Thursday, May 14, 2015

ISI 20: Atheism and World Religions

[This Bible study starts here.  And remember that my answers to some of the questions are in [brackets].]

Icebreaker Question: 
            How is life different than you thought it would be?  How is it the same?  Has anything surprised you so far, in good ways or not-so-good ways?  

Open With Prayer

Read Lesson:

            In this lesson, I combined parts of several posts from  This lesson in not really an academic “study” of atheism and world religions, but it’s a very personal account of why I could never give up my faith in Jesus, why those other options are not for me, and how I would explain salvation and faith in Jesus to a non-believer. 

            Christianity isn’t a squeaky clean, “everything goes smoothly and life is always what I want it to be” kind of faith.  It can be messy and painful and difficult. 

            Due to many trials which have caused me to struggle deeply with my faith, I’ve become a little less polished and a lot more real over the years.  This is why I included this lesson and the depression one.  Because I really wanted to show the very real, human side of being a believer in Jesus, how we can struggle enormously with heartache and pain and doubt and fear . . . and yet still cling to Him.

            This will be a long lesson (I tried to cut it down as much as I could) because I will be looking at several different things which all relate to what we choose to believe and why: atheism, world religions, evidence to support the Bible and Jesus, and how I would describe salvation and faith in Jesus to someone.  

Why I Could Never be an Atheist
            “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”  (Psalm 14:1)

             “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)

            I have gone through some hard times recently.  Not only has there been a bunch of discouraging trials, but these trials have been accompanied by “spiritual droughts” of sorts.  Long, dry spiritual times, the kind that could leave you wondering if you only convinced yourself all along that there is a God. 

            He has been so silent, so distant . . . and at a time when I needed Him to show Himself most.  My soul has ached for more than what He is giving right now.  I cry out, but hear nothing.  I pray and pray about certain things.  And . . . nothing happens. 

            Many prayers have not been answered - prayers for things to be healed, house problems to be fixed, friends to call me back, etc.  I don’t even really want the particular answers as much as I want evidence that God is listening and cares.  Just answer something, anything, clearly and obviously so that I can know You are there!  Show me that You care! 

            And yet, the silence has been loud and long.  The problems keep piling up.  And I don’t even know how to pray anymore sometimes.  I feel like I am not being heard, like the things I pray for are what get attacked, and like all my energy and emotions are just being wasted anyway.  It feels like if I pray about something or care about anything, it’s bound to get ruined somehow.  And I’m teetering on the edge of losing my . . . well . . . I don’t know.  Losing my heart?  My desire to enjoy life?  My faith? 

            I find myself wanting to pull back from God, to retreat into a safe, little, protective shell and tell Him, “Fine, God, I can handle it.  I don’t want anyone – even You – to care about me.  I can accept it.  I am used to it.  I’m strong enough.”

            But the thing is . . . I’m not. 

            I’m not strong enough.  I’m cracking under the pressure.  And I don’t know what to do anymore except wait on God for . . . well . . . for I-don’t-know-what.  I don’t know what I am waiting for.  I don’t know what to expect, what to wait for, what to hope for.  I’m more broken than I’ve ever been.  And I don’t know how to fix it.

            I am sharing all of this as a way to say that I can totally understand how people who are going through hard times and who feel a huge void where God should be might think, “There is no God.” 

            They have my sincerest sympathy.  It is really hard to cling to faith when God seems so very far away and prayers don’t “work.”  When you feel like life has been too much to handle and like you are cracking under the pressure and like God just doesn’t care.  And it makes you want to go, “Fine!  Then I don’t care either.”   

            I was thinking of all this the other day.  And I asked myself, “Why could I never be an atheist?  What is helping me keep my faith in this long, dry spiritual desert?  In these spirit-crushing trials?” 

            For one thing, I need God.  No matter how quiet He is and how things don’t happen my way, there is a deep ache in my soul that cries out for Him.  And I think we all have that ache.  Just look at what happens during any tragedy in the world.  We automatically cry out to Him.  We ask Him, “Why?”  We join together in prayer.  We wonder where He was and why He let it happen.  Even city officials get on camera and ask us to pray, and no one scolds them.  We might raise our fists at Him or we might fall down on our knees before Him, but the point is that we turn to Him.  Every tragedy turns our thoughts to God. 

            Deep down in all of us is a built-in need for Him, for Someone bigger than us who is watching out for us and who holds all things in His hands.  And while many people explain it away or ignore it or soothe the ache with other things, we all know it’s there.  And tragedies bring our need for God to the surface. 

            Despite the fact that He is so quiet and that I wish I could give up on prayer sometimes, my soul still cries out for Him.  It’s always reaching for Him.  Because deep down, I know He’s real.  And I need Him.  I know that we are not alone, that we are not accidents, and that He is always close to us, always listening, and that He does care and does answer prayer, even if life is hard and the trials are many and we get more “no” answers than we like.

            And I am much more willing to believe that there is a God and that He is choosing to not do things my way, not answer as I want Him to, than to believe that there is no God just because things aren’t going my way. 

            I mean, look at this world.  The order.  The delicate balance.  The miracle of life, of the human body, the eyeball, the brain.  It is much more reasonable to believe in God than to not.  Atheists have much more to explain when it comes to the intricate order and balance of this world and universe than I do.  It takes much more “faith” to believe that all of this is accidental than to believe in a Creator. 

            And it is narrow-minded, self-centered pride to think that God should always answer my prayers the way I want Him to.  It is foolishness to decide that there must not be a God just because life isn’t going my way.  There is far too much evidence for a Creator for me to base my belief in Him simply on what He does or doesn’t do in my own little life. 

            While I might doubt and wonder about how God acts and why God does what He does, I do not doubt His existence. 

            And one major reason I don’t doubt is something I talked about a few lessons ago – the five months of spiritual, demonic harassment that I went through several years ago.  It is as fresh to me today as it was then, although it is not scary anymore.  In fact, I think of it basically every day.  It has radically changed my life and my faith. 

           And although it was terrifying at the time, I thank God for that experience.  Because that alone (along with the “light as a feather, stiff as a board” game that really worked when I was an adolescent) would be enough to convince me that there is indeed a supernatural world out there.  I do not doubt at all the existence of angels and demons, heaven and hell, God and Satan.

            So when these long, dry “spiritual deserts” come, I can still rest assured that I never “made up” God in my head, just to satisfy some need to have a god.  He is real.  And I know it.  And I will cling to Him because I have had a small taste of what evil is like, and I didn’t like it at all.  I choose God!

            Anyway, that is a very personal reason for me, one that many people cannot relate to or won’t understand.  But there are other reasons why I could never give up my faith in Christ. 

            And another one is the fact that I once decided (in college) that I needed to study all the other major religions (which I will briefly explore later in this lesson), to see if they had any real answers or hope or truth. 

            What if I was wrong all along and one of them was right?  I had to find out. 

            And I will admit that I was a little afraid to start that research.  What if I did learn that I didn’t have real reasons to believe in the Bible, to put my faith in Jesus?  What if I realized that I had built my faith on shifting sand?  But I knew that I had to do this research, that I had to go into it with an open mind that really wanted to know the truth. 

            And I did. 

            And I was relieved and delighted to come through it only more convinced that the Bible was the truth and that Jesus is the Savior.  None of the other religions offer the kind of hope and reasonable answers that I found in the Bible, in Jesus.  And I was able to close the book on that research, on wondering if some other religion had it right instead of Christianity. 

            For me, there is no other choice.  If Jesus isn’t the answer and isn’t the way, then there is no other option in any other religion.  It’s either Jesus or nothing!  And so in that way, I guess maybe atheism would be the only other option for me.  Yet, as I said, atheism isn’t the answer for me, either.  So it’s really only Jesus!

            Another reason why atheism isn’t the answer for me is because of what they stand for:  nothing! 

            Atheists spend their days, their lives, fighting for a future full of nothingness, for the idea that people don’t really matter eternally, that we have no real lasting value, no real purpose, and no real hope of things ever being better.  What a hopeless and discouraging view! 

            And the funny thing is, the vocal atheists spend their days actively fighting against the idea of God, who they believe doesn’t even exist.  So basically, looking at it from their perspective and considering that they don’t believe in an afterlife, they spend the only life they have fighting against nothing and for nothing.  So nonsensical!  So sad! 

            Why would anyone waste so much time and energy trying to convince people that we don’t really ultimately matter?  That no one is looking out for us?  That we are accidents with no real value or purpose?  That what happens here on earth doesn’t really matter in the long run?  Why would they want to believe that themselves?

            I think that, in general, atheists use a lot of words and fancy arguments to cover up for the fact that - deep down - they know there is a God.  (Or at least they don’t want to seriously consider it because that would mean major changes in their lives.)  They don’t want to have to bend a knee to God.  They don’t want to be accountable to God.  They want to be their own gods. 

            But with that comes a life and eternity away from the real God, away from the Creator who loves us and sustains us, who gives our lives meaning and purpose, and who will right all wrongs in the end and dish out ultimate justice.

            Can you imagine telling a child who is dying early of a disease, “Sorry, that’s a tough break.  But this is nature’s way.  You are really nothing more than a ball of accidentally-alive cells anyway.  And don’t worry, you won’t remember any of this later because you are going to simply vanish.  And it won’t really matter that you suffered.  It won’t really matter what happened in your life, because we all just disappear in the end anyway!” 

            Or how about telling a person who was horribly abused by someone who never got punished for it, “Well, I’m sorry that it happened but it doesn’t really matter.  Nothing really matters in the end for any of us.  It doesn’t ultimately matter if you were the abused or if you were the abuser.  We all go to the same place and have the same ending: nothingness.  And I am sorry that there is no real justice for you in the end, no consequences for the person who abused you.  But they will end up in the same place you do.  And it will be like they never did anything bad and like nothing bad ever happened to you.  So it really is just a tough break that this is what your life has been like.  I wish I could say that things will be better for you one day, that justice will be served, but I can’t.  So sorry!” 

            Do we say that kind of stuff when bad things happen?  (Of course, not even an atheist would say this because it is so insensitive.  But it is essentially the gist of their beliefs, if they are honest with themselves.) 

            No, we don’t say this. 

            We say, “It’s not fair.” 

            It’s not fair that a child dies of cancer.  It’s not fair that a family member dies in a natural disaster.  It’s not fair that war ruins lives and families.  It’s not fair that diseases ravage people’s bodies.  It’s not fair when someone is abused.

            And why do we say, “It’s not fair”? 

            Because we know – deep down – that we were made for something more, something better, that life is supposed to be a certain way.  You can’t say “It’s not fair” unless you have something to compare “fair” against, unless there is some ultimate standard by which to measure the quality of life. 

            In a world without God and without eternity, it really should not ultimately matter what happens.  If life is accidental and random and unplanned and created by unthinking forces, we can’t complain when it isn’t the way it’s supposed to be . . . because there would be no “supposed to be” about it.  And death and disease and harshness would be as “fair” as life and health and goodness.  (And you could even consider them beneficial, if they serve a purpose for mankind as a whole.)

            And eventually, we would all end up in the same place anyway.  It would not ultimately matter if we lived long, healthy, kind, gentle lives . . . or if we suffered tremendously . . . or if we made others suffer . . . or if we died early of a disease.  “Fair” and “supposed to be” would never enter the picture because there would be nothing solid to measure the quality of our lives or our choices against.

