Last edit 4/2019
There are two basic truths that are of utmost importance to you as an individual concerning God. First and foremost, God loves you beyond anything you can imagine. He has consistently proven this to those who have sought him in the past, and continues to do so today. God's desire is to touch your heart with loving kindness, until you wish nothing more than to trust him with your life, and receive his free gift of eternal life. As the bible puts it, "we love because he first loved us (1‑John4:19)." Second and of equal importance, these physical bodies we inhabit are flawed and subject to disease and ultimate aging and death. Though we possess an incomprehensible thing we can only call spirit, which together with the chemical marvel of our brain and body provide us with memory, reasoning, and consciousness itself, our fragile lives cannot transcend death with those memories and conscious activities intact without God.
I realize these are bold statements, which by their very nature will alienate some, who will choose to see this writer as yet another preacher of doom and gloom. I am after all declaring here as truth that without receiving something from God, we ultimately lose everything, and acknowledge this to be a direct departure from the beliefs of many who will say our lives are eternal regardless of our life choices or beliefs. Conversely and equally challenging to others, is the very suggestion that transcending death could be anything more than a child's fantasy or dream. For me, personal life experiences have brought me close enough to "the edge" to recognize death as more potentially final than some would dare to consider. At the same time, directly experiencing the reality of God has convinced me that transcending death is surely no dream.
My 'Knowing' means Nothing to YOU!
But my certainty can mean nothing to you, and it should not! These are, after all, beliefs, and by definition cannot be proven through mathematical algorithms. In the spiritual arena, we all can choose to believe whatever we wish, and be influenced by as many sources as we choose to ponder, consider, or ignore, over the course of life. With that in mind, I hope that you will still consider the things I'll share, and I believe you will find it a refreshing change. I've been transparent about my life and beliefs in all my writings both in print and on‑line, and have consistently tried to emphasize the Love of God at the center of all these works. I acknowledge that it is shameful how modern religion has often failed to model that love, and understand why many people would rather avoid discussing anything associated with religion. But now I challenge you to lay aside such prejudice! Unlike other times you may have been down the road of such conversations with someone, you will find that I have no agenda for your improvement, no words of judgment or condemnation, and wish only to introduce you to this love of God. In the bible, it says that God desires for no one to perish (II‑Pet.3:9), and my motive is simply a reflection of this. It is simply my way of recognizing God's love, appreciating how he has treated me in my own life, and passing the good news on to you. I have no church organization or agenda, and have no ulterior motive beyond sharing something wonderful with anyone that can receive it.
Additionally, it is not my intent to convince you of anything, but to inspire you to find out for yourself whether my words are true. I may argue in the sense of explaining the reasoning behind what I say, and I may refer to the bible and other sources when speaking thoughts I did not originate. But regardless of my sources, I believe it is very unwise to make personal life decisions about faith, based solely on any writer's words. Rather, I would ask and hope that if anything resonates with your heart and spirit, that you would personally invite and even challenge God to confirm or repute every bit of it. We would both be fools to believe that anyone, despite any inspiration or the lack thereof, had all the answers. So in the end, I hope that you will allow God, and not me (or your own ego!), to be the only one invited to separate truth from irrelevance.
My 'Path' means Nothing to YOU either!
I acknowledge that my path to God has continually led me to Jesus, and realize that this too will alienate some readers. It is always a certainty that the more specific you are in your beliefs, the more you stand to lose your audience. Christ himself often spoke words of sufficient difficulty as to cause many to walk away (John 6:66). To those who have tended to look away from anything related to Jesus Christ because of all the atrocities committed in the name of religion, once again I can understand your hesitation. But you must realize and consider carefully that counterfeiters spend their time faking large and valuable bills rather than small change, because they are trying to mimic the greatest treasure. Certainly the presence of fake money should hardly deter anyone from actually receiving any, even if you do have to look carefully at a $100 bill! So in the same way, consider that the presence of bad or injurious teachings that have often come from those claiming to represent Christ is not a reliable indication that true treasure is not right there in the midst of the counterfeit!
This analogy of "the greatest treasure" is, by the way, very appropriate! Because, like any tangible treasure, the relationship with God I speak of is something that will bring about dramatic and wonderful changes in your life TODAY! Jesus said that he came so that people would have life, and have it more abundantly! (John 10:10) It is not a simplistic matter of having special "knowledge" for transcending death, saying some "special words" at an alter, or joining some "chosen" group. Rather, this is about having a truly personal relationship with a living God that will change your LIFE!
God's Presence and Gods Love... a Cornerstone.
