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THE NEW BEGINNING
THE WAY TO LIVE_DOT III (YOUR ROLE) // CHAPTER 16
After four hundred years of silence, God started speaking again. The New Testament begins with four books that tell the same story. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. But these aren’t just books. They are called Gospels. According to scholars, the word gospel is likely a combination of two Anglo-Saxon words that mean “to tell something good.” The word is widely accepted to simply mean “good news.”
These four books share the same basic outline, but they were written by different people. All of them were written around the same time and describe the career of Jesus and his ideas about life.
In the beginning the Word [logos (λόγος)] already existed. The Word [λόγος] was with God, and the Word [λόγος] was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word [λόγος] gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. // John 1:1–5
The Gospel of John starts with a direct connection to Stoicism. To the Stoics, the logos was unknowable. It was the ethereal logic that governed our world. John starts by saying that the logos is not just knowable, it took the form of a person.
The New Testament world looks much different from what we see in the Old Testament. The nation of Israel, Abraham’s family, is now occupied by the Roman Empire. For many years, they have been in one form of captivity or another, and Roman occupation is just another one in a long history.
The Old Testament speaks of a king who would one day return to restore the family of Abraham and set them free from their captivity once and for all. The Jews were anxiously waiting for the day when the Messiah—the Christ, a political revolutionary—would rise and restore their fortunes.
The story of Jesus is not one that starts out in greatness. We hear the story every Christmas. There’s no room in the inn. He’s born and placed in an animal feeding trough. His mother was a teenager who claimed that she was impregnated by an angel. His hometown is a small town in the middle of nowhere.
Much has been written and discussed about the life and message of Jesus. But the only records of his life are contained in the four Gospels. Virtually all modern scholars agree that he was a real person that lived, preached, was arrested by the Jewish authorities, and was crucified on the order of Pontius Pilate.
Most other things about the life of Jesus have been debated for centuries. Secular and religious scholars have countless interpretations and opinions on his life. Even within Christianity, there are major disagreements related to him.
James Allan Francis puts it this way in his essay, “One Solitary Life”:[i]
Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another obscure village, where He worked in a carpenter shop until he was thirty, then for three years he was an itinerant preacher.
He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never owned a home. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put his foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place he was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but himself. He had nothing to do with this world except the naked power of his divine manhood.
While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied him. He was turned over to his enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. His executioners gambled for the only piece of property he had on Earth while he was dying—and that was his coat. When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.
Nineteen wide centuries have come and gone and today he is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress.
I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life.
This essay reminds us of the significance of Jesus. Because of Jesus, we have a new covenant: the New Testament. Remember, the word testament? It means covenant. And if there’s an Old Testament, there must be a new one.
The Old Testament is a covenant promise between God and the family of Abraham, and if you’re not born into the family, you’re out of luck.
Fortunately for us Gentiles, the New Testament changes the family dynamics. God says that anyone can now be part of Abraham’s family if they want to. All it takes is our choice to be in the family.
A testament is still a covenant
The New Testament is still a covenant. There are still terms for both sides. In this new covenant, however, God also changes the terms. We’re going to talk about the terms, but the Gospel of John starts by telling us that all of this is part of the plan. It’s not part of the plan to let the family of Abraham keep the promise to themselves.
It is remarkable to me that John does this using logos, a word borrowed from philosophy. The word already had significant meaning before John ever used it. This was a philosophical word hundreds of years before its use in the book of John. John inextricably ties philosophy and theology forever: theology being the study of God and his nature, and philosophy being the human effort to decide how best to live.
John sets the foundation that we cannot have one without the other. A proper understanding of God requires us to understand ourselves. And a proper understanding of ourselves requires an understanding of God and his plan, the logos.
Jesus goes on to live a remarkable life. Even if we completely discount his divinity, he lives a life that we should aspire to imitate. His life, and therefore his philosophy, is marked by unselfishness, humility, forgiveness and fundamental love. And the bulk of the New Testament that follows the four Gospels is the attempt to contextualize his life and example into the human experience.
Regardless of your religious affiliation, there is much that can and should be gleaned from the life and example of Jesus in all our lives.
One of the inherent problems in the western world is that most people merely see Christianity as a belief system. Not a way of life. Many Christians can and have lived their whole life without studying the life of Jesus—a person they claim to follow. According to a Pew research study conducted in 2021, 63% of Americans claim to be Christian.[ii]
In the western world, especially in America, being good and moral is what it means to be a Christian. In this same study, we see a decline in religious affiliation. More and more people see religion as unimportant. Along with other religions, people will always be changing religious affiliation. Religions are ways of believing. But there’s a difference between believing something and living it out. Christianity has been relegated as one of the world’s religions. If Christianity remains primarily a set of beliefs, it will become more and more irrelevant and impotent in the life of the average person. Jesus’ goal in coming to the earth was not to give us a set of beliefs. His goal was to give us a new way to live. His goal was not to teach us to live moral lives. Jesus’ goal was to teach us to live meaningful lives. Christianity is not meant to be just a religion; it is meant to be a way of life.
