What is Christianity, really?

In today’s modern technologically advanced and progressively secular societies, Christianity–and other religions for that matter–seem to be categorized as outdated but somewhat acceptable practices of traditional faith so long as they are within the confines of a home or close community. In other words, it has been put on the shelf for you to read and practice if you want but try and keep it away from the arena of society as much as possible. 

This is not surprising, given some of the disasters that have come about due to organized religion within the past few centuries. To both religious and non-religious groups around the world, Christianity can represent either peace, hope and love; or hypocrisy, hate and lies; which leads to confusion on what it’s really about.

As a person who studies or looks at the core of concepts and people more than the surface level projections, I’d like to do you a service whether you’re a believer or non-believer and clear the air on what Christianity is really about. There are no “alternative facts” here, just basic facts.

So to start, let’s first talk about what Christianity is not.

It’s not a list of do’s and don’ts.

It’s not going to heaven or hell.

It’s not the Bible, pastors, the Pope, angels, devils, incense or the crusaders.

It’s not the Catholic, Protestant, or Eastern Orthodox church.

It’s not doctrine nor the study of a chosen set of text canonized into a book in the early 4th century.

It’s not the practice of communion, baptism, praying, reading the Scriptures, admonishing people to believe, or healing the sick.

It’s not about hating evil, the devil, demons, or hell.

It’s not about sin and being right.

While these things have played a part in the history of Christianity, and or continue to do so, they are not Christianity in it of itself.

So what is? 

One word: Christ

It is about the Christ, an English word for Christos which is the Greek version of the Hebrew word Messiah, meaning “the Anointed One.” It is about the unseen Lord God of heaven, earth and the stars who manifested Himself to this world in the form of something we can relate to; a human. That human’s name was Jesus, or Yeshua (a.k.a, Yehoshua) in Hebrew which means “salvation.”

Jesus the revealed Christ, He is what Christianity is about. Anyone who says otherwise misses the point and as such has no place teaching others what they themselves do not see or hear. That goes for both Christians (i.e., Christ followers), and non. Next time someone asks you what you think about Christianity, don’t think about the church, Christians, or theology, think about Jesus.

So who is Jesus then, and why does He get to be named the supposed Christ?

To answer this question, you have to understand the history and teachings of the Judiac Hebrew Scriptures and Israel (which means, “contend with God”). If you don’t, you also miss the point and go off on tangents that are irrelevant. Remember, Christianity = Jesus, who was a Jewish man and Rabbi (teacher).

To set things up: One day thousands of years ago, in a time when there were multiple gods and their images were crafted by hands and myths were attached to them, a guy named Abram heard the voice of the one formless God of his fathers commanding him to do something drastic and promising him something grand. In so many words, He said “get up and leave everything you consider of value; your land, your family, and your history, and walk before me, blameless, because I am going to show you where you belong. I will multiply and bless you, your name, and all the families of the earth through you.” (Read Genesis 12 and 17).

This promise, though seemingly simple and given to an ordinary but chosen man, encapsulates the beginning of the redemption of creation. The redemption from the sin of Adam and Eve that brought shame, pain, and death into existence through disobedience. It was the foreshadowing of us, humanity, being restored to a new place where we belong, are blessed, and walk in relationship with God. 

What would it take? A covenant, faith, and an example. Remember this point.

Abram’s name was changed to Abraham (meaning, “father of many”), God made a covenant with him that was signified in the flesh (circumcision), Abraham and his wife indeed had a son in very old age (close to 100) as promised, and many of the other things that were said came true. Through the seed of Abraham, one man, the nation of Israel (which in current day has about 8 million people) was born. Israel: A nation that has appeared, disappeared, and reappeared over the years and endured many trials and opposition, a geographic area that has been part of almost every major empire or war before modern history, and a people that are called stiff-necked and stubborn by God Himself.

Stop and think about this. It all started by faith in the promise of a seed and blessing. One man, became many. One individual, became a society. One relationship with God, turned into a covenant between God and humanity. Does this sound familiar to another Person that we’re going to talk about here?

A Foreshadow of the Promised One – Son

Imagine you are old, and you live in a time when children are the legacy you leave on this earth. They carry your name, your assets, and your history. You have been told by the Almighty Himself that you will be multiplied and your name will be blessed throughout the earth, and yet you have no child of your own. And you’re around 86 years old.

Would you find it easy to believe the unseen God and His promise?

