There is no nation or tribe in this world that does not believe in a god, a spirit or a being which is superior to it. Even the most remote jungle tribes who have never come in contact with modern cultures or missionaries believe in a superior being. Each one of us have been given the intellectual capacity to look at creation and know that there must be an invisble Creator. This is why Paul writes in the New Testament: “…For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). Creation, however, only tells us about the existence of a Creator and we can draw conclusions as to His power and His creativity, but we cannot draw any conclusions as to His nature (i.e. love, life mercy, goodnes). For this purpose God gave us the Bible.
Prior to the fall in Genesis 3 there was no death, suffering or pain because God had created everything in such a way that man could live in a perfect relationship with Him unmarred by sin but of his own free will man chose to disobey God’s commands and thus sin entered God’s perfect world. God have given to each person a free will to choose whether they will obey Him or reject Him and because many people choose to reject God and His commands our world is filled with sin, misery, and suffering. God is not to be blamed for this suffering anymore than a manufacturer of a product can be blamed for misuse of their product. But God has provided a solution for sin and misery and this solution was in the person of Jesus Christ. God sent His only Son into the world as a sacrifice for our sin. Jesus said of Himself in John 15:13 “Greater love has no man than this that He lay down His life for His friends”. However all of us, believer and unbeliever alike, still live in a fallen world where suffering and sin still abide. Many people inquire as to why one person prospers while another suffers.
David, in the Psalms, said, “…For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills”. (Psalm. 73:3-5).
Later in the Psalm David acknowleges that it was not his sin that created this great inequality but that one day everyone will be equally held accountable for their deeds on earth. He ends with this phrase, “…Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm. 73:23-24+26).
We all have a natural tendancy to want to absolve ourself of any blame thereby finding someone else to blame for our shortcomings. We see this first illustrated by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after they partook of the forbidden fruit. Adam blamed Eve and Eve, in turn, blamed the serpent.
In 2 Corinthians 5 Paul said, “God made Him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us”. All the punishment for our sin was laid upon Jesus Christ when He died on the cross so that we could would not have to bear the punishment and so that we could spend eternity with Him in His holy heaven. But some would argue that the Bible is filled with inconsitencies because while the Bible talks about God’s love it also talks about God’s wrath.
Some people see God in the Old Testament to be a God of wrath and revenge and in the New Testament to be a God of love. This opinion can be easily disproved by the two following statements of the Old Testament and the New Testament: In Jeremiah 31:3 God says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with lovingkindness!” and in the New Testament we read in Hebrews 10:31 “…It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God”. God is the wrathful God when confronted by sin and a loving God when confronted by the contrite. We find this testimony in both the Old Testament and the New Testament because God is always the same. For He “…does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). In the same way, the Son of God never changed in nature: “…Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today for ever.”(Hebrews 13:8)
Scripture is filled with examples showing, on one hand, how the Lord condemns the sins of people and, on the other hand, how He protects His children. During the flood all mankind drowned because of their wickedness and only eight people survived. Similarly, the majority of mankind will perish during the Final Judgment because they trod the broad road of destruction (Matthew 7:13-14). God gave the Promised Land into the hands of His nation Israel but during the exodus from Egypt the Amalekites attacked those who were lagging behind. In Deuteronomy 25:17-19 God announces to the Amalekites that they will be destroyed which Saul did later at the command of the Lord (1 Samuel 15: 3). During New Testament times, Ananias and Saphira were killed by God because they did not tell the entire truth (Acts 5:1-11). These examples teach us that God sees sin in a more serious light than we think. In that, too, God has never changed. He hates all sin and He will judge every misdeed. He could still destroy entire nations today. The Germans, for example, have sinned against God in a particularly serious way because they practiced the ethnic cleansing of His nation Israel in their nation during the Third Reich. The division of Germany and the loss of the eastern sections for 40 years were an obvious judgment. God could also have destroyed the entire nation but His mercy was so great that He did not do so, possibly because of the believers that still exist. Sodom and Gomorrah would not have been destroyed had there been at least ten righteous men (Genesis 18:32). If judgment does not take place immediately, it is due to God’s mercy. But the time will come when everyone will have to account for his/her life, the believers (2Corinthians 5:10) as well as the unbelievers (Hebrews 9:27; Revelation 20:11-15).
