From “How to become a Christian”: Chapter 5 – Why should we bother to become a Christian?
Before looking at valid reasons why we should become a Christian, let’s look at some common reasons people put forward which are not valid, or at least which the Bible never puts forward:
Invalid reason 1 – It is not to do God a favour
God does not need any favours from any of us. You or me finding out about Him and learning what the Bible says, is not going to benefit God. The good news about Jesus Christ is something that God has put in place for our benefit, not His. In other words, we need Him, but He does not need us.
Invalid reason 2 – It is not because He loves you.
It is absolutely true to say that God is love, and that His perfect love is the model for us all to follow. However, that is never put forward in the Bible as the reason why an unbeliever should seek to find Him. That may sound surprising. Most people have heard churches telling the public how much God loves them and giving that as the reason for them, in return, wanting to come to Him. The point is that although God is love, He generally only speaks about His love to those who have already repented and believed in Him. With those who do not yet know or love Him, the Bible focuses on His holiness and His impending judgment, not on His love:
The LORD watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.Psalm 145:20 (NIV)
God knows our hearts and how we operate. If He was to present Himself to us on the basis of His love and ask us to come to Him simply because He loves us, then it would not cause us to respect Him. On the contrary, it would only create contempt for Him in the hearts of most of us. That is not just a theoretical statement. It is the practical experience of many unbelievers. They are actually turned off by a message that God loves them. They see it as a kind of weakness in God. Imagine how we would react to a human being who went around telling complete strangers that he loves them and wants them to come to him and be his friend in response to that love. At best we would pity such a person. More likely, we would despise them and consider them socially inadequate and pathetic.
This idea that the gospel should be presented in wholly positive terms, without making any mention of sin, judgment, death or Hell and, instead, just emphasising God’s love, is relatively new. It is a false and unbalanced way of presenting Christianity that has only really arisen in the twentieth century and in the West. Before that no such man-centred message was ever given as the basis for turning to God and accepting Jesus Christ.
The inappropriate overemphasis on God’s love since the middle of the twentieth century also has the effect of misleading many people into thinking that God would never judge or punish us. We are told that He is too “loving” to do so. That is another false idea which has caused great harm. So, I will not present God to you in that manner, nor appeal to you to believe in Him on the basis of His love for us. That is not how the Bible presents God to unbelievers. Instead, I will begin, as the Bible does, by focusing on God’s holiness and how He feels about our sin.
Invalid reason 3 – It is not to improve your life or to achieve happiness.
This again is a misleading basis upon which to urge people to come to Jesus Christ and believe in Him. Firstly it is not the way that Jesus presents Himself in the Bible, nor the way the apostles presented Him. Secondly it is only partially true. The reality is that by becoming a Christian we will not solve all our problems. In fact we will create some extra problems. Neither will it always produce happiness for us.
This rose-tinted presentation of Christianity has been put forward by well meaning people. They have wanted to make Christianity seem more appealing, so as to get people to accept it. Those presenting it this way may be too scared to tell you the real reasons why you should become a Christian. They fear that if they did tell you the complete truth then you may feel offended, or be put off. It is very possible that you would be offended or put off. But that is still no reason to mislead you about the true nature of the Christian message and what suffering and trouble the Christian life can involve. Look at how hard life was for apostle Paul:
8We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.2 Corinthians 4:8-11 (NIV)
24Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.2 Corinthians 11:24-28 (NIV)
These two passages give us a glimpse of the terrible hardship that apostle Paul had to endure. It may not be so extreme for you, though it could be, and you need to realise that from the outset. If you become a real Christian it will lead to persecution and trouble and it could even be severe. Yet, too often, a falsely positive message is presented, as if becoming a Christian will solve all our problems and make life easy. It won’t.