Would it come as a surprise to any of us that given the circumstances we would exert all the effort we could to ensure this promise is fulfilled ourselves? “I know, how I about I lay with my wife’s maidservant, who is able to bear children, and conceive through her? Maybe that’s what God meant!” The wonders of the human intellect, proud and lacking in faith.

Abraham does this, at the command of his wife Sarah, and the maidservant, Hagar the Egyptian, birthed a child named Ishmael (Gen 16). Thirteen years later, however, Abraham hears from God and is told to walk blameless as a covenant will be established with him and he will be a father of many nations. 

A covenant is an agreement. In modern day a covenant can be written down and signed on a legal document. But what would be the sign of such a covenant between the supernatural God and natural man? Circumcision of the man’s penis; because it is from there that the seed of man, the fulfillment of God’s promise, would come (let’s keep the mind clean folks).

So Abraham listens, and after circumcising himself and all the males under his ownership or command, God appears to him as three men in the desert by his tent. He tells Abraham “I will surely return to you at this time next year, and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son.” Sarah, who is listening from inside their tent, laughs at this proposition, since she is almost 90 years old. Then God said “Why did Sarah laugh? Is anything too difficult or wonderful for the Lord?” I would have been scared for laughing like her as well (Gen 18:1-15).

Yet, at the appointed time, Sarah became pregnant and bore a child named Isaac (meaning, to laugh). He was circumcised as agreed with God by covenant, and there was a great feast to celebrate his birth (Gen 21:1-8). That celebration would soon turn into dread, a test to Abraham’s faithfulness to God alone, and an example of the One who was to come. 

After an undescribed amount of time, God tells Abraham to “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac… and offer him up as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.” It should be mentioned here that this is the first time in the Hebrew text that the word “love” is used. It is kept close to the word “offering” or “sacrifice”, because in the eyes of God you can sacrifice without love, but you can’t love without sacrifice. Abraham is obedient, has Isaac carry the wood for the sacrifice up the mountain in Jerusalem, and just as he is about to kill his son, the son of promise whom he loves as himself, God says “Abraham! Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, for now I know that you fear God.” And God provided an animal sacrifice for Abraham to offer up instead. God said “By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore…In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice” (Gen 22:1-19).

This boy, Isaac, went on to be the father of Jacob (meaning supplanter), who wrestled with an angel of God and was therefore renamed Israel (contends with God). Jacob, went on to be the father of the 12 tribes of Israel, who would later represent the heads of the nation.

Remember this: a son (child) is the inheritance of his father, and only the son born within covenant is the rightful heir. God did not ask for what He Himself could not offer, and so as Abraham the father was asked to sacrifice his son, so the Lord father offered up his own sacrifice out of love.

A Foreshadow of the Promised One – Prophet

Not everything was roses and chocolate as this promise was being fulfilled. This is the result of relying on man’s ability to be faithful. 

There was faithlessness. There was lying. There was stupidity. There was bloodshed. There was famine. There was war. There was loss. Yet despite all this, many years after Abraham it was written that “the sons of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly, and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty, so that the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:7). Oddly enough, this part of the story occurs outside of the promised land, in the land of Egypt. Because of their increasing power, there is resistance from the ruler of the world’s greatest empire at that time and he begins to persecute the sons of promise, forcing them into slavery. For those of you who are Christian, I hope you are catching all the parallels as we go. For those who are not, hopefully you will catch them and reread by the end.

So what does God do about this? He births a boy, named Moses (meaning to draw or pull out), who would be used to pull out all the Israelites from under slavery into the promised land. This boy was born during the time that the Pharoah of Egypt commanded that all first born males be killed via drowning in the Nile. A similar decree of infant death happened in Bethlehem, Israel many many years later under Roman rule.

Although Moses was used by the Lord to do great and mighty miracles in a chess game of power against the prideful Pharoah of Egypt (who was believed by the people to be like God), Moses was born just like any of us and he did questionable things just like us. He killed a man. He ran away from his problems. He was unskilled in speech (and possibly afraid of public speech like most of us), and he lived out his life without any particular purpose until hitting the ripe age of 80. Yet with all these imperfections, and with all that time that passed, he was the one who would set the captive Israelites free, command the seas, meet God personally as a burning fire on a small bush and a tall mountain, and be entrusted with the commandments of God to be observed and taught for generations to come (parallels, parallels, parallels).

This man, a great if not the greatest prophet, was also the same man to be rebuked by God several times for not following what he was commanded to do. After one particular disobedience towards the end of his life, he was told that he would not live to enter the very promised land of the people he was leading. In an act of grace, however, he was permitted to see the land from the top of a mountain before he breathed his last.

