Understanding Key Christian Concepts
When people give their lives to Jesus and become Christians, it's easy to become bewildered by what some people jokingly call "Christianese". There are a lot of words that are commonly heard in Christian circles, but unless someone explains them to you, it's hard to understand what's being said or meant or implied. This section of Fueling Faith aims to explain some of the common "Christianese" terms.
Repentance means being serious about turning away from the “old life” of sin and putting your trust in the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus.
There’s a big difference between true repentance and just saying sorry because you know that saying sorry will get you off the hook. We’ve all done it, let’s face it. We’ve done something wrong, and we’ve had to be ‘disciplined’. Whatever the punishment, we learn young that if we say sorry quickly enough, then the punishment won’t be so severe – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re really sorry (or that we won’t do exactly the same thing again!)
Repentance isn’t just about saying sorry. You have to mean it. It’s about change, making an effort to do things differently. When we become Christians, the Holy Spirit will help us to turn away from sin completely.
Sin is a word that gets spoken about a lot, but people don't always understand what it means. Basically, sin is:
- Anything that is bad or wrong
- Anything that hurts you or someone else
- Anything against the law
- Anything against your conscience
- Anything the Bible tells us not to do
Sin is one of the biggest weapons the devil can use against us. The things that tempt us that we know are wrong are the enemy's way of trying to lead us astray, and to lead us away from Jesus. Some people think that once they've sinned, that's it, they've lost their salvation, but that's not the case. It's just a matter of repenting of the sins we've committed when the devil has tempted us away from Jesus and accepting the forgiveness that Jesus extends to us because of our repentance.
Grace is another Christian word that gets used a lot without ever being properly explained. There are, in fact, lots of different ways of explaining the concept of grace. These are just some of them:
- What we get when we are truly repentant
- God’s unmerited favour
- Something that we can’t earn – it’s a gift from God
- Having the slate wiped clean so that our sins are forgiven
- Getting the forgiveness that we don’t deserve instead of the punishment that we do deserve!
We've even heard of grace being defined as God's Riches At Christ's Expense.
Turning to Christ is otherwise known as faith. In order to turn to Christ and develop faith, we need to know who He is and what He has done. But simply knowing the facts about Jesus' life, death and resurrection doesn't give us faith. Non-believers can know the facts about Jesus without being saved. Neither is it enough to know the facts and agree that they are true. Faith means knowing the facts about Jesus, agreeing that they are true, and then making a decision to depend on Jesus to save us. This means moving from being an observer who just knows the facts to being in a personal relationship with Jesus.
Wayne Grudem defines faith in a single sentence: "saving faith is trust in Jesus Christ as a living person for forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God.
According to the Bible, salvation is what happens when we repent and come to faith - so it is a matter of making a decision to put your trust in Jesus to save you and making a decision to forsake sin and live out the rest of your life in obedience to Jesus.
Some people have the wrong idea about salvation - they think that they can be saved just by having faith in Jesus Christ, but it's not as simple as that. Salvation also requires repentance - you can't be saved by faith alone, nor can you be saved by repentance alone. Salvation is a combination of the two and one without the other just isn't salvation!
Forgiveness is one of the things that is promised to believers in the gospel message of Jesus Christ. It is also one aspect of something called "justification". Jesus promises us that if we come to Him in faith and repent of our sins, then we will be forgiven for our own sins. In Acts 3:18, the Apostle Peter calls forgiveness the blotting out of our sins - it means that once we have genuinely repented and put our trust in Jesus, our sins will no longer be held against us.
There is another aspect to forgiveness, though - it is not just something we receive. It's something that we are obliged to extend to other people who have hurt us. We are commanded to forgive others as we have been forgiven by God.
The whole Bible is made up of 66 books. The ‘Old Testament’ is the collection of 39 books that were written before Jesus was sent to the earth to die for our sins. The Old Testament contains the story of creation, and things like the stories of Abraham, Joseph and the Exodus from Egypt. It contains the story of David and Goliath, Samson and Delilah, and Noah’s Ark. The Old Testament is the part of the Bible that the Jewish people believe in.
The Old Testament is made up of different types of books. The first five books are sometimes called the Pentateuch or the Torah. The Ten Commandments and other Jewish laws can be found there. Other types of books in the Old Testament include history books, such as 1 &2 Chronicles, poetry books, like the Psalms, and prophetic books, such as Jeremiah and Joel.
Some people ask why we need to read the Old Testament if it was written hundreds of years before Jesus was born, but Christians believe that the whole Bible was given to us as the Word of God, so it’s important to read both the Old and the New Testaments.