For all these reasons, much of the Western church has presented Christianity in an artificial and misleading way, making promises which Jesus does not make and which are not supported by the Bible. I do not want to do that. I want to present Christianity to you honestly, as Jesus presented it, and as the Bible presents it, without trying to improve it or make it more marketable. To do so would not only be dishonest, but also very ineffective. Most people are too astute to be misled by such tactics. Even if people are naive enough to believe such as message, it is not the true gospel and they will end up being disappointed and disillusioned and, quite probably, falling away,
Most of the public can see through such falseness and hype and they reject it instinctively. That is one reason why so many millions of people have rejected what now passes for Christianity in the Western world. They can see through it and realise that much of it is empty, false and irrelevant to their lives. Sadly, they are arriving at those conclusions not because that is what real Christianity is about, but because that is whatapparent Christianity is about, i.e. the false and compromised message they have been given.
Valid reasons why a non-Christian should believe in Christianity:
Valid Reason 1: Because it is true.
This is actually the only valid reason for believing in or accepting any idea. The reality is that biblical Christianity, (i.e. the real thing, not the various false alternatives), is either true or it is not. If it is true then you should accept it, simply because it is true. But if it is false, then you should reject it simply because it is false, without needing any other reason. That may sound like an unnecessary statement of the obvious, but that is not how most of us think today.
Our society no longer thinks in terms of something as being simply true or false. Instead they think in terms of it being attractive or unattractive, realistic or unrealistic, likely to appeal or unlikely to appeal, practical or impractical etc. In other words, many of us do not accept or reject an idea on the basis of whether it is true in itself. Instead we do so according to whether it would be convenient or inconvenient to believe in it and/or whether we like the implications it might have for our lives if we did believe it. Previous generations did not think that way.
I am reminded of a colleague at work with whom I spoke about Christianity. This colleague said to me that she believed in Jesus but that “I just don’t want to change my life”. What she was referring to was the fact that she had a non-Christian boyfriend. She was in a sexual relationship with him and was actively going out to night clubs, drinking very heavily and engaging in a generally sinful life style.
What she meant was that, although she could now see clearly that Christianity was true, she was still not going to accept it, because she knew that Jesus would want her to change her lifestyle. She decided that the inconvenience of changing her life was more than she was willing to accept. Therefore she decided to ignore a message which she already knew to be true. If a person is honest, then they will surely see that that is an absurd way to think. Yet, it is how the majority of people do think in my own experience of telling people about Christianity
No matter how inconvenient Christianity might be to you, that has no bearing on whether Christianity itself is actually true. If Jesus is the Son of God then He is the Son of God. If He rose from the dead then he rose from the dead. If He is coming again to this world to judge the world then that is what He is going to do. Those things are true no matter what we think about them and no matter whether we find those facts attractive, inconvenient or otherwise.
For example, Britain has a monarchy and we presently have a Queen called Elizabeth II. You might perhaps disagree with that and wish that we had a republic, but no matter what you think, the fact remains that we have a Queen. She remains Queen no matter what you believe and no matter how much you object or protest. She also remains Queen even if you deny, or are unaware, that she is the Queen or if you refuse to acknowledge her. Thus, there is only one reason to believe that Queen Elizabeth II is the Queen, and that is because she is.
Whatever we might think about the monarchy, whether positively or negatively, has nothing to do with whether it is true that she is the Queen. We would consider it odd if an ardent republican was to deny that the Queen exists simply because he disapproves of the idea of monarchy or sees disadvantages in it. Yet, that is exactly what many people do about God and the Bible. They deny what the Bible says simply because they don’twant it to be true.
So, I would invite you throughout this book, and indeed in all aspects of life, to test every comment solely on the basis of whether it is true, without any regard to whether or not you want it to be true. If a thing is true, believe in it. If it is not true reject it, regardless of whether you like it.
It seems strange that I should even need to say that, let alone emphasise it so much, but in the Western world today, our thinking has become so superficial, and we are so dumbed-down, that it does need to be said.
Valid Reason 2: Because when we die we will face God’s judgment, and there will be catastrophic results if we did not believe in and follow Jesus Christ.
