This is a seven lesson course designed for those who are new to the Christian religion and for those who want a refresher course on the basic ideas upon which Christianity is based.
There are 7 lessons in the series:
- Belief in God - Basic reason why we believe in God, or a supreme being.
- The Christian Religion - A study of the major religions in the world and how Christianity compares to these.
- The Bible - A brief look at how the Bible was written and how it came to us in its present form and why we believe that it is revelation or inspired by God.
- Jesus Christ - This lesson will focus in on the central figure in Christianity, Jesus Christ.
- Salvation - In this lesson we'll review the main idea of the Christian religion which is its solution to mankind's greatest problem - sin.
- The Church - We'll examine what Jesus and the Apostles say about the church and how the Bible describes it.
- Christian Living - Our final lesson will describe what is the style and purpose of Christian life.
Of course, Jesus Christ, the Bible, and the church, as well as all of these other subjects can take many years of study to fully understand and appreciate. However, this book is given as a brief introduction, a summary of the Christian religion and its beliefs in order to help students begin their journey of faith and the blessings that come as a result.
When it comes to any religion, including Christianity, the beginning point is a belief in God. Most people believe what their parents and grandparents believed about God. When we examine the question a little more objectively however, we find out that there are many ideas about God.
- Some believe there is no God and that this life is all there is.
- Some believe that there are many gods that exist in nature and beyond nature.
- Still others believe that there is only one God and that He is supreme over all things and people.
Most religions in the world are based on the belief that there is one or many gods and we'll examine these religions more closely in our next chapter. In this chapter we want to examine what Christianity believes about God and why.
What Christianity Believes About God
Christians arrive at their conclusions about God based on three sources.
#1 - Human Reasoning
Human beings have asked themselves about the existence of God throughout history. The various thoughts and theories about the existence of God have produced several key arguments that support, from human reason and observation, the idea that there is a God. Here are a few of these arguments.
The First Cause Argument
If every effect has a cause, what or who caused the world to come into existence? Scientists can only say that they believe that the universe and all life in the universe are the result of a "Big Bang" or cosmic explosion millions even billions of years ago. They cannot, however, explain what or who caused this explosion. The "first cause" argument says that a being greater and more complex than the universe (God) caused this big bang and set the creation of the world into motion.
The Complexity Argument
This reasoning says that only a complex mind could have conceived and created a complex world. Since complex, living, animate beings cannot naturally come from simple, non-living, inanimate matter (for example a bird cannot evolve from a stone) then the world of matter and animated beings must have been conceived and created by a being more complex than His creation (God). For example, a person creates a computer not the other way around.
The Moral/Spiritual Argument
The desire to do right, or be good does not exist in simple matter. Even in higher life forms like monkeys for example the need to search for God, to reach up and worship a higher being is not present. Where does this moral/spiritual element come from? It does not evolve from matter or lower animals. We reason that it comes from above humanity - God.
These are some, but not all of the arguments of purely human thought and conclusions about the existence of God.
Christianity's belief in God includes this human reasoning but has two other sources of information to base its belief in a Supreme Being.
#2 - The Bible
We will study about the history and content of the Bible in our third chapter, but for now let us just say that the Bible contains information about who God is and not just that He exists. Christianity's concept of the personality of God is based on the revealing (or revelation) of His character and actions in the Bible.
Someone could say, "How do we know that the Bible's information is reliable?" I will answer this question and more in our third chapter. For now let us just look at some of the things the Bible actually says about God.
He created the world and human life.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
- Genesis 1:1
God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
- Genesis 1:27
The Bible does not explain how God did this, although scientists throughout the ages continue to discover piece-by-piece the way the world is put together. The Bible simply tells us that an all-powerful, intelligent, moral being (which we refer to as God) created the physical universe by an act of His will.
God loves His creation, especially humans.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son…
- John 3:16a
God will judge the world.
If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth;
- I Peter 1:17
The point I want to make here is that by human reasoning we can come to know that there is a Supreme Being, a God who is greater than we are and greater than the world. However, human reason cannot reveal to us God's character, His will and purpose, or communication with us as human beings. Christians believe that this personal and particular information about God is only revealed in the Bible (and in chapter 3 I will explain why we believe this information is accurate). So we have human reasoning and the Bible as sources of information about God's existence, character, and will. There is one other source of information about God, however, that is surer and clearer than these two. This source is not based on human thought or a book. This information comes from a person.
#3 - Jesus Christ
There have been countless books written about Jesus Christ but the basic information about Him comes from the Bible. Other writers throughout history have written about Him, about His life and teachings, about the meaning and practice of what He said, however, only the Bible contains eyewitness accounts of His life, death and resurrection from the dead. Jesus Christ presents the clearest picture of God's character and His will for our lives. The reason for this is that Jesus Christ is God.