If there is no God, who would want to waste energy and time out of their life in pursing him, and I say 'him' here not to impose gender definition, but to emphasize personhood. Because beyond simple existence, there would be little to gain from knowing of God's existence it he were not an actual conscious personality that could communicate with us, rather than some wholly unknowable force or "higher power". This leads me to a final and very strong premise, widely extending the original theme. That is, if God did not care about or love us enough to guide us personally, to help us sort out truth from a thousand opinions, then his very existence would be nearly irrelevant!
From my vantage as a believer, this is something I'm compelled to share and feel very bold and empowered to say. Sure, I'd be lying if I said I've always received miraculous spiritual revelation, every time I needed something in life that I thought was critical. Even as I write these words there are issues on my mind for which I'm daily seeking God's wisdom, and can scarcely think of a time that wasn't so. Yet in hindsight, I can see where throughout my relationship with God, he has repeatedly confirmed his presence, and done so by tangible acts of love. Indeed, that willingness to intervene in our lives, and demonstrate his love as we allow him to do so, is certainly a convincing cornerstone we can rely on! I certainly acknowledge that without a history of such intervention, any belief I had at this point would be little more than shallow speculation, with only my own logic or misinterpretation of life's coincidences to draw on for proof.
This cornerstone concept of God's willingness to intervene is consistent throughout scripture, and is not automatically limited by our faith. When news spread that Christ was miraculously resurrected from the dead, one of his close followers (the Apostle Thomas) said he would not believe it until he actually saw Jesus alive, and thrust his own hand into his side (to verify the wounds Jesus had suffered). Jesus did indeed appear to him (John 20:24‑27), inviting him to feel his wounds, noting that those who could believe without having seen were even more blessed. But even while Christ walked the earth, those closest to him asked that he help them with their unbelief (Mark 9_23‑24), and he did so on an ongoing basis by performing many wonderful miracles! (John 10:37‑38). So even a lack of strong faith does not stop God from reaching us, if we invite him to do so.
Of course faith is important, but God is not unreasonable! God understands that the world is filled with deception, on both human and spiritual levels (Eph.6:12). The bible even warns that the devil himself often masquerades as an angel of light (II‑Corr.11:13‑14)! My word! If you can't even trust an angel, who could blame anyone for skepticism? Certainly, we're all keenly aware that there is no end to the ongoing arguments brought about by people's conflicting claims at knowing God, or knowing "God's will." We've all seen people argue forever over religious beliefs, and burden themselves and others with the many and varied laws associated with them. Perhaps worst of all, we have seen how such systems of legalism often lead to war, intolerance and self-righteousness. Depending on our upbringing, we've all been subject to these things at various times in life, and to varying degrees. In a world filled with so much confusion, you can and should feel wholly justified in seeking God's personal revelation of both his presence, and his love for you. The good news is that God is indeed both capable and willing to accomplish this, in a personal way that will be most meaningful in the midst or your own life circumstances. You do not need to take my word for it, nor be convinced by some televangelist, nor seek to find scientific evidence for God's presence, even though such evidence is plentiful. God loves you, and indeed will reveal himself to you, if that is what you want. But...
Do YOU Really Want to Know!?
You may be in amazement that I would ask such a thing, but if you think about it, there are several important points of challenge to us all in this question. The bible says God has created us in his own image (Gen.1:27). Certainly one of the most interesting and blessed things we share in that creation is that unlike the vast majority of living creatures, we have a unique capacity for independent and creative thought. We have a free will! We can weigh out our choices and do what we think best in all circumstances, as a natural course of living. Recall my earlier premise that we all can choose to believe whatever we wish. Surely you can see that if God were to reveal sure and undeniable proof of his existence to you at this moment, it would by necessity affect your thinking. You may believe whatever you wish, but only until you KNOW! Almost universally throughout bible writings, ordinary people were initially very frightened at the presence of an angel or similar "breakthrough" event. Sure confirmation of God's presence can come as quite a life changing intrusion! God is all about love and has absolutely no desire to have his children live in fear of him. But to the person unaware of his loving nature, you can imagine their fear! Suddenly knowing indisputably that God really is there? Worrying that he's always watching? This is a pretty awesome thing to consider!
This highlights just how important it is that the knowledge of God's presence and God's love for us go hand in hand. In every one of those cases of angelic presence recorded in the bible, the first words were invariably "fear not!" And this, my friends, is the real job and task I have before me in writing these words to you today! Indeed, it is the main thing God may ever ask of you if given the privilege of entering your life. It is to give you my personal and humble testimony that God does indeed love you too! And though I profess that the proof is there for the asking, it is a choice and an invitation only you can make, and one that you can not very well consider in fear. Doubt? God can handle that! In a world of deception, you'll find God quite creative in bringing about events that will remove all doubt of his intervention in your life. But fear? This is something that you must choose to set aside. The bible says "God is Love" (1‑John4:7‑8) and that "perfect love casts out all fear." (1‑John4:18) It also encourages us to "Come, taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8).
Deceptions that Keep us away.
