What is Christianity? Some people think that Christianity is just another way to find God. Others think it’s just the remains of a pre-enlightened time when people “believed in that sort of thing.” For many, it’s just an ethical code or list of values adopted as a crutch for life. But is that what the Bible teaches? What is biblical Christianity? And why should it matter? The early followers of Jesus were initially called people of “the Way” (see Acts 9:2, 24:14). This is because in Jesus – a new and final way to meet God and to be human – was introduced. This is also why the Bible says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). One way to define Christianity is as “the new and living way” (see Heb. 10:20). But what is this new and living way, and what are some of the new things that have come in Christ?
A New Life
The first thing a Christian receives is new life. Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life” (John 10:10). In the movie Pinocchio, Geppetto’s puppet begins by looking in every way like a real boy, but he is only wooden. Pinocchio existed and looked alive, but he wasn’t really alive until, by some miracle, he became a real boy. Like Pinocchio, someone can exist physically but not yet be alive spiritually. To become a Christian is to go from being spiritually wooden to spiritually alive. Christianity is becoming “a real boy.” This means that, like Pinocchio, being a Christian is not something that you happen to try; it’s something that happens to you. In other words, Christianity is not a side item to the same meal. It is not an “add on” to the same life; it is a new life altogether. This is why a Christian is called “a new creation” or “born again.” And what is the newborn cry of the Christian? “I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe in the gospel.” And this new life then brings about a new status.
A New Status
If you were a criminal who justly deserved the penalties of the law, yet someone paid all those penalties for you, the judge would have objectively declared you “not guilty.” This verdict would have immediately changed your status in the eyes of the law. You would go from a status of a condemned criminal to the status of a free and forgiven citizen. And after you heard this verdict, would you stand in the courtroom trying to convince the judge to acquit you, going on and on about your promises to change your ways? No, because your promises to change your ways do not change your status; your new status should change your ways. You would simply leave the courtroom differently, first positionally and then practically. This is the new status that Jesus has secured through his life, death and resurrection for everyone who believes. And with this new status comes a new identity.
A New Identity
In C.S. Lewis’ popular children’s novel turned film, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Peter, Susan, Edmond and Lucy find themselves in a new world and are quickly told of their new identity by Mr. Beaver. They are now royal rulers in the kingdom of Narnia who have come in fulfillment of the prophecy to help deliver the land from evil. As they hear this, they look around at each other with puzzled looks and say, “I think you have us mistaken for somebody else!” But Mr. Beaver was not mistaken. The children didn’t need to earn their identity; they needed to learn their identity and then live in line with it. They needed to learn who they were in the story, because if you know who you are in the story, then you know what part to play in it. A Christian is someone who has received the new identity as a justified, forgiven, child of the King. Like the children in Lewis’ novel, Christians are royal soldiers who are called to work with the true Aslan to help deliver the world from evil. How do you do this? You live in a new way.
A New Way
If you become a citizen of a new country and are graciously adopted into the royal family of that country, you are quickly taught the new way of living that is worthy of who you now are. A Christian does not live a different way in order to become a child of the King, but because he or she now already is an adopted child of the King. Jesus is the model of how a citizen and child of God’s kingdom should live in the world. A Christian exchanges the way of pride for the way of humility, the way of bitterness for forgiveness, the way of grudges for mercy, the way of greed and grasping for generous giving, and the way of lust for a life of love. In other words, Christianity is a new way to be human. But it always takes God’s power to live God’s way.
A New Power
The new way that Jesus calls his followers to proceeds from the new power that has come to dwell within. The power of the Holy Spirit that resides in every Christian is the same Spirit and power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead. This means that just as the Spirit raised Jesus to physical newness of life, the Spirit is now raising Christians to spiritual newness of life. In a world that relies upon human power and material means, a Christian relies upon the Spirit’s power and the means of grace to produce new character and new responses as agents of change in the world.
As the world steps into another new year, may the new and living way of Christianity take one step closer to seeing God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.