ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS

Do you have questions about the Christian faith? Probably everyone does.

We have gathered some answers to a number of the most common questions, here. These answers are not exhaustive and in some cases only begin to scratch the surface of some very big subjects. If you would like to discuss your questions further then please come along to a meeting at Grove or get in touch.

Questions about God

Who or what is God?

Most of us talk frequently of God.  It’s not always complimentary, for many people it’s simply an unthinking part of an exclamation “Oh God!” or “For God’s sake!” But in these expressions there’s no intended conversation with a ‘real’ person.  But have you ever wondered, If God is real, who is he or what is he?

We find the answer to this question in the Bible.  The Bible tells us that God is very real and that he is personal but although he is described in human terms, these are used only to help us get some sort of handle on a being who is far greater than we are.  God is an infinite, eternal, unchangeable Spirit.  Now that’s quite a mouthful so let’s look at it bit by bit; hang in there because we will turn it into English!

“God is not part of the physical world.”First of all then, God is a Spirit.  What does that mean?  Well it means that when we talk about God, we are in the realm of the supernatural.  God does not have a body.  You see the Bible tells us that we and the world around us did not always exist.  The physical world was created by God.  That was when ‘time’ began as well.  By created we mean made from nothing, not built like a house from bricks and mortar, or made like a flame from burning gases, we mean there was a time when there was no material, no matter, no energy, nothing at all and from that nothing God created all that we see (and don’t see) in the world and the universe.  He created everything that is on planet earth and throughout space, however big space is!  But God is not part of the physical world.  He is not made up of molecules and atoms like we and everything else in the world is; he is a Spirit.

“Infinite also means that God has no limit in time… he is eternal.”God is an infinite Spirit.  What does this mean?  Put simply it means that God has no limits.  What we have to appreciate about God is that we can never fully answer the question ‘What is God?’ because we can never fully explain it; he’s too big for our words to be able to wrap themselves around him!  He’s also too big for us to be able to see his ‘edges’.  The sky looks very big, and it is.  The following is a quote from Universe Today “Our Earth feels like all there is, but we know that it’s just a tiny planet in a vast Solar System. And our Solar System is just one member of a vast Milky Way galaxy with 200 to 400 billion stars. But how many galaxies are there in the entire Universe?” We know that our galaxy, the Milky Way is about 100,000 light years in diameter, in other words 100,000 times the distance that it would take light travelling at 186,282 miles per second to travel.  But the universe has an ‘edge’, however far away it is; God doesn’t.  Infinite also means that God has no limit in time, which is to say that he is eternal.

So God is also an eternal Spirit.  He has no beginning and no end.  There was no time when God wasn’t there, in fact as we’ve seen, he also created time!

Finally God is an unchangeable Spirit.  This is massively different from us, because we all change from year to year and even from day to day.  We grow older for one; we get better at some things and worse at others.  But God has no need to change.  He is perfect and has always been so, so he doesn’t need to improve and he cannot deteriorate.  He doesn’t grow old because age is something that only applies if you are subject to time but God is a Spirit and has always been God, before he created time and will remain so at the end of time and in eternity beyond time.

Is there more than one God?

People all over the world in every age have asked the question, are we alone in the universe?  Is there a God out there or are there Gods out there?  Greek mythology famously gave us a group of gods who still feature in our language today, Eros the god of love, Hades the god of hell and Zeus the king of gods who ruled the sky and the weather.  Now we may feel ourselves to have moved on from that sort of thinking but we still have a sense somehow that there must be a higher being out there.

Let’s tackle the question of whether there is only one God first.  There are two things which confirm this; the first is the clear statement that God himself makes about it in the bible.  He says in the Old Testament that he alone is God and that no-one else is to be worshipped or treated as if he or she were a god.  At the time there were people who were, like the Greeks after them, worshipping all sorts of gods that they thought were responsible for weather or success in battle or love or good harvest for their crops.  The second reason we have for saying this comes from our understanding from the Bible of who God is.  The Bible says that God is infinite, that is he has no ‘edges’ or limits or boundaries.  He is such a massive being that he completely fills the entire universe; and even that describes only part of him.  In that sense then, there is no space for any other god.  And any so called god who is not infinite is not worthy of being called god.

But how can we be sure that our sense that we are not alone, that there is a higher being, is correct?  Is it just an idea or concept that we have been brainwashed with?  This is a large subject, but let’s explore just a few reasons that corroborate what we all know to be true in our heart of hearts.  The first reason is the very fact that we exist and that the universe exists.  It is self evident that we didn’t make ourselves.  That would be like lifting ourselves into the air by our shoelaces!  So the question then is, were we made or did it just happen?  The Bible’s answer is simple: in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  But let’s examine for a moment the theory that it all just happened, that it all began with a bang.  Well, quite apart from the obvious question of, ‘What banged?’ we have the issue of the order and the beauty and the rationality, the individuality and the morality of the world and the universe.  If I exploded a pot of ink, I wouldn’t expect to end up with an Oxford English Dictionary.  Explosions as we are all too painfully aware create chaos, destruction, disorder and death.  They do not create life.  And how do we explain the fact that we are so much more than our biological and chemical parts?  We think, we reason, we enjoy the beauty in the world around us, we enjoy being with other people and recognise in them the imprint of their maker.  We carry God’s DNA as it were.

Are there other reasons to suggest that there is a God?  It is argued by some that God is an invention that has been used by religious people to make us feel guilty about certain actions that we may take.  But the truth is that our conscience and sense of right and wrong is not taught and although it can be suppressed, it cannot be removed.  God has made us that way.  All of this means that there is a point to our lives, and there is a way to live life to the full using the maker’s instructions, and there is a destiny that we can look forward to if we find a relationship with that maker.

