Christianity for Beginners and the Curious
a Very Short Course
Sinners wanted. Perfect
people need not apply.
Somebody loves you.
Jesus Christ, the only begotten son of
God, was born a Jew. In his brief lifetime, he fulfilled 333 predictions and 456 items over hundreds
of years of Jewish prophesy that predicted the coming and
activities of the "Messiah" as recorded in the Torah
and the Old Testament. Most Christians believe he is
also God himself since Jesus dropped several clues to that
end, one being when he said ". . . before the world began,
I am." "I am" is one of the names of God. "Yahweh"
literally means "He Is" in Hebrew.
"Jesus" is the Greek version of the Hebrew "Yeshua"
(Joshua) which means "Yahweh Saves".
Christians believe that God exists as 3 entities: God the
Father, God the Son (Jesus), and God the Holy Spirit. This
is the so-called "Holy Trinity". In spite of this,
they believe that the three entities are parts of just one
The basic principle of Christianity is that everyone sins
at one time or another. Since God hates sin, a sinner can't
get into heaven.
However Jesus, though sinless himself, redeemed us by taking
on the sins of the world. For a brief time, he "became
sin". During that time, he was crucified and died on
a cross for a crime he didn't commit. You can learn the details
of why this had to happen in the
Now, those who repent their sins and accept Jesus as their
redeemer (or savior) can go to heaven in spite of their sins.
That's it in a nutshell. Told you it was short.
The details behind all this took God 700,000 words to tell
and you can read all about it in the Bible. We'll get to that
in the Q/A section which is next. Read on if you want to know
Viking Waters offers special rates for faith-based organizations
Questions, Answers, and
What's the difference between Judaism,
Christianity, and Islam?
All three worship the same God. The differences revolve around
attitudes and beliefs about the nature of God, about
Jesus, and Mohammed.
The Jews were "God's chosen people". They started
out as a family born to Jacob (later renamed Israel by God)
by his two wives and their two maid servants. Jacob produced 12 boys
who in turn became the heads of large, tribal, families. One,
Joseph, was given a double portion of Jacob's blessing so
that his two boys each became a tribe for a total of 13 tribes.
For more information about this, see the first book of the
Bible, Genesis chapters 29 through 48. The Jews read the Torah.
The Old Testament portion of the Bible was all written by
prophets of Israel before Jesus was born.
The Jews (Hebrews) went through many trying times and were
sent many prophets by God who foretold of a Messiah (or savior)
who they expected to make the nation of Israel great again.
Christians believe that Jesus is that Messiah and the son
of God. Most Jews don't. There are, however, Jews who are
also Christians. The other Jews are still waiting.
The Bible which is broken into two major sections, The "Old
Testament" and the "New Testament" is the holy
book of Christians. The New Testament covers the period from
Jesus' birth until the final writings of John (Revelation).
Islam means "submission to God". The "nation
of Islam" was started by Mohammed. The holy book is the
Qur'an (Koran). To Muslims, Jesus is not the son of God (Allah),
but is a prophet. They believe that there is just "one"
God (not a trinity) and that Mohammed is His final prophet.
The upshot is that the three faiths have more in common than
they have differences.
Why is the Bible full of contradictions?
Our modern Bible was started by Moses who wrote the first
5 books of the Old Testament, under the guidance of God, about 2,500 years ago. Throughout history, a
large number of other works have been produced by prophets,
biographers, and other writers and evangelists (such a Paul).
All of these works were hand written. There were no printed
Bibles until Gutenberg invented the first western world movable
type printing press in 1454 and subsequently created the first
printed Bible. So, all of the books in the Bible were hand
copied, often by feeble candle light, until the fifteenth
The Bible is actually a sub collection of thousands
of works (that are still available, many of them preserved
in the Vatican) that were incorporated into the "official"
Bibles we see today. Many works were rejected for various
reasons. Even today, the Catholic Bible differs in many ways
from the various Protestant versions, most blatantly the 15
additional books in the Catholic Bible called the "Apocrypha".
There are a number of problems that created the apparent
contradictions. The written form of the languages used have
changed over time. The Hebrew alphabet has evolved considerably.
The alphabet didn't even have vowels in Jesus' time which
made words difficult to interpret ("Yahweh" was
written "YHWH"). In some versions of the Hebrew alphabet, two different
letters look almost the same and if a copyist misread a letter,
the meaning of the word changed. Such errors in Hebrew and
the other languages perpetuated themselves.
The Bible was written in three languages: Hebrew, Greek,
and Aramaic. Those languages have changed. The meaning of
words is often dependent upon the popular culture of the time.
