What is Christianity? (Letter 4)

Hello Great Mate,

Thanks for your reply. I liked your own re-formulation of the Gospel, especially the idea of being ‘reunited with God and fitted back into his excellent plan’ (although I thought it might have read, ‘most excellent plan,’ a la Bill and Ted)! In fact that one word, ‘reunited,’ reminded me what was missing from my own definition in Letter 2. I haven’t incorporated our sin and the need for our relationship with God to be restored. Although Christians in the past may have been guilty of over-emphasising sin in their Gospel presentations, it is still an important part of the picture; it was for Jesus and it was for Paul. A good example is when Jesus heals the paralysed man and then tells him his sins are forgiven; not an obvious link, but Jesus was meeting both his physical and his eternal needs at once. When explaining the message to non-churched people in the West (some of whom may not have any idea of the concept of ‘sin’ at all), I think the most helpful atonement picture is ‘Reconciliation.’ You might tell them: ‘We were made to love God and be loved by him, but we have turned our backs and walked off. Through Jesus, God has now done everything needed for reconciliation to happen – everything is now ready!’ We need to retain sin in our Gospel preaching, because otherwise criminals and those with a bad conscience might consider themselves unworthy or disqualified.

I think you touched on a very important element when you wrote: ‘God expects us to live now like we will then (in the future, fully realised kingdom).’ Although I am the biggest advocate for a Christian message based around grace (undeserved love and blessing from God), I do think we too often present Christianity as a free ticket to heaven, with the implication that the life we live thereafter on earth is irrelevant. We need to teach: you receive God’s blessings (and entry into the kingdom) completely for free and then you are to live a life worthy of where God has placed you. There is one place in Scripture (1 Corinthians 3), where Paul does seem to teach that Christians will still be ‘saved,’ in the end, even if they haven’t pulled their weight, but otherwise the NT definitely advocates that we live the life too. Interestingly, I heard the Gospel the ‘other way around.’ As a younger, zealous Christian teenager and GAP-year-er (as you first knew me), I really did believe that I was earning my way…if I could only live up to Jesus’ standards then I could enjoy his blessings. This led to spiritual depression, and as a University student, God brought me to my knees so that I could hear the good news that ‘our faith is founded on what God has (freely) done for us, not on what we can do for him.’ Both grace and works are equally important.

We are in complete agreement about the idea that we are to ‘serve now in the Shadowlands and enjoy the Kingdom when the work is finished.’ Your words reminded me of Paul’s teaching in Romans 5: we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.’ In other words, this life is about character development and that will mean trials and suffering to undergo before we rest in his everlasting arms.


Sir Tom