If there’s only one God, what’s the Trinity all about?

Most religions have a God, or the idea of a being who is superior to us and if we’re honest with ourselves this resonates with what we feel like when we look up into the night sky and realise how small we are.  But only in the Bible do we find God’s own explanation of who he is, what he’s like, how we can know him and enjoy a relationship with him.  We are like this God in the same way that our shadow is like us; but he is so much greater than we are.  He stoops to our level to explain himself to us but language can never fully grasp the greatness of his being.  The Trinity is an example of this struggle that language has to describe him.

The Bible describes the one true and living God as being three persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  It describes these three persons as being equal to each other, all are God but yet the three are one God.  We cannot explain how this can be, but then if we were able to explain God fully, would he be God?

“If we were able to explain God fully, would he be God?”Does the Bible actually talk about the Trinity though or is it something that has been invented?  Well the word Trinity is not found in the Bible, but it is used to describe what the Bible does say about God being three but yet one.  We cover the subject of there being one God in another question which you can find by clicking here.  In the answer to this question we’ll concentrate our thoughts on the three persons who are each fully God.  God describes himself as Father in many places, such as the Lord’s Prayer where we pray Our Father in heaven.  It is God the Father who is often described in the Bible as the Creator of all things and he is also described as the One who so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him will not be lost but will have eternal life.

The Lord Jesus is the Son of God, or God the Son.  This term has often been misunderstood as if because Jesus is God’s Son that he is somehow less than equal to God; this is not so.  It distinguishes him and describes his eternal relationship to the Father, but Jesus is God in his own right.  He is described at the beginning of John’s gospel as the Word, or the one who came to describe God to us, and as the Word, God became a man!  This is truly extraordinary.  And what is even more extraordinary is that although Jesus became a man, and he was an ordinary man/person like you or me, he never stopped being fully God.  He was and is the God-man.  In this he is absolutely unique and wonderfully so for us as only he can be our Saviour.

The Holy Spirit is not merely a power or influence, he too is a person and he too is God.  He has all the characteristics of God and the Bible describes him as someone who can be lied to, who can be upset, he is said to guide, to be everywhere, he is said to come and to go.  He is called the Comforter whom the Lord Jesus promised to send to his disciples before he died and rose again and ascended to the Father’s side in heaven.

As we said at the beginning we can never fully understand God, precisely because he is God.  But he has made himself known to us and has done everything necessary for us to be able to enjoy a relationship with him through his Son the Lord Jesus.

What’s God like?

There are two types of reaction to God, one is to assume that he’s not so very different from us and we therefore seriously underestimate him and leave ourselves in danger of holding him in contempt.  The second type of reaction is to be so overawed by the thought of God that we do not feel able ever to approach him and yet that is seriously to misunderstand a God who has reached down to us and become like us so that we can reach out to him and find him and know him.  Christianity is not a religion in the sense of a system of beliefs and rules about conduct, rather it is fundamentally about a relationship with the God who made us and who governs the affairs of the universe.  So what is this God like?  This is a huge question, precisely because God is a huge being, in fact he is infinite, or to put it another way he has no limits.  So what is God like?  We can understand a lot about what God’s like from the world around us that he has made, but he himself explains what he’s like in the Bible.  He tells us six essential things about his character, he tells us about his wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.

“Everything he does is right… this is a crucial difference between us and God.”God is altogether wise or infinitely wise.  He is wise because he has complete knowledge of everything.  He knows everything about us, what we do, say, think and feel.  He knows how many hairs we have on our heads.  He knows because he made us and in his wisdom he created everything with such beauty and variety.  No flower is identical and none of us are identical.  And even though we have sinned against him and rejected him he is too wise to allow that to wrong foot him and frustrate his desire to do us good as we’ll see in a minute.  God is all powerful: there is nothing that he can not do.  When we think of power we think about physical strength or the ability to control.  Well the strongest person or nation is quickly cut down to size by what we all call acts of God.  And that is precisely what they are.  God made and controls the universe; that is real power!  We say, don’t we, though that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  But that only applies to us, because God cannot be corrupted because he is holy.  Everything he does is right and in his very essence he is completely pure.  This, apart from everything that we have said so far, is a crucial difference between us and God.

Next we think about God’s justice.  As the creator of all things God has the status of a judge in a court of law.  Every civilised society has a system of law and justice.  Murderers and thieves must be punished or civilisation would break down and we would all feel that things were unfair, wrong, unjust; and they would be.  When we feel like that we all reflect a little bit of God’s character.  Because that’s exactly what God’s justice is, except that his bar is set at the level of his own holiness that none of us are capable of achieving.  No murderer, no rapist, whether they’ve escaped justice here on earth, will ultimately get away with it but every wrong thought or action that each of us is guilty of also builds up a debt of sin.  Thankfully the Bible also tells us that God is good.  He’s good in the sense that he is kind and gracious. He doesn’t deal with us as we deserve to be dealt with.  We deserve punishment for our sins but God so loved the world that he gave the Lord Jesus that whoever believes in him will not be lost but have eternal life.  And God is also true, so even as he has promised to save anyone who comes to him through Jesus, whoever they are, whatever they’ve done, he will be true to his promise to save them.  

Don’t all religions worship the same God but just by a different name?

