We've started a Bible study at the church so I'm going to just share some of the thoughts and scriptures that we look at each week. This is our first week and the topic was What does it mean to be a Christian? The first thing we looked at was the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed, both of which we've looked at here before. I'm going to include the scripture we looked at and add emphasis to them, so when you see anything in bold those were the key phrases in the text we were looking at.
“Therefore, when many of His disciples heard this, they said, “This teaching is hard! Who can accept it?” Jesus, knowing in Himself that His disciples were complaining about this, asked them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to observe the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? The Spirit is the One who gives life. The flesh doesn’t help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some among you who don’t believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning those who would not believe and the one who would betray Him.) He said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted to him by the Father.” From that moment many of His disciples turned back and no longer accompanied Him. Therefore Jesus said to the Twelve, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?” Simon Peter answered, “Lord, who will we go to? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that You are the Holy One of God!”” (John 6:60–69 HCSB (emphasis mine))
This passage in John took place shortly after Jesus fed the 5000 (John 6:1). After Jesus did a miracle and fed their bodies (their flesh, their natural and material hungers), they wanted to make Him their king, in an aim to displace the Roman authority that ruled over the Jews (John 6:15). The Jews at that time viewed Messiah as one who would come and free them from the tyranny of the Romans; they thought He would be a political authority rather than a spiritual authority. Jesus left them when He realized what it was they wanted to do because He did not come to setup an earthly kingdom -- that wasn't the point for His coming.
In this passage, the reference to "His disciples" is not to the 12 who would later be the apostles. Jesus, to that time, had many disciples -- people who followed Him and wanted to learn what He was teaching. When these disciples, and the 5000 men (and probably at least another 5000 women and children) finally caught up to Him again, Jesus recognized they were looking for the food He could provide to their bodies more than the food He could provide for their spirits. He called them out on it in John 6:26-27 and He followed this with the "hard teaching" which Jesus gave, indicating that He was the bread of life and that He had come down from heaven and described His mission to humankind (eternal life). These people didn't want to hear any of this, they simply wanted a free meal and someone who would provide for them materially. So His words offended them and many deserted Him.
Unfortunately, this is what a lot of Christians in North America do today: we sell Jesus as a provider of free lunches ("He will bless you!" or "Your life will be so good!" and so on) and yet we never mention the cost of what it is to follow Jesus. It would serve some Christians well to pay attention to this... Jesus didn't sell Himself cheap, and He didn't chase after those who left. Jesus laid it out for them straight, and they found the teaching hard because it wasn't what they were looking for and they didn't understand.
C.S. Lewis defines Christianity as this, in his book "Mere Christianity":
“Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. If we do, we shall then be sharing a life which was begotten, not made, which always existed and always will exist. Christ is the Son of God. If we share in this kind of life we also shall be sons of God. We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has — by what I call "good infection." Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.”
