Practising Ministry 8: Only Jesus Saves

Why did Jesus have to die?

This question is central to how we understand the Christian faith. It is also a helpful question, as it helps us to correctly ground our Christian beliefs.

In this series, we’ve already explored the problem of human sin, and how God dealt with this through the Cross of Jesus Christ. In this post, we will explore why Christians claim that Jesus is the only way back to God. The next post will look at what Jesus’ death achieves for us. If you want an answer to the question, “Why did Jesus have to die?” you will need to read both posts together!

Jesus made this extraordinary claim during His ministry:

Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’

Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.’ (John 14:5-7)

 Jesus Himself claimed that He was the only way back to God. This profound statement of Jesus’ self understanding has become somewhat controversial in our current culture.

In Western culture, we are told that all views and beliefs are equal and should be equally respected (this becomes problematic when two views directly contradict one another… but I cannot deal with that obvious issue here!). In such a context, it sounds dreadfully arrogant for Christians to claim that it is only Jesus who is the “Way, Truth and Life”.

The following quotation from N. T. Wright (a favourite author of mine) in his book John for Everyone: Part 2 explains why this becomes particularly problematic:

The trouble with this is that it doesn’t work. If you dethrone Jesus, you enthrone something, or someone, else instead. The belief that ‘all religions are really the same’ sounds nice and democratic – though the study of religions quickly shows that it isn’t true. What you are really saying if you claim that they’re all the same is that none of them are more than distant echoes, distorted images, of reality. You’re saying that ‘reality’, God, ‘the divine’ is remote and unknowable, and that neither Jesus, nor Buddha, not Moses nor Krishna gives us direct access to it. They all provide way towards the foothills of the mountain, not the way to the summit. (Wright, 2002:59)

This hints at one of the reasons why I think Christianity is the True faith, and has real power to change people. As Wright says, if you compare religions, you will see that they not simply different facets of the same diamond: they are radically different! Each has a different view of reality, of humanity, of God and (perhaps most importantly), how humanity and God relate to one another.

The Christian view of how God and humanity interact is unique. While many religions focus on how we can work to reach God, in Christianity God reached down to us!!

This, for me, is the power of the Christian faith, and part of the reason why Jesus had to die. Jesus did so, because it is through Him that God reaches down to us and invites us, through faith, to be reunited with Him.

As a minister, it is my responsibility to convey to people that God loved them enough to reach down to them in Jesus Christ, and that only through Him can they have a right relationship with God and with other people.

How this works is also important…but that’s a topic for another post!

Faith Journey 4: What Can I Do For You?

I find I often ask this question: “God, what do you want me to do for you now?” This is  a fairly common question for someone in full-time ministry. It would be a disaster if my attitude was, “Okay God, this is what  think I should do next!” (as if I could know better than God!).

As Christians, we believe that God is at work in our world, putting right injustice and working to transform people’s lives. As Christians, we are called to seek God, discern where He is working, and then humbly ask how we can help God in the work He is already doing. It’s a real privilege to work alongside God in the world!

As part of my ministry training, I have the opportunity to receive spiritual accompaniment. This is a process where by someone helps me to discern and reflect on my faith, and the impact of my faith on my life. I have had one session of this so far, and I have already discovered another wonderful facet of my faith, which I hadn’t really considered before.

To help me see this, my spiritual accompanier reminded me of this story in Mark 10:

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means ‘son of Timaeus’), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’

Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’So they called to the blind man, ‘Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.’ Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked him. The blind man said, ‘Rabbi, I want to see.’ ‘Go,’ said Jesus, ‘your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. (Mark 10:46-52 NIVUK)

I’ve highlighted the key question in bold. My spiritual accompanist told me this story and asked me to ponder how I would answer the question Jesus put to Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?”

In all honesty, I don’t know how I would answer it yet, because I am not used to asking such a question! It is far more common for me to ask it the other way round: “Jesus, what can I do for you?”

What I have been helped to realise and remember is that Jesus did not come to be served but to serve. That goes for all believers, not just ministers. Jesus comes and offers to serve us and meet our needs.

Now, lets be clear: He meets our needs, not our desires! In other words, Jesus is willing to help us with the things that we need in life: forgiveness from sin, life transformation, reconnected with God. He doesn’t come to help us get what we want: new car, more money, bigger house.

I was still profoundly moved when I realised that He comes and asks me what I need Him to do for me! In order for me to minister to others, Christ first comes to minister to me.

As I say, I don’t know how I’ll answer that question yet…but I’m glad I was asked it!

Christianity 101: The Finale

I’ve enjoyed this series of mini-posts, as I had to articulate certain aspects Christianity in as concise a way as possible. This really helped me to reflect on what was really important about my faith, and how to express this in as few words as possible.

My problem with this series was that it felt very disjointed and disconnected: I tended to write about “my next idea” without much consistency between each post. So, I have decided to bring this series to an end. I’ll be starting a new “short” series in a couple of weeks, which I’m hoping will work better. So, watch this space!

In the mean time, I want to leave you with something with which I can wrap up this series. Whenever I’m hard pressed to single out one aspect of the Christian faith, I always come back to one: Hope.

Christianity offers more hope than any other world-view or faith: it tells us we are made by God, so each life has purpose; we have broken our relationship with God because we have rejected Him, but God reached down to us in love; through Jesus Christ’s death, the penalty for our sin is removed, and we are forgiven; and through Jesus’ resurrection we are also promised new life after our deaths. 

There is so much more to the hope of Christianity, but this gives you a flavour of the hope you could find, if you believe!

I also hope this series has encouraged/informed/challenged you, and hopefully further series will do too!