There are many religions in the world, how can we know which one is right?  Even when people claim not to have any religion, they follow what they believe just as avidly as those who claim to follow a religion.  And there are many things to admire in most religions.  Islam has a moral code which makes its followers good citizens, Buddhism promotes peaceful meditation and inner reflection which many find to be of real comfort in our complex and busy world.  Atheism champions human achievements and is adamant that we haven’t and don’t need the idea of God.  Maybe we’re all talking about the same thing really just calling it different names; why do we need to decide who’s right and who’s wrong if all roads lead to God, or whatever we want to call our aspirations for ultimate satisfaction and fulfilment?

“God… loves us and he’s done something remarkable to save us.”Most of the discussions that we have on this subject are not helped by the fact that it is often very easy to find bad examples of whatever view we are trying to argue against or defend.  But the Bible does not set out to defend God, it starts by simply telling us what he did in the beginning - In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  And in the Bible God has one really big message to tell us and it’s this, he loves us and he’s done something remarkable to save us and what he’s done can be summed up in one word, Jesus!

Jesus was a real historical figure, this much cannot be argued with.  And he was a great historical figure; our calendar revolves around when he was born.  He was a great man who did great things and although innocent he was killed by being nailed to a tree and left to die, the type of execution from which we get our word excruciating.  But there are a couple of unique things about this good man who seemed to have a very brief life.  First of all he claimed to be God and accepted the worship of his followers in a way that his disciples did not dare to do.  When they were worshipped because they were given power to do some miraculous things also, they were very quick to reject this worship because they knew that only God has the right to be worshipped.  Now was this the claim of a man who was deluded, mad?  Well everything he did was completely rational and he was the only man who has ever lived who was able to heal the sick, to stop the storm, to turn water into wine, to raise the dead and then himself to rise from the dead.  All of these things would be remarkable, unique, impossible even for a mere man, but not for someone who was both God and man.

“The reason Jesus died was to save us. We cannot save ourselves.”But Jesus is not just a historical figure, he rose from the dead.  He was and is God.  But why did he die, why did he have to die?  Surely if he is God and he can do everything, getting out of a scrape with some Roman soldiers should be easy?  The reason Jesus died was to save us, in dying he took the punishment for the sins that we commit.  We cannot save ourselves, not by fulfilling the five pillars of Islam, by keeping the eight-fold path of Buddhism, by being faithful at mass, by trying our best to be good or through having a genetic make up which is the strongest and therefore survives.  No, only Jesus who alone is God and man can save us and Christianity is above all a relationship with God.  It is not about trying to pull ourselves up by our shoelaces, it is about trusting a God who has come down among us to save us.  It is not about what we need to do, for nothing we can do will help us, it is all about what God has done.  Our Creator is also our Saviour.  Will you turn to him? 


Questions about man

Where does my conscience come from?

Under the heading ‘Guilty conscience strikes again’, a back issue of US Customs Today reported the case of an 83 year-old man who wrote to the customs’ authorities 40 years after avoiding import duties. He wanted to ‘put right any improper actions’. Reflecting on the incident, the editor commented, “Where personal importations are concerned, guilty consciences can nag and prod their owners more often, and for far longer, than one might think”.

Reading this you might think that this man was just a little foolish. What did it matter if he had avoided import duty so long ago? Well it mattered to him, but more importantly it illustrates in a small way the amazing power of conscience to tell us the difference between right and wrong.

“We are created in God’s image and he has written his laws on our hearts.”Why is it that, unprompted, we can be suddenly convinced within ourselves that something we are about to do – or have done – is wrong. From earliest times philosophers have identified this phenomenon. Sophocles (450 BC) is quoted as saying, “There is no witness so terrible, no accuser so powerful as conscience which dwells within us”. More recently Elvis Presley (d 1977) apparently said, “When your intelligence don’t tell you something ain’t right, your conscience gives you a tap on the shoulder and says, ‘Hold on’ ’’.

Arguments have raged over whether we ‘invent’ right and wrong for ourselves based on our upbringing, whether we are programmed by ‘society’ or whether we simply learn from experience (our own or others) that some actions lead to good consequences while other actions have bad outcomes.

The Bible’s explanation is quite straightforward. We are created in God’s image and he has written his laws (in particular the ten commandments) on our hearts, so that instinctively we know what is right and wrong. When we break God’s laws, our consciences speak up, accusing us or ‘bearing witness’ against us. We are guilty! God has put a conscience within us for our own good, that we might be warned against thoughts and deeds that will do harm to others and to ourselves and which offend against a holy and pure God.

“However hard we try, conscience will always strike back.”As we grow older we become good at silencing our consciences, for example by self-justification (“I had to do it, I had no choice”) or by saying, “The end justifies the means (‘So what if I lied, I got what I wanted for my family’)”. But however hard we try, conscience will always strike back, as it did for the 83 year-old man.

But why does it matter? It matters because at the end of life, ‘God will judge our secrets’ through Jesus Christ. We will all appear before his judgement seat and our consciences will appear as the witness to declare us guilty of breaking God’s laws including (whether in thought or deed) lust, murder, stealing, greed (to name but a few) and therefore liable to be punished. Far better that we seek forgiveness now from the One who took the punishment for our sins on the cross of Calvary that, believing in him, we might have our hearts made clean from a guilty conscience. 

Do we have a problem?

“We have a problem!” The Apollo 13 crew famously spoke these words as they told mission control in Houston that their spacecraft was damaged beyond repair. Then started one of the great rescue missions of the ‘space age’.

