This is a small group lesson I put together over the summer. Feel free to share it.
The quote at the top of the page is from comedian Bill Maher, who often makes fun of religion in his commentary. In context, the comment was explaining that he had gotten a lot of negative feedback after saying he had no problem with U.S. troops assassinating Osama Bin Laden. Maher never misses a chance to ridicule religion, but does he have a point in his criticism? He went on to say “If you ignore every single thing Jesus commanded you to do, you’re not a Christian.”
So, who is a Christian? Baptists? Methodists? Door number 3? As of 2012, The Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary estimated that there are 43,000 denominations of Christianity in the world. To put it in perspective, there is one Christian denomination for roughly every 160,000 people on earth. At the turn of the 20th century, the number was only 1600. Why the explosion of differences in the last 100 years? They are not all based on different interpretations of scripture, though many are. Most are separated by different organizational structures. However, with so many factions, can they all be following the same basic beliefs at all? Are they all playing by the same rules?
What are the rules? If someone asked you to summarize your Christian faith in a few words, what would you say you have to do in order to be a Christian?
In scripture, Jesus says “have faith in God.” (Mark 11:22) However, simply believing is not sufficient is it? He went on to illustrate that faith requires action. You must start with belief, but you must build that into faith. Are they not the same thing? What is the difference between belief and faith? Where do you find faith?
We hear some Christians say they go to a “Bible believing church.” As opposed to what? People misuse the Bible all the time to make points for whatever they choose to believe don’t they? The religious Pharisees cited scripture. The Bible is the greatest book on earth but is it really the foundation of Christianity? Go back to the data above. There is a Christian denomination for every 160,000 people on earth, but not everyone on earth is Christian. When you break it down, it’s almost as if there is a religion for every single person on earth. Think about that for a minute. Your faith is personal. It’s just for you. Christianity comes from the Bible, but God’s word is Jesus Christ – it says so right in the Bible. God’s living word, the spirit that brings life, is Jesus. Your relationship with Jesus is not between you and your church, your priest or pastor, or even between you and your neighbor. Your relationship with Jesus is not rooted in your denomination. The Bible is the authoritative guide to your faith, but it is not the foundation of your faith—Jesus is.
“You don’t have His word living in you, because you don’t believe the One He sent. You study the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, yet they testify about Me. And you are not willing to come to Me so that you may have life.”
– John 5:39-40
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:2) Let’s revisit the first question again. What do you have to do in order to be a Christian?
The Bible is the greatest book ever written, but it can be hard for many people to read. It can be intimidating. Perhaps you feel that way too. Sometimes, we are hesitant to witness about our faith because we feel our Bible knowledge is not up to par. What if we cannot cite chapter and verse? What if we don’t have the “right answer” when someone asks us a question? Fear can damage your witness more than anything else. Be encouraged. Jesus didn’t really cite chapter and verse either. He referenced scripture, for sure, but he explained how it applied to life. He told parables people could relate to and he repeatedly put a smack down on the pretentious religious crowd. Jesus was The Word. Let your witness begin with that. As C. S. Lewis put it, put our differences aside and focus on that “Mere Christianity” we all have in common.
But the Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. (Gal 3:22-25)
The religious people asked for rules, but scripture tells us that The Law is a trap. No man can follow it. The Law points to the need for grace. Jesus brought grace and he gave us a simple set of rules to follow. What are the rules according to Jesus?
Have we gotten off track in our faith? What can Christians do to really live a Christian life?
Compare Luke 10: 25-28 with Micah 6:8
The point of today’s lesson is this: Base your Christian faith on Christ. Live as he commanded. Love one another. Forgive one another. Don’t let society, or religion, tell you what Christianity is.
We have a faith that is different from every other religion on earth. Most religions, at heart, have very similar moral lessons but they have some differences too. Judaism does not believe Jesus has come yet. Islam believes we distorted God and many muslims believe anyone who disagrees with them should be killed. Some eastern religions have multiple gods, others are universalists. Buddhism does not have a god at all! Christianity has a personal, living Messiah who has promised us salvation but so many have turned him into a religion that is almost impossible to follow.