Christian Cram Course: The Bible in Less than a Day
Top of page Introduction
Perhaps you have said to yourself that you really ought to learn more about the Bible. But you just never get around to it. Then, this study is for you.
In a recent survey at a Christian college, a majority of students were ignorant of an appropriate Christian answer to these four very basic questions:
- What is the origin of mankind—where did we come from?
- What is our purpose in life?
- How do we know how to live our life?
- How do we get to heaven (and avoid hell)?
In this study, we will answer these and many other questions. The purpose of the course is to guide you through some of the highlights of the Bible. While it is only a brief overview covering a small portion of Scripture, this outline covers most of the basic concepts of the Christian faith.
You may be coming to this study from a particular perspective. You may have a curious or an academic approach, seeking to find some intellectual satisfaction in religion. Or you may even be an atheist, looking for ways to satisfy your previously conceived ideas.
Perhaps you are broken and hurting, and desperately need spiritual help. Or perhaps you are self-assured, confident in where you are at this time—but an examination of your weaknesses would actually help you deal with your selfishness and lack of concern for others.
Our study will jump around throughout the Bible to focus on important themes. We suggest that you read every verse listed in this study that has the notation Read immediately in front of it; others may be skipped to speed up the study. While we will offer our commentary as an aid, the important thing is for you to let the words of the Bible speak to you. You can complete the study, if you choose to do so, in one sitting—in less than a day. Set aside a few hours one day to go through the entire study. Or you might want to break it up into two or three parts.
The Bible is an amazing document: an incredibly rich book of books: 66 books from approximately 40 different writers in 3 different languages over a span greater than 1500 years, all with a consistent theme. It is certainly the most influential book in history. Whether Christian or not, one’s education is incomplete until you have studied this book.
There is tremendous misinformation over what is actually in the Bible. Sadly, many people who have gone to church for years still do not have a comprehensive understanding of the Bible. Lifelong Christians still learn much and deepen their knowledge of God by reading Scripture. The Bible reveals God’s thoughts, his heart, his plans.
You may be of the opinion that the Bible is just a bunch of myths. The evidence suggests otherwise. The Bible has proven to be authoritative and reliable. If this is a concept that is at all surprising to you, you may first want to take a look at certain articles on our website which offer some of the evidence why you can trust the Bible:
We recommend the book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek. If you find that you are unable to read the Bible with an open mind because of various intellectual pre-conceptions, this book will be extraordinarily helpful.
One of the important themes of Scripture is how God is active in people’s lives. Indeed, it can be said that the Bible is largely about God’s take on reality; it is the story of God at work. The skeptic rolls his eyes at this thought and it becomes one reason why some people are inclined to reject the Bible. It seems hard for them to appreciate that God does regularly work in the lives of people. But let us offer a line of logic or reasoning to counterpoint. Here is a series of questions that we first read from Stan Telchin, a Jewish believer in Jesus (http://www.telchin.com/):
- First, is it reasonable to believe that there is a God? (Most people will say yes.) If so,
- Is it therefore logical to believe that God knows what is going on down here on earth? If, so,
- Is it then reasonable to believe that He cares about what is going on down here? If so,
- Is it also reasonable to believe that He cares enough to communicate his concerns to us? Then,
- How might he communicate to us? Isn’t it reasonable that he would communicate to us in ways that we could grasp, including historical events recounted in the Bible, and in fact, a permanent written communication such as the Bible itself?
This logical thought progression encourages us that we should not reject the Bible and its events out of hand. It is reasonable and logical that God would communicate to us in history and through the written word in the Bible. We hope that you will take this into consideration and approach this study with an open mind.
You can read the Bible online. One good source is Bible Gateway. Bible Gateway offers many different translations of the Bible. The New King James Version (“NKJV”) and the 1984 New International Version (“NIV”) are popular versions. Our favorite for serious Bible study is the English Standard Version (“ESV”). The NKJV and ESV are word-for-word translations, while the NIV is a phrase-for-phrase translation and may take a little liberty with the text to make it easier to understand. For just everyday reading of the Bible, consider the New Living Translation (“NLT”). It makes reading the Bible as easy to read and as exciting as a novel! While not a word-for-word translation, the NLT is delightful.
Some Thoughts about Biblical Interpretation
The Bible is generally straight forward and easy to understand. Yet most words in every language can have multiple meanings. The author, however, had a specific meaning in mind. As it states in the Reformation Study Bible (page 844), "No allegorizing or other fanciful method that ignores the original writer's expressed meaning can be appropriate." If a concept needs clarification, it should be considered in context. Individual passages should be considered in their immediate context as well as in the context of the whole Bible. We say that “Scripture interprets Scripture.” This means that all passages on a relevant subject should be taken together to get the fullest meaning.
A common mistake is to build a theological position on some passages without taking them in light of other passages on the same topic. Similarly, some Christians arbitrarily emphasize some parts of the Bible to the minimization of other parts. This is one of the reasons that denominations exist. We think this is an error. While there are legitimate differences of opinions among sincere Christians on a few non-essential issues, most “differences” are a result of not seeing the Bible as a whole document.
For example, some groups tend to emphasize God’s justice and wrath. Other groups tend to emphasize his mercy and love. But the truth is that God is both just and merciful. In fact, his mercy makes little sense without an understanding of his justice. It is clearly wrong to arbitrarily emphasize just one aspect of God’s nature.
The Bible can and should be harmonized as a congruous document. With this approach, we are confident that the Bible is consistent throughout. There are no contradictions in the Bible. The student of Scripture should interpret the occasional uncertain passage in light of the clearest passages on a topic so that all passages harmonize. When the Bible is read in this way, there really are no seriously problematic passages.
Because of the vast amount of research accumulated over the years that supports the Bible as true, every word should be given the benefit of the doubt and taken as true. But this does not mean that the Bible should always be taken literally. The Bible, though mostly narrative in form, like other literature contains different literary devices, including poetry, parables, hyperbole, allegories, metaphors, and other figures of speech.
For example, when Jesus said that, “I am the vine,” he did not mean that he is a woody plant. Or when Isaiah (55:12) describes the mountains and the hills breaking into song and the trees clapping their hands, we are not to understand this literally. Another example is that Jewish writing often uses symbology through numbers. Thus, the "millennium" spoken of in the book of Revelation is most certainly not a literal thousand years, but merely a significant or completed period of time. This view is substantiated by the fact the millennium is mentioned nowhere else in the Bible and that it is in the context of much allegorical language in Revelation. So we should interpret the Bible in the way that it was intended.
Still another example is Jesus frequently referring to himself as the "Son of Man." This phrase has little meaning unless we understand that Jesus is referring to the term from the Old Testament book of Daniel (7:13-14), in which the son of man is one that comes from heaven to have everlasting dominion. So to understand the Bible fully we must sometimes cross-reference passages, which may require study.
Matthew, in his gospel has some 60 references to the Old Testament. And over two-thirds of the passages in the book of Revelation contain references or allusions to Old Testament passages. So while we study the Bible, we have to be alert to such things.
Another point to keep in mind is audience relevance. While the Bible was written for us it was not written to us. We should appreciate what the Bible meant to the original hearers.
It is also incorrect to arbitrarily read into the Bible views or pre-conceived assumptions of secular society. For example, to assume out of hand that the biblical miracles could not have really happened is reading an atheistic assumption into the text.
In summary, there are four criteria for biblical interpretation: (1) the plain meaning of the text, (2) the context of the passage both in its immediate surroundings and throughout the rest of the Bible, (3) the meaning that the writer intended, (4) the meaning that those to whom the writer was addressing would have understood it.
For these reasons, you may want to supplement this study by reading the explanatory notes in a good “study Bible." There are many such study Bibles available on the market. Your local Christian bookstore will have several of them. Included among those Bibles that we use often are the NIV Study Bible (1984 version, Zondervan Publishing House), the Quest Study Bible (Zondervan Publishing House), The Defender's Study Bible (World Publishing), and the Reformation Study Bible (Ligonier Ministries, Publisher). However, keep in mind that the notes offered by the authors of these study Bibles are opinions and are not inspired like Scripture itself. They may include interpretations on certain topics with which other people disagree.
The Bible is the grid. The reader should not superimpose his own grid or pre-existing beliefs onto the Bible. Passages that do not seem to conform to your view of how you think they ought to be (either because of your arbitrary wishes or because of how you may have been taught) should not be glossed over. And, in general, the Bible should be read for its plainest and most obvious meaning.
In other forms of communication, we generally give the communicator the benefit of any doubt unless proven to be wrong. The reader should give the Bible the same benefit. While a skeptical reader will tend to make assumptions about the Bible based on his worldview, we encourage you to start with an open mind.
It is helpful to ask oneself when reading the Bible, “Why is this passage in the Bible? What does God want me to understand here?” The Bible is the most marvelous book ever—an all-time best seller. Enjoy it! For more on the art and science of biblical interpretation see this link:
Let’s begin our Bible exploration with one of Jesus’ parables, the “Parable of the Sower.”: Read Matthew 13:1-13
This parable is beloved by many. The message is that some people hear the “word” and will be like the seed that falls on rocky or thorny ground; it will have no lasting effect. But others will hear the word and it will take root. In our study of the Christian faith over the years, we have noticed that some people reject Christianity because of reasons other than the evidence; they reject it because they do not want to accept its implications. We hope that you will follow this study as a seeker of truth. We pray that you will be like the good soil, accepting the seeds of truth in Scripture, and will nurture and multiply them in your life.
Top of page In the Beginning
Read Genesis chapters 1 through 10 (Genisis 1-10)
Genesis, especially this first section, is important to the rest of the Bible. It sets the stage for several themes that are played out in the rest of Scripture.
Some comments are appropriate about how to interpret the book of Genesis. Theologians down through the ages have wrestled somewhat with just how to interpret this book. On the one hand, the events told here are anchored in actual history. We note that there are places mentioned that are identifiable today, such as the Euphrates River in Genesis 2:14.
On the other hand, we see much symbolic language, such as this statement in Genesis 3:15: "He shall crush your head, and you shall strike His heel." This is non-literal prophetic language about the coming Messiah, his crucifixion and atonement—things that eventually came to pass in actual history. It is stating prophetic truth—not myth—in beautiful symbolic/poetic language, not unlike we find throughout the Bible.
There are some who think that Genesis is a statement about details of science. It is misleading to be so distracted. A careful, serious evaluation of the nature of biblical language leads us to understand that the purpose of Genesis is more theological rather than scientific. Those who try to tie every detail of the early chapters of Genesis to modern science miss the point. Milton Terry, a nineteenth century scholar said: "We gain nothing for the honor of the Scriptures by attempting to force upon them a meaning they were never intended to convey."
There is, of course, literal truth in Genesis. Further, we know that the Bible and science do not contradict one another. Genesis makes it a point that everything was created by God—not by some random chance natural process. Genesis is consistent with a serious study of what science can tell us about origins. Be sure to check out the articles elsewhere on our website in the Creation/Evolution section!
Modern science has to a great extent confirmed a key aspect of the biblical account of creation. As recently as the mid-twentieth century, a majority of scientists believed that the universe was eternal. But the study of "Big Bang Cosmology" has led to a universal view among scientists that the universe—including time and space—had an absolute beginning, just like the Bible says!
Many scientists have written on the reliability of the Bible. For example, Walter Bradley is the author of a terrific essay entitled “Why I Believe the Bible is Scientifically Reliable.” His essay is one of several in a book entitled Why I Am a Christian; Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe, edited by Norman Geisler and Paul Hoffman. This book is a compendium of essays by 16 scholars addressing many penetrating questions about the Christian faith. Bradley demonstrates that the events in Genesis are indeed consistent with science. You can also go to Dr. Bradley's website: Walter Bradley.
The God of the Bible is unique. As put by Glenn Sunshine in his book Why You Think the Way You Do, "All of the pagan religions had stories of origin for their Gods. Not Judaism. The God of Israel simply was and is and will be forever. To put it another way, Israel's God is self-existent. Furthermore, God created everything that exists apart from himself, and he is sovereign over the natural world. Rather than being a nature god or a god associated with the forces of nature, the natural world comes from God and answers to him."
Let's consider miracles. The miracle of creation is the greatest miracle of all. Every human being that has ever lived has been awed by the universe of which we are a part. Concerning miracles, the Bible relates other miracles—some of which are done by God himself, others by his designated agents. Biblical miracles are not everyday occurrences. They are pointed actions used in important circumstances.
Some people discount biblical miracles as impossible. Yet just a little reflection should suggest that if God can create the universe, the other miracles in the Bible are a piece of cake. To say that the miracles of the Bible did not (or could not) happen is really atheism. If God exists, miracles are very much within the realm of reason. (See Jesus' miracles.)
We encourage the reader to examine ideas and follow them to their logical conclusion. For example, if the Creator God of the Bible really exists, what is the logical conclusion for your life—a concept we will explore further in this study.
There are many, many observations we could make about this section in Genesis. The Bible—some may say Judaism—has given mankind its fundamental understanding of human rights. First, we note in Genesis 1:26-27 that mankind (both male and female) is made in God's image. Also, we see the roots of the concepts of adjudication and covenant. These things have meaning only as mankind being a steward of the earth as a subject of God. Such concepts are fundamental as prototypes of western civilization's understanding of human rights.
What makes humans valuable? The answer is here in Genesis. We are valuable because we are created by God in his image. If we are nothing more than the result of a long process of the struggle of the survival of the fittest, then morality becomes simply whoever has the most power. But no! We say that even the most defenseless among us deserve respect! Being "made in the image of God" suggests man's uniqueness among animals. We alone can contemplate God. We alone can consciously choose to forgive or not to forgive. We alone understand beauty and have tremendous creative capacities, etc.
