Introduction – is this journey for you?
How do I know I am saved? How do I know I am a Christian, especially when I know that I am not always even a good person? How can others tell if I am a Christian?
I’ll start with the last question first, the first being last and so on (Luke 13,30), turning the world upside down (feel free to sing the hymn)!
How do people know you are a Christian?
You might answer:
‘I try to be nice to others; I try to be caring; I believe in God.’
(According to some atheists) ‘I am an irrational ideologue who believes that those of other faiths and, especially, non-believers are all going to hell.’
‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Saviour of the world, and I try to live according to his commandments.’
I might be being presumptuous, but I would imagine your answer might be a mixture of 1 and 3.
Again, let’s go Gospel mode and start with number 3: “I try to live according to his commandments.” If I embody the love of Christ in my life, then surely people will know I’m a Christian?
Sounds fine, but how do I embody Christ’s commandment of love? Do I endlessly give of myself to every good cause? Do I become a doormat? Do I spend endless amounts of time listening to people who can’t find anyone else to listen to them?
These are some of the solutions that people have come to and tried to put into operation in their lives, often with disastrous and guilt-ridden consequences.
Yet, isn’t that what the great saints have done? Well, again, yes…and no.
Life in the Spirit
What if I were to say that one way of looking at the life of grace would be to say this:
‘Grace is the gift of the Holy Spirit, it’s not something extrinsic to us, not just about rules and regulations that we must follow but something we have inside and that’s the connection between Christ and us, a gift given to us from the Father’s incredible love for us?’
I might go further and say that this is the life of a prophet. To be Christ-like, we have to be prophets.
It might at times involve giving selflessly, it might at times mean holding back. It could be that we have to spend some time with the unfortunate, it could well be that we challenge even the poor and marginalised to ‘get a grip and stop being a victim!’
How to be a Christian will vary from moment to moment, but it will always be according to the promptings of the Spirit ‘who has spoken through the prophets’ and continues to do so. We recite that in the creed, but do we really take on board what it means (if we also say that the Holy Spirit lives in us)?
I would add that, while it’s not so much a case of ticking boxes and living up to some code of conduct which we follow almost externally, the promptings of the Spirit are not vague and impulsive. The Spirit takes us down paths that are actually quite logical and predictable in some ways, or better, are concrete and follow certain patterns, which we can (and in fact do) call commandments.
Is this something that interests you? If so, where do we start?
In what you might think is the most unlikely of places; but we couldn’t really start anywhere else. We’re going to begin with the Old Testament. That’s where prophets first appeared and that’s as good a reason as any for reading their stories. There’s more to it than that. I believe that, if we can get to grips with the Old Testament and the prophets, we can understand better our world and our lives. We tend to think that the Old Testament is ancient and irrelevant to all but odd bible bashers or extremists with attitude. We might believe that it talks of a world of which we know very little and with which we have very little in common. I beg to differ.
The God of the Old is the God of the New
It is not for nothing that the Church has always strongly condemned any attempt to separate the two Testaments, the two Covenants, or deny any suggestion that the God of the Old Testament is not the God of the New Testament. Both of these were features of the oldest heresies in the Church, Gnosticism and Marcionism. We shall go into more detail as to why it’s important not to fall into that trap, but I would like to mention something that I have discovered on my own journey: the Old Testament often tells me about my life and opens me up better to accept the message of the New Testament in all its richness.
It’s not until I have thought through some of my own problems, which I see reflected in the lives of those portrayed in the Old Covenant, that I fully appreciate why we believe that Christ is the fulfilment of that Testament, and how he helps us to fully understand the action of God throughout history.
Frankly, I also have to admit that I have always found the Old Testament fascinating, diverse and thought provoking. I understand why many are ‘turned off’ but I firmly believe that unless we at least try to get to grips with the message of the Law and the Prophets, then the mystery of Christ will remain a mystery in the Agatha Christie sense rather than the dynamic Christian sense of the word. This comes from Christ himself and was among the first words to be spoken to his disciples after his Resurrection: “You foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory?” Luke 24, 25-26
Is this online journey or course for me?
I don’t know. You can come and go as you like; the posts will be here and free. If they provoke some thoughts and some discussions, great. If they’re a turn off – then the only time that will be wasted will be mine!
I hope that at least you will sign up and give it a go. If it’s not for you, then there are plenty of other ways, books, discussion groups that might help you, and I might make some suggestions as I go along.