God the Creator, Jesus and the Holy Spirit
The three equally divine persons of the Trinity are the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. While they are all connected as the one true God (John 1:1, 1 Corinthians 2:11, 1 Timothy 2:5), they are also each unique. For example Jesus Christ came to this earth as a man (Acts 2:22), yet he was still all God (John 1:1; 1:18; Romans 9:5), and after his death he remained man and God (John 20:28, Luke 24:39). His humanity is an attribute not shared with the Father or Holy Spirit. All three persons of the Godhead are eternal and, according to Genesis 1:1-2, were involved in the creation of all things (Hebrews 1:8-10, Hebrews 7:24). The three persons of the Trinity exist and operate in a unified manner, supporting, submitting and loving one another (Philippians 2:5-7, Matthew 28:19).
God (The Father, Son and Holy Spirit) does no wrong (Deuteronomy 32:3-4, Hebrews 4:15). In Leviticus 19:2 he tells us he is holy, without sin. He is eternal or everlasting, without beginning or end (Genesis 21:33, Roman 1:20, Ephesians 1:4 Revelation 21:6). He knows all things (1 John 3:20) including the thoughts of our hearts (Matthew 9:4). Because he is all-powerful he is called God Almighty (Gen 17:1). There is nothing he cannot do, and he is everywhere at all times (1 Kings 8:27, Ps 139:7, Jeremiah 23:23-24). Because of these things and all the other things that God is, he is above all others in character, importance, power and love. He is referred to in the Bible over 300 times as “Sovereign Lord.”
The most vivid example of God’s perfection and love is his plan to save men so that they can have the relationship with him he planned at creation, and enjoy all his blessings for eternity (Genesis 1:27-31, 2:15). Through creation, the fall of man, and The Law, God showed us that man could not save himself (Romans 5:12, Romans 3:23). This same law also demonstrates God’s perfect justice and the price that must be paid for sin (Romans 6:23). Once it was clear that man could not save himself, (Ephesians 2:8-9) God the Father sent his Son, Jesus Christ, as a perfect sacrifice to redeem man. Christ’s sacrifice is our only means of salvation (I John 4:10), made so that none should perish (John 3:16, 2 Peter 3:9), although men may decide to accept the free gift of salvation or not.
In Exodus 31:18 the LORD gave Moses two tablets of stone with The Law he had written for human instruction. While God has revealed himself to man through creation (Romans 1:19-20), he has also used the recorded word to communicate specifics about his character (2 Samuel 7:28, Titus 1:2, God cannot lie), his will (James 1:20 desire for man to live a righteous life), his law (Exodus 20, Ten Commandments), his works (Deuteronomy 6:9-12, deliverance from Egypt) his plans for the future (John 16:13-14, the Holy Spirit) and his plan for salvation (Exodus 17:14, Luke 1:3, Acts 1:1). These revelations from God have been recorded in both the Old and New Testaments (2 Timothy 3:16) over a period of many years by many authors, yet in a unique and absolute way God spoke his words through each of the writers so that their written words revealed exactly the truth God wanted to reveal (plenary verbal inspiration).
Because scripture communicates truth about critical matters such as how we should live and God’s plan for salvation, it is fundamental to the Christian faith that we believe and obey God’s Word. We know that God cannot lie or speak falsely (2 Samuel 7:28, Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18). Therefore his word, as recorded in the original manuscripts, tells the truth about everything it mentions, and it is all God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). To disbelieve or disobey his word is to disbelieve or disobey God.
For a book to be considered part of the canon of scripture it must be God’s words. As far back as A.D. 170, 37 books of our current Old Testament (with the exception of Esther) were recognized as being the Word of God. Reasons for this included their respective authorship (most of these books were written by prophets who spoke for God) and internal references that validated them as being the words of God (e.g. Deuteronomy 4:2, Jeremiah 30:2). Additional evidence that the Old Testament was the true word of God include Jesus’ references to the Old Testament (Mt 4:4, Deuteronomy 8:3, Matthew 12:7, Hosea 6:6) and similar references by New Testament authors (Romans 4:3, Genesis 15:6, Ephesians 4:8, Ps 68:18). Similarly, 22 of the 27 New Testament books were authored by apostles (save Mark, Luke, Acts, Hebrews and Jude) who were recognized as spokesmen for God (2 Peter 1:20-21). The internal testimony of these texts, as well as the historical record, back to 367 A.D., acknowledge these writings as the word of God. The text of the books not authored by apostles can be validated as the word of God by other New Testament authors (1 Timothy 5:18, Luke 10:7). Collectively, these factors, along with an incredible body of evidence that supports that the available manuscripts are accurate copies of the original words of God, make it clear that these manuscripts accurately relate the true word of God.