            But deep down, we know.  We all know that we were made for more and better. 

            We know that when a person is abused, it is wrong and unfair.  We know that they should have had a better life than that.  They should have been treated better than that.  We know that the abuser was in the wrong, that there is a standard that all of us should be - will be - held to.  Not just a human standard of what is socially-acceptable behavior, but a real, deep, abiding, binding standard of right and wrong ways to live and treat people.  And so, we want to see justice done.  And we are outraged when it is not done on earth. 

            We know that when a child dies, their life was snuffed out too early, that it wasn’t fair because they had a lot more living to do.  We know that they mattered tremendously and that their value goes much deeper than what they could contribute to society.  They matter because they are human.  And there’s something about being human that gives us incredible value, no matter our skin color, health, physical ability, circumstances of life, etc. 

            And deep down, we all know that our value isn’t determined by society (oh, the horrors that can happen when society determines our worth!) but by something that transcends our frail, tiny, human standards and values.   

            And Christians know that it’s because God made us in His image, that He loved us enough to send Jesus to die for our sins so that we could live, and that our souls will live after the body dies.  We matter because God made us and loves us.  And our lives on earth matter because death isn’t the end of us.  Our lives will greatly affect our eternities. 

            Atheism is a great excuse for living any way you want, with little regard for how it affects other people.  Because in the end – if we all simply disappear – it won’t matter how any of us lived, will it? 

            It wouldn’t ultimately matter if you were Hitler or Mother Teresa.

            If there is not an ultimate, supreme, objective standard for right and wrong then there is no real right or wrong.  If there is no Creator and no Supreme Judge then it doesn’t ultimately matter how we live because, in the end, none of us has any lasting value and we are accountable to no one and there are no real, lasting consequences.

            And then how do we determine “right and wrong”?  If it hurts someone else?  But why should hurting people be considered wrong, especially if it benefits someone else?  Just because we, at this time, in our society, say it’s wrong?  If we were in a primitive, lawless society, would violence all of a sudden be okay, just because we allow it and because that’s the way things are? 

            And how do we determine the value of people if there is no objective morality?  Is the value of a baby’s life based on if the mother wants it or not?  Or on if it has some sort of genetic defect or not?  Does the value of a human change if they end up severely crippled in an accident?  Was feeding the Christians to lions “morally acceptable” because the Romans believed it was?  What about primitive societies that used to bury live babies with their dead parents?  Is that okay just because they think it’s the way things should be done?  Could you whisper those words of comfort to that baby as you placed it in the ground, crying and kicking, and shoveled piles of dirt over it?

            I think that if most people were honest with themselves, if they listened to the deep down parts of themselves, getting past all the fancy atheistic arguments, they would hear a Voice that says, “You matter eternally.  There is a right and a wrong.  A ‘fair’ and an ‘unfair.’  And you were made for more than this.  More than the tragedies and diseases of this life.  More than the abuses and trials and heartaches.  More than a meaningless existence that doesn’t matter in the end to anyone but your family.  You are more than a pile of accidentally-alive, breathing, walking dust.  And you are not alone on this planet.  I am watching over you.  I gave you life.  I am calling to you.  I want you to let Me love you.  And I will right all wrongs in the end.  What happens to you matters.  How you live matters!  You matter to Me!”

The Big Questions

            Think a moment about the big questions of life: Why are we here?  Where are we headed?  Do we really matter?

            What answers can atheism give to these?

            “Why are we here?”  We are accidents.  All this amazing order and complexity and the delicate balance of life developed over billions of years by accident.  If any one thing had been different, none of this would be here.  So life is just a lucky, lucky accident.

            “Where are we headed?”  Well, if we are cosmic accidents then we have no soul.  And no part of us will live on after we die.  We are headed to nothingness.

            “Do we really matter?”  If we are accidents with temporary bodies and no souls then there is no ultimate lasting value to us, no real purpose or meaning.  We matter only to those who know us for the brief time we are here, and it doesn’t really ultimately matter how we lived or what happened in our lives.

            Compare that to the answers we find in the Bible, in Jesus:

            “Why are we here?”  Because God is a relational Being and He wants to have a relationship with people.  He wants a family of those who want to be with Him.  Any of us who date or get married or make friends or cherish our families can relate to that desire.  God made people because He wanted people to love and He wanted people to love Him back.

            “Where are we headed?”  God created us with souls.  He created us to be a part of His eternal family, to live with Him in eternity, if we choose it.  And this lifetime is our chance to decide if we want to live with Him or apart from Him.  And in eternity, we will get what we wanted.  We will either spend eternity with Him in heaven or apart from Him in hell.  We do not simply cease to exist, fading into nothingness.  We have a soul that will live on.  And this is either comforting or terrifying, depending on where you are headed.

            “Do we really matter?”  Yes!  We really matter to the One who created us.  He loves us because He created us.  We don’t have to do anything to deserve or earn that love.  He loves us just because we are His creation.  Because He wants us.  And He loved us enough to send Jesus to die for us, to pay the price for mankind’s sin, to bridge the gap between us and Him that was created when mankind rebelled against Him in the Garden of Eden.  To Him, we – every human being - are worth the price of Jesus’ life.  That is some major value!  Some real hope!  To know that we matter eternally to the One who made us and that He made a way for us to once again have a relationship with Him . . . if we choose to allow Jesus’ death to pay the price for our sins.  And if not, then we choose to pay it ourselves, to live with eternal separation from God.  The choice is ours!

            I could never be an atheist because there is no real hope in it.  No real meaning or value or justice or purpose or answers or anything.  Does it really matter if you get to live life the way you want for a short time, without having to follow the rules of some dusty, ancient Bible!?!  Does it really matter if you get to pursue whatever you want and be sexually free for awhile!?!  (And isn’t that really what draws a lot of people to atheism, the love of money and success and pleasure.  They get to do whatever they want and focus on themselves and have sex when they want and with whom they want, without anyone telling them that what they are doing is wrong?) 

            But rather than having that kind of so-called “freedom,” I would rather have the hope that things will someday be better than the pathetic-ness of this life, that people really do matter, that we don’t just cease to exist when we die, that all wrongs will be made right again someday, and that God is watching over me and I am not left here alone on earth to navigate it all by myself.  To me, believing in God is hope-filled and comforting and freeing, not restricting. 

            Atheists might think they are having more fun in this lifetime than Christians.  But Christians have a strong Father to lean on, more hope of true and lasting rewards, and the joy of knowing that God cares for us and that the best is yet to come.  And that is a wonderful trade-off for being willing to bend a knee and let God be God.

             “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve . . . But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”  (Joshua 24:15)

            As I have grown older and wiser, I have learned a big lesson: 

            I have no problem admitting that I need Him, if it means that I don’t have to carry the weight of the world on my own shoulders.  Nothing is more exhausting than that.  I would much rather fall down in His arms in desperate need and let Him carry me than try to do it all on my own.

            I recently saw a post that someone wrote, meant to encourage mothers who are struggling.  And what she said was something like this:  “You can do it!  You are enough!”

            And while I appreciate the encouragement and cheerleading, I think it helps me more to say it this way: “No!  I am not enough.  I cannot do it on my own.  And I don’t want the burden of having it all rest on my shoulders.  Lord, please help me!  I am not enough and I cannot do it on my own.  I need You!  I need You to help carry my concerns.  I need You to pick up the pieces that I drop, to use my feeble efforts for Your purposes and glory, to turn my messes into successes.  I even need You to just help me stand sometimes and to be my strength when I am weak and falling down and can’t carry on anymore.  I cannot do this thing called ‘life’ on my own!  I need You!”

            I don’t have to fix it all or always know what to do or make everything all better.  I get to run to God and seek His help.  I get to rest in Him.  I get to let His strength fill me when I have none left of my own.  How refreshing and reassuring!  When I can’t trust myself, I can trust Him.

            And I wouldn’t trade that security for anything.

            He gives our lives meaning and purpose.  He gives us hope and a future.  He offers healing for our brokenness and makes something beautiful and worthwhile out of the messes.  In fact, He does His best work with broken, flawed people.  If we will let Him.  If we are not too self-sufficient and proud to admit that we need Him.  We are never stronger than when He is holding us! 

            Can science – can impersonal, environmental forces - offer that kind of hope?  No!

            While science might let us “play god” in our lives for a short while, giving us temporary pleasure and wishy-washy meaning, science without God is a let-down.  It fails at giving us answers for the truly meaningful questions: Why are we here?  Where are we going?  Is there any real hope or future for me?  Do I really matter?

            Science cannot bring us true hope and healing and meaning and a future.  But Jesus does!

A Little Girl’s Sign

            I saw a picture online of a little girl holding up a sign.  She had a great big smile on her face, yet she was clearly too young to understand what the sign meant.  But the sign said something about how religion says that people are broken, imperfect, sinful, etc., and how science (a world without God) says that people are intelligent, beautiful, capable of great things, etc.  And then it asks us to decide which one is more harmful, obviously implying that religion is negative and damaging, while science is positive and affirming.

            This sign that the little girl was holding bothered me.  Because it doesn’t give an accurate picture of Christianity.  And so, in response, I want to make my own list, which I think more accurately represents Christianity and science. 

            [Of course, there are some damaging religions out there and there have been bad representatives of Christianity throughout the course of history.  And those bad representatives will be held accountable someday for not accurately handling the Word and living the faith.  But the people who reject Jesus based on someone else’s bad example will be held accountable for their choice.  They won’t be excused when they say, “But I didn’t want to be a Christian because I didn’t like the Christians I knew.”

            And to be clear, I do value science.  I think that God has created the scientific ways that the world/universe works.  And I think science points back to a Creator.  (Scientists who deny a Creator generally have a predetermined bias against Him and will not let anything convince them that He is real.  They do their research from the basis of “There is no God, so how else can I explain and understand this?”  Not very scientific!)  But for this section, I am talking about a science that excludes God, that takes the place of God, because that is how this little girl’s sign meant it.] 

My List:

Science (a world without God) says that we . . .
            - are broken, imperfect, and sinful.  Despite the little girl’s sign, science cannot deny that we are broken, imperfect, and sinful.  Just look at history and today’s newspaper.  Look at what we are capable to doing to each other and to ourselves.  Consider those who “have it all” but who are miserable anyway or who kill themselves to escape the hopelessness of this life.  Can science dare claim that we are “whole, perfect, and sinless”?  No!  It has to still admit that we are broken, imperfect, and sinful, but then it leaves it up to us to dig ourselves out of our messes because it says that there is no God out there to help us.

            - are cosmic accidents, created by and at the mercy of environmental conditions.

            - should be weeded out if we have flaws.  Survival of the fittest!  That’s how nature works.  Only what’s best for the continuation of the species as a whole matters.  The weak, injured, and poorly-developed are weeded out so that the stronger ones may live and pass on their genes.

            - are valuable based on our accomplishments and contributions to the species.  If there is no God to give us value and meaning, then our value and meaning is determined by other people and by what we can contribute to society.  Other people get to decide if we really matter or not.  And “drains on society” are liabilities and should be weeded out.

            - are ultimately alone.  If there is no Creator – just environmental forces – then we are truly on our own and have no one but ourselves to lean on.

            - are headed to nothingness.  If we were not deliberately created – if we are just accidentally alive, just walking bags of molecules - then we have no soul, no great purpose, no meaning, no hope of things ever being made right again.  And we will simply vanish after we die. 

