So what's this Christianity stuff all about?
Before we answer a few common questions, we need to know and understand the Gospel, or "Good News" that the Bible has so much to say about.
What is the "Bible"?
"Bible" is the Latin word for book, but the Bible isn't just a book, it's God's word to humanity. Humans communicate with words and God has spoken to us throughout history at various times and places through various people. The Bible says in many places that it is the word of God: 2 Timothy 3:16 says; "All scripture is God breathed." So if that's true then every word of the Bible is important and carries God's authority with it.
There is very little we can learn about God by digging in the ground or looking at the stars. Why? Because he is a person, and in order to know someone, they have to tell you about themselves. The Bible is God revealing himself, his plans, and his promises to us. WE CAN KNOW GOD because he has graciously revealed himself to us. That's what the Bible is: God's meeting place with us.
Sure, you can make the argument that "men wrote the Bible!" and "how do we know that everything in it is the truth or to be taken literally?" But God bears witness to his word by telling people things that would happen in the future(prophecy) to show that he is in control. There are over 300 examples in the Bible and they all happened exactly as God said they would.
Besides knowing the future of all things and proving it, the Bible is 100% accurate in all that it has to say about history, with times, places, people, and events. So as a historical document that is without error, we should listen to what it has to say about God, our relationship to him, and the world the live in.
The Bible is best understood when we look at the overall message that is woven through a collection of 66 books. That's not to say that each book isn't important, but the overall message of the Bible is clear and that's what the focus is on. That message is the Gospel. Ephesians 1:4 says, "He(God) chose us in Him(Christ) before the foundation of the world....Eph 1:9-10 "...according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth."
So you can see that everything is according to God's plan from even before the world began. God created the world with a word and continues to rule his world with his words. When we become Christians, we are putting our trust in God and his word. God desires us to know him intimitely and that's really amazing when you think that the God who created the universe wants to know you! God is restoring us to the relationship we were created to be in. To see how that plan unfolds we need to understand who Jesus is.
Who is Jesus?
Lord? Lunatic? or Liar? That is the question. Who do you say that Jesus is? Well, God made a promise way back in the book of Genesis. He promised that he would reverse the effects of Adam and Eve's rebellion and restore the relationship that we were created to be in. That promise was to redeem us out of slavery, make the payment for our rebellion and bring us back into the proper relationship with God and eachother.
"Slavery?" "I'm not a slave!" "I don't owe God anything!" "What does all this have to do with Jesus?"
God says that we are all slaves to corruption and the ways of this world, which are in rebellion to His ways. Don't believe it, read a history book, watch the news, look in the mirror. We need someone to rescue us. That's where Jesus comes in. Jesus isn't just a man, he is God in the flesh! I know, that sounds crazy right! How can God be God and be Jesus at the same time? The Bible says that he was fully God and fully man. Jesus was born from a virgin, so that makes the father God. God bears witness to himself by doing miraculous signs and wonders by the hands of Jesus, something only God is capable of doing. The blind received sight, the lame walked, the dead were raised! When the King is here, there is no sickness and death, exactly what life will be like in God's kingdom.
Ok, so God's here in the flesh doing miracles, now what?
Remember, God planned all of this before the world was even created. He promised to restore our relationship with him We die because of our rebellion, Jesus died for our rebellion. Jesus went to his death on the cross for us. It wasn't to show us what a nice guy he was or to set an example of sacrifice. He took our punishment.......let me say that again, GOD TOOK OUR PUNISHMENT! We owed God a massive debt, deserving death. He erased it, cleaned the slate! Just as he said he would in Genesis.
Ok, so my punishment is forgiven by Jesus' death, but after 3 days Jesus is alive again? I don't get it?
Jesus appeared to over 500 people and spent 40 days with his apostles before returning to heaven. How's that possible?
God gave us life and he has the power over death. God raised Jesus to life to show the world Jesus is the answer to the promises. Jesus has defeated death and now brings new life. That life in Christ is what we need and we saw a glimpse of what that life will look like when Jesus walked the earth. We've been promised to be raised to life with Christ if we put our trust in Jesus death and resurrection. So you see that Jesus isn't just a man, not a spiritual guru, not a crack-pot, but God in the flesh doing for us what we could never do for ourselves.
Church, eh? You've probably heard the word church your whole life but still think it's just people going to a building to sing and empty their wallets. The word "church" is only used in the Bible twice, the Greek word "ekklesia," is always translated as "church" and it just means "gathering". So church is just a gathering - similar to people getting together to watch a baseball game or getting together to play cards. The difference is that church is a special gathering of God's people who are gathering together in salvation to hear God's words. That's why 24/7 and usually corporately on Sunday(or any day or time really) we take time to study God's word (the Bible), sing songs of praise that thank God for who He is and what He has done for us, and spend time with our Christian brothers and sisters, who are our family in Christ. We don't go to church to "worship" because we worship God in everything we do 24/7! We don't go to church to give God anything, in fact it's just the opposite. God gives us good gifts to build one another up, he gives us his Word and helps us to understand Him so that we may grow in Christ and in love. God comes down to us and in turn we share the love of Christ with others.
So now that we see "what" church is, we can explain the "why". It helps to understand that Church is God's idea, not ours. Church is the place where God has chosen to proclaim His good news and show His glory to the world. We gather together for the same reasons family and friends get together, to share our lives with them. We are built for relationships and being around other Christians gives us opportunities to encourage and be encouraged, to help each other in times of need and struggle, and to use our gifts and abilities for others in whatever capacity God has graciously given us. Makes sense right? It's really that simple. When we gather together, God is there with us and he is glorified ( he gets the credit) by the way we show love towards eachother and towards him. The proof is in the pudding as they say and Jesus said something similar about those who follow him; John 13:35 says, " By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
So you may be thinking that Jesus knicked off to heaven and left us here to do his work?
Well, he didn't orphan us, he is still with us by the power of his spirit. He promised to send us help so that we have the power to live transformed lives. We still rely on God and his word but we lack the strength, or desire for that matter, to go about actually living like a real Christian. The Holy Spirit is that helper and is the third person of the Trinity. God sent his son Jesus, and Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to us. So everyone who has put their trust in Christ is now given the Holy Spirit, who dwells inside us.
The Holy Spirit comes along side us and helps us in our weakness.(which is pretty much everything) He guides us into all the truth of God's word and reminds us of that word. He gives us the strength to live like Christ, although our rebelliousness still wages war against him. He convicts our hearts and minds of our rebellion, and of the coming judgment of Christ for those who reject him.
So that's simply the Holy Spirit's role in our lives, there's nothing mystical about Him. He's not here on earth doing His own thing! He's leading us to Christ and empowering us to live the lives that God has commanded us to live.