The foretelling of Jesus’ coming into this world forms part of the most convincing prophetic statements. At great length, Old Testament prophesies His place of birth (Micah 5:1, Luke 2:4), His genealogy (2 Samuel 7:6, Matthew 1:1-17), the simultaneous father-son relationship with God (Psalm 2:7, 2 Samuel 7:14, Hebrews 1:5) and with man (Daniel 7:13, Luke 21:27), His ministry (Isaiah 42:7, John 9), the reason for His mission (Isaiah 53:4-5, Mark 10:45), the betrayal for 30 pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12, Matthew 26:15), His suffering and death on the cross (Psalm 22, Luke 24:26) and His resurrection (Hosea 6:2, Luke 24:26). The marked interval of 400 years between the last book of the Old Testament and the New Testament times give a particularly impressive significance to the fulfilled prophecies about Christ in connection with the question asked above. There are also non-biblical sources testifying to the life of Jesus such as the Roman historian Tacitus, the Roman court official Sueton under the Emperor Hadrian, the Roman governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor, Thallus, and others.
As example let me cite from the well-known Jewish historian Flavius Josephus born 37 AD: “…Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was (the) Christ. When Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.” (Antiquities of the Jews”, Volume II, page 412; Oxford Printed by D. A. Talboys, 1839)
God Himself confirms that Jesus is His Son during the baptism (Matthew 3:17), on the mount of transfiguration (Mark 9:7), and through the angels announcing the birth of the Son of the Most High (Luke 1:32). The Lord Jesus professed to be God’s Son during the trial before Pilate (Matthew 26:63-64) and before Caiphas (Luke 22:70). Others testify to this truth as well:
- Peter: “…You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16)
- John: “…If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God” (John 4:15)
- Paul: “…I live by faith in the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20)
- Martha: “…I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God who was to come into the world” (John 11:27)
- Nathanael: “…Rabbi, you are the Son of God” (John 1:49)
- The Roman centurion: “…Surely he was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54)
- The Ethiopian treasurer “… I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (Acts: 8:37)
The devil, too, knows about the kinship between God the Father and Jesus Christ the son (Matthew 4:3-6) and the demons have, too, acknowledged Him as the Son of God (Matthew 8:29). The Pharisees and High Priests took great offense at the fact that Jesus was the Son of God (Mark 14:53-65) and so did the incited mob (John 19:7). To the Jews and Muslims Jesus is a thorn in the flesh today. He cannot, however, be our Saviour and Redeemer if he were only a ‘brother’ (Schalom ben Chorin), Son of Sons (Zahrnt) a godly man or a social reformer. He is our Savior and Redeemer only because he is truly the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16).
What is the relationship between God and Jesus? Are they one person and who of the two is higher in status? To whom do we pray?
God cannot be grasped by our minds. He is omnicient, omnipresent, all-powerful, and unfathomable. This is why the first Commandment forbids all pictorial images of Him. God, however, has not “…left himself without testimony” (Acts 14:17), He has revealed Himself to us. He is one and at the same time the Trinity.
God is the one true God. There is no other God but the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exodus 3:6). “…I am the first and I am the last, apart from me there is no God” (Isaiah 44:6). “…Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I am the Lord, apart from me there is no savior” (Isaiah 43:10-11). “…You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). The concepts of gods in other religions are null and void; “..For all the gods of the nations are idols” (Psalm 96:5), “…they are but wind and confusion” (Isaiah 41:29).