“The Bible says… ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’”But in a far more serious way, the human race has a problem that is not only disabling but fatal – it certainly leads to death unless there is a vital, saving intervention. We are not talking about a serious disease such as cancer, which sadly afflicts the lives of many, but not everyone. The Bible speaks of the fatal problem of sin which afflicts us all – there are no exceptions. Quite plainly the Bible says that ‘there is no-one righteous, not even one’ and that we ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’.

But does this matter? We might readily admit that we are not the kind of people that we would like to be, we might even agree that we do regularly break God’s moral law, the ten commandments, if not in deed then certainly in thought. But we may not feel that this is a problem – certainly not a serious one. How wrong we are! Breaking God’s laws, the committing of sin leads to disaster. The Bible says ‘there is a way that seems right…but the end is the way of death’. And even more plainly ‘the wages (or reward) of sin is death’.

At the heart of the human race is an attitude of disobedience to God that can be traced all the way back to the earliest recorded history. And ever since, we have rejected God’s ways, preferring our own. But has this led to peace, prosperity, happiness and fulfilment? Quite the opposite – the history of the world is one of ceaseless wars, inequalities, atrocities, greed, hatred….the list goes on. No one with any sense can say that the world history has been a success story…and none of us can say personally that we are the exception. What we see around us is what we see deep within our own hearts, however pleasant we may seem on the surface.

The good news is that there is a remedy, an answer, a solution to our problem. It is simply that ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’. God himself entered into this world in the person of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. On the cross of Calvary he took the punishment for our sins so that ‘believing, we might have life in his name’. So we have a problem, but we also have a Saviour. 

Why are we special?

Why are we so different from other life forms on earth? What is it about us that makes us distinct from animals, even those that seem to be similar to us such as the ape family? We can reason, speak, and learn. We can make music and art, write books and invent things. We know what is right and wrong – we each have a conscience. We value ideals like courage, kindness, fairness and justice, even if we don’t live up to them ourselves.

The theory of evolution has no answer. At best it only tries to explain physical changes and has nothing really to say about why we are very different or special in these other ways.

“God created men and women in his own image.”The Bible has a very good explanation. God created men and women in his own image. Not that we are made to look like God. But we are made to reflect in some ways who God is and what he is like. This might strike you as an unusual way of thinking about the human race. But it’s what has been believed down the centuries until quite recently. The idea that we have ‘evolved’ is actually quite a new way of explaining human nature and one that doesn’t think we are special at all – just another form of animal.

But you might ask, if we are created in God’s image, why do we all have a nasty or horrible side to us, one that is not like God at all? That’s a good question and one that only the Bible has a good answer for – sin (disobedience to God) came into the world and ever since has stained the characters of us all so that we, unlike God, are not perfect. Which is why we need a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. 

So what is the point of life?

One of the greatest questions we can ask is ‘What am I do with my life?’ Most of us try to answer this question in very practical ways – what should I study, what job should I do, where should I live, how can I be happy? Of course we need to plan for these things, but they only relate to the here and now. Have you ever thought that the point of life is found in something much greater?

“We are made to know God… and to relate to him.”The Bible teaches that we are more than just a body and a mind – and so we have needs which go beyond the basics of life. The reason why we often feel that life is pointless is that we are living it on one level only. The Bible teaches that we are made to know God himself and to relate to him both now and forever. So if we are living our lives in ignorance or denial of God, no wonder that we end up questioning what life is all about. Or as one writer put it long ago ‘all is vanity’ or emptiness if we don’t know God.

So what does it mean to know God and to live a life that is more than just looking after what keeps us alive in a physical sense? Part of the answer is to get to know who God is, to understand how great he is and to learn to appreciate his wisdom, his power, his kindness, his perfect nature, his love and much, much more about him.

We don’t have to search hard to find out about him, for all that we need to know is set down in the Bible, God’s chosen way of teaching us about himself. Once we understand who he is we will want to worship and to give glory to him. Only then will we know that sense of completeness and purpose in life which we so badly want.

One other thing. We aren’t designed to live life only in this world, so to look for satisfaction only in what we can get here is bound to fail. God has made us with a desire to live forever – as the Bible says, God ‘has put eternity into our hearts’. The great news about coming to know God is that we can enjoy him both now and in a life to come in heaven, the final home of all who put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. 


Questions about salvation

What is a Christian and how do I become one?

A Christian is a forgiven follower of Jesus!  Or to put it in more depth, someone who has fully put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ, admitting their need of forgiveness for their sin and acknowledging that salvation can only be found in him.  In turning to him as Saviour, they also confess him as Lord and, with his help, seek to live their lives in obedience under his authority. 

“The only way to become a Christian is through God working in your life.”It is worth taking a moment to consider what a Christian is not.  You are not a Christian simply because of which country you are born in.  You do not become a Christian just because your parents might have been, nor by attending church at Christmas for an annual handshake with the vicar at the same time as putting some coins in the collection box!  You are not a Christian because you try to be good.  And you are not even a Christian if you simply “believe in God”.  There are many who do that but who give no thought to a daily relationship with him!

It is both humbling and hugely reassuring to know that the only way to become a Christian is through God working in our life.  It is humbling because it means that we have nothing to bring to God to impress him.  It is reassuring because if it was down to us, we would never come to him.  The Bible tells us that, by nature, human beings are spiritually dead and hostile to God.  We want to live our lives our way without reference to him - “I did it my way...” is our theme.

In truth, human beings are created for relationship with God but our sin makes that impossible and because God is holy, we come under his judgement.  Yet God loves us so much that he does not want to leave us that way, facing death and eternal separation from him.  He loves us so much that he sent his Son, Jesus, to die on a cross and take the penalty for human sin.  Only Jesus, who was fully God and fully man, could fulfil the demands of being mankind’s Saviour. As he died, Jesus cried out in triumph: “It is finished!” Sin is paid for!