In a particular time period, certain stories and events may
be widely known as an oral tradition, but forgotten after
a few generations. Many references in the Bible to such things
have made interpretation difficult. As an example, in today's
culture "gay" means homosexual, but it used to mean
"happy or carefree". Bible scholars often compare
several conflicting versions of a passage in an attempt to
get the "best" interpretation. If they can't come
to a firm conclusion, they often print the most popular version
with a footnote giving the "minority" interpretation. In spite of their efforts, some words don't transfer well from one language to another so the original meaning gets altered a bit or watered down.
To get an idea of the problems, try reading something written
in 15th century English sometime. In just 5 centuries, our
written language has changed dramatically as has spelling
The real miracle is that there are so few contradictions
in the Bible and most of them are only minor annoyances. The
main message is consistent and clear to anyone who doesn't
get distracted by details.
The evidence is against there being
The universe was either created by a higher power or is an
accident (and no one knows what "accident" started
Let's talk statistics. What are the odds against all the raw
material being created by accident? On top of that, what
are the odds against life being created out of that inert
matter "by accident"? One in a billion? One in
a trillion? One in a google? No one knows, but there has
to be a lot of zeros involved.
Whatever the odds, believing the "accident" theory
takes a huge amount of faith. Those with less faith
believe in God or some other higher power.
The universe is very well ordered (ask any physicist),
the kind of order that you'd expect from a "creator".
In addition, God is well-documented by the most reliable
history books in existence. Most ancient history sources
were written by kings and other rulers who made sure the
"history" was well edited to make them look good.
If they lost a battle, it wasn't recorded. If they messed
up, it wasn't included in the "official" history.
Only one set of books tell the truth, even when it wasn't
flattering. The Bible. When the rulers messed up or the
country lost a war, it was recorded. The sins of Saul, David,
Solomon, and others were reported in all their embarrassing
details. So were the miracles of God. What better source
can you come up with than one that even tells the negative
"Awe c'mon, any scientist knows the universe wasn't created
in 6 days."
The first words of Genesis are:
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the
earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness
was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God
was hovering over the waters." -NIV
We're already into the first day of creation. The Universe
and all the material is there and everything is dark. No
day, no night. So, a "day" at that time was probably
one of God's "days". How long is that? He's an
eternal being, so it's probably pretty lllooooooooonnnnnnnngg.
Was it equal to one of our years? A decade? A millennium?
Longer? Again, no one knows except God Himself.
The word used for "time" in the Old Testament is often a word that translates to "epochs" of time. This is the case in Genesis.
What about evolution? There's a lot of evidence for that.
We've established that God had lots of time to create everything.
Let's take a "what if" trip.
If you want to grow a crystal, you mix up a medium, put
in a seed and let it grow. Kind of like evolution. Why should
God go to all the trouble of creating everything molecule
by molecule when he can amass a chunk of material and blow
it up in such a manner that it will create everything you
want (kind of a super pool break where all the balls go
into the pockets)? Then on the fifth day, He could introduce
"life" in the form of an amoebae and guide "evolution"
to create all the creatures. On the sixth day, after most
of the land animals have arrived, He could have made the
final adjustment to create "man" (no one has found
the missing link at least not outside the Viking
That may not be the way it happened, but it could have
been. After all, we're dealing with a perfect, omniscient
being in God. A little thing like setting up a process that
results in a complete Universe would be simple for Him. No conflict with Darwin's "evolution", just the
reason for it.
However, the Cambrian Explosion pretty much debunks Darwin's evolutionary theory, so we're left with the action of an outside source (God?) as the only explanation left.
The Discovery Channel says that the religion of Israel was
a conglomeration of other religions from surrounding tribes.
They base this assumption upon similar writings from
other cultures that have survived.
People of that time were very superstitious. Many believed
in a pantheon of gods and often prayed to several in the
hope that one of them would help them succeed. Now, the
nation of Israel, with God's help, was very successful.
As they entered the "Promised Land", they whipped
every tribe that opposed them. The surrounding nations could
see that Israel's God was stronger than the "gods" of the
other nations, so they tried to mimic them in hopes that
some of Israel's "luck" would rub off on them.
They didn't get it right, but they probably adopted some
of Israel's religious practices and the few writings they
managed to be exposed to.
So, yes, some of the religious writings are similar, but
Discovery, in their never-ending attempts to subtly debunk Christianity, seems to have gotten cause and effect backwards -- as usual.
Actually, there is less evidence that you exist ;-)
I won't believe until I see a miracle
or see God Himself
Some people can't (or will not) be convinced, no matter what
they see. You shouldn't be one of them.