Notice also as we begin our study the focus the Bible places on the concept of sin. Good and evil are very real. Note that God created everything good, indeed very good (Genesis 1:31). There is order to the universe. This order includes the proper relationship of man to God.
God created mankind and gave him a lot—a beautiful earth, indeed a garden. But God also gave man an interesting character trait—free will. Obviously, God could have created us as robots. But God’s desire is that we love and honor him out of our own free will. Our love for him would be bogus if we were wired in such a way that we had to do so. Love is not truly love if it is forced. So while God is perfect in his goodness, he gave mankind the ability to choose evil.
Now God laid out certain rules for his creature man, and then gave us the free will to respond as we might. God said to Adam and Eve that they must not eat from one certain tree in the middle of the garden (Genesis 3:3). That didn’t seem like too big of an order, given that God gave them so very much else!
But the devil himself—the great deceiver and tempter—clothed himself as a serpent and talked Adam and Eve into disobedience. Satan lied to Eve (Genesis 3:4-5), and the world’s first human couple bought into the lie. Adam and Eve succumbed to temptation. And the rest, they say, is history.
Genesis sets the stage for the concept of good and evil. It makes it clear that God defines good and evil—not man. God makes the rules. It is noteworthy that God gives reasons for his demands. Here in the text God tells Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit because it would kill them.
A common question about Genesis concerns the extremely old ages of these early humans. Is that believable? The explanation is surprisingly simple. Remembering that God made everything very good, humans initially did not have all the harmful genes and diseases that we have today. So it is really quite reasonable to believe that these early people in fact lived to be hundreds of years old, as the Bible relates.
Still another interesting question arising from Genesis is—who is Satan? Christian understanding is that Satan is a “fallen” angel. Angels are creations of God. And like all his creations, they were created good. But just as mankind “fell away,” Satan fell away. According to the annotations in the Reformation Study Bible (page 693), “Satan is a creature, superhuman but not divine; he has much knowledge and power, but he is neither omniscient nor omnipotent; he is not omnipresent; and he is an already defeated rebel, having no more power than God allows him and being destined for the lake of fire."
When you think about it, you can see that the order of things as laid out in the Bible is within a logically consistent system. It explains how the universe came to be, by the hand of a pre-existent God. It explains how evil could result in a world created by a good God. And it explains why a savior (Jesus Christ) is a necessary complement to a fallen world.
For further discussion about evolution versus creation see our article Theistic Evolution.
Top of page Implications of Man’s Rebellion against God
Read Isaiah 59:2 and Romans 5:12 - 6:23
There is a problem—your sins have cut you off from God. Sin is essentially man’s failure to trust in God—an act or state of unbelief, and an assertion of autonomy. Christians also define sin as “missing the mark.”
God’s very good world became marred by man’s sin. Man’s rebellion against God, that is, his falling away, is known as The Fall. The result of sin is death (Genesis 3:3; Romans 6:23).
Death in this biblical context refers to spiritual death. While many Christians believe that this means physical death, this interpretation seems less likely. It seems more than a bit obvious, upon reflection, that these passages do not, in fact, teach that man was born immortal and could only experience physical death after the Fall. God created Adam and Eve fully complete with digestive systems, and gave them food to eat in the beginning. It is a necessary inference that they would have died physically had they not eaten. God created the universe “good” or “very good”—not perfect in a utopian sense in which neither men nor animals did not die physically pre-Fall.
Genesis 2:17 reinforces the notion that death at the Fall was not physical death because Adam did not die physically on the literal day that he ate the fruit as God warned. Adam lived to be 930 years old. Man’s physical mortality seems further confirmed by such passages as Genesis 2:7; Genesis 3:19; Job 14:5; Psalm 139:16, and Hebrews 9:27. So, death in Genesis is best understood as referring to spiritual death rather than literal physical death. Note the reaction that Adam and Eve experienced afterward. They realized their nakedness because of the shame of their sin.
A plausible (and uncommonly simple) conclusion is that indeed men were made mortal in the beginning, but with the potential to have eternal life (in heaven) after physical death in a new glorified body (1 Corinthians 15:35-56). What was forfeited at the Fall was life after physical death. This reward would only be restored by Christ.
The result of Adam and Eve’s sin had enormous consequences. Indeed, mankind has been forever tainted and condemned. The NIV Study Bible (page 1713) says, “The context of Romans 5:12 shows that Adam’s sin involved the rest of mankind in condemnation (Romans 5:18-19) and death (Romans 5:15). We do not start life with even the possibility of living it sinlessly; we begin it with a sinful nature [Ephesians 2:3].”
While someone can deny this situation, he cannot escape it. It is because of man’s sinful nature precipitated by, or at least demonstrated by, Adam that necessitated the ultimate coming of Christ to overcome man’s sin. Man has separated himself from God’s standard. God ultimately gave his only son to pay the ransom for man’s sin. Justice had to be done. While man proved himself unwilling and incapable of God’s standard, God—out of inexplicable mercy and grace—provided a way to satisfy the judgment through Jesus Christ. (More on this later.)
The Bible has an answer to the problem of evil and suffering. It is a different answer than any other worldview or religion. If you deny the Fall, what other explanations exist? Here are some alternatives:
- Marxism says that evil is the result of economics—that capitalism precipitates aggression against the weaker. Yet the Marxist revolution led to the murder of 70 million Russians.
- Communism and Islam have somewhat similar views in that law and education can make us righteous. Yet these utopian philosophies always lead to failed states and oppression of the worst kind.
- Darwinism said our problems are biological. Hitler, applying the Darwinian model, perpetrated the Holocaust.
- Humanism, similar to Communism and Darwinism, denies the evil in the human heart. It says that we are all really good after all. Each of these views is an atheistic philosophy that places man at the center of all that matters rather than God. But they face problematic realities at their core. If there is no God that determines moral absolutes and human rights, ultimately political power becomes the determinant of what is right. A lack of any objective basis for morality must lead to chaos, struggle, and oppression—and if taken to its logic extreme ultimately to nihilism and despair.
- Still others say that sickness, pain, death, and evil are nothing more than natural realities. Or perhaps that aggression is necessary for progress, and thus what we think of as evil is really good. Thus some simply cop-out by saying that aggression is just the way we are—or that evil and wickedness are just social or cultural conventions. Eastern religions fall into this category, as they often say that evil is an illusion. Thus Hinduism and Buddhism teach that we must accept evil.
- Freud said that our distortions are all psychological—it’s either just in our head, or worse, that we must blame our parents’ treatment of us for our hang-ups that make us do evil. But Freud’s theories, while popular for a short while in human history have been discounted and abandoned.
These explanations fall short on examination. They underestimate the call and reality of evil. There are no real answers to the question of evil apart from Christianity, which teaches that evil is real and that it is a product of man’s sinful nature. The Bible teaches that there are moral laws that are just as firm as physical laws. If it does not matter what we do, life is meaningless. While other worldviews, carried to their logical extreme end in despair, Christianity offers hope. We are living in an abnormal world—not the world that God created nor the one that he will restore in heaven.
Top of page The Jewish People
The Old Testament is concerned mostly with the interaction between God and the Jewish people through history. God established and chose the Jewish nation to be the focal group for his interaction in history. Many people will inevitably ask, what do the activities of an ancient civilization have to do with me today? Why did God choose this relatively obscure group for his eternal purposes?
Here are some explanations. There are several answers. One, of course, is that God can do whatever he desires for his own will and pleasure!
But there is more to the answer. The fact that he used a small, relatively weak and uncouth group, demonstrates that he cares about the unworthy. An important biblical concept is God’s grace, which means unmerited favor. Ultimately, his grace would extend even to people from nations who reject him and whose actions God expressly hated. (More on the concept of grace later.) Also, God’s choice of the Jews demonstrates that with his help, even the weak can do mighty and powerful things.
It is helpful to emphasize that God chose the Jews not because of their worthiness, but as an instrument for his universal purposes, namely the ultimate offer of salvation for all the nations of mankind. Thus, they were elected not to privilege, but to service. This service was that they were to be evangelists (“priests”) to the world. The Bible explains this in such passages as: Genesis 12:3; Exodus 19:4-6; Deuteronomy 9:1-6; Isaiah 49:6; Luke 2:29-32; Acts 13:46-49.
Also, Israel was a nation dedicated not only to represent God to the world, but to represent the need of the world for God. Their imperfections cried out for the One who could save them.
An interesting observation is that the eastern Mediterranean area was the center of the ancient populated world. It was in the middle of the trade routes between the northern kingdoms (eventually Greece and Rome), Asia to the East, and Egypt to the south. Geographically, the people of this region would have the greatest impact on the world because of its geography.
Another question has to be, why did God use history as a means to bring the message of himself and his plans for mankind? When you think about it, it makes sense that only through experience (history) can it be shown that mankind—this creature of free will—is a fallen sinful being that needs the salvation that only God can bring.
Top of page Deliverance
The Bible is filled with stories and symbols. The term story does not imply that an event is not true or historical. God uses stories—many times recounting historical events to relate to us. A story is a vehicle by which we learn.
There are so many marvelous events related in the Bible that we could highlight. But a survey of the Bible is not complete without the story of how the Israelites got to Egypt and then escaped back to Palestine. This is a tremendous story about people and personalities, especially Joseph and Moses. But it is more about God’s hand in history.
The story begins with a shepherd boy by the name of Joseph. Joseph was the next-to-the-youngest son of Jacob (also called Israel). Jacob was the son of Isaac, who was the son of Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish nation:
Read Genesis 37, then Genesis 39-50, and Exodus 1-14
There are many points that can be made about this sequence of events. But let us just comment on the persons of Joseph and Moses. Joseph was a man of tremendous moral character. He was a model for people in leadership roles today. Moses, on the other hand was more flawed. He was, in fact, a murderer (Exodus 2:12)! He was not a man of great confidence and doubted his own ability (Exodus 3:11, 4:10). Yet God chose to use this very imperfect man to deliver the Israelites from Pharaoh.
The Bible often displays in vivid detail the imperfections of the people God raises up to accomplish his purposes. We can see from these people that heroic events can emanate from lowly folk. We should never underestimate what any one life can do with the power of God in it.
Exodus 12:1-14 is another famous and significant passage. Here we read that it is the blood of the perfect lamb that will allow the Israelites to avoid God's wrath. This passage is an example of how important the Old Testament is in understanding the New Testament. With this we have such a clear foreshadowing of how the blood of the perfect human lamb, Jesus—the Lamb of God, will save all of mankind from God's wrath.
The final paragraph in this sequence, i.e. Exodus 14:31, is also worth noting. Make no mistake. The power of God is awesome. We are making a great mistake if we fail to appreciate this. The Bible makes it clear that failing to respect the power of God can be a fatal mistake. To fear God is to appreciate who he is. It is the first step in trusting God. As it says in Psalm 111:10,
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures for ever.”
The exodus from Egypt, in which God delivers his people from the bondage of slavery, is referred to throughout the rest of the Bible. It is a key event in history. It stands as a prophetic event of how God will ultimately rescue the whole world by sending his only son to deliver all mankind from the bondage of sin.
Top of page The Ten Commandments
Read Exodus 20:1-21
This passage is the list of the Ten Commandments, given to Moses by God on Mt. Sinai. This concept is special in history. The Israelites were to be ruled, not by whoever had the most political power, but by laws. This principle became known as the “rule of law.” And the foundational set of laws was from God himself, which insured that they should be applied consistently without change by whoever is in power.
This was unique. The rule of law, if consistently applied, keeps government out of the hands of despots and tyrants. America was a product of this tradition, inherited from the Israelites. America was founded on the same basic principle, made quite clear in the Declaration of Independence—unalienable rights and obligations from the Creator God.
But the specific items in this biblical list of commandments have broader application than just civil government. They are laws for the heart and for personal conduct—that is, moral laws.
It is very significant that the first law is, “You shall have no other gods before me.” What “gods” do you have in your life that you have placed before the God of the universe—money, pleasure, power, idleness, rock music, people, sports, hobbies, sex? These things are not bad in themselves, but if they supplant God as the most important thing in your life, it is a very serious thing.
You will note that the commandments are not numbered. In fact, there are different ways to come up with ten distinct commandments from this one passage of Scripture. Different faith traditions compile the list slightly differently from one another, but all of the commandments are always all there, though presented a bit differently. The most common delineation of the list is this one:
- You shall have no other gods before me.
- You shall not make any idols.
- You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
- Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.
- Honor your father and mother.
- You shall not murder.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
- You shall not covet.
One reason that some people reject Christianity is simply because they do not want to be burdened with rules! They want absolute autonomy. As we will see later, Christianity is a lot more than just a bunch of rules. But the following point should be made. The only rules God gives us are ones that are good for us (or for our fellow man). The Ten Commandments, and likewise all other instructions God gives us in Scripture, are not arbitrary. They are ultimately for our own good.
Remember that in Genesis 3:3, God gave a reason for his instruction not to eat of the fruit of the tree of life. He clearly gave a very good reason not to eat of the fruit of that particular tree—it would cause death!
We have already noted that a reason one can trust the Bible so much, is that when you compare what Scripture says with the observable real world, they match up. Here’s a little example. In the middle of the Ten Commandments section (Exodus 20:5) there is a statement—which is repeated several other times in the Old Testament—that the sins of the father are felt by the third and fourth generation.