God is a triune God. This does not mean three Gods but one God encompassing three persons. We talk about this threefold God in three different ways, describing different persons: God, the Father; Jesus Christ, the Son of God; and the Holy Spirit. This is at its most explicit and the most obvious during the call to baptism according to Matthew 28:19 as Jesus, the Son, is being baptized God, the Father, comes and declares Him as His son after which the Holy Spirit came as a dove and lighted on Jesus’ shoulder. The expressions of ‘Trinity’ (trinitas, Latin meaning threefold) which is mentioned nowhere in the Bible is a human attempt at conceptualizing this divine secret in one word.
In Jesus God became man. “…The Word became flesh” (John 1:14). God became visible, audible, touchable (1 John 1:1) and tangible by faith (John 6:69). God sent us the Lord Jesus Christ and “…God presented him [to be received] through faith” (Romans 3:25). Therefore Jesus has a special task to fulfill for us. Our faith becomes a saving faith only if we believe in Jesus Christ as our Redeemer and Lord. He went to the cross for us, He atoned for our sin; our redemption cost him dearly (1 Peter 1:18). This is why we call on Him alone to be saved (Romans 10:13). We have gained access to the Father through him (John 14:6) and, as children, may call Him “…Abba Father” (Romans 8:15). Jesus is the Son of God; His nature is the same as God’s. “…I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). This is why he could say “…Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Faced by the resurrected Jesus, Thomas admits: “…My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). This is also expressed by the following identical titles and actions: Creator (Isaiah 40:28, John 1:3), light (Isaiah 60:19-20, John 8:12), shepherd (Psalm 23:1, John 10:11) first and last (Isaiah 41:4, Revelation 1:17) forgiver of sins (Jeremiah 31:34, Mark 2:5) Creator of the angels (Psalm 148:5, Colossians 1:16) adored by angels (Psalm 148:2, Hebrews 1:6). Philippians 2:6 also stresses the sameness of Jesus with the Father. When He became man, He took on the likeness of a human servant. Now He was in total dependency on and in obedience to the Father. In this context Jesus becoming human a clear order of rank between Father and Son becomes apparent. “…As man is the head of the woman, so God is the head of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:3). But now the Lord Jesus is seated to the right of God and is the exact representation of His being (Hebrews 1:3). The Father has given the Son all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). The judgment, too, He has entrusted to the Son (John 5:22) since He has given everything in subjection to Christ (1 Corinthians 15:27). Finally, it is said, “…When He has done this (given everything under Christ) then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).
The Holy Spirit, likewise, we encounter as a divine person, but he fulfills different tasks to those of the Son of God. He is our comforter (John 14:26) and representative before God, He opens our eyes to the truth of the Bible (John 14:17) He intercedes for us before God (Romans 8:26) and without Him, we could not even recognize Jesus as our Saviour and Lord (1 Corinthians 12:3b). Prayer: Jesus taught His disciples, and so us as well, how to pray to the Father (Matthew 6:9-13). When the Apostle John fell to the ground before the power of the angel and wanted to worship him, the messenger of God strictly forbids this: “…I am a fellow servant with you … Worship God” (Revelation 22:9). Similarly, prayer to Jesus is not only possible and desirable, but since he has been reunited with the Father, it has become a command. He Himself said to the disciples: “…Until now you have not asked for anything in my name.” (John 16:24) and “…If you ask for anything in my name I will do it” (John 14:14). Col. 3:17 admonishes us to pray in the name of the Lord Jesus: “…And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Jesus is the only mediator between God and man (Timothy. 2:5) and is why we may turn to Him in prayer. The first martyr, Stephen, is described to us as an exemplary man “…full of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:55). His prayer while being stoned by an angry mob, has been recorded as “…Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:58). Even while the Lord Jesus lived on earth, He was worshipped as God, which He did not reject: the man with leprosy (Matthew 8:2), the man born blind (John 9:38) and the disciples (Matthew 14:33) bowed down and acknowledged Him as their Lord. This, according to the Scriptures, is the most explicit sign of worship and adoration. There is no scriptural reference, however, to a prayer to the Holy Spirit (as for example in the Lutheran Church Song ‘O Holy Ghost, to Thee we all pray for true faith’ by Martin Luther).
