Few grasp the spectacular difference between the original teachings of Christ and today's Christianity.
"SINCE COMING here," an African student told a white friend, "I've discovered the white man has two gods — one that he taught us about, and another whom he serves. "A mission school taught me that the tribal doctrines of my ancestors, who worshiped images and believed in witchcraft, were wrong and almost ludicrous. But here you worship larger images — cars and electrical appliances. I honestly can't see the difference." This disillusioned young man had discerned that modern "Christianity" has strayed a long way from the original teachings of Christ. The realization hit him like a thunderbolt. But why have modern Christians forsaken the simple teachings of Jesus Christ?
Where Does Christ Come In?
Take a case in point. Jesus Christ declared: "You have heard the saying, 'You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you... " (Matthew 5:43-44, Moffatt translation). Have professing Christians in Western culture followed Christ by loving their enemies and turning the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) as He commanded? The truth is that most of the greatest and bloodiest wars in history have been waged primarily in Europe — the very heart of Western, Christian civilization. Were the men, women and even children involved in these wars true followers of the humble carpenter of Nazareth who said: "Love your enemies"? Yet these people called themselves by the name of Christ — "Christian." It seems that nearly all Western religions, philosophies and sects persist in applying the name of Christ to their ideas, teachings and practices, however far removed from the teachings of Christ they may be. In ancient times, the pagans at least openly acknowledged the idols they worshiped.
He Would See His Name Misused
Since the life, death and resurrection of the Son of God, Christ's name has been placed on every type of pagan, perverted philosophy of man that has come along! The fact that many doctrines, ideas and practices of men are called "Christian" proves absolutely nothing! Did Christ start these ideas and institutions? Do they follow His teaching and His example? How would He look at today's divided, competitive "Christianity"? The only authoritative answer is found in the inspired record of what Jesus did teach and in the example He set for us to follow. Your own Bible contains this inspired record.
His Teaching Rejected
At the beginning of His ministry, "Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:14-15). The word kingdom refers to "government." Jesus was talking about the coming government of God over this earth. He commanded: "Repent ye, and believe the gospel!" To "repent" means to be so sorry that you are not only willing to quit living in what theologians call "sin" — but that you are also willing to turn around and go the other way. But what is sin? God answers, "Sin is the transgression of the law" (I John 3:4). So we must repent of disobeying God's government — of breaking His law! Again, notice Jesus' own inspired words on this subject: "Think not [although many do want to think this] that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: 1 am not come to destroy, but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17). Greek scholars acknowledge that the word translated "fulfill" means not only "to do or perform," but also to "fill to the full." In other words, Jesus, in His own life, filled to the full and perfectly performed the spiritual intent and purpose of God's law — to love God with all your might and to love your neighbor as yourself. Why did He do this? To do away with God's law by this means? That's what men will try to tell you! The ultimate criterion for right and wrong, many church leaders say, is not divine command, but the individual's subjective perception of what is good for himself. "We are delivered from the law," they expostulate. But let God answer. In a prophecy about the coming Messiah, Isaiah wrote: "The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness' sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honorable" (Isaiah 42:21).
Jesus Magnified God's Law
To magnify does not mean to destroy, but to show forth and enlarge to the fullest possible extent. Jesus perfectly fulfilled and magnified God's law to show us its fullest spiritual application and also to set us an example that we should follow in His steps (I Peter 2:21). Jesus continued in the same discourse: "Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:19). So according to Jesus' teaching, you have to both do and teach even the least of God's commandments if you are to become great in His Kingdom. This is just the opposite of the common teaching of "Christianity" today. Probably, you were taught to believe Jesus did away with the law of God. Jesus showed that even to hate a brother — involving as it does the spirit of murder — brings one into judgment before the spiritual law of God (Matthew 5:21-26). He vividly illustrated how one can commit adultery not just by performing the act, but by even lusting after a woman in his heart (verses 27-28). Read these examples in your own Bible. Think about them. In every case, they do not do away with God's law, but rather make it all the more binding! Matthew's fifth chapter ends with Jesus' instruction: "Be ye ["become ye" is the literal, original Greek] therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (verse 48). Obedience to God and His law is the keynote of the entire Sermon on the Mount. Jesus declared: "Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). Later during His ministry, a young man came and interviewed Him saying, "Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments" (Matthew 19:16-17). Then Jesus proceeded to name some of the Ten Commandments (verses 18-19). In this brief interview, Jesus again emphasized the principle of obedience.
