Christian Foundation (Course 101)

Posted on Wednesday December 28 2005 | Permalink

Christian Foundation (Course 101)

Course 101 is an eight-week course developed and offered by Gracepoint. It lays an intellectual basis for answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about the Christian faith and addresses misconceptions about God, Jesus, and the Bible. Both believers and those just beginning to consider Christianity will discover much food for thought presented in this course. The following are excerpts:

  1. Intro: What Is Life?
  2. “Creation & The Fall”
  3. “Sin and Its Consequences”
  4. “The Human Predicament”
  5. “God’s Revelation”
  6. “Jesus, Incarnation, and the Cross”
  7. “Death and Resurrection Of Jesus”
  8. “Our Response”
  9. “New Life Of Love”

Excerpt from Introduction: What is Life?

C. S. Lewis wrote about an experience of a certain feeling he calls “an inconsolable longing.” He describes it as a sudden sense of yearning, a feeling of pure joy, yet something like a pain of nostalgia which first hit him as a boy in the midst of reading certain lines of poetry, and then recurred later through music, art and walks in the woods. The sudden feelings of intense longing would be rather short-lived, and could not be reproduced by simply repeating the same activity. This sudden sense of transcendence, a feeling which seemed to beckon to him from somewhere beyond the actual triggering scene or music, was the beginning of his search for someone beyond nature which eventually led this skeptical Oxford scholar to become Christian.

No matter how ridiculously man has switched the value tags, God is not misled; according to His book, man has a destiny, duty and intrinsic worth. And no matter how hard men try to build a physically comfortable life, there will always be a sense of sorrow, a yearning and a homesickness that robs him of rest. Try as we might to feed on riches, comfort, pleasures and success, our hungry souls will cry out-if we would listen-”this does not satisfy. I was made for something more …” Saint Augustine wrote in the 4th century: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our souls shall always be restless until they find their rest in Thee.”

Excerpt from Week 1: Creation & the Fall

In The Beginning…

From its very first pages, the Bible declares the activity of God. In almost every verse, the first chapter of Genesis announces that God is acting. All the mind-bending and far-fetched arguments regarding the origin of the universe (which seem to change every few years according to the latest fad among scientists) aside, the Bible simply states that everything has its being in the sovereign creation of God.

”’In the beginning God.’ The first four words of the Bible are more than an introduction to the creation story or to the book of Genesis. They supply the key which opens our understanding to the Bible as a whole. They tell us that the religion of the Bible is a religion of the initiative of God.” [John Stott, Basic Christianity]

Man was created differently. Actually, a completely different Hebrew verb is used to describe the creation of man. We see God taking a pause, almost taking a deep breath, deliberating, and “forming” man in God’s “image” and “likeness.” We read that the other animals were created “in their kind” but that God “breathed” into man the “breath of life” and “man became a living being.” The Bible teaches that, as a result, man has an eternal existence beyond his physical life.

Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live forever, and this must be either true or false. Now there are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years, but which I had better bother about very seriously if I am going to live forever. ... If individuals live only seventy years, then a state, or a nation, or a civilization, which may last for a thousand years, is more important than an individual. But if Christianity is true, then the individual is not only more important but incomparably more important, for he is everlasting and the life of a state or a civilization, compared with his, is only a moment. [C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity]

Clearly, God made a good universe. But what is the basis of this “goodness?” Why did God look at the physical creation and call it good? God was anticipating how you and I would enjoy all the handiwork He made! The majestic mountains, the pristine beauty of the meadows, the rivers, the trees, all in perfect proportion to mankind, to whom God had given a very special charge. Man was the proud crown of all of God’s creation. God breathed His spirit into man, spoke to man and gave him a mission and a task.

Excerpt from Week 2: Sin and Its Consequences

Three Broken Relationships

Sin destroys relationships and creates enmity, hostility and alienation between men, between man and himself, and most importantly between man and God.

Man and Himself

Adam felt no guilt or embarrassment until he sinned against God. From that moment, his own conscience caused an uneasiness about himself that he could not resolve. Shame-an unnecessary and unknown thing before sin-caused a self-consciousness and a discomfort regarding himself.