A Christian is someone who comes to realise that Jesus’ death is for them – that they are a sinner who needs to be rescued.  No-one can see that need unless God is working in them.  Our salvation is all from him: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no-one can boast.”

“Repentance is admitting that we are a sinner… and committing to a change of direction in our lives.”God calls us to repentance and faith, bringing us to the point where we turn to him in total dependence.  That’s the point at which we become a Christian.  God’s work in our lives and our response to that are two sides of a coin that cannot be separated.  He works the desire to be saved in us.  Maybe that is why you are reading the answer to this question!  Repentance is admitting that we are a sinner, being genuinely sorry for the way that we have failed God, and committing to a change of direction in our lives - from our way to God’s way.  Faith is coming empty-handed to God and confessing that we are dependent on him, trusting that he has done everything necessary for our salvation in Jesus....and trusting that he will go on forgiving us, helping us, and shaping us to be more like him day by day as we live the Christian life. 

A Christian is one who believes in Jesus as Saviour and Lord – not just vaguely, but with their whole being.  Our faith is in him!  Being a Christian is not easy; there will be many who mock us for our faith, and God never promises that we won’t experience the ups and downs of life.  But he does promise that he will be with us every moment through them all and that in him we will have life in all its God-given fullness.  Now....and for eternity!

What has God done to provide salvation?

The answer to this question is simple and profound at the same time – he has done everything that is needed!  The Bible tells us that human beings, the pinnacle of God’s creation, are made for relationship with him.  Yet our sin – our insistence that we will do things our way, ignoring God in the world he has made – separates us from him.  It is a separation that has eternal implications.  God is holy and perfectly just and we stand rightly under his judgement and condemnation.  “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgement....” That is an appointment we can’t cancel - human life has a 100% mortality rate!  We wouldn’t need salvation if there wasn’t a need for us to be rescued!  So what can we ourselves do to put things right with God?  In a nutshell – nothing!  We can’t solve the problem of human sin on our own, however hard we try and however good, or even religious, we think we might be. 

“Jesus’ death on the cross is the only way by which we can be saved.”But the wonderful truth is that God has done everything we need through his Son, Jesus!  Our response is simply to come to him, admitting our need for a Saviour and fully trusting in the fact that Jesus’ death on the cross is the only way by which we can be saved.  It’s not what we deserve, it’s not something we can earn, but it is God’s free gift to those who will trust him.  Why?  Because he loves us!  “For 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.” Jesus is the only way to turn death into life, hell into heaven. 

How does Jesus’ death achieve that wonderful transaction?  It was a death planned in eternity past – Jesus, the eternal Son of God, coming to walk this earth as fully God and fully man, living the sinless life we could not live and then taking the penalty for human sin, past, present and future in dying on the cross.  Sin had to be punished.....and Jesus took the punishment on himself!  God’s perfect justice and God’s perfect love at its fullest expression!  As Jesus hung on the cross, he cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” For the one and only time in eternity, he was separated from God the Father as he stood in our place, as our substitute, bearing God’s just condemnation for our sin.  As he dies, Jesus cries out, “It is finished!” – not a cry of defeat but a cry of glorious triumph!  Human sin has been paid for!  The way to God is open!  And the fact that his sacrifice for sin in our place was accepted by God the Father is proved by Jesus’ resurrection!  The Bible tells us that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.....but Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!”

“God… calls us to respond to him in genuine repentance”As sinful humans, we are spiritually dead.  Yet as God opens our eyes to see that he has done all that is necessary to give us life, he calls us to respond to him in genuine repentance – being deeply sorry for our sin – and faith.  If we put our trust in him as Saviour and Lord, when God looks at our sinful lives he sees instead the perfect righteousness of Jesus.  This makes it possible for our relationship with him – for which we were created – to be restored.  We can know full forgiveness, his ongoing transformation of our lives and the promise of eternity with him to come.  The Bible puts it clearly and joyfully!  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 

Why is Jesus so important to Christians?

Christianity is Christ – the name gives it away!  Christianity is not about dos and don’ts, or religious observance, but about a relationship with Jesus Christ.  The compassion, love, faithfulness and holiness of God’s character are ultimately revealed in Jesus, the eternal Son of God who became a man and lived amongst us.  God does not hide Himself away frustratingly out of reach.  If we want to know who God is and what He is like, we look at Jesus.  There is no other way.

“Jesus walked this earth as fully man and fully God.”The Bible makes it clear that Jesus has always existed.  Through him the world was created and he is fully God; co-equal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.  It is beyond our understanding but it doesn’t make it any less true!  Yet as part of the salvation plan for mankind, he left the glory of heaven and became a man, born in Bethlehem to a virgin called Mary.  The virgin birth – Mary became pregnant as the result of a special act of the Holy Spirit – is crucial as it explains how Jesus was born without the taint of original sin which has affected all humans since Adam first sinned in the Garden of Eden.  In that way, he was able to live the sinless life of obedience to God that we cannot live.  Jesus walked this earth as fully man and fully God.  He knew hunger and thirst like us, tiredness and grief like us.  He was tempted as we are, yet was without sin.  Yet in what he said and did, he made it clear that he was also fully God – that he was “one with the Father”, God in a body.