Concerning this fear, I must start by testifying to you that God's purpose is not to rob you of joy, or take all the freedom, fun, or happiness out of your life. I believe there is an enemy the bible calls the devil, that indeed would like nothing better than for you to think God wants to deprive you, and thus keep you from pursuing him at all. I could digress and point to many world incidents that would almost make it easier to prove the existence of a devil than God, but I wish to focus on a certain track here. That is, a major portion of what most of us initially fear is directly related to the negative portrayal of God brought about by the work of a powerful deceiver. And just as "perfect love casts out all fear", it is also true that fear is one of this enemy's greatest weapons! Indeed, if there is a devil at work in the world today, it should come as little surprise that one of his greatest tools for administering such fear is religion.
The biggest example of such fear is the doctrine of eternal torment in "hellfire". It has cast a horrendous reputation on God, perhaps the worst one of all! Yet all of it is based on a complete mis translation and misunderstanding of scriptures. I know that's a bold statement but let's face it! Hell has historically been used as an ongoing tool to control people by maintaining an unhealthy state of fear! Ironically this teaching is a better example of demonic deception then the typical picture of a devil tempting someone with "earthy delights". This is a subject that requires a separate writing for fair treatment. (Later I invite you to read another article here called Burn in Hell... really? for a thorough exposition of this deception.) But for now, the idea that something as widely "preached" as "hell" could be completely wrong should peak your interest! I hope it will even raise your curiosity enough to consider that when the bible says "God is Love," maybe it is really telling truth!
Another theme that has been beaten to death and often generates more heat than light is "repentance". The bible speaks of repentance often, (Luke 5:30‑32), (II‑Pet.3:9). The word literally means to change ones mind and to turn and go in a different direction. It does not require a spiritual mind set to believe that God would want us to turn away from things that are destructive or harmful, to others or ourselves. But most of us balk at the idea of doing so by following some "one size fits all" set of man made doctrines and religious laws. Many of us have horrible childhood memories of the continual tactics of fear, guilt, and shame used to inspire us to "repent," of being a bad boy or girl. It's no surprise that many who grew up in such a climate eventually became atheists. But the personal relationship God desires with you is nothing like this at all, and in many ways is the exact opposite! The major biblical theme that is seldom taught concerning "repentance" is that God actually wants us to turn away (repent) from the very notion of trying to earn our place in Gods kingdom by "works" (Gal.2:16). That's right! As we'll see, a "place" in God's kingdom is a free gift, independent of our own works or lack thereof. God want's us to turn from the very act of trying to please him by our own efforts, and instead allow his spirit within us to do any "work" that needs to be done (Phil.1:6). It is God's kindness (Jer.31:1) that leads us this way, and God's efforts--rather than our own--that brings about positive change. (Eze.36:26) And unlike the man‑made approach, God treats his children as individuals and never forces them into the same "cookie cutter" mold. What a difference!
Yes, it is true that if your personal pride or ego excludes the idea of allowing even a loving God access to your heart, that is an unfortunate choice you can make which God will not deny you. But contrary to much religious thinking, it is not God's agenda to destroy or subvert your personality, or toss aside your life goals or dreams. Indeed, you are a creation of God, and he did not create you in order to take away all that you are. It is a major point of liberation, and one that the "enemy" I spoke of would rather you did not know, that God loves and offers himself to you exactly as you are! In fact, anything that emphasizes God as an oppressive judgmental power monger, that delights in sending those that defy him to a place of eternal torment, is a signature work of this enemy! Anything that keeps YOU, God's loved and precious creation, from ever coming near enough to see the truth of his love for you is indeed a tool of the devil, even if it seems to come from the mouth of angel (or a preacher!)
And here, friends, is where I must begin to reflect on Christ, and what God's purpose and accomplishments were though him. I honestly can think of no better ways to relate God's love to you, then to point to what Jesus has done. As always, I encourage you to look to God alone to verify or repute everything I say.
A Short History
I labored greatly over writing what follows because on a certain level, Christianity has continually emphasized complex and seemingly convoluted beliefs, which ultimately detract from the simplicity of God's gift to all of us. So I'm going to compromise by sharing only selected items that I believe will provide a foundational understanding, and hopefully push aside many of our fears and increase your understanding concerning God. My apologies in advance to the theologians among you that may find the gaps I'm leaving far too wide!
