This is the story of my Lord, my Savior and my Best Friend, Jesus Christ. Perhaps you have heard of Him? Do you know what He stands for? Do you know what He did for us on the Cross?
Backgrounder on God the Father and our Judeo-Christian World View
In order to understand exactly what Christ did for us on the Cross, we need to agree upon certain fundamental facts regarding the Universe around us. (a) That we were Created by the hand of God Almighty ---Yahweh, Jehovah, Adonai, Elohim, God the Father of Christ (all names for the same God) --- that we came into being as a result of what God did: “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth” [Genesis 1:1] (b) That the God of the Old Testament: Yahweh, G-d is the same as God the Father of Christ Jesus of the New Testament, the God of the Bible. (c) That there are no other valid Gods. All other “so-called” Gods other than the God of the Bible are false or nonexistent. "Now then," said Joshua, "throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel." [Joshua 24:23] I would go so far as to say that no religions other than Judaism and Christianity are valid religions because they are not based upon the one and only true God: the God of the Holy Bible. Anyone who denies this fundamental truth, is in danger of the eternal wrath of God: “And the people said unto Joshua, The LORD our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey. So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God, and took a great stone, and set it up there under an oak, that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. And Joshua said unto all the people, Behold, this stone shall be a witness unto us; for it hath heard all the words of the LORD which he spake unto us: it shall be therefore a witness unto you, lest ye deny your God.” [Joshua 24:24-27]
What Judaism lacked, and why it took Christ to be born
Prior to Christ’s birth, the definition of right and wrong, good and bad, good deeds or sinful deeds, and whether someone would cease to exist at the time of their death or be “written into the book of life” was determined by how closely they followed and kept the Law handed down by God to Moses. The only problem with this was that it required absolute perfection and an absolute and strict adherence to the Jewish Law. According to the Talmud there are 613 mitzvot ("commandments") in the Torah. There are 248 positive mitzvot and 365 negative mitzvot given supplemented by seven mitzvot legislated by the rabbis of antiquity. Unfortunately, we are an imperfect people, full of flaws. As someone once said, “To err is human” and that we often “learn from our mistakes.” Well, under the Law in the Old Testament, there was no room for mistakes; our absolutely powerful God could show us infinite mercy or crush us under his thumb for thinking a sinful thought or for committing a sinful deed. We had nobody to plead to God on our behalf for our iniquities; nobody to take the arrows for us; With the Birth, Death and Resurrection of Christ, if we believe, we have someone to plead on our behalf “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. [Matthew 10:32-33]
Now that we agree on these fundamental facts, let us go on to what Christ did for us on the Cross, and what it means to be a Christian.
Christ as the propitiation for our sin, and substitutionary atonement
God instructed man not to sin. However, very early in his being, man disobeyed God when Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree which God instructed them not to eat from. Ever since this time, man has been disobeying God by all sorts of means such as idol worship, breaking of the commandments which God handed down to Moses, as well as turning away from God and engaging in such things as nature and earth-worship, engaging in fornication, sodomy and adultery, alcoholism, debauchery as well as many other sins against our Holy God. These and other sins incur the wrath of our Holy God. The wrath of God which deserves nothing less than death!!! We have all --- each one of us --- at one time or another in our lives --- sinned. We are all sinners. Whether the sin is a big one, being one of the ones described above, or a little one, such as looking at a woman in lust, coveting the neighbor’s Bentley, or speaking a little white lie, the fact is that we are all sinners and have fallen short of the Glory of God. “..for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ [Romans 3:23] There is none who has not sinned. None except one --- Christ alone. “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” And again He stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst." [John 8:7-9]
So while we all deserve death, and there is nothing we could possibly do to appease, ameliorate, pacify or otherwise do to satisfy an angry God except by spending an eternity in hell, something so enormous has been done for us that we have not only been spared the death penalty, but have been granted a promise of life everlasting. That enormous deed was done some Two Thousand years ago when God sent His only son to die on the Cross for our sins at Calvary. “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” [Philippians 2:8] Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came into the world as a human being (the unique God/man) to be the perfect sacrifice for sin and to make atonement --- propitiation for our sins. “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.” [Romans 3:24-25] To understand this a little better, imagine that you had committed a capital crime and were sentenced to die. You were blindfolded and tied to a tree, with a firing squad squarely taking aim at you, ready to shoot you to death. Terrified you hear the sergeant shout out, “Ready --- Aim --- “ then silence. In a minute, your blindfold comes off, and when you open your eyes, there is Christ tied to the tree and shot in your place. He has taken the bullet for you. He has died in your place. This, my friends, is what our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ did on the Cross, for those who believe in Him --- for those who have received Him as Lord of their lives. How can anything compare to this? How can any love equal this? Christ not only paid the penalty for the sins of His generation, but for all generations to come for those who believe in Him.