This is an interesting statement. Skeptics will say that this appears unfair. Why should someone suffer for what their great grandfather did?
But the hard facts are that this is an observable truth in the real world. Take for example a man who fathers a child out of wedlock and deserts the woman and child. So often, this action starts a cycle of poverty and family separation that may take generations to overcome. The mother is caught in poverty, the child likewise, and it becomes very difficult for future generations to get out of the cycle.
Another point that should be made about God’s law, is that it begins with LOVE. Note how God prefaces the Ten Commandments. He says, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Exodus 20:2). And then in Exodus 20:6 God put his law in further context, “showing love to a thousand generations.”
The First Commandment is perhaps the most important one—people should have no other gods before Him. This is so important to God that it is more important than life itself. Much of the Old Testament is about the cycles of the Jewish nation turning away from God, suffering the consequences, then returning to God. The consequences of turning away were very often physical, as we will see in the next section about the prophet Jeremiah.
Top of page The Prophets
Old Testament history portrays a repetitious cycle of the Hebrews turning away from God, followed by God’s punishing judgment, then God’s grace and restoration of his people. Many of the figures of the Old Testament were prophets. Their role included instructions to the people about God and his law. The prophets often reminded the Jewish people of the consequences of their turning away from God. They were God’s spokespersons.
One of the prophets was Jeremiah. We have listed several chapters that will give the reader the guts of the message of this book. The events in this book occurred about 800 years after the exodus from Egypt, and 600 years before the coming of Christ. At this time, the Jewish people had been split into two geographical groups—Israel and Judah. It was to the nation of Judah that Jeremiah was principally speaking.
Read Jeremiah chapters 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 12, and 16
In these above passages, you read how God repeatedly warned the nation of Judah through Jeremiah exactly what the consequences of their sins would be. Jeremiah warned that the Jewish people needed to put God at the center of their lives or suffer a serious penalty. He predicted (prophesied) that they would be under a disastrous siege from a foreign power. Read on.
Read Jeremiah 39
As this incredible story unfolded, this chapter (and subsequent ones) relates the dramatic fulfillment of God’s prophecy made through Jeremiah! King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (modern day Iraq) destroyed Jerusalem. He slaughtered the sons of Judah’s King Zedekiah while their father looked on, and then Nebuchadnezzar put Zedekiah’s eyes out! He set fire to the royal palace and broke down the walls of Jerusalem. The conqueror ransacked everything, and took many people back with him as captives. History confirms that Nebuchadnezzar, in fact, attacked Jerusalem twice, first in the year 605 BC, then again in 598-597 BC.
But in Jeremiah, there is also a message of salvation from God. It was prophesied that the Babylonian rule over Judah would be for a limited time only, and that God would restore his people, at least a remnant of them, to faith. And God would return the Jews to their homeland (Jeremiah 12:14-17, 24:6-7, 29:11-14, 30:1-3, 31:3-4). God’s judgment is evident throughout, but his faithfulness and love are part of this story.
God would in turn punish Babylon for its atrocities (Jeremiah 25:11-14). This latter prophecy was fulfilled in the year 539 BC, when Babylon was defeated by an alliance of Persians and Medes, paving the way for the exiles of Judah to return (Jeremiah 51:1-11; 2 Chronicles 36:20-23).
Also very important in the book of Jeremiah is the promise of a New Covenant sometime in the future (Jeremiah 31:31-32). Christians understand this prophecy to be the coming of Jesus the Savior (Hebrews 9:11-15).
The book of Jeremiah, among other lessons, certainly makes it clear that we should have a healthy respect for God, his word, and his requirements—to put it mildly. We cannot help wondering about our world today. Is mankind honoring God, or thumbing its nose at Him?
Top of page The Nature of God
Who is God? What is he like? A discussion of the nature of the God of the Bible could emphasize several of his many aspects. We could discuss such characteristics as his omnipotence, his omniscience, or his faithfulness. These are important ones which have imposing implications for the way that one lives his life, and actually we have already touched on these somewhat. God is eternal, unchangeable, self-existent, self-sufficient, infinite, transcendent, sovereign, longsuffering, wise, good, truthful, and jealous. However, we choose to briefly discuss now other considerations of God’s nature that are especially important in understanding Christian theology. (For further study, we recommend a book by J. I. Packer entitled Knowing God.)
1. God is holy.
The word holy (or holiness) is used hundreds of times in Scripture to describe God. For a sense of it, please look up these passages:
Read Exodus 3:5, 15:11, 19:23, 34:6; 1 Chronicles 16:29; 2 Chronicles 20:21; Psalm 29:2; Psalm 93:5; Psalm 96:9; Psalm 99:9; Psalm 103:1-19; Isaiah 29:23; Isaiah 40:25; Revelation 4:8; and Revelation 15:4.
The concept of the holiness of God is a rather comprehensive notion. Some synonyms are that God is distinct, upright, true, and unique. It suggests God’s perfection. It is also closely associated with his righteousness and being set apart from the common. The Bible says man should be in awe of God’s holiness! God is awesome. As put by Rev. D. James Kennedy, “The very foundation of his throne was holiness, and no sin would ever come into his presence without his inevitably consuming it with his wrath.” God plays for keeps, and we should tremble before him. Those people who would invent a mamby-pamby god to suit themselves are pursuing a false god. Read such passages as these that show the wrath and judgment of God: Job 34:10; Psalm 2:4-6; Psalm 7:11; Psalm 11:5; Psalm 89:46; Psalm 90:11; Ezekiel 5:14-15; Ezekiel 36:16-21; Hosea 5:10; Zephaniah 3:6-8; Romans 1:18; Romans 2:5-11; Romans 9:22-24; Ephesians 5:6; Revelation 1:12-16; 16:19; 19:11-16. Now read Isaiah 6:1-8.
Pretty scary stuff, right? In the last passage, Isaiah 6:1-8, please note a couple of things. While this passage is written in descriptive form that may seem surreal or symbolic, it is set in the context of actual history (6:1). Here Isaiah gets a glimpse of God. What Isaiah notices is how holy God is—so much so that he repeats the word in a chant—“holy, holy, holy” (6:3). The realization for Isaiah is this—that the difference between the Creator and the created is so distinct that Isaiah can only say that he is “undone” or “ruined” or “lost” (depending on which translation of the Bible you are reading). The result for Isaiah in this realization is that he can do nothing else but submit to God’s will. “Here I am. Send Me!” exclaims Isaiah. Anyone who begins to understand who God is, will realize how weak we are in his sight.
2. God is just.
Read Deuteronomy 32:3-4. Many people in our culture have this idea about God that he is just some wishy-washy grandfather in the sky. Who knows where they get this idea; it is certainly not in the Bible! It seems that people make up their own God, perhaps out of ignorance, but more likely out of a desire to live by their own standards rather than God’s. Worshipping one's own invented god is the sin of idolatry (Second Commandment)—a very serious offense.
We included the book of Jeremiah in our study to show a very important aspect of God—his justice. To some readers, God might seem pretty harsh from reading the passages from Jeremiah and other Old Testament books. But it is crucial for us to understand that God is just. God’s holiness dictates that he cannot just wink at sin. There are many passages in both the Old and New Testaments about God's wrath and judgment. Here are just a few, that you should cogitate on: Psalm 2:4-6, Psalm 5:4-6, Psalm 7:11, Psalm 11:5, Psalm 89:46, Psalm 90:11, Proverbs 6:16-19, Ezekiel 36:16-21, Hosea 5:10, Hosea 9:15, Zephaniah 3:6-8, Romans 1:18, Romans 2:5, Romans 9:22-24, 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10, Revelation 16:19.
God himself says, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11). Yet the people in the Old Testament who were punished, often with their lives, were guilty. For example, Jeremiah points out that the Jewish people were guilty of horrible crimes, even sacrificing their own children (Jeremiah 7:30-34)—a practice specifically prohibited (Leviticus 18:21; Deuteronomy 18:10-14).
God insists on allegiance, which does not seem unreasonable given that he created us. A god who is not just and holy is not worthy of our worship. But a God who is both just and holy demands our worship.
3. God is merciful.
On the other hand, God is also merciful. (Read Micah 7:18-20.) As we will see later, while God ordered the destruction of entire nations, he holds out that individuals can gloriously spend eternal life with him in heaven if they do not reject him. There is much violence in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. But this violence is mitigated by God’s eternal promises and blessings.
Returning to the book of Jeremiah, God promises mercy by restoring Israel after punishing them. According to the NIV Study Bible (page 1117), “God’s judgment of his people (and the nations), though terrible, was not to be the last word, the final work of God in history. Mercy and covenant faithfulness would triumph. Beyond the judgment would come restoration and renewal. Israel would be restored, the nations that crushed her would be crushed, and the old covenants (with Israel, David and the Levites) would be honored. God would make a new covenant with his people in whom he would write his law on their hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34) and thus consecrate them to his service.”
4. God is loving.
The Bible says that “God is love.” Read 1 John 4:7-11
The theological question is, how is it possible for God to mete out sometimes harsh punishment and still be considered a loving being? The answer comes in Jesus Christ. The fact that God is both perfectly just and completely loving is resolved by his sending his only son to suffer and die for the sins of the world. John 3:16 says,
“God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Read also Psalm 103:8; Romans 5:8; Ephesians 2:1-7; and Colossians 1:13-14. It is Jesus who delivers us from the wrath that otherwise should be (1 Thessalonians 1:10).
5. God is personal.
Finally, in addition to the other aspects of God, a key understanding that Christians have about God is that he is personal. The word personal is used sometimes almost as God’s first name, as you often hear the term the “personal God of the Bible.”
This personal aspect of God’s nature refers to his accessibility and his continual interaction with people. It is a distinctly different picture of God than one gets from non-biblical world religions. God wants us to have a relationship with him. You can see this in many of the passages we have already explored. He is not just a great grandfather in the sky. He is intimately involved in our daily lives! We definitely have access to him!
The Bible teaches that God is a friend to those who love him! God humbled himself by revealing himself through Jesus. In this way, God could relate to us humans in a way that we can grasp. Here are just a couple passages out of many that you can read in the context of God as an approachable friend: Psalm 23; Philippians 2:5-8.
There are many more passages that will give you comfort that God is close and available. Especially if you are hurting at this time, you may benefit from these passages: Psalm 32:8-11; Psalm 34:18; Psalm 46:1-3; Psalm 107:19; Proverbs 16:9; Isaiah 40:27-31; Isaiah 43:2; Isaiah 46:4; Jeremiah 29:11-13; Matthew 18:12-14; Luke 11:9-12; Romans 8:38-39; 2 Corinthians 1:3-11; Philippians 4:13; 1 Peter 5:7, and Revelation 3:20.
Top of page The Nature of Man
Biblical theology can be summed up by saying that God is holy and we are not. When we catch a glimpse of the holiness of God, we begin to see just how far we humans fall short of that standard. While we have already given some passages to convey the idea that man is sinful, we would like to explore this even further. It is crucial to understand this truth in order to understand Christianity. It is because of the depth of our sin that it was necessary for Christ to come to redeem us from our sin.
Read Genesis 6:5; Genesis 8:21; 1 Kings 8:46; Job 14:1-4; Job 25:2-6; Psalm 14; Psalm 51:3-5; Psalm 53:1-3; Psalm 58:3-5; Psalm 143:1-2; Proverbs 14:12; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Isaiah 53:6; Isaiah 55:8-9; Isaiah 59:2; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9; Daniel 9:1-11; Mark 7:20-23; Romans 3:9-23; Romans 5:12-21; Romans 7:13-25; Romans 8:5-8; Romans 14:23; Galatians 5:16-21; Ephesians 2:1-3; James 2:10-11; 1 John 1:8-10.
Christianity is different from all other worldviews or religions. Christianity teaches that man is basically sinful; all other religions teach that we are basically good. Who is correct? We don’t necessarily need someone to tell us that we sin. We have a self-awareness of our own sin because we’ve been created by God with a conscience that has a sense of right and wrong—an innate moral code. God has written a moral code on our hearts.
Yet, some even insist that either sin does not exist, or that it does not matter. They say that, “That is just they way we are.” Statements like that are first of all naïve. We only have to examine ourselves to see that we are selfish, selfish, selfish. Nobody wakes up every morning with the thought, “How can I help all the people of the world who need help today?” Face it. We wake up with thoughts of our own problems and how we can serve ourselves. We want to make our own throne and sit on it.
There are those who argue that man does not have a sinful nature. But the above passages as well our observation of people in the real word argue that we are indeed sinful by nature. We do not wholeheartedly seek God. Our thinking is distorted; our emotions and desires are unruly and misdirected. We delight in vengeance and find forgiveness more unpleasant than pulling teeth. Man is carnal; he has corrupt affections; his will is stubborn. In this condition we are bent on rebellion. As put by Arnold Kuntz in his Prayers for Worship:
There is a tedious struggle within us, for our instincts and desires war against the ways that you would have us follow. Were you not the active agent in our Christian lives, how self-serving and how wicked we would be. Our inclinations run to lust, our motives tend toward envy. Our aims are self-indulgent. Forgive us for Jesus’ sake, and lead us out of darkness into light.
Or, as put by the great apologist Ravi Zacharias, a convert to Christianity (Ravi):
When we look into the human heart we see the lust, the greed, the hate, the pride, the anger, and the jealousies that are so destructive. This is at the heart of the human predicament, and the Scriptures call this condition sin. . . .The more we see the unconscionable ends to which the human spirit can descend when it is determined to remain autonomous, the more our confidence in human methods diminishes."
