Is Christianity still relevant in a world like ours?

It isn’t Christianity that’s relevant, it’s Christ-likeness, because without Christ-likeness Christianity is just another religion that’s totally irrelevant to those who are aren’t Christians, just as Buddhism is totally irrelevant to non-Buddhists.

Without Christ-likeness Christianity would more appropriately be called ‘Christianism’ and be lumped in with all the other “isms” like Hinduism, Confucianism, Sikhism, Taoism, Jainism and Zoroastrianism, all of which differ wildly in their beliefs and rituals and what happens after we die, which make them all totally irrelevant and meaningless to anyone who doesn’t agree with those beliefs. And then there are serious differences and divisions within religions too, like the vicious conflict between Sunnis and Shiites in Islam, and between Catholics and Protestants in Christianity, that totally disqualify all those involved as being relevant.

What would be relevant is everyone being Christ-like. If the whole world did what Christ taught there’d be no need for any religion in the first place, or any strange rituals, or any competing denominations, because we’d all be getting along, loving our neighbours as ourselves, treating others as we ourselves would love to be treated, and correcting ourselves rather than judging and condemning others.

And from what I’ve heard and read, most people have no trouble accepting that what Jesus taught makes sense. Well, of course it does, because if we all loved our enemies, as Jesus taught, we wouldn’t have bullies, tyrants, war, racism, conflicts between neighbours, suicidal teenagers, character assassinating gossips, an upper class despising the lower classes, and vice versa. Christ-likeness would change the world, if only we could all be Christ-like.

But therein lies the problem, because being Christ-like is next to impossible in a world where to survive financially, and not be trodden on emotionally and socially, you’ve got to be better, sharper, more clever and more ruthless than the competition. To be nice, honest, thoughtful, sensitive and truthful is asking for trouble and opening oneself up to being taken to the cleaners by salesmen, scam artists and bullies. And how can a youngster be Christ-like in school when it makes him so vulnerable to being picked on and isolated?

But this is where Christianity can be hugely relevant, by supporting and providing safe haven for those who wish to be Christ-like, so that some people, at least, get the chance to see and taste the difference Christ-likeness makes. And equipped with that knowledge they can head out into the world with courage and the desire to share and practice what they’ve learnt, making them extremely relevant in a world that is desperately seeking solutions to its problems and hasn’t cottoned on yet that Christ-likeness is the solution.

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It’s the year 1984 in the New Creation

It is now 1,984 years since Jesus died – assuming he died in AD 33. And since the New Creation began the moment Jesus was resurrected from the dead, then AD 2017 becomes “New Creation” year 1984, or NC 1984 in its abbreviated version. So along with living by a calendar with 2017 dates on it, we’re also living by a New Creation calendar with 1984 dates on it.

The starting date of the New Creation year is different, though, because it begins some time in April, rather than January, to coincide with the date of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. We have Jesus’ own words to make that point clear too, because it was right after his resurrection from the dead in Matthew 28:18 that he told his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” That was the moment, then, that the New Creation began.

And that’s not such a strange thought when we’ve already divided our history into two distinct eras, BC and AD, both of which recognize the watershed moment of Christ’s arrival on this planet. Any date in any year before Christ’s arrival was labelled “BC” or “Before Christ,” and all dates after his arrival were labelled “AD” or “Anno Domini,” meaning “year of the Lord.” All years since Jesus’ birth, therefore, have been labelled as “years of the Lord” – as if they all belong to him.

It’s a slight miscalculation starting the “years of the Lord” from the day of his birth, however, because they really began from the day of his resurrection. It was from that day that the New Creation under his Lordship began.

So our lives are not determined by dates on an antiquated, man-made calendar that started on the wrong date, and begins each year in the wrong month. Instead, we are living in another year of the Lord and his rulership over this planet. We are living in his New Creation right now, which billions of people acknowledge every time they pray the Lord’s Prayer and the bit in Matthew 6:9 about “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it in heaven.” We pray that because we believe Jesus is establishing heaven on earth at this very moment, that he’s been doing it ever since he ascended to heaven after his resurrection, and that he will continue to do so all through this present year, because that’s what he was given the authority to do. For the last 1,984 years, therefore, Jesus has been making his own Lord’s Prayer happen.

And that’s what gives us cause to celebrate every year since his resurrection, knowing that Jesus is in charge no matter how dark things become.

Is everyone a “new creation” now?

The idea that there is an “us” and “them,” and Christians are the only ones in whom Christ is working, does not measure up with 2 Corinthians 5:14. “We are convinced,” Paul wrote, “that one died FOR ALL, and therefore all died.” ALL of us, past, present and future, died with Christ, “SO THAT,” verse 15, “ALL WHO LIVE might live no longer for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

Christ took ALL of us with him to his death so that the old life of living for ourselves could be dumped in the garbage. And when he was “raised again” soon after his death, Christ raised us all with him to a NEW life and a fresh start, described by Paul as being “IN CHRIST,” verse 17.