In the bible, the book of Genesis tells of the first human's choice regarding the first, and (as far as we know), only thing God ever told them to avoid. That of course is the classically known "Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil," where God pointedly told them that eating this fruit would quite literally kill them! (Gen.2:16‑17) The story shows the first human pair being tempted by the devil, who basically said they would not die, but that instead they would become like God, knowing good and evil. (Gen.3:4‑5)
For now lets set aside discussions about whether a devil actually exists, and let's just consider the role of deception this figure represents. If you think about it, knowledge of good and evil would seem indispensable, and you could likely see where you could help make the devil's case. But what actually happened in the story? After they ate of this tree, their first major decision with their new found "knowledge" was to hide their physical nakedness from God in shame and fear! (Gen.3:9‑10). Ashamed of their own bodies? How could this be? Is it possible that humans, basically children mentally compared to God, were at the very least not spiritually ready for such knowledge? That's exactly what happened! And the curse of this action was a continuing pattern of poor judgments as to who and what was to be regarded as "evil." The result, a world filled with violence, borne out of the evolving pattern of humans sitting in judgment of every aspect of each other, while excluding the wisdom of God, in favor of their own selfish reasoning. (Gen.6:5‑6)
We can see from the Genesis account that God's intent was to avoid burdening his children with a long list of rules, choosing rather to give them maximum freedom to make their own discoveries, and their own mistakes. Such a state of living in God's presence is best described as a state of grace. (See the article Grace vs.. Law elsewhere on this site, for a recap and more thorough exposition on this important subject). In the state of "grace", errors are not "sins," but simply mistakes. God would deal with his kid's missteps just as you'd expect from a wise and loving parent. But even in such a state, you can see situations where God would have to give a firm warning and command about something that would have intolerable consequences. Why would God even make such choices available? Because freedom is a farce if it does not include the possibility of making wrong, and even horribly wrong decisions!
Unfortunately the world and human society continued toward greater violence and war. So just as with children, a time comes when the law must be laid down. And if humanity insisted on being the ultimate judge of "good and evil," a system of laws attempting to separate the two was inevitable. So starting with the well known 10 commandments, there eventually arose hundreds of laws for all kinds of things. Some laws related to dealing fairly and lovingly with others, others were regarding health, responsibility, making restitution, religious ceremony and symbol, and on and on and on! But the bible actually hinted early on that such law would be a curse if people did not actually live up to it all of it! (Deut.27:26)
You might think it is obvious, but it would take many generations before the understanding would come, that justification by following the law was a prescription for failure. But Jesus, himself a Jew and quite familiar with the many laws of his faith, gave an early clue by explaining that loving God and loving your neighbor was really all there was to it. In fact, he said that all the law and the words of all the prophets actually hung on just those two principals (Matt.22:37‑39), (Matt.7:12). In fact, long before Christ ever walked the earth, the bible prophet Micah summed things up saying, "What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, with love and mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah.6:6) Clearly, the main intent of the law was love But as you read this, both you the reader and I know a very bitter truth in this regard: you can't legislate love!!
All have Sinned!
Now, let's consider something else. The bible tells that All have sinned and so have fallen short of God's glory. (Rom.3:22‑24). It is worth knowing that the word "sin" in the New Testament portion of the bible is from the Greek word 'Harmatua'. It is a term from archery which simply means "to miss the mark." Like 'hell', here is another example of how a misrepresented word definition can darkly color ones entire outlook! The actual meaning is without the connotation that "sin" is necessarily an act of evil. It is possible to miss the mark even when trying our best to hit the bullseye, or do what is right. The declaration that ALL have sinned is not intended to accuse us of evil and make us cower in shame before God at all, but to make us realize that none of us are so much better than another, as to be worthy of casting judgment without mercy upon them! In other words and once again, none of us is worthy to eat of the "Tree of Knowledge of Good and evil," and cast the kind of judgment that God should exclusively render.
And just in case we might start measuring to determine if we are better than another, having decided that we have sinned to a lesser degree, Jesus told a story of two men who once entered the temple for worship. In that story, one man simply asked for mercy, while the other proudly thanked God he was "not like that other man, a sinner." (Luke 18:9‑14) Jesus quickly pointed out that it was the first man that went away justified by God. Indeed, Christ made a regular habit of showing compassion rather than judgment to those accused of sin, while going to great extremes to point out the sin of those that thought themselves "good." Why this dichotomy?
What Christ was trying to get across over and over again was this: Not only were we all less than perfect and flawed before God, but that those seeking God's mercy would need to recognize their own shortcomings, stop comparing themselves to others, and refrain from judging each other. He warned us that we would in fact be judged ourselves, according to the manner in which we judge others! (Luke 6:37) In one example, he spoke of a man forgiven a huge debt that was later scorned for his subsequent foul treatment of someone that owed him a much smaller amount. (Matt.18:23‑35) Christ was not speaking here of pretending that evildoers or evil did not exist, but was emphasizing that God and not man, is the true and ultimate judge. You may recall the story where Jesus said that we had better take note of the "log" in our own eye before pointing at the small splinter in the eye of a brother. (Matt.7:1‑5) This indicates that the act of judging can actually be worse than the offence being judged!