The Hebrews were delivered out of Egyptian slavery because
of a series of miracles from God. God even parted the waters
of the Red Sea to allow them passage. He was with them as
a very visible pillar of fire by night and smoke by day. He
fed them in the desert and provided water. It was very hard
to be an atheist in those times.
However, right after they had agreed to follow His commandments,
standing beside a mountain stormy with God's presence, they
made a golden calf and worshiped it instead of God.
Jesus said "Because you have seen me, you have believed;
blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."
-John 20:29 NIV
You are surrounded by miracles. The Universe and all its mechanics
are a miracle. Your very existence is a miracle. You have 700,000
words of testimony available to you (the Bible).
If that isn't enough to convince you, then Jesus' words definitely
apply: "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets,
they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the
dead." (-Luke 16:31 NIV) Not too
long after that, Jesus did rise from the dead. What
more should anyone need?
What evidence is there that Jesus ever
In the world at that time, it took the eyewitness testimony
of two witnesses to convict someone of murder.
The first four books of the New Testament are testimonies
to Jesus and what he did and said. Two of those books were
written by eye witnesses (Matthew and John) and the other
two were compilations of interviews with eye witnesses. Add
to that, the books written by Paul (who saw the spirit of
the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus), Peter (an
eye witness), the book of James (an eyewitness), and 3 more
books by John plus his Revelation.
Pretty convincing evidence.
I'm a good person. Can I go to Heaven
without becoming a Christian?
Jesus said "I am the way and the
truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through
me." (John 14:6 -NIV). That's a pretty definitive
statement. Why did he say this?
No one who sins can go to heaven. God the Father hates sin.
Everyone sins at some time or another. Only those who believe
in Jesus and accept him as their redeemer are washed clean
of their sins. Therefore, no one comes to the Father (in Heaven)
unless Jesus washes them clean (see why
did Jesus have to die for more on this).
A lot of people think they can get into Heaven through "works". It's impossible. They only way is through "grace". Jesus' sacrifice made "grace" possible and bridged the gap between sinful man and God.
So the answer, at least for those of us living now, is "no,
being good is not enough in itself". But it's nice to
know you are a good person, congratulations!
Christianity is out of step with
our culture. I do what "feels right"
We live in a fallen world. And all of us are infected by
sin in one way or another. What "feels right" is
not necessarily "right".
Popular culture, never completely in step with God's wishes,
has degraded into something polluted by drugs, sex for sale,
selfishness, convenient lies, a "me first" attitude,
and hundreds of other perversions of what God really wants
Our culture is out of step with Christianity and God, not
the other way around. If you want a better quality of life,
consider carefully what portions of our so-called "culture"
you wish to adopt. And don't trust your feelings if you want
to be "right", check with God first. He left an
instruction manual; it's called the Bible.
Why should I become a Christian?
"It's not about you" (Rick
Warren, the Purpose Driven Life).
According to Rick, you were created for God's pleasure. Not
the other way around.
Okay, okay, you want to see some personal benefits. How about
living forever in Heaven vs spending eternity in Hell? And
yes, there is a place of eternal punishment called
Take your choice.
Of course, you may be too busy shaking hands with all your
friends in Hell to notice the pain. Far better to make sure
you know some people who will end up in Heaven (which as rumor
has it is a really nice place), then you can shake
hands with them when you arrive. So, if you become a Christian,
do your friends and yourself a favor and convince them to
join you. That way, you will fulfill the "great commission" given by Jesus in Matthew 28:19.
Then there's Pascal's Wager. Blaise Pascal was a 17th
century mathematician. He made a proposition that boils down
If I believe in God and life after death and you do not, and if there is no God, we both lose when we die. However, if there is a God, you still lose and I gain everything.
Here on earth you can reap some more immediate benefits.
Just a few are:
- You get to join a church. In fact, you should join
a church (see I don't
need to go to church to be a Christian for more
- Since God is totally trustworthy, your stress level will
go down because you will know when to offload your problems
- You can't be so messed up that you can't be healed by
Jesus' love and the love of a good church family.
- Most of your new friends will be more reliable, honest,
friendlier, and easier to be around than the average.
- There is almost no such thing as a church function without
really good food (a problem if you're on a diet).
- Once you really believe, you will no longer fear
death (did we mention "lower stress levels"?).
- You will receive help from God when you need it the most
(don't forget to ask).
- You get to do fun things with really nice people
(like potlucks - yummm, there goes the diet again).
- You'll have a place to take your kids where you know they
won't get into trouble.
- Once your kids start attending church, they have a better
chance of avoiding drugs, booze, crime, and other pitfalls.
So do you.
- You'll have a whole church full of people who can help
and support you when you need it the most.