But Christianity – God, Jesus – says that we . . .
            - are broken, imperfect, and sinful.  But that’s okay.  God knows we are this way and He loves us anyway and wants a relationship with us.  And He made a way to heal us, to bring us wholeness, to pay for our sins.  He is our hope and strength and help.

            1 John 4:9-10:  “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

            Luke 19:10:  “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

            2 Corinthians 5:17:  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

            Psalm 34:17-18: “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” 

            Psalm 40:1-2:  “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”

            Proverbs 3:5-6:  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and he will make your paths straight.”

            - are fearfully and wonderfully made.

            Genesis 1:27, 31:  “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female, he created them. . . . God saw all that he had made and it was very good.”

            Psalm 139:13-14:  “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. . .”

            - are extremely valuable simply because He created us, He wants us, and He loves us.  No one is worthless or disposable, no matter how broken or flawed they are or how little they contribute to society.

            John 3:16:  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.” (Emphasis added.) 

            2 Peter 3:9:  “[The Lord] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

            Matthew 10:29-31:  “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

            Romans 3:38-39:  “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

            - are worth dying for, even in our broken, imperfect condition.

            Mark 2:17:  “Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” 

            Romans 5:8:  “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

            John 3:16:  “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.” (Emphasis added.)

            - are not alone because He is watching over us and will help us through this life.

           1 Peter 5:6-7:  “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.”

           Psalm 23:1-4:  “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me besides quiet waters, he restores my soul.  He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

            Deuteronomy 31:6:  “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified . . . for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” 

            - have a future.  We will live on after we die, which can be comforting or terrifying, depending on where you are headed. 

            John 10:10:  “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

            John 3:36:  “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”

            Matthew 25:31-34:  “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.  Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.’. . . 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.’” 
            (Hell was never made for us, but for the devil and his angels.  We, however, choose to follow the devil to hell if we reject Jesus as Lord and Savior, if we choose to pay the penalty for our sins ourselves.  A penalty that has already been paid by Jesus, if only we will accept it on our behalf.)  

            John 3:16:  “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.” (Emphasis added.)

            And so I ask, “Which one is more hope-full?” 

            Which one has real answers, real hope, and a real future?

            We all put our faith in something.  Which one are you putting your faith in?

            We all stake our futures on something.  Which one are you staking your future, your soul, your eternity on?

World Religions

            I want to briefly present what some of the major religions of the world believe.  (I am not covering all of them, of course.  And I am skipping things like Wicca, New Age, and Humanism.)  It is important to know what these religions teach so that we can have biblical responses to them. 

            (This is my paraphrase of things I have learned over the years and information from a world religion comparison guide called “Christianity: Cults & Religions” and from a book by Fritz Ridenour called, So What’s the Difference?)

            The founders of Judaism are Abraham and Moses, of the Bible.  Jews do not consider the whole Bible to be scriptural, but only the Old Testament (called the Hebrew Bible), especially the first five books (the Torah).  There are four kinds of Jews: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Messianic. 

            Orthodox Jews are strict “rule-followers.”  Besides the Old Testament, they also live by additional rules in the Mishnah and the Talmud.  To make sure that they follow the rules completely, they take things to an extreme.  Such as, Exodus 23:19 says to not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.  But they take it even further, always eating meat and dairy products separately, never in the same dish. 

            Conservative Jews are a little more relaxed in their rule-following and are more about trying to keep Jewish traditions alive.  Reformed Jews are not concerned with strict rule-following either.  They believe that following the principles of Judaism are more important than following all the fastidious rules.     

            Christianity and Judaism are similar in much of their values and beliefs.  However, the great difference is how we view Jesus.  The only Jews who follow Jesus are the Messianic Jews, those who still observe Jewish customs yet believe Jesus was the Messiah.  The rest generally believe He was a false messiah or a good teacher who had an unfortunate death.  (Would a “good teacher” deceive everyone by claiming He was God and the only way to heaven?)

            Most Jews do not believe in the Trinity (since they do not believe that Jesus was God).  They believe that God is one Being, not three in one.  Conservative and Reformed Jews believe that He is a spirit who is impersonal and unknowable, whereas Orthodox Jews believe He is personal and knowable.  Some Jews basically think the Holy Spirit is just another name for God’s love/power and some think it refers to His activity on earth.

            Most Jews believe that salvation is obtained by commitment to God and moral living.  Christians and Messianic Jews say that salvation comes only through Jesus’ atoning death. 

            While both Catholics and Christians believe in the Bible and God and Jesus, there are a few big differences between the two. 

            Catholics believe that new revelations are given to the bishops.  Therefore, scriptural authority is not just “the Bible” (as Christians believe).  For them, it’s “the Bible plus the bishop’s new revelations.” 

            And the leaders – Rome – are the only ones with the ability to understand and correctly interpret what the Bible teaches.  (Whereas Christians believe that God’s truth is made available to everyone in the Bible and can be understood by everyone.)

            The pope claims papal infallibility, meaning that he has complete authority over the church and cannot be wrong in what he decides.  (I am guessing it’s because of his ability to get new revelations from God, which Catholics believe have the same weight and authority as Scripture.)

            Catholics hold Mary in higher regard than Christians do, basically to the point of worshipping her.  They believe she was born sinless and died sinless (and remained a virgin her whole life), that she was taken up bodily into heaven, and that she shares Jesus’ job of being a mediator between man and God.

            Catholics pray to Mary and angles and dead saints, asking for their help.  They believe that priests are mediators between people and God, so they confess their sins to the priests.  And the priests pronounce forgiveness, after commanding the person to do certain things to atone for their sins, such as praying a number of prayers, usually including several “Hail Marys.”

            Christians do not believe we can earn or secure our forgiveness by doing these kinds of things.  We do not believe in praying to anyone other than God and Jesus.  And we believe that we can confess our sins directly to God. 

            [From what I understand, Catholics believe in having the priests (and Mary, the angels, and dead saints) mediate between people and God out of respect for God’s high position, believing that the common person should not approach God too informally.] 

            Salvation for a Catholic comes through faith plus their good works, including adherence to the Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church: baptism, confirmation (the final step of baptism), taking communion (which they believe has been transformed into Christ’s actual body and blood), the regular confession of sins to the priest, being anointed by the priest with oil when you are sick or near death, the ordination of Catholic ministers at three different levels, and Holy Matrimony (being married in the Catholic Church).

            Catholics also believe in purgatory – the place your soul goes when you die where you work out any unconfessed sins so that you become fit for heaven.  (Can I ask this:  What did Jesus’ death accomplish then, if we are still required to pay for our sins?) 

            Living Catholics can help those in purgatory get out of it faster by praying for them, by doing good things on their behalf, and by being granted “indulgences” by the leadership. 

            “Indulgences” is the idea that the Catholic Church has accumulated God’s favor over the years through prayers and good works, etc., and that a priest or bishop can dip into that “bank account” and take some of God’s favor and extend it to a person in purgatory as a “pardon for sin,” declaring that the person can now get out of purgatory so many days early.  (Huh!?!  Where is that idea in the Bible?) 

            And some verses to consider:

            “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Tim 2:5).  Jesus Himself is the only mediator there is between men and God.  How wrong it is to elevate mere humans to Jesus’ level and to blatantly defy Scripture.

            “And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.”  (Matthew 23:9)  Catholic priests are called “father.”  This verse is not referring to genetic fathers but to spiritual fathers, saying that there is only One who should be called “Father.”  And that would be God alone!  I simply don’t see how they can justify that when this verse is so clear!  I mean, of all the names they could go by, they picked the very one that was forbidden.

            “They [false teachers] forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods …” (1 Tim 4:3).  Priests are not allowed to marry, according to the Catholic Church.  However, the Bible claims that church leaders are to be “the husband of but one wife … He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect.”  (1 Tim 3:2-4)  You can’t have a family and wife if you are not allowed to marry (a rule made up by men, not God).  And Catholics are forbidden to eat meat on Fridays during Lent, another rule made up by the Catholic Church, not God. 

            “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like the pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.”  (Matt 6:7)  What do the priests require of you so that you can earn forgiveness for your sins?  That you repeat a certain number of prayers over and over again.  And you are required – as a good Catholic – to pray the rosary.  More repetitive prayer, most of which are to Mary.

            And who did Jesus tell us to direct our prayers to?  “This, then, is how you should pray:  ‘Our Father in heaven …’” (Matt 6:9)  Jesus also instructed us just a couple verses later to ask God to forgive us of our sins.  And yet in a Catholic church, you are to confess your sins to the priest.  Because in the Catholic church, he is the one who grants (or withholds) forgiveness, requiring you to jump through their hoops first, as if they have the authority to grant or withhold forgiveness or to require more than what God does in the Bible.  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins …”  (1 John 1:9).  And who is “he” in this verse?  The priests, those self-appointed “fathers”?  NO!  It’s God Himself.

            “… should not a people inquire of their God?  Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?”  (Isaiah 8:19)  And I think we can apply it like this:  “… should not a people pray only to their God?  Why pray to the dead on behalf of the living?”  (They might say that they don't pray to Mary, just that they ask her to pray for them.  But once again, "why consult the dead on behalf of the living?") 

            Look even at what an angel told John when he fell before it in worship: “At this I fell at his feet to worship him.  But he said to me, ‘Do not do it!  I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus.  Worship God!”  (Rev 19:10)  And what’s the Catholic church doing?  Worshipping servants of God and dead humans and requiring that their followers pray to them.  (It's quite disturbing to see the many pictures on-line of Catholics kneeling before statues of the Pope and Mary and the "saints."  Kneeling in worship!  The Catholics would say that any adoration they show these statues goes right to the person the statue represents.  Even if they say they are not “worshipping” these statues or people, do you think this is ok?  Why did God command us to not make images and to not bow down to them?

            “But wait,” a Catholic would say, “Mary wasn’t just a mere human!  She was sinless!”  And what does the Bible say?  Not one verse about Mary being sinless (or ascending bodily into heaven or being called the "Queen of heaven")!  However, there are many about Jesus being sinless, which is why His death alone could satisfy the payment required for mankind’s sins (2 Cor 5:21, 1 Peter 2:22, Heb 4:15, Heb 7:26, 1 John 3:5).  And furthermore, it clearly says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  (Romans 3:23)  Not “all but Mary have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

            While I do respect the fact that there are a lot of good, God-fearing people in the Catholic Church and that it’s been a stepping stone to real faith for many people, I think that the Catholic church itself has become more about "religion" and less about biblical faith.

            [Update 5/21/18:  I just watched something alarming online, a clip of Pope Francis telling people that a personal relationship with Jesus is dangerous and harmful.  Click here for the video.  He's basically saying that it's dangerous to attempt to have a relationship with Jesus Christ without the mediation of the church - the Catholic church, of course.  He says that being a Christian means belonging to the church.    
            Umm ... NO!  Being a Christian means being a follower of Jesus Christ.  The church is simply the followers of Christ coming together for fellowship, to lift each other up, to pray together, to worship together, and to study the Word together.  Jesus came before the church.  Jesus is the foundation of and head of the Church.  Not the other way around.
            Yes, we Christians need to be in fellowship with other believers ... BUT the church is not the way to salvation.  Jesus is.  The church doesn't save us.  Jesus does.  The church isn't God on earth.  Jesus is.  The church isn't the way, the truth, and the life.  Jesus is.

The church does not supersede Jesus.  The Catholic Church, the pope, has not taken Jesus's place here on earth.  

