The Bible sets forth the fundamental teachings of the Christian faith. The early church lived according to these doctrines and preserved them for us today. Let us focus our attention on how the New Testament present Christianity.
A. LIVING in CHRIST. First of all, we are told that God the Father brings Christians into fellowship with Himself, as children in His family, through the death and risen life of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God. As Paul wrote, “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). So the eternal Son took on human flesh. Jesus of Nazareth, fully God and fully man, revealed the Father to the world. The early Christians saw themselves as people “who through him are believers in God” (1 Pet. 1:21). They found new life in Jesus Christ, and came into union with the living God through Him (Rom 5:1).
Jesus promised that, by being “born again,” men and women would find their proper relationship with God and savingly enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5-16; 14:6). The early Christians proclaimed this simple but starling message about Jesus.
Every major religion of the world has claimed that its “founder” had unique insight into the eternal truths of life. But Christians claim far more, for Jesus Himself told us that He is the Truth, not just a teacher of the Truth (John 14:6). First-century Christians rejected the pagan religions and philosophies of their day to accept God’s Word in the flesh.
B. TEACHING RIGHT DOCTRINE. The pagan religion of Rome was a rite rather than a doctrine. In effect, the emperor declared: “This you must do, but you can think as you please.” Roman worshipers believed they needed only to perform the proper ceremonies of religion, whether they understood them or not. As far as they were concerned, a hypocritical skeptic could be just as “religious” as a true believer, so long as he offered sacrifice in the temple of the gods. On the other hand, the early Christians insisted that both belief and behavior aer vital, that the two go hand in hand. They took seriously Jesus’ words that “true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23). What a Christian believed with his mind and felt in his heart, he would do with his hands. So the early Christians obey God (1 John 3:22-24), and they contradicted and opposed so-called Christians who tried to spread false teachings (cf. 1 Tim. 6:3-5).
This is essentially what we mean when we speak of Christianity. It is a new life in Jesus Christ, which brings genuine obedience to His teachings. The article on “Jesus Christ” describes His teachings in detail. Here we will point out the basic differences between what Jesus and His followers taught, and what their pagan neighbors taught.
- THE DOCTRINE OF GOD. Nearly every major religion teaches that some Superior Being rules the universe, and that nature demonstrates this all-powerful Being at work. These religions often describe such a Being in terms of natural forces, like the wind and rain. But the early Christians did not look to nature for the truth about God; they looked to Christ. The Christians believed that Jesus fully revealed the heavenly Father (Col. 2:9). So they understood God in terms of Jesus, and they based their doctrine of God upon the life of Christ
a. THE TRINITY. Many scholars believe the doctrine of the Trinity is the most crucial element in the Christian understanding of God. The early Christians confessed that they knew God in three Persons–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–and these three fully share one divine nature. Many scriptures show that these apostolic Christians understood Jesus Christ in trinitarian terms. For example, Paul said, “Through him [Christ] we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (Eph. 2:18)–describing our relation to the three Persons of the Trinity. The new Testament contains many statements like this.
In no way did the Christian doctrine of the Trinity agree with the pagan teachings of the Egyptians, Greeks, and Babylonians. Nor did it fit in with the abstract philosophies of Greece. None of these ideas–religious or philosophical–could compare with the Christian understanding of God, for the early Christians knew that God was neither the capricious hero of fictional legends nor an impersonal “Force” (1 Cor. 1:9). They knew He was a living personal Creator and Lord; in fact, He came to them as three Persons. Yet He was still one God.
b. GOD AS A PERSONAL FATHER. Jesus taught His disciples that God is “My Father, and your Father” (John 20:17). In other words, He showed them that God cared for them personally, just as a human father cares for his children. He dared to speak to God the Creator as a child speaks to his parent, and He told His disciples God had given Him “all things (Matt 11:27).
Jesus explained that God loves the people who accept Him (Jesus) into their lives (John 17:27). He reminded His followers that their Father-God card for the smallest details of their everyday needs (Matt. 6:28-32). Jesus Christ taught that His Father is holy, and that He and the Holy Spirit share the same divine holiness and act accordingly (John 15:23-26). Unlike the gods of Greek and Roman myths, who were short-tempered and immoral, the true God is just and righteous (Luke 18:19). He intervenes to save His people from sin. Jesus explained it was to this end that God had sent him into the world; He brought God’s mercy to a sinful and dying humanity, and in Him we see God’s holy purpose fulfilled (John 6:38-40). So this holy God does not stand aloof from the affairs of man! He suffers their pain and even submits to the power of death to save His children (John 15:9-14). Again, we see Jesus emphasizing the personal love that God has for every human being.
Jesus demonstrated this love in His own ministry. He went out of His way to find people who were suffering from the effects of sin, so that He could deliver them. C. G. Montefiore says, “The rabbis welcomed a sinner in his repentance. But to seek out the sinner . . . was . . . something new in the religious history of Israel.” Jesus was willing to pay any price–even the price of death–to save man-kind from the clutches of sin. In fact, when one of His disciples advised Him not to do it, He retorted, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matt. 16:23). Jesus proved that God is the great Rescuer that the Old Testament prophets had described (cf. Isa 53).
Jesus also broke down the narrow national limits that the Jews had erected around God. Jesus extended the love of God to all people, of all races and nationalities. He sent His disciples” into all the world” to win men back to God (Mark 16:15). The early Christians obeyed His command, carrying the gospel “to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Rom 1:16)