We mortals are not as bad as we could be—even Hitler had some positive traits. Yet every aspect of our being is tainted by sin. It affects our body, our capacity to think rationally without bias. Sin penetrates to the core. As Jesus said in Mark 7:20-23 sin comes from the heart, the very center of our existence. It is not, as some say, peripheral or incidental to mankind. And we note that God looks not at just our outward actions, but judges our heart (1 Samuel 16:7). The evidence from all of history cries out to the fact of man’s sinful nature.
Think for a moment about this short list of specific sins (the so-called "7 deadly sins"): pride, envy, wrath, sloth, greed, lust, gluttony. If we are honest, while we may be able to suppress them, we are never ever to completely rid ourselves of them.
Evangelist Ray Comfort uses a series of questions from the Ten Commandments to help us see our sins (Are You a Good Person?). He first asks, “How many lies have you told in your life?” (Most will acknowledge many.) He then asks, “What does that make you?” (Most will admit that it makes them a liar.) He then asks, “Have you ever cheated or stolen anything, no matter how small?” (The honest person will normally again will say yes.) He then focuses on adultery and points out how Jesus taught that it is a sin to commit adultery even in one’s heart through lust (Matthew 5:28), the inner instincts being just as important as the external. Ray then asks, “Have you ever lusted after someone, or had sex outside of marrige?” (Most say yes, of course.)
Ray then summarizes with, “Then you have just admitted that you are a lying, stealing, adulterer at heart!” If we are honest, we must admit that on examination, we are in fact all lying, stealing, adulterers at heart. And this covers only three of the Ten Commandments!
Go back to the Ten Commandments and look at each one honestly. The First is “Have no other gods besides Me.” Do you ever put something higher than God on your priority list—sports, money, fun, sex, or whatever? If so, that “something” may even have become a god to you. Everyone has false gods that they worship. Just track the trail of you life—how you spend your time, your money, your thoughts—will lead one to the throne of the gods you worship.
The Second is not to make any "graven image." Have you ever decided to ignore what the Bible says about God, inventing a God to suit yourself? For example, some people may say, "My God would never send anyone to hell." Of course, in a sense they are correct because their God does not exist. He is a figment of their imagination.
Do you ever blaspheme the name of God (Third Commandment)? Please do not take this commandment lightly. This is quite serious.
Do you ever fail to honor the Sabbath day (Fourth Commandment)? You do, don’t you? Have you ever failed to honor your father or mother (Fifth Commandment)?
The Bible says (1 John 3:15) that whoever hates his brother is a murderer (Sixth Commandment). Do you ever have the feeling of hatred? Then you have broken the Sixth Commandment. Hatred and lust are where murder and adultery begin.
We all admit that we have been guilty of being angry, unloving, unaffirming, inconsiderate and too often have said unwarranted things even toward those people closest to us. We only have to look at ourselves honestly to see how far away we are from God’s standard of unconditional love toward others. Can you acknowledge the same?
Have you ever failed to pay a bill on time, costing your creditor interest on his money? Fudged here and there on taxes or elsewhere? Downloaded music illegally? Then you have stolen (Eighth Commandment). What does that make you? A thief, right?
Are you ever guilty of gossiping—saying things about someone else that tear down that person or which may not be entirely true? You are breaking the Ninth Commandment when you do that.
Or have you ever coveted after something, or felt jealousy? Then you have broken the Tenth Commandment. This commandment alone should force the honest seeker to his knees.
You may say, “Well, I’m just human. Everyone does these things.” But remember this. Every sin is a sin against God. It is less a matter of how great our sins are than the greatness of whom we sin against! Some people may deny their sin, thinking that sin only means murder or adultery. But sin is much more than these big and obvious sins. There are sins of the heart, focused on our self-centeredness. If narcissism is the curse of the earth, Jesus is the antidote. Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone around you loved perfectly?
Other questions that can be asked of ourselves that reveal who we really are include: Have you done everything Jesus would have done? Have you always done everything you ought to have done? In fact, sin is not simply the result of a decision to do a bad thing; it is the result of failing to make a decision to do a good thing. We call these "sins of omission." (Read James 4:17.)
Are you always a peacemaker (Matthew 5:9)? Do you ever lose your patience (Galatians 5:22)? Do you ever fail to exhibit self-control (Galatians 5:23)? Have you ever been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Do you ever waste anything (John 6:12)? Or be arrogant, quick-tempered, or drunk (Titus 1:7). How about, do you ever do emotional injury to another person—or its opposite, the failure to build someone up, or to love someone who is not lovable? Or feel contemptuous toward another person (even if they deserve it)? Or do you ever harbor partiality toward others (James 2:1-9)? If you are a parent, have you adequately inculcated the ways of God to your children (Deuteronomy 11:18-21; Proverbs 22:6; Ephesians 6:4)? Do you tend to retaliate or nurse grudges (Matthew 5:38-42)?
In order to show us how far we are from God’s standard, Jesus told us that we must be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). The Bible says that if we have broken even one item of the law, we are guilty of breaking the entire law (James 2:10). You may say, “That’s not fair!” But consider this, if a person goes into a store a hundred times and does not steal anything, but one time does steal something, is he guilty or innocent? The law considers him guilty! But the sinfulness of man goes even deeper than that. We sin every day in one way or another in thought, word, and deed. Every thought we have and every word we utter are recorded. On judgment day God hits the playback button! There are no secret sins (Psalm 90:7-8; Ecclesiastes 12:14; Hebrews 4:13). Against God’s perfect holiness, we must acknowledge that we deserve his wrath.
The Bible says that we suppress the truth. Read Romans 1:18-23. In some cases, the more we sin, the more we deny our sin. We get in our comfort zone and find it easy to deny our sin. Human beings are in trouble most of the time. Those who don't know they're in trouble are in the worst trouble. Read what Jesus says about this in Revelation 3:17-18. Remember back in Genesis 3 how Adam blamed his sin on Eve, who in turn blamed it on the devil. Our nature is to just pass the buck.
Human beings are into “impression management.” Examine how concerned we are with other people getting a good impression of us versus a true impression of us. Sin binds us to see ourselves better than are. In one study, out of a million respondents not even one person said that they considered themselves below average in their ability to get along with other people.
Even our charitable acts are often motivated out of selfishness. We want the recognition before man or God that we have done something good. Or we want to appease our conscience to try to overcome our past errors.
Langdon Gilkey, who spent time in a minimum security Japanese internment camp in China, in his book Shantung Compound explored the nature of man:
Most of us, in spite of whatever harm we may be doing to others, have long since convinced ourselves that the cause for which we do what we do is just and right...Having found these truths about human existence enacted before my eyes, I began to recall some of the theological ideas I had almost forgotten. The idea of original sin was so striking in this new context, it seemed ironic that of all the ideas linked with Christian belief, this one should probably strike the average man as most dubious. Yet, when one looks at the actual social behavior of people, this theological notion of a common, pervasive warping of our wills away from the good we wish to achieve is more descriptive of our actual experience of ourselves than is any other assessment of our situation. What the doctrine of sin has said about man’s present state seemed to fit the facts as I found them. In camp, both “good” people and “bad” people found it incredibly difficult to will the good; that is, to be objective in a situation of tension, and to be generous and fair to their neighbors. Though quite free to will whatever we wanted to do in a given situation, we were not free to will to love others, because the will did not really want to. We were literally bound in our own sin. This was, I knew, the way Christian thought had long viewed man’s predicament. It was also precisely what the facts of my experience seemed to substantiate.
The great faith leaders in history—for example, Augustine or John Calvin or Martin Luther or Billy Graham, etc.—assert that the more one seeks true spirituality, the more one realizes how truly weak and impotent the human condition really is. Even the great St. Paul, who wrote two-thirds of the New Testament, acknowledged his constant failure (Romans 7:18-20). Are you better than Paul? Let’s face it. When we look in the mirror we see a sinner. And what is needed are not some small adjustments to our behavior. What is needed is a radical solution for our sin.
Jesus often spoke of sin in metaphors that illustrate the havoc sin can wreak in one’s life. He described sin as blindness (Matthew 23:16-26), sickness (Matthew 9:12), being enslaved in bondage (John 8:34), and living in darkness (John 8:12; John 12:35-46). Jesus also taught that both inner thoughts and external acts render a person guilty (Matthew 5:28). He taught that from within the human heart come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly (Mark 7:21-23). The fact is that at times we are all condemning, spiteful, arrogant, and conniving. The unclean thoughts we all have convicts us. Jesus affirmed that God is fully aware of every person’s sins, both external acts and inner thoughts; nothing escapes his notice (Matthew 22:18; Luke 6:8; John 4:17-19).
Sin is not just what we do, but who we are. I have looked into my own heart and here is what I see. I am BY NATURE selfish. I am BY NATURE covetous. I am BY NATURE lustful. I am BY NATURE idolatrous. I am BY NATURE hateful when I don't get my way. I am BY NATURE prone to lie if it seems to better my position. I did not learn these things. I can never remember a time when I was not like this.
Theologian R. C. Sproul in his book Saved from What? says this:
In addition to the external measuring rod there is also the consideration of the heart, the internal motivation for our behavior. We judge outward appearance. God looks on the heart. From a biblical perspective, to do a good deed in the fullest sense of the word requires not only that the deed conform outwardly to the standards of God’s Law but that it proceed from a heart that loves Him and wants to honor Him. We remember the great commandment: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart’ (Matthew 22:37). Let’s just stop there for a second. Is there anybody in this world who has loved God with all of his heart for even the last five minutes? No. Nobody has loved God with all of his heart since being born, nor have we loved Him with all of our mind or strength.
I know that one of the things I will be accountable for on judgment day is the way in which I have failed in the pursuit of the knowledge of God. Many times I have been lazy and slothful and too bored to apply myself to the fullest possible measure of knowing God. I have not loved God with all of my mind [also Matthew 22:37]. If I loved God with all of my mind, there would never be an impure thought in my head. But that’s not the way my head works.
In the site of an all-powerful and holy God, we are all guilty and must face judgment. In fact, we are not just simply guilty. We are regularly and eternally guilty. We deserve eternal punishment. Yet, as we continue our study, we will see that there is a way to gain favor before our righteous God. Our confession is the beginning of this step:
Merciful heavenly Father, I confess that I am by nature sinful and unclean, that the inclinations of my heart are wayward—even from my birth. For from within us come evil thoughts, selfishness, greed, covetousness, wickedness, lust, envy, gossip, slander, pride, and foolishness. I have too often been vengeful, lazy, deceitful, condemning, and idolatrous. I have harbored contempt, anger, and jealousy. I hold grudges and suppress the truth. Lord, I have been unworthy, unfaithful, unforgiving, unrighteous, unteachable, and unreachable. I have been unloving, unmerciful, uninviting, unwilling, unfair, and unwise. Even my good deeds are often from tainted motivations. You have set out my iniquities before You, my secret sins exposed in light of your presence.
I acknowledge what we read in the Scriptures to be true: If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. I confess my transgressions against you—my sins and iniquities for which I justly deserve your temporal and eternal punishment. I repent of my sins and beg your forgiveness.
In this link, Charles Spurgeon appeals to the Bible, to observation of the world, and our own consciences to validate man's sinful nature: Enmity against God.
Top of page The Promise: A Messiah
One cannot fully understand who Jesus is without an appreciation of Jesus as the Messiah. The Old Testament prophesied of a coming Messiah (sometimes referred to by various names such as the Anointed One or the Holy One).
In fact, the whole topic of prophecy is an important aspect of the Bible. There are over 2000 accurately fulfilled prophecies or implications in the Bible, including some 300 about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Of all the prophecies of the Bible, amazingly, none have proven to be false. This is proof that the Bible is what it claims to be—the Word of God. Fulfilling 2000 prophecies without a single error could not have happened without divine origin. There is no other holy book from other religions like the Bible in this regard. The Bible stands out as a unique document in all of history.
Regarding the Messianic prophecies, as they are called, the Bible demonstrates that Jesus uniquely matches the person of the expected Messiah. Jesus often referred to himself as the fulfillment of these prophecies. And the early Christians made a big deal out of showing how Jesus was indeed the Messiah. Many passages of the New Testament refer back to passages in the Old Testament to demonstrate this.
Some of the Messianic prophecies are subtle, which has led skeptics to say that Christians could only have tied them to Jesus with the benefit of hindsight. Others, they say, were easy for Jesus to have acted on with foreknowledge to prove his Messiahship. But many of the prophecies are not at all subtle, and many are ones that Jesus could not have controlled, such as his genealogy, the actual town of his birthplace, or the method of his death.
Below is a short list of some of the Messianic prophecies from the Old Testament and the corresponding New Testament passages that demonstrate their fulfillment. For our purposes now, it is enough to just look through the list to get an idea of this important theme. But, to get extra credit in our study, look these up one by one. Yes, it will be a bit tedious but absolutely fascinating. It will be worth it if you will take the time!