- And you get to help others when they need it the
most (gives you the "warm fuzzies" inside).
- Your life will have a purpose
"The one who dies with the most toys is still dead."
But remember "It's not about you".
What Happens After I Die?
It all depends upon your "state of grace" when you die. If you believe in Jesus and accept his ransom sacrifice (or are perfect), you're Heaven-bound. Otherwise, you're out of luck. Here's what some Biblical scholars believe:
The "winners" go to "Paradise" until the Day of Judgment. At that point, they enter into Heaven to live forever in God's presence.
The "losers" (even if you're a "nice" person) go to "Hades", a place removed from God. In Hades, you can see the people in Paradise across an impassable gulf. They're eating and drinking and basically having a good time. You'd give anything for a drop of water on your tongue.
On Judgment Day, you get thrown into "The Lake of Fire" for eternal torment (or "the 2nd death" -- there's some confusion on this point).
Catholics believe a bit different. People who are less than perfect, but still Heaven-bound, must spend time in "Purgatory" (not a nice place) to pay for their sins before they get to go to Heaven. Protestants don't buy this version, believing that Christ has already paid for their sins.
Why do bad things happen to good
We live in a fallen world. This is not Heaven (no
matter how comfortable your bed is after a hard day). Satan
(the devil) is still lose in the world (but the Bible
assures us that he'll get his in the end).
And just to make things tougher, God gave us free will. We
can do anything we want while we're here. We just don't always
do the right thing. So while we're being bad we often hurt
good people. God doesn't like it, but he does allow it.
The important thing to remember is that it's what you do
when bad things happen to you that counts in the long run.
You can cry about it, ask God for help, complain that there
is no God, retaliate, complain to God, pass the bad thing
on to another innocent person, lock yourself in a room and
become catatonic, carry a grudge, forgive, trust God that
in the end you'll get your reward, and dozens of other things.
Some of these things are appropriate and some will get you
into more trouble. You have the freedom to react to bad things.
God won't make you do anything.
Bad things often give you an opportunity to do something
good with the problem. If it works out well, you can witness
to other people who suffer similar problems (and even help
Remember the adage: Pressure makes diamonds. Do the
right thing when a bad thing happens and you'll become a better
person and get closer to eternal life.
When Paul complained to Jesus in prayer about his personal
physical pains and problems, Jesus told Paul "My grace
is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
(2Cor 12:9 )
I've been too bad to be accepted by God.
God will accept a repentant sinner, no matter how evil you've
been up until now. You may have to pay an earthly penalty
for your misdeeds ("To err is human, to forgive is against
departmental policy" - sign on the wall
of a TV show police office).
Consider Saul of Tarsus. He was a ringleader of a group of
Jews who went around stoning Christians to death. One person
he helped to murder was St. Steven, the first martyr after
On the road to Damascus to hunt down some more Christians,
he saw the resurrected Jesus who recruited him to spread His
Saul, the murderer of many Christians became Paul who spread
the Gospel (literally, "good news") to the non-Jewish
(gentile) world. His writings take up more space in the New
Testament than those of any other person.
Now, if God can use someone as evil as Saul/Paul, why not
You can read Paul's story in Acts 7:54 - 8:3, 9:1
- 9:30, 13:1 - end of Acts. For more, read his letters from
Romans through Titus.
There is no one who is so dysfunctional or messed up that
s/he can't be healed by Jesus' love.
What do I have to do to become a Christian?
Nothing could be easier if you have the right attitude. There
is no secret handshake or password to memorize.
- Admit to Jesus that you are a sinner (don't forget to
admit it to yourself)
- Repent (turn away from) your sins
- Accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and accept his sacrifice
as payment for your sins (tell Him)
- Get baptized (some say it's optional, but read John 3:5).
This doesn't automatically mean that you'll be perfect after
this. You'll sin again and again. The important thing is to
try not to sin and to continue to accept Jesus and trust in
God the Father. This can't be lip service. You have to really
mean it. Your actions and attitudes will change because
of your inner change.
I don't need to go to church to be
True as far as it goes. But it's very hard. Successful "Lone
Ranger" Christians are very rare. Even rarer is
a new Christian who is successful on his own.
The New Testament clearly expects Christians to congregate.
The writers of the New Testament wanted Christians to help and encourage
each other. Attending church and related functions recharges
your batteries and helps to keep you on track. Being around
other Christians gives you other viewpoints and interpretations
of scripture you might not discover on your own.
In summer sometime, at a camp fire, take a burning log out
of the fire and place it by itself to one side. Slowly, almost
imperceptibly, the fire in the log goes out. The same often
happens with Christians who try to "go it" alone.
Which church should I go to?
