What Makes Christianity Christian?
READ FOR THIS WEEK'S STUDY: Gen 1:26; Eph. 2:8; 3:9; Isa. 59:2; Ezek. 14:7; Hos. 2:19, 20; Rev. 19:7, 9; John 5:39.
MEMORY TEXT: "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:3, NKJV).
KEY QUESTIONS: The goal of Christianity is our restoration to a right relationship with God. This relationship will be culminated at the Second Coming when we will have face-to-face communion with God.
MAJORING IN MINORS. What is the basic idea that makes Christianity work? What is the goal toward which Christians strive? The following story shows how far human beings will go to answer these questions and to seek salvation on their own.
Simeon Stylites, a dedicated, third-century recluse, sold his inherited estate upon his conversion. He gave a portion to his sister for her sustenance, donated the remainder to the church, and took up the life of a monk. To escape the distractions of society, he lived in a cave and devoted himself to meditation. Soon, nearby villagers and would-be disciples sought the presence of the pious monk. He moved farther into the wilderness and built a tower to separate himself from the world. However, disciples built towers around him. According to tradition, he finally built a tower sixty-feet high in order to meditate without interruption. As you study this week's lesson, decide how you would answer the questions raised at the beginning of this introduction.
Why were Adam and Eve able to fellowship with God? Gen. 1:26; 5:1. What close relationship does God wish to have with us? Jer. 3:14.
By the act of creating us in His image in the Garden and by redeeming us in Christ at Golgotha, God showed His great love to us. Human beings, created and re-created in His image, have the opportunity for fellowship with Him.
The primary purpose for our creation was for us to live in intimate fellowship with God. He was there for communion with our first parents from the moment He created them. That was the way He started with humankind, and that is the way He wants to continue for all eternity.
"Man, created for fellowship with God, can only in such fellowship find his real life and development. Created to find in God his highest joy, he can find in nothing else that which can quiet the cravings of the heart, can satisfy the hunger and thirst of the soul. He who with sincere and teachable spirit studies God's word, seeking to comprehend its truths, will be brought in touch with its Author; and, except by his own choice, there is no limit to the possibilities of his development....
"The central theme of the Bible, the theme about which every other in the whole book clusters, is the redemption plan, the restoration in the human soul of the image of God....
"The science of redemption is the science of all sciences. . . . As no other study can, it will quicken the mind and uplift the soul." Education, pp. 124-126.
The Bible is the story of God's love for us and of His desire to restore His relationship with us. Immediately after sin entered the world, God was in the Garden speaking with Adam and Eve, giving them the promise of the Savior. Through prophets and apostles, God continued to tell us of His pursuit. He brought Israel out of Egypt into the Promised Land. He sent Judah into captivity so the people might come to their senses and return to Him. Christ was sent into the world to restore face-to-face communication with God, and Christ will return the second time to re-unite us with Him.
The Bible story of Hosea's marriage to Gomer illustrates God's love for us. Gomer left her husband for other men. Time and again Hosea sought out his wife, only to be forsaken again. Finally, he found her on the auction block, waiting to be sold as a slave. Even in her depraved condition, he bought her back and restored her as his wife.
|Do I think of Christianity as a mere concept or an activity, or do I think of it as a maturing relationship with God through Jesus Christ?|
What caused the disruption in the face-to-face fellowship between God and humanity? Gen. 3:8-23.
What picture does the Bible present about our current condition? What does this tell about the consequences of separating ourselves from God? Isa. 64:6; Rom. 1:21-32; 3:10-19, 23.
Face-to-face communion between God and His new creation was broken by the entrance of sin into the world. As a result, we have been separated from Him.
Sin is transgression of the law, the transcript of God's character of love. It is going against His will and following our own self-centered inclinations. It is evidence of a broken relationship with our God. However, God is not vindictive. He does not isolate Himself from us in order to get back at us for breaking the law. "God is the fountain of life; and when one chooses the service of sin, he separates from God, and thus cuts himself off from life. He is 'alienated from the life of God.' Christ says, 'All they that hate Me love death.' Eph. 4:18; Prov. 8:36. God gives them existence for a time that they may develop their character and reveal their principles. This accomplished, they receive the results of their own choice."The Desire of Ages, p. 764.
When we sin, we are going against the character of God. The result is deterioration or destruction of our relationship. We cannot remain in fellowship with God and constantly go against His character and His loving will for our lives.
Sin is not only overt transgression of the law; sin also seeks to be independent from God, even in the effort to do right. Whatever does not proceed from faith and love is sin (Rom. 14:23). We sin whenever we have the opportunity to do what is right, just, and loving, yet we choose not to (James 4:17). We are helpless in sin (Rom. 3:10; Isa. 64:6; Dan. 9:7, 11, 20; 1 Cor. 1:30). Nothing we can bring to God will restore our broken relationship. We are like a tree cut off from its roots, like a branch severed from the vine (John 15:1-8). The branch can do nothing to restore itself. By the grace of God, we can be grafted back into the vine, we can be adopted into the family of God.
|Take the time to examine your attitude toward God when your sins separate you from Him. Don't be afraid to really explore how you feel. Do you view God as a loving parent or as a tyrant just looking for an excuse to cut you off from the family tree? Why do you view Him that way? If you view Him as a tyrant, what can you do to change your view?|
How did Jesus define salvation? John 17:3.