The "original sin" spoken of in Genesis had come full circle. A qualification for God's mercy in our lives was to give mercy, refrain from judging, and indeed, to lay aside that "tree of knowledge," and give back to God the exclusive right to decide good from evil! At the same time, the clear understanding of our own imperfections must bring us all to a point of humility long before lifting any hand of judgment. The famous bible story of the "woman caught in adultery" (John 8:3‑7) showed Jesus' refusal to speak any condemnation, even when being "tested" by the religious leaders of the day, to see where he would stand on an issue of morality. In acting as he did, and telling the crowd that "he who is without sin should cast the first stone," Christ was demonstrating that God's Mercy was greater than his judgment (James.2:13), something already written in scripture centuries before. (Psalm 25:3‑6)
Crime and justice
Now one distinction that must be made here is to understand the difference between punishment for crimes and judgment of evil. A crime is a hurtful and illegal act committed against a person or society, provable by tangible facts. Evil on the other hand is a condition of the heart, which is something that all our combined understanding can rarely see with certainty. Granted, no one can look at the atrocities and manifestations of hate in this world and think that restitution and justice are not in order. The Sept. 11, 2001 incidents in New York, the ongoing mass-killings by terrorists at home and abroad, and the simpler acts of senseless violence in the local news all leave little room for "mercy" in the minds of even some dedicated pacifists. Feelings of anger and a desire for justice regarding crimes are perfectly normal. Though jesus taught about it, few of us can always live up to his direction to love our enemies.
But we can start somewhere, by recognizing that seeking justice for crimes is not the same as thinking we can discern evil intent within people's hearts. In trying to do so, we routinely choose spiritual judgment to the exclusion of compassion and mercy, as we seldom have the benefit of God's mind on the matter. Indeed, God will likely answer "none of your business" if we ask for insight into our neighbors hearts. Too often we judge our brothers and sisters failing to recognize our own flaws or responsibilities. For all we know, they may have already sought the Lord about the very things we so quickly judge them for!
The "knowledge of good and evil" is of course not bad in itself. It is man's choosing to exclude God from the process and make himself the ultimate judge. THAT is the corrupt condition. If someone wishes to hurt you or someone you love, whether to defend, fight back, have them arrested, or try to apply reason to the situation are all potentially valid choices. The bible itself says there is a time to kill and a time to heal, a time for war and a time for peace. (Eccl.3:7‑8) But any sane person must conclude that as humans we've "missed the mark" far too often in making these choices. Both justice and mercy are key qualities of God, and indeed the most divine judgment of all is knowing which to apply and when, as only God can see the heart. Happily for all of us who realize our own shortcomings, as many scriptures remind us, God favors mercy over judgment! (James.2:13) But it is a sobering reminder of the curse of the "tree of knowledge" when we realize that the most difficult challenge in Christ's teachings is to truly receive God's mercy and grace for ourselves and equally, to grant such mercy and grace to others.
So one last time, the point of all this "sin" talk is not to make people cower in shame and fear before God. In the bible, King David did tell us that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom." (Psalm.111:10) And for those living a life of hate and destruction, a bit of this could be a healthy reminder to recognize their responsibility before God. But for too long, the concept of sin has been used by religion to intimidate and control people. All this makes the "Gospel" message (which is supposed to mean "Good News") into an ongoing supply of bad news! Using condemnation and guilt, religion has often shot itself in the foot in its effort to "reach" the world, and has driven many away in the process.
Jesus Humbly Claimed to Represent God.
For publicly showing grace and mercy (actually 'pardoning!') those accused of sins, Jesus was himself accused of blasphemy! "After all," said those observing him, "only God can forgive sin!" (Luke 5:20‑21) Did he think himself God? Jesus answered that virtually everything he was saying were words His Father in heaven was giving him. (John 14:9‑10) Years after his death, the Apostle Paul testified that Christ was indeed the "exact representation of God." (Heb.1:3) Also, the opening verses of the book of John, who is said to have been the closest of all Jesus' friends and followers, refers to Christ as "the Word". He then went on to say that the word was both "with" God, and that the word "was" God, (John.1:1) and that the "word (Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us." (John 1:14) Though Jesus himself walked very humbly, and only referred to himself as the "son of man," it is my belief, that he was indeed God come in the flesh. This is a conclusion shared by his followers afterward, the prophets before him, and multitudes who have personally received confirmation of his ongoing presence to this day. And what better expression of the notion of God's love and desire to meet us on our own level then to come as a simple human to give us his ultimate message of love first hand. And of course, Jesus himself made this very bold claim:
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life."
... "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies"
He also spoke of himself as a narrow gate to the Kingdom of God, and warned that many would try to enter through another means and would fail. (Luke 13:24) I don't believe that Christ was saying here that all peoples or nations that don't know about "Jesus" were automatically doomed. Rather, I believe he was pointing out the very important fact that receiving his own very essence was the key to God's free gift of eternity! What was that essence?