That's a matter of personal taste as well as doctrine.
You want a church that is strictly Bible-based. If the pastor/priest
has a political or other ax to grind, s/he'll probably find
parts of the Bible that need to be ignored or interpreted
out of existence. Avoid such situations. Politics doesn't really
belong in churches and you don't belong in a church that isn't
devoted to ALL of the Bible.
Remember, the important thing is not what man thinks
or wants, but what God says. If the people in a church
don't agree with God, then that church is in big trouble.
You don't need that kind of grief, especially if you are a
Stay away from pastors that are consumed by hate. They are not full of the grace of God. You don't need to be caught up in their hate.
Avoid cults (explained in the next question).
As far as personal taste is concerned, you will find that
there are churches with many different styles and sizes that
are still Bible-based. Church styles range from very structured
(as an example, Catholic churches) to very charismatic with
a very boisterous and extroverted congregation.
Churches can be small and intimate (especially in small towns)
up to large. In larger churches, intimacy is often achieved
by forming small study groups that meet together on a regular
Choose the size that suits you, but if you prefer small churches
beware; Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California
started out meeting in the pastor's home in 1980. Its attendance
now exceeds 20,000 spread out over 6 services (2 Saturday,
4 on Sunday). Saddleback has over 80,000 names on its rolls
and has spawned 34 daughter churches.
The best way to find out what appeals to you is to attend
several churches in your area (not too far or you might
find it more convenient to skip services when faced with a
long drive on a Sabbath morning. Experience the entire service.
Observe the congregation. Check out the content of the sermon.
No fair "attending" a church on television instead!
You won't get the interaction you need. The only exceptions
would be if you are physically unable to attend a church or
you want to experience the TV church in addition to
attending your regular church. Remember, there is no substitute
for being with other believers on a regular basis.
When you find a church in which you feel comfortable, attend
for several weeks. After that time, ask yourself some questions:
- Are the sermons Bible-based? Does the pastor/priest offer
doctrine that conflicts with the Bible?
- Are you comfortable with the entire service (music, church
- Are you comfortable with the members of the congregation?
Are there any cliques? Any factions that struggle with each
- Does the church offer other programs or activities that
you might enjoy and benefit from?
- Does the church reach outside itself with programs for
the community as well as missions to help those in need
and to bring more people to Christ?
If you still feel good, then congratulations, you've found
What's a cult?
Strictly speaking a cult is a movement that follows an often
charismatic individual rather than God. Jews consider Christianity
to be a "cult" because we follow Jesus (remember
they don't believe that He is God).
Examples you may have heard of:
- Jehovah's Witnesses ("Russellism"): Started
by Charles Taze Russell in the 19th century. The movement
has become large enough that it's hard to think of it as
a cult any more, but since it's based upon a somewhat unusual
interpretation of scripture by Russell, it qualifies (just barely).
- The ill-fated Branch Davidians, started by David Koresh,
still have a few active members after most of them were
killed by FBI agents on April 19, 1993 during the Waco standoff.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons)
was started in 1830 by Joseph Smith who claimed God and
Jesus visited him in a grove of trees near his home in Palmyra,
N.Y. A few years later, he said an angel led him to gold
plates on which were inscribed the history of ancient Hebrews
who migrated to the American continent around 600 BC With
God's help. Smith said he was able to translate the writings
into a text he published as The Book of Mormon. Smith was
killed in 1844 by an angry mob in Carthage, Ill. The thriving
church is now headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Other cults range from rather mild departures from "accepted"
doctrine to organizations that are very "over the edge"
and often dangerous.
How should I read the Bible?
Don't be discouraged by the size of the Bible. It's about
the same as reading 7 blockbuster novels and in many cases,
more enjoyable. Just don't try to do it in a day.
Pick a version that you will understand. The King James version
is a standard, but the language is somewhat archaic to modern
readers. The New International Version is quite popular with
Protestants. If you're Catholic, ask your Perish Priest for
a recommendation. Get a good student Bible with extensive
footnotes in the version you pick. The footnotes often clear
up references you may not understand and can give you cultural
background information pertinent to the passage you are reading.
The Bible is mainly a history book with hundreds of very
interesting stories and admittedly some pretty boring
sections (so-and-so begat so-and-so, Jr. who begat someone-else-I-never-heard-of,
and on and on). Rather than being organized on a strict chronological
basis, the Bible's books are sometimes grouped by category.
- The first 5 books (the "Pentateuch") were written
by Moses and God as a team and present the early history
of creation as well as giving the Law to the Israelites.
- The next 12 books (Joshua through Esther) are mostly history.
1st and 2nd Chronicles duplicate a lot of the material in
the preceding books in this group.