The goal of Christianity is to restore us to a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ. In Western cultures, knowledge is usually thought of as technical information. If we spoke with a good press manager at a print shop, he could inform us what grade of paper this study guide is printed on and describe the technical requirements for printing it. However, technical information is not the same as a knowledge of relationships. In the biblical culture, knowledge was often thought of as personal. We know people when we have a personal relationship with them. Christ defined salvation in terms of personal acquaintance with God, as contrasted with mere technical information.
To what does the Bible compare our restored relationship with God? Isa. 62:5; Rev. 19:7, 9; Hos. 2:19, 20.
What does it mean to die to the law in order to belong to Christ? Rom. 7:1-6. Does the love of Jesus destroy the law? Explain. Matt. 22:34-40; Rom. 13:10.
Christianity is not Christian if its primary goal is doctrinal knowledge, works, meditation, or any other human effort. We are majoring in minors if such things rather than Christ become the focus of our religion. Christianity is fulfilled when We are restored to a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ, the center of all doctrine.
"The very first and most important thing is to melt and subdue the soul by presenting our Lord Jesus Christ as the sin-pardoning Saviour. Never should a sermon be preached, or Bible instruction in any line be given, without pointing the hearers to 'the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.' John 1:29. Every true doctrine makes Christ the center, every precept receives force from His words.
"Keep before the people the cross of Calvary. Show what caused the death of Christ the transgression of the law. . . . Then point the people to Christ, telling them that immortality comes only through receiving Him. . . ."Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, pp. 53, 54.
|Why is information about doctrine not enough to bring salvation? James 2:19. What was Paul's prayer for the Ephesians, and how can it be fulfilled in your life? Eph. 3:16-19.|
How is salvation totally God's initiative? Eph. 2:8; 3:7; 2 Cor. 9:15.
Life eternal comes from knowing God. Yet, we cannot bring about a restored relationship with God on our own. We cannot come to God and say, "Let's be friends. There are certain things in my personality that I think you would enjoy, and I suspect that there are aspects of your personality that I would enjoy. Let's get together!" We can do nothing to commend ourselves to God. The grace of God alone brings hope. "When we come to him in sincerity pleading for pardon, he forgives. We need not wait to make ourselves acceptable; for we can never. We cannot do works that will commend us to God when we have sinned. We must come to the cross, and lay our burden of sin upon Jesus Christ, and believe that we are pardoned for Christ's sake who died for us."Ellen G. White Articles, Signs of the Times (Sept. 30, 1889), vol. 2, p. 325.
As you study 2 Corinthians 5:19 and Romans 5:8, what do you learn about God's character?
While it is true that we have nothing within ourselves to win God's favor, yet God gives Himself to us. Jesus came into this world to acquaint us with the Father (John 1:18). "Have I been with you so long," He asked, "and you do not know the Father?" (John 14:7-9, para-phrased). Christ came to save us from our sins (Matt. 1:21). He also came to abolish that which had separated us from Him, to remove our filthy rags, and to clothe us in the garments of His righteousness (2 Cor. 3:13; Eph. 2:15; 2 Tim. 1:10). Thus we are restored to relationship with Him (Zech. 3:1-5).
Christ came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). He is like Hosea who sought His estranged wife (Hos. 3:1-5). He is the shepherd who went in search of the lost sheep. He is like the woman in the story of the lost coin, and He is like the father who restored his wandering son (Luke 15). No longer are we foreigners and strangers. Here and now, we are members of the household of God! (Eph. 2:19). The life and death of Christ constitute our adoption papers into God's family (Rom. 8:15, 23; 9:4; Gal. 4:5).
|If we were adopted into an earthly family of royalty, we might feel out of place. How can we feel at home in the royal family of God?|
What golden thread unites the Scriptures? Why were the Scriptures given? John 5:39, 40; Luke 24:27; 2 Tim. 3:16.
Some look at particular doctrines in isolation from other aspects of Christianity. Often the doctrines themselves are seen in isolation from each other. It is tempting to pick and choose the doctrines that appeal to us. For example, some may say that we must accept the seventh-day Sabbath and the Second Coming, essential doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, but that we need not accept a literal six-day Creation as recorded in Genesis.
Come with me to a beautiful beach of white sand. On each side of us are rocky cliffs. The waves roll in before us and splash high on the cliffs beside us. The sky is fleeced with clouds, and the setting sun glistens on the wet sand and sparkles in the splashing waves. What a great sight!