Before he breathed his last, Moses said two things that are important to note. There are countless important things mind you, but two are relevant for my case here.

The first was in regard to the 613 commandments of righteousness given to the people of Israel. Moses said “behold, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, which I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I am commanding you today, by following other gods which you have not known” (Deuteronomy 11:26-28). 

The second is regarding the raising of another great prophet such as himself. He said “the Lord said to me, ‘They have spoken well. I will raise up a prophet among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in His mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him.'” (Duet 18:17-19). It is written at the end of the book that “since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face” (Duet 34:10).

Moses was, and to this day still is, considered by some the greatest prophet to have known God. It is written that Moses knew the ways of God, while the people of Israel knew the acts of God (Psalm 103:7). To know someone’s heart and ways requires an intimate relationship of trust, like that of a son and his father, but to know someone’s actions only requires observance either from up close or a distance, like that of a servant and his master.

Remember this: the law became a blessing and curse to the people, based on their obedience as servants of the Most High, and a prophet who knows the Lord face to face would arise someday.

Side note: For you historians who take issue with the occurance of the Exodus from an archeological standpoint, I encourage you to watch the documentary called “Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus“. You’ll enjoy it and be challenged.

A Foreshadow of the Promised One – King

Fast-forward past the conquest of the promised land filled with strong kingdoms, the establishment of tribal territories for the 12 tribes of Israel, and the ensuing conflicts with surrounding kingdoms, the Israelites did exactly the opposite of what the great prophet said to do: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Duet 6:4-5). Moses continued on saying ” watch yourself, that you do not forget the Lord who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Duet 6:12). 

Why is this betrayal a big deal? Because the people who were protected from plagues that overpowered Egypt, were lead through a sea that split in two, ate bread that appeared out of nowhere, drank water gushing out of a rock, walked in the midst of a cloud for years, and received instructions written on two tablets by the finger of God, were to be a light unto the world as to who the one true God really is. Essentially, they were supposed to represent God to the world and be holy (meaning, set apart), as He is holy. Well, that didn’t happen. The pesky problem of sin.

Now that the ways of righteousness were clearly laid out in writing to the chosen people, there was no excuse to say “well we didn’t know.” To whom much is given, much is required. The Israelites forsook God and served other gods, and at some point they asked a prophet of the day, Samuel, for a king to be appointed over them, “so that we also may be like all the nations, that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:4-9). Even though God was being rejected as their King and Warrior by this request, He honored it and had Samuel appoint a king. 

The man who was anointed over Israel as king fit the bill quite well: tall, handsome, and the son of a mighty man of valor (1 Sam 9:1-2). His name was Saul, and he was anointed as king with the mission of exterminating the enemies of Israel (i.e., the promised children) and utterly destroying everything in their possession. Yet he did not do this and instead broke the commandment he was given for the sake of offering the best burnt offerings and animal sacrifices from the spoil of war. When he tried to defend himself and his actions in front of Samuel, he was told “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice… Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has also rejected you from being king” (1 Sam 15:22-23). Christians, I hope you caught the reference there.

Enter King David, rising out from Bethlehem (1 Sam 16). This guy is not only the utter badass of his time at a young age for killing a giant armed Philistine warrior with nothing but a sling and a stone, and for being a triumphant man of war throughout his 40 year reign over Israel, but he was also a sensitive soul and the author of many psalms (songs) as a harpist who worshipped God in everything he did. When he was being chased around Israel by King Saul, who was jealous and angry towards him and wanted him dead, David had opportunities to kill Saul yet never took them (1 Sam 24 & 26). He honored the anointing of God on Saul and would not go against it, prolonging the risk of his own life .

He is known as “a man after God’s own heart.” That does not mean he was perfect, as his most famous sin was in sleeping with the wife of a man whom he later indirectly killed by sending him out to war. Nonetheless, David always sought after the presence and will of God, and it is written that “he did what was right in the sight of the Lord” (1 Kings 15:5). One of the last acts written about David in the Bible during his reign is how he purchased a field to build an altar to God. The man who owned the field said “Let my lord the king take and offer up what is good in his sight”, essentially saying take it for free please and do as you wish, yet David responded “No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing” (2 Sam 24:22-25). 

That is the devotion of a king, an example to his people. It is the devotion and love for God that cannot be replicated by mere religious observance. It can only exist within the confines of relationship, covenant, and obedience in love. So much love, that the expression of the soul through a medium such as music came forth.