- Job through Song of Songs is considered Wisdom Literature.
Proverbs has a lot of good hardheaded advice for living.
- Isaiah through Malachi (17 books) are all about the Prophets
who brought the word of God to Israel. Actually, the books
are more about God's messages than about the prophets themselves
and there are some really neat stories about people and
- If you are reading a Catholic Bible, the next 15 books
make up the "Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical" books.
Protestant leaders decided to leave these books out because
they don't add to an understanding of God and some seem
to be made up stories. Catholics, of course, disagree.
- The New Testament starts with the four gospel accounts
of Jesus' life on earth and His ministry.
- Acts is an account of the early church immediately after
Jesus' accession into Heaven.
- Romans through Philimon are all letters from Paul to churches
and people he worked with. They were meant to be copied
- Hebrews through Jude are letters from Apostles and prophets.
- The last book of the Bible is Revelation which is a record
of a vision given to the Apostle John late in his life and is mostly
prophetic. It tells of the end times and the final battle
between Satan and Jesus. It's probably the most difficult
book to understand since much of it is symbolic rather than
being clearly delineated.
There are many proposed reading plans. At least once, you
should start at Genesis and read all of the books if only
to have a feeling for what is in the Bible. This might take
you a year depending upon your reading speed and comprehension
level. Read it all. Yes, even the "begatting" stuff.
You don't have to memorize the genealogies unless you think
you're related to a particular person, but there are some
interesting bits hidden within those lists. On subsequent
readings you can skip the boring stuff that doesn't actually
add to your knowledge of God and His plan for you.
Don't hurry it. Read what you can absorb in one sitting,
then lay it aside until you've digested it. Your best plan
is to set aside a block of time each day for reading. Some
read the Bible after they get up in the morning to start the
day off with God. Others read just before going to bed. A
lot will depend upon your schedule and your personal "clock".
Some people can't deal with anything first thing in the morning
while others are worn out before bedtime. Pick a time when
your brain is functioning well.
Pay particular attention to anything that looks like a prediction.
You'll find much of it coming true as you read. A large number
of Old Testament predictions pertained to Jesus and described
His life and work hundreds of years before He was born. In
the New Testament you'll find references to many of these
bits of scripture as proof that Jesus was, indeed, the Messiah
After you've made it through the entire Bible once, you'll
have much of the necessary background to study particular
sections more deeply, perhaps with a Bible study group formed
from within your church or a cross-denominational group from
your community. This is where the real "meat" is.
The lessons in the Bible often have more than one meaning.
One passage may mean something different to several different
people -- and all of them will be correct. God didn't waste
too many words. The parables told by Jesus are particularly
rich in multiple lessons.
After you are familiar with the Bible, you can adopt one
of the many reading plans for study, pay particular attention
to sections being used in current sermons, or wander into
areas that are of particular interest to you at the time.
One thing you'll find is that each time you read, you will
discover something new that you missed on previous readings.
Why did Jesus have to die?
It all started with the Law as laid down in the Old Testament.
God gave the Israelites some rules to live by starting with
the Ten Commandments (not "the Ten Suggestions").
He added some more rules after that, many of them procedural,
but all in harmony with the Commandments. Many of the rules
were to illustrate how holy God is and how clean you have
to be to approach Him.
God knew that the Israelites were not perfect and would break
some of the laws ("sin"), so he set up a way for
them to "pay" for messing up. He set up a schedule
of fines based upon the financial ability to pay and the size
of the sin. The payment was usually in the form of an animal
that was to be sacrificed upon the alter. Mess up a little
and it would cost you a pigeon. Sin big time and it may cost
you a prize bull (and no culls allowed, the sacrificial animal
had to be perfect with no blemishes). Your sin was figuratively
placed upon the animal and then killed along with the animal.
Hopefully, the sinner would also mend his ways and not repeat
his sin. That was the real goal. The forms were there to help
the person live a better life.
Just to add to the burden, there were times when you sacrificed
"just because" or just in case you messed up and
didn't notice. You see, the game was rigged. You were guilty,
even if you didn't know you sinned. For instance, if you touched
an "unclean" animal, you were guilty and had to
sacrifice something (what it was depended upon your financial
abilities) to "pay" for your sin (Leviticus Chapter
4). The kicker was that you could accidentally, say, step
on an unclean bug and never know it. You were still guilty.
