The best way to get a grip on what Christianity is about is to look at Jesus – and even more at his accomplishments than his pronouncements. Other religions teach, in essence, that we can be saved if we follow their founders’ words. But Christians believe we are saved not primarily by following what Jesus said but by believing in what he did. We are saved not by what we do but by what Jesus has done. It is in his actions – his birth and incarnation as a human being; his miracles and healings; his response to trials, temptations, suffering, and death; and ultimately his resurrection and ascension – that we meet him, not just as another teacher but as a Savior accomplishing our salvation in our place. And so we must come to grips with each of these great actions and events to fully encounter Jesus as the life-changing Redeemer.
When we look at the whole scope of this story line, we see clearly that Christianity is not only about getting one’s individual sins forgiven so we can go to heaven. That is an important means of God’s salvation, but not the final end or purpose of it. The purpose of Jesus’s coming is to put the whole world right, to renew and restore the creation, not to escape it. It is not just to bring personal forgiveness and peace, but also justice and shalom to the world. God created both the body and soul, and the resurrection of Jesus shows that he is going to redeem both body and soul. The work of the Spirit of God is not only to save souls but also to care and cultivate the face of the earth, the material world.
Christian friends, do you believe in the risen Christ? Is he your Savior? In that case, you can face death but you can face anything. Can you face worry? Can you face troubles? You already sang about it in the first hymn: ‘Ours the cross, the grave, the skies.’ If you believe the risen Christ is now in control of history, even the bad things that happen to you are crosses that are going to raise you. ‘Come on, crosses!’ says a Christian. ‘The lower you lay me, the higher you’ll raise me.’ ‘Come on, crosses!’ you say. ‘Jesus the risen Lord is in charge of everything.’
Look again at the uniqueness of Christianity. Only the Christian worldview locates the problem with the world not in any part of the world or in any particular group of people but in sin itself (our loss of relationship with God). And it locates the solution in God’s grace (our restoration of a relationship with God through the work of Christ). Sin infects us all, and so we cannot simply divide the world into the heroes and the villains. (And if we did , we would certainly have to count ourselves among the latter as well as the former.) Without an understanding of the gospel, we will be either naively utopian or cynically disillusioned. We will be demonizing something that isn’t bad enough to explain the mess we are in; and we will be idolizing something that isn’t powerful enough to get us out of it. This is, in the end, what all other worldviews do.
The Christian story line works beautifully to make sense of things and even to help us appreciate the truth embedded in stories that clearly come from another worldview. The Christian story line, or worldview, is: creation (plan), fall (problem), redemption and restoration (solution):
The whole world is good. God made the world and everything in it was good. There are no intrinsically evil parts of the world. Nothing is evil in its origin. As Tolkien explained about his archvillain in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, in the beginning ‘even Sauron was not so.’ You can find this ‘creational good’ in anything.
The whole world is fallen. There is no aspect of the world affected by sin more or less than any other. For example, are emotion and passions untrustworthy and reason infallible? Is the physical bad and the spiritual good? Is the day-to-day world profane but religious observances good? None of these are true; but non-Christian story lines must adopt some variations of these in order to villainize and even demonize some created thing instead of sin.
The whole world is going to be redeemed. Jesus is going to redeem spirit and body, reason and emotion, people and nature. There is no part of reality for which there is no hope.
The heart of the unique message of the Bible is that the transcendent immortal God came to earth himself and became weak, vulnerable to suffering and death. He did this all for us – all to atone for our sin, to take the punishment we deserved. If it is true, it is the most astonishing and radical act of self-giving and loving sacrifice that can be imagined.
All forms of work are participation in God’s work. God made the created world by his Spirit (Gen. 1:1-3) and continues to care for and sustain it by his Spirit (Ps. 104:30), watering and enriching it (Ps. 65:9–13) and feeding and meeting the needs of every living thing (Pss. 145:15–16 and 147:15–20). Indeed, the very purpose of redemption is to massively and finally restore the material creation (Rev. 21–22). God loves this created world so much that he sent his Son to redeem it. This world is a good in and of itself; it is not just a temporary theater for individual salvation. If the Holy Spirit is not only a preacher that convicts people of sin and grace (John 16:8–11; 1 Thess. 1:5) but also a gardener, an artist, and an investor in creation who renews the material world, it cannot be more spiritual and God-honoring to be a preacher than to be a farmer, artist, or banker. To give just one example, evangelism is temporary work, while musicianship is permanent work. In the new heavens and new earth, preachers will be out of a job! Ultimately the purpose of evangelism is to bring about a world in which musicians will be able to do their work perfectly.