After cutting short his studies in medicine, Darwin studied theology (1828 – 1831) on the recommendation of his father although his interests were in a different field. In his book ‘The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection’ he wrote: “…There is probably something exhilarating about the belief that the Creator breathed the origins of life which surrounds us today into a few or even a single form only and that, while our earth moves in circles according to the laws of gravity, an infinite number of the most beautiful and marvelous forms was created from such humble beginnings .” This formulation of Darwin merely shows a vague kind of deistic belief in God, whereby God is acknowledged to be the cause of the entire cosmic and biological development but His personal position in relationship to man as well as the biblical creation accounts are ignored. With the statement that man bears ‘the indelible stamps of his animalistic origin’ Darwin clearly shows his broken relationship to the Bible. The idea of evolution which gained prominence and acceptance due to Darwin, he himself considered to be an alternative to the biblical revelation, as he testifies in his autobiography: “…At that time I slowly came to realize that the Old Testament because of its obviously incorrect history of the world was no more believable than today’s books by the Hindus or the faith contents of the Barbars. Slowly I came to deny Christianity as divine revelation.” This belief was strengthened in the following decades:
“…Disbelief slowly crept over me, and was finally complete. It went so slowly that it never troubled me, and ever since I have never even doubted for a second that my decision was right. Indeed I can hardly understand why anybody should wish Christianity to be true.”
While Darwin still presumed a vague deism (i.e. regarded God as an impersonal being) although he denied the biblical revelation totally, Ernst Haeckel completed the step to total atheism by postulating ‘that the organism evolved by purely physical -chemical means’. Today’s Neo-Darwinists such as M. Eigen, C. Bresch, B. -O. Küppers belong to his followers who misled many to an atheistic or deistic – and therefore anti-biblical world view with their reductionistic thoughts of self-organization of matter.
In the New Testament we find two scriptures which at first glance seem to be contradictory:
- Justification by faith: “…For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law” (Romans 3:28)
- Justification by works: “…You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone” (James 2:24)
According to the central observations in the NT, believing in the Lord Jesus Christ is what saves us from our sins (John 3:16; Mark 16:16; Acts 13:39; Acts 16:31). This saving faith does not consist only in the acceptance of biblical facts, but in a personal commitment to the Son of God. “…He who has the Son has life” (1 John 5:12). He who turns to the Lord Jesus, experiences the biggest change in his life. His way of life and his deeds will reveal it to everybody: “…If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15); “…and you also must testify” (John 15:27); “…Put this money to work … until I come back” (Luke 19:13); “…serving the Lord” (Rom. 12:11) – “…love your enemies” (Matt. 5:44); “…Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (Rom. 12:17); “…do not forget to entertain strangers” (Hebrews 13:2); “…and do not forget to do good and to share with others” (Hebrews 13:16); “…feed my sheep” (John 21:17). The ministry in the name of Jesus by using one’s given talents is an indispensable result of saving faith. These deeds are called the fruit or the deeds of faith in the NT. Anyone who does not act accordingly, is thus damned: “…And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 25:30). Unlike the acts of faith, the acts of the love (Gal. 2:16) or the acts that lead to death (Hebrews 6:1; Hebrews 9:14) are the acts of those that do not yet believe. Here, too, the same applies: if two people do the same, it is by no means necessarily the same thing. The textual context of James 2:24 (see statement b above) shows that the faith of Abraham resulted in concrete acts: he was obedient to God by leaving his fatherland (Gen. 1:21-6) and was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac (James 2:21). In the same way, the act of the (former) prostitute Rahab (James 2:25) namely the saving of the Israel spies in Canaan was a result of her faith in God (Joshua 2:11). Thus it becomes apparent: Faith and acts are inseparably linked. Just as the human body is death without its spirit, so faith is dead without ensuing acts (James 2:26). The above verses a) and b) are not contradictory but complementary (see Interpretation principles IP3 and IP14 in Appendix, Part 2).