Many today would accept Jesus as being a good teacher.  The biblical writers plainly show him teaching with an authority and clarity which often amazed his hearers.  Significantly, his teaching also matched perfectly with how he lived.  Yet those same writers stack up layers of evidence to show that Jesus is not just a teacher.  For example, we read of him calming a storm with a word.  Those in the boat with him asked in awe: “Who is this?  Even the wind and the waves obey him!” And we share their question!  As Jesus taught, calmed the storm, raised the dead, forgave sin, he acted in God’s world with God’s authority. 

“Jesus will return to earth… in glorious triumph.”And it is through his death on a cross and subsequent resurrection that we see the fullest expression and proof that Jesus is God.  On the cross Jesus died in place of sinners like you and me.  God is holy and cannot look on sin – it has to be punished.  And it was......God took the punishment on himself in Jesus!  “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The wonderful truth of Christianity is that through the death of Jesus, the eternal Son of God, we can know full and ongoing forgiveness and a day by day relationship with God if only we will accept our need of him. 

The fact that sin was dealt with effectively on the cross is proved by the resurrection and today Jesus sits in heaven once again in glory, interceding for those who have put their trust in him.  But the story doesn’t end there!  The Bible makes it very clear that one day, we don’t know when, Jesus will return to earth, not as a baby but in glorious triumph.  He will come to bring final judgement on all who have rejected him and chosen to live without God in his world, and to usher in the new creation, the wonderful future hope for all those who have trusted in Jesus for salvation.  Here they will live life with him forever!  He is both Saviour and Lord.  But have you accepted him as your Saviour and Lord?

What are the benefits of salvation?

If I become a Christian, what are the benefits, what will God do for me?  Well to be saved has a fairly obvious benefit, it implies that a person is in some sort of trouble which they need to escape from.  This is true of becoming a Christian.  It also implies that the person needs help because they cannot escape by themselves.  This too is true of becoming a Christian.  But what is the danger and what are the benefits of this means of escape?

“God is a judge and we all sit in the dock guilty as charged”The Bible tells us that we are all answerable to God for the wrong things that we do.  In fact by nature we are all spoilt by sin, which is the Bible’s word for all that is wrong and against God’s law.  God is a judge and we all sit in the dock guilty as charged, and the punishment for what we have done is death and eternal separation from God.  Our sin and our rejection of God deserve this punishment, although it is terrible.  The good news that the Bible proclaims is that Jesus Christ paid the price for sin, he and only he, lived a perfect life, a righteous life, and God gives our punishment to him and gives us Jesus’ righteousness if we trust in him for our salvation.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him will not be lost but have eternal life.”

But God does not leave things there.  A Christian does not become a perfect person overnight.  God goes to work on their nature, their behaviour, their heart and mind and affections.  These have all been spoilt by sin, so that even the good things that we do have bad motives and are against God.  But God starts to change a Christian so that each day they become more like him, more like the Lord Jesus who was perfect in every way.  A Christian won’t become perfect this side of heaven and will trip up and fall along the way, but God will be working in them all the way and with his help they cannot fail.

“When you become a Christian you join the family of God.”The essence of Christianity is not rules and regulations; it is all about a relationship with God.  Sin spoilt that relationship but Jesus died to mend it.  If we return to the picture of God as judge and us as guilty in the dock, we’ve seen how Jesus became a substitute by taking on himself the punishment for the sins of those who believe in him.  God now, as it were, comes down from his bench and not only releases the prisoners but he also adopts them and takes them home with him.  He shares with them all the love and care and the inheritance that he gives to his own children.  So the Bible teaches us when we pray to say “Our Father in heaven…..”.  When you become a Christian you join the family of God.

There is one more significant benefit of salvation which is that it is eternal and secure.  No Christian will be perfect here on earth and while we are on the earth we face the same difficulties, the same disappointments, and the same pain as everyone else.  But God, who created all things perfectly, before they were spoilt by sin, will remake all things perfectly.  That’s what heaven is.  In heaven all things will be new, there will be no more pain, no more sadness, nothing to make us cry.  The world will be made perfect and Christians too will be perfect there.

Can a Christian lose his or her faith?

If I become a Christian, how will I ever keep it up?  What if I start out and then lose my faith, won’t I be worse off then than if I had never started?  This is a very important question.  Becoming a Christian is no small thing and the Bible encourages us to count the cost before doing so.  For some people, maybe you, becoming a Christian is something that may mean that you lose your friends or are disowned by your family.  Many Christians in the past and even some still today, in different parts of the world, are called to make the ultimate sacrifice and give their lives for their faith.  In the face of opposition how can I be sure that I will not lose my faith?

“You see, left to ourselves we would never voluntarily turn to God to be saved.”The first thing to say is that as a Christian you will face opposition to your faith.  This will come from the everyday world around you and it isn’t necessarily negative opposition, it’s just that the world is heading in a different direction to you and so you will find yourself swimming against the tide.  You will also find opposition from within yourself.  You are saved, but you will still have an attraction to your old way of life, to things that you know to be wrong and displeasing to God.  Not until you get to heaven will you be perfect and free from this internal temptation.  Thirdly, and he is very real, the devil will be against you.  He will do his level best to trip you up and stop you following Jesus.  However, Jesus tells a story about the devil in the Bible.  He says that he’s like a strong man who enjoys his possessions until a stronger man comes along and takes them away.  Jesus is that stronger man and Christians are like his possessions.  The devil (the strong man) cannot possibly wrestle you back, so you can be confident that you will be safe for ever in the arms of a Saviour who is infinitely strong.