And I think there will be consequences for the pope claiming so!

            Furthermore, the Catholic church is also working on forming an alliance between Islam and Christianity (actually, I should say "Christianity" - their brand of Christianity).  Anyone who is actually a faithful follower of either Muhammad or Jesus knows that these two cannot be reconciled, that they cannot both be true, not when they both claim such very different foundational truths.

            To my Catholic friends:  Get out of the Catholic church!  You don't need the Catholic church to be a Christian or to tell you what God's Word says.  Read it for yourself and find out who Jesus really is and what it means to be a follower of Christ.]  


            Founded by Muhammad in the 600s A.D., who claimed to be a prophet but did not claim to be divine.  The Qur’an (Koran) is their holy book, which they believe supersedes all other holy writings, even the Torah (the first five books of the Bible).  Muhammad claims that the angel Gabriel dictated this book to him.  There is also the Sunnah which contains teachings and sayings of Muhammad, and the Shariah which is a collection of strict laws that govern a Muslim’s life.

            According to Islam, there is only one God - Allah.  The idea of the Trinity is highly offensive and blasphemous.  And Muslims believe that God cannot be known. 

            Jesus was not God.  He was a respected prophet who did miracles and lived a sinless life.  He did not die on a cross nor rise again.  But God took Him to heaven before he went to the cross (because no prophet could die such a humiliating death) and someone else was in His place, disguised as Jesus (such as Judas).  Also, Jesus will not come again before judgment.  Muhammad – who is the last and greatest prophet - will be the one coming to usher in the End. 

            Islam teaches that man is born as a clean slate, as opposed to the Christian belief that mankind is born in sin and separated from God.  And each Muslim has to make up for their own sins by being a faithful Muslim and following Islam’s Five Pillars of the Faith: converting to Islam through a Statement of Belief, praying five times a day toward Mecca, giving alms, celebrating Ramadan, and taking a pilgrimage to Mecca. 

            Muslims are taught that God does not love people who do wrong, whereas Christians believe that God loves all sinners and has paid the price for their sins. 

            For a Muslim, heaven is a place of sensual pleasure where a man is given a bunch of virgins to pleasure him for all of eternity.  (Would that really be a deeply, eternally-satisfying reward?  How long before those 72 virgins are used up, before the constant sex loses its appeal?  And do you know what the married women get as reward?  To be with their husbands all of eternity, yet to feel so beautiful that she won't be jealous about him having sex with the 72 virgins.  WHAT KIND OF REWARD IS THAT!?!  That ought to make any feminist today enraged!  What kind of an eternity is that!?!  Definitely a religion made up by a man!)

                And hell awaits those who oppose God and Muhammad.                  

            On a different note, there is much contention and confusion nowadays over the idea of “Muslim extremists” versus “moderate, peaceful Muslims.”  (In fact, many Muslims say that the word "Islam" means "peace," whereas it really means submission to God . . . and then you will find peace.  Islam is about forcing people into submission to God where they will find "peace.")  While most Muslims in America do seem to be peaceful and just want to practice their faith in peace, it cannot be ignored that Muhammad did, in fact, teach the ideas of warfare and killing those who disagree with Islam. 

            From what I understand, his earliest writings promoted tolerance and a “live and let live” kind of mentality.  But his later writings promote killing “infidels,” subjugating those who disagree, the spreading of Shariah law, and Jihad (warfare against their enemies).  And these later writings are supposed to override the previous ones.  Therefore, those who are “extremists” are not really misrepresenting Islam.  They are actually the most committed and are following the whole Qur’an to the letter.

            [Some Islamic passages to look up:
            Qur'an 9:5:  "... slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captive and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush ..."
            5:51:  "O you who believe!  do not take the Jews and Christians for friends; they are friends of each other."
            9:29:  "Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the last day..."
            9:73:  "O Prophet!  strive hard against the unbelievers and the hypocrites and be unyielding to them."
            9:123:  "O you who believe!  fight those of the unbelievers who are near to you and let them find in you hardness."
            48:29:  "Those who follow Muhammad are merciless for the unbelievers but kind to each other."
            Also see Qur'an 4:95-96, Qur'an 47:7, Sahih Muslim 30, Sunan An-Nasa'i 3099, Sunan Ibn Majah 2763, Sahih al-Bukhari 6922, Hadith 1:13, Hadith 19:4294, Hadith 9:4, etc.  It's all there, in Muhammad's own words.  This is not a religion of peace, but of warfare, of forcing others to submit, and of killing those who don't.]
            And if I remember correctly, Jihad – holy war – is what will help usher in the End and the coming of Muhammad.  This is why they (the “radical extremists”) are not afraid to declare Jihad on people and why trying to negotiate peace with them will not work.  They want the war because it will bring them rewards and it will bring Muhammad back again.

            Can you really stand there and say that Muhammad taught peace, that Islam is a religion of peace?  Because if you do, I would have to say that, looking at his own words, Muhammad himself would disagree. 

            Christians are to love their enemies.  Muslims are to kill their enemies.  Christians are to be willing to die for their faith.  Muslims are to kill for theirs.    

            However, let me once again stress that most Muslims seem peaceful and just want to practice their faith in peace.  We do not have to fear those who are not violent.  Nor should we be lashing out at them.  Instead, we need to show them the same kind of grace, love, and compassion that we should be showing everyone.  Jesus died for them, too, that they might believe in Him and find everlasting life.  (How can we tell the difference between violent and non-violent Muslims?  I don’t know.  But until someone proves to be violent, show them love and grace and compassion.  And pray for them.  This is what we Christians are called to do.)


            It has no founder but began sometime in 1800-1000 B.C. in India through the mixing of people groups and their polytheistic religions.  Hinduism has no particular central theology or doctrine, but it allows for many various beliefs, such as believing in whatever gods you want or none at all.  Oftentimes, they worship a god in just about everything in nature.  But all Hindus believe in the idea of reincarnation and karma. 

            Basically, they believe that souls are repeatedly reincarnated into various forms on earth (human or animal), going through various levels of suffering while they work out their karma in order to reach the highest level of being united with the infinite spirit, Brahma (their idea of “God”). 

            Karma is a sort of “point system” based on the good or bad things you do.  And karma determines what kind of body and station you are given in your next reincarnation.  And, last I knew, they believe in not interfering with someone else’s destiny.  So if someone is suffering, it is their karmic destiny.  They brought it on themselves from the way they lived their previous lives, and no one should interfere with them while they work out their karma.  (This is why they did not help those in the lowest rung of the caste system – the Untouchables.  They believed the Untouchables deserved what they got because of their past lives and that they had to work out their own karma.  They may have changed this recently, though.)

            And once you tip the scales enough to the “good” – through yoga and meditation and good works and faithfully living within your reincarnated position – you will be released from the endless cycles of reincarnation and be absorbed into Brahma. 

            (Yoga is a form of Hindu worship.  Those poses are prayer poses to Hindu gods, meant to align you with the universe and with Brahma, where “all are one” and where you learn “I am Brahma.”  And yet the Christians who practice yoga act like it’s just a “morally neutral,” harmless form of exercise.  But is it really!?!)

            They believe that God – Brahma – is in everything and that everyone is part of God, which is why they worship so many different gods and allow different beliefs.  They believe that all beliefs might take different paths, but that they all lead to the same thing, to the only reality out there – God (Brahma).  (Which is why it's weird that they've recently been violently attacking Christians.  Their beliefs allow for any and all religious beliefs.  Apparently except Christianity, I guess.)  

            Idol worship – worshipping physical items of stone and wood – is common in Hindu homes.  And the dot that they wear on their foreheads represents a spiritual “third eye.”      


            Founded in the 500s B.C. by Gautama Siddhartha (a.k.a. Buddha).  Buddhists do not believe in the Bible, God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit.  If they do believe in Jesus, they believe He was an enlightened teacher or an avatar (the savior of your choice), but He was not God. 

            Buddhists believe that life is about suffering, brought about by selfish desires (and all desires are bad and need to be eradicated).  If you can get to a point where you master your desires and no longer crave anything, you will be released from the suffering-filled cycle of reincarnation. 

            And the way to overcome cravings and selfish desires is through mastering the Noble Eightfold Path.  This is when you get to the point where you have the right viewpoint, intentions, speech, behavior, job, effort, mindfulness, and meditation. 

            If you can do all this properly, you will not suffer anymore and will reach a state of nirvana, a sort of perfect consciousness.

            Jehovah’s Witnesses: 

            In the beginning was the Almighty God, Jehovah.  He created Jesus, who isn’t really a god but who can be considered a “lesser god.”  Jesus actually was Michael the archangel when he was in heaven.  After he was created, Jesus created everything else.  But Jehovah is really the only God.  There is no Trinity – no “three in one” of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The Trinity is actually a teaching of Satan (according to them). 

            The founder, Charles Taze Russell, predicted that Jesus’ coming and Armageddon would happen in 1914.  When it didn’t happen, he claimed it was an invisible, spiritual coming of Jesus. 

            The next leader changed the date to 1925, and then claimed he was “misunderstood” when it didn’t happen.  He also claimed that only the first 144,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses would get into heaven.  The rest (those who became Witnesses after 1935) can’t get into heaven because it’s “full,” but they can earn everlasting life on earth as part of the “great crowd.” 

            The next leader changed the date of Armageddon to 1975. 

            Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus was a perfect man when He was on earth but nothing more.  And His death was a “good trade” for Adam’s sin, basically buying us the right to earn our salvation through good works (i.e. evangelizing door-to-door, etc.).  Of course, this is only for Jehovah’s Witnesses.  And after dying, Jesus stopped being human and once again became the archangel, Michael.

            The leadership of the Jehovah’s Witnesses teaches their followers that they must not try to read and understand the Bible themselves, but they must learn their theology from headquarters, from the Watchtower.  And they are never to question the Watchtower. 

            Jehovah’s Witnesses have their own translation of the Bible, The New World Translation.  In this version, they have altered certain verses to fit their teachings.  Such as, they took John 1:1 “. . . and the Word was God” and changed it to “. . . and the Word was a god,” thereby making Jesus sort of “a god” but not the God.  And they add the word “other” when talking about created things to make it sound like Jesus was created first and then he created all the other things. 

            And while they talk about grace and salvation, they do not say that salvation is by faith in Christ alone.  They claim that you earn your salvation – your spot on the eternal earth (because remember that heaven is full) - by working for it through your faithful obedience, faithful attendance, and door-to-door work.  And there is no hell.  All non-Jehovah’s Witnesses will be annihilated, simply ceasing to exist.  

            (While new Jehovah’s Witness publications admit that Russell was the founder, they distance themselves from his beliefs and teachings.  Interesting!  How can one follow a religion made up by a man whose authority and theology they refuse to acknowledge?)

            Mormons (Latter-Day Saints):

            In the 1820’s, a teenage Joseph Smith, Jr. had a vision where the Father and Son (or so he believed) appeared to him and told him that all Christian denominations are off-track and that he should not join any of them. 

            Several years later, supposedly through an occultic “seer” practice, the Book of Mormon was “shown” to Smith.  And Mormonism was born.  (Modern Mormons deny his occultic practices.)

            According to Mormons, new revelations have been given to Mormon leaders which should be added to the Bible.  So while they do acknowledge the Bible, Mormons base their faith primarily on the Book of Mormon, along with two other Mormon books, considering them to be inspired words of God.  (Yet they feel the Bible has been corrupted, making it the least reliable book.)