Dying to sin: Becoming a new creation; Being Born Again
As we have been saved from a certain eternity in hell, we have a responsibility as Christians not to sin, or at least to consciously do our very best not to sin. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has paid the price for our sins. This does not mean that we can continue sinning. .”...and Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” [John 8:11] When we choose Christ to be our Lord and Savior, we choose to die to sin and to begin a new life. We are figuratively Born Again. “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again." [John 3:3-7] "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." [2 Cor 5:17]
The meaning of life on earth and eternal life promised to us as believers
Non-theists, atheists and agnostics, as well as those who promote a different world view, often wonder, and have difficulty grasping the meaning and purpose of life because they do not know what happens once our life here on earth ends. We know that our time here on earth is very short and ephemeral. Many a philosopher has contemplated the brevity of life on earth. “Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” William Shakespeare. Even the Bible talks about the brevity of life: ”For ye are a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away." [James 4:14] We as believers do not have to worry about death, as we have been promised eternity as believers in Christ Jesus. It is the promise of life everlasting! “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” [John 3:16] “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” [John 4:14] “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” [John 5:24]
Do you know that when God sent the ten plagues to Egypt to change Pharoah's mind and the last plague was to kill the first-born of all people, but the Israelites shed the Blood of a Lamb and painted their homes with it to signify their allegiance with the one True God Yahweh? What happened then? The angel of death did not touch them. Similarly when the Son of God Jesus shed His blood on the Cross for us, He prepared the way for us to have Eternal Life through HIM. Just the way that death could not touch Him, he made it so that whosoever believes in Him would not die, but have life everlasting through Christ Jesus.
The meaning of Grace
Grace is the unmerited, undeserved saving work of God in Christ Jesus. It is by Grace alone that we are saved. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” [Ephesians 2:8-9]
The significance of the Resurrection of Christ
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day after crucifixion. He is the first man to have conquered death. By His resurrection from death, Christ proved that He had power over death, and therefore had the ability to impart eternal life. Apostle Paul put it best when he said: “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. [1Corinthians 15:12-22] In other words, what Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden condemned us to eternal death for our sins, but the death and resurrection of Christ on the Cross promises us salvation, and the promise of eternal life!!! “So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.” [Mark 16:19-20] From the Nicene Creed: “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. “ Indeed, Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead so that we may have life everlasting! “It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand — with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.” [1 Peter 3:21-22] We celebrate Easter Sunday: The day of the Resurrection of Christ two days after Good Friday, which is marked as the Day of Crucifixion. They are both very Holy Days in our Christian Holy week.
The Trinity: The Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit
Those just getting their feet wet in Christianity may get confused about the nature of the Trinity: The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. Are the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit all God? Does this mean that there are three Gods? How could this be, when the Bible clearly states that there is only one God? Is my right hand a separate being than my left hand? Is my nose a separate being than my face? Clearly not. They are all parts of the same being: me, yet, my right hand could be doing something very different than my left. In the very same way, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are three parts of the same Divine Being: The Lord God Almighty. They are co-eternal, co-equal and co-powerful. They are each capable of independent action, but they are all a part of the same Divine Godhead. We believe that there is one God who eternally exists in three persons, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. References from scripture to the Trinity include: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" [Matthew 28:19] and "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all," [2 Corinthians 13:14]
The Holy Communion
We as Christians periodically take Communion, which signifies our belonging to the Body of Christ and in His remembrance until His return. It symbolizes the body and the blood of Christ which was shed for our sake, for the remission of sins as well as to impart life everlasting promised to those that believe in Him. In 1 Corinthians 11, Apostle Paul states: “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” [1 Corinthians 11:23-26]
“And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.[Luke 22:19-20]
The Holy Communion is something which is sacred to us, and we must prepare our hearts and minds before partaking in it. It must not be done casually, irreverently, carelessly or without thought: “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.“ [1 Corinthians 11:27-29]
We are Blessed, Honored and Privileged to be able to receive remission of sins through the greatest sacrifice which was ever made for us: the crucifixion of the Son of God. We cannot take this blessing, honor and privilege lightly, for a great price was paid for it on the Cross. We are to humble ourselves, and prepare our hearts and minds to receive, and to partake of the Holy Communion.
