Buddhism, Christianity, and Love

I can’t remember if I have shared this on this blog. But before I was a Christian, I was a Buddhist. Before I was a Buddhist, I was a Methodist. I am not saying that you can’t be a Methodist and a Christian. I know many good ones, but I don’t think I was.

Growing up in church in the Bible Belt, I somehow missed the personal relationship with Jesus, the saving faith. I heard it, but I didn’t hear it. I just didn’t, though we spent every Sunday in a perfectly good and faithful church full of good and faithful Christians.

As a young man I joined the Air Force and was stationed in Delaware, outside the Bible Belt. I worked on Sundays, so I couldn’t go to church if I wanted to. Because of this, when I had a spiritual hunger, it simply did not occur to me to go back to Jesus. I needed something that made sense.

Buddhism made sense. And it was cool. Most importantly it was simple. Life is suffering, (made sense to me), and we can be content anyway. We should be loving and kind to others. Without going and looking up the whole eightfold path, I’ll go with what I remember. Right speech meant for me no lying and no gossiping. Right action meant doing nice things for people. Add meditation to it and that was enough to go on.

For a year and half I meditated every day, I was as nice as humanly possible to other people, I didn’t eat meat, and I didn’t kill bugs. There may have been more to it, but that is what I remember 25 years later. It was wonderful. People were drawn to me. They were asking me the question that Christians dream of being asked. “What’s your secret? Why are you so different?” 

I should say there was plenty of sin in my life. Without the Holy Spirit, true transformation is impossible. But the above things I was doing noticeably well. 

I will also add that I never could bring myself to buy any sort of Buddha statue. I still had church upbringing in my bones, and if a statue wasn’t idolatry I didn’t know what was. 

Then I was invited to a church. I went and experienced the tangible presence of Jesus. I saw him. He was real. I thought, “Ohhhhh. That’s who God is.” I believed then, and I believe now that God allowed me to get there through the side trip of this particular version of Buddhism (who I never considered to be a deity), because Chrisitanity had been very complicated in my mind. Now I understood that God is love. There are only two Great Commandments that matter. After you have put your faith in Jesus to forgive you by his death for you, then you must use your whole heart to love God and people. It was an easy transition. 

Sometimes I let faith get complicated as I study theology, but always the cure is to think back to that first understanding. No matter how complicated your theology, the point is the love of God for you, the love of you for God, and your love for other people.

How Jesus Restores Mankind

A virgin teenage girl, named Mary, was visited in her room by an angel, Gabriel. He told her that the Messiah, the savior, that the Jewish people had been awaiting for centuries was finally coming, and she would be his mother.  This was startling and more than a little puzzling, because, as she said, “I am a virgin”. The messenger explained that God, the Holy Spirit, who is the third person of the Trinity, would overshadow her and she would be impregnated with the Son of God. In this way her son would be fully God and fully man.  Whether or not Mary realized it at the time, this fact was crucial to the whole rescue plan that God had had since the beginning.  

Jesus would come to save the lost, and that means a whole host of things beyond that we will go to heaven for believing — no small thing.  But it also means that we can be restored to the image of God according to his original intention, and that we can be a part of restoring the world in the same way, both here in this age in some limited capacity, and certainly in the next when Jesus returns.  Let’s look at four main aspects of Jesus’ ministry to see what he has done, and how we can apply it to our lives in order to begin living the life that God has called us to.  These are the atonement, the teaching of Jesus, particularly in the sermon on the mount, the understanding of losing our life to find our Life, and coming of the Holy Spirit for empowerment and abiding in Christ. 

The Atonement

The first and most important aspect of Jesus’s life is that he was born to die. In my very first blog post I said that God is the great I AM. This means that he not only exists, he is the source of all life, goodness, and laws about the way things are, from physics, chemistry, and math, to philosophy. In the beginning was the Word, the Logos, The Greeks may have thought of this as simply reason, but it is much more than that. John 1:14 says this Logos, the “Word, became flesh and dwelt among us.” All that God is, and all that is true is embodied in this. Truth flows from God. That two plus two equals four flows from God. Love in all its forms flows from God. Justice flows from God. Value flows from God. Life flows from God. Light flows from God. Glory flows from God, who is the standard of all glory.

God is the source of all truth and justice. As such he can only be perfect.  He is perfect in every way, but particularly in the realm of justice.  He does all things in a way that is right, or righteous.  It is very hard for humans, who are not perfect, to grasp this fact and why there needed to be a substitutionary sacrifice for the evil that is in the world, the imperfection which is an affront to the Creator.  The Father, like the father of the prodigal son, waits and longs for our return to him and to his way of existing, which is not only perfect, good, and righteous, but designed for human flourishing to the glory of God. 

There must be a just way to restore creation without himself acting unjustly. This is why Jesus had to be fully man — so that as a man he could restore men — and fully God — so that he could actually accomplish a sinless life, making himself the only proper sacrificial lamb for all time. The Bible says the law could not accomplish it because men could not keep the law. But the righteousness of God was manifested “apart from the law” in Jesus Christ (Ro 3:21) so he could be the just and the justifier (Ro 3:26), meaning God could be the one who demands justice, but also, lovingly, provides justice. Jesus lived a life of perfection, though he was tempted like us. He never once sinned. Satan tempted him and he never once gave in to temptation.

Then, he allowed sinful men to arrest him. He watched his friends abandon him like cowards. He stood silently as his enemies mocked him, beat him, and gave him a farce of a trial, a formality, and then they killed him by crucifixion, hanging him by nails in his hands and feet up on a Roman cross. The Lord of Glory was killed for our transgressions, uttering with his last breaths, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they are doing.”

And so his followers could later go back to Jesus’s words to Niccodemus in John 3:

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

Whoever believes in him, meaning, whoever believes that they are a sinner and in need of a savior, and puts their faith in Jesus, will have everlasting life. They will go to heaven forever when they die, or Jesus returns. Whoever does not believe, will remain condemned. As John the Baptist would say in the same chapter,

“36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (Jn 3:36).

So we are saved for eternity from the justice of God to come, but too often this is thought of as, eternal life will start when I am dead. But this is not the case. Eternal life begins at regeneration. This is the nature of this eternal life. The first and most important step is to trust Jesus for salvation and new life. The Bible says that when we are saved we are made into a new creation, to walk in the newness of life.

Later we’ll start a multi-part series of articles that get into the Sermon on the Mount in order to think through some of the key teaching points in Jesus’ ministry. These have great significance for how we deal with the problem of being fallen and broken in the image of God