Those who have embraced this way of living have been responsible for some of the greatest achievements in history.
Eyeglasses were invented in the church.
The first Gregorian calendar was created by Catholic astronomers.
The science of genetics was founded in the church by an Augustinian friar named Gregor Mendel.
The theory of the big bang was first put forward by a Catholic priest, Georges Lemaitre.
The first ever universities and colleges started in churches beginning in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. To this day, 83 percent of the colleges in the US were founded through the church.
The first hospitals began in churches in the fourth century.
Some of the greatest art and artists in history happened because of the church. Raphael, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Bernini and more were all supported by the church.
The first ever systematic bodies of law and law schools were founded in the church.
The Latin alphabet, the most widely used writing system in the world, was spread by the church.
There is overwhelming evidence that living like Jesus changes the world in practical, not just spiritual, ways. Changing the world doesn’t happen because we believe in something; it happens because we live a certain way.
The word “Christian” was originally meant as an insult to early Christians. People would mock them by calling them “little Christs.” Because of their desire to think, be and do like they believed Jesus would. Can the same be said about Christians today?
Unfortunately, it seems that Christians have become known for what they oppose and despise. Christians have created a reputation that they care more about their viewpoint and agenda than they do about people. They have married themselves to political parties and ideologies as if these things were what Jesus lived and died for. The truth is, the only people Jesus is recorded being angry at were people who cared about their ideology and agenda more than people. Two thousand years ago, these people were called Pharisees. In many ways, we view them as the “bad guys” of the New Testament. Pharisees and modern-day Christians seem to have a lot in common.
The best philosophies aren’t taught. The best philosophies are lived. The problem with many people who call themselves Christians is that they are bad at following Jesus. They are good at believing but fail miserably at living those beliefs out when it matters. Not because they don’t understand the Bible enough—although that may be true—but because unlike the audience of the New Testament, most of us have little to no understanding of philosophy. Therefore, we place little emphasis on living out our beliefs. Even for those of us that call ourselves “Christian,” Christianity is a set of beliefs we agree on, not a way that we live.
Jesus and the New Testament—the new promise—meant to establish a way of living, not just a way of believing. The life of Jesus was meant to show us how to live. Knowing and following Jesus represents the ultimate combination of theology and philosophy. We must know God, but we also must know ourselves and decide how we should live.
This is not merely a religion or a belief system to add to our perspective. This is a way of living that should change everything. This sounds simple, but simple ≠ easy.
Life is filled with gray areas. It’s not as black and white as the words on this page. The world seems to be an evil place. And there are times that it only seems appropriate to live a life of “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth.” After all, that’s in the Bible too.
Remember, you and I should only focus on what we can control. We cannot control the world or other people, only ourselves. We need to always remind ourselves of the tenets of our philosophy so we can stay focused on what we are supposed to be focused on.
There was a man who had a son that he loved very much. He would do his best to always make time for his son no matter how busy he was.
One night, as the father was working late in his office, his son came in to play with him. Wanting to finish his work, but also make time for his son, he looked around his office and saw a magazine. On the cover of the magazine was a large picture of the world. The father cut the cover off the magazine and tore the picture of the world into pieces. He called his son over to him and gave him the pile of torn paper from the cover of the magazine and went back to work.
The son ran out of his office and the man figured he had a few hours to get work done. Thirty minutes later, the boy burst into his father’s office and said, “Okay, it’s finished. Can we play now?”
“Let’s go see,” the father said not believing his son could have finished his task that quickly. Sure enough, there was the picture of the world, all put together, every piece in its place.
The father said, “That’s amazing! How did you do that?”
“It was simple,” the son said. “On the back of the page was a picture of a man. When I put the man together, the whole world fell into place.”
Believe it or not, that’s the goal of the New Testament. That’s the goal of Jesus himself. You and I need to take our focus off the world and everyone else—all the things we can’t control—and put the focus on ourselves. Understand what is up to us and do the best we can with what we have.
Let everyone else focus on what everyone else is doing, comparing themselves among themselves, deciding what behavior is appropriate based on what the people around them are doing. That’s what they’ve always done. That’s what got us into this mess and is keeping us there.
The world needs some people who have the ability, discipline and capacity to change themselves for the better so the world can change for the better too. There is hope because we don’t have to do it alone. We don’t have to figure it out by ourselves. There is a path that has been laid for us to follow.
You and I are a part of that plan. God put you on the earth for such a time as this. To be who we are right now. To understand that he has a plan, we are a part of that plan, and we can decide at any time to play a part.
[i] Dr. James Allan Francis, “One Solitary Life,” Bartelby 916, 1963, 1–7, https://www.bartleby.com/73/916.html.
[ii] Gregory a. Smith, “About Three-in-Ten U.S. Adults Are Now Religiously Unaffiliated,” Pew Research Center, December 14, 2021, https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2021/12/14/about-three-in-ten-u-s-adults-are-now-religiously-unaffiliated/.