The Bible also teaches something very important about what God does when he saves a person.  You see, left to ourselves we would never voluntarily turn to God to be saved.  Sin has left us crippled and simply incapable of responding to God.  But in his great mercy, which is totally undeserved, a Christian is woken out of that deathly sleep.  He is given the desire to respond to Jesus and the ability to reach out to him in faith, trusting in what he did dying on the cross to save sinners.  We need and he gives the same grace for a Christian to continue trusting him.  So you’re right in thinking that you could never keep it up, you couldn’t, but he will give you the grace that you need every day.  He has promised that once he has started to work in you he will complete the job.  The Bible talks about this so confidently that it actually uses the past tense to describe every Christian making it to heaven!

“Satan cannot pull a Christian out of Jesus’ hands”What a comfort it is to know that the Lord Jesus is a mighty warrior who can protect his people from the devil, Satan cannot pull a Christian out of Jesus’ hands.  Christians can also take comfort from the realisation that they would not have any faith at all were it not for Jesus giving it to them in the first place and that he continues to give grace for them to keep on going on.  But the Bible doesn’t stop there, it tells us that Jesus is praying for every Christian to persevere and he involves himself in their lives to help them do so. 


Other questions

So what happens when we die?

The bible says it is appointed unto man to die once (physically) and after that face judgement (Hebrews 9:27).

Life after death involves judgement.

We will all stand in God’s court and the question that God will put to us is - have we perfectly kept God’s law? Breaking God’s law is what the bible calls sin. The bible’s answer to that question is ‘All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory or God’s standard’. Romans 3:23. None of us will be able to say we have perfectly kept God’s law. 

“Jesus… is living proof that there is life after death.”Jesus will be the judge on that day of days when we die. He, who is living proof that there is life after death, will be our judge and will determine the sort of life after death we have. When Jesus died, he took God’s eternal punishment for our sins on himself; he stood in our place. If we have trusted ourselves to Jesus then we can look forward to life with him after death. If not, we will have to take God’s eternal punishment for our sin.

So we will all live on after death.  Our bodies will die but our spirits will live on only there are two starkly different destinations.  If we have not trusted Jesus we will have to take God’s eternal punishment for our sin.  This is what the bible calls hell.  Hell is a place of unremitting punishment, pain and regret.  It is not fashionable to talk about hell and we may wish with all our hearts that it does not exist, but it does.  And it is fair that it does.  It is where all wrong will be punished; all those crimes that were ‘got away with’ on earth will be punished there.  It’s just that we all fall short of God’s standard not just the worst criminals.

What about heaven, what will that be like for those who have trusted in Jesus?  God created us as physical humans in a physical world; the bible states that heaven will be a physical place.  However, it will be in a new heaven and a new earth where only righteousness lives.  So no clouds, no harps and no togas! It will be perfect and amazing. Will you be there? 

How do we know there’s life after death?

People are increasingly sceptical about organised religion, and live as though God does not exist. However, at the point of death of a nearest and dearest there is often a re-evaluation or a period of reflection. ‘They have gone to a better place’ or ‘I like to think that they are looking down on us’ or ‘they are always with us’ are some of the phrases that are often used.

People like to think of their own version of what happens after death. The Bible asserts that what happens after death is not a matter of conjecture but is true and fundamental to everyone.

In 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul who wrote much of the New Testament writes: ‘If there is no resurrection from the dead i.e. life after death, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised our preaching is useless and so is your faith’

“The fact that Jesus died and rose again… is the guarantee… that there is life after death.”Strong words! So how do we know there is life after death? Because Jesus himself rose from the dead, the whole Bible turns on this fact. Jesus himself predicted both his death and resurrection on numerous occasions; he was fully expecting to die and to come back to life. Even if his followers did not believe it, the people who put him to death did and asked for a special guard to be placed outside of his tomb to prevent his disciples from taking Jesus’ body and claiming that he rose again. This, however, was the last thing on their minds. (For a really interesting and engaging book on the historical facts of the resurrection try reading ‘Who Moved the Stone’ by Frank Morrison).

The fact that Jesus died and rose again as the first person ever to do that, is the guarantee to the rest of humanity that there is life after death. The Bible calls Jesus the first fruits, the early harvest which has the promise of the full harvest behind it.

No-one else in human history has claimed to have come back from the dead and there be sufficient evidence to sustain that claim. Jesus followers staked their life on it. The apostle Paul openly challenged people living during the lifetime of eye-witnesses to the resurrection to prove it for themselves.

But the Bible says that not all life after death will be the same.  Those who know, love and trust Jesus will go to be with him in heaven.  They will rise to life.  Those who have not trusted in him will not be annihilated.  Their bodies will die but their spirits will live on, and as they chose a life without Jesus so their eternity will also be without him.  That eternity will be one of judgement and regret in a place that the Bible calls hell.  This does not have to be your destiny.  Will you trust in Jesus, the only one who has successfully negotiated death and who stands ready to offer you life?

Why trust the Bible?

With well over 100 million copies sold every year, the Bible is undoubtedly the best selling book, ever, by far. This book has influenced the course of history more than any other book and Christianity stands on the truth contained within it. People have risked their lives to own copies of the Bible, and some have lost their lives in the pursuit of making it accessible to all. Even today, in some countries, it is a crime to own and distribute the Bible. With so much riding on it, it is not unreasonable to ask ‘Why trust the Bible?’

“Since the bible can be trusted on other matters… it can be trusted on what it says about itself.”What does the Bible claim about itself?  The Bible claims to be nothing less than the very word of God. There are over 4000 references within the Bible that say God wrote it with phrases like “God said…”, “God spoke …” and”, The word of the Lord came to…”. The Bible’s own claims that God is the author are not a circular argument since 1) all claims of absolute authority have that authority built in 2) there is no higher authority to appeal to and 3) since the Bible can be trusted on other matters (as we shall see later), it can be trusted on what it says about itself.

