Study of Basic Christian Beliefs

Adapted from a course on What we believe and why at Templestowe Uniting Church in 1997.

For further study material see Biblical References and paragraphs from the Basis of Union on Basic Christian Beliefs

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Jesus Christ

1. Who is a Christian?

A Christian is a person who believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

There are many people in the world who seek to know God and to do the will of God in the way they live. While Christians do believe in God and seek to live a good life in the service God and our fellow human beings, that is not what makes a person a Christian. What matters in becoming a Christian is what a person believes about Jesus. It is how a person relates to Jesus Christ that is the distinctive and essential character of a Christian.

2. Who is Jesus Christ?

Jesus was a teacher who lived at Nazareth and taught in Galilee and Jerusalem in the time of the Roman Empire. We believe he is the Son of God, who lived and died for others and was raised from the dead.

Jesus of Nazareth announced the coming of the kingdom of God. He lived our human life, healing the sick and teaching his disciples and the crowds who came to him, until he was killed by crucifixion at Jerusalem under the rule of Pontius Pilate, and then God raised him to life again. Jesus himself, in his life and sacrificial death, made the response of humility, obedience and trust which God had long sought in vain. God confirmed and completed the witness which Jesus bore to God, and made in Jesus a representative beginning of a new order of righteousness and love. To God in Christ all people are called to respond in faith.

3. Why is Jesus called Christ?

Jesus is called Christ because we believe he is the Messiah, the anointed one, who came from God to establish the Kingdom of God in which people are restored to a new relationship with God.

When Jesus was called Christ by the apostles it meant that they accepted him as the Messiah whom God had promised to send to lead his people. The expected Messiah was a king who would establish the rule of God and lead people to victory over the enemies of God. Jesus showed them that his victory would not be like that of earthly kings, for he would humble himself and become their servant, even to the point of dying for them. In this way he overcame sin and death, the enemies of God and of humanity, which divide people from God and from each other; so he reconciled us to God and to one another and was given great honour as the King of kings and Lord of lords. After his victory Christ was raised up to a special place with God and honoured as he had been from the beginning in which he shared with God in the creation of the world.

4. Why is Jesus called Lord?

Jesus is called Lord because we believe he is God and because he rose from the dead.

Jesus is both truly God and truly human. How that can be is learned from scripture, which incorporates the witness of those who knew him well, especially the apostles, and it is confirmed in Christian experience. We believe that Jesus is human and divine; as well as being a humble servant and wise teacher, his is our Saviour and Lord. We believe this because of the way he lived and died, according to the scriptures, and because of the difference faith in him makes to our lives.

5. Why is Jesus called Saviour?

Jesus is called Saviour because through the sacrifice of his life and his conquest of sin and death he saved us from the consequences of sin.

Because of the rebellion of humankind against God and our desire to put ourselves in the place of God, we are alienated from God, and from our fellow human beings. This state of separation, pride and willfulness is sinful, a state from which we cannot rescue ourselves. Only by the grace of God can we be restored to communion with our Creator and fulfil our potential to become children of God and brothers and sisters of one another. In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God reached out to us, broke the power of sin, healed and reconciled us, saving us from death and offering us eternal life.

These are the central Christian beliefs, which are the basis for a life of discipleship.

See Bible passages for study regarding our belief in Jesus Christ and Basis of Union of the Uniting Church in Australia Paragraphs 3 and 4 also concerning Jesus Christ.

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The work of Christ

6. What did Jesus do?

Jesus Christ announced the coming of the Kingdom of God in both word and deed, and he laid the foundations for its establishment.

Jesus announced the coming of the Kingdom of God, which he demonstrated by his teaching and his deeds of power or signs, such as acts of healing and his friendship with outcasts, which showed the victory of God over powers of evil and reconciled people to God. The signs of the kingdom were also the signs of the Messiah being present. It was through the work of the Messiah, especially in his death, that the foundations were laid for a new way of life on earth for people in a new relationship to God.

7. Why was it necessary for people to be reconciled to God?

Reconciliation was necessary because people were estranged from God by sin.

God made people for fellowship with their Creator, but because of sin they were separated from him and unable to fulfil their potential to become children of God. In order to thus fulfil God's purpose for human life, sin had to be overcome.

8. What is sin?

Sin is anything which separates people from God.

Sin which separates people from God; it makes them strangers of God and they become his enemies. Any kind of selfishness or pride can be an act of rebellion against God. Being estranged from God and from his purpose for humanity, sinners will also be estranged from one another, failing to recognize others as having the same potential to become children of God. God has revealed ways in which people should live so as to avoid sin and keep a good relationship with himself and with other people. One important revelation of the way to live was in the commandments of the old covenant with the people of Israel, a covenant or relationship which people broke. Jesus taught the way of love through which all the commandments all fulfilled.

9. How are people reconciled to God?

God reconciled people to himself through the work of Christ, and people enter into a new relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.