The Wages of Sin... and The lamb of God.
Recall that all the way back to Genesis, a difference we noted between sin and simple error was that sin referred to things that would ultimately bring about death and destruction. Hence, the bible warning that "the wages of sin is death." (Rom.6:23) In the Old Testament, people would sacrifice valued livestock and food as a way of making offerings for sin, and in recognition of the horrible fact that sin brings about such death and loss. Often, the lamb was recognized as an animal symbolizing total innocence, making the loss even more poignant and tragic. And, it also was a recognition that in perfect justice, all sin must be accounted for, and a price paid.
But if you follow this logic to an extreme you can see that leaves humanity in an impossible situation. We know that we all have sinned. We know that "the wages of sin is death". And even though common sense tells us that all human error is certainly not grounds for a death sentence, we are told by Christ's teachings that it is not for us to be the one to make these distinctions either. (James 2:10 ) So does God have a better idea? Yes, He did, and it is cause for awe, gratitude, sometimes misunderstanding, and in the end a timeless testimony of a God whose love holds back nothing!
Long before Christ waked the earth, The bible prophets spoke of a coming messiah, and before his ministry began, John the Baptist recognized him as the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. (John1_29) Although ultimately slain in the manner of humiliation and torturous treatment of a common criminal at the crucifixion (Isa.53:5‑7), Christ was in fact offering himself as the ultimate sacrifice to end all sacrifices. This was God's very son, an extension of God's very self essence, in effect taking the entire issue of sin and it's associated penalties, and permanently disposing of all of it (Col.2:14) in a single act of ultimate love.
I have to pause here, friends. The emotions run very deep, and even as I'm trying to be the most careful writer, I feel that my desire to convey all this in some neat little package is wholly and completely inadequate. Christ is, in fact, asking us to accept that the roots of this sin issue go deeper than any of us can truly understand. That it is in fact so horrific and beyond our understanding that God, and he as God's son and servant, needed to go to this extreme of suffering, to bring the matter to an end, for all those who receive him. I cannot and don't believe anyone can offer a full understanding of why Christ had to suffer and die, but if there is one thing we all universally understand in this life as humans, it is death, and the awesome meaning of sacrificially giving up one's own life! Could it be that our hearts were so hard that nothing else would have made such an impact?
A Point of Humility, a Path to Eternity
By his death, Christ was literally opening a permanent and forever open doorway to the kingdom of God for you and I, from the greatest to the least of us, regardless of the measure of our sins, flaws, or shortcomings. A way in which nothing you or I could ever do from there on, could ever separate us from Gods love. (Rom.8:38‑39) A way that is no longer dependant on our fulfilling an endless collection of laws and precepts. (Rom.3:8), (Rom.14:4) A totally free gift, and a complete return to the state of grace mankind was originally intended to live under . But it is a state of being that comes at the cost of this eternal reminder of what God's best (Christ) had to suffer in order to bring this about.
Am I saying that coming to Christ means that you can now go off murdering people for your own selfish gain because God won't judge you anymore? Am I purporting that you can simply come to Jesus, "say a prayer," and no longer take responsibility for your life and actions? Of course not! We will always reap what we sow. (Gal.6:7) But indeed, this gift of God does come with tremendous personal liberty! Paul, in several of his bible writings, faced this question head on and in one case said "mixing grace and law was not grace at all!" (Rom.11:5‑6) I concur, and it is my opinion that no true depiction of the state of grace can be written without raising such concerns of giving people too much freedom. Most church organizations would frankly rather people be much less than fully aware of their liberty in Christ! But we must understand the complete picture for this to really make any sense.
Jesus spoke of us having to receive him in a manner that sounded so outlandish, that many walked away in disgust. He spoke symbolically of the eating of his flesh and drinking of his blood, (John 6:54) which some people to this day take literally. But in the book of Revelation, John saw a vision in which Christ spoke these key words that clarify the true meaning:
Behold, I stand at the door (of your heart!) and knock. If any one opens the door, I will come in and sup with him.
( Rev.3:20 )
By speaking of this symbolic "eating," Christ is asking that we receive his very presence into our inner selves, our lives, and into our hearts. In doing so, we are actually inviting God himself inside. The reason we are trusted with such liberty is that there simply is no way you can have the spirit of God living inside you, without it bringing about positive change. This is the heartfelt desire of God we spoke about in the beginning of all this. It is the invitation you and only you can make. The bible says Perfect Love casts out all fear, remember? And in Christ, we see a vision of God going to whatever extreme was necessary to make there be absolutely no need of fear. If you've looked it up, you know that same scripture goes on to say "perfect love casts out all fear, because fear involves punishment." (I‑John4:18) In Christ, we receive unconditional pardon for any and all sins or shortcomings, past present and future. There is no need of fear. There will be no "punishment" because in Christ, we are guaranteed freedom from such judgment (Rom.8:1‑2). The alternative is to attempt to "earn" our way into God's grace, which time after time the bible says is an impossible task.
