In several nations, it is illegal to become a Christian. But people become Christians anyway — despite penalties and even threats of death. Thousands of believers are killed each year, yet more people become Christians. Christianity can spread even when it is persecuted. That is the way Christianity started — Jesus was killed as a political criminal. In the first 200 years after his death, thousands of Christians were killed as the Roman Empire tried to exterminate this new faith.
Millions of people become Christians each year. Scientists, farmers, historians, and clerks — people from all walks of life — become Christians. Why? This article gives several reasons. You can see whether any of them make sense to you.
1. The teachings of Jesus
Christianity wouldn’t make any sense without Jesus at its center. Jesus began his ministry as a teacher. He emphasized love, mercy, faith, forgiveness and honesty. He taught gentleness rather than violence, generosity rather than selfishness, doing good rather than evil. Jesus had respect for all people, even people others looked down on. Jesus touched lepers, welcomed children, and treated women and foreigners with respect.
But Jesus said some harsh things about religious leaders. He hated hypocrisy and the attitude of looking down on others. Jesus spent time with the “sinners” that the leaders despised. He was tolerant. He spent time with the tax collectors that many people hated. Prostitutes found forgiveness, not condemnation.
Jesus kept on teaching even when he knew the religious leaders were trying to kill him. He was sincere, and it cost him his life. People worldwide respect Jesus for his teachings. Many have tried to apply these teachings in their own lives. They have become followers of Jesus.
But sometimes the people who like Jesus’ teachings are surprised to learn what he really taught. He said he had a unique relationship with God and that no one could get to God except through him. “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27). Some people accept this; others do not.
2. The resurrection of Jesus
Roman soldiers crucified thousands of people, but only one of them has a following today. Why? Perhaps because only one of them is alive today. The resurrection of Jesus was the main message of the early church, according to the book of Acts. This is what the early disciples testified about and preached about. “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact” (Acts 2:32). With this simple message, Christianity grew rapidly. Paul said there were hundreds of people who had seen Jesus alive (1 Corinthians 15:6). The early apostles risked their lives to tell what they believed, and thousands were convinced.
No other explanation makes sense. If Jesus’ body had remained in the tomb, the religious leaders would have used it to stop the message. Nor would it make any sense for the disciples to steal the body, then risk their lives for the next 30 years preaching that he was alive, without any of them ever betraying the secret. Ordinary fishermen do not risk their lives to preach something they know to be false. Nor does it make sense that the disciples had hallucinations. Dozens of people do not have identical dreams, all substantiated by an empty tomb. The disciples were not deceived, nor were they deceivers. They preached that Jesus had been raised from the dead and had gone into heaven to be at the right hand of God.
On this testimony, preached by ordinary people with an extraordinary boldness, thousands more believed. Even by first-century standards, it was a strange story, but they accepted it. If God raised this man from the dead, then God must have approved of what he taught — even his claims to be our route to salvation.
3. The death of Jesus
If Jesus was such a good man, if God really approved his teachings, why did God allow him to die? What was the purpose of his hideous death? Early Christians were not long in trying to explain the purpose of his death, and more people found reason to believe the story.
It started with Jesus himself, who taught that he “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Jesus said he was giving his life for a reason. His death had a purpose — it was to serve other people, to pay a price to rescue them. The disciples said that Jesus “died for our sins” — he died so that our sins, the things we have done wrong, would be forgiven. First-century Jews and Greeks were used to thinking about religion in terms of sacrifices. Jesus was a sacrifice, a payment of some kind, dying on behalf of other people to rescue them.
Scholars debate the reasons why Jesus had to die so others could be forgiven. But the bottom line is that he did it. He willingly gave his life to save us. It shows his great love for us — “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
For some people, this makes tremendous sense. Evil is serious, and it cannot be waived aside as if it did not matter. It matters a great deal, and the death of Jesus shows that it does. A huge cost was involved in paying for the consequences of sin. Jesus’ death shows not only the seriousness of sin, but also the depth of God’s love for us. Because of Jesus’ death, people believe that God loves them.
