Recently I spent time with some young 2nd/3rd-generation Christians. I asked them why they were Christians. I told them I was ok if they said they did not know or that they were not sure they were even Christians. The majority of them, though, said they were Christians because they had encountered Christ’s goodness in their lives. One had been protected in a serious car accident. Others had encountered Christ in low moments in their lives. A number had their prayers answered.
When I heard their reasons for being Christians, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand I was glad they had encountered Christ in their lives. After all, Christ is not just a doctrine. He is real and, as the two disciples on the Emmaus Road discovered, He comes to us when we need Him. But I was concerned that most in the group believed in Jesus for subjective reasons. This basis of faith seems to be reflected in many contemporary worship songs as well. I know God is good because He is good to me.
I was concerned that many of them were Christians because of subjective reasons only. As we know from the book of Job and from a number of Lament Psalms, sometimes God seems absent. We know from the book of Revelation that many were martyred for the faith, and I am sure they cried out to God for a deliverance that never came. If the reasons they believed in Christ were purely subjective, a day may come when their faith would be tested and would be found wanting. They need an objective foundation for their faith as well.
In Acts 17, Paul was preaching in Athens to an audience that was mainly Gentile. At the end of his sermon he had this to say:
“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
(Acts 17:29–31 NIV)
The proof that Jesus was who He claimed to be was His resurrection from the dead. This is an argument that Paul elaborates in 1 Corinthians 15. The primary proof that Jesus is indeed the Messiah that saves us is His resurrection, something that happened in history, something objective. Nobody who dies comes back from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection is the unique proof of His unique claim.
The fact of the resurrection cannot compel belief as we see the different responses to Paul’s preaching in Athens.
When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed.
(Acts 17:32–34a NIV)
But for those of us who believe, our faith is not blind faith. It is based on something that actually happened.
There was a time when I re-evaluated the reasons why I was a Christian. It was a time when I believed that Jesus wanted me to leave dentistry and be a pastor. Now, I do believe that God calls us to different stations in life. There is no sacred-secular divide. Still, I had to decide if indeed that was what Christ wanted me to do. I knew that it would disappoint my parents (though they would eventually bless my decision). I had to be sure Christ was really who He claimed to be. I spent a few months reviewing why I was a Christian. I found the evidence for the resurrection compelling, and I continued following Christ.
This Holy Week we encounter afresh the resurrection of Jesus. It is a time when there is so much pain in the world and, for many of us, in our lives. But Jesus rose again. God and good wins in the end. May this give us fresh hope and courage to journey on with Him.