Ok, let’s just say that a “basic Christian” now believes one of the most fundamental thoughts about the faith [that Jesus Christ actually existed on this earth and He was God]. That is a big step forward for anyone who used to doubt Christianity. I have an extensive discussion of this idea in my post on December 7th [“Basic: Jesus is the Son of God”].
But in the preface of his book Basic Christianity, John Stott brings up two additional fundamental questions that should be addressed if we believe that Jesus was God.
1.What did Jesus come to earth to do?
2.Do we have to do something in response?
For the first question, let’s start out with a short answer: He came to earth to save sinners (you and me).
Humanity in the form of Adam and Eve had already been created and soon after they arrived on this earth, sin entered the world and also death. God did not prefer for life to turn out that way, in fact, He gave a pretty obvious warning in the book of Genesis that man had some serious restrictions, some things that he should avoid (you know, that apple thing). But God left man with the option to sin and guess what? Man took that option.
What is the upshot for us today? We daily sin against God. Adam and Eve got the “ball rolling” but we have continued their bent toward sinning. Try as hard as we might, we are still “falling short of the glory of God” [Romans 3: 23].
The Bible is the story of how man has revolted against God our Creator and Lord and how God applies justice to man due to all those transgressions. The book is also full of warnings that are delivered to man and we see man’s repeated failure to heed those warnings. What is amazing is that God comes around to forgiving us so many times. God expressed His love for us despite our rebellion; we deserve nothing but the hand of judgement but we don’t get that nearly as much as we deserve.
God does not give up on man because He has made a covenant [referred to as the Old Covenant]. He promised the patriarch Abraham that the Israelites would be His people and through them, He would bring all the nations of the world to Him. He just wanted them to be faithful, to love justice, to show mercy and to walk humbly before their God. The problem is, the Israelites often found God’s requests too hard to do.
God came up with another plan [a New Covenant if you will]. God gave man a Messiah, Jesus Christ, to live on earth and to explain what He expected of man. Jesus lived among us [see that December 7th post] and He promised to bring us into the Kingdom of God and give us life in all its fullness. All we have to do is believe in Jesus’ Father. All we have to do is believe that Jesus is also God. The Israelites had Ten Commandments and many, many complex rules for devout living. Jesus made things much simpler. His New Covenant just said we must love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul and all our mind. The second commandment is love your neighbor as yourself. He even stated that the basic New Commandment to go along with His New Covenant is we should love one another as He has loved us.
Under the Old Covenant, God knew man was not getting His message. The history of mankind before Jesus was a history of repeated failure, but when Jesus came, God’s purpose for the saving of mankind changed. He wanted to save man from sin by sacrificing His only Son. “Jesus of Nazareth is the heaven-sent Savior we sinners need. We need to be forgiven and restored to fellowship with the All-Holy God, from whom our sins have separated us. We need to be set free from our selfishness and given strength to live up to our ideals. We need to love one another, friend and foe alike” [Stott, 9]. This is what salvation means. On a large scale, salvation is God’s effort to restore humankind.
Remember, we broke the Old Covenant; God did not break it, yet He made the supreme effort to give us a Human Guide, someone who could tell us how to behave on earth. And God’s Son is our advocate because He knows what it is like to be a human being. He sits at the “right hand of God” pleading our case at judgement day. He did not sin but He understands the temptations that we all face, for when He was on earth, He was tempted.
When we become “born again” He promises a new life for us on this earth through His Spirit that resides in us. We can live a life of righteousness, knowing we are forgiven of our sins. We can grow in holiness as we maneuver through this world. God will help us go from “childlike Christianity” to mature Christianity, if we listen to Him (His Holy Spirit). God also promises that we will have eternal life. “Although God’s people have already in one sense been saved, in another, their salvation lies still in the future” [Stott]. We are given the promise that our bodies will be redeemed upon our death. As Jesus suffered death and was resurrected to a new life with God, we can have that too.
In so many respects, Jesus Christ was our Scapegoat. He died for us upon the cross. People hear that all the time, but what does it really mean? Jesus bore the punishment for all of man’s sins when He died so we could be saved. We deserve to be punished and placed on the cross but we did not get what we deserved. He suffered our death.
What a revelation all this was for me in 1998. When I read the preface of Basic Christianity, the book affirmed in clear English what I was learning in my life at that point.
But what about that second question: did I have to do something in response to Jesus’ call on my life?
Yes I did…
I needed to commit myself “heart and mind, soul and will, home and life, personally and reservedly to Jesus Christ” [Stott, 9].
That sounds like a lot but I was ready. I was humbled by my life circumstances at that point. I had been chasing a dream that was not based on anything other than the exertion of my will. I was not worshipping God; I was worshipping values of the world. I was ready to submit to God. I was ready to become His child. I was ready to become a Christian living my life to further His kingdom. I was ready to become a loyal member of His church.
It was not too much. I had a life of misery, doing what I knew I should not do, not knowing what my purpose was in life and throwing away the important people in my life in pursuit of my own selfish goals.
I was not experiencing freedom. I was experiencing the opposite. My actions were putting me in a jail cell, where I was limited by my own sinful actions. When I became “born again” Jesus Christ gave me the key to my cell and I unlocked the door and walked out. I felt freedom for the first time in my life.
My approach in this post has been pretty simplistic and I have covered a lot of “territory,” but when I returned to John Stott’s book Basic Christianity and read his opening three questions I knew I had to write on them for anyone reading this blog who was not ready for the more complex discussion of The Cross of Christ. Can you believe that Jesus was the Son of God and was God Himself? What did He come to earth to accomplish? What do we have to do in response to His efforts?
If we have some idea about how to answer those three questions, Stott’s book may get you on your way to living a life as a believer. It served that purpose for me in 1998.
For the first time in my life, I realized that I had a God who was seeking me and I should spend the rest of my life seeking Him.
*My first post on The Cross of Christ made reference to Basic Christianity so I am going to insert comments on that book in between posts on The Cross of Christ… I think readers may find this approach interesting. For my opening comments on Basic see the post “Studying Stott Again” on October 25, 2020. I have never worked on two books at a time but I feel that now is the time to do that.