Does the Bible hang together?  This collection of 66 books was written over a period of 1500 years by some 40 people in different places ranging from kings, statesmen, a doctor, a tentmaker and fishermen all writing from their own experiences. Yet each of these writers add information about and shine light on what the others say about God, us and the way God relates to us. Ultimately, the whole of the Bible speaks with one voice about Jesus Christ and what he did.

Are the Bible’s prophecies accurate?  About 30% of the Bible is prophecy, yet not one single prophecy, made to its own criteria, has ever been shown to be false. The possibility of just 11 examples regarding the land of Israel, the city of Jerusalem and the Temple at Jerusalem occurring by chance is one in 8x1063 (that’s 8 with 64 zeroes after it!).

Has the Bible’s impact on the world been good?  The Bible has a strong record for changing lives for the better. Men and women, driven by what the Bible teaches, have gone on to act for the abolition of slavery, reforming prisons, improving the lives of the mentally ill and housing destitute children. True, some have wrongly used the Bible’s teaching to oppress others, but these are examples of abuse of what the Bible says that the Bible itself condemns.

Did Jesus Christ trust the Bible?  Perhaps the most compelling reason to trust the Bible is because Jesus Christ himself trusted it. Jesus Christ is God; therefore what he says about the Bible is trustworthy. He believed the Old Testament scriptures that he had in his day and also said that his words, which are recorded and explained in the New Testament will never pass away.

But you may still have a few more questions like…

“No other historical document comes anywhere near the Bible”Has the Bible Changed?  A good test of whether writings have been passed on accurately is to count the number of surviving manuscripts dated closest to the event and then to compare how identical the manuscripts are between each other. No other historical document comes anywhere near the Bible when this test is applied. Sir Fred Kenyon, former Director and Principal Librarian of the British Museum has said: ‘… the last foundation of any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us as they were written has been removed’.

Isn’t the Bible Outdated and Irrelevant?  The Bible has a great deal to say about love, wisdom, peace, joy and meaning as well as hate, pride, guilt, depression and murder. Contemporary issues such as war, natural disaster, greed, marriage and many more issues are all also dealt with. Aren’t all these matters of utmost relevance in this century as much as in any other?

Now it’s over to You…

If true, the Bible is of utmost importance by the very nature of the matters it deals with. The one thing the Bible cannot be is only ‘slightly important’. Why not put it to the test yourself and read it with an open mind? Perhaps start with one of the Gospels (the book of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John) asking God to make it clear to you as you read. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

If you want to learn more about this subject, do read the following books:

Blanchard J. Why Believe the Bible (Evangelical Press), 2004. ISBN: 0852345593

Orr-Ewing A. Why Trust the Bible (Inter-Varsity Press), 2005. ISBN: 1844743470 

Why does God allow suffering?

Why does God allow suffering?  This is one of life’s hardest questions.  The question itself assumes that God exists and that he is able to do something about all the hurt, pain and suffering in the world.  Without God we’re left with a universe that has “no purpose, no evil, and no good; nothing but blind, pitiless indifference”.  But what’s the truth?  It’s not whatever answer we happen to prefer.  The Bible does not give a nice tidy answer and that’s reassuring because what we observe around us does not fit ivory tower theories.  The answer, whatever it is, must be substantial, it must be realistic but we also long for an answer that is somehow sympathetic.

“The Bible does not give us a direct answer to this question, but the answer it does give is an extraordinary one.”Suffering is often caused by people.  People kill each other, people steal from each other, people abuse one another.  For every child in poverty and suffering from curable diseases in the third world there is more than enough money, food and medicine in the world to care for them and give them a better life.  Why do we cause so much suffering?  Should God stop this?  He created us as independent creatures who are each responsible for our actions, he didn’t create robots or puppets.

But what about disasters that have nothing to do with deliberate wicked acts?  There are terrible accidents such as planes crashing, or mines caving in, and natural events like floods and earthquakes.  Some make the front pages, many do not, but each contains stories of great loss and ongoing misery.  Doesn’t God care?  The Bible understands this emotion; we find these words contained in it: “My God, my God, why have you left me alone?  Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my groans?  O my God I call to you during the day but you do not answer, by night I am not silent.” The Bible does not give us a direct answer to this question, but the answer it does give is an extraordinary one.

The words quoted are by David the Psalmist.  We find them again on the lips of the Lord Jesus while he is hanging on the cross.  The Bible tells us that the world is broken or spoilt by sin, it spoils us and nature.  Jesus came to put that right.  God is a God of justice and one day he will make right all the wrong things that wicked people have done, they will be punished even if they were not caught here on earth.  But God’s standards are such that none of us reach his mark.  For God to save us he cannot ignore his own justice and so Jesus came to pay the price for our sin.  The Bible says that “He was a man of sorrows and familiar with grief….he took our suffering on him and felt our pain for us….he was wounded for the wrong things we did.  He was crushed for the evil things we did.  The punishment, which made us well, was given to him.  And we are healed because of his wounds”.

So God’s answer to our question about pain and suffering is Jesus suffering on the cross for all who believe in him.  Jesus understands suffering and what he did there accomplished God’s plan to make all things right.  Heaven is a new and perfect world where there is no more pain, no more suffering, no more loss and no more tears.  Anyone who comes to Jesus can have this hope to help them in life and then to enjoy throughout eternity.