Understanding the challenge of becoming a Christian

One thing that I have noticed as I compiled the results of the survey is that none of these non-Christians understood what Christianity is about, and none of them have tried to find out, and none of them wanted to find out. All but one refused to follow Jesus even if it became clear to them beyond a shadow of a doubt that Christianity were true. And he initially answered as the others did.

Somehow, people have gotten into their heads the idea that religions are all the same, and that the purpose of religion is to make people “good”, (or worse, “happy”). And when they say “good”, they mean being nice to others. Surprise! The purpose of Christianity is NOT to make you be nice to others nor to make you happy. In fact, no amount of being nice is going to please God, unless something even more important is secured first.

The purpose of Christianity is three-fold. You must expend time, effort and wealth:

  1. KNOWING GOD’S CHARACTER AS HE REALLY IS.
  2. KNOWING WHAT GOD HAS DONE IN HISTORY.
  3. RESPONDING TO AND PURSUING GOD, AS HE REVEALS HIMSELF TO YOU.

You don’t decide what your purpose is, God does. God was there before the universe and his character was set before you were even born. He created you and designed you for a purpose.

I wanted to highlight a story in Daniel 3 in order to show what it is that atheists choose not to do, which God considers moral. An atheist cannot stand for God in public, and remain faithful and loyal to him in the midst of suffering and persecution. And Christians are required do this. This is following the example of the Old Testament prophets, as well as Jesus himself.

It should be no comfort to atheists that they stick to their chosen diet, or stop at stop signs, practice yoga and recycle. God is not the least bit interested in your compliance with your own arbitrary personal preferences, nor the arbitrary standard of your culture in the time and place you live in. That’s not morality! That’s just giving yourself happy feelings by effortlessly complying with made-up standards.

One way of loving God, (which is the most important commandment), is by keeping faith with God publicly, even when things don’t go your way. Atheists can’t do that. It just isn’t rational for people who will be alive for 75 years and then gone, to deny themselves for any higher purpose, especially when it involves suffering. And when being good isn’t rational, people don’t do it, especially when it’s hard to do.

That is why it is impossible to please God unless you first believe certain things that are only possible if God exists. For example, you need an objective moral standard, free will, someone to whom duty is owed, moral accountability, moral significance, etc.

And to illustrate what counts with God, let’s take a look at this sermon on Daniel 3 that I found that tells the story of Daniel and his 3 friends.

The Scripture is here. You’ll need to read this if you don’t know the story.

And the sermon excerpt is here:

Now, before we set up Nebuchadnezzar as the worst guy ever, we don’t have to go back very far to see similar things that have happened in our own day and age.  Every totalitarian the regime in the 20th century had statues erected in honor of their own tyrant.  Whether it was statues of Lenin in the Soviet Union, statues of Mao in China, or statues of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, people had to pay homage to these statues is they wanted to advance in society, and in some cases, simply to stay alive.  Usually one was allowed to keep believing in whatever ‘god’ they wanted as long as it was subordinate to the empire.  Allegiance to the state was more important than allegiance to any god.

Our society is certainly different in that we don’t have a dictator, and nobody, at least not yet, is threatening to shoot us or toss us into a fiery furnace.  But in some ways our society is actually worse, mostly because its pressure is very subtle and sometimes we don’t even realize it’s going on.  Our culture places the same type of pressure on each one of us to put God in second place.  We find ourselves constantly pressed to keep our beliefs private and secondary. We can believe whatever we want as long as we don’t ever talk about it.

…Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego… had failed to bow down and worship the statue, thereby disrespecting not only the statue but the king as well.

They were accused of ingratitude, verse 12, “There are certain Jews whom you have appointed,” and impiety,” they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”  But the fundamental element of both these charges was their offense against Nebuchadnezzar himself. But that’s not how Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego saw it.

They were simply trying to be obedient to the commandment, Exodus 20:4­5a, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God …”

It’s worth noting that there were only three men in the whole crowd who refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s statue…. this highlights the fact that sometimes standing up for God can be a lonely activity.  And it doesn’t matter if you’re standing on the national stage or you’re simply visiting with all your unbelieving relatives who think you’re some sort of moronic freak.  There are times in life when doing what’s right means you can’t hide in the crowd.

…I’ve come to see this same battle being fought daily in my heart over much lesser issues.  Am I going to declare the Lord to be my primary allegiance, come what may, or will I bow to the multitude of idols that the world presents?  Unless you’re an actor, our idols aren’t usually golden statues.  Our idols are the various pleasures, desires, and attitudes that the culture tells me I need to have in order to live a fulfilled and worthwhile life.

For some, their golden image is the respect and admiration and acceptance of others.  For a lot the young adults here, high school and college, there’s the pressure to be part of the “in­ crowd,” even though the cost of admission to this club is that we shouldn’t show respect to our parents, or talk about God, or keep ourselves pure until marriage.  This image of acceptance says, “Bow to me or I’ll throw you into the fiery furnace of the mockery and ridicule of your peers.’

Notice how this example of obedience and endurance parallels the life of Jesus, as well, which provides the model for Christians who are called upon to do the same – and this is central to Christianity. Where is this on atheism? Clearly, atheists cannot meet this standard. It is irrational, on atheism, to perform acts of self-sacrifice like this in obedience to an objective moral law, and to the moral lawgiver.

So, what is important to Christians is not what is important to atheists, obviously. Our primary goal is not our feelings and well-being, or being “nice” to others or being liked by others. That is irrelevant. What is considered normal in Christianity is put yourself second, and to put God first, under fire. That is loving God. The most important commandment.