Partaking of the Holy Communion also reinforces to believers in Christ, the gift of life everlasting as promised by our Lord and Savior: “I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whosoever eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.” [John 6:48-58]
But....what about all those other “religions” out there?
Over the years I have met a lot of people with good intentions who lack a fundamental knowledge of the scriptures who have come up to me and said: Well, I believe in Christ, but I also believe that there are all these other ways to God prescribed by all these other religions which make a claim to know the path to God and to Salvation. How do we as Christians answer such a question? The answer is that while all the other religions may make a claim to their God, the only TRUE God is the one in the Bible, and the ONLY and I mean ONLY way to that TRUE God is through His Son Jesus Christ who died on the Cross for our sins. Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.[John 14:6] There is no other true way to God but through Christ. He is the ONLY WAY. There is no other Fundamental Truth greater than this.
What about believers who refuse to go to Church?
How should we treat those who do not believe in Christ as we do?
As Christians, we cannot live in an isolated world. Everyday we interact with others at the supermarket, at work, at the gym and elsewhere, from other religions, belief systems, cultures, and perhaps even nations. How should we interact with these people? With the knowledge that Him (Jesus) who is within us is greater than he which is in the world. “...because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.” [1 John 4:4-6] Yet, with this knowledge comes awesome responsibility. We are called to be lights in this dark world. We are to shine the way to glory and to the truth. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” [Matthew 5:14-16] We are also called to go forth and to make disciples of all nations and of all peoples. ”Then Jesus came to them and said, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20] We cannot therefore reject those around us who do not believe. We can and should reject their disbelief or their belief in some other religion or way of thinking, however, we cannot and should not reject them. The goal must always be to make them see the truth that there is only one way to God: Only one true religion, and only one way to connect with God, and that is through Christ Jesus. “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”[John 14:6]
Now that you believe, which Church should you attend?
There are so many Denominations to choose from! There are so many Churches out there! Which denomination, or whose doctrine is correct? How to know? Believing the correct doctrine can be important, as the Bible is the authoritative guide to life and those who believe and live according to the Word of God are Blessed richly, not only in this lifetime, but also in the life hereafter with Him.
So, which denominations have the most sound doctrine? The ones that come to mind right away are Catholicism and Mainstream Protestant Bible-believing Churches. The Catholic Church was the original Church. They were responsible for carrying forth the knowledge of Christ and the Bible through the ages. The head of the Catholic Church is the Holy Pope who resides at the Vatican in Rome and is the Spiritual head of the Catholic Church. Now, the term Protestant is used loosely to describe any Church or denomination which came about as a result of Dr. Martin Luther’s split from the mainstream Catholic Church in 1517. On the eve of All Saint's Day, October 31, 1517, Luther posted the ninety-five theses, which he had composed in Latin, on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg. It was a day which made history and altered the course of Christianity forever. The Protestant Reformation, brought about by Dr. Martin Luther, John Calvin and others, gave birth to a large number of Bible-believing denominations, which include the Lutheran Church, the Methodist Church, the modern Protestant Evangelical Bible Church, the Baptist Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Pentecostals, the Adventists, and others. The Anglican Church (Church of England) which split from the Catholic Church in 1537 is considered a middle ground between Catholicism and Protestant beliefs. Most of the fundamental Biblical doctrine of these Denominations is sound, and varies slightly one from another. They may have vast differences in how the Church is governed and the Corporate structure, organization, rules and bylaws of the Church, however their fundamental Biblical doctrine is almost identical.
Denominations which seem to have a slightly different view of the Trinity and interpretation of the fundamental Biblical doctrine are Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) also known as the Mormon Faith. As I do not know much about their faith, I will not pass judgment on the soundness of the doctrine of these denominations, but only say that they are somewhat different from the rest in what they believe in some ways. I am attempting to understand some of these differences and do not completely understand all of the differences myself at this point in time. When I understand the differences, I will list them here.