What's It All About?
Following are short explanations of basic Judeo/Christian beliefs.
What is the most important teaching of the Bible?
If I get everything else wrong, what must I get right for sure?
These are the two commandments you must get right. Both come from the Tenach (Old Testament). Both were quoted by Jesus as the only two that a person must follow.
[An expert in the Jewish law tested Jesus by asking him,] “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
That's it. God wants you first to love God and second to love other people the same way you love yourself. Everything else written in the Bible is dependent on those two commands.
Notice, Jesus did not say, Go to church, go to synagogue, have communion/mass, or walk around with a holy expression on your face.
If what that says is true, then the rest of the Bible should support it. It should be talked about in the Old Testament and the New. It should be taught elsewhere by Jesus. It should be taught by the apostles. It should be supported by the writings of the apostles. All that is true and shown in the book Key to Biblical Doctrine by Jerald L. Brown.
How Important Is The Bible?
The Bible is the first and only source the world has about the Judeo/Christian God and his dealing with man.
The Muslim Q'uran is not a source, because the Q'uran calls the God of the Bible blasphemy and the Bible calls Allah the antichrist. Both disavow the other. You may read more about that in "All Religions Lead to God... Or Not."
Buddhism is not a source because it teaches there is no God, rather that all is a universal mind.
Hinduism is not a source because it teaches there are an endless number of gods, which contradicts the Bible.
The church and synagogue are not sources; they are conduits. They deliver the teaching and instruction of the Bible. It's true the Bible was written by people, but the church and synagogue (ie Christians and Jews) both acknowledge the Bible is over them and it was delivered by God to the people who wrote what they heard, saw and experienced. The Old Testament predates the Roman Catholic church by about 1,000 years (average). The New Testament predates the Roman Catholic church by about 250 years. (The Christian church was identifiable as a unique entity around AD 50. The Roman Catholic church was identifable as a unique entity around AD 300.)
In the Christian world there is much discussion about the authority of the Bible. Some say the Bible is the literal, word-for-word transcribed, inerrant Word of God. Some say the Bible contains the Word of God. Some say the Bible is a mixture of truth and error. Some say the Bible becomes the Inspired Word of God when you read it and the Spirit speaks to you from what you read.
In my opinion – and there are those who disagree with me – is that it doesn't matter how inspired the Bible is. It's the only source we have. If we pick and choose what we want to believe as being sent from God, then we are putting ourselves over the Bible; we're making ourselves the authority over it. How are we supposed to know whether the writer was moved by God or not? We were not there.
But we can judge one thing. We can judge what effect the Bible has had on the world.
The Bible says that Jesus is the Word of God, John 1:1-18, 1 John 1:1-5, Revelation 19:13. Jesus is the message from God to man. He is the one God wants us to hear and believe. John 5:19-27.
Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.
These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
What About Hell?
Most of the doctrine of hell - like about 99% - came from Jesus' mouth. The Bible, outside of the gospels, says very little about hell. Jesus talked more about hell than he did of heaven, but somehow that point is lost on many people.
It's a myth that God sends people to hell for any and every thing they do that are not absolutely perfect. God said to Ezekiel the prophet,
Say unto them [that is, to Israel], As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
Here is God begging people to turn, because the road they're traveling on leads to death. Does that sound like a God who sends people to hell? He's warning them against it. Think of a driver on an isolated road on a dark, rainy night. The bridge ahead has been washed out and he's driving straight for it. Suddenly, a man steps in the road waving a lantern and shouts, "Stop! Stop! The bridge is out!" Some people stop and some don't. Now, of those who don't stop, think of them saying, "That man waving the lantern sent me straight to my death." It's absurd! And so is the belief that God sends people to hell.
Hell is a place, according to the Bible, just as the washed-out bridge is a place. But people going there are not sent there by God. Instead, God begs them to stop and turn before it's too late.
Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
If a person wants you to die, he doesn't beg you to stop and turn before it's too late.
Here, Jesus and the prophets beg people to turn from the wrong path before it's too late.
Hell was not created for people. When Jesus was prophesying of the future and of judgment, he said,
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Notice two things.
- The Eternal Fire was prepared for the devil and his angels (the demons). It was not made for humans.
- The people who do go to the eternal flame are those who are cursed.
Of the former, devils and demons, that is a heavenly matter of which we have little knowledge and nothing to do or say. In other places in the Bible we find that Satan convinced about a third of the angels to follow him and he warred against God. That's out of our turf and can only trust that God did the right thing.
Of the latter point, regarding the people who are cursed, we find in other places in the Bible that some of these are the religious leaders of the day who both reject God for themselves and forbid others who want to go in to God.
Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
That in analogous to those Christian ministers who preach that gay people are cursed by God and they can never get to God even if they turn to Jesus and confess him as their savior. Although Jesus said, "Whoever comes to me I will not reject for any reason whatsoever," (John 6:37) they say "Gay people are not welcome in this church or in heaven." It's those people God curses.
Are those the only people who miss out on heaven? I think not. God opened the doors and all are welcome in – if they enter by the door that God opened. God paid the penalty for sin himself, through the Messiah. But not all people will enter. Many people will say, "We won't have this man (Jesus) rule over us." (Psalm 2:2-3, Luke 19:14) and they reject God. It is not God rejecting them; it is they rejecting God and his heaven.
It is those people that reject God and refuse to enter the kingdom of heaven who are the ones that have no place else to go but to be with the devils and demons who also rejected God and his kingdom.
What About Judgment?
I've heard people say, "If God is the type of person who throws any of his creatures into a place like hell, then he's not my God. My God is a god of love."
Just as not choosing your parents, you also don't get to choose who God is. It's God who revealed himself to us, and urges us to form an everlasting bond to him so that we may be with him and live forever. This same God is not only a god of love and family, he is also a king and judge. God will judge evil, whether we like it or not.
Our modern day culture likes to pretend there is not real evil and that we all – no matter what we do – will be OK because God is like an indulgent parent. He will let Hitler be Hitler; he will let Gandhi be Gandhi, and he will let you be you, with no judgment. But our society does not create God, and God is the one who gets to say what he will judge and what he will forgive. He doesn't live by our rules; but we would be wise to live by his rules.
Do you remember what God's rules are?
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
And ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
If you prefer to join the others who reject God and will not have him to be king over you, you have that choice. You must also live with the consequences of your decision.
What about Faith?
The Bible says,
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
Does that mean we have to be able literally to "move mountains" with our mind before we can be saved?
[Jesus] replied... “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
No, that's not what it means. A closer defination to faith in this instance is "Accept." Just accept it. When the Bible says,
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.
just accept it.
When the Bible says,
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.
just accept it.
When the Bible says,
Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.
just accept it.
That is what faith is, and that is how it works, but it doesn't have to be "blind" faith. It is godly faith based on evidence. When you walk into your kitchen and sit on a chair at the table, you have faith the chair will support you. You believe it because you have evidence it will hold you. It's held you before, so why not now? Even if you sit on a chair in someone else's house, that you've never sat on before, you don't test it first to see if it will hold you. You just sit, accepting that it will hold you. But what if it doesn't? What if that's the day and time it's going to collapse – because of rotten wood or anything? You don't really know it will hold you; you just accept that it will, based on evidence.
It's the same way with God. You've never seen him before, but you have evidence that he exists.
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
He has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.
You'll never "prove" there is a God, neither will anyone "prove" there is no God. All you can do is look at the evidence and accept it or not. You accept God by faith or your reject God by faith. That is what faith is all about.