This cycle is repeated in his progeny. Insecure and alone, the first thing that Cain does after leaving the presence of God is go to the land of Nod, which means “wandering.” He proceeds to wall himself in by building a city, a fortress [Gen. 4:17]. This is the only avenue man knows of to experience security-a fear-driven effort to be well-fortified, well-defended, safe from pain and involvement.

We, too, build walls around ourselves. Somehow, we are aware of a general sense of our own inadequacy. We know that our true selves must be disguised. We begin to manufacture “fig leaf coverings” for ourselves [Gen. 3:7]. We begin to hide behind carefully crafted masks.

Eventually, we accumulate many masks we alternate wearing, depending on the situation; one for home, another for school, the dorm, and different groups of friends. These masks may bring us some success, but often even in the midst of a crowd, at a party, or among friends, we find ourselves intensely lonely-the more we reinvent ourselves, the more we succeed at our masquerade, the more intensely alone we feel. We realize that there is no one who really knows us.

Novelist Thomas Wolf writes:

…loneliness…is the central and inevitable feature of human existence. All this hideous doubt, despair and dark confusion of the soul a lonely man must know, for he is united to no image save that which he creates himself. . . He has no faith in him except his own, and often that faith deserts him, leaving him shaken and filled with impotence. Then it seems to him that his life has come to nothing. (Ravi Zacharias, Cries of the Heart, p. 153-54)

In response to this painful awareness, we become chameleons, plunging ourselves into hyperactivity, throwing ourselves into work or entertainment to deaden the growing sense of inner hollowness.

In this decade, we have seen the emergence of a new and ultimate genre of masks through the internet culture, where people sit at home inventing identities for themselves which exist only in cyberspace. We have become so many different people to so many different audiences that we find ourselves asking: who am I? We have become strangers to ourselves, alienated from our very own hearts.

Excerpt from Week 3: The Human Predicament

Sin is real, and has real consequences

Sin leaves behind an indelible mark in time; our sin reaches out and disfigures people, relationships, and our very soul. We casually utter careless, cruel words and move on, probably forgetting we ever said anything unkind, perhaps even feeling like we did not do anything at all. But something HAS been done. And the person scarred by those words is in some way marred permanently. There are insults and wounds received as a child which grown adults are, years later, still damaged by; anger from these still smolder in the unseen place within the heart where those darts landed.

There is a crucial understanding regarding our conduct which is so obvious as to sound silly when expressed, but in practice proves actually quite elusive to keep in mind. It is this: When we do something, we’re actually doing it. That is, we are not mere characters in a complex video game. Children at play often say: “that one did not count.” As adults, we behave as if what we do does not count, that somehow our conduct has no effect. Often, we are like a reckless driver who cuts somebody off, sets off a series of accidents, and continues on his way, unaware of what he just did. Oblivious to the extent of the chain reaction we started, or the far-reaching effects we contribute to the web of sin in this world, we think our sins can easily be swept away. On the contrary, when we sin, in great and small ways alike, we are actually making a permanent mark on history and marring the moral fabric of the universe. And the fact that we can’t just press the “reset” button and start over is a serious predicament.

Two maladies characteristic of modern life are bulimia and abortion. Although both are complex issues, they are symbolic of an entire society bent on an artificial, illegitimate way of denying the natural consequences of its actions. Often, we are spiritual bulimics; we want to abort and retry. But life is not a rehearsal; life is real, and we go through it only once.

So what are we to make of this thing called guilt? What are we to do with our sins?

For the trouble is that one part of you is on God’s side and really agrees with His disapproval of human greed and trickery and exploitation. You may want Him to make an exception in your own case, to let you off this one time; but you know at bottom that unless the power behind the world really and unalterably detests that sort of behavior, then He cannot be good. On the other hand, we know that if there does exist an absolute goodness it must hate most of what we do. That is the terrible fix we are in. If the universe is not governed by an absolute goodness, then all our efforts are in the long run hopeless. But if it is, then we are making ourselves enemies to that goodness every day, and are not in the least likely to do any better tomorrow, and so our case is hopeless again. We cannot do without it, and we cannot do with it. God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p.38)

Excerpt from Week 4: God’s Revelation, Part 1

Why Doesn’t God Just Appear?