God’s salvation plan for fallen mankind existed even before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), since God not only expected the fall, due of the gift of our freedom of choice to man, but already saw it happen. God could have sent salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ immediately after the fall as well as at the end of times; (Hebrews 9:28). In the first instance, the price for sin would have been paid in advance; in the second instance it would have happened in retrospect; we understand this concept in the business world through advance payments and repayments. God chose the optimum time in His wisdom. In this respect, we read in Galatians 4:4 “…But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son”. People who lived prior to Jesus and who listened to the teachings of God concerning salvation available at that time have been saved through the sacrifice on Calvary just as those who were born afterwards and who accepted the gospel (Hebrews 9:15). The time aspect of the salvation act which has already happened for us is expressed in Romans 5:8 “…But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.
The laws did not exist during Abraham’s or Job’s time. These men acted according to their consciences and trusted God. This He credited as righteousness to them (Romans 4:3). During David’s time, the laws of Sinai had been in existence for a long time. They were the standard against which God measured man. Sins were covered by animal sacrifices. The sacrificial animals could not, however, erase sin (Hebrews 10:4). Animal sacrifices were simply pointers towards the coming sacrifice of Jesus. This is why He is also called the “…Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Only through Him can guilt be erased and the contrite offender be redeemed. We live in the time of the already fulfilled sacrifice. This is why the ‘shadow pictures’ (animal sacrifices) are a thing of the past. We receive forgiveness on the basis of the perfect and complete sacrifice of Jesus.
What about the children who died too young to have made a decision? What about the aborted babies and mentally handicapped? Are they damned?
Before we answer this question we need to know when an embryo becomes a person. If one were to believe contemporary secular trends one might be led to believe that this depends on the arbitrary beliefs of individuals or the state legislature. If we want to find a reliable answer to the important question, “when do we become human beings” then we must look in the Bible. The individual creation of a human begins with the union of the male sperm with the female egg. Every embryonic development requires the direct intervention of the Creator: “…For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139:13-14). When God called Jeremiah, He referred to the fact that He had already seen him as a leading figure and chosen him for this task: “…Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5).
Let us note that man is an individual from the very beginning and according to numerous scriptures (e.g. Luke 16:19-31; Hebrews 9:27), a creature made for eternity whose existence is never terminated. But where does man go after he has crossed the valley of death? The issue is crystal clear for all those people who have heard and accepted the gospel. The will of God is clear: “…The Lord … is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Salvation or damnation thus depend on our decision alone. We have the freedom of choice to be with God, if we so desire, or to go to hell to be without Him. We can choose either path (Deuteronomy 30:19; Jeremiah 21:8).
The children, who died too young, the aborted and mentally handicapped children, however, do not possess the ability to make such a far-reaching decision. According to erroneous teachings in the Middle Ages, it was believed that the souls of non-baptized children would be damned if they died prematurely. This involves the unbiblical teaching that baptism saves the souls of minors. According to central scriptural teachings, however, it is not baptism but the faith in Jesus Christ, which saves (Acts 16:31). Thus the baptism of children does not help us in our search for an answer to the above question, which in any event is impossible for aborted children. We find the answer in the criterion: “…God Almighty … is never unjust to anyone” (Good News) (Job 34:12) since His sentences are always just (Revelation 16:7) and are carried out irrespective of the person (1 Peter 1:17; Romans 2:11). So we may be certain, that the above-mentioned people will not be damned. They themselves are not to blame for their destiny. When toddlers (and probably infants as well) were brought to Jesus, the disciples regarded this as a pointless bother to the Lord Jesus who had had an exhausting day. But Jesus takes this opportunity to point out that children are special heirs of the kingdom of heaven: “…Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14).