Remember this: a king obeys the Lord, doing what is right in His sight and loving Him with all his heart, and does not offer anything to God that did not cost him something in the first place.

The Promised One – The Seed and Blessing

Finally, we arrive to Jesus. Fast-forward past centuries of disobedience by the Israelites, and ensuing judgments because of that, we arrive to sometime around -4 A.D. when the Jesus that we speak of today was born in a manger in Bethlehem, the city of David.

Two of my favorite New Testament books are written by a physician and disciple of Jesus named Luke, who carefully investigated everything that happened during the time of Jesus from the beginning, and wrote out in consecutive order the things which he saw (Luke 1:1-4). What better person to compile such testimonies, and therefore affirm the testimonies offered by three others named Matthew, Mark, and John, than a doctor and student of science?

Prior to the birth of Jesus, it is written that a priest named Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth, both old in age and childless, were informed by an angel that they would bear a child who would be the forerunner to the Lord. Old age, barren wife, angels appearing; sound familiar? This baby was John the Baptist, who later lived in the wilderness “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3). This John the Baptist, was operating in the spirit and power of Elijah the prophet (Luke 1:17). I won’t go into full detail here, but just know that according to Jewish teaching the Messiah will not come until the prophet Elijah returns. In short, Elijah was a prophet who also did some great miracles in the name of the Lord and is one of two recorded people in the Bible to be “swept away to heaven”, meaning to not die (2 Kings 2).

Shortly after the announcement of John the Baptist’s birth, a relative of Elizabeth named Mary was also visited by an angel in a city called Nazareth (which funny enough is the city in which I am finishing writing this article currently). She was informed by the angel Gabriel that she has “found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His Kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:26-33). That’s a powerful declaration to make over an unborn child to a young nobody girl. This was confusing to Mary as she was a virgin, but she was told that by the power of the Holy Spirit she would have a son. So she treasured these things in her heart and rejoiced.

Then came the day, when Yehoshua (Jesus), the “salvation of God”, was born. It took place in Bethlehem, away from Nazareth because his father Joseph and mother Mary had to go register for a census that was called by the Roman government, and Joseph was of the house and family of David. In that same region an angel appeared to some local shepherds proclaiming “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” After eight days passed and Jesus was being presented to the Lord per the law of Moses, there was a man named Simeon in Jerusalem who was told by the Holy Spirit that “he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” When he saw Jesus as the child, he said “Now Lord, my eyes have seen Your salvation…A Light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” When a prophetess named Ana saw this too, she also came up and began speaking “of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2).

The Promised Son, the Holy Prophet, the Righteous King, the awaited Messiah and one true Israelite to represent God to the world, had finally come.

Given I’m only providing examples from the New Testament right now and not from outside sources, you should know and be able to see so far that the political and religious context to the times of Jesus was one in which the Jewish people were eagerly awaiting for their Messiah and for their deliverance from the oppressive power of the pagan Roman Empire. And without getting into detail here, the birth of Jesus coincides perfectly with the prophetic timetable of kingdoms provided by the prophet Daniel in the book of Daniel chapters 2 and 7.

We don’t know much about Jesus’ childhood, outside of one event, but we’re brought back into the picture when He was 30 years old and about to be baptized by John, his relative and the returned prophet Elijah. It is written that when Jesus was baptized, “the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, ‘You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased'” (Luke 3:21-23). This alone may seem like a simple poetic statement, but the context to this is mind-blowing. An awesome expansion on the power of this short statement, and hence the identity of Jesus as supported by Scripture, can be seen in the following photo of a section from the book “Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus” by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg. I highly recommend this book if you want to learn more about the Jewish context of Jesus.

After being baptized by the Holy Ghost, Jesus went on to have a three year ministry as a well known Rabbi, or teacher. He went around preaching  “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” and taught from the Hebrew Scriptures in the synagogues, often raising the standards of the law more than they were already understood (read Matthew 5-7). His modus operandi fulfilled many Scriptures, including one He read to his fellow Nazarenes out of the scroll of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19, Isaiah 61:1-2).

Jesus demonstrated the Kingdom of Heaven he spoke of by performing many miracles such as healing the sick, blind, deaf, lame, and mute; casting out devils from people tormented by them; commanding water and the seas; feeding thousands of people with a few fish and bread; and even raising children and adults from the dead. There has not been any other known person since His time to have done such remarkable things and gather a following of thousands of people wherever He went. With the invent of the Internet and YouTube now a days, imagine the fame of such a person.