Greg Koukl put it nicely in one of his lectures in the Q&A session when he said “With respect to God’s purposes in the world, your happiness is expendable”. That is the normal Christian life. And it isn’t for everyone.


8 thoughts on “Understanding the challenge of becoming a Christian”

  1. One thing that I have noticed as I compiled the results of the survey is that none of these non-Christians understood what Christianity is about, and none of them have tried to find out, and none of them wanted to find out. All but one refused to follow Jesus even if it became clear to them beyond a shadow of a doubt that Christianity were true. And he initially answered as the others did.

    I took the poll and I have been in and out of Christianity all my life. My wife is a Methodist and I attend church once in a while. I have read all of the NT and much of the Old and have read every book by CS Lewis (including the odd book on literary criticism) and some by other apologists such as Witherspoon and Strobel. I have studied NT history and know more than you can imagine. I do not particularly dislike Christians and most I know are pretty good.

    But I suspect you will say that because we do not come to the same conclusion you do, we are not really trying.

    I did not say I would never follow Jesus if he were real, I said I would not follow Jesus merely because he was real. I certainly would not follow Him to keep him from having me tortured in Hell for all eternity.

    I also suspect you will not keep this post.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Chris.

      Here are some of your answers for the benefit of those who want a clearer grasp of your views:

      Your views on whether atheists can oppose murder on rational grounds:
      “There is no rational basis for him to spare me if it is not in his interest to do so.”

      Your moral views are based on your personal preferences:
      “It is always rational to do, all things considered, what I desire. I would have a stronger preference to using my time at this moment to save the girl than not.”

      Your views on slavery:
      “I can oppose slavery by merely opposing slavery… moral subjectivism does not provide an objective basis for deciding the question of slavery.”

      You went on to state that if you “were born into that time period”, then you would not oppose slavery.

      If Christianity were true:
      “I would not have to change anything unless forced to and all that would change is my actions not my values. I would certainly balk at someone trying to force me to change my behavior.”
      and
      “I will not change my values”

      Your answers are consistent with your atheism.

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  2. Though I do agree with whatever you have mentioned above, I still don’t understand something. You have mentioned the first commandment as the most ‘important commandment’ and the entire post is about that commandment. Though I agree that the first commandment is very important to a Christian, I seriously am confused about the ‘most important’. For the sake of better understanding of being a Christian, I’ll take the 2 commandments Christ gave us. The first is obviously is to love God and that He is the only God and that He must be the most important part of our life. Which basically sums up the first 3 of the 10 commandments given to us. But Christ also gave us a 2nd commandment which is to love our neighbours as much as we love ourselves, which He said was equivalent to the first. If you read that part in the Bible, Christ gave this as reply to a question which went like “Which is the biggest commandment?”. So in essentials loving and worshipping God and putting above everything is important, yet it is equally important to live the life Christ lived. It is easier to convince people with actions than it is with words.

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    1. Take a look at the text in Mark, Matthew and Luke, you will see why I said that the first is the greatest commandment.

      Here’s Mark:

      28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
      29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
      30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
      31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
      (Mark 12:28-31)

      Here’s Matthew:

      34Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.
      35One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:
      36″Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
      37Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
      38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
      40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
      (Matthew 22:35-40)

      Luke has the same story, but Luke doesn’t mention the which is greater because Luke emphasizes helping the poor.

      I made this point to address atheists and some Christians who seek to justify themselves on the basis of good works. Being kind to your neighbor alone is worthless. We need to be thinking about God as a real person abd undertanding that there are many more important duties to perform in that relationship. Two of those would be studying to know what God is like, and what does he mean by “love”. Otherwise we would end up substituting our own agenda for God.

      Today there is a problem where most people, including Christians, think that God wants everyone to be free from suffering in the here and now. They think this because they have re-made God in their own image. They refuse to study what God is like, and the evidence about his existence and character. When they meet a non-believing neighbor, they keep silent about evidence, sin, judgment, etc. because they have redefined God in their minds to be a God of happy feelings.

      The effect of this has been to have people stop believing in Hell, apologetics, and evangelism. And the whole thing is really selfish. Christians want to be happy, and they imagine that this is what God wants for them. So they keep quiet about God or even lie about God to others. They have found that being “nice” makes them happier and more popular. And it makes non-Christians happier. This is the result of getting the commandments out of order. The first is the most important.

      Check these posts out at this link:

      # the problem of religious pluralism and religious truth claims
      # the problem of postmodern skepticism

      * the importance of being able to argue both sides of a question
      * why does talking about religion make people uncomfortable?
      * how to talk to your co-workers about your faith

      * does the Bible teach that faith is opposed to logic and evidence?
      * the six enemies of apologetic engagement
      * why men flee the feminized church

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  3. You haven’t understood what I was trying to say. You are right when you say helping others without God in your life is worthless. All I am saying is, obeying the first and ignoring the second commandment is equally worthless. Both is essential for a Christian. That is exactly what Christ said in Matthew 7: 21-23.

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  4. Hi Wintery, thanks for posting more about the essence of Christianity. A nagging question in my mind:

    What about my love for my wife, my family, and my children? They are without a doubt THE most important things in my life, and currently they ARE my purpose. How does Christianity and worshipping God fit into that?

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    1. Those are all very good things, but you need to attend to your vertical relationship first. If you became a Christian, then you would obviously still have those obligations! And what’s more, they would be rationally obligatory now, so even if your family members made you suffer for being good, you would still be rational in doing good because there is a duty to God that overrides your inclination to want to be happy.

      Lots of people are doing lots of things that are bad to their families because they are only feel obligated to their family if their family makes them happy.

      Like

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