God's Government Has Law
God's Kingdom or government is connected with God's law. Speaking about the good news of the government of God that He preached, Jesus stated: "The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail" (Luke 16:16-17). Here, Jesus showed that God's spiritual law will endure even beyond the duration of the physical universe. In fact, that law would never fail! Then He went on to show what law He was talking about (verse 18) by commenting on the commandment concerning adultery — one of the Ten Commandments! So the good news of God's government — which is not understood or preached by the mainstream of today's Christianity — is related to the law of God as contained in the Ten Commandments. Jesus always magnified and kept this law during His lifetime. He said, "I have kept my Father's commandments" (John 15:10). After Christ's resurrection, when He was commissioning His disciples to preach His message to all nations, He commanded: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe ALL THINGS whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:19-20). Here, Jesus is clearly and plainly telling His apostles to go out to all nations, preaching exactly the same message of obedience to God's law and His government as He Himself had taught them. And yet, many theologians and religious leaders today stray from teaching obedience to God's commandments. They claim, "The Ten Commandments are out of date!" As the African student mentioned in the beginning of this article, noticed, modern Christianity has strayed far from the simple teachings of Jesus!
Jesus Set an Example
A Christian is one who literally follows the example of Jesus Christ! Jesus was the "light" that God sent into the world to show man how he ought to live. "That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (John 1:9). Peter was inspired to record that Jesus Christ lived and walked, leaving us an example, that we should follow His steps (I Peter 2:21). Jesus obeyed God. He did not sin — sin is the "transgression of the law." He obeyed God and set an example for us to follow. The apostle John was inspired to write: "He that saith he abideth in him [Christ] ought himself also so to walk [to live], even as he walked" (I John 2:6). The New English Bible translation renders this in more modern English: "Here is the test by which we can make sure that we are in him: whoever claims to be dwelling in him, binds himself to live as Christ himself lived." Jesus lived a life of giving and serving. How many "Christians" really believe this? Paul was inspired to write that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Christ has not changed. He will guide you to live the same kind of life today that He lived in His own human body 1,900 years ago. Jesus "was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). How will Jesus guide you to escape temptation? The apostle Paul put it this way, describing his own experience: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). Here we see that Christ comes to live His life in the true Christian. He does this through His Spirit (Romans 8:9). The Holy Spirit imparts to the individual the very faith of Jesus Christ — the same faith that guided and motivated Jesus when He dwelled in mortal flesh. Through the Holy Spirit you receive the very nature and power of Christ to obey the commandments and laws of Almighty God. The Holy Spirit imparts the power to keep God's spiritual law. It is His righteousness operating in your mind and body, a body that you willingly yield to Him as His instrument. What percentage of "Christians" do that today?
How the Holy Spirit Functions
But how does one receive God's Holy Spirit? Peter addressed a large audience of people in his day, saying, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). This same principle applies to our day. Your old self must be figuratively buried — baptized for the remission of sin. You must first repent of sin. That means to repent of breaking God's law! Then after truly repenting and accepting, through faith, Christ's shed blood as payment for your past sins, you must be baptized to receive the gift of God's Holy Spirit. Baptism — immersion in a watery grave — is an outward acknowledgment of the death penalty you have brought upon yourself by disobeying the law of your Creator and is an acknowledgment of your willingness to let your old self figuratively die.
The Love of God
Then, through His Spirit, Christ places His nature within you — His love, His faith, His strength to overcome your own nature and the temptations of Satan and of this world. (See Galatians 5:22-23) The love you receive through God's Spirit is not mere human love, but the very love of God, which "is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us" (Romans 5:5). Now how does this love operate? Christ's Word gives the answer: "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous" (I John 5:3). It is through God's love placed in us by His Spirit that we are able to keep His Commandments! Through Bible study, earnest prayer and consistent spiritual overcoming and growth, you can yield to let God fashion you in His spiritual image, so that you can be born of Him in the resurrection as His own son — having His very nature. This is, in fact, the very purpose of your existence.
Identity of True Christians
Down through history, God has always set apart those who truly serve Him by keeping His commandments and His laws. The apostle John was inspired to write, "He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (I John 2:4). A person who isn't keeping God's commandments does not grasp the kind of character and personality that the true God is. He is not truly "acquainted" with God! He is simply manufacturing his own religion out of his own imagination. God doesn't hear our prayers unless we become submissive and willing to keep His commandments! "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight" (I John 3:22). How many professing Christians believe this? Today, as the African student perceived, millions of deceived people worship a sentimental, manufactured "god" who requires no obedience. They have been deceived by a clever devil. God states: "Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ [the very teachings of Jesus Himself], hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds': (II John 9-11). Those are strong words! The matter of obedience to the true God and His law is of paramount importance! Obedience to God's Word will bring you happiness and fill your life with real inner joy. This obedience is what sets real Christians apart from the millions who assume that they are Christians but who have strayed far from the simple truths taught by Jesus Christ.