Some of the people referred to Him as a prophet, and some as the promised Messiah. Jesus referred to Himself as “the Son of Man” constantly, a named reserved solely for the Messiah. He forgave people of their sins and equated physical healing with it, things that only the Lord God could do or grant. These things that Jesus did and taught were very questionable and dangerous in a Jewish society that considered such things blasphemous and worthy of death, yet Jesus unashamedly and openly continued in His practice.

The view that Jesus was considered a respected Rabbi (teacher) in his time can be surmised by either the explicit references to Him as “teacher,” or implicitly by the fact that he spent a lot of his time teaching in the synagogues and temple. No ordinary folk would be allowed to do such a thing, only teachers who had proved to know and study the Scriptures well. Like other rabbis of his time, He had disciples (12, like the 12 tribes of Israel) whom he chose for Himself, to eat, sleep, walk, talk, drink, and live just like Him. It was a disciple’s honor to emulate his teacher and teachings down to the tittle. Both by His disciples and by the people, Jesus was considered to be one who taught with authority unlike the other main religious leaders of the time from the sects of the Pharisees and the Sadduccees (Mark 1:21-22). The religious leaders abhored Him, because he constantly called out their hypocrisy, their love of money and praise from men, as “traditions of man that nullify the word of God” (Matthew 15:1-14). Multiple times they tried to ensnare Jesus in His own words and make Him sound like He preached against Moses and the Law, and they failed every time. Jesus’ rebukes, and the praise of the people towards Him, enraged them so much that they plotted to kill Him (John 11:47-48), and were ultimately successful.

Jesus the Christ of Nazareth was eventually arrested, falsely witnessed against, accused of blasphemy, and sentenced to death via crucifixion. He was beaten, lashed, insulted, spit on, and forced to carry a heavy cross on which He was nailed to with a sign above His thorn-crowned head that read “King of the Jews.” This man, who just like the prophets before Him was guilty of loving Israel in calling her to remember her first love, and taught that He would suffer greatly for her sake as well as for the world to fulfill promise, was brutally murdered and buried near the holy city of Jerusalem. Most of us know, however, that thankfully that is not where the story ends.

Conclusion

I spent two thirds of this article discussing people who were not Jesus, so what exactly is my point? Let’s go back to the points I told you to remember.

Christianity is about Christ, whom is Jesus born of Mary and Joseph in Israel 2000-ish years ago. Christ, the Anointed One, is the manifestation of God Himself and the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham millenia before, regarding a son, a new place, walking with God, being blessed, and blessing the world. He is the salvation, or restoration, of Israel and the world. And all who are in Christ are receivers of that promise and of the Lord God Himself.

Even though we did not behold Christ until recent times; He takes after his Father YHWH: in that He forever was, is, and will be (John 1:1-5).

He was Adam, the firstborn and father of creation. 

He was Abel, who offered a better sacrifice to God by faith than Cain by works.

He was Abraham, the father of many nations called to leave his home and throne to inherit a new place and bless the world through it. 

He was Isaac, the promised and beloved child called to be sacrificed out of obedience and to carry the wood of his own death up the mountain in Jerusalem.

He was Moses, the prophet who knew God face to face and pulled us out of slavery, and became a curse, even though through obedience, in order for the blessing of God to be given freely to those who are disobedient.

He was David, the devoted king who did right in the sight of the Lord of heaven and earth, and worshipped in spirit and in truth. He became an altar to God that cost Him is own life.

And on and on we go. 

These boys were foreshadows of One true promised father, son, prophet, and king to come that would reconcile the world back to God. The land of Israel and its holy city Jerusalem is a foreshadow of the Kingdom and Holy City of God given as an inheritance to the sons of promise, no matter where they are in the world. By sons of promise it refers to those who believe in the testimony of Abraham and more importantly in his seed and blessing: Jesus the Anointed Son of God. Lo and behold, this promise was made long before Abraham ever was, because Christ the Word of God was in the beginning and all things were made by and through Him. He is the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:13-29).

To conclude, I say this: True Christianity is not a religion, it’s a person.

Rejoice and celebrate that God made Himself known to the world as one of us! He now makes His home in a temple not made by human hands or stones: our bodies. He lives and rules forever, amen.

This post is the first of three discussing the important tenants of Christianity, and frankly of any religion: Who is God, what’s His message, and what’s your part? We’ve answered here that God was manifested to the world as Christ. To see the second post “The Gospel of the Kingdom”, click here.