In Ephesians 3:4 Paul wrote, “In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ.” This is just one example of how awesome and holy, scripture is. It is the true word of God, and as such it should be revered, read (1 Timothy 4:13) and used for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training, so the man of God will be thoroughly equipped (2 Timothy 3:16-17). As it is stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith, “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the perfect word of God, the only limitation on God’s word is man’s struggle to believe all it teaches, obey all that it requires, and trust all that it promises.
Man, Sin and Salvation
God culminated his creation on the sixth day with man and woman, whom he created in his image (Genesis 1:26). Nothing else in all of God’s creation, not even the angels (Psalm 8:5), were created with man’s extraordinary responsibilities and abilities. Genesis tells us that man (Genesis 5:2) was given dominion over all the creatures on the earth (Gen 1:6) and told to rule, fill and subdue God’s creation (Genesis 1:28). Unlike anything else in creation, man has an eternal soul (Genesis 2:17, Matthew 25:46), and he was created to have a relationship with God (Genesis 3:8). Other unique characteristics that God endowed man with included spiritual awareness, conscience, creativity, a concept of history and a highly developed ability to communicate. God saw all this as very good (Genesis 1:31).
Satan, the enemy of God, seduced man to disobey God (Genesis 2:16-17, 3:4-5). When Adam and Eve disobeyed God (sinned), they violated God’s holy standard and incurred for themselves and their descendants his wrath (John 3:36). Included among the consequences for this sin were physical death (Genesis 3:22, Philippians 1:23) and an inborn propensity to sin that was passed on to all their descendants (Psalm 51:5, 58:3). God vicariously attributed Adam’s sin to all mankind (Romans 5:12-19).
Being holy and perfectly just (Deuteronomy 32:4) God requires retribution for these, our sins. The only way that we can be rescued from the consequences of sin is by the death of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12, Romans 5:18, 1 Thessalonians 1:10). By accepting Christ’s gift of salvation, the price for our sin is paid. Once rescued, our debt is paid in full (John 19:30) and we are reconciled to God in Christ (Romans 5:10-11) and set on a path to restore our relationship and ourselves to what God originally created (Ephesians 4:24, Philippians 3:21).
Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23 tell of the virgin birth of a Messiah who will be called Immanuel, or “God with us.” In that most natural of human events, the most supernatural event was accomplished. God embodied in the flesh of Jesus all the attributes of man (Romans 8:3) and all the attributes of God (Colossians 1:9, Colossians 2:9). Evidences of Jesus’ humanity include his temptation (Matthew 4), his emotions (John 11:35) and his death (Mark 15:39). Evidences of his divinity include, turning water in to wine (John 2), healing the sick and stilling a storm (Matthew 8), walking on water (Matthew 14) and his resurrection (Matthew 28:6).
Not only did Jesus (Matthew 26:64) and others (Matthew 15:39, Matthew 16:15-17) acknowledge that he was the Messiah, but events in his life confirmed it. His birth in Bethlehem (foretold in Micah 5:2), his entry into Jerusalem on a donkey, (predicted in Zechariah 9:9), and his betrayal for thirty pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:11-13, Matthew 26:14-15) are just a few of the many Messianic prophecies Jesus fulfilled.
The fact that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20) and born to a virgin, Mary, affirmed that salvation came from the Lord and God’s promise that the seed of woman would be victorious over Satan (Genesis 3:15). His unique conception also made it possible to bring together in Jesus Christ the full deity of God and full humanity, in a manner that avoided the sin all other men have inherited through Adam (Romans 5:12).
Not only was Jesus Christ born without Adam’s sin, he also lived a sinless life (Hebrews 4:15). This sinless life allowed Jesus to be the perfect blood sacrifice (1 Peter 1:19) to redeem us from death (Romans 8:32, Romans 5:10). To achieve our redemption he had to die (Isaiah 53, Matthew 20:28), which he did on a cross (John 19:33-34, 1 Thessalonians 4:14), and then rise on the third day (John 21:14, Acts 1:3). Christ’s resurrection ensures our new birth (1 Peter 1:3) our justification (Romans 4:25) and our ultimate resurrection (1 Corinthians 6:14).
Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus Christ ascended into heaven (Luke 24:50-51). In honor of what Christ had done to purify us from our sins, and to affirm the completion of his work of redemption, he took his place at the right hand of God (1 Peter 3:22). With this position came authority over all things (Ephesians 1:20-21) until that day when his enemies will be a footstool for his feet (Psalm 110:1).