Examples of Messianic Prophecies
|Prophecy||Old Testament||New Testament Fulfillment|
|Messiah to be the seed of Abraham||Gen 12:1-3, 18:18||Mt 1:1-2
|Messiah to be of the seed of David||2 Sam 7:5,16
|Messiah to be born of a virgin||Is 7:14||Mt 1:18-25
|Messiah to be born in Bethlehem||Mic 5:2||Mt 2:1-6
|Tribute paid to Messiah by great kings||Ps 72:10-11||Mt 2:1-11|
|Messiah to be heralded by a messenger||Is 40:3
|Messiah to be the Son of God||2 Sam 7:12-16
|Messiah to be anointed by the Holy Spirit||Is 11:2||Mt 3:16-17|
|Galilee to be the first area of Messiah's ministry||Is 9:1-7||Mt 4:12-16|
|Messiah to be meek and mild||Is 40:11, 42:1-4, 53:7||Mt 12:15-21, 26:62-68|
|Messiah to minister to the Gentiles||Is 42:1, 49:6-8||Mt 12:21
|Messiah will perform miracles||Is 35:5-6||Mt 9:35, 11:2-6
|Messiah to be a prophet like Moses||Dt 18:15-19||Mt 21:11, 24:1-35
Jn 1:45, 6:14
|Messiah to enter the temple with authority||Mal 3:1-2||Mt 21:12|
|Messiah will enter Jerusalem on a donkey||Zec 9:9-10||Mt 21:1-11|
|Messiah to be betrayed by a friend||Ps 41:9||Jn 13:18-30
|Messiah to experience crucifixion (long before crucifixion was invented)||Ps 22:15-17||Mt 27:32-50
|Messiah will be pierced||Zec 12:10||Jn 19:34-37|
|Details of Messiah's suffering and death and resulting salvation (given hundreds of years before Christ!)||Ps 69:21
|Casting of lots for His garments||Ps 22:18||Jn 19:23-24|
|Messiah to be raised from the dead||Job 19:25
|Ac 2:25-32, 13:32-37, 17:2-3
1 Cor 15:20-22
|Messiah, the stone which the builders rejected, to become the head cornerstone||Ps 118:22-23
Is 8:14-15, 28:16
1 Pet 2:6-8
Top of page Who Is Jesus?
Who is Jesus? This is the question of the ages. No figure in history has had as much influence as Jesus Christ.
First check out this video featuring a young boy's explanation: Jesus Throughout the Bible
Most of what we know about Jesus comes from the New Testament. So a comment about the writers of the New Testament is a good starting point. All of the New Testament writers were eyewitnesses of Jesus, or were interviewers of eyewitnesses. Three of the New Testament writers were Jesus’ disciples—Matthew, John, and Peter. Two were the half-brothers of Jesus—James and Jude. Paul, who wrote two-thirds of the New Testament, was a prominent Jewish leader who originally was a zealous persecutor of the early Christians. But through a miraculous conversion experience related in Acts 9, Paul became the greatest evangelist.
Scholars believe that most, if not all of the New Testament was written between 40 AD and 70 AD. (Jesus is believed to have died in 33 AD.) So, the writers of the New Testament were of the generation of Jesus. (It should be noted that there are about a dozen non-biblical ancient sources about Jesus. None of them contradict the information from Scripture.)
The first four books of the New Testament are biographies of Jesus. These are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. We are asking you to read the chapters below in the book of John. These chapters make up about half of this one book. John, by the way, was the disciple that appears to have been Jesus’ closest friend. His insights about Jesus are special. If these chapters wet your appetite for more, go back and read in their entirety Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Read John 1-4; John 8-11; John 18-20
Jesus, of course, was a human being of history. But he was certainly more than just a man. Indeed, the Bible records that Jesus is in fact God. Thus he is both human and divine. Jesus’ own extraordinary claim of divinity is evident by the statements and actions he made in some of the above passages in the book of John.
The Bible makes it clear that Jesus is truly God in the flesh. Below is a table showing a summary of how the Bible lays out the case that Jesus has the attributes of divinity. It would be very much worth the effort to go through each of these references sometime at your convenience, but for now, it is sufficient to just review the list to get a sense of the depth of this concept.
A Biblical Comparison of God and Jesus
Worthy of the Same Status
|Is 43:10||we are to be his witnesses||Ac 1:8|
|Jn 14:1 (a)||have faith/trust in||Jn 14:1 (b)|
|Is 45:22-23||knees bow/ tongues confess||Php 2:10-11|
|Rev 4:11||worthy to receive honor and glory||Rev 5:12|
|Ac 16:34||believe in to be saved||Ac 16:31|
|the savior/only savior||Tit 2:13
|Joel 2:32||whoever calls on his name is saved||Ac 2:21|
|Josh 24:24||serve him||Col 3:24|
|is worshipped by angels||Heb 1:4-6|
Rev 5:13-14, 11:16
|others worship him||Mt 14:33, 28:9
|“Thus saith the Lord.”
(used dozens of times)
|speaks with divine authority||“Truly, I say to you….”
(used dozens of times)
Have Same Names and Titles
Is 43:10, 44:6,8, 45:5,22
1 Tim 1:15-17
|Dt 10:15-17||Lord||Lk 2:11|
(Ref. Rev 22:12-13)
|First and Last||Rev 1:8, 1:17
|I Am||Jn 8:58
1 Tim 6:15
|King of King, Lord of Lords||Rev 17:14
|Hos 11:9||Holy One||Ac 3:14|
|Ps 23:1||Shepherd||Jn 10:11|
|Ps 18:31||Rock||1 Cor 10:4|
Perform the Same Acts
|Ac 2:32||who resurrected Jesus||Jn 2:18-22, 10:17-18|
|created heaven & earth/all things||Jn 1:3
|forgives sins||Lk 5:20-21
|2 Chr 7:14, et. al.||hears prayer||Jn 14:14|
|Jer 17:10||examines the heart & rewards conduct||Rev 2:23|
|judges all||Jn 5:22
2 Tim 4:1
|Pr 3:12||reproves those he loves||Rev 3:19|
|calms wind & waves||Lk 8:24-25
|Jn 5:21 (a)||raises the dead||Jn 5:21 (b)|
|Rom 6:23||offers eternal life||Jn 5:39-40, 10:28|
|Is 41:10||is with us||Mt 28:20|
Have the Same Attributes
|eternal “from time indefinite”||Is 9:6
|Is 45:5-12||omnipotent||Mt 28:18|
|1 Kings 8:39
1 Jn 3:20
Jn 2:25, 16:30, 21:17
|Mal 3:6||does not change||Heb 13:8|
|Jer 42:5||true and faithful witness||Rev 3:14|
|Ps 27:1||light||Jn 8:12|
|Ps 71:5||our hope||1 Tim 1:1|
|Ps 46:1||our strength||Php 4:13|
|Jer 17:13||source of living water||Jn 4:14
1 Jn 2:1
Of the many attributes that identify Jesus as God, we emphasize that the Bible makes it clear that Jesus is eternal. He was not just a mere mortal, but in fact existed eternally from the beginning of time. Please read these passages: John 1:1-5, 14; John 17:5; Colossians 1:15-19; Hebrews 1:1-4
This study would be incomplete if we did not make it clear how important Jesus really is. Rejecting him is tantamount to thumbing your nose at God. If Jesus is who he says he is—and who the Bible says he is—we are under judgment. The Bible makes this bold statement (John 3:36):
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; and he who does not believe and obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”
The Bible claims that Jesus is the exclusive avenue to God. As Jesus himself says in John 14:6:
“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Also read John 8:24; Acts 4:12, and 1 John 5:11-12.
While this sounds unfair to some, we would argue that this is in fact the ultimate in fairness. Because of our separation from God due to our sin, there is no way that we can be reconciled to God on our own. Yet God provides a way, unmerited as it is, to find fellowship with him! And its path is open to everyone.
The Jesus We Know and Love
So much for the theological aspects of Jesus. There is a lot more. Even without his identity as the Son of God, Jesus is someone very special. People fall in love with this guy. Let us introduce you to the Jesus so many adore and admire. Let’s see the humanity of Jesus. Here are some highlights:
- He was known to befriend even the lowliest members of society. For example, he healed lepers, associated with tax collectors, respected women, and lifted up outcast groups such as the Samaritans—groups that were despised or denigrated. (Read Matthew 8:1-4; Luke 10:25-37, and Luke 19:1-9.)
- Read Matthew 5:1-11, which is called the “Beatitudes,” (which itself is part of Jesus’ most famous sermon—the Sermon on the Mount). Notice the purity of his words, and the compassion for the downtrodden.
- Jesus is the shepherd that seeks out every lost soul. This gives us confidence that he cares for even you and me. (Read Luke 15:1-7.)
- Jesus adores little children. (Read Matthew 19:13-14.)
- And, by the way, Jesus loves a party. Indeed, his first miracle was to turn water into wine at a wedding party! (Read John 2:1-11.) His opponents even called him a winebibber and a glutton. (Read Luke 7:33-35.) Jesus just loves people—all people.
- Jesus offers refuge. (Read Matthew 11:28-30.) How often have we personally turned to this passage for comfort.
- But Jesus was definitely NOT politically correct. He told it like it was! (Read Matthew 21:12-16 and Matthew 23:1-36.) Really, Jesus was a non-violent revolutionary.
- Jesus exuded wisdom and authority. His teaching impressed people with his authoritative words. (Read Mark 1:21-28.) Time after time, he outwitted his opponents with his brilliant mind. (Read Matthew 22:15-22.)
- While his words could quiet the mouths of the obstreperous, his actions demonstrated spectacular humility and service. (Read Matthew 23:11-12; John 10:7-18; John 13:1-17; 1 Peter 2:18-25.)
You have a friend in Jesus, as the old hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” declares. This might be a good time to take a diversion from our study. Open up a second web browser and click on this site to listen to the hymn: http://www.hymnsite.com/ (and find this hymn in the index). You can read the words below while you listen to the music.
What a friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry Everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit. Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry Everything to God in prayer.
Have we trials and temptation? Is there trouble everywhere?
We should never be discouraged. Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful—Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness. Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Are we weak and heavy-laden, Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior still our refuge. Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer.
In his arms he’ll take and shield you; you will find a solace there.
Get to know this Jesus of Nazareth, sent by God to touch our hearts, to show us the ultimate example of how to live in a sinful world—and yes, to suffer and die for our sins, even to offer us eternal life.
Jesus affirmed that it was for the very purpose of dying that he came into the world (John 12:23-27). Moreover, he perceived his death as being a sacrificial offering for the sins of humanity (Matthew 26:26-28). Jesus took his sacrificial mission with utmost seriousness, for he knew that without him, humanity would certainly perish (Matthew 16:25; John 3:16) and spend eternity apart from God in a place of great suffering.
Jesus therefore described his mission this way: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10); for “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17).
Here is more from our Faith Facts site about Jesus' divinity: Is Jesus God?
Here is a good video if you have time to spend on it: James White on the Trinity.
Top of page Who Is the Holy Spirit?
The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit has attributes of God, as well as attributes of personhood. This is why the Holy Spirit is considered by Christians to be the third "person" of the Trinity. [Read any or all of the following passages referring to the Holy Spirit.]
References to the Holy Spirit (or Spirit or Holy Ghost or Helper) are found throughout the Bible—from Genesis to Revelation. The Holy Spirit is specifically referred to as God (Acts 5:3-4). The Holy Spirit is eternal, having neither a beginning nor end (Hebrews 9:14). He is omnipotent, having all power (Luke 1:35). He was active in creation (Genesis 1:2). He is omnipresent, being everywhere at the same time (Psalm 139:7). And he is omniscient, understanding all matters (1 Corinthians 2:10-11). He gives life (Job 33:4; Psalm 104:30). He is seen as God’s presence in the hearts of each believer (Psalm 51:11, Romans 8:9-11). He is the origin of supernatural abilities (Genesis 41:38). He gives people special attributes including artistic skill (Exodus 31:2-5) and spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1-31). He is the source of power and strength (Judges 3:9-10; Micah 3:8) as well as prophecy (1 Samuel 19:20-23).
The Holy Spirit is active in the salvation of a person. He regenerates us (John 3:5-8; Titus 3:5). He transforms us (2 Corinthians 3:18). He also sanctifies the believer (Galatians 5:16-23; 2 Thessalonians 2:13). He pours out God's love in the heart (Romans 5:5). He seals God’s promise in believers’ hearts (Ephesians 1:13-14). It is through the Holy Spirit's work, supplementing the word, that we have knowledge of the truth (1 Thessalonians 1:5). It is the Holy Spirit within us who gives believers conviction of the truth of Christianity (1 John 2:20,27; 1 John 4:13; John 14:16,17,20). He convinces us of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:7-11). He strengthens the inner being (Ephesians 3:16). He changes the heart (Romans 2:29). And he shapes the individual’s and community’s life to Christ’s (Romans 8:1-17). Indeed, it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that we have hope (Romans 15:13). If it weren't for the work of the Holy Spirit, no one would ever become a Christian (Romans 3:10-11)!
The Bible also teaches that the Holy Spirit has attributes of a person. The Holy Spirit speaks and uses a personal pronoun of himself; he can be obeyed (Matthew 3:16-17; Acts 13:2). He has a mind/searches (1 Corinthians 2:10). He has emotions/may be grieved (Ephesians 4:30). He has a will (John 16:7). He teaches (John 14:26). He enlightens (Ephesians 1:17-18). He testifies (John 15:26). He guides and declares the truth about Christ (John 16:13-14). He issues commands (Acts 8:29; 16:6-7). He makes intercession (Romans 8:26-27). He appoints (Acts 20:28). He reproves and convicts of sin (John 16:8). He endows with power for the gospel proclamation (Acts 1:8).
