity asked a similar question. He was a eunuch of some importance in the government of Ethiopia, and while he was on a journey he was reading the Bible. But he didn’t quite understand what he was reading.

Fortunately there was a Christian nearby to help him, and once he properly understood the gospel he really believed it and immediately wanted to be baptized. The response from the Christian – his name was Philip – was very clear. Picking up the story near the end:

“And as they (Philip and the eunuch) went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and (the official) said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.” (Acts 8:36-38)

Now ask yourself the same question. If you really believe what the Bible says about the one way you can be saved from the consequences of sin, what’s stopping YOU from being baptized? Why not stop what you are doing now and be baptized?

But if you still need some convincing that what the Bible says is true, and need to know more about what those first Christian believed and died for, then hopefully this site will help you.