Religion is an interesting thing. Essentially, people follow a particular religion because they know there are things in life that are beyond their control or phenomenons in life that they cannot explain. It is no wonder that when everything in someone’s life seems under control, he or she does not feel the need to have a religion. That’s also why secularists try to explain everything with science or philosophy or anything, so that they can reject the need for a religion. However, if we are honest, we know that we cannot control everything. Our birth and our death are just two examples. Also, if we are humble enough to admit, we know that we cannot explain everything intellectually. There are always things that belong to the area of unknown, and must be taken by, well, faith. That’s why there are smorgasbord of religions out there because people are trying to find answers to their big questions of life.
Christianity is a peculiar one. While other religions attempt to answer the big questions of life through a set of philosophical, mythical, or ethical answers, Christianity answers it through real historical event(s). While other religions gives sets of rules, regulations, and to-do lists, the gift of Christianity is a person. While the founders of other religions points us to laws and to some gods, the founder of Christianity points us to himself. Christianity is ultimately about the story of God in this world that comes into climax in the birth, life, and death of Jesus Christ. Christianity does not point us to Jesus; because Christianity did not found itself. Rather, Jesus points us to Jesus, and by following Him, we are called Christians.
Of course, there are similarities in many of the world religions, or at least the ‘good’ ones – the ones that do not ask you to sacrifice your children or ask you to harm and hurt others. They all promise peace. They all want their followers to be kind to others, to be selfless, and to be blessings to others. They all want their followers to have a good life. They all want their followers to persevere so they can achieve whatever hope that they promise. It is no wonder that many people say that religions are the same.
However, each religion is and must be different. Otherwise, there won’t be different religions in the world. Or at least, if they are not different, we would have seen the merging of some, if not all, religions because they realise that they are not different after all. But we have not seen that at all. If anything, devout religious people do not ever want to be associated with another religion that is not theirs. Therefore, ‘all religions are the same’ is a wrong, misguided, and misleading conclusion.
It also means that the reason someone choose a religion, and not the other, should be based on the distinctiveness of that religion. Conversely, if one choose a religion for the reason that is common to all or several other religions, then one is prone to change religion because they provide the same required ‘service’ anyway. For example, if I follow Jesus because Jesus gives me a happy life, then I am free to become a Buddhist or a Muslim or a Hindu because they all promise a happy life too.
Coming back to my initial question, “Why are you a Christian?”, at times I cringe when someone gives an answer something like: “I was sick, and I prayed to Jesus, and He healed me, that’s why I am a Christian” or “My family went through a crisis, and a pastor told us about Jesus, we became a Christian, and now my family is doing really well” or “I met a few Christians, and they are really nice people, and that’s why I am a Christian because I want to be like them.”
Now, there is nothing inherently wrong in those answers. Jesus heals. Amen. Jesus restores the broken. Hallelujah. Jesus makes us good people. Praise God. However, if we do not move on from those reason to the real reason why one should become a Christian, we will cease to follow Jesus when Jesus does not seem to heal our sickness anymore, or when another family crisis comes our way, or when we are hurt by fellow Christians.
What is the real reason anyway? Is there such a thing? I will argue that there is, and I hope we all hold on to that one.
If you ask Peter – the apostle Peter – the question, “Why do you follow Jesus?”, what do you think his answer might be? If you ask Apostle Paul the same question, what do you think he would say? If you ask any of the early Christians that question, what answer do you think they would give?
“I follow Jesus because Jesus gave us happy life“? I don’t think so.
“I follow Jesus because Christians are nice people, and I want to be nice people?” I don’t think so either.
Granted, some followed Jesus because Jesus healed them and did miraculous deeds. But many deserted Him afterward when Jesus gave them hard teaching that they could not accept (e.g., John 6).
Peter, Paul, and many of the early believers, resolved to follow Jesus despite persecutions, despite hardships, and despite ridicules, because of one thing: Jesus rose again from the dead. That one objective and undeniable truth is what is proclaimed throughout the book of Acts (and throughout all the New Testament). No founders of other religions rose again from the dead. Buddha, dead. Muslims do pilgrimage every year and when they do so, they may visit Mohammad’s grave. Confucius did not rise from the dead. Nobody in the history of the world dare to report that someone rose from the dead. Why? Because death is the one thing that everyone knows cannot be defeated. Everyone dies. That is why when Jesus rose from the dead, and stays alive, it was life-changing to those who witnessed it. If Jesus rose from the dead, then He would be the only one who has the key to eternal life. It would be absurd to claim to have eternal life, or to know how to get eternal life, but then stay dead in the grave. And Jesus rose from the dead. That’s why whatever He says about eternal life must be the truth.
If that is the reason you are a Christian, then no matter how hard life is, no matter what circumstance life throws you into, you will follow Jesus all the way because you know objectively that He rose from the dead. Your reason for following Jesus is no longer your subjective feeling or circumstances. Yes, Jesus might begin to be attractive to you when you were healed, when your family was restored, or when you had good experience with Christians. You began to experience His presence and power when you grow in your faith as a Christian. However, if you never arrive, believe and are never convicted to the reality that Jesus rose from the dead, then your foundation is really shaky.
Of course, the follow-up question would be, “How can you be sure that Jesus really rose from the dead?” That’s a good question, and that deserves another discussion.
However, we must acknowledge one thing. Christianity began and spread because of one thing and one thing only: Jesus lived, died, and He rose again. The early Christians enthusiastically tell others to follow Christ because of the same thing. The very heart of the gospel proclamation is that Jesus Christ lived a perfect life, died on the cross for our sins, and rose again to give us eternal life. That is the conviction and the testimony of Peter, Paul, John, James, and the other early believers. That had better be ours too. So, the next time someone asks you, “Why are you a Christian?”, you can told them what made you consider Christianity at the first place (whatever your subjective experience was). However, make sure you include in your answer genuinely, humbly, and confidently, that “I am a Christian because Jesus is the only one who rose again from the dead.” They might ask you more question. But that’s when the fun begins.