He is the God of the Jews and Gentiles. Yet the arguing is persistent on who is right- those who practice their religion correctly or those who define religion as a belief, a grace by faith. Is it the law which makes us right with God or is it the purified heart which correctly obeys God and finds His favor? Dear God, show us the way. What will set us apart as Your children? Even a child can pick a Jew out of a crowd. Their traits are easy to recognize and their unique laws set them apart from other religions. They are quickly given away by their general appearance and dietary choices. For a Jew, their law is their identity. The Old Testament and roughly four thousand years of tradition dictate their lives. Characteristic of their tradition is an orthopraxic approach to religion and their relationship with God. This is not to say they do not believe also with their hearts. On the contrary, most members of Judaism believe strongly in their God, and also understand that in order to be faithful to Him they must live within the law as described by the Hebrew Bible. Therefore, a Jew might be set apart from all other religions in that they are easily identified by the law they faithfully obey. For a Jew, salvation has already happened. Salvation is here and now. Therefore the emphasis is placed on keeping the right practice, or law, rather than keeping the right mindset as is seen in Christianity. In many ways, orthodoxy alone is the culmination of what sets Christianity apart from other religions. Throughout the teachings of the New Testament there is a particular emphasis placed on believing with your heart as is seen in Romans 10:9-10 when Paul addresses the terms of salvation saying, “that if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” And again in John 3:16 “…that whosoever believes in Him will have eternal life…” Take note of the verb selected for salvation. The verb used repeatedly here is “believe” and the noun is “heart” indicating a profound acknowledgement surpassing the law. For a Christian, the ten commandments are rewritten in Matthew and it is made clear that followers of Christ are not only practicing the law but following it within their hearts as well. Matthew 5:28 emphasizes the importance of “right thinking” as Jesus addresses the commandment against adultery saying, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully as already committed adultery with her in his heart.” So, although it would be more difficult to pick a Christian out of a crowd based on appearances alone, they are held to a higher standard in that it is what is in the darkest regions of their heart which must be judged by God and purified by Christ.
Christianity is not a lifestyle but rather an elevated consciousness gifted by a transient death of self and finding its permanence in the rebirth of intimacy with Christ. To embrace this intimacy and accept eternal life, finding our very breath in His light, is the central theme of Christianity. “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him. Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more, death hath no more dominion over Him… Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:6-11). Christianity, then, is more than just a belief. Even the Jews acknowledge He is real. It is more than a timely prayer or an outward appearance of good practice. Jesus warns us of this in Matthew 7:22-23 when He says, “Many will say to me in that day ‘Lord, Lord have we not prophesied in your name, and cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works?’ And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.” Christianity is to know Christ and to have an intimate relationship with Him, not simply believing He is real or identifying with a proper ritual. It is the connectedness established during a spiritual rebirth in Christ which sets Christianity apart from other religions. There is an element of orthopraxy involved in that one is acting upon that faith and following God’s will as disclosed in prayer. A Christian’s practice, however, is determined by faith and the purity of heart. Christ desires more than just slaves who act out of empty obedience. He desires a friendship with us and says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (Matthew 15:16) And in “doing” we are acting on faith. “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me- put it into practice and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9)
In accompaniment of intimacy with Christ is a yearning for discipleship. “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:19-20) You will rarely find a Jew witnessing to others with the intent of converting them to Judaism. Being a Jew does not require them to tell anyone about God and some Jews believe you cannot be converted. Since for them salvation has already occurred, they are not interested in helping others find eternal salvation, as Christians are. In continuing with the idea that Christianity is a connectedness with the Holy Trinity, it is given that one becomes consumed with the Holy Spirit. “But you shall receive a power that the Holy Ghost is come upon you and you shall be witnesses unto me… unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Followers of Christ answer to a “calling,” if you will, to spread the Word of God and continue the mission of Jesus to build God’s Kingdom by becoming disciples of Christ to lost souls everywhere. When taken by Christ and consumed by the Holy Spirit, one becomes “the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14) Therefore it is the privilege of every Christian to “let your light shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) By the very presence of God and Christ in his life, and through the reconstruct of his desires, there is a shift in direction when one becomes so intimately related with Christ that he cannot deny an opportunity to share it. Discipleship is not only a theme of Christianity, it is a necessity unto it.
By way of necessity, a more challenging aspect of Christianity is brought to light. It is to relinquish control and judgment to the only One worthy and capable of such a task- Yahweh. Often when I am in need of humility I stare at the night sky- a perfect blank canvas for imagination, blank with the exception only of the stars moving flawlessly, transiently, in and out of sight. I can imagine God there, in perfect control of each of them and I am reminded of one very sobering thought: Why do I so arrogantly attempt to do better than God at managing my life? It is difficult to admit complete surrender into His capable hands, yet the intimacy of Christianity is built upon it. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) Followers of Christ find that they gain strength by the reckless abandonment of self-efficacy . When problems come before them they will not be overwhelmed because it is the strength of God which they use. “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Christians must submit to the power and will of God, trusting with the faith of a child. In Mark 10:15, Jesus teaches… “I tell you the truth anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” To have the faith of a child that God will take care of us better than we can care for ourselves sounds much simpler than it really is, given that everywhere there are disappointments and challenges that face us. Jesus addresses this concern and promises that if we seek Him first, our needs will be met and our prayers answered in Matthew 6:25-33. Desire for control befriends a tendency to judge. However, just as Christians must relinquish control, it must be noted that following Christ is to be judged by God, and in self examination, and to not partake in the judgment of others. “Therefore, judge not that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged.” (Matthew 7:1-2) The responsibility is God’s alone and this fact is reiterated in Psalms 50:6 which states, “And the Heavens shall declare His righteousness, for God is Judge Himself.” In surrendering one’s old self to his rebirth in Christ all thoughts and desires must also be reborn in such a way that it is no longer acceptable to ridicule others for their chosen life or lifestyle. We must, instead, be self-reflective and concerned with our own sins and remaining in good standing with God. “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5) We cannot predict or understand what God may have planned for any one person. It is taught then that Christians must “let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Romans 15:5) with the understanding that judgment among Christian brethren only causes him to stumble (Romans 15:21). “…Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with each other.” (Mark 9:50) In a Christian’s heightened sensibility he stands and falls only to his own master and it is only God that is “able to make him stand.” (Romans 15:4) A Christian who walks humbly with God, daily seeking Him, cannot always understand His plans and purpose. How, then, can the same profess to know the heart of others? Simply put: “Has thou faith? Have it to thyself before God.” (Roman 15:22)
So, again I question. Dear God, what is it that will set me apart from others in this world? How will they know me as Yours? If it is not by my dress, and it is not by my plate, and it is not by my ritual, how will they see Your glory in me? I am set apart by your consuming fire which spills out from my heart to others by way of death of self and rebirth through Christ, into submission unto Your will. The same fire cannot be extinguished by hatred or judgment but is alive just as the Holy Trinity is alive. The Holy Spirit is the fire that consumes me in testimony and discipleship, fellowship and faith, connectedness and knowing. It is the wonder of many that Christianity is simply to be set apart by fire.
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