We need to earn a living. We may have a family to provide for, or at least we need to provide food and shelter for ourselves. This is the "secular" world, and it is very competitive.
Furthermore, our culture provides continuous media "education" on the things that will make us happy (even if only briefly). So, our thoughts often are bent in a certain direction ---- that the purpose of one's life is to satisfy ourselves!
Today, with so much persuasion in the air, it is easy to forget the reason we have persisted for more than two thousand years to celebrate the teachings of Jesus. What do those lessons really mean for us? Did the presence of Jesus actually give us something that is important even today?
Many people believe the answer lies in understanding a fundamental problem all of us have. The Bible explains again and again that in general people's hearts are drawn toward selfishness and pride. The Bible, in it's wisdom, tells us how we should live. But, it also says, "you can't, and you won't." Fortunately, it does provide a solution to the problem ---- in Jesus.
In order to be a Christian a person must admit that he or she is a sinner. "Sin" is an attitude in which we focus on ourselves and thus replace God. The real God and his law become secondary in our lives. Probably we are not consistently sinful all the time, but we know that from time to time we place our pride and well-being first, even if others may sacrifice because of us. Are any of us not sinners some of the time?
Actually, in order to really be a Christian, a person must admit that he or she is a sinner. It is not really a surprise that Christians sin, that there is an inconsistency between what they say and what they do.
Bible teacher R. C. Sproul writes, "The Christian Church is one of the few organizations in the world that requires a public acknowledgement of sin as a condition of membership. In one sense, the church has fewer hypocrites than any other institution because by definition the church looks for sinners and is a haven for them. If the church claimed to be an organization of perfect people, then her claim would be hypocrisy. But no such claim is made by the church. There is no slander in the charge that the church is full of sinners. Such a statement actually gives a compliment to the church for fulfilling her divinely appointed task."
Christianity is often equated with "obeying the rules," thereby making us think we just need to be a morally superior person. Actually, many religions operate on a simple principle: "If I live as I ought, I will be accepted by God."
But, Christianity has a completely different operating principle ---
I am already accepted by God, as a gift, demonstrated by
what Jesus has done for us on the Cross. Therefore, out
of gratitude, I should try to live as I ought.
Christians are people who understand that they will always fail to live as they should. Therefore, that they need forgiveness in the form of God's freely-given grace. The prerequisite to becoming a Christian is admitting that one has this problem, and that we need God's help. So, continual repentance in the sense of our humility before God would seem to be the mark of a Christian.
The difference between a Pharisee of the New Testament and a follower of Jesus Christ, is not that the Pharisee and the Christian are not both trying to obey God, they actually are. However, the Pharisee is doing it only self-righteously, so as to feel superior to other people --- there is no humility there.
Jesus criticized people who do "religious" things just to feel superior to others. Jesus understood that the chief danger from the kind of religious moralism in which a person or a community feels they have earned God's favor is that it could lead them to feeling that they deserve special deference and respect from all other folks ---- it produces an unfortunate and unwarranted ego trip.
Jesus himself sacrificed his life so that his followers could be reconciled to God, making their pride and self-interest secondary. Christians follow someone (Jesus) who sacrificed everything (all of his pride and self-interest) to redeem and renew the world. At the heart of the Christian faith is a man who died a victim of injustice, but who called for the forgiveness of his enemies. Jesus is the example we sinners are trying to follow.
In giving us Jesus, God showed us a path out of our sinfulness ---- a path that will bring joy to God.
These thoughts are brought to you by CPC's Adult Spiritual Development Team, hoping to encourage you to pursue some personal spiritual growth this winter at CPC.