While "Christian" does not necessarily mean "little Christ", I find it works quite well. Truthfully, a number of commentators agree that "Christian" most likely started off as a derogatory term that would mean "follower of Christ" or "slave of Christ", both of which are not at all derogatory and really quite apt descriptions. At any rate, our next few passages set out the call to be like (to imitate) Christ -- in a sense to become "little Christs". In fact, Paul states:
“Therefore I urge you to imitate me.” (1 Corinthians 4:16 HCSB (emphasis mine))
“Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1 HCSB (emphasis mine))
The Greek word exakoloutheo means to follow out, to obey, or yield to. Paul is urging the Corinthian church to imitate him as he imitates Christ, or to follow him as he follows Christ. We as Christians are called to a live a life of imitation (of Christ), to be true disciples who see and do what our teacher shows us and asks of us. Jesus is the standard that we set before us which is why it pains me (and should pain all true Christians) to see people who claim to bear the name of Christ acting in ways He never acted or say things that He would never say. I suppose this could be because they are unfamiliar with what Jesus asks of us, or of how He would act in a given situation. While all of this is clearly found in the Bible, too many people think the Bible unnecessary and don't bother to even crack open the book. This is why Paul made the following statement:
“Remind them of these things, charging them before God not to fight about words; this is in no way profitable and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth. But avoid irreverent, empty speech, for this will produce an even greater measure of godlessness. And their word will spread like gangrene; Hymenaeus and Philetus are among them. They have deviated from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and are overturning the faith of some. Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, having this inscription: The Lord knows those who are His, and Everyone who names the name of the Lord must turn away from unrighteousness.” (2 Timothy 2:14–19 HCSB (emphasis mine))
The King James says:
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV (emphasis mine))
Paul is talking about studying the Word of God, the result of which is approval from God. This is the only way that God can trust us to know His Will and it is the only way that we can imitate Christ: by reading the Bible to see what it is that we are to imitate. Paul doesn't call us to just imitate random people; he calls us to imitate people who themselves are imitating Christ -- the end result is that we too will imitate Christ. The other point here is that we need to study so as to prevent ourselves from being led astray and also preventing ourselves from leading others astray. There is a great responsibility and accountability on those who teach the Word of God, so I fear for those who profess to teach "the Word of God" and don't read or study it. They are certainly not approved to God! And they are those of whom Paul also speaks:
“But I fear that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your minds may be seduced from a complete and pure devotion to Christ. For if a person comes and preaches another Jesus, whom we did not preach, or you receive a different spirit, which you had not received, or a different gospel, which you had not accepted, you put up with it splendidly!” (2 Corinthians 11:3–4 HCSB (emphasis mine))
Paul clearly warns against false teachers who teach a different Jesus than the resurrected Jesus the apostles teach, or a different gospel than the gospel of Christ Jesus. In an almost mocking/sarcastic tone he says "You put up with it splendidly!", like they never even questioned it or compared it to what they were already taught and known. Deceptive teaching is a very real danger -- it was then, and it still is today.
“I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from Him who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are troubling you and want to change the good news about the Messiah. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than what we have preached to you, a curse be on him! As we have said before, I now say again: If anyone preaches to you a gospel contrary to what you received, a curse be on him!” (Galatians 1:6–9 HCSB (emphasis mine))
What is most disturbing about the above passage that Paul writes to the Galatians is that this very same thing is evident today. We have major religions today that were delivered by "an angel from heaven": Mormonism and Islam. In Mormonism, the angel "Moroni" delivered the plates of the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith and while the Book of Mormon claims that the Gospel is true, it was corrupted (something which has not been proven scientifically despite many critical attempts to do so). So while Mormons are to read the Bible, the Book of Mormon is considered superior, as Joseph Smith said: “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”1. This book was delivered by an angel and taught a different gospel!
Interestingly, the same is true of Islam, for Muhammad claimed that the Quran was delivered to him by the angel Gabriel2. The similarities between Islam and Mormonism are far more than just that they were delivered to their respective prophets by angels. One other similarity is they both claim that the Bible (or more specifically the Gospel and the Torah) were, in their "uncorrupted" form, the Word of God and both the Quran and the Book of Mormon are further/final revelations of God to earth (see Surat '?li `Imr?n 3:3 3 and the LDS web site topic on the Bible4).
Finally, to wrap up, our final scripture which also talks about deceptive teachings:
“If anyone teaches other doctrine and does not agree with the sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the teaching that promotes godliness, he is conceited, understanding nothing, but has a sick interest in disputes and arguments over words. From these come envy, quarreling, slander, evil suspicions, and constant disagreement among people whose minds are depraved and deprived of the truth, who imagine that godliness is a way to material gain.” (1 Timothy 6:3–5 HCSB (emphasis mine))
While the point of the Bible study was not to poke at other religions, they were used as examples as to why it is so important to study and know the Bible so that when these other doctrines and "gospels" come about, or even when preachers are preaching from the pulpit, Christians who have the Word of God written on their hearts will know the truth. The hope is that we will recognize the lack of truth in others, but also recognize any lack of truth in our own words and actions which contradict the example Jesus set before us to follow.