In chapter 4 we will look more closely at this claim and why Christians believe this to be true, but for now we will assume that this is true.
The Bible teaches that God, the Supreme Being, creator of the universe, took on a human form and entered the physical world in order to reveal Himself clearly and in a way that human beings could understand and relate to.
That human being's name was Jesus, son of Joseph of Nazareth. We refer to Him as Jesus Christ because the word Christ is a title that means "Anointed One." And so Jesus' life, teachings, and examples give us the clearest view yet of who God is and what He is like. If we examine Jesus' life we are able to find things out about God that no words in a book or human reasoning can reveal:
1. God has compassion for those who are weak.
Those who followed Jesus and recorded their eyewitness accounts of His life and work repeatedly mention His kindness and compassion to those who were sick, handicapped, had emotional problems or were failures in areas of morality and self-control. He encouraged those who were poor or socially outcast or were different culturally than the mainstream. Jesus demonstrated a part of God's character that could not be shown by creative power alone. Without Jesus I could know that God had the power to create the sun, but through Jesus I learn that God also loves small children.
Jesus' life and teachings are filled with these revelations about who God really is and what He is like. Perhaps the most important insight that we can gain through Jesus is what God wants.
2. God wants people to have eternal life with Him.
Here are Jesus' own words concerning this subject in the gospel of John (one of Jesus' Apostles):
For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.
- John 6:40
In this passage Jesus reveals several very important things about God that we could not know in any other way except that it be shown to us by Him.
For this is the will of My Father...
That God (Jesus calls Him my Father because Jesus and God have the same divine nature) has a particular purpose or plan for each of us. Life is not just a bunch of random events that ends in physical death.
...that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him...
That God has a requirement of us. God wants people to believe in Him and the way to do that is to believe (accept as true) that He has revealed Himself in Jesus. So we learn that as far as God is concerned, it is important what you believe. He says that belief in Him and belief in Jesus is the same thing.
...will have eternal life...
God's plan is that we have eternal life. Life's greatest questions revolve around death and what, if anything, happens after death. God takes on human form, proves that He is God by doing miracles (extraordinary acts that only God could do) and then says that His plan for mankind is for human beings to live eternally. There is a certain portion of the Bible called the "Good News" or the "Gospel". It is that section in the Bible that describes Jesus, His life, and ministry. The reason it is called the "Good News" is because God has come in human form to announce to the world that there is life after death - no need to be afraid anymore - now that is Good News!
...and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.
Here we have two more pieces of information given to us by Jesus, which we could not know in any other way.
That it is Jesus that will give eternal life and not anyone else.
This helps us to focus our attention on one religious leader, Jesus, the only one who promises and demonstrates that He has the power over life and death. We also read in the Bible that Jesus is killed but then resurrects from the dead and His resurrection is witnessed by hundreds of people. The point, of course, is that if He has power over His own death and resurrection as God, then He naturally has power over everyone else's life and death as God.
Finally, this passage shows that there will be an end to time as we know it.
Just as the Bible shows at the very start that God created the world and the beginning of "time." Jesus says that there will be the end of the world and "time." And this is when He will raise to eternal life all those who believed in Him.
Now we've only looked at two things that Jesus reveals about God that we could not know in any other way:
- His compassion for those who are weak.
- His plan and purpose for mankind.
A careful study of Jesus' life would yield many more revelations about God, but I've given you these two as examples of how Christians come to know and believe in God.
Let us summarize what we have talked about in this first chapter in our series "Christianity for Beginners." This chapter is entitled "Belief in God." Here are some of the points we covered:
1. We can come to know and believe in God through various methods.
Christians rely on three main ways:
- Human Reasoning – Human reasoning suggests that it is quite logical to accept that there is a God.
- Bible Records – The Bible records God's dealings with man from the creation of the world to the formation of the Christian church. It describes God's character and purpose in His interactions with mankind.
- Jesus Christ – Jesus is the human embodiment of God and through Him the most intimate and revealing aspects of God's nature and will can be known.
2. There are many opinions and beliefs about spirits, gods, divine powers, but Christians believe that the Bible and witness of Jesus Christ provide the most accurate and reliable information about God and His will.
This is not to say that there are not elements of truth about God in various philosophies and religions that exist or there are many valuable spiritual insights contained in each major religion throughout history. However, Christians believe that the clearest and most complete revelation of God, His purpose and plan for man's life now and in the future has been revealed once and for all time by the Bible and especially through Jesus Christ.
Hopefully, as we complete the next six chapters in this book you also will be more convinced that this is so.
- Which of the natural arguments for the existence of God is strongest? Why? Which is the weakest? Why?
- Can someone who doesn't believe in God have a moral code? What would it be based on?
- Why should the Bible be considered a reliable source of information about the existence of God?