This is an unpopular and unfashionable thing for me to say and, sadly, it will offend some people. However, it is an inescapable fact that the Bible tells us that if we do not repent, and believe in Jesus Christ, then we will incur God’s wrath and be punished for our sins forever. By that I mean that after we die we will be judged at the Great White Throne judgment. Jesus Himself will be the judge.
Instead of being allowed to be part of the Kingdom of God and to spend eternity living a life of happiness and perfection we will then be cast into the Lake of Fire, which is an eternal punishment. It was created for the Devil and for his fallen angels. But it will also be used for all those people who do not accept Jesus Christ and follow Him. God is not simply recommending that we should repent and believe in Jesus Christ. He is commanding us to do so:
“…God commands all men everywhere to repent”Acts 17:30 (NIV)
The good news about Jesus Christ is not something which is simply being passively suggested or offered to us, which we are free to accept or reject without any consequence. It is true to say that we are free to reject Jesus and to refuse to repent. But it is not true to say that there is no consequence. Though I do not wish to offend anybody, Ihave no alternative but to say that a dreadful eternal fate awaits all who reject Jesus Christ. They will not be admitted into the Kingdom of God. Instead they will spend eternity in the Lake of Fire and in a fully concscious condition.
I really wish that that was not true and that God would forgive and accept all people whether they repent and believe in Jesus Christ or not. I wish that that was the message that I could present to you now. Not only would it be a much more attractive message, but it would also make me more acceptable for saying it. Yet, what can I do? I can only present the genuine message that the Bible presents. I have no authority to change it in any way.
Many would view it as politically incorrect and undemocratic of God to presume to “command” us to do anything, rather than merely suggest it to us politely. However, you and I both need to remember who God is. He is not merely a man. He is not on the same level as us. He is the Creator of the entire universe. He created us and he owns us. We are His property and He has every right to instruct us and judge us:
Know that the LORD Himself is God;Psalm 100:3 (NASB)
It is He who has made us,
and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Rise up, O God, judge the earth,Psalm 82:8 (NIV)
for all the nations are your inheritance.
And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, “O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them,Acts 4:24 (NASB)
10for every animal of the forest is mine,Psalm 50:10-12 (NIV)
and the cattle on a thousand hills.
11I know every bird in the mountains,
and the creatures of the field are mine.
12 If I were hungry I would not tell you,
for the world is mine, and all that is in it.
Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendour, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.1 Chronicles 29:11 (NIV)
The heavens are yours,Psalm 89:11 (NIV)
and yours also the earth;
you founded the world and all that is in it.
Every one of our lives is also sustained by Him. The very atoms of which we are made are held together in their various orbits and movements by God. For that reason too, He has the authority, as the God of the whole universe, to tell us anything He wants to tell us. He equally has the authority, the right and the power to punish us if we disobey or ignore Him:
“Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.Ezekiel 18:4 (NASB)
Thus, if He tells us that ignoring and rejecting Him in this life will result in eternal separation from Him in the Lake of Fire, then we need to take that seriously. It needs to be a real inducement to us to repent and get right with God.
Some would say that it is wrong to present God in this “unattractive” way, i.e. as someone who is capable of judging us and punishing us. They argue that it would be better, instead, to present Him as someone “nicer”. That is exactly what much of the modern Western church has done and is still doing. It has edited out anything about God which it does not find attractive in marketing terms and replaced it with more acceptable characteristics.
The Bible presents to us a God who is perfectly holy, righteous and just. He has pledged that He will judge and punish sin. However, most of the churches in the West are presenting a God who is “tolerant”, and “accepts us unconditionally”. It may, perhaps, appeal to some of us if God was like that, but there is no biblical basis for saying that He is. On the contrary, the Bible tells us clearly that God is going to judge sin eternally. God has enemies and He openly states that He will punish them.
Some criticise God for that and reject Him on the basis that He ought to act differently. They say He should accept us all, regardless of how we respond to Him. But it would be most unwise to think like that. We must humbly accept that He is God, and that we are not, and then take these things seriously. If we do, then we will be in the right frame of mind to flee from God’s wrath, which is most certainly coming.