Many today have a bad impression of Christianity. Mahatma Gandhi once famously stated: "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." Should we therefore ask if there is a difference between what Jesus Christ said and did, and those who consider themselves Christians today?
Just who was Jesus Christ anyway? The recent resurgence of the ancient heresy of gnosticism in popular books and movies such as The Gnostic Gospels, The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, The Da Vinci Code and the so-called Gospel of Judas, cloud the issue for a largely biblically illiterate public.
But these writings offer nothing new. In the latter part of the first century, the Apostle John confronted the gnostic belief that Jesus did not have a physical body, but appeared only as an illusion, meaning that Jesus Christ wasn't physically born, crucified or resurrected. The Apostle's advice for dealing with gnosticism, and heresy in general, was to have nothing to do with it (2 John 7-10). He reassured Christians: "By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God" (1 John 4:2).
To understand Christianity we must understand who Jesus Christ really was. To many Jesus was just a good man or a profound Jewish teacher. Still others see Him as a revolutionary or a nonconformist. Yet Jesus' claim, and that of His followers, was straightforward. He was Immanuel—"God with us" (Matthew 1:23), the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:15-17).
Jesus said He was God, and backed up His claim by fulfilling more than 130 messianic prophecies, by healing the sick, by raising the dead, and forgiving sin. Those who eventually brought about His death understood His claims quite clearly: "... 'For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God'" (John 10:33).
Many claim to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but they stop short of making the necessary changes in how they live. What Jesus Christ calls on His followers to do involves nothing less than a total transformation of how they think and act: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Romans 12:2).
But if we are not to conform to society around us, and change the way we have been conducting our lives, what are we to be conformed to? When a young man asked Jesus what he should do to have eternal life, Jesus told him to "keep the commandments" (Matthew 19:17), and the Apostle John confirms this: "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:2-3).
Jesus calls us to free ourselves from conformity to this society and its values, even as He challenged those of His generation to discern the difference between God's commandments and the traditions of the religious leaders of time.
For example, Jesus Christ showed us how to properly worship God. He worshiped on God's Sabbaths (Mark 1:21; Luke 4:16) and claimed to be Lord of the Sabbath, not Sunday (Mark 2:28). He also observed the Holy Days of the Bible (Luke 2:41-42; John 7:1-39) and the New Testament Church was even founded on one of those days, the Feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). After Jesus' final Passover, death and resurrection, the Apostles continued to worship on the Sabbath and observe the biblical Holy Days (Acts 17:2; 18:21; 20:6; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; 16:8).
Strange as it may sound, Jesus would probably not recognize a lot of things about the religion that bears the name of Christianity today, from its primary day of worship to the holidays it celebrates. Jesus never celebrated them. The question is, why should you?
The missing ingredient in mainstream Christianity today is the example of Jesus Christ. In a scathing rebuke Jesus stated: "... Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:18-20).
Jesus Christ repeated the same warning in Matthew 7:21-23: "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. "Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'"
The Good News Magazine (Mar-Apr, 2007)