Discovering faith and who Jesus is
We recognise that belief is hard. It is worth acknowledging our questions and doubts, and wrestling with the objections and skepticism around the Christian faith. We welcome both believers and doubters to process their doubts and beliefs with the recognition that it is not sufficient to hold doubts or beliefs just because we inherited them. If you are interested in processing your doubts and beliefs or exploring Christianity, we welcome you to visit us on Sundays, at one of our events, or in one of our discussion groups.
Jesus is regarded by many as the most influential person to have ever lived. It is remarkable that a man born to an unimportant family, from an unimportant town, in an unimportant province of the Roman Empire, became the most important figure in human history. Historians agree that a man from Galilee whose name was Jesus was known for his teaching and healing ministry.
The historical life of Jesus is not what is up for debate. It’s the claims of this man that have shaped movements and history, most notably his announcement of the Gospel of the Kingdom.
The actual word “gospel” means “good news that is announced.” That makes it different from other religious messages, which might be called “good advice to be followed.” The good news that Jesus brought was as radical then as it is today: that we are so lost and broken that we cannot find God or fix ourselves, so God has come to find and save us.
To do that he became a man, Jesus of Nazareth, who lived on behalf of his people, and went on to die on behalf of his people. Living in perfect relationship with God, Jesus' life was full of power and possibility, and also obedience to God and goodness. He lived the life that every person is called to live.
In addition to giving us the credit for his perfect life and obedience, Jesus went further and willingly took the punishment that was due to us for our imperfect, rebellious lives in his death.
Historians agree that Jesus was arrested, sentenced to death and crucified on a Roman cross. History also seems to point to an empty tomb. Christians believe from the eye witness testimony recorded in the Bible that Jesus died, was buried in the ground, and then rose again from the grave.
In his life Jesus preached peace. Dying on the cross, Jesus forgave those who were killing him. When he rose from the dead Jesus demonstrated that death had no hold on him, nor on any who entrust their lives and souls to him. Jesus was victorious over Satan, sin, and death itself. Peace and forgiveness are to be found in him. Being reunited with God, therefore, doesn’t depend on our own efforts, or even the strength and sincerity of our faith. It is not the quality of our faith that saves us, but the quality of the One in whom we put our faith: Jesus.
We are delighted that you’re ready to begin exploring the reality of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We’d love to talk with you about your journey and get you connected with people who care about you, whether that’s at Sojourners Church or elsewhere.
Many people today assume that even if God did exist, it would be impossible to really know about this deity in any absolute terms. We might sense there is something bigger than us out there, we might be spiritual and feel like we can tune-in into a larger reality, we may even philosophically agree god is somewhat necessary to explain the whole show. But the Christian claim that we can in fact know God seems too bold or even arrogant.
The deeper question is, “Is God worth knowing?” We might think, “God and religion may have been useful in more primitive times where supernatural explanations were needed to get through life. But surely in the 21st Century how could it be relevant and useful to my life to know about God?” This is a legitimate question but there is a convincing answer. Our assumption is that knowledge of God will be impractical and irrelevant to our lives. That God is not worth knowing because God offers nothing useful, practical, or tangible to us. It is though, the most practical, useful, and tangible knowledge we could ever encounter. Why? Because if the Christian conception of God is true and real, it describes a God who created all things (including us), who knows all things, and who controls all things. Even on the chance that this God is knowable, it is the most important knowledge we could ever utilise for making sense of our lives. That is, if God is unknowable, or doesn’t exist, then a search to know him is ultimately an unimportant cul-de-sac in the journey of life, but if God is real and knowable then that search can only be the most important journey ever embarked upon. While we can agree with Carl Sagan that “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” we can also add that extraordinary claims require extraordinary attention. If God can be known, he is worth knowing.
The Christian claim that God is knowable rests on the central figure of the faith: Jesus of Nazareth. It is the claims of Jesus that requires extraordinary attention because it is from his lips that comes the claim that we can know of God. His words recorded in the Gospel of John are: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would know My Father as well. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.” (John 14:6-7). Christians worship Jesus as God not simply because they wish him to be, but because he claims to be. It is the claims of Jesus, backed up by the extraordinary events of his life, death and resurrection, that confront us with a challenging dilemma. C.S. Lewis wrote about this dilemma:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him [Jesus]: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. . . . Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.” (Mere Christianity, 55-56)
What is Christianity? Some think it is a philosophy, others say it is an ethical stance, while still others claim it is an experience. None of these things really gets to the heart of the matter. Each is something a Christian has, but not one of them serves as a definition of what a Christian is. Christianity has at its core the extraordinary claims of Jesus who declared himself as saviour, Lord, and God. We can know God because of Jesus. If Jesus was a lunatic, or a liar, none of this is of much consequence. But if Jesus is Lord, and we can know God, then this matters more to making sense of the world and our lives than anything ever will.
In the Bible, there is a curious story about a man named Nicodemus. He is a Pharisee and one of the religious leaders with whom Jesus is in constant conflict. Nicodemus approaches Jesus alone at night, saying, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God,” and proceeds to ask a series of sincere questions.
It is clear that Nicodemus is a seeker, attracted to Jesus’s unconventional teaching. It is just as clear that he does not want anyone to witness this meeting. A powerful, successful man, Nicodemus is embarrassed—or perhaps afraid—to be seen questioning his own religious beliefs and considering something new.
There is a modern version of the Nicodemus story and you may identify as the central character. You may be having religious stirrings for the first time, or at least for the first time since you were young. Like Nicodemus, many find these urges confusing and even troubling, especially if they moved away from faith earlier in life.
It’s not uncommon for seekers to believe their spiritual yearnings are unusual, but they aren’t. Research shows that religious attachment can be influenced by a variety of factors, from age, to our cultural background, family upbringing, or the wealth and security of the country we live in. Exploring faith can be as disorientating as leaving it! But religious exploration is bound to occur in our life.
Why? Because even the good things in life, will not satisfy us ultimately.
When we first find love, when our team wins the grand final, when we finally land the dream job, when we at last get that house down the coast—these breakthroughs arouse in us anticipation of something which, as it turns out, never occurs. We eventually discover that our desire for that precious “something” is a longing no lover or career or achievement, even the best possible ones, can ever satisfy. The satisfaction fades even as we close our fingers around our goal. Nothing delivers the joy it seemed to promise.
Even though Nicodemus had the success and prestige that came with being a respected member of his community, there was still something missing. He went to Jesus seeking the answers to his questions, just like we encourage you to.
You may be wondering “What if I’m not ready to proceed?” Consider making a list of the issues that you perceive to be barriers to your crossing the line into faith. Here is a possible set of headings:
Content issues. Do you understand the basics of the Christian message—sin, Jesus as God, sacrifice, faith?
Coherence issues. Are there intellectual problems you have with Christianity? Are there objections to the Christian faith that you cannot resolve in your own mind?
Cost issues. Do you perceive that a move into full Christian faith will cost you dearly? What fears do you have about commitment?
We encourage you to get in contact with us or to talk to a Christian friend about your journey.
Consider reading: Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis (MacMillan) and Basic Christianity, by John Stott (IVP).
Alpha is an online, non-judgment environment for anyone and everyone who wants to explore life and the Christian faith, ask questions, and share their point of view. Through Alpha you will be able to meet some new people and discuss some big issues that might change your life and eternity in the company of other people who are also seeking answers. Whether you’re just checking it out, new to faith, or coming back to church, you are invited.