By inviting Christ and the spirit of God into your heart... into your self, and by trusting him enough to allow him to be the lord of your life, or more accurately, your father, you will have all the guidance you need in this life. You can plainly see where all the issues of control, guilt, and shame deployed by religion are not only destructive, but totally unnecessary. Anyone inviting God himself into their lives is NOT going to need a long list of external rules to guide them, because God will write his laws in our very hearts. And God himself says so, right there in the bible! (Heb.8:7‑13).
This path is a path of humility. God causes us to see ourselves, indeed all of humanity, in the "same boat." All have sinned and fall short of God's glory (Rom.3:21‑24). Speaking to believers, the bible even says that "If we claim to be without sin we deceive ourselves." (1John1:8) In receiving God's grace, we are also receiving forgiveness, and many miss out on this blessing because in their pride, they proclaim "I don't need to be forgiven." No wonder the bible says that "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."(James.4:6 ) (Prov.3:34 )
This path is also one of love and tolerance. With God's help, and in appreciation of what God has done for us, we respond in kindness as much as we are able, as the bible says, "as much as it is possible by you, be at peace with all men." (Rom.12:18 ) Unlike what much of modern religion teaches, we are invited to God's table just as we are, and are asked to refrain from judging whoever else might be welcome there. Indeed, we are encouraged to invite others there as well! And who is welcome God's table? Everyone! (Acts.2:21 ) (John.6:37 ).
And finally, this is a path to eternity. The bible says that
if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and
believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead,
you will be saved!"
Saved... a Modern Analogy
This writer is amazed by the way language written in the bible so long ago seems to correspond so well with aspects of modern technology that is beginning to affect everyone on a global scale, so please forgive my digression. Perhaps the most difficult and yet glorious thing to consider in all this is the claim that God actually raised Jesus from the dead, and has promised the same for those that receive his gift! While this might seem a miracle beyond any possible scientific basis, we have all seen how new technology and discoveries continually make ordinary occurrences out of things that a few years before would have been considered "magic."
As we're all aware, modern technology has brought us all in contact with computers, and these amazing tools come with memory and sensory inputs, that in many ways mimic resources of the human brain. Further, computer programs and instructions provide these machines with logic and reasoning, which in time may begin to approach or even exceed human capability. About the only thing these machines can't do is "wake up" and attain consciousness, I believe because they lack that piece of the ultimate consciousness (God!) that we have, and so forever lack the ability to speak the words "I AM" with any depth of meaning. (God's name, Yahweh in the Hebrew scriptures incidentally, may loosely be translated "I AM!"). Yet still, we can see that even if someone could impart consciousness to such a machine, that consciousness would still be subject to death due to the frailty of the machine itself! What if lightning were to strike, or a critical part were to malfunction?
Well, even though scientists may not have the foggiest idea how "consciousness" works at the moment, one thing we do recognize about computers is the importance of SAVING! If everything stored in the machine's hard disk memory were backed up, along with the plans for building that physical machine, it is possible that even if completely destroyed, it could be re‑created. Then, with the back up data from the hard drive installed, everything could be restored exactly as it was. In order to accomplish SAVING, another system, machine, or hard drive must be connected to the first system so that everything may be copied there. Additionally, a smart thing would be to have that back up stored at another location, safe from whatever destruction might come to the first machine.
Isn't all this language interesting! The bible speaks of God offering this permanent connection between you and himself, by inviting him into your life. The bible speaks of being written in "the lamb's (Christ's) book of life,"(Rev.3:5 ) indicating that once such connection is made, everything we are and ever will be is there in the safety of Gods hands... God's memory. Then, almost in prophetic language, the bible speaks of this process as being "saved" saying, "and everyone that calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!" (Acts 2:21 ) As this writer is also a computer programmer, you can see why I find this analogy very interesting indeed. Add to this our new understanding that genetic coding present in a single cell of your body is sufficient to re‑create or "clone" a whole new version of you, and the notion that God could to do the same on an even grander and more advanced scale is suddenly not so hard to fathom!