Now watch as the scene changes. We are looking at the same beach and rocks and waves, but the clouds have rolled in. It is windy, cold, and drizzling. The sky is dark gray. No glistening of the sun on the sand, no tint of pink in the sky delights our eyes. We are sitting in the same place, but are we viewing the same scene?
So it is when we behold biblical doctrine. When we remove or distort one of the doctrines from the scene, it is as if the sun is blocked by the clouds. We might be sitting in the same place, but the picture is not the same. What is most important is that the "Son" shines through all doctrines.
"The truth for this time is broad in its outlines, far reaching, embracing many doctrines; but these doctrines are not detached items, which mean little; they are united by golden threads, forming a complete whole, with Christ as the living center. The truths we present from the Bible are as firm and immovable as the throne of God."Selected Messages, book 2, p. 87.
"It was a whole sacrifice that was made for us, and it is a full salvation we may receive as the result. Christ is our living Center. Divine truth, which is shining upon us in its bright, clear, distinct rays, is not detached atoms of doctrines, loose and disconnected. . . . Christ's mission and work are threads of gold binding all together and constituting a complete whole."Manuscript Releases, vol. 19, p. 91.
FURTHER STUDY: For more biblical insight into this week's topic, read Job 13:16; Isa. 12:2; Jer. 3:14; Matt. 25:1-13; Rom. 5:10, 15-18; 6:23; 13:10; 2 Cor. 5:18-20; Eph. 4:7; 5:21-32; Col. 1:21; 2 Tim. 2:10; 1 John 5:12; Rev. 21:2, 9.
Read "Growing Up Into Christ," in Steps to Christ, pp. 67-75.
This week we studied how Christ is the center of all biblical teachings. The following account will help us appreciate how our desire for the Second Coming and heaven needs to be centered in Christ: A teacher once asked a class what comes to mind when they think of Christ's second coming and heaven. They mentioned the sound of the trumpet, the majesty of the Advent that every eye would see, and the resurrection of the dead. Heaven brought to mind pearly gates, streets of gold, mansions they would build, and vineyards they would plant. Then, yes, of course, the privilege of being reunited with loved ones. After a long pause someone spoke up and said, "You know what I am looking forward to most of all? I want to see Jesus and live with Him and with loved ones throughout eternity!"
"I want the eternal weight of glory; I want to see Jesus, who suffered and died a shameful death on the cross of Calvary. I want to cast my crown at His feet and I want to touch the golden harp and fill all heaven with sweetest music."Sermons and Talks, vol. 2, p. 34. "We can afford to toil here, afford to be pilgrims and strangers. If I lose heaven, I lose everything, Oh, I do want to see Jesus and live in His presence and I do want you should see Him."Manuscript Releases, vol 7, p. 34.
SUMMARY: The goal of Christianity is the restoration of our relation-ship with God and with our fellow human beings. This begins the moment Christ becomes the heart of all our doctrines and conduct. In lesson two we shall see that doctrine and lifestyle, anchored in God's grace, are essential to a mature relationship with Jesus. Our face-to-face relationship with Him will take place at His second coming, when the righteous will live in the presence of God for eternity.
R. R. Tomalejo
The summer sun beat down on Myrna Manta, literature evangelist working in a Muslim area of the Philippines, as she struggled with a heavy carton of books she was delivering to workers at the power plant in her territory. No public transportation serves the power plant, since workers ride the company bus to work. She would have to walk several miles from the highway to the plant, carrying her heavy load. She stopped every few meters to rest and soon realized that she would never make it to the plant without help. But since no vehicles passed by her on the road, she struggled on, stopping often to rest.
"I can't manage this," she admitted as she set her carton of books down beside the road. "Lord, please send someone to help me carry these books."
A few minutes later a white taxicab appeared and stopped several feet from her. "Where are you going?" the driver asked.
"To the power plant," she replied as she loaded her carton of books into the trunk and slid into the cab. In a few minutes the cab stopped at the gate of the power plant. Mrs. Manta retrieved her books and set the carton beside the security guard's gate. But when she turned to pay the taxi driver, the cab was gone. She looked around the corner to see if the driver was turning around, but the cab was nowhere. Puzzled, she asked the security guard which way the taxi had gone.
"I did not see a car drive by," the guard answered.
"But a white taxicab just delivered me here," she explained.
"No, madam, I saw no cab, just you carrying that carton," he said.
"But I could not carry this box. I came in a cab," Mrs. Manta insisted. "You must have seen it." But the guard just smiled, as if the summer sun had taken its toll on the woman.
Then it dawned on her. If a person had brought me to the gate, the guard would have seen him. It must have been an angel! The Lord sent that angel to help me carry my books! Overwhelmed with gratitude, she thanked the guard, picked up her precious burden, and went inside the plant to deliver the books to waiting customers.
Myrna Manta (left). R. R. Tornalejo is . dean of the literature ministry seminary in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines.
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