Because he is 100% God, and a perfect High Priest who has made the supreme sacrifice for our sins, and a man who can sympathize with our weakness, and who sits at the right hand of God, Jesus Christ, our Advocate, can, and does, speak to God the Father in our defense (1 John 2:1).
Jesus Christ’s Sacrifice for Sin
Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Because God is perfectly just there must be a consequence for this sin. Romans 6:23 tells us that “the wages of sin is death.” In Romans 3:25 it is recorded that God presented Christ as a propitiation to demonstrate his justice. Here propitiation means a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath and in so doing changes God’s wrath, which justice requires, into favor. Unlike any previous sacrifice, Christ’s death on the cross serves as the single suitable sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 9:25-28). Jesus accomplished this propitiation through his perfect sinless life and his death (Hebrews 9:22).
The Greek word translated as propitiation in the NASB (Romans 3:25 -hilasterion) is translated as atonement in the NIV. Christ’s death atoned for our sins by: 1 – paying the penalty of death we deserved because of our sins (Hebrews 9:26, Romans 6:23). 2 – sparing us from the wrath of God that we deserved (1 John 4:10, Romans 5:9). 3 – reconciling us to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-19) and 4 – redeeming us from the bondage of sin (Mark 10:45, Romans 6:6).
Christ’s victorious resurrection rescued us from darkness (Colossians 1:13), gave us new life (Colossians 2:13) and freed us from the power of death (Hebrews 2:14-15).
Jesus Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection make him the only mediator between God and men (1Timothy 2:5-6) and there is no other means of salvation (Acts 4:12) and no other justification (Romans 4:25) that will get us into the presence of the one true God (2 Corinthians 4:14).
The Work of the Holy Spirit
In The Message, Jesus says of the Holy Spirit in John 16:14, “He won’t draw attention to himself, but will make sense out of what is about to happen and, indeed, out of all that I have done and said he will honor me; he will take from me and deliver it to you.” This is the work of the Holy Spirit; everything he is about is to bring glory to God. The Holy Spirit does this by serving as the Counselor who took Christ’s place here on earth (John 16:7ff), helping us control sin in our lives (Romans 8:19), guiding us to truth (John 16:3) and convicting the world of sin (John 16:8).
The Holy Spirit can use either the Word of God (Acts 2:37) or general revelation, made known through his creation or man’s conscience (Romans 1:18-20; 2:15) to convict us of sin. The goal of conviction is repentance (Acts 2:37-38), and ultimately to turn us to God for salvation, or to be born again. To be born again is to be a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), to have a new heart, a new spirit (Ezekiel 36:26), to be alive with Christ. (Colossians 2:13) Regeneration is totally the work of God (John 1:13), not something we do ourselves.
At their conversion believers are baptized in the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). They are cleansed of their sins and begin their new Christian life freed from the power and love of sin (Ephesians 5:26, Romans 8:9, Colossians 2:11). They are accepted and adopted as children of God (John 1:12) and their salvation is sealed for the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30).
The Holy Spirit empowers believers (Numbers 27:18, Deuteronomy 34:9), guides them (Acts 8:29, Romans 8:4, Acts 15:28) and reveals truth to them (John 14:26, Acts 11:28), equipping them for Christian life and service. The Holy Spirit also gives spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:8). Spiritual gifts are abilities empowered by the Holy Spirit and used in any ministry of the church. Spiritual gifts include service, works, wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, prophecy, tongues and the interpretation of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:4-10). 1 Corinthians 14:12 instructs believers to be eager to have spiritual gifts and to use them to build up the church, a goal still very relevant in this present age.
The Church, Baptism and Communion
When Jesus told Peter, “and on this rock I will build my church,” he was not referring to a building, or denomination. The one true church is all believers, regardless of denomination, who like Peter recognize and accept Jesus as Messiah and Lord (Matthew 16:16). The word for church used in the New Testament refers to those who have been called out, those who have the only true salvation (Acts 4:12) that is given by grace through faith (Ephesians 8:9). Collectively believers make up the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12ff), and like a human body, all the parts are different, unique and necessary. Jesus Christ is the head of this body (Ephesians 1:22-23, Ephesians 5:23) and all the parts are bound together by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). Our health and effectiveness as a body is directly related to our willingness to yield to this divine connection.
The New Testament letters and references to local churches (Romans 16:1, 4; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1) along with the Hebrews 10:25 admonition to not forsake the assembling of the saints, clearly support the concept of the local church. While “membership” in a local church is not specifically addressed in the New Testament, the use of terms like “our sister” (Romans 16:1), “my fellow workers in Jesus Christ” (Romans 16:3) and “to those sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:2) affirm that local church membership was for believers.