If an all-powerful God wanted to reveal Himself to man, it would seem to be a simple task. He could simply open the skies and shout for all to hear, or give a dramatic display of His splendor in such an undeniable and magnificent way that everyone on earth would have to acknowledge that He is there. A powerful argument can be made that given the fact that such a thing would be easy for God to do, and given that such revelations do not occur regularly, it must be that a powerful, personal God does not exist. The argument seems compelling at first glance, and the statement, “If God appeared to me right now in thus and such a way, I would believe…” has been uttered by agnostics throughout history.
Why, then, does God remain so hidden? If man is lost in sin, and God is a caring God who has the power to enter into history with a powerful display of His presence, why hasn’t He?

Think for a moment…what would happen if God did what you asked Him to do…if God individually wrote a message in the clouds for every person alive. What if He wrote, “Jesus is My Son. Believe in Him or perish”? Would all people now put their love and trust in Jesus Christ? I suspect not. When Jesus was here on earth and did all His miracles, those who didn’t want to follow Him still doubted. When the Father spoke from heaven, “This is My beloved Son,” those who didn’t have a heart to believe said, “It thundered.” And even when Jesus rose from the dead, there were a number of Roman guards who witnessed it, and yet they joined in with the religious leaders’ conspiracy to cover it up!

God desires a loving, trusting relationship with us. We were created to this end. But does parting a Red Sea do that? Does speaking from the clouds do that? ... At best they can wow or scare people into submission (and that only temporarily). They can coerce obedience. ... But they do not produce love. ...

Love must be chosen. It must be free, and it must be from the heart, without external motivations. But, quite frankly, it’s very difficult for an all-powerful God to behave in such a way that love can occur with these qualities. If He uses the “direct approach”—to the point where an alternative explanation is not possible (if it’s possible to do this), and continuously enough so it doesn’t fade from our memories-He only succeeds in blowing us over or in spoiling us with a magical genie.
[Dr. Gregory A. Boyd and Edward K. Boyd, Letters from a Skeptic, pp. 122-124]

Excerpt from Week 5: God’s Revelation, Part 2

Jesus: Incarnation and Cross

The Impact of Jesus

Speaking on a strictly historical level, the impact that Jesus’ life had on the history of mankind is unfathomable.

Napoleon Bonaparte:
I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlamagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him.

Goethe:
If ever the Divine appeared on earth, it was in the Person of Christ…the human mind no matter how far it may advance in every other department, will never transcend the height and moral culture of Christianity as it shines and glows in the Gospels.

H. G. Wells:
Christ is the most unique person in history. No man can write a history of the human race without giving first and foremost place to the penniless teacher of Nazareth. [Calvin Miller, ed., The Book of Jesus, p. 327]

Anonymous:
He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman.
He grew up in still another village, where He worked in a carpenter’s shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.
He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a house. He did not go to college. He never visited a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place where He was born. He did none of the things one usually associates with greatness.
He had no credentials but Himself.
He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against Him. His friends ran away. He was turned over to His enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While He was dying, His executioners gambled for His clothing, the only property He had on earth. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.
Nineteen centuries have come and gone, and today He remains the central figure of the human race, and the leader of mankind’s progress. All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man on this planet so much as that one solitary life. [“One Solitary Life”]

A Particular Man at a Particular Time

It strikes some people as slightly odd that God should come as a particular person. Somehow, the idea of an actual, specific person – a Palestinian Jew named Jesus – with a particular size and shape, occupying a specific time in history, does not seem universal enough to be God in the flesh. However, anything real must take on certain particular traits. For example, a vague, general idea of a chair must take on particularity if it is to ever become a real chair – a certain color, a certain shape and design, a certain particular material.

In order for God to draw near and speak to us regarding what He is like, He had to enter into history as a particular person; i.e. He had to come to a specific time, within a specific cultural and historical setting, etc. He could not come to us at all as a generalized personhood hovering over every point in time simultaneously. To show us Himself, God had to do it by taking on all the particularities of a real person.