There were a regular series of annual festivals and remembrances
where sacrifices were required. Of course many of them were
parties where you got to eat what you sacrificed, after all
God isn't a dour party-pooper, he wanted His people to be
In addition, the firstborn of every womb, including human
beings, were to be sacrificed to God. However, God allowed
a substituted animal in place of a woman's first child and
a lamb in place of a donkey colt. Substitution is an important
Unfortunately, when living under the Law, you were condemned
by it. Even if a person tried, he couldn't catch all the times
he sinned and haul a sacrifice several day's journey to the
Temple to pay the fine. So, most people died "in sin"
without being redeemed by a sacrifice. If you died "in
sin" you were not acceptable to God and your chance of
going to Heaven was greatly reduced. The only way into Heaven
was by your "works" during your life.
Israel needed to be saved. They just didn't realize what
form that would take. The Jews were looking for a military
leader to throw off the Roman yoke and make the nation powerful
God sent a sacrifice instead.
Jesus, the only begotten son of God, grew up as the stepson of
a poor carpenter. He only preached the last 3 years of his
life, but during that time, He divulged a huge amount of information
that clarified a lot of the teachings in the Old Testament
and added some new insights about living together and about
life after death. He also managed to hack off the leading
theologians of that time. It got him killed.
He lead a sinless life and, although purportedly a plain
looking man, was without physical blemish. He was the perfect
As He was scourged and then nailed to a cross (or tree trunk
depending upon what you believe) on Friday, He figuratively
became all of the sins of the world. God, turned his back
on Jesus at that time because God hates the sight of sin.
When Jesus finally died, our sins died with him and at that
point, His Father accepted His now sinless son and resurrected
him on Sunday.
When Jesus died, all of our "fines" for sin were
paid in full. We are no longer condemned by the Law. All of
our sacrifices have been made once and for all. Jesus paid
And that's why He had to die, so that we who accept his sacrifice
and have faith in Him can be free from sin and be acceptable
to God the Father. The really neat thing is that we get to
live forever. "Faith" has been substituted for "works".
He lived a perfect
life to prove that it could be done. He died on the
cross to save us from our sins. And He was brought
back to life on the third day to prove that it was
How is the Trinity possible?
Have you ever wanted to clone yourself so you could finish all the work you need to do?
God is all powerful. If he wants to split himself into multiple parts for reasons of his own, I'm sure that the creator of the universe has no trouble doing that. So, he spoke a "Word" (which became Jesus and was called by God "my son") and gave the Word the job of creating the universe; and he created the Holy Spirit to aid and strengthen men (and women). All of the pieces are still parts of the one God.
Yes, we're made in His image, but we're not Him. Just because we can't do something doesn't mean it's impossible for Him.
Don't try to limit God. It can't be done.
When will the "end" come?
Tomorrow at 3:47 PM Greenwich Mean Time.
Actually, even Jesus doesn't know. Only God the Father knows
and He isn't telling.
We do have some clues and you can read them in the New Testament.
The most important one was given by Jesus
"No one knows about that day
or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but
only the Father." Matthew
In several places He says that He will come "like
a thief in the night" with the explanation that
no one knows when a thief will arrive.
So, always be ready. Have your spiritual house in order so
that you will be able to face God on Judgment Day. Assume
that Jesus' "Second coming" will happen in 10 seconds.
If you do that you'll be prepared when the end does come.
Even if Jesus doesn't come in your lifetime, remember that
you could die any second. That airliner overhead might drop
a chunk of "blue ice" on your head, right through
your roof. You could have a heart attack, or be hit by a car
(remember the news story you saw of the car that drove into
someone's living room). Life is uncertain, so live as if you
could live a long life or die within several seconds.
The Three Irreducible Ingredients as written in Just Walk Across the Room by Bill Hybels (Zondervan Press):
- God Loves you
- Christ chose to pay for you
- The choice is now yours
Why can bad people go to Heaven and good people still go to Hell?
I thought God loved you no matter what, that he loves everyone in spite of our misgivings. If this is true does that mean that a religious rapist or murderer will get into heaven, and me for never taking a life in any way will go to hell? Because that seems a bit unfair. I believe bad things happen for a reason, whether that is due to God, fate, or a destiny I don't know. I doesn't make it hurt any less, or the crime ok in anyway.
He does love you no matter what.
There is no such thing as a true Christian rapist. A rapist may give "lip service" to Christ, but if he believed in his heart, he would mend his ways and pay for his crimes. You often see television shows where the Mafia boss goes to church with his family as if doing so would give him "church credits" to expunge his sins during the rest of the week. It doesn't work that way.
If someone truly accepts God and Christ, that individual will be changed by the experience. No, not a thunderbolt from the sky into his brain. True acceptance will always be accompanied by an attempt to sin no more. "Lip service" acceptance is a sham and God knows it since He sees into everyone's heart.
God's grace is available to anyone, no matter how bad s/he's been in the past. I know it's hard to grasp, but He really DOES love everyone that much.