People who were estranged from God are restored to a relationship of trust in God by making themselves one with Christ, by giving their allegiance to him who shared in the nature of God the Creator and was a perfectly faithful representative of God. In this way people of faith enter into a new covenant, a new relationship of trust, as members of a fellowship in which the life of Christ is shared and celebrated.

8. What has faith to do with membership in the church?

The church is the fellowship of people who have faith in Christ.

To have faith is to share in the life of Christ and thus to share in the fellowship of believers who also share in his life. The life in which believers share is the life of the risen Lord Jesus Christ, into which people are led by the God the Holy Spirit. Jesus provided special ways of sharing in his life through the Holy Spirit and these include the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's supper.

See Some Bible references on the work of Christ

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The Body of Christ

9. Why is the Church called the body of Christ?

Believers who share in the life of Christ embody his Spirit in the world as members of a single body; they are his representatives, each with their own gifts to serve him.

Just as arms and legs are members of a human body with different functions, so in scripture members of the church are seen as being like the various limbs and organs of a body with Christ as the head. If they truly serve him they work together in harmony, valuing the contributions of each other, serving a common purpose, employing their various gifts of the one Spirit. Other ways in which the church is understood as a single body depending upon Christ include being like a building of which Christ is the chief cornerstone, or like a family in which members are adopted children with Christ as the eldest brother. Members of the church are not just individual believers, but people related to each other and to Christ himself in the Spirit.

10. What is the source of the life and energy of the church?

The body of Christ is inspired by the Holy Spirit which Jesus promised to send from God the Father after he had died and risen again. It is through the Holy Spirit, who is God with us, that people are inspired to believe, made members of his body and given their own gifts for service.

There was a special outpouring of the Spirit of God on the early members of the church. On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit, came upon the followers of Jesus when there were gathered together after he had risen from the dead and ascended to be with God. The Holy Spirit who came upon the believers in the church was the same Spirit who was known to the people of the old covenant and who had inspired the prophets of Israel. He came on the apostles with great power so that they were enabled to fulfill the mission Jesus had given them to make him known throughout the world, baptizing people in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit members of the body are nourished continually for their life and work, especially in the church by carrying out the command of Jesus to remember him in the Lord's Supper.

11. What is baptism?

Baptism is the sacrament of initiation into a Christian life and membership in the church.

People are made members of the body of Christ through baptism, in which the sign of washing is used to signify the cleansing of a life from the power of evil that is in the world and the entry of that person into a life of discipleship through faith in Jesus Christ. The change that comes about through baptism is the work of the Holy Spirit.

12. What is the Lord's Supper?

The Lord's Supper, or the Eucharist, is a sacramental meal in which bread and wine have been offered to God in thanksgiving, and are received in faith by the members of the fellowship as a means of Holy Communion with God in Christ.

When members of the church eat and drink the consecrated bread and wine in the Holy Communion of the Lord's Supper or Eucharist they receive, by the Holy Spirit, the life of the risen Christ who is present in these signs and in the fellowship of those who gather in his name. This way of sharing in the life of Christ carries out his command to remember him, especially his sacrificial death and his glorious resurrection. It is a great blessing in which all members are expected to share. In the unity of the fellowship at this table of the Lord, Christians are related in love to all other members of the body of Christ in the universal church throughout the world today, and to those who have lived and died at an earlier time. That universal fellowship is the one holy catholic and apostolic church, without which it is not possible to celebrate the Eucharist, and for this reason a person who is recognized as a representative of the wider church and its apostolic tradition normally presides at each celebration.

13. What is a sacrament?

A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.

The special sign of a sacrament is a means of grace, because it is a particular way God has provided through Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit for his free gift of love for human beings to be received by them. The sign employed in a sacrament is a powerful symbol in which the faithful rely upon God to answer their prayers for the fulfilment of the promise for which the sacrament was given to the life of the church, so that people might be changed and enjoy fellowship with God and with one another.

14. What sacraments are there?

The two sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper are commanded by Christ in the gospels to be celebrated in the church, and there are other signs of the grace of God which in some Christian traditions are called sacraments of the church.

Besides baptism and the Eucharist, other signs such as the ministry of reconciliation, confirmation, marriage, ordination and the last rites have a sacramental character and are well defined means of grace for which particular actions are performed with prayer under the authority of the church.

15. What is confirmation?

Confirmation is the rite of the laying on of hands with prayer for the gift of the Holy Spirit for the encouragement and strengthening in discipleship of a person who confesses faith in Jesus Christ.

The gift of the Holy Spirit is implied in baptism. The laying on of hands as a sign of that gift can be performed at the same time as the celebration of a person's baptism or at another time. The laying on of hands with prayer for the gift of the Spirit for discipleship is normally included in the celebration of baptism where the person being baptized has sufficient understanding to confess the faith of the church, and it is often performed at a later time when people who have been baptized as infants confess the faith and commit themselves to serve Christ.