Excerpt from Week 6: Death and Resurrection of Jesus

The Cost of Forgiveness

At this point some people ask the question, “Why all this talk of sacrifice and blood? Why can’t God just forgive?” Such questions reveal a misunderstanding of the nature of forgiveness. Wherever there is forgiveness, there must be payment.

Imagine a woman who discovers after 10 years of marriage that her husband has had a string of affairs throughout their marriage. What does she feel like doing? Stabbing her husband a hundred times? Probably. But what does she in fact do? Let’s say she decides to forgive him. She tries to do the impossible for the sake of the children and perhaps out of mercy for this pathetic figure called her husband, who is now genuinely sorry. But it is so hard to do. It is a double pain: first she has been wronged. All the years of her toil, faithful love and sacrifice for her husband and for the children, to keep a happy home, etc. has been trashed and treated with contempt by her husband. But now, in addition to that, she has to take on the burden of forgiving this man. It’s like trying to swallow poison.

She says to herself: “I’ll forgive him. I will receive this outrage; I will absorb this wrong. All that cruel sin, let it all just flow in here, soak into my heart.” And like cancer destroys a chunk of your organs, the forgiving person takes it all in and hopes that she will be able to cope, that she won’t go crazy, that her heart is big enough that this cancer won’t kill it. She tries to be an ocean so the toxin can be neutralized.

Every act of forgiveness is this costly; it involves a kind of death. If we understood how costly forgiveness is, we wouldn’t be so cavalier about asking for it, nor would we demand it. And when offered it, we would be thankful and struck with awe.

Notice that there really is nothing that the husband can do, other than just feel very very sorry, and very very rotten inside. No amount of ice cream, treats, good deeds, or “I’ll make it up to you” can alter the fact that the wrong has been committed, the hurt has been inflicted. If he were to go kill himself with an apology note, that may be dramatic enough, but that misses the entire point, and adds the insult of that tragedy upon the injury of the adultery.

What can he do? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Similarly, every sinner stands utterly helpless before God.

A Portrait of Love

So what does it all mean? We need to see that it changes everything -including our notions of God, ourselves and reality.

Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we can see a portrait of God’s intense love for us. When we look at our world, we see sin and twistedness all around us and inside us. We see ourselves groping for meaning in life and yet gripped by the emptiness of death. And just when we despondently look up to the heavens in pitiful protest, we find that the God of the universe personally came down to this hellish, sin-ridden world and died in anguish. In the greatest paradox, we can rejoice at this tragedy – because it is in His death that we find forgiveness and in His resurrection that we find our destiny.

Excerpt from Week 7: Our Response

Salvation is a Gift

First and foremost, salvation is described in the Bible as a gift from God.

Ephesians 2:8 says that becoming saved “is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

A gift, by its nature, cannot be earned nor demanded (as in the case of wages). A gift is something costly to the giver and precious to the receiver. Likewise, there is nothing man can do to pay for the gift of salvation through good deeds, or religious rituals. The gift needs to be simply received with gratitude.

The gift of salvation is a gift of God’s love and grace. Thus, it is a relational gift, very much like the proposal for marriage or the extending of amnesty to rebels by a King. These require certain steps to be taken by the receiving party in order for the gifts to be properly appropriated.

What are these steps for receiving salvation?

The Bible uses three main terms or ideas to express the process of being saved: Repentance, faith and lordship.
Let’s illustrate with a story of a childless King adopting a beggar boy as his heir. One day the beggar boy meets the good King. Perhaps the King is travelling throughout the countryside on a tour of his kingdom when he comes upon a beggar boy. There is nothing that the beggar boy has done to deserve what he is about to experience. The King, out of his graciousness befriends the boy and asks him to become his adoptive son. This aspect of the story is analogous to God’s grace in granting salvation as a free gift to man.