Consider: Let's suppose you have a brother whom you love very much. Somewhere along the line, your beloved brother, whom you grew up with, goes bad and starts robbing and stealing. Not only that, but he gets violent and beats his victims while stealing their money and jewelry. Men, women, it doesn't matter to him. You talk to him, you plead with him to mend his ways, but he just curses you and gets worse. And its not drugs or booze, he's just gotten plain mean. You lay awake at night crying because your previously wonderful brother is gone and this monster has taken his place.
Then one day, he meets someone who changes his life where you couldn't (maybe a policeman or a victim who turned out to be tougher than your brother). For whatever reason, your brother mends his ways.
Will you take him back (possibly after he gets out of prison)? Will you overflow with joy because your brother who was lost is now back? Of course you will because deep down you still love him.
God loves every one even more than that. According to one of John's letters (1John), there is only one sin that you can't be forgiven. He didn't say what it was, but I suspect it's blaspheming the Holy Spirit (don't take that as "the last word", I'm just guessing based on something Jesus said).
And that's why sinners can still make it into heaven. If a sinner "mends his ways" and accepts Jesus' offer, s/he can be "washed clean" and be acceptable to God. Just like the murderer of Christians, Saul/Paul of Tarsus, was.
Why do you have to have so many rules?
I never thought of it that way. Yes, you're right. There do seem to be a LOT of rules. But when you get right down to it, there are only a few basics.
First of all, don't expect to be required to follow all the rules in the Old Testament. Most of those rules were procedural (how to worship at the temple where the High Priest actually approached God IN PERSON once a year and represented the people to God the rest of the year). The rules were designed to show the Hebrews how Holy God is and how far away they were from him. It gets pretty messy so I won't bore you.
However, if you assemble all of the rules in the Bible, they would still pale next to the man-made rules you and I have to live under every day. The Bible, including all the stories and such, is all in one volume. The average law library hold thousands of books and just the laws of one county in the U.S. can't be contained in a single volume. I suspect that it's similar in the UK. So, in retrospect, the rules of God are far lighter a burden than the rules of man. But it gets even better . . .
Most of the Old Testament rules went away when Christ died on the cross. The Ten Commandments remain plus the command to "love your neighbor as yourself". John (the only Apostle of Christ who wasn't martyred) considered this so-called "Eleventh Commandment" to be the most important rule for Christians. In his very old age, he was constantly muttering "love one another" when being carried into his congregation. When asked why he was always saying that, he replied "because it is the Lord's command, and if this only is done, it is enough."
Why can't he just let nice good, friendly people into heaven?
Normal people who have never done any harm? I know that you have to believe to get into heaven, but is believing and going to church and living by his rules the same thing? For example can I believe in God and live like I do now at still be ok when I die? Or do I have to believe and go to church and give myself to him?
I have good and bad news (it all depends on how you look at things). Going to church won't get you into heaven. Remember the Mafia Don I mentioned earlier? In fact, going to church isn't a hard requirement (but review this discussion). The most important thing you have to do is:
- Admit your sins to God and yourself
- Believe in and accept Jesus as your "redeemer" (his payment for your sins)
- Try your best not to sin any more (that's "giving yourself to Him")
- Get baptized.
The writers of the Bible strongly suggest that Christians "congregate" with each other for the reasons mentioned on this website. If you're uncomfortable in "church" you may be walking into the wrong church. For instance, my wife grew up in a Lutheran church with a meddling pastor. She dropped out because she didn't like the liturgy (very formal and similar to the Catholic and Anglican churches) and she definitely didn't like the pastor.
I grew up Methodist which is pretty loose ("for people who don't know what they believe" according to one Methodist minister I talked to). In college, I fell away and majored in girls (I eventually "recovered").
We now attend a small Presbyterian church (100 members) which is like one big loving family. The pastor is a true Christian with a sly sense of humor. Sue and I love just being together with this family.
The biggest problem we have is that almost all of our friends are Christians and we've lost touch with the secular world, so it's pretty difficult to fulfill Christ's "Great Commission" which is to go into the world and make believers of all men. It's pretty difficult to do that when everyone you meet on a daily basis is already a believer.
As for living like you do now, I don't know how you live now, so I can't advise you. You do have to believe and try to "sin no more" (you'll fail again and again, but you have to honestly TRY). A good church will help you to do these things. A bad one can destroy you, so be discerning (you sound like you have the intelligence to do so). But if you are Superwoman and can keep the faith while not going to church, that lack won't keep you out of Heaven.
-Bible quotes are from the NIV, published by the International Bible Society (Zodervan Publishing House).