You’ve heard the expression, “God moves in mysterious ways.” As a newcomer to the faith, perhaps you’ve been tempted to add: And Christians rely on mysterious clichés! People of faith often seem to converse in a language all their own. They’re likely to share their “testimony” with you, recount the moment when they were “saved,” talk about having “assurance,” and marvel at being “filled with the Holy Spirit.” They embrace you and your “decision for Christ” and celebrate the fact that you, too, have been “saved.”
Confused by all this jargon? Are you uncertain as to whether you’ve been saved from something or saved for something?
If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
—Romans 10:9, niv
This is God’s assurance that if you believe in Jesus and have faith in the gospel, salvation is yours. But God doesn’t save you merely to take you to heaven. He wants your love, allegiance, and sacrifice while you are here on earth. You have been saved for a purpose, and that purpose is to share your new life in service to Jesus Christ. A relationship to Jesus, described in John 15, is similar to that of a branch and a vine. You are connected to Jesus; your life depends on him. You’ve exchanged your old existence for a new one. You’ve become a new person, as surely as if you have been “born again”—another favorite expression in the Christian vocabulary.
The Bible also says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). This passage sounds easy enough until you consider its implications. The verse is asking you to believe in something that you can neither see nor touch. To believe is to have faith, and faith is sometimes discounted as silly ￼sentimentalism or murky mysticism in this age of research, evidence, facts, and proof “beyond a shadow of a doubt.”
The Meaning and Nature of Faith
Read this statement and decide if it is true: “Xdsr xm lkkf ssddkfe nxr, xmz, mckjh, hicaroutu, mpkffge.” Your reply, naturally, is “I don’t know what you said. How can I believe that the statement is true when I can’t understand it?” Here is an essential ingredient of true faith. If you are to believe that something is true, you must know what that something is. You may not understand all aspects of it, but you must know something about it.
Many people say they believe in God, but when asked what they believe about God, they have no reply. Their faith has no content. Saving faith says, “I have put aside all else, … in order that I can have Christ, and become one with him, no longer counting on being saved by being good enough … but by trusting Christ to save me; for God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith—counting on Christ alone” (Phil 3:8–9, The living bible).
You can’t truly believe in Christianity without a knowledge of the gospel and a familiarity with the teachings of Christ. At the heart of the Christian faith is the good news of eternal life in Jesus Christ. You are a Christian if you have heard the good news and received Christ by inviting him into your life, asking him to forgive you of your sins. A second consideration is that you also must see applications for Christ’s teachings in your life. Only when you feel connected to your Savior in every aspect of your daily routine will you know that you have a personal, meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ.
The Love Connection
Some people are confused today as to the most important component of the Christian life. They argue that to have a correct theology or doctrine is essential. The Pharisees were classic examples of this type of religious followers. They were very concerned about rules of conduct. Social and political correctness were their specialties. Often their hearts were filled with intolerance toward other people because they hadn’t discovered that the most important aspect of a person’s life can be summed up in one word: “love.” Jesus tells us to love one another, and the apostle Paul repeats the lesson in 1 Corinthians, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1, niv).
The expression of love is positive proof that you have been saved and that you believe in Jesus Christ. John 13:34–35 says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all [people] will know that you are my disciples” (rsv).
Faithful Christian believers—people who have been saved—are easily recognized by the love they exhibit for one another.
Imagine for a moment that a friend has asked you three questions pertaining to the Bible. First, he or she wants to hear your explanation of what it is. You respond quickly, “It’s the Word of God,” and then you embellish your answer with a few superlatives. “It’s the greatest book ever written, the best seller of all times, and a collection of sixty-six books all bound together in one magnificent volume,” you exude. And you’re right.
Your friend’s next question requires a bit more thought. “Exactly what is in the Bible?” the friend asks.
“Two major sections,” you reply with confidence. “There’s the Old Testament, which traces the interactions of God with the Hebrew people. These thirty-nine books let the reader know how the Hebrews lived and worshiped. On a more important level, the Old Testament contains the promises that God revealed through a handful of carefully chosen prophets. Christians generally view this collection of ancient books as a record of how God prepared his people for the coming of Jesus Christ.”
“Which leads to the New Testament,” you continue. “These twenty-seven books show the fulfillment of the Old Testament’s promises and prophecies. They tell the story of Christ’s birth, ministry, death, and resurrection, and include his famous challenge to his disciples to go into the world and spread his message. In fact, Christians still follow this ‘great commission’ by talking about Jesus with people who may not know him.”
Now comes your friend’s toughest question. “Okay, you’ve told me what the Bible is, and you’ve told me what’s in it,” she or he says. “Now explain what’s in it for me.”
Good Book or God’s Book?
Unless you can honestly articulate what’s in the Bible for you, then this “greatest book ever written” is little more than another best seller, an interesting history of other times, other places, and other people. It lacks relevance. It’s a good book but not God’s book. It’s a quirky compilation of teachings, lessons, and sayings that may seem out of touch with a world in the the twenty-first century. Unless you relate to the Bible on an everyday basis and on a personal level, it comes up short when compared with the scores of self-help books produced each year by modern Christian authors.
The Bible is much more than another religious resource. Second Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (niv). God-breathed? This means that God breathed life into it. While you might be strengthened by the concepts and illustrations presented in contemporary books, you read the Bible to learn directly from your heavenly Father. He gave it to you to teach and encourage you as you grow in your new faith.
For many new Christians, the Bible doesn’t seem “reader friendly.” So many pages! they complain. So many names that are impossible to pronounce! They assume that the obvious place to begin their study is with the phrase “In the beginning….” They think—wrongly so—that they are expected to absorb the Bible in sequence, from Genesis to Revelation.
First: The Gospels
While the whole Bible is important in the life and growth of the individual, the gospels constitute the primary lens through which the believer views the entire Bible. Since this is so, as a new Christian, consider beginning with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Start with them, but not necessarily in that order. Choose Mark as your first reading assignment because it is written as a narrative, is full of action, and is simpler and more direct than the other three. It vividly tells the story of Jesus.
Read the entire Book of Mark at one sitting. This will take about an hour and a quarter if you read it aloud and much less if you read it silently. After Mark, work your way through Luke and notice how the author stresses the availability of salvation for all people. Read Matthew next and be aware of the emphasis on Jesus as a teacher. Finally, in John, you’ll recognize the seven signs that point to Jesus as the Son of God.
As you continue your reading program, select the shorter letters written by Paul, such as Ephesians and Philippians, and then read the opening eight chapters of Romans. By this time you will be familiar enough with the New Testament to make your own selections. Before long, you’ll be ready to turn to Genesis and learn what it was like “In the beginning….”