            One of these extra Mormon books (Doctrine & Covenants) is a book of prophecies made by Smith which did not come true.  And, ironically (considering that they believe the Bible has been corrupted), the book of Smith’s prophecies has been altered over the years.  (Maybe to make them less inaccurate?  I guess that when you can still get new revelations from God, you can make all the changes you want and still call it “God-inspired” truth.)

            The other Mormon book (Pearl of Great Price) was partly inspired from a papyri fragment that Smith bought in 1835, which he thought was the writings of Abraham.  But in the mid-1900s, it was reexamined and found to be about Egyptian funerals and how to embalm people.  Yet the Mormons today claim that God supernaturally revealed the “Book of Abraham” to Smith through it.

            According to the Mormons:  In the beginning was a race of “gods” who were all created by previous “gods.”  Somewhere along the line, God the Father was created and sent to a planet to live as a man, where he worked his way to godhood.  Then he returned to the heavens and had a bunch of “spirit babies” with his goddess-wife. 

            The first sprit-baby was Jesus.  (However, it’s also said that Jesus was created when God the Father came to earth, took on a human body, and had sex with Mary.)  And the next was Lucifer, Jesus’ younger brother.  And then, God created all the rest of the spirit-babies who would eventually inhabit bodies on earth and become people.

            God’s plan was to test people on earth while they lived in human bodies, and then they would return to him after death.  But he needed someone to make amends for Adam’s sin.

            And when he chose Jesus, Lucifer got jealous and rebelled.  And after a Great War in heaven, Lucifer was banished to earth where he was condemned to live as a spirit, never getting a human body.

            Jesus and the other spirit-babies then made human bodies out of the earth’s material.

            However, some of the spirit-babies who fought against Lucifer in the Great War didn’t really fight that hard.  And their punishment was to be born with black skin.           

            Smith initially taught that there was a Trinity. However, he eventually changed it to say that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three separate gods.  (The Holy Spirit was never able to get a human body.)  

            To attain godhood, according to Mormon teaching, Jesus would have had to have been married (most likely having multiple wives).  And after Jesus died, he fully reached godhood.  Eventually, Jesus will take God the Father’s place when God the Father moves on to a higher realm.    

            While Mormon’s claim that salvation is only possible because of Jesus’ death, His death only covered Adam’s sin but we are responsible for our own sins.  His death simply earned us the right to pay for our sins and gain our salvation, through our strict adherence to Mormon doctrines and practices.

            Like Jesus, humans can earn godhood through our works and rituals and proper Mormon living.  We can even eventually earn our own planet.  But there is no eternal life for those who are not members of the Mormon Church. 

            Mormons strongly reject the label of “cult” or “false religion,” claiming that they are indeed biblical Christians who believe in the power of Jesus Christ to save.  (Like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, they use many of the same terms Christians do, but they have redefined them.)   


            The only reason I included this one is because my husband’s grandfather was a Freemason.  And I have done a bit of research on this over the years to see what might have been “passed down” in the family line, spiritually speaking.  (Before I knew what this group was, my husband’s father tried to pass on his father’s Freemason rings to my husband.  I am so glad that my husband knew enough to not accept them.) 

            This is a secret society – a sort of fraternal brotherhood – surrounded in rituals, symbolism, and mystery. 

            According to them, man is basically good, we can reach perfection, we need to live good, moral, charitable lives, and there will be an afterlife with rewards and punishments. 

            However, the Bible is not the inspired Word of God.  And Jesus wasn’t God.  He was just a man.  (They are not even allowed to speak Jesus’ name in their meetings, so they delete His name when using the Bible.)  And we improve our standing before God (and gain salvation) through good works.  Also, they believe that all religions essentially believe in the same God.  So as long as you believe in a “supreme being,” you can be a Mason. 

            While they initially think that they were getting into a God-based religion, as they climb up the various levels of freemasonry, it reveals itself to be more pagan and occultic than they thought.  The higher you go in the levels, the more pagan rituals you perform, the more prayers you are required to pray to false gods (even praying allegiance to them, even to Lucifer), the more blasphemies against God you are required to pronounce, and the more you learn you don’t need God (that there is no God) because you are a god.  You are even required to pronounce curses of pain and death upon you and your family if you share the secrets of Freemasonry.

            Freemasonry is widespread.  (Even my neighbor across the street has the “Freemason” emblem on his door.)  And it has ties with or is similar to these groups:

            -  Shriners (those who reached the highest level of freemasonry)
            -  Job’s Daughters (girls that are related to Masons)
            -  Eastern Star
            -  Elks, Moose, Buffalos, etc. 
            -  DeMolay groups
            -  International Order of the Rainbow for Girls (Rainbow girls.  Makes it sound appealing to little girls, doesn’t it?)
            -  Knight’s Templar
            -  Illuminati
            -  Skull and Bones Society
            -  And many others          

            Christian Science:

            Founded in the 1870s by Mary Baker Eddy.  She taught that there is no physical reality.  Everything is basically just a metaphysical idea.  Nothing really exists as matter.  Therefore, there is no sin, no sickness, no death.  It’s all in our minds.  And since nothing really exists except ideas, you can control your health and healing by believing that you cannot really be hurt or sick.  Even God is just a principle, not a person.  And heaven and hell are just states of the mind, based on whether we do wrong or right.  And there is no need for a Savior – for Jesus – because all people are already eternally saved.  Christian Scientists say that Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures supersedes the Bible and that the Bible can only be understood in light of it.  


            Founded by L. Ron Hubbard in 1954.  They don’t have anything to do with the idea of the God of the Bible or Jesus or the Holy Spirit.  There is no such thing as sin or heaven or hell.  They believe all people are immortal spirits that control their own bodies and universe.  And as you work with an “auditor,” you can progress up the ladder to “total freedom” where you will gain total control over matter, energy, space, and time.  

            Hare Krishna (ISKCON):

            Founded in the 1500s, with a foundation in Hinduism and the Hindu writing, Bhagavad-Gita.  Having a personal relationship with the god “Krishna” is the way to salvation.  And you earn your salvation by total devotion to Krishna and by tipping the karmic balance with an abundance of good works, by constantly chanting Krishna’s name, and by obeying ISKCON rules throughout your reincarnated lives.  Jesus wasn’t the Savior.  He was either an enlightened teacher or may have been the son of Krishna.  But either way, He is not as important.  Krishna is the one to follow.   

            Church of Christ (International Church of Christ, ICC):

            An evangelistic church determined to save the lost and make disciples.  The leader, Kip McKean, said that the Bible teaches that every city should only have one church.  And, of course, he claimed that the church he founded – the Boston Church of Christ - was the church and that none of the others in the city were of God. 

            In order to obtain salvation, you must be baptized into and totally committed to the International Church of Christ, and you must live righteously.  And if you want to join the ICC but you were baptized by a different church, you must be baptized again by them because only their baptisms are valid. 

            As a member, you must fully obey the leadership (with McKean at the top) – even if asked to do something un-Christ-like.  And all parts of your life are to be submitted to their authority, even your marital relationship.  They claim authority over a person’s every aspect of life because of Hebrews 13:17:  “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.” 

            You must also undergo intense discipleship, confess all sins to your mentor, and attend every ICC meeting.  And once you are a member, there is to be no sin in your life.  To accomplish this, many members pull away from family and friends and get more and more involved in the Church of Christ.

            The leadership often confronts those who want to leave the ICC, bringing up their previously confessed sins (to harass them?  intimidate them?  control them?) and telling them that they will go to hell if they leave the church. 

            Unification Church (The Moonies):

           Founded by Sun Myung Moon in 1954.  (In the US, it’s “Lovin’ Life Ministries.”)  Moon claims to have had a vision at the age of 16 where he was called to complete the mission that Jesus failed at.  They believe that the way Jesus (a perfect man, but not God) was supposed to save humans was by getting married and having sinless children. 

            Obviously, since Jesus died (and didn’t rise again, according to them), he failed.  So Moon stepped in to finish the job.  (What a guy!)  He teaches that the mass weddings that he and his wife perform and bless will result in sinless offspring for the couples they marry.

            They don’t use the Bible.  They use Moon’s writing, The Divine Principle.  Moon believes that he is the Second Coming of Messiah.  Moonies pray in the name of Sun Myung Moon and his wife, the “True Parents.”  They believe that even Jesus bows down to Moon.  The Moonies believe that people are basically good – divine even – and that we can save ourselves by our good works.  And eventually everyone, even Satan, will be saved. 

            Moonies support the idea of contacting the dead and channeling spirits because they believe that dead ancestors can help you become divine.  In fact, after his “vision,” Moon spent years contacting spirits of “great teachers” like Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, etc. for guidance and knowledge.  He even claims that Satan revealed to him the real reason for mankind’s Fall - that Eve had sex with Satan and then with Adam, causing sin to be passed down through their children.            


            Jesus wasn’t God.  He was a man who reached perfect levels of god-consciousness.  The Bible is not God-inspired.  It’s just a myth.  And God is not a conscious being.  He is a force.

            Since they are not bound to a book like the Bible, they continue to update and change their theology. 

            In their theology, people are not “sinners” by nature and don’t need a Savior.  Mankind needs to be his own savior.  And all that’s required for salvation is to live a good life and treat others as you want to be treated.  

            It’s a “Love everybody . . . It’s all good . . . No rules, no judgment, no guilt” kind of religion, which I am sure is very appealing in this age of moral relativity.  They focus only on this lifetime, believing that heaven and hell don’t exist.  Even the idea of hell offends Unitarians (because that would imply rules and judgment and “right and wrong”). 

            They try to find and embrace spirituality in everything, such as in nature, but also even in things like neo-paganism, allowing Wiccans to join them.

            The Emerging/Emergent Church

            This is a relatively new movement, from the 1990’s.  I would never have even heard about it if it weren’t for the fact that several big celebrities seem to be tied to it.  But I think this is going to be one to watch.  And to be carefully discerning about. 

            From what I’ve read, this movement is about getting away from the stiff, organized way that churches traditionally operate.  They are trying to make themselves inviting to all, fresh and new and relevant and more informal.  And while I don’t have much problem with that, the problem seems to be that they are trading in sound biblical doctrine in order to be inviting and relevant.  Big problem! 

            This movement seems to have a fluid, undefined, shifting doctrine and way of living, depending on the culture around them.  The Emergent churches don’t even have a defined set of “faith statements.”  They don’t have a clear stand on doctrine and scriptural truths. 

            In fact, some of the biggest leaders of this group deny the authority of Scripture.  They deny the most basic, foundational doctrines, such as eternal hell and the virgin birth.  They say things like, “We are all God’s children and God loves everyone, so eventually everyone will be saved and no one will spend eternity in hell.” 

            [While we are all God’s creation, aren’t “God’s children” the ones who choose to call Him “Father”?  And, yes, God is love.  But isn’t God also just and holy?  “God is love” is being used to excuse immorality and ungodliness.  And this happens when “God is holy and just” is deliberately ignored or denied or downplayed.]

            In one breath, leaders of the Emergent church act like they believe Scripture while at the same time questioning it and dismantling it.  In effect, they end up presenting a bunch of half-truths, watering them down so much that they are not truths at all.