Then, Now, and Always... The Proof is in the Resurrection
Regardless of all the analogies in the world, the bottom line of death is one that all humanity recognizes as an ultimate loss from which no one can escape, with any technology we expect any time soon. This is why of all the teachers, of all the prophets, and all the messengers sent by God throughout all time, Jesus Christ remains the most significant in all history. For he alone is risen (Matt.28:6‑7 ) from the dead! He alone backed up his words of mastery over life and death, first by actually raising people from death during his ministry, and finally, by returning from the grave himself, days after his broadly witnessed death and public execution. (Luke 24:44_48)
A page ago, we spoke of the scripture that offered eternity when we invite Christ, an unshakable bridge to our heavenly father, to be the Lord of our lives, and believe God has raised him from the dead. Some have accused such theology of being too easy. In truth, such belief is not so simple when the trials and tribulations of life come our way. But the good news just keeps getting better! We spoke earlier of Thomas, one of Christ's disciple that would not believe he had returned from the grave until he saw it for himself. Yet Christ did appear to him, and did not judge him for his difficulty in having such faith. In fact, much of the interest in all Christ had said and done rapidly came to a halt in great despair when he died. But Christ returned and indeed appeared to hundreds of people physically, including political scribes of the day completely outside the faith. And he further appeared to countless more in spiritual ways, so that the early church just exploded with enthusiasm. Even the very real death threats, public executions, and government persecution of the day could not suppress the excitement and wildfire spreading of the news of Christ's resurrection going fourth.
Christ's ongoing personal intervention has not changed to this day! The bible says to those that love and obey him, Christ will show himself to them! (John 14:21) And far from a task master, all he really asks of us is to believe (John 6:28‑29), receive ( John.1:12), and love one another. (John 15:12‑15)
Have religions and groups who misrepresent the love of Christ beaten you down or excluded you? Have you left the faith you knew as a child because of all the politics and mental games played by such groups? The guilt piled upon you by religion? I implore you to give God the opportunity, a new challenge if you wish, to show you in a personal way whether these things are true. If you do believe in God but have considered this kind of centering on Christ to be outside of the boundaries of your thinking, what harm would it do I ask, to simply pray to the one God, creator of all things, and ask him to guide you on the matter? And even if you are an agnostic or an atheist, would you dare to give God the open ended chance to show you the truth? Or finally, if you are afraid of knowing, fearing that God may not like you, or that you are not worthy of his presence, please consider that through Christ, God has shown that he would do anything... literally anything, to change your mind.
To start, I would suggest you find a bible and at least read the book of John. My personal preference would be to pick a bible that is written in modern English rather than the more poetic language of the King James version. This will also help avoid a lot mis-translations and misapplied words. But regardless of your choice, ask God to reveal to you what he wants you to see. Chew up the meat and spit out the bones, and remember that in the end, God needs no 'book' to reveal himself and his love! I might also humbly suggest you read other articles and resources I've written, especially the one entitled Grace vs.. Law
The Price of Ignoring Gods Invitation
God is simply not in the business of sentencing humans to eternal torment, and I've already mentioned that this subject is explored throroughly in a separate article called Burn in Hell... Really?. Eternal torment is a destructive and unfortunate teaching that many, including bible translators, have created in hopes of scaring people "into the fold." This simply is not God's way at all. But, there is a time of judgment spoken of in the bible (Acts 17:31), and in Revelation, and a time in which those that have consistently refused God's gift of eternal life are said to go off into a fire, which it clearly says means the "second death" (Rev.20:14‑15) or destruction. In truth and simplicity, the bible has consistently said that "the wages of sin is death," (Rom.6:23). Indeed there truly are only two choices both in this present moment and in the end: life or death.
God's desire is simply for no one to be lost (John 3:16). Yet these words, as well as my own personal experience in seeing death up close, are proof enough for this writer that human lives can indeed be lost! It is not for me or anyone else to declare or even ponder what any person's individual fate is after death, and certainly the trouble caused by the "Tree of Knowledge" should eradicate that kind of thinking from anyone's speech. But in the light of such a clear, free, and "no strings attached" invitation from God, or even the possibility that such a gift might be there just for the asking, I hope that everyone reading this will consider speaking to God himself on this matter. Be satisfied with NO other answer then the one that will come from him, for he loves you more than you can possibly know!
Become as a Child
Jesus said that unless we become as children (some translations say little children!), we cannot see the kingdom of God. (Matt.18:1‑4) We have all become so jaded. We have all seen our dreams and hopes dashed to pieces in this life, and many of us do not dare even venture to allow a thought to cross their minds, that such a great treasure could be there for us. Jesus said that in the world we would have tribulation, but to be of good cheer, because he had overcome the world. (John 16:33) And he implores us to tap into that childlike faith and that part of us that is still deep inside. From that place, on whatever level you can, no matter how small, just reach out to God.
What must you do to be saved? The answer is to simply receive his love gift, and invite him into your heart and life. I promise you that whatever small step you take in God's direction will be one that he will honor, and you will look back on this as the single most important turning point in your life. It has been for me, and though my path has certainly not been an easy one, there is no better way to go though this life as to do so with God. He loves you, whoever you are, and whatever your situation. (John 6:37) There are no exceptions.