And with that new life we can now “live for Christ” – or live, at last, for what he lived and died for. That’s why, Paul says in verse 16, “we cannot judge ANYONE by human standards,” or by what they look like on the outside, because now that we’re ALL “in Christ” we are ALL a “new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” We’re ALL  reconciled to God (verse 18). Our old life of enmity toward God is in the incinerator burnt to a crisp. We can now experience a whole new life instead. And that includes everybody.

So when looking at anyone, no matter what state he or she is in, we’re no longer looking at what they appear to be, we’re looking at them as they really are. Everyone we know, and everyone we meet, is a new creation in Christ, and because “ALL WHO LIVE” are classed as new creations in Christ, God is “no longer counting their sins against them,” verse 19. Why not? Because, verse 21, “God made Christ who had no sin to be sin for us, so that IN HIM we (all) might become the righteousness of God.”

Christ lived a perfect sinless life, so that “IN HIM” we can all become the same perfect sinless human he is. This is what Christ’s death and resurrection accomplished for all of us. And there was nothing that any of us did, or didn’t do, to make it happen. God was the one who made it possible for us in Christ, so that every person alive can experience a new life with the love of Christ in them.

“For Christ’s love compels us,” Paul wrote in verse 14. Imagine that; a life no longer driven by destructive self-centredness, but rather a life compelled by love. And with Christ in us it’s possible – for everyone.

What difference does Christ make in our lives?

According to Romans 6:11 there are two things Christ does for us that make a difference: We’re “dead to sin” and, secondly, we’re “alive to God.”

But why does being “dead to sin” make a difference? Because, verses 6 and 14, it means we’re no longer being pulled around by the nose by our sinful nature. And it was Christ who did that off for us by uniting us with his death (verse 5). We were all up there on the cross with him (verse 6), so that every sin we human beings ever committed (and would ever commit) was dealt with there and then. In verse 7, “anyone who has died (with Christ) has been freed from sin.”

The second thing that Christ does for us is make us “alive to God.” And that opens up a whole new life that “leads to holiness” and “eternal life” (verse 22). It’s the same kind of life that God experiences. And Christ pulled that one off for us too, this time by uniting us with his life (verse 5). When he rose from the dead, all humanity rose with him to “live with him,” verse 8, and since “the life he lives, he lives to God,” verse 10, then we can live that same kind of life too.

And it must be a good life, because Jesus not only loves living it himself, he also loves living it in us, because when he rose from the dead we all rose with him, Romans 6:4-5, so that the human life he now lives becomes our human life as well. He now weaves his humanity into our humanity, which he can do because he’s our Creator. Not only did he create us, he also has the power to RE-create us, this time in the likeness of himself and the life HE lives as a human.

So what difference does Christ make? Well, “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,” Colossians 2:9. Jesus lives as a human being right now, with God’s nature, God’s love, and God’s wisdom at full strength in him. But why that matters to us is in verse 10, because “you have been given fullness in Christ.” So what Christ is in his resurrected human state right now is what he’s raised us to become as well. This is what he raised us with him for, so that he can weave all that he is in HIS bodily form into OUR bodily form, his eventual aim being the “redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23).

Christ freed us from our old sin-filled bodies, to fill us with his own God-filled body – and we can experience the difference that makes right now.

Did anything actually change when Jesus ascended to his Father?

If Jesus hadn’t ascended to his Father after he was raised from the dead, nothing in this world of ours would have changed. We would have carried on as before, still stuck in the same old cycle repeating itself over and over again of people just living and dying and disappearing into nothing, with no guarantee of a life after death. We’d also be stuck in the same old grim struggle for survival against odds we have never been able to conquer, like poverty, disease, violence, bullying, greed, insanity, and the suffering we cause each other by our inability to control our emotions. As a race we had no future. We’d have done the planet and each other a huge favour by becoming extinct long ago.

But something changed when Jesus was “exalted to the right hand of God.” because, Acts 2:33, that’s when he “received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit.” And what the Holy Spirit then did was enable people to “save themselves from their corrupt generation” (verse 40), and “turn from their wicked ways” (3:26). The Spirit would provide humans with the ability to not be corrupt and wicked.

All of sudden, then, the chance was being offered to us humans to break free of the unrelenting grip of wrong desires, and we wouldn’t want to bully people or manipulate others to our own advantage. A new type of human, therefore, would begin to appear, that showed remarkable similarities to the human Jesus, where love – not self – would become the driving force.