Top of page The Trinity
The Bible makes it clear that there is only one God (Deuteronomy 4:35, 6:4, 32:39; Isaiah 43:10, 44:6,8, 45:5, 6; John 1:1; 1 Corinthians 8:4,6). But it also makes clear that there are three personal agents acting together--Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each has divinity and aspects of personhood. While this doctrine is difficult for some, analogies might be helpful: Water has three states—solid, liquid, and gas. All three are the same chemically. But this analogy is incomplete because the persons of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)—unlike water—all exist at the same time. Another analogy is that there are three aspects to the universe, all existing at the same time: space, time, and matter. While analogies do not correctly reflect the doctrine of the Trinity, they help some people to grasp it.
Actually, many people, including some Christians misunderstand the Trinity. First, it should be emphasized that The Trinity is not about three Gods. Rather Christianity reflects that God is “one God in three persons.” Jesus, as the second person of the Trinity has the same nature and essence as God the Father (John 1:1-3, 17:3-5; Colossians 1:15-20; Philippians 2:5-7; Hebrews 1:1-4), but is lower in role and rank than the Father (Matthew 26:39; John 5:30; John 14:28). Jesus and the Holy Spirit can be seen as being similar to the light and heat that emanate from the sun. The light and heat are not the sun, but they are of the same nature and essence as the sun.
The term "person" may be confusing. Obviously God the Father is not a person. The word person is used more in the sense of "personhood" or "personality." Each member of the Trinity exhibits certain characteristics that we assign to a person.
The Trinity is a deduction from Scripture that fully melds all that it says about the nature of God. While the term “Trinity” is not used in the Bible, the concept is found throughout the Bible. In the Old Testament we find God as plural: "Then God said, let us make man in our image" (Genesis 1:26). And we see the Holy Spirit and the Messiah along side God in such passages as Isaiah 11:2, 42:1, and 61:1-2. In the New Testament, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are named together in history (Matthew 3:16-17; Luke 4:17-21 where Jesus referenced Isaiah 61; John 14:16-20; Acts 2:32-33), in benedictions (2 Corinthians 13:14; Revelation 1:4-6), in acknowledgements of God (1 Peter 1:1-2; 1 John 5:6-12), in the work of salvation (Romans 8:1-11; Ephesians 3:1-14; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14), and in the formula for baptism (Matthew 28:19).
You may wish to take the time to look up each of the above passages, as well as to read the sections in the Christian Cram Course about Jesus and the Holy Spirit, if you want to study the doctrine of the Trinity further.
Here are a couple of helpful links:
Top of page Heaven and Hell
There are different views of heaven and hell. We offer here the view that we think is the most biblical. The topic of hell, especially, is one in which the King James Version has confused readers for a long time. The word "hell" actually does not appear in the Bible. The Greek language (Greek being the language of the New Testament) has two different words: "hades" and "gehenna." But the KJV translates both of them as "hell." Most modern translations have made a partial correction, and you will see both words hades and hell in English versions of the New Testament. Thus, in most modern translations, the Greek word hades is usually kept as "hades" in English, while the Greek word gehenna is substituted (not translated) as the word "hell."
Hades appears in the New Testament eleven times. The more significant passages that seem to related to the concept of hades, even if the word is not specifically mentioned, are Luke 16:22-23 ( Abraham's side/bosom), Luke 23:43 (paradise), Acts 2:24-32 (Jesus was not held by it), Ephesians 4:8-10 (descended to the lower parts of the earth), 1 Peter 3:18-20, 4:6 (Christ's proclamation to the "spirits in prison"), and Revelation 20:13-14 (death and hades thrown into the lake of fire). You might want to take the time to look up each of these passages.
It seems that hades was a temporary abode of the dead. People resided in hades until Jesus' Parousia ("Second Coming" or "Effectual Divine Presence"), which we are persuaded happened in AD 70. The "Second Coming" was never to be a bodily appearance of Jesus, but rather a "coming in judgment" against Old Covenant Israel, just as YWWH came in judgment numerous times in the Old Testament. (See our Bible prophecy website Prophecy Questions.) Those people who were dead at the Second Coming in AD 70, left hades and went to either heaven or hell (gehenna) for eternity.
Now, this gets even more interesting but controversial. Some Christian scholars are convinced that hell is not, in fact, a place of eternal conscious punishment as is the popular view. Gehenna was an actual place outside of Jerusalem where waste was deposited and burned. So, some argue that Jesus used gehenna-hell as a metaphor for the total destruction of the damned, rather than a place of eternal punishment. This view is usually called annihilationism. It appears to be rapidly gaining acceptance among Christians.
The book of Revelation is relevant to this discussion. While this may be surprising to you, there are over 30 passages in the book that demand that its fulfillment was in the first century! Examples include Revelation 1:1-3 and Revelation 22:6, 10, 12, 20. Revelation 20 reveals that hades was abolished at the Second Coming in AD 70: "Then death and hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire." (Revelation 20:12-15)
Those people who die subsequent to AD 70 go directly to heaven or to gehenna. Hebrews 9:27 says, "And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment." Thus, men do not wait in a temporary place until the end of time to be judged, as many Christians think. For the record, God continues to judge individuals and nations too. See Numbers 32:23; 2 Chronicles 7:14; Job 12:23; Psalm 9:17-20, 33:12, 110:6; Proverbs 14:34; Isaiah 2:4, 60:12; Micah 4:3; John 3:36; Acts 10:42-43; Romans 1:18-2:16, 6:23, 12:19, 14:12, 2 Corinthians 5:10; Galatians 6:7; Ephesians 5:3-6; Hebrews 13:4; Revelation 2:10, 14:13, 21:8, 22:14-15. Indeed, God's wrath is mentioned some forty-six times in the New Testament.
The Bible teaches that our hope lies in heaven. Believers may have confidence that when we die we will immediately begin eternity in heaven with Jesus. If you wish to look up passages about heave, there is a fairly comprehensive list: Nehemiah 9:6; Job 19:26; Psalm 23:6, 33:13-14, 49:14-15, 89:5, 103:4; Daniel 12:1-2; Matthew 5:8, 12, 6:9, 8:11, 18:10, 22:30; Mark 12:25, 16:19; Luke 6:23, 23:43; John 1:32, 3:13-16, 6:38, 11:24-26, 14:1-6, 17:24; Acts 23:6-8; Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 2:9, 13:12, 15:12-20, 35-54; 2 Corinthians 4:14-18, 5:1-10; Ephesians 1:20, 4:10; Philippians 1:19-23, 3:10-14, 20-21: Colossians 1:5, 20, 3:2; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-16, 5:8-11; 2 Timothy 4:18; Titus 1:2, 3:7; Hebrews 8:1, 9:24, 11:13-16; 1 Peter 1:3-9, 22; Revelation 11:12, 14:1-13, 19:1-9, 22:8-9.
There are several reasons why we believe that heaven and "hell" really do exist. First, much of the information we have about them comes from Jesus himself. Hell and judgment are common themes from the lips of Jesus. And we believe that Jesus is reliable.
Second, if a just God really exists, ultimate justice must exist. It is obvious that many people do not receive justice on earth. So, a just God would make sure that everyone receives his due reward after life on this earth.
Specifically regarding hell, rejecting our creator God must surely demand the harshest punishment imaginable. Further, to be “saved” implies that we are saved from something to something. Reward in heaven only makes maximum sense as a reward if the punishment is very much worth avoiding.
Some people say something like, “My God would not send anyone to hell.” The person who makes such a statement is correct. His God wouldn’t do that—because his God is a figment of his imagination. The Bible makes it clear that God is just and that heaven and hell are real.
See also our articles The Biblical Last Days.
The next question is obvious. How does one get to heaven or hell? Please read on.
Top of page How Can We Be Forgiven? The Good News!
Read Isaiah 53:1-6; Acts 10:43; Acts 13:38; Romans 5:1-20; 1 Corinthians 15:1-8; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:13-14; Colossians 2:13-14; 1 Peter 3:18.
This is "The Gospel”—the glorious good news. You can have forgiveness for your sins through Jesus. He died for our sins. This is what theologians call the “atonement.” He took OUR punishment and paid OUR debt.
To fully appreciate this, Jesus lived a sinless life for us. This is one reason why Jesus is so important. No one else has ever lived a perfect life. His closest companions confirmed his perfect life (1 Peter 1:19; 1 Peter 2:21-24; 1 John 2:1, 3:5). Even his enemies acknowledged his innocent life (Matthew 27:3-4; Luke 23:14-15). Secular historians and other non-Christians even attest to his good, pure, and moral life. Romans 5:19 says that the obedience of Jesus makes us righteous! God counts us as being righteous, even though we do not deserve it. Jesus understands our predicament as he was tempted by sin, yet never succumbed to it. Read Hebrews 4:14-15. The righteous Jesus suffered for us unrighteous sinners. Read 1 Peter 3:18.
A fancy biblical term is “reconciliation.” The Bible says that through Christ, God has reconciled us to himself. This means that God no longer counts our sins against us, as it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21.
It is important that it was a perfect man who received the punishment for us imperfect humans. Another theological term used in the Bible is “justified” (or “justification”), which means we have been declared holy through Christ—his perfect life and finished work on the cross. The words justification and justice have the same root word and are thus related in meaning. Justification means that justice—which is deserved by our sin—has been accomplished by Christ paying the penalty for our sin by suffering and dying on the cross for us! Christ’s death on the cross paid the full price for all sins ever committed by anyone who ever lived—including you and me! Through faith in Jesus you are now forgiven every sin because Jesus died for you. See Romans 4:22-25 and Romans 10:8-10. But there is more...
Let’s pause here and think about the concepts we have outlined up to now. They are important to really understanding the Bible. Here is a summary: God created everything good, which was spoiled by man’s sin, whereby a loving and holy God sent his son to pay the penalty for our sin. On reflection, can you agree that this outline as a theological construct is logically consistent? In other words, does it make sense in light of how an omnipotent and loving God would be expected to deal with his imperfect creatures of free will?
Perhaps the concept can be emphasized through a story: It is said that there were two boys who grew up together as fast friends. But as time went by, one of the boys became a criminal. The other boy went to law school and eventually became a judge. As it happened, the wayward fellow was arrested and appeared in the court of his old friend who was the judge. The judge heard the case, and found his dear friend guilty. He sentenced his friend to a fine of $1,000,000—an amount that the man could never, ever pay.
As the trial came to a close, the judge said to his friend, “While I find you guilty as charged, I want you to know how much I still love you.” He then stepped down off the bench, walked over to the bailiff, and wrote a personal check for $1,000,000 to satisfy in full the penalty of his friend.
So it is with God. As man rebelled against him, an insurmountable chasm separated man from his maker because of his sin. While the debt had to be paid somehow, God sent his only son to suffer and die a horrible death on the cross for our sin. Our debt has been paid.
Top of page The Resurrection
Read Luke 9:21-22; Luke 18:31-34; Luke 24:1-49
The capstone of the Christian faith is the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus had told his disciples several times that he would suffer death and be raised to life again. But at the time they had no idea what he was talking about.
The resurrection was not just some hallucination or a spiritual resurrection, as some have claimed. The Bible records that Jesus appeared in the flesh to at least 515 people. There are over two dozen appearance accounts in Scripture. If you would like to look them all up, here they are: Matthew 28:1-8, 9-10, 16-20; Mark 16:1-8, 9-11, 12-13, 14, 15-18; Luke 24:1-12, 13-32, 34, 36-43, 50-51; John 20:1-10, 11-18, 19-25, 26-31; John 21:1-14; Acts 1:3-9; Acts 9:1-19; Acts 22:3-16; Acts 26:9-18; 1 Corinthians 15:5, 6, 7; 1 Corinthians 9:1. There is no doubt, even among skeptical scholars, that many people absolutely believed that they saw the risen Jesus in bodily form. Their complete confidence in this event turned the frightened bunch of forlorn disciples into the force that propelled Christianity throughout the known world in just a few years.
People have tried to explain away this seminal event of history. But the best legal minds in history have studied the testimony of the eye witnesses and have found them to be convincing. If you would like to study further what modern scholars believe about the resurrection, we have an article on our website that you may read:
Read Acts 2:24; 1 Corinthians 6:14; 1 Corinthians 15:1-58; 1 Thessalonians 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:10; 1 Peter 1:3.
The importance of this event to your own life cannot be understated. It confirms who Jesus is, and validates his mission. Christ’s resurrection provides hope for eternal life. No matter who you are, or what you have done, you have hope for eternal life through the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ.
Top of page Eternal Salvation
There are two crucial questions that everyone should be prepared to answer. Please consider these for a moment:
- What if you died tonight and found yourself at the judgment seat. When God asks you, “Why should I let you into my heaven?”—how will you answer?
- Have you come to the point in your thinking that you are certain whether you will go to heaven?
The most important question that a person must face is how he will spend eternity. Sadly, many people—even many professing Christians—are not sure about their eternal destiny, nor are they aware of the answers the Bible gives to these ultimate questions. This question in theological terms is referred to as soteriology—the doctrine of how we are “saved” or how we get to heaven. Related to this is the doctrine of justification—how we become righteous in God's eyes.
We may also ask, what are we saved from? We are saved from the wrath of God, the dominion of sin, and the power of death (Nahum 1:2-6; Romans 1:18, 2:5; Revelation 20:15).
There are several ways that people may answer these questions. If your answer is that you expect to get to heaven because you are basically a “good” person, the answer fails the test. That particular answer is clearly a non-Christian answer. Based on some of the material we have gone over, man is separated from God because of his sinfulness. Christianity is unique in teaching that man is by nature sinful, not good by nature. This certainly does not mean that man can do no good whatsoever, but that every aspect of our lives is touched by sin. We are guilty before God and deserve his wrath.