The New Testament
The New Testament is the remaining 27 books that make up the whole Bible and comprises of books that were written after the birth and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The first four books of the New Testament are known as gospels. The word ‘gospel’ means ‘good news’, and these four books tell the good news about Jesus Christ.
The first three gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, are very similar (and are known as the synoptic gospels) whilst the fourth, John, takes a slightly different approach to sharing the gospel of Jesus. The fifth book in the New Testament is called the book of Acts, and tells of the Acts of the Apostles after Jesus was taken up to heaven following His resurrection. The last book of the New Testament – and therefore of the whole Bible – is called Revelation. It is often regarded as a prophetic book as it talks a lot about what is to come in a time called the End of Days. In between Acts and Revelation are a series of letters, sometimes referred to as Epistles, that were written by the Apostles to different groups of Christians (such as the church at Ephesus) or to individuals (such as Timothy). These books tell us a lot about our faith and answer some of the questions we have about living out Godly lives.
Put simply, justification is what happens when we are saved by our act of faith and repentance. By saying that we are justified, it means that God now sees us as forgiven of our sins, and declares us to be righteous in his sight. We couldn't possibly achieve justification by anything that we do and in that sense it is a gift of God's grace that we have justification. We are justified by our faith in Jesus Christ, who took upon Himself our sin so that we could take upon ourselves His righteousness.
One very common Christian phrase is "justification by faith alone" - this just means that whilst we are called as Christians to do good works, we cannot achieve our justification through doing good things. Only our faith in Jesus can justify us.
‘The Fall’ is the name given to the sequence of events that took place in Genesis 3, when satan tempted Eve into eating fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which God had forbidden Adam and Eve to eat from. When Eve took the fruit and gave some to Adam, and they both ate the fruit, everything changed. The Bible tells us that their eyes were opened to their nakedness, and that they felt shame. Previously, they had felt no shame.
But it was more serious than that. It was at the moment when Eve agreed with satan and disobeyed God that sin entered into the world. By being led astray by satan, man gave up his right to have dominion over all the earth, a right which had been given to him by God, and handed over that right to satan. Man fell from being rulers over all the earth to being subjects of satan, who is known as the ‘prince of this world’.
The Fall also changed man’s relationship with God. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve had had a very close, intimate relationship with God – the Bible tells us that God used to walk with man in the Garden of Eden – but once they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, their relationship with God changed. They hid from God when He came to walk with them, because they were ashamed of their nakedness. There was more to it than that, though. Because sin had entered into the world when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, man was separated from God by their sinfulness, and they couldn’t enjoy an intimate relationship with Him again – until Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins and restore us into an intimate relationship with God.
The sin that entered into the world at the time of the Fall is what separates us from God, and until we have a personal relationship with Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, we remain under the effects of the Fall. We need Jesus to restore us to an intimate relationship with God again.
Baptism, sometimes called water baptism to distinguish it from the Christening of babies, is a public declaration of faith. What happens is that a believer is immersed fully in water after making a declaration that they are turning away from their sins and choosing to follow Jesus. There is a symbolism to baptism, too. It represents the way that Jesus died and was resurrected. In baptism, we are dying to our old, sinful, selves as we go under the water, and being resurrected into a new life of Christ-likeness as we rise up from the water again. Baptism is something that can only be done once – the Bible tells us that there is “one Lord, one faith, and one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5).
Baptism in the Holy Spirit
Baptism in the Holy Spirit is very different thing to water baptism. For one thing, it doesn’t involve water! Baptism in the Holy Spirit is what happens when a believer, who is committed to a life of following Jesus, is filled with the Holy Spirit. Often, when someone is filled with the Holy Spirit, they will start to be able to speak in another language – known as speaking in tongues. This is what happened on the Day of Pentecost, which you can read about in Acts 2. Speaking in tongues isn’t the only gift you can receive when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, however. There are other Spiritual Gifts. And unlike water baptism, being filled with the Holy Spirit isn’t a once-only event. People can be re-filled with the Holy Spirit many times, and indeed, we are told to seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit frequently.
There are a number of places in the New Testament where Spiritual Gifts are spoken of. Broadly speaking, a Spiritual Gift is any ability that is given to a believer by the Holy Spirit that is used for the benefit of the whole body of Christ (that is, the church as a whole). They are given to believers when they are filled with the Holy Spirit.
Some of the Spiritual Gifts mentioned in the Bible include: healing, words of wisdom, words of knowledge, prophecy, miracles, speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues, teaching, encouraging others, showing mercy, and administration.