The one key proof, then, that the ascension happened is the Holy Spirit’s effect on the world. And the one key evidence of the Holy Spirit’s effect on the world is this new human being who emerged – “clothed,” as Colossians 3:12 says, with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” And where a group of these new humans mingled together they could be seen “bearing with each other and forgiving whatever grievances they may have had against on other” (verse 13).

The Holy Spirit’s effect can be seen playing out in very practical terms in these new humans’ marriages too, where husbands aren’t harsh with their wives (verse 19), and as Dads they don’t do anything to make their children feel discouraged (verse 21). These new humans would make great employers and employees too, because they’d treat each other with respect and fairness (3:22, 4:1).

Sounds very much like a different world to me, a breaking of the same old, mouldy, worn out cycle of human behaviour that saw no change at all up to the point of Jesus’ ascension. And it’s now open to anyone who believes it.

Can a person be alive and dead at the same time?

Paul stated rather bluntly in Romans 8:10 that “your body is dead because of sin.” So the body we live in can be fully alive physically, but fully dead at the same time. We’re living but we’re dead. It’s like living in the body of a zombie. Like some awful living corpse in a horror movie we stagger through life in a trance-like state. We’re just walking dead people – “because of sin.” 

It’s a horrible picture of what sin has done to us, but as Paul explains in verse 13, “if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die.” It’s the sinful nature in us that’s the problem. While our sinful nature controls what we do in our bodies, that’s what kills us.    

But, Paul adds, “if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” God has given us the ability to stop what our sinful nature is doing to us. “By the Spirit” we can come out of our zombie trance-like state, and live like the real human being God designed us to be instead.

So how do we know if we’re “living by our sinful nature” or “living by the Spirit?”

Simple. Our sinful nature has no desire to obey God (verse 7). Fortunately, Jesus dealt with that by offering his own body “as a sin offering,” which “condemned sin in sinful man,” verse 3. Jesus died to shatter the power of our sinful nature. God then “raised Christ from the dead” to “give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you,” verse 11. The same power that gave life to Christ’s dead body gives life to our dead bodies. And Paul calls that power “the Spirit of Christ,” verse 9, so it’s really Christ living his nature in us.

In verse 10 Paul puts it this way, that “If Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, but your spirit is alive because of righteousness.” verse 10. Our spirit lay dormant and lifeless while it was controlled by our sinful nature, but when Christ died he freed us from our sinful nature and sent the Spirit to fill us with his nature instead. So now we’re alive just like he is alive, with his nature in us – and his nature loves God and everything about him.

And there’s our evidence that we’re “living by the Spirit.” and we’ve come alive from our zombie-like state – in this life now. With Christ’s nature, or Christ’s Spirit, in us, we can and want to obey God and trust him, and live by every word of his, just like Christ did. 

We experience death before we die?

It’s an odd thing being a Christian because we experience death before we die. That’s probably why Christians aren’t phased much by dying, because, as Paul said, we die daily, so we’re old hands at death long before our physical bodies die.

We die in the same way we die physically too. When we die physically the vital systems in our bodies that kept us alive start shutting down. It’s like turning off the lights in a large room. As each switch is clicked off, the room slowly darkens, until one final click and the lights go out entirely.

And isn’t that what happens in our Christian lives too? Jesus’ death provided us with the switch to turn the power of sin off, and the Spirit now turns the lights out one by one. The systems that kept us alive before, therefore, like ambition, competition, making a name for ourselves, being popular and liked, self-preservation and security, start shutting down. The room they occupied in our heads slowly darkens until the lights make a last fizz and splutter, and die.

It’s quite something when an old attitude that animated our lives before makes its last splutter and dies, like the attitude of being critical and condemning. For much of our lives, putting others down really got the blood flowing. It made us feel good and alive, and it gave our sagging ego a boost when others made glaring mistakes and we could laugh and scoff at their expense.

But the Spirit’s at the switch gradually shutting that kind of nonsense down, until one day it’s of no interest to us anymore. We don’t need to condemn and judge others to feel better about ourselves. It doesn’t have the same appeal. It becomes a horrible thing we don’t want hanging around in our heads anymore. Get rid of it. Turn it off. And turn it off we do, daily.

And what about those other attitudes that lit up our emotions before, like getting all hoity-toity if someone cuts us off in traffic, or a well-known gossip says things behind our backs that aren’t quite true, or our great knowledge on a subject is exposed as faulty by a snotty know-it-all?

Those things probably squirted all sorts of highly inflammable fuels into our systems before, stirring up fiery anger and heated replies. But the Spirit has been let loose on us now, and he’s at the switch turning that stuff off until it’s dead, and it stays dead, daily. As Christians, then, we experience death many times before we die, as the lights go out on what made us feel alive before.