            However, straying from clear biblical truth opens the door to all kinds of heresy.  This movement sounds a bit like a Christian version of Unitarianism, a sort of “It’s all good and everyone’s just fine” view.  It’s more about spirituality than biblical truth.  And it seems to be more about reaching society by blending in with them than about taking firm biblical stands which differentiate us from the world.  It’s more about telling society what it wants to hear than about preaching the hard, unsavory truths that might offend them.  It’s more about being popular than being faithful. 

            But if this is the case, it is not sound doctrine and it is not from the Lord.  Whether traditional or modern or post-modern, truth still matters.  Doctrine still matters.  And people will be held accountable for embracing and spreading falsehood and feel-good half-truths, whether they call themselves Christian or not.  Shifting, flexible truths are no truths at all.  Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.          


            [Other groups to be cautious and discerning about – look them up for yourself and see what they are about and what critics say about them – are Bethel Church in Redding, California, the New Apostolic Reformation, and Word of Faith churches. 
            I am just now learning about these, but they appear to be drifting  off-track – elevating personal experience over Scripture, elevating love over doctrinal truths, appealing to our emotions, using occultic and New Age kinds of practices (Bethel encourages something called “grave sucking” or “grave soaking” where you absorb a dead person's spiritual anointing (Holy Spirit power) by laying on their grave or grabbing ahold of their headstone, something called a “fire tunnel” in order to acquire the Holy Spirit, and such things as waking up angels and raising the dead and a "glory cloud" of gold dust, etc.), glorifying the self more than the Lord, focusing more on signs and wonders and spiritual gifts than on man's sin and his need for forgiveness and the salvation message, watering down the Truth so much that it’s basically meaningless, teaching that we can basically bring heaven to earth and do the same things Jesus did, denying His full deity, spreading the "prosperity gospel," etc.

            Regarding Bethel, I found this video clip and criticism about the “glory cloud” to be interesting.  If you watch it, notice the manipulative techniques that are meant to keep people from questioning the cloud. 
            Also notice Bill Johnson’s critical comment about how the church has come together around a sermon throughout history, whereas Israel came together around God’s presence.  And since he’s all about God’s presence, he would willingly throw out everything else (and I assume he’s referring to sound doctrine) to celebrate God’s presence.  This upholds personal, emotional experience over anything else, including Scripture.  The problem here is that “God’s presence” is a vague term and can be used to define just about any abnormal, sensationalistic, “supernatural” thing – even demonic activity.  Because once you throw out sound doctrine and spiritual discernment, anything goes.  (Another phrase to watch out for from today's churches: "Christians are turning the Bible into God, letting the Bible take the place of God."  This is another way to shove the Bible onto the back-burner, to allow one's own experience of God and interpretation of God to replace biblical doctrine.)  
            And did you also notice how unemotional Bill Johnson seemed about it all, how jaded he appeared - even as dust fell while he tried to convince the people that it’s all so great and they should celebrate it?  How can one stand in a shower of God’s awesome presence and sound so ho-hum about it all? 

            You know what happened in the Bible when people experienced God’s presence?

            Leviticus 9:23-24:  “Moses and Aaron then went into the Tent of Meeting.  When they came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people.  Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar.  And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown.”

            Exodus 19:16:  As Moses gathered the people around Mount Sinai … “there was a thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast.  Everyone in the camp trembled.”

            1 Kings 19: 12-13:  “After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire.  And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face . . .”

            Isaiah 6:5:  “‘Woe is me!’ I cried.  ‘I am ruined!  For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.’”

            Ezekiel 1:28:  “. . . This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.  When I saw it, I fell facedown, . . .”

            Revelation 1:17:   “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. . . .”

            These people fell facedown, trembled, covered their faces, cried out in distress about their sinful condition, passed out. 

            And what are the people at Bethel doing?  Getting out their phones to take videos and trying to catch the dust while Bill Johnson barely even glances at it as he unemotionally drones on about what a great thing it is.  His attitude and composure alone while he (supposedly) stood in a physical manifestation of God’s presence is enough to make me seriously question what’s really going on there.        

            Not everyone who comes with signs and wonders is godly.  Not everyone who preaches is preaching Scriptural truth.

            “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible.”  (Matthew 24:24)

            And Satan even disguises himself as an angel of light.  “… for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.  It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness.”  (1 Cor. 11:14-15)

            On a different note, do you want to see something somewhat disturbing, or at least questionable?  Look up Hillsong London’s “Las Vegas-style” performance of “Silent Night.”  (I don't know about the comments around the clip, just click on the video to see what you think.  It's the one with the guy onstage with the blue lights all around.)  And then there’s this Easter Service from 2016.  I’m not even sure what to make of it yet, but watch it and judge it for yourself.

            I am not saying that these groups are indeed heretics, but I am saying that you need to use discernment about them.  Look past their flashy shows and feel-good music and “lovey-dovey” messages and compare what they teach (or fail to teach) to what the Bible teaches.  And remember that it's possible to have the right beliefs but to live them out wrong.

            FYI – I cannot vouch for any of the other content on the webpages that I gave you links for, because I haven’t read it all.  I am simply considering the topic at hand.]

Current Heretical Teachings:

            I want to take a brief moment to introduce some of the current heretical teachings that are coming from “Christian” churches nowadays and possible responses to them.  This is just a taste to get you talking and thinking.

          1.  “There was no virgin birth.  ‘Virgin’ meant she was a young woman or that she got pregnant the first time she had intercourse.  So Jesus wasn’t really God.”
            If they can destroy the idea of the virgin birth, they can deny the deity of Jesus Christ.  They can make Him into just a man, just another good teacher you can choose to follow if you want to.
            But what about Matthew 1:18, which says that Mary and Joseph hadn’t “come together” yet?  They didn’t have intercourse, and yet she was found to be with child.  But if it wasn’t through intercourse with Joseph and it wasn’t supernatural, then you would have to conclude that she had an affair.  Are “Christians” who want to deny the “virgin birth” ready to claim that?    
            And what about the fact that the angel told Joseph (in Matt 1:20) that the child conceived in Mary was from the Holy Spirit?  (Also see Luke 1:35) 
            And that John 1:14 and 1 Timothy 3:16 refer to the fact that God the Son came down to earth and put on human flesh?
            And then there’s John 1:18, which says “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only [a reference to Jesus], who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.”      
            Colossians 2:9 tells us that all the fullness of God lives in bodily form in Christ.  Philippians 2:5-6 tells us that Jesus had the very nature of God. 
            Even Jesus Himself said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) because He and the Father “are one.”  (John 10:30).  In John 10:33, the Jews were going to stone Him because He was calling Himself God.  Jesus Himself acknowledged His Godhood.  The question is, “Do you believe Him?”

          2.  “God is pure love!  And because He loves me so much, He just wants me to be happy.” 
            This one makes me crazy because it’s being used to excuse everything, acting like what matters most to God is that we are happy and enjoying our lives, whether we find that happiness in homosexual relationships or pre-marital ones or even ones where we leave our spouses for something that makes us happier.  After all, “It’s all about the love.  And a loving God would never judge us or punish us or deny us anything that makes us happy.” 
            It’s not said in this way, but this is the belief going around out there. 
            Yes, God is love.  And it’s critical to know His love, and to share His love and grace and forgiveness with others.  But what people are forgetting is that God is also just and holy, as much as He is love.  And He demands holiness and righteousness from people.  He has rules and guidelines, and He expects them to be followed, and there are consequences for when we break His rules and stray outside of His guidelines. 
            You can only get a clear, accurate picture of God and a proper fear of Him when you keep His love and His holiness/justness in proper balance. 
            I fear that this “God is all about the love” teaching is going to be what causes more people to stray from the Truth than anything.  Because they think they are honoring God, yet they still get to live life the way they want.  It probably seems like the perfect blend to them, the perfect teaching to tickle their ears, telling them what they want to hear so they can continue to live whatever way they want while feeling good about their “faith.”
            But Scripture paints a different picture of God.  It is very clear about His holy and just side, about His wrath, and about our need to fear the Lord and seek righteousness:

            Psalm 33:5:  “The Lord loves righteousness and justice…”

            1 Peter 1:15-16:  “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written:  ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”

            2 Corinthians 7:1:  “… let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”

            Hebrew 12:14:  “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”

            Ephesians 5:3-6:  “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. . . . For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person – such a man is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.”

            Ezekiel 38:22-23:  “I will execute judgment upon him with plague and bloodshed; I will pour down torrents of rain, hailstones and burning sulfur on him and on his troops and on the many nations with him.  And so I will show my greatness and my holiness, and I will make myself known in the sight of many nations.  Then they will know that I am the Lord.”

            Ezekiel 39:7:  “I will make known my holy name among my people Israel.  I will no longer let my holy name be profaned. . .”

            Rev. 14:6:  “… ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come.…”

            Deut. 5:29:  “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever.”

            Proverbs 8:13:  “To fear the Lord is to hate evil…”

            Romans 1:18:  “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.”

            Romans 2:5:  “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.”

            John 3:36:  “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”

            Romans 6:23:  “For the wages of sin is death. . . .”

            Matthew 10:28:  “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

            Hebrews 10:31:  “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  

            2 Thess. 1:8:  “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”  

            Matthew 7:21-23:  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  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 miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!”  

            Matthew 25:41, 46:  “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.’ . . . Then they will go to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” 

          And this is just a small tiny bit.  And it’s far different from the popular teaching of “God is love and He just wants you to be happy, so go ahead and do whatever you want because He won’t say anything against you.”  Far, far different.

            [Additionally, our society has made the mistake of turning love into a god.  And we define who God is based on how we want love to look and act, when we need to define love based on who God is.  God is love, but love is not a god.

          3.  God promises Christians health and wealth.
          I already covered this one in the first lesson, “A Full, Abundant Life.”  So all I will say here is that Scripture never promises us health and wealth.  In fact, Christians are promised that we will be persecuted and face hardships and trials.  We might even end up being killed for our faith.  The world will hate us because it hates Jesus. 
            And while we are promised that all things will be healed and made right again in eternity, it is not guaranteed to happen in this lifetime.  We will face just as much poverty and illness and heartbreak as everyone else.  Because that’s life.  But thankfully, we will have the Lord’s help in getting through it, and we can trust that He will turn it into something good. 
            If your church is teaching you that God wants you to have an abundance of stuff and that He wants to give you everything you ask for and that He wants to shower you with the pleasures of this world, they are lying.  Get out of there fast and find a church that teaches you the truth.  We are not to store up our treasures on earth, but to store them in heaven.      

          4.  “We are all God’s children.  And so He wouldn’t condemn any of us.”
            “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God . . .”  (John 1:12) 
            As I said earlier, we are all God’s creation.  But we are not all His children.  His children are those who believe in Jesus, who call Him Lord and Savior.