Some religions—such as Islam—would answer the questions by focusing on the good that they in fact do. This is different from the previous answer in that it does not address our nature, but rather it suggests that surely we must be able to do enough good for a loving God to let us in to heaven. But such religions fail to appreciate the depth of the separation of man from God. In reality, members of every religion fall short of even their own rules. Fifty-one percent won’t get you out of junior high, let alone into heaven.
Further examples of inadequate answers might be: living a decent life, loving your fellow man, born into a Christian family, attending church, performing religious rituals, etc. These are wrong answers because the Bible makes it clear that nobody is good enough. Remember the Bible verses above about man’s sin? No one can even begin to stand before a holy God and proclaim self-sufficient adequacy.
There are over 250 passages of Scripture that apply concerning the question of whom God will “save” from his wrath, destruction, and punishment in hell. As a sample, read the verses below. As you will read, you will note that there are several different concepts involved in this question. One concept is grace, that is, salvation as God’s unmerited favor or gift—thus it is by God’s mercy that some are saved. Another concept is faith—the Bible is clear that faith in Christ is the link to salvation. Another concept is repentance, that is to acknowledge your sins and forsake them. Another concept is election, which means that God in some sense (that is not fully defined for us) predestines his particular favor on some people for his sole purpose. And still another important factor is obedience or good works.
Read Psalm 103:11-19; Matthew 7:12-27; Mark 16:16; Luke 13:3-5; Luke 24:47; John 3:15-18; John 6:40; John 8:51; John 11:25-26; John 15:1-11; Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19; Acts 17:30; Romans 1:16; Romans 2:5-13; Romans 3:21-26; Romans 6:23; Romans 8:28-30; Romans 10:9-10; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Corinthians 13:2; 2 Corinthians 7:10; Galatians 3:1-29; Ephesians 1:3-11; Ephesians 2:1-10; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9; 2 Timothy 1:8-12; Titus 3:4-7; Hebrews 10:24-27; James 2:14-26; 2 Peter 1:10-11; 1 John 1:6-9; 1 John 2:15-17; 1 John 4:21.
In these passages we find commands to repentence, faith, love, baptism and righteous living. These concepts are not contradictory but complementary. There are two sides to this coin. Faith is the dominant concept. But, if one truly believes in Jesus and receives him as Savior, he will also accept him as Lord—that is, Master—of his life. Belief will manifest itself. For example, true remorse for one’s sinful condition will lead to repentance. The believer will acknowledge his sinful condition, will forsake his sins, and will put his trust in Christ for his whole life. One cannot turn toward Jesus without turning away from a life of sin—however imperfectly we humans are able.
The question for theologians down through the ages is just how to summarize all the different passages and concepts in a compact unified view. How are we to understand the biblical requirements of faith and works? This question is the primary reason why there are divisions within Christianity. There are at least four basic approaches within orthodox Christianity which we will by necessity greatly oversimplify as follows:
- Catholicism. Catholic Christians emphasize that we are saved by grace infused with meritorious works and sacraments.
- Calvinism. Calvinists—as represented by most Presbyterians, some "reformed" (that is, Calvinistic) Baptists, and others—emphasize God’s sovereign power and election toward those who will be saved.
- Arminianism. Arminians—as represented historically by Methodists, some Baptists, some Bible churches, and others—emphasize man’s free will and thus man’s ability to respond to God’s offer of salvation or to reject it.
- Lutheranism. Lutherans emphasize God’s grace and the work of the Holy Spirit in conversion, but also allow for man's free will to reject the gospel.
It is unfortunate that Christians continue to divide themselves over doctrine. The Bible calls us to unity (Jn 17:20-23; Rom 15:5-7; 1 Cor 1:10; Eph 4:1-16; Php 1:27; Col 3:12-16). These divisions are further evidence of man’s sinful proclivities. It seems we cannot help but bicker, even among Christian brothers. This topic is a classic example of how people will emphasize some passages of Scripture over others to develop doctrine. Views become entrenched based on pre-conceived notions and denominational tradition.
Our comments will attempt to unify the views as much as possible. A complete view must harmonize all of the Bible’s teaching on the topic. Doctrinal differences are primarily over the respective roles of faith and works. Here are a few points that often come up in this discussion:
- Salavation is a free gift from God. Notice how often Paul emphasizes this in these passages (from the New American Standard Bible): Free Gift. If it is indeed free, our salvation does not depend on obedience per se.
- When the Bible says that we are not saved by “works” (Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, etc.) it is generally referring to works of the Levitical Law of the Old Testament. The New Testament abrogates the ceremonial, dietary laws, and civil laws of the Old Testament. But this does not mean that obedience to God’s moral commands is unimportant. Jesus, in fact, strengthened biblical commands for Christian living! The sin of adultery now includes lust (Matthew 5:27-28). In Matthew 5:21-22 and 1 John 3:15 we see that the sin of murder actually includes hatred! See The Status of Law in the New Covenant.
- When the Bible says that we are saved by believing in Jesus (John 3:16, etc), it is implied in the original Greek language that to believe "in" (Greek word eis) Jesus means more than intellectual assent. It means to believe “into” Jesus. In other words, it means to accept what Jesus says so fully and completely that you will obey his commands, however imperfectly we humans are able.
- An important passage is James (James 2:14-26), which says that we are not saved by faith alone. But there are some clues on how to understand this. James 2:14, as translated by the New International Version of the Bible says, “Can such faith [a faith without good deeds] save him?” This suggests that there is a correct faith and an incorrect faith. James also uses the phrase, "If someone says he has faith (but does not have works)" which implies that just because someone says they have faith it does not mean that they have a sincere saving faith. He says that even the demons have what we might call head knowledge of God, but they do not have the type of faith that trusts in God. James goes on to explain in this passage that faith without works is “dead.” Thus we conclude that James is telling us that an empty faith does not save us, that we can tell if someone has a true faith by their good deeds which are evidence of a true saving faith.
The belief that saves us can be defined as "putting your trust in." Some English translations use the term "trust" in Jesus for salvation (Romans 4:5), which has a deeper meaning than merely believing a few facts about Jesus. Note that the demons also believe (James 2:19). In other words, they know that Jesus is God. However, they are not saved because they do not "put their trust" in Jesus.
This all gets a bit delicate in its interpretation. A saving faith will produce good works. This is not to say that it is the works themselves that produce salvation. Nor is it to say that we can boast about our good works, which will always be inadequate. The Protestant reformers put it this way—salvation is through faith alone, but not through a faith that is alone. A “faith” that is not accompanied by a righteous life is referred to as a “said” faith. In other words, anyone can say that they have faith—say that they are a Christian—but if that “faith” does not produce obedience consistent with biblical teaching, its legitimacy comes into question. As Jesus said, every good tree will produce good fruit.
The implications are important. A mere profession of faith is inadequate. If someone is not striving diligently in his Christian walk, if his life is no different from before his conversion or different from those who live outside the faith, his conversion may be false. This does not mean that once we become a Christian we are instantly a great person. Indeed, the more spiritual we become, the more we see our shortcomings. Conforming to God’s will is a lifetime process of learning and improving; there will be ups and downs. The spiritual life is one of direction rather than perfection. Only God knows the heart, but the Bible is clear that a true saving faith implies a serious commitment to live one’s life in a biblical way.
The Bible teaches that it is only by the grace of God that man can respond in faith and obedience. Yet, respond he must. A good biblical understanding of the Protestant view is presented by Calvinist theologians Robert A. Peterson and Michael D. Williams (in the book Why I Am Not An Arminian), summarized below:
Calvinists and Arminians agree that in order to reach heaven, Christians must :
- persevere in believing the gospel (Mt 10:22; Rom 11:17-24; 1 Cor 15:2; Col 1:21-23; Heb 3:6-14)
- love God and other believers (Mt 24:10-13; Jn 15:9, 12, 17)
- and live godly lives, however imperfectly (John 15:10, 14; 2 Thes 1:8; Heb 3:13, 10:35-36, 12:14; 1 Pet 4:17-19; 1 John 2:2-6, 29, 3:3-10)
Easy believism, the view that persons are to be regarded as Christians who have made professions of faith but whose lives are unchanged, is incompatible with biblical teaching. Both God and the believer are fully active in the work of salvation, and active at the same time. God is sovereignly active and man is responsively active.
The difference in the Calvinist and Arminian views is that Calvinists would say the source of perseverance is God’s sovereign control of the lives of the elect, while Arminians would say the source of perseverance is from man’s own free will. (Note: All Christians believe in both the sovereinty of God and the free will of men.) But in any case, perseverance in biblical mandates will be present. Most Catholics, it would seem, should also in general agree with the Peterson/Williams statement, at least as far as it goes.
A biblical formulation of salvation, a view that encompasses all relevant passages of Scripture, might be described by this formula:
Salvation is by God’s grace, through a living, penitent, trusting faith in Jesus Christ as your savior and your lord.
With this formula, there are no passages of Scripture that need be ignored or explained away to understand the full counsel of what Scripture actually teaches. For a comprehensive list of passages on justification, contact us.
Another possible way to put these concepts into a simple formula is to say that the faith that brings salvation has 3 components:
- BELIEVE. "Truly I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life." (John 6:47).
- REPENT. "...repentence for forgiveness of sins" (Mark 1:4).
- FOLLOW. "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (John 3:36)
Most Lutherans (and some other Protestants), however, are uncomfortable with the above formulas because they feel that they could be too easily misunderstood. They would say that one might incorrectly infer from these that we are saved by the works implied in the formulas. We simply can never be good enough to be saved by our own efforts. Rather, in regards to a simple formulation of justification, Lutherans would simply quote Ephesians 2:8-9,
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Yet Lutherans agree that good works are important because they are commanded by God, and that “it is impossible to separate works from faith just as it is impossible for heat and light to be separated from fire.” (Quote from Martin Luther, Book of Concord) Further, they agree that a true living faith is never alone as it always works by love, so that good works are always found with true faith. They also say that the will of the converted man cooperates in all the works of the Holy Spirit. And since they believe that one can fall away from the faith, they also agree that perseverance is necessary.
And Lutherans insist that the Bible teaches that good works follow faith as gratitude for what Christ has done for us from his finished work on the cross. The power to live a sanctified (holy) life, to Lutherans, comes from the Holy Spirit, not from human strength. It is faith—not good works—by which one receives salvation and by which salvation is preserved. In other words, we obey because we are saved, not that we are saved because we obey.
We would emphasize the general agreement, rather than the disagreements, on these issues among orthodox Christians—Catholic and Protestant. We are saved by grace through a living faith in Jesus Christ alone, while warning that anyone who thinks they are saved by a mere profession of faith without seeking to be obedient to Christ and his church has a false sense of security.
Again, it is faith that is the tool that links us to God. Someone may complain that they just do not have enough faith. But it is not the amount of faith, but the object of your faith—Jesus Christ—that is important.
Others may say that they find it difficult to have faith. Yet you can have faith. There is so much evidence for the Christian faith—through nature, conscience, history, the Bible, and the person of Jesus Christ. Much of our website is dedicated to an examination of the evidence for the Christian faith and one is invited to explore it.
This discussion always brings up the question, "Is Jesus the only way to God." Or, "What about the innocent people who never heard of Jesus?" We address these issues elsewhere on our website. But let us just say a couple of things about this here. First, because of man's sinful nature, it is a wonder that God provided a way for anyone to be saved. There are no innocent people.
Further, we do not think that the Bible teaches that people who have not heard the gospel are necessarily condemned or that all non-Christians are condemned. That is a possible inference, but not a necessary one. The Bible says that Jesus died for all mankind, and we do not really know for sure from the Bible about people who never heard about Jesus. We believe that God will be perfectly fair in such matters. But the Bible does make quite clear that anyone who has heard of Jesus and then rejects him is doomed. We cited various Bible passages earlier in the study. That is tantamount to rejecting God and his offer of salvation.
It is clear from the Bible that we must repent and trust Christ to be saved. But some may still ask, how can I know that I am a Christian? Here's a 3-part test:
- Have I made a profession of faith to Jesus Christ as the Lord and savior of my life, and been baptized as an outward sign of becoming a member of the Christian community?
- Do I feel that the Holy Spirit is working in my life?
- While still a sinner, am I becoming more Christ-like over time? Is my level of love and obedience greater now than a few years ago?
For a further discussion of how faith and good works operate together, see these articles:
To see if you have a true saving faith, see these tests of genuine salvation:
Top of page Living a Christian Life
What is the purpose of life? Read 1 Corinthians 10:31. The purpose of life is to glorify God.
Put another way, the purpose of life on earth is to prepare for eternity. Our time on earth is a blink of an eye, compared to the trillions of years of eternity. Jesus explains that our job is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Read Mark 12:28-31.
Also read Luke 6:17-49 for a deeper picture of what Jesus tells us about living a life as his disciple. This passage is a beautiful section from The Message Bible, a paraphrased Bible in modern English.
When we fully appreciate what God has done for us, good works come as a natural result. There will be a change of heart as well as a change in the actions of a true Christian. Read Romans 12:1-12.
Do we suddenly start living perfect lives when we receive Christ’s gift of salvation? No. We each, until our dying day, will still struggle with sin. We are lazy at times, apathetic at times, hurtful, and imperfect in our thoughts, words, and deeds. Yet the Holy Spirit does change us; indeed we have a desire to live our life differently. He gives us a conscience so that Christ’s love can be demonstrated in our lives, with patience, joy, and peace in our souls. The Christian cannot fully escape his sinful nature, but he can improve. If you claim to be a Christian, yet your life is no different from others around you except perhaps that you go to church on Sunday, you must examine the sincerity—the authenticity—of your faith.