4. The disciples of Jesus
One reason that Christianity spread so quickly is the believers. They set an example of sincerity, faith, love and mercy. They were letting Christ live in them. They, like their Master, were willing to give their lives to serve others. They changed their ways from selfishness to helpfulness, from violence to peace, from greed to generosity. It was an astonishing transformation, and their friends wondered why they no longer lived in debauchery, lust and drunkenness (1 Peter 4:3-4). These Christians had a change of life that spoke well of Jesus Christ. Some people were convinced of the truth of Christianity simply by seeing the results in their lives (1 Peter 3:1).
Yet, the example set by Christians today is a reason some people do not believe! The church is supposedly full of hypocrites. There is some truth in this objection. The church does have people who are less than Christ-like in their attitudes and behavior. But the church is exactly where such people need to be! The church is not a showcase for perfect people — it is a hospital for sinners. People with flaws are invited in, so it should be no surprise that problems are inside it. Sinners need to be in church to hear the message of forgiveness, to hear the teachings of Jesus, and to be exhorted to be more like Jesus.
There are some hypocrites in the church. Some people like the social advantages of the church, but do not follow Jesus. But there are also people remarkably changed by Christ. Former prostitutes, former alcoholics, former white-collar criminals, and even former hypocrites give their testimony that Jesus has changed them. This evidence convinces some people believe that Christianity is true.
5. Good and evil
Some people reject God because there is evil in the world. “If God is all good, loving, and powerful, then he would eliminate evil.” But they do not consider the possibility that this is what God is actually in the process of doing. Selfishness is evil, and love is good. God has demonstrated his love by sending Jesus to rescue us from our selfishness. Jesus shows us that love triumphs over evil—evil does not have the last word in his life or in ours. Evil is not eliminated yet, but it will be.
The concept of “evil” requires that there be a God to define what “good” is. Atheism cannot define good—it even implies that aggression is just as good as kindness, as long as it helps the species survive. But is it good for the species to survive? Atheism cannot say. Good and evil become matters of opinion, and that changes from time to time. There have been times in history when most people in a particular culture thought that slavery was good, or genocide was good. If we are to label anything as evil, we need a standard that transcends public opinion. Many believe that this standard is given to us most clearly in the Christian faith.
6. The return of Christ
This life, with all its pains and problems, is not all there is. There will come a time when injustices will be set right, and goodness will be rewarded. The apostle Paul, preaching to philosophers in Athens, ended his speech with this claim: “God commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). Only a person who has been through death and come out the other side can credibly claim to give eternal life.
There will come a day of judgment, a day on which everyone will be called into account in front of the Judge who died for us. How can we stand before him? Not through our own wisdom, strength or goodness. We can stand only through the mercy of Jesus Christ, the only way of salvation. The Judge loved us so much that he gave his life to save us.
Christianity teaches the good news that eternal life is given through faith in Christ. We can live forever with God in great joy and peace! There is tremendous purpose in our lives, purpose in our experiences, even in our pains and sorrows. Just as Jesus was raised from the dead, we will be, too, if we believe in him. If this life is all there is, it has no lasting value. But if eternity is possible, it is worth everything in the world. In Christianity, there is everything to gain, and nothing to lose. Some people choose to believe.
Christians believe for many different reasons. Do any of these reasons make sense to you? We’d love to talk about it. Jesus means a lot to us.
For further reading:
- Michael Green. Who Is This Jesus? Nelson, 1994.
- Tim Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. Dutton, 2008.
- C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity. Touchstone, 1996.
- Paul Little. Know Why You Believe. InterVarsity Press, 1988.
- John Stott. Basic Christianity. InterVarsity Press, 1986.
- Lee Strobel. The Case for Christ. Zondervan, 1998.
Author: Michael Morrison