See Some Bible references re Church and Sacraments

And Basis of Union paragraphs concerning the church and the sacraments

And Vows made in the confirmation service and for baptism on confession of faith

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The Holy Spirit

We have referred already to the work of the Holy Spirit, described as God with us, who is the source of the life and energy of the church, the body of Christ. We have recognized that the Spirit gives each member of the body gifts for discipleship, and is the means by which the sacraments are effective.

16. How does the Holy Spirit come to us?

Jesus promised his disciples to send the Holy Spirit, their Counsellor and Advocate, from God his Father, to guide them; and he also taught that the Spirit comes unexpectedly.

Christians refer to the Day of Pentecost as the birthday of the church because that was when the Holy Spirit came with great power on the gathered followers of Jesus and they began to share the gospel so that many people believed and joined their fellowship. Jesus himself was empowered by the Holy Spirit and he began to share that power with his disciples while encouraging them to expect God to send his Spirit in the future. The gifts of the Spirit are free gifts, by the grace of God, so his presence is not something we can demand or make happen, but something for which we can pray, which we can discern in the world, to which we can respond and for which we can be thankful. The Holy Spirit comes both to individual believers and among groups of disciples in fellowship, especially when they are gathered in worship.

17. Is the Holy Spirit at work in the world apart from the church?

The Spirit of God was present at the beginning of creation, and inspired people like the prophets of the Old Testament, but the Spirit is most strongly present where there is belief in Jesus Christ. We believe that the Spirit is active in preparing people to receive the gospel before they believe and in bringing them to faith.

Part of the Christian understanding of the integrity of creation is to see that God is at work in the whole of creation through his Spirit. We believe that not only is life in the created world maintained by the Spirit of God; it is also redeemed and perfected in peace and wholeness through the work of the Spirit. As in the time before Christ's incarnation people can still be called to prophetic witness to God's will and his presence in the world; through this witness others are called to faith; and some people are called to specific ministries such as the ministries of Word, sacraments, pastoral care, teaching and service of the poor and disadvantaged. We can recognize the work of the Spirit by its fruits.

18. What are the fruits of the Spirit?

The Spirit of God brings peace and unity, and the Spirit leads people to the truth. In the end it is the work of the Spirit to bring people into eternal communion with God.

The fruits of the Spirit are evident in human life as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness gentleness, and self-control. Belief that Jesus is the Messiah, our Lord and Saviour, is also a sign of the work of the Spirit who is bringing to completion the work of Christ in reconciling people to God and to one another.

19. What is the communion of saints?

The communion of saints is the fellowship of all believers which includes members of the body of Christ who have lived and died before us together with those who are living on the earth now.

The saints are all the members of Christ's fellowship, although often Christians recall as examples of a holy life those of great faith and service who have lived before us. We give thanks for the life and witness of those who have died in the faith, and especially at the Lord's Supper we are aware that they share in the same fellowship with us; and we hope to share with them in eternal glory when we are raised up to a new life with God.

20. What do we mean by the resurrection of the body?

We believe that just as God raised up Jesus Christ to a new life after death he will raise to new life in a spiritual body those who are joined with him in faith. The body of our resurrection is a spiritual body which is given in a perfected form by the grace of God; it is different from our physical bodies.

Christians do not trust in the natural immortality of the soul, for in Christian understanding soul and body belong together as life is in the body; it is the whole person. Renewed life is given in a new spiritual body. It is like the life that is in a seed taking a new shape in the life of a plant when it is grown. Life in the spirit begins in our earthly life as our spirit relates to the Spirit of God, and it is perfected in that renewed communion with God which is his gift.

Some Bible references on the presence and work of the Spirit

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Belief in God

21. How do we know what God is like?

We know what God is like by seeing how he was revealed in Jesus Christ, by seeing his work as Creator in the world around us and through the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the supreme revelation of God, the Word of God, who was previously known imperfectly from human experience of life and the things he has made, and through the law and the prophets of the Old Covenant. All teaching about the nature of God is tested by reference to the person and work of Christ according to the witness of scripture in the Old and New Testaments.

22. Why is God called Father?

We believe in God as our Creator who continues to love and care for us like a parent.

Jesus called God his Father and taught his disciples to pray to God as our Father. God had revealed himself to the nation of Israel as their Father. Sometimes God is described in the scriptures as caring like a mother. When Christians call God Father we mean that God is our creator and provider, but it does not mean that God is masculine rather than feminine, for gender is characteristic of life on the earth rather than in the spirit in which there is neither male nor female. We commonly refer to God as 'he' rather then 'it' because we know God the Creator as a person.

23. What is meant by speaking of God the Holy Trinity?

We know God in the person of Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit who relates to us personally as well as knowing him as God the Father, and we know that these three persons are in communion with us and with each other.

To know God as revealed in Jesus Christ is to know God as persons in communion with each other and with us. While God is one, there is both community and personality in the being of God. That mystery is spoken of in Christian belief as the Holy Trinity, one being in three persons Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Some Biblical references on belief in God the Holy Trinity

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Many of these subjects are developed at greater length in sermons linked to the Worship and Preaching page.

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