Authentic Christianity

Reading: Galatians 3.23-29
A few years ago I was browsing one of the cheap shops and came across a boxed pair of Parker-look-alike pens - "made in India." At $2 for the pair, it was a cheap investment and might be a better-looking pen for signing wedding certificates. Inside was a standard ball-point refill, not the more expensive Parker-style.

In many situations look-alikes perform as well as the genuine product. But other look-alikes, like these pens, are definitely not worth a cent more than you have paid for them. Sometimes we wonder how far the copiers can go without infringing patent rights.

Of course, a true Parker pen is manufactured by Parker - or by a firm that has been authorised to make it to Parker specifications.

True or False?

How do you tell a genuine Christian from a look-alike? If someone says they are a Christian, do you just take that at "face value"? I'm not suggesting we spend our lives sniffing out counterfeits, but we need to know there are counterfeits - some of them more plausible than others.

Jesus himself warned us there would be false Messiahs, false prophets, false miracle-workers (Matt. 24.5,11,23-24). In the Sermon on the Mount he said, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' " (7.21-23)

Sometimes, when we are making a purchase, our main concerns are - does it look OK? does it work? In much of today's talk about "spirituality," that is all that matters to people. Be a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Moslem… If it helps you, go for it. We're all children of God anyway… We're all heading to the same place…

Wrong again! Jesus spoke of two gates and two destinies - "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (7.13-14). He spoke of himself as the only way to "come to the Father" (Jn 14.6).

Wait a minute! someone protests. Aren't we just talking about brand-names here? Isn't Jesus wanting a spiritual monopoly? To which we counter, Search his character! Probe his claims! He's true! He's authentic!

God's Grace

The starting point of authentic Christianity is God, his love and his grace - his nature and what he has done.

It doesn't start with us. We would get it all twisted. We would want it all to centre on us, to fulfil our needs and goals, to empower our autonomy… That's the appeal of the modern "new age" movement. It is a very self-centred spiritual quest.

That's a continuation of the state of rebellion we call "sin". We want spiritual power independent of God. The Bible does speak of a spiritual power independent of God, but it is evil, not good - no matter how plausible it seems for the moment.

There is something wrong with humankind. We have turned the wrong way, and that has consequences which we cannot reverse. God himself is the only one who could do something which would open the way for us to be put right with him. In Romans, Paul concludes that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (3.23), and that "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (6.23).

"In Jesus Christ our Lord" - that's "grace". "God so loved the world…" - in spite of human rebellion against him. "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…" (Jn 3.16) - the one who is uniquely God the Son.

The Son humbled himself and was obedient to the point of death on a cross (Phil. 2.8). Obedient to the Jewish leaders? Obedient to the Roman soldiers? No, obedient to the Father's will. In the garden he had prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will" (Matt. 26.39). On the day of Pentocost Peter could say, "[Jesus of Nazareth] was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross" (Acts 2.23).

The crucifixion of Jesus was an out-pouring of divine love, a fulfilling and releasing of divine grace.

There was no other way. There is no other way. In the words of Cecil Frances Alexander (AHB 266) -

It is only through the grace of God in Jesus Christ that we - or anyone else in the world - can become authentic children of God.


Now we noted before that "the starting point of authentic Christianity is God, his love and his grace - his nature and what he has done. It doesn't start with us." But that doesn't mean we aren't involved in becoming a Christian.

Paul wrote to the Ephesians, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Eph. 2.8-10).

It's a gift. We receive the gift by faith and then live it out in action - doing the "good works which God prepared… for us to do."

So authentic Christianity is marked by faith - dependence on the grace of God in Christ - rather than by belonging to the correct church, singing this or that favourite kind of music, wearing the right clothes, using some true language of prayer… These are externals. God is unimpressed. God looks at the heart. He isn't taken in by our look-alikes.

As noted before, "the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord." Authentic Christianity is not just a way of life to be practised - it is a gift of life to be nurtured. The farmer or the gardener doesn't give the plants life in an absolute sense. Life is the gift of the Creator. What they do is provide the environment, the conditions in which that life can come to fulfilment.

In today's reading Paul says, "You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3.26).

Paul writes of a process by which they had come to faith. They had been under the discipline of the law - all the rules of right and wrong. The law was like a tutor (paidagogos)… A trusted servant was responsible for the early training of a child and later became the escort who took the child to his teacher. As the NIV puts it, "the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified (put right with God) by faith" (v. 24).

We are clothed in Christ. In Christ we have a new identity as children of God. Worship, prayer, reading the Scriptures, sharing in Christian fellowship… these all nurture the spiritual life that is in us, build us up in our relationship with the Lord, equip us for service. It is, of course, possible to do these things to become a Christian look-alike. You can only be an authentic child of God by faith in Christ. Then grow in grace. Bloom in grace. And live it out day by day.

© Peter J. Blackburn, Ayr Uniting Church, 24 June 2001
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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