          5.  “The most important commandment is ‘Love others’ and as long as we are loving others, we are doing all that God requires.”
            “ ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’
            ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this . . . ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”  (Mark 12:28-31)
            It is a very common teaching nowadays that “Love others” is the greatest commandment, the best way to show that we are following God.  And loving others is crucial.  It’s great.  But what we seem to forget is that “love God” comes before “love others.”  And when we put “love others” over “love God,” we base our view of God and His truths on how we want to show love to others.  And this is wrong!  We should be letting our love for God and His truth dictate how we love others.  Not the other way around.
            Many people believe that it’s not loving to call anything “sin,” and so they excuse everyone’s choices because it’s “loving” to be accepting and supportive and open-minded.  They believe it’s not loving to hold up the Bible as The Truth or Jesus as the only way to heaven.  To them, it’s much more loving to tell everyone that they are all going to heaven.
            But the most important command is not “Love others.”  It’s “Love God.”  And we cannot define who God is and what His Truth is by the ways we want to show love to others.  Our love for others needs to be based on the Word, on the Truth.  Not the other way around.
            And if I may point out one huge misunderstanding:  Loving God does not mean having warm feelings toward Him.  It does not mean simply acknowledging that there is a God.  Loving God means obeying Him, living your life the way He wants you to.
            1 John 5:3:  “This is love for God: to obey his commands. . . .” 
            John 15:10:  “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.”
            John 14:15, 23,24:  “If you love me, you will obey what I command . . . If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. . . . He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.”
            Acts 5:32:  “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”  (Who has been given the Spirit?  Those who obey Him!)
            Oh, the things that people try to get away with by claiming that “God is love” and that all God requires of us is to “love others”!  [A recent post I wrote on this:  "Love others" or "Love God"?]

          6.  “All faiths lead to the same place, to heaven.”  Or “God is the same God, no matter what your faith is.”  Or “all good people go to heaven.” 
            “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.”  (1 John 4:15)

          “Who is the liar?  It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ.”  (1 John 2:22)

            “But he who disowns me [Jesus] before men will be disowned before the angels of God.”  (Luke 12:9)

            “This is how you can recognize the spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.”  (1 John 4:2-3)  (Notice that you have to acknowledge Jesus Christ, that Jesus is the Christ, not just that Jesus was a real person.)

            “The god of this age [Satan] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”  (1 Corinthians 4:4)

            “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”  (2 Thess. 1:8)

            “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  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 miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!”  (Matthew 7:21-23)

            “ ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’  They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved . . .’”  (Acts 16:30-31)  Believe in who?  Buddha?  Allah?  Krishna?  Mother Earth?  The Force?  No!  Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.  Scripture is so clear on this.  Couldn’t be clearer!

            “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.’”  (John 14:6)

            “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”  (Acts 4:12)

            I just don’t see how there is room for misunderstanding here!

          7.  “There is no literal hell.”  Or “A loving God would never condemn people to hell.”  Or “In eternity, there will be enough time for everyone to eventually accept Jesus as Lord and Savior and to make it into heaven.”
            I don’t know how anyone can conclude that there is no hell, no eternal separation from God.  If they do, they are ignoring clear biblical teaching.  In fact, the New Testament says more about hell than about heaven.  And it clearly says how we end up there.
            “. . . They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.”  (2 Thess. 2:10)  They didn’t perish because God didn’t love them.  They perished because they refused to believe in the truth, because they rejected Him, His love, His forgiveness, and the salvation He offers through Jesus.  And according to the concordance, “perish” means exactly what you think it would mean.  It means that something is utterly destroyed or ruined, but not as in “annihilation or ceasing to exist.”  It’s about a conscious and eternal loss of well-being, eternal spiritual ruin.
            “. . . They were broken off because of unbelief . . . And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in . . .”  (Romans 11:20, 23)  Once again, the people ended up in hell by their own refusal to believe.  Not because God didn’t love them.  In His love, He made a way to save us.  But it’s our own resistance to His ways that lands us in hell.
            “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself . . .”  (Romans 2:5)  And again, it’s we who bring hell on ourselves.
            “For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die.”  (Romans 8:13)
            Also, according to Hebrews 9:27, man is destined to die once and then “after that to face the judgment.”  And according to the next verse, Jesus will return to bring salvation . . . to everyone?  No!  He returns to bring salvation to “those who are waiting for him.”  This doesn’t sound to me like there are multiple judgments or opportunities throughout eternity to make Jesus your Lord and Savior.  It sounds like you are judged for the decision you made in this lifetime at the judgment that we face after we die.
            After He returns, we face judgment for the decisions we made in this life.  And He will separate the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the weeds.  (Matthew 13:30, Matthew 25:31-46)
            “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.’ . . . Then they will go to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”  (Matthew 25:41, 46)  Hmm?  Eternal fire.  Eternal punishment.  Eternal life.  At the final judgment.  Sounds pretty final to me.  Not temporary at all.  (And remember that hell wasn’t made for man.  It was made for the devil and his angels.  But we end up there when we choose to reject Jesus and the offer of salvation that God made available through Jesus’ sacrificial death.)
            And this “eternal fire”? 
            “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”  (Rev 20:15)
            “But the cowardly [those who turned their back on their faith], the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur.  This is the second death.”  (Rev 21:8)  The second death?  Once again, it sounds pretty final to me.  And you don’t have to be evil or immoral to end up in hell.  You simply have to not believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior.  “Being good” is not the path to heaven.  Believing in the Lord Jesus is.
            I see nothing in the Bible to indicate that this is a temporary separation or that there will be future, ongoing judgments as each person finally reaches a decision to choose Jesus as Lord.  I see that our decision is made in this lifetime, and it’s made final at the time of our death, and then there is judgment which leads to either eternal life or the second death.  Permanently.
            “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day that he [returns].”  (2 Thess. 1:9-10) 

          8.  Doctrine doesn’t really matter.  It’s not what you believe that’s important; it’s how you live that really matters.
            I think just reading the above heretical views shows how dangerous it is to have false views.  Your views of things like Jesus, the authority of Scripture, if heaven and hell really exist, if God is only "love" or is He has a just and holy side, too, etc. will greatly affect your faith and the way you live and what you teach others.  And we will be held accountable for it.
             “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”  (2 Timothy 4: 3-4)
            "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  This is how you can recognize the spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God."  (1 John 4:1-3)
            If someone does not acknowledge that Jesus was the Christ, that He was God in the flesh and that He is the way to salvation, then they are not speaking truth.  These are the people who claim that He wasn't born of a virgin, didn't really die on the cross or rise again, that we can work our way to heaven by being good or simply loving others, that any of the other faiths are just as good, etc.  And these kinds of falsehoods are coming from "Christian" churches, too.  

            Doctrine matters.  Truth matters.  Many Christians (or I should say “Christians”) are changing Scripture nowadays to fit what they want to hear, to be popular and to fit in with society.  But while we can deny Scripture or refuse to accept what it says or ignore it, we cannot change it.  It is God’s Word, God’s truth.  And we will all be judged by it in the end.
            We cannot let our feelings determine our faith.  This is what is happening all over the place.  And it’s causing chaos and confusion about what the Truth really is.  Truth is not determined by what you feel or by what you wish were true.  Truth is truth, whether you agree with it or not.
            In this day and age, it’s critical to get back to the basics about what the Bible says, to really get to know it.  Because far too many people are changing the truth based on their feelings.  And far too many are presenting half-truths which lead people astray, such as “God is love!”  Yes, God is love, but that’s a half-truth.  The other half is that He is just and holy, too. 

            It’s the same trick the serpent played in the Garden of Eden.  He led them astray with a half-truth, telling them that they will gain the knowledge of good and evil if they eat the fruit.  But the half he didn’t tell them was that it’s horrible to know about evil and they'll wish they never did.

(I think one of the biggest, most subtle heresies in the evangelical church today is Calvinism.  For more on that, see "Why is Calvinism So Dangerous?" and "If Calvinism is True Then God is a Liar" and "When Calvinism's 'Bad Logic' Traps Good Christians".  If you are part of an evangelical church, make sure to educate yourself on what Calvinism is, how to spot it, and how it differs from - contradicts! - the Bible.)


Support for Christianity, Jesus, and the Bible
            Although almost every other major religion out there acknowledges that Jesus really did live, there are still some people who insist that He is a fairy tale, like a mythological legend from ancient history.  And many believe that the Bible – while a good book – was written just by men, not really God-inspired.   
            When trying to reason with people who think like this, many Christians try to cite Bible verses to “close the argument,” acting like simply quoting a Bible verse should convince everyone of God’s Truth.  But since many people, including atheists, don’t believe the Bible is true, they do not want to hear the Bible being used to prove the validity of the Bible and the fact that Jesus lived.  That’s “circular reasoning,” using the Bible to validate the Bible.   
            This is why it’s important to be able to refer to extra-biblical sources that show that Jesus really did live and that Scripture is reliable.  So what I am going to do here is give a quick overview of some extra-biblical support for the existence of Jesus and the validity of the Bible.  (This is my paraphrase of information mostly from Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Christ, and Josh McDowell’s book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict.)
            (Yet no matter how much support or “proof” there is, many people will still choose to ignore it or deny it.  And that is their right.  And they will be held accountable to God for it, not to us.  It’s not our job to force them to see the light; it’s just our job to reflect it.)

Extra-biblical Support for Jesus:
            There are several first- and second-century historians who refer to Jesus. 
            Josephus (born a few years after Jesus’ death) refers to both James and Jesus in one of his writings, The Antiquities.  In it, he talks about how the high priest had James killed and how Jesus was known as “the Christ.”
            Tacitus was a first-century Roman historian who refers to Nero’s persecution of Christians and the death of Jesus (whom he called Christus, from whom Christians get their name) at the hands of Pontius Pilate.
            Another first-century historian, Thallus, refers to the day that the earth went dark (when Jesus was crucified and darkness came over the land), calling it an eclipse.  This event is also recorded by Phlegon (a Greek author), who says that there was also a great earthquake at the same time.
            Pliny the Younger, a Roman, refers to the Christians whom he had arrested and executed.  (I am paraphrasing what Pliny wrote around 111 A.D.  It’s referenced in Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Christ.)  He talks about how dedicated they were to their belief in Jesus Christ (treating Him as their God) and how they shared Bible verses with each other and vowed to abstain from sins.  Then he talks about how he was sure that they must be guilty of something more evil than that, that they must be hiding something darker.  This is why he has them tortured, to get them to confess to what’s really going on (what he thinks is really going on).
            Suetonius, a Roman historian from 120 A.D., refers to “Chrestus” (another spelling for Christus, which is another name for Christ) and how He caused the Jews to create disturbances.
            Lucian of Samsota was not a historian but a satirist in the second century.  He refers to Jesus’ crucifixion and calls Jesus a cult-leader.        
            In addition to these historical writers who referenced Jesus, there are early Christians from the first and second century who referenced Jesus and the disciples, but whose writings were not part of the Bible.  Some of these writers even knew the people of the New Testament. 
            - Ignatius (martyred for his faith, knew all the apostles, and was a disciple of Polycarp)
            - Polycarp (a disciple of John and martyred for his faith)
            - Clement of Rome from 95 A.D., affirmed the validity of the Bible
            - Irenaeus (martyred, disciple of John)
            - Papias/Eusebius (Papius got writings from John, which referred to John, Mark, Peter, Matthew, and Jesus.  And Eusebius preserved the writings.)
            - Etc.

            Historical Christians and non-Christians alike attest to the fact that Jesus was real (as well as the disciples).  And as I said, so do most other religions. 

            So the question is not “Did Jesus live?” 
            The question is “Who was Jesus?”

