“Imagine that you are a decaying piece of matter in a decaying universe and nothing more significant than that. How does it follow that we should live a life of love toward others?”
Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the skeptical 42 (2016).
From the moment we are born, we begin the slow process of dying. Even the healthiest among us won’t live more than 100 years or so.
The same is true for earth. The sun is currently burning up. It will eventually cease to exist. Earth will eventually become inhospitable for life.
Given these facts, why the heck would I love my neighbor? We’ll all end up as dust particles in the churning, purposeless universe. Isn’t it irrational to spend our scarce resources keeping the elderly alive? Why shouldn’t we start a campaign right now to euthanize the weak? Shouldn’t we devote everything we have to scientific advancement?
It’s impossible to refute the logic of these questions without referring to religious convictions. Even basic rights claims are religious in nature. There is no way to prove a universal right to life by appealing to evidence found in nature. In fact, natural selection seems to support the premise that the strong should eradicate the weak.
At the same time, this point makes us incredibly uncomfortable. We feel a very real love for others and a desire to live for a greater good. The love of others is intrinsic to our nature. Why?
True self sacrifice is irrational, but we do it all of the time. The only plausible answer is that there must be something more than our decaying bodies and the burning sun. What else could explain our desire to give away our time and treasure?
Throughout history, humans have struggled with this paradox. Our minds tell us that life is meaningless, but we also have a nagging sense that there must be more to the story.
Christianity provides a story of purpose, intention, and meaning. It is one meta-narrative among competing meta-narratives. I believe that Christianity is the best story, and it offers the most hope.
I want to help you understand the Christian story.
The most convincing storytellers know the story like they know themselves. It penetrates the deepest part of their subconscious knowledge. The story comes out as naturally as the memorized piano recital.
Elite athletes practice the fundamentals of their chosen sport all of the time. The best basketball players still shoot free throws after practice. In the same way, Christians need to rehash and recite the fundamentals of the faith. Doctrine should be written in our minds like our native language.
I wrote this short summary for my church youth group. I found the exercise to be extremely helpful, and I want to share it broadly. This is just one attempt to work on the blocking and tackling of my faith.
What do Christians believe?
Our beliefs are summarized in the historic Apostles’ Creed. A creed that unites Christians across cultures, denominations, and generations.
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
Who is God?
God is the only uncreated being. He is the I Am. God is one in three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He reveals himself through general revelation in nature and by divine revelation through holy scripture.
What is general revelation?
It is of course the beauty, wonder, and majesty of nature, but it is also our own self consciousness. The questions I asked at the beginning all point us to the existence of God. John Calvin wrote that general revelation provides enough evidence for every human to believe that there is a God. Most ignore or reject the evidence, condemning themselves.
What is the holy scripture?
We confess that this Word of God was not sent nor delivered by the will of men, but that holy men of God spoke, being moved by the Holy Spirit, as Peter says. (2 Peter 1:21)
Afterward our God—
with special care
for us and our salvation—
commanded his servants, the prophets and apostles,
to commit this revealed Word to writing.
God, with his own finger,
wrote the two tables of the law.
Therefore we call such writings
holy and divine Scriptures.
The Bible is composed of many books. All of them are the inspired word of God. No book has greater authority than any other. The Protestant canon is listed in Article 4 of the Belgic Confession. Article 5 states, “We receive all these books and these only as holy and canonical for the regulating, founding, and establishing of our faith.”
What does scripture say to me?
That you belong body and soul, in life and in death, to your faithful savior Jesus Christ, the conqueror of death and despair. This is your only comfort. (Heidelberg Catechism Q1)
What must I know in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort?
First, how great your sin and misery are;
Second, how you are set free from all your sins and misery;
Third, how you are to thank God for such deliverance.
The law of God sets the standard: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. If you don’t meet that standard, you are guilty of sin. You can’t save yourself. In fact, you increase your guilt every day.
This is a radical point in our day. Popular culture affirms your life choices. As long as you’re not actively hurting others, there is no judgment.
In actual fact, we all stand condemned under the law of God. The message of Christianity does not make sense unless and until you understand your own sinfulness and your inability to make yourself right with God.
How are we set free and made right with God? Someone else pays our debt. No sinner can pay for the sins of another. Someone who is truly human, truly righteous, and true God paid our debt in full. (The Heidelberg Catechism Qs12-15)
We thank God by doing good, so that God may be praised through us. We also do good, “so that by our godly living our neighbors may be won over to Christ.” (The Heidelberg Catechism Q86)
We also thank God through prayer. Christians pray “because prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us. And also because God gives his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly, asking God for these gifts and thanking him for them.” (The Heidelberg Catechism Q116)
Ok, I believe these things, but do I have to join a church?
“We believe that since this holy assembly and congregation is the gathering of those who are saved and there is no salvation apart from it, no one ought to withdraw from it, content to be by himself, regardless of his status or condition.” (The Belgic Confession Article 28)
How do I know if a church is faithful to God’s Word?
The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks:
- The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel;
- It makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments [Baptism and the Lord’s Supper] as Christ instituted them;
- It practices church discipline for correcting faults.
By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church—and no one ought to be separated from it.
False churches do not preach the gospel. Pure preaching of the gospel should prick you from your slumber and cause you to consider anew how you are living.
The sacraments are how we receive God’s grace. Through Baptism, we are adopted into the visible church of Christ. By the Lord’s Supper, we participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, proclaiming it as our hope and salvation.
I understand that church discipline sounds scary, but it is absolutely necessary. A caring father disciplines his child out of love. So it should be in the church. If I am blinded by sin, I pray that an Elder would come alongside me and show me the error of my ways.
If you would submit to the discipline and instruction of a personal trainer or basketball coach, surely you can submit to the necessary discipline in the church.
How do I know if someone is a Christian?
As for those who can belong to the church, we can recognize them by the distinguishing marks of Christians: namely, by faith, and by their fleeing from sin and pursuing righteousness, once they have received the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ.
They love the true God and their neighbors, without turning to the right or the left, and they crucify the flesh and its works.
Though great weakness remains in them, they fight against it by the Spirit all the days of their lives, appealing constantly to the blood, suffering, death, and obedience of the Lord Jesus, in whom they have forgiveness of sins.
Christian living is essential. While perfection is not achieved in this life, Christians strive to live lives that are good and bring glory to God. The Holy Spirit works in us and makes us ready and willing to live for God.
Christianity is not a magic elixir or a perfect philosophical system. Life presents us with many tough questions. Suffering and evil exist in the world. At times, the world can feel incredibly cold and purposeless.
I don’t have a clever defeater for every possible question. Nobody does. I do believe, however, that Christianity provides the best possible answers. The values of Christianity are woven throughout our culture, sustaining things like human rights and support for the weak. It is the best story that we have. It gives me meaning and hope. Who doesn’t want that?