A Conversation About Christianity – The Basic Concepts of Christianity. This is from an email discussion that I had with an agnostic who seemed to genuinely want to understand what Christianity is all about. This was my reply.
Let’s begin with the basic concept that we live in an orderly universe. Things balance. A hot item in a cool room will cool down and the air in that room will heat up until they reach a state of equilibrium.
The second concept is sin. Sin is a finite thing. It can be counted and measured. We like to rank different sins as “bad” or “not so bad” or “my sin is not as bad as that other sin”, but in God’s eyes, sin is sin. A “little” sin or a “big” sin is still sin, and sin is not permitted in Heaven (our next concept). All men are sinners. If you murder someone, you are a “murderer” – even if you just murder one time; if you rob someone, you are a “robber”; and, as you might suspect, if you sin (even once), you are a “sinner”. That brings us to the third concept: Heaven.
Heaven is a place prepared by God for the eternal souls of men. According to God’s word (we’ll get to that later), it is His will that all men (in the form of their everlasting souls) dwell with Him forever in Heaven. Ah, but there is a catch (isn’t there always?) God hates sin and will not allow sin into His dwelling.
Hell is the place that was prepared for Satan and his angels when Satan rebelled (we won’t get into that for this discussion). As things developed, sin entered into the world, and God needed a place for the souls stained with sin, so that is where those souls go. That probably wasn’t the original plan, but sin (as in the story of Adam and Eve) resulted in a change of plans, and so Hell became the place for Satan and His angels – and for the souls stained with sin. The soul is eternal, so it has to go somewhere, and sin is not allowed in Heaven. Hell is where it goes. There is no “purgatory” (that was invented by man and there is no mention of it in The Bible), and the soul doesn’t just disappear since it is eternal.
That concept introduced the soul. Every man is made up of three distinct parts: body, soul, and spirit. The body is pretty easy – it’s your flesh and blood. The body is the dwelling place for your spirit and your soul. The spirit is the essence of life. Every living thing has a spirit, including people and animals (I’m pretty sure that plants do not, but I never really looked into that). When you are born, that is God placing the spirit into your body; when you die, your spirit returns to God (I have no idea what He does with it, but I never said I understood all of this). The body is the container for the spirit and the soul. The soul is something unique to man – animals do not have a soul. The soul does not die. The soul is consciousness – the soul would experience pleasure in Heaven or experience pain in Hell (another concept). When we speak of eternal life, it is the soul that we are speaking of. There are some things about the body and eternity, but that’s not what we’re talking about at this point.
Jesus Christ is (not was, but is) the son of God. He was born using Mary as a vessel to develop, but He is definitely not the product of egg and sperm as every other human being is. Jesus is the son of God, which makes Jesus quite literally God. Jesus IS God. That is an important concept that is at the core of Christianity. Jesus was also a man who walked the earth, felt pain and suffering, experienced the same temptations that we experience. The difference is that, unlike every other human being who has ever walked the face of the earth, He did not sin. Never. Not even a little bit. He led a perfect sinless life. Again, this is at the very core of Christianity. Without that perfect sinless life, the rest means nothing.
Jesus is – at the same time – God and the son of God. This is one of those concepts that can give me a headache thinking about it, but a decent analogy is the fact that you can be a father and a brother and a nephew at the same time depending on what relationship you are referring to. It’s not the greatest analogy, but it’s the best I can come up with.
Those are most of the basic concepts, so now let’s look at how it all fits together.
Remember that in God’s orderly universe, everything must equal out in the end. Remember that all men are sinners, and that their sin must be cancelled in order for them to enter into Heaven. Now, here is where the problem comes in – how do you pay for all sin that has ever been committed and ever will be committed until the end of time? We’re talking about an infinite amount of sin. The only way to balance that infinite amount of sin is with an infinite amount of the opposite of sin. We really don’t have a word for that, but it takes the form of a mock trial, the cruel torture, and the killing of one who is without sin – Jesus. This is the killing of God manifest in the flesh. If infinite sin must be paid for, then the only way to do that is with its infinite opposite. That is why Jesus had to be killed if the conscious souls of men are to live forever with God in Heaven.
It is important to understand that Jesus willingly went to the cross. Remember, Jesus is God, and as such He had the power to put a stop to His crucifixion at any time. He willingly went to the cross because He understood that without His infinite sacrifice, all mankind would be doomed to spend eternity in Hell because there would be no way to erase the stain of sin from their souls.
OK, so Jesus has been killed, or at least His body has been killed. Remember the part about the spirit and the soul? Since Jesus IS God, and when the body dies, the spirit returns to God, Jesus’ spirit really just returned to him. (As God, does Jesus have a soul? I have no idea – The Bible never really says.) Three days after He was killed (body died, spirit left the body), Jesus literally, physically rose from the dead. His spirit entered back into His body and He got up and walked out of the grave. There were many eye-witnesses recorded in The Bible who saw the risen Jesus – far more witnesses than there were for many historical events that are accepted as unquestioned fact by anyone living today. Jesus, as God the son, then ascended into Heaven where He sits with God the Father.
Now, what about salvation? How does that work? Jesus has already made the infinite sacrifice to pay for infinite sins. The penalty for all the sins of the world has already been paid by that one infinite sacrifice (remember, this is an orderly universe and only infinity can equal infinity). Nothing is required of us to claim that payment for our sins other than to simply place our complete and total trust in the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins. You would think that for something that great in exchange for something as simple as just believing and asking for that forgiveness, everyone would have salvation and have a non-stop ticket to Heaven when they die. Just believe in your heart – that’s all there is to it. You don’t have to say any special words, you don’t have to step foot inside a church, you don’t have to go through a priest, you don’t have to be dipped under water, you don’t have to do anything but trust and believe. You can’t fake it because God knows your heart better even than you, so it has to be genuine faith.
All of this comes to us from The Holy Bible. God has given us a way to cleanse ourselves of sin so that our souls can enter Heaven, but it won’t do any good if we don’t understand how it all works. For that reason, God gave us everything we need to know in The Holy Bible. Without The Bible, you would have men making up all sorts of things “in the name of God” in order to increase their own power. In fact, that has happened throughout history. That is why you had things like the Spanish Inquisition and the rise of the Roman church as a political power. When, in opposition to the word of God in The Bible, men set themselves up as intermediaries between God and Man, all sorts of bad things can happen. That is why it is extremely important to study the word of God in The Bible and not just go along with a religion.
Religion is something invented and practiced by man. There are a few legitimate exercises such as baptism and marriage, but man has invented all sorts of “hoops” to jump through in order to get to God. Why? Because if I want power over others, and I can convince them that they cannot get to God unless they go through me, then I have power over them. That is where religion fits in. If anyone tells you that you have to do anything beyond what The Bible says is needed for salvation and entry into Heaven, then that is religion, and that is coming from man and not from God.
Some of this is deep and complicated enough to give you a headache just thinking about it, but that’s OK. God made this all very simple. A full understanding of everything is not required in order to be saved (salvation of the soul). All that is needed can be summarized in the following verses of scripture:
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
But God Commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.