The King tells him about life in the palace, the privileges which would become his as the adopted prince, and the fine education he would receive which would open up a whole new world for him. The boy looks at the King, and somehow, he believes the offer of the King. He trusts that he is a good man, that this offer is not some cruel joke, that this is not a trick to get him into the palace, only to actually feed him to the lions. The boy entrusts his life to the King by climbing aboard the King’s carriage.

The boy also understands that his beggar days are over. He does not cling onto his beggar’s rags or his beggarly ways of stealing and begging-as much as these may have served him in the past. How absurd it would be if the boy turned down the offer, claiming (falsely) that he himself is actually the king of a neighboring country, or if he refused to acknowledge that he is hungry, poor, sick with various diseases and ignorant and untrained in anything. What if the boy insisted that he is A-OK, and that he prefers his present life to the life of a prince, and would never dream of parting with his tin can? But instead, this boy receives the amazing offer, and parts with his rags, renounces his beggarly and tawdry manners and gratefully adopts the regal ways of the royal family.

From the moment the beggar boy climbs aboard the King’s carriage, he enters into a new relationship with the King as his father. Acknowledging this relationship on a daily basis, the beggar boy begins a life of obedience, respect and love for his father, the King. Embracing his new relationship of sonship enables him to adopt the qualities and values of the King.

Excerpt from Week 8: New Life of Love

Love’s Demand for Eternity

If death is really the end to all things, life is indeed a cruel joke of this indifferent universe. The transcendence of our souls is merely a mirage and love’s demand for eternity ultimately goes unanswered. Death has the last laugh.

However, that is not the end, because at this point there’s another whole story, the story of God’s love for man.

1 John 4:8 and 4:16 say that God is love. He is the embodiment and the epitome, so to speak, of love itself.

Man’s love may grind to a sudden, cruel halt at death, but God’s love does not end at death. His love story with us continues because God’s love is not going to be defeated by death.

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

The good news is that God loves us so much that He refuses to let death conquer His love for us – He refuses to bow down to death. Therefore if we are in Christ, if we dwell within the triumphant sphere of his life, we can be assured that our love story with God would not end at death, but continue on to eternity.

We can be comforted by this promise of God – the promise sealed with His own blood – that He will take us into His embrace no matter what happens. We are called to respond to this kind of eternal love of God that promises eternity together.

Life With Christ

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” Luke 9:24.

An invitation to follow Jesus is basically an invitation to a love relationship with Christ. It is an invitation to lose ourselves in love for Jesus, and in so doing, we ironically find ourselves. Jesus is imploring us to let go of the tiring grasp we have on our lives that is causing us to bend forever inward toward ourselves. Instead, he calls us to spend our lives in experiencing life as it was meant to be lived.

However, just when we begin to see the wonderful calling of the gospel, we can feel scared that we won’t be able to live a life worthy of the gospel. Indeed it is a narrow road that is going to be filled with difficulties. But if we really think about it, anything worthwhile, anything glorious, will entail burdens. To shun burden would be to shun everything meaningful in life. For example, caring for a child can be viewed as something quite burdensome; however, that burden becomes light when it is born out of love. Likewise, when we follow Jesus, his burden is light – even a joy – because it is born out of the greatest love of all. [Matthew 11:28-29]

Furthermore, we are not alone in this journey. Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will help us.

The boy also understands that his beggar days are over. He does not cling onto his beggar’s rags or his beggarly ways of stealing and begging-as much as these may have served him in the past. How absurd it would be if the boy turned down the offer, claiming (falsely) that he himself is actually the king of a neighboring country, or if he refused to acknowledge that he is hungry, poor, sick with various diseases and ignorant and untrained in anything. What if the boy insisted that he is A-OK, and that he prefers his present life to the life of a prince, and would never dream of parting with his tin can? But instead, this boy receives the amazing offer, and parts with his rags, renounces his beggarly and tawdry manners and gratefully adopts the regal ways of the royal family.

From the moment the beggar boy climbs aboard the King’s carriage, he enters into a new relationship with the King as his father. Acknowledging this relationship on a daily basis, the beggar boy begins a life of obedience, respect and love for his father, the King. Embracing his new relationship of sonship enables him to adopt the qualities and values of the King.