Introduction

Introduction

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Christianity has been Western civilization’s principal religion for centuries. Yet its influence doesn’t seem to have noticeably reduced the ravages of war or curtailed man’s inhumanity to man. As a result, millions of people regard Jesus Christ’s teachings as impractical and unworkable in the real world. Is their conclusion a valid view of the way of life Jesus taught?

Not at all! On the contrary, statistics gathered through surveys reveal an obvious reason popular Christianity is so ineffective: Few who profess to follow Christ actually practice what He preached. To this day the vast majority of professing Christians are followers of Christ in name only. They simply do not live the way Jesus taught.

America is the most religious of the nations that profess to be mostly Christian. But notice this admission by an educator acquainted with the country’s religious trends. In a Dec. 25, 1995, interview—conducted by the Public Broadcasting System’s Margaret Warner—Robert Franklin, director of black-church studies at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, remarked: “… Although we learned [from a Gallup Poll] that 96 percent of Americans claim to believe in God … I’m not sure that it’s bankable information … I think that people express belief in God as a kind of badge of membership, a very cheap badge of membership in the civilized society. Americans, in my assessment, have a very high valuation of the aesthetic dimension of religion. We love Handel’s Messiah, we listen to the Negro spirituals, [admire] the art in the Sistine Chapel, but when it comes to adhering to the Ten Commandments, to the Sermon on the Mount, to the ethics of religion, I find that we’ve still got a long way to go.”

People hold varying ideas about what constitutes Christianity. But few of them are based solidly on what the Bible teaches. Many polls and surveys of professing Christians indicate they think that as long as they believe in Jesus, attend church occasionally and are basically good people, they are pleasing God.

Religion, to them, is more or less whatever they want it to be. They think that any personal religious preference or practice, as long as it is motivated by good intentions, is acceptable to God.

Furthermore, many religious leaders teach their flocks to believe that any effort on their part to practice good works as a way of life based on the Scriptures, beyond that of simply “believing,” could be an effrontery toward God. Some even claim that God expects nothing of them beyond believing in Jesus’ existence, or “believing on Christ’s name.” The belief that Christianity should be a way of life—that God expects us to do something to meet His approval—has practically disappeared.

Is it acceptable to believe we are free to worship God as we wish, to refashion God in our own image? Or has God revealed an approach to life that He expects us to follow? Does He care about what we do and how we conduct ourselves? Is He concerned about the way we live? Does His Word define a way of life that He expects us to practice? If so, what is it? Does it make any difference in the relationship we are supposed to have with Him? In this lesson we examine the answers to these questions from the Scriptures.