“Why do you follow Jesus–why are you a Christian?” Invariably, you will at some point in your life be asked this question, and even if you aren’t, you should know the answer for your own sake. For myself, there are two reasons why I believe: 1) because of the body of evidence for the message of the Bible as a whole, and 2) because of my own personal experience with Jesus Christ.
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV)
I do not believe because I want it to be true (since when does wanting something to be true make it so?). I do not believe because my parents believed (they could have been wrong). I do not believe because I’ve invested my entire life believing and don’t want to start from scratch (its best to arrive at the truth, even if you’re late at it). I do not believe because it’s the consensus of society (increasingly it isn’t).
1) No, I believe because it would be absurd not to–the body of evidence is overwhelming.
I believe because of the accounts of the eyewitnesses who were there. It doesn’t matter that it was two thousand years ago. To us that’s so long that it seems to enter the realm of “once upon a time” fairy tales and mythology, but the passage of time doesn’t make what happened any less real. I believe the accounts of the conquests of Rome; why should I hold these contemporaneous accounts any less credible?
Jesus’ follower Simon Peter wrote, “When we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, we were not telling just clever stories that someone invented. But we saw the greatness of Jesus with our own eyes.” (2 Peter 1:16 NCV) Another follower, John, (referring to himself) wrote, “This is the same disciple who was eyewitness to all these things and wrote them down. And we all know that his eyewitness account is reliable and accurate.” (John 21:24 MSG) And also that, “Jesus provided far more God-revealing signs than are written down in this book. These are written down so you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in the act of believing, have real and eternal life in the way he personally revealed it.” (John 20:30-31 MSG)
I believe because this wasn’t an obscure story created by one person in secret; it couldn’t have been because no one would have bought it! While He was alive, most of what Jesus did was done publicly in front of everyone around; that is, in fact, why the crowds followed Him. Right after His crucifixion, this is what people were saying:
“…Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, ‘You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days…The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,’ they said. ‘He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and He was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed Him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified Him. We had hoped He was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago. Then some women from our group of his followers were at His tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, His body was gone, just as the women had said.'” (Luke 24:17-24 NLT)
No, His followers started to preach and teach the message that’s become our Bible shortly after He rose from the dead, referring to what has just happened–to what everyone around was well aware of, as evidenced by what Peter preached to the crowds that gathered on the day of Pentecost:
“People of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus from Nazareth was a very special man. God clearly showed this to you by the miracles, wonders, and signs He did through Jesus. You all know this, because it happened right here among you. Jesus was given to you, and with the help of those who don’t know the law, you put Him to death by nailing Him to a cross. But this was God’s plan which He had made long ago; He knew all this would happen. God raised Jesus from the dead…” (Acts 2:22-24 NCV)
I believe because there were multiple parchments and copies of parchments from a great many different sources attesting to exactly the same account; no other ancient document, in fact, has anywhere near as many copies as does the Bible, attesting to the accuracy of what we have today.
I believe because most of these people were killed because they would not recant what they claimed. Their entire message pertained to not just this life, but what happens after death; if I’ve made up a story about what happens after I die and I know it is false, I will not go to my death refusing to say I lied, because I know it is false and I’d be giving up the only existence I have!
More generally, I believe in God because of the complexity of the natural world. I see His creativity when I see the variation of a German Shepherd’s fur or the intricacy of a dragonfly’s wings. I simply am not convinced that the randomness of nature works toward complexity rather than disarray, as we observe.
2) I also believe because I know Jesus myself. If you don’t know Jesus yourself yet, you probably won’t understand this, because it makes no sense. You can’t know someone who is a historical figure–you can know about him, but you can’t know him because he’s not currently alive; he’s not there to relate to you and interact with you right now.
And there’s the whole point: Jesus Christ is alive right now! That’s why I can know Him myself–because He’s not a historical figure like Cleopatra or Julius Cesar who lived and died and whom we only remember because of what was written about them. Yes, Jesus lived and died two thousand years ago. But unlike the other figures of history, there was and is something very starkly different about Him–He was human, but He was also God who became human.
Which is why He was able to do all the things for which the crowds followed Him–the miracles, the things human beings cannot and do not do. Which is why He could pay the penalty for our sins–because He had none of His own. Which is why He could become alive again after dying–something no other human being is capable of or ever did. Which is why He is still alive today two thousand years after He was crucified–and not just alive in our memories or hearts and minds, the way we mean when someone we love dies and we want to make ourselves feel better. No. He is alive today, the way He was alive before He became a human being two thousand years ago. And because He is alive, He is able to interact in a real and ongoing way with those who come to Him.
Yes, I talk to Him–every day. But many religions pray to their gods; how is this different? It is different because it’s not just me reaching up to Him; He reaches back down to me–He relates back to me. Something very special happened after Jesus rose and went back to heaven–He sent His followers His Spirit. What does that mean? It means that those of us who believe in Jesus Christ have Him literally in us, teaching and relating with us.
I have far too long of a track record of a relationship with Christ Jesus–of Him answering my prayers, relating to and responding to me and my needs, and of literally feeling His presence in me and in my life–to ever be hoodwinked into believing He’s not real: I know He is real. And just as you couldn’t convince me I only imagined my mother or father–that they only existed in my mind, or because I wanted them to–I also know Jesus exists! That is why I’m a Christian.
Dear Lord Jesus,
Help me, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks…[me] to give the reason for the hope that…[I] have…” Amen.