Non-Christians sometimes accuse Christians of being hypocrites. Indeed, if you don’t like hypocrites, you have a lot in common with Jesus (Matthew 23:13-39). But there is a difference between a hypocrite and a sinner. A sinner acknowledges his sin and works to correct his shortcomings. While all Christians are imperfect, we should be in constant prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17) to ask God’s help to live our lives without hypocrisy and self-righteousness, but rather in humility and service.
While the life of a Christian is one of contentment in the knowledge of truth, the Bible does not teach the idea of "easy-believism." True faith in Jesus as your savior, Lord, and friend implies a commitment to being a life-long disciple of Jesus.
How can you tell if you are a disciple of Jesus? Here are some questions to consider. Are you excited about your faith? Are you constantly thinking about how you can be a better follower of Jesus? (Beware of a lukewarm attitude. Read these words of Jesus: Revelation 3:16.) Do you have a hunger for God’s word? Do you look at things the way you see them, or the way God sees them? Are you running to a goal you set, or a goal God set for you? Do you try hard to love your neighbor as yourself? Are you seeking ways to serve the less fortunate, encourage people you meet, and avoid gossip? Are you regularly confessing your sins to God? Examine yourself. (Read 2 Corinthians 13:5.) Does your life provide other evidences of a true faith?
Billy Graham said that once you become a Christian, your conscience demands that you conform to a godly life. If there was an objective analysis of you, would you on balance be characterized as a consistently honest person rather than a deceiver? Would you be thought a happy and loving person rather than an angry one? Would you be considered a helpful person or a selfish person? Would you be considered disciplined and diligent rather than out-of-control? Modest versus provocative? Or what about being a faithful person rather than an unfaithful one? Are you able to love your enemy and rid yourself of feelings of revenge? Or, how about this—can you keep your overambition in check? (We know the CEO of a publicly traded company that when he became a Christian went to many of his employees individually to apologize for running roughshod over them in the past.)
These things are not easy! None of us really measures up. Consideration of these things makes us uneasy as it reminds us how far we may have fallen short in the past. But because wishy-washy Christianity is taught in so many corners, we are compelled to emphasize the importance of striving to become a living disciple of the one who gave his life for us. It is a lifelong walk with Jesus that helps us continue to improve. But it is also a fact that true happiness comes from being a disciple of Jesus.
Being an ambassador for Christ is perhaps one of the most important works for a Christian. Read Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15. Christ’s call for evangelism was among his final instructions; it must have been extremely important to him. If you claim to be a Christian, do you regularly tell others about Jesus?
Another evidence that you have been truly saved is that you will have a love for other Christians. Read 1 John 3:14. You will want to fellowship with them. The person who says that they can live without the church is like milk that has been left out of the fridge to sour.
The concept of producing good fruit serves as a measure of a church as well as an individual. No church is perfect to be sure. And our inability to be all things to all people, even in strong Christian families and churches, will still produce imperfect results. But the overall health of a church is observable by its fruits—its spiritual health in its youth, its low rate of divorce and abortion, etc.
The Bible gives us more information about being a Christian. Having faith in Christ transforms our life. We have new hope, and it all starts now and will continue into eternity. The following additional passages describe more of the heart and actions of the one who is a child of God. Please Read these passages:
- Psalm 41:1 and Matthew 25:31-46. Many passages of Scripture call on us to aid the weak and provide justice for the innocent.
- Psalm 51:10. For thousands of years, godly people have been praying this prayer for a clean heart.
- Matthew 5:13-16. Compassion dictates that the Christian will work to influence society in positive ways—to be salt and light, preserving and illuminating the culture. As it says in the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) God would have his will done on earth as it is in heaven.
- Romans 12:20-21. What a beautiful approach to life!
- 2 Corinthians 9:6-15. Be a cheerful giver.
- 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. Here is another famous passage of Scripture, again from St. Paul. What more can be said of the greatest of all virtues—love?
- Philippians 4:8-9. The Bible calls us to noble things. Also one of St. Paul’s beautiful passages, this passage has inspired Christians through the ages to keep coming back to Scripture for emotional nourishment.
Can you imagine what a wonderful world we would live in if everybody followed these teachings?
Many lives were saved because of the dangerous efforts of Corrie Ten Boom’s family who worked to protect Jews from the Nazis. In 1944 Corrie and her family were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Members of her family died in the death camps. Yet she preached the love of Jesus to other prisoners as well as her captors, and as she put it she “watched many people die with Jesus on their lips.” Jesus taught us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-45). This is an extremely difficult ethic to put into practice. Corrie said that while she by herself could not love those who persecuted her, Jesus living inside her could do so. She said, “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still,” and “God will give us the love to be able to forgive our enemies.” She also said that it is not enough just to “be” a Christian; once becoming a Christian one must “cash the check” of faith and live out the Bible’s promises.
Top of page Prayer—Communication with God
Most people pray—but to whom do they pray? Not all prayer is equal. A dramatic example of futile prayer is found in 1 Kings 18:20-38 (Read). Here we learn of Baal worshippers. When the Baal worshippers prayed to Baal nothing happened. But when Elijah prayed to the true God, his prayer was answered–in a dramatic way! God sent fire down to burn a water-soaked wood offering. The Bible also teaches that it is possible for us to sabotage our own prayers by our disobedience, wrong motives, and insincerity!
God invented prayer and He infuses it with power. Because Jesus is our caring advocate who offers His own perfection for our flaws, we are able to pray with confidence to the one true God. We are certainly urged to pray in Scripture (“Pray without ceasing.”) In fact, Jesus taught us to pray (Lord’s prayer). So it seems for a Christian that it is certainly something we ought to do. Our prayers flow from our meditation on Scripture. Speaking back to God His words and promises is the essence of prayer—praising God in all His attributes. He also wants us to bring our every need and concern to Him. We have a relationship with Him through Christ. He is now our best friend and approachable. So there is an aspect of just wanting to talk with Him, just as we would our earthly best friend. So prayer could be described as a lifestyle, an outward demonstration of inward faith.
There is no “magic” prayer formula to make God do what we want Him to do. It is not like tossing dice. But prayer should first contain praise and adoration for God. This sets the stage of humility in us. Bringing our requests to God in prayer changes us, rather our attempt to change God. By seeking God and trusting in him we see our problems and joys in the light of God—not our human condition. Of course we are still human, but an attitude adjustment happens. Prayer gives us a more eternal perspective.
Are prayers always answered? Yes, they are answered. The three answers are: Yes, No, Wait. God answers our prayers as He will. The fact that He hears us is a great comfort. He will give us what we need, not necessarily what we want. God carries out His eternal will in our prayers.
The Bible is full of examples of prayer. Moses prayed as the Children of Israel journeyed through the desert. Jesus often went off by Himself to pray. It was a personal, direct communication with God the Father. And Jesus prayed for His church. John 17 (please Read) is often referred to as Jesus’ “high priestly prayer.” And the apostles “devoted themselves to…breaking of bread and prayer.” The book of Acts is full of examples of prayer.
A prime example of prayer is David, the King of Israel, and arguably one of the most powerful men in history. He wrote many prayers that are recorded in the book of Psalms. David is referred to as a “man after [God’s] own heart.” (1 Samuel 13:14) Truly his 23rd Psalm is a profession of David’s trust in the Lord as the good Shepherd-King. David relied on God for his military conquests (including Goliath). He honored and obeyed God in the building of a temple for worship. David was submissive and pure in character in his interaction with Saul and others—most of the time. But David was flawed (very human just as you and me). David disobeyed God’s instructions at times. He committed adultery, even arranged for the death of his lover’s husband!
David confesses his sins with the confidence that the Lord will forgive. He pledges to change his wicked ways. If an adulterer, liar, murderer can be forgiven and still be called a “man after [God’s] own heart”, then each of us has the same hope. Read Psalm 44 as a vivid example of David’s pleadings to God. In Psalm 55:17, David says, “Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and He hears my voice.” And many of the psalms are poetic praises to God that were sung with instruments. You may wish to Read for yourself a sampling:
- David confesses and prays for a “right heart,” the right skill set for leadership (Psalm 51)
- Thanks and praise to God for his saving help (Psalm 66, 75)
- Confession of confidence in God (Psalm 11, 16, 52)
- Praising God’s virtue (Psalm 8, 19, 29, 65, 47, 93-99)
- Individual prayers (Psalm 3,6,7)
- Community prayers (Psalm 12, 44, 79)
We learn much about prayer from the people in Scripture. Great leaders and everyday believers “talked” with God. The same opportunity is available to us today. Our lives can be a constant conversation with God. God is ready to hear us. And we will be changed, transformed. Prayer brings an intimacy with God, a peace and joy available to us all.
You Can Begin Again
Read Luke 15:11-32.
Jesus often taught through parables. A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning to illustrate a point. We began our study with one of his parables, and we shall end it with one. This one is “The Parable of the Lost Son.”
Parables may have multiple messages. And there are various messages in both of these parables. But Jesus wants you to know that it is never too late to become his follower. You can begin your new life in Christ today.
Top of page Why Become a Christian
Read John 8:32
There are many benefits to becoming a Christian. Every person wonders about eternal things. It is no small matter that you can have the confidence that you will know the truth, and the truth will indeed set you free. It is comforting to have the confidence that there is more to life than the daily grind. Only Christianity offers a worldview with a philosophical explanation and rational defense of its teachings. As a Christian you will have the foundation in truth to help you make good decisions for your life and to get you through the tough times.
Read John 3:16, 10:10
An important part of that truth is that, in fact, you can look forward to an eternity in the blissful presence with God in heaven, avoiding his eternal wrath. Thus Christianity promises deliverance from fate as well as redemption from sin and guilt. The reality of eternal life doesn’t begin after you die, but as soon as you believe. This life is the joy of a real, exciting relationship with Jesus every single day through prayer, worship and living in the strength that God provides through his Holy Spirit.
Read Psalm 16; Galatians 5:22-23
Have you been engaged in the pursuit of happiness for a fairly long time? Do you wonder why you haven't found it? As Dinesh D'Souza asks in his book What's So Great About Christianity, "How long do you intend to continue this joyless search for joy?" True happiness is only found in God. Your life here on earth will no longer be dominated by fear. Instead, your life will be dominated by faith, hope, and love. The passage from Galatians is a great one to memorize. It is simply referred to as the Fruit of the Spirit. Over time, a Christian becomes more Christ-like, enjoying the blessings of renewal.
William Lane Craig in his book Reasonable Faith explains that when our relationship with God is intact, the product in our lives will be righteousness (Romans 6:16), and the by-product of righteousness is happiness. Happiness is an elusive thing and will never be found when pursued directly. It springs into being as one pursues the knowledge of God and as his righteousness is realized in us.
An important related benefit will be the fellowship within a church. Non-Christians, used to superficial relationships, do not appreciate what a bond this can be. Christianity offers a social cohesiveness that provides material assistance and psychological support. While perfection won’t come from imperfect people—we are all sinners—whatever has bonded you to others in the past cannot compare to the bonding within a group of believers in Jesus Christ. This bond extends to all ages, classes and races.
The Bible says, "Delight yourself in the Lord and he will bring you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).
Becoming a Christian is not all a bed of roses. You will falter—continue to face trials and issues, suffering, even persecution or belittlement for your faith. Yet the benefits of becoming Christian include eternal life, a personal relationship with God who gives you love and forgiveness. You will have direction, strength, peace, and purpose in your life. Christianity helps us to cope well with suffering and death. When we are in pain and feeling hopeless, Christianity raises our spirits. Christianity offers a solution to the cosmic loneliness that one feels. For the Christian, death is not so terrifying.
When you trust in Christ as your Lord and Savior, a wonderful thing happens. God forgives you of all your sins. He puts them completely out of his sight. But while it is never too late, it is a highly dangerous thing to put off turning to Christ for salvation, for you do not know the day of your death. What if it happens this evening?
Aren’t there things in your life for which you need forgiveness? Are you perhaps harboring bitterness, resentment, disappointment, or jealousy? Is your life on a collision course with nothingness—or worse yet, disaster? There is so much more to life than the roller coaster you are now on. Are you ready to turn your life over to Jesus Christ?
Deep inside your heart, is there something missing? How can you be fulfilled outside of a relationship with the one who made you? Are you at the point in your life where you recognize that you just cannot do it alone? Salvation is not automatic. It is like a Christmas gift. But you must receive the gift, otherwise it will be like a forgotten unopened present that just sits under the Christmas tree. You must allow the Lord of Life to turn you around. We invite you to join the worldwide fellowship of believers in Jesus Christ—the only answer to man’s struggles. Don’t put it off. You may contact us for a list of biblically based church groups. For the next step, proceed to this link: http://www.needhim.org/.
And so we have covered some highlights of the Bible. At the beginning of the course we said we would answer at least 4 basic questions. Here are the answers:
- What is the origin of mankind—where did we come from? Answer: We were created by God.
- What is our purpose in life? Answer: To glorify God.
- How do we know how to live our life? Answer: The Bible
- How do we get to heaven (and avoid hell)? Answer: Repent and put our trust in Christ.
There is much more to learn and discover about God. We invite you to do just that. Here’s an easy way—set the following link for a daily Bible devotional as your homepage. It will lead you through the entire Bible in two years, a little at a time: ivpress.gospelcom.net/bible
Do you have questions about the Bible? We would be happy to have you email us. Also, here is another site that answers Bible questions: Got Questions? They answer some 1700 questions about the Bible.