While church “membership” is not specifically mentioned in scripture, baptism and communion are. While some details concerning both are provided (Matthew 3:6, Acts 2:38, Luke 22:19-20, 1 Corinthians 11:28), specifics such as exactly when or how they are to occur or who is to administer them are not provided. What is clear from scripture is that these are rites intended for believers (Acts 8:12, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26), yet still not a condition for salvation or church membership (Luke 23:42-43). Rather they serve as a visible reminder of the believer’s new birth and ongoing relationship and growth with Jesus Christ.
Justification in the New Testament is an instantaneous legal act by God alone in which our sins are forgiven and Christ’s righteousness is credited to us and we are thereby declared righteous in his sight (Romans 3:24, 5:1 and Galatians 2:16). Sanctification is a progressive work of God and man that moves us more and more away from sin and into the likeness of Christ (Acts 20:32, 1 Corinthians 6:11, Romans 6:19) and sets us apart from the fallen world we live in (2 Corinthians 6:17). Pure religion that God accepts (James 1:27) comes after justification. Works without faith and justification are only good deeds and have no eternal value (Isaiah 64:6, Philippians 3:9, Revelations 7:13-14).
Jesus affirmed this concept when he said that the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind – acknowledging the gift of salvation, and then connecting it to the second greatest commandment, that should grow out of the first, to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, are full of this theme of compassion (Psalm 112:4-5, Micah 6:8, Ephesians 4:32). Loving your neighbor (Exodus 20:17, Matthew 19:19), caring for one another (Romans 12:10, 1 Thessalonians 5:15), remembering those in prison (Genesis 40:14, Matthew 25:36, Hebrews 10:34, 13:3) and pursuing justice for the poor and oppressed (Leviticus 19:10, Matthew 6:2) are all examples of the compassion commanded by Jesus Christ and God the Father (Matthew 14:14, 2 Corinthians 1:3).
Compassion like this is a powerful witness to the Good News, and consistent with Jesus’ parting commission that we be his witnesses to all people (Acts 1:8). It is also consistent with St. Francis of Assisi’s instruction to “preach the gospel always, and if necessary use words.” Sadly one of the most powerful tools in our enemies’ arsenal against the gospel is incongruence between our words and deeds.
While the church has struggled to balance works and deeds, neither the greatest deeds nor the greatest message will bring the world to Christ. This is a spiritual battle between God and the spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12, John 12:31, 2 Corinthians 4:4). This type of battle requires laborers (Luke 2:10) who in addition to performing compassionate good works, call upon the power and word of God (1 Timothy 2:1-4, Hebrews 4:12, 1 Peter 3:15).
Salvation, Hell and Heaven
In Mark 1 it is recorded that Jesus said to repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:14-15) and God has commanded “all people, everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30) As children of God we have received Christ as our Lord and Savior. (John 1:12) This means I have acknowledged that I am a sinner (Romans 3:8) and that I cannot save myself. (Ephesians 2:8) I understand that Jesus Christ came to the earth as a man (John 1:14) and lived a perfect life (Hebrews 4:15) so that he could die to pay the price for my sins (1 Corinthians 15:3) and that the only means of eternal salvation (Acts 4:12) rests on receiving this free gift.
One of the blessings of this free gift is eternal life. (John 3:36) Another is the miraculous physical resurrection of our dead bodies (Daniel 12:2, Revelation 20:13-15), while our souls are with the Lord. (Philippians 1:23, 2 Corinthians 5:8) For those who reject the free gift of salvation there is judgment and condemnation (Matthew 25:46, 2 Thessalonians 1:9) to hell. Scripture describes hell as a place where the residents weep and gnash their teeth (Matthew 25:30) in eternal fire. (Matthew 25:41, 46) From the rich man’s anguish and torment described in Luke 16 it is clear that hell is the most terrible of fates.
By contrast, scripture tells us that heaven is a place (John 14:2) for those blessed by God (Matthew 25:34) where there is eternal joy. (Revelation 21:1-4) After the final judgment (Revelation 20:12) there will be a new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:1-2) which will be a unification of heaven and earth; perfect and eternal order, not built by human hands but instead built and provided by God himself.
Realizing that this life and this world are only temporary, and knowing that our eternal dwelling will be with God in a glorious new heaven and new earth, should inspire us to reach the lost (2 Peter 3:9) to live holy, godly lives (2 Peter 3:11-13) and give us great cause for praise. (Ephesians 1:6).