            Jesus was crucified because He put Himself on the same level as God.  And throughout His ministry, He called Himself the only way to God. 
            People who don’t believe that He is God, that He is Christ, want to at least say that He was a “good, wise teacher,” maybe even a “prophet.”  But what good, wise teacher would tell people that He was God and that He was the only way to salvation if He really wasn’t.  That’s not “good” or “wise.” 
            People cannot call Him a good, wise person if they won’t also call Him God and Christ.  Because if He knew that He wasn’t God but told people He was then He was a deceiving liar.  And if He didn’t know He was God but thought He was then He was a delusional schizophrenic. 
            The only other option is that He was telling the truth, that He told people He was God because He is God.
            These are the only three options we have when figuring out who Jesus was: Liar, Schizophrenic, or truly the Son of God, the Christ.  But we cannot patronize Him by calling Him “good and wise” unless we also admit that He was telling the truth.     

Support for the Validity of the Bible:
            Time Gap – For one thing, the writings of other religions have a much greater gap of time between when the founder of the religion lived and when his teachings were written down, oftentimes hundreds of years. 
            Such as (according to The Case for Christ), Buddha lived in the 500s B.C., but his life and teachings weren’t written down until after Jesus’ time.  And Muhammad’s teachings of the Qur’an (Koran) were not written down until a century after his death.  And yet these writings are still considered reliable and authentic, even though they were written down long after the founders died. 
            The Bible, however, has the shortest amount of time between Jesus’ life and when the Scriptures were written down, ensuring accuracy and reliability.  The books of the New Testament were written between 40-100 A.D., within a hundred years of Jesus’ death.  And many of them were written by the very people who knew Jesus personally.  But even Paul, who never met Jesus when He was alive on earth, wrote his books within a few decades (in general) of Jesus’ death, when he could still talk to those who did know Him personally.
            Accurate Facts - Time and time again, the events, people, and places of the Bible have been proven to be accurate by archeological research, further confirming the Bible’s credibility.  (You can look up some of the details for yourself online or in Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Christ, or Josh McDowell’s book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict.)      
            Number of Copies – The Bible has more extant manuscript copies (ancient copies of the original writings) in existence than any other historical writing, further supporting its authenticity and accuracy. 
            According to Josh McDowell, there are over 24,000 manuscript copies of parts of the New Testament in existence.  I am not saying that they have made 24,000 copies of the New Testament on modern printers, but that they have found over 24,000 copies of sections of the New Testament which were written way back when. And they all affirm the message and accuracy of the Bible. 
            The ancient writing with the second highest amount of copies out there is the Iliad, which has only 643 copies.  The Bible far surpasses any other historical writing when it comes to the amount of ancient copies in existence.
            We can also compare the Iliad and the New Testament by the “time gap.”  The Iliad was created in 900 B.C., but the earliest copy is dated 400 B.C.  A five hundred year gap of time between when Homer composed it and when the earliest surviving copy was written down.
            However, the New Testament, as I said, was composed between 40-100 A.D. and the earliest surviving copy is dated 125 A.D., which is about an average of 55 years.   

            This is all evidence from outside the Bible that supports its validity and reliability and the existence of Jesus.  However, you could go further and bring up arguments like:

            1.  Some people say that the disciples stole Jesus’ body from the tomb and hid it, in order to make it look like He rose again.  And some say that He never really died on the cross but only appeared to be dead.  They say that the cool tomb revived Him, that He let Himself out of the tomb by rolling away a giant rock that blocked the exit, and that He made it past a Roman guard (after He had just been whipped to shreds and hung on a cross and stabbed in the heart by a soldier and nearly died). 

            But if anyone would know if Jesus was a fake, that His body was hidden, or that He was still in a beaten-up body and didn’t rise again, it would be the disciples.  Yet, history says that most of the disciples were martyred. 
            Would you be willing to be martyred for a lie, if you knew that He didn’t rise again and that you hid the body instead, or that He only appeared to rise again but was really still in His beaten-up human body, proving to you that He was a phony the whole time? 
            Yet nearly all of the disciples were persecuted or martyred for their faith.  And they knew Him better than anyone.  Do you think they would all be willing to be martyred for something they knew was a lie?  Would you? 

            2.  But maybe they didn’t know it was a lie, someone might ask.  Maybe they really thought Jesus rose again because the tomb was empty somehow. 

            Well, then, what happened to Jesus’ body?  If they really thought He rose again – if they didn’t take His body and if Jesus didn’t prove He was a fake by being revived in the tomb and appearing to them in a beaten-up body – then what happened to it? 
            They really did believe that He rose again, enough to convince them to die for Him.  The Roman soldier at the tomb wouldn’t do anything to the body because his life would be at risk if he failed at his job.  The Jewish leaders and the Roman leaders had nothing to gain, only everything to lose, if Jesus went missing from the tomb because then it would look like they were wrong and the disciples were right, that Jesus was God and rose from the dead.  
            So what happened to the body?
            Whatever it was, it was enough to cause the disciples to give up their life for their faith in Jesus.  Do you think they would do that if they weren’t sure that Jesus was who He said He was?

            3.  How about the fact that the world and universe show incredible balance and intricate design and precision?  People want to accuse Christians of being unreasonable because we believe in a God we can’t see.  But how much more unreasonable is it to think that all the things that make up the intricate balance of life happened by accidental, unthinking forces?

            4.  What about all the supernatural things that we hear about, things that defy logic and science?  There is enough supernatural activity to know that there is something else out there, that there is more than just what can be seen.

            5.  The Bible was written by over 40 different authors, over a span of 1,500 years, and yet it has continuity in its message and has accuracy in its details, making it seem as though it was really written by one Author.  The books all support and agree with each other.  What are the odds of that happening if it wasn’t God-inspired?  (A lot of atheists and skeptics don’t believe in the Bible because of “discrepancies” and because of snippets of it that they don’t like.  Yet I wonder how many of them have actually read the whole Bible for themselves all the way through before forming their conclusion.)

            6.  And then there are the prophecies of the Bible (relating to countries, to the Jewish people, to Jesus, etc.) that have been fulfilled throughout history and in the life of Jesus.   

            How would you try to reason with someone who thinks that Jesus didn’t live, that the Bible isn’t reliable, and that Christians blindly follow an unreasonable faith?    

How I Would Explain Salvation:
            [The rest of this post is actually my post, “Starting Your Own Relationship with Jesus Christ (And Why We Need Him!).”  It's long, but I think it’s important to have a good idea of how to share the gospel message with unbelievers, how to explain the Christian faith.  And this is how I would do it.  Talk it over amongst each other to come up with other things to say and some “witnessing” scenarios you might encounter.]

John 3: 16: “For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

God so loved the world.  He didn’t just love the world; He so loved the world.  He so loved the world that He (Jesus) would die in our place before He would miss out on an eternal relationship with us.  He knew that we would disappoint Him and hurt Him and fail Him, but He still so wanted a relationship with us that He made a way.  He knew that there would be many, many people that would reject His gift of love and salvation, but an eternity spent with those who would choose Him was worth the price of dying on the cross.  That is some amazing love!

Let me ask you something: If you were to die today or if Jesus came back today, would you be ready?  Seriously.  This life as we know it isn't going to go on forever.  And we are not invincible.  People die every day, in every kind of way.  Are you ready to face eternity, whatever comes the moment after you take your last breath?  Have you figured out who Jesus is and why He matters so much?

Because this will be what matters most the moment after you die.  Actually, it's what matters most in this lifetime, too, because it greatly affects what happens the moment after you die.

[Okay, before we go on, let me give you the short version of this post ...

Ultimately, there are only two choices: God's Team and Not God's Team (not official names, just a good word-picture).  We are all on one team or the other; there is no other option or middle ground.  And we are all born on Not God's Team, separated from Him because of sin.  And if we do not make a conscious, deliberate decision to join God's Team - by repenting of our sins, accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior, allowing His sacrificial death for all sins to pay the price for our own sins - we remain on and will eventually die on Not God's Team, separated from God forever.

We are born separated from God because of sin … and we will die separated from Him if we do not repent of our sins and believe in Jesus, accepting Him as our personal Lord and Savior.  By accepting His death in our place, we no longer owe the penalty for our sins, because we accept the payment He made on our behalf.  But if we reject His payment, then we are essentially choosing to pay the penalty ourselves, which is eternal death, eternal separation from God.  Hell!

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” (John 3:36)

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:17-18)

“… But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:5)

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out …” (Acts 3:19)

“That if you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved…. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9,13)

God is doing all He can to call us to Him, to warn us of hell, to reach down and pull us off of Not God's Team.  And His gift of forgiveness, salvation, eternal life is free and readily available to anyone who wants it. 

But the choice is ultimately ours ... to accept Him or reject Him.  To grab His hand or slap it away.  To let Jesus’s death pay the penalty for our sin or to pay it ourselves.  And we will get what we want in the end: An eternal life with Him or an eternal life without Him.  Heaven or hell.  It's our choice.

If you don't want to read this long post but already know you want to join God's Team - embracing Jesus as your Lord and Savior, accepting His death in your place, reaching out and grabbing God’s free gift of forgiveness, salvation, eternal life – then tell God this in prayer.  Use your own words, or something like this:

"God, I believe in You.  I confess that I am a sinner.  I believe that Jesus died for my sins so that I could be forgiven and have eternal life in heaven.  And I accept Your forgiveness right now.  Thank You for sending Jesus to die for me.  Thank You for Your forgiveness and Your free gift of eternal life.  I choose Jesus as my Lord and Savior right now and ask You to help me grow in faith and to live the rest of my days for You.  In Jesus’ name, I pray.  Amen" 

Say it out loud!  In prayer!  It doesn’t have to be fancy or long.  It just has to be real.  And welcome to the Family!]

Okay, now onto the long version ...

Let’s start with a question: What’s the difference between having a “relationship with Jesus” and “religion”? 

I believe that confusing these two things has prevented a lot of people from having the kind of relationship with Him that we were really meant to have.

So let me clearly say this: A relationship with Jesus is not the same thing as “religion.” 

Religion is when God has your mind, but a saving relationship with Jesus is when God has your heart. 

Religion is “Man’s efforts to get to God,” following all sorts of rules or traditions to try to score enough points with God, to be “good enough” that we earn our way into heaven.  But these are our attempts to get to God.  And they won’t work. 

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast Ephesians 2:8-9 (emphasis added).  Salvation, which is the “gift” in this verse (see this post), is God’s gift to us, and it can’t be earned with our good works.  Trying to earn salvation, to work our way to God, is “religion.”   

Biblical Christianity, however, is all about “God’s efforts to get to man.”  He made salvation possible by sending Jesus to the cross to pay for our sins.  He calls each of us to believe in Him.  He shows us enough of Himself in creation that we can all know He is real.  He has done all He can to show us the truth and draw us to Him.  A relationship with Him is only possible because He reaches out to us.  Because He made a way for us to get into heaven that isn’t left up to chance or our own efforts.  He has provided a sure way, instead of leaving us to wring our hands and wonder if we’ve been “good enough.” 

And all we have to do is believe.

“Good Enough” and “The Red Button”
You know, I have to ask:  What kind of God would allow something as important as the eternal home of our souls to be determined by a vague definition of “good enough”?  What kind of God would leave us to anxiously wonder if we made it into heaven or not, not knowing until we die?  I can’t think of a crueler cosmic joke.  That would not be a good, loving, trustworthy God.  And yet, for some reason, humans seem to want that.  We would rather try to work our way to heaven than to simply accept God’s sure, easy way.  Why is that?

I wonder if it has to do with two things: our desire to be our own “master,” and our need to be in control, to feel like we are doing something to get what we want. 

We don’t want to be accountable to God or to live for Someone Else.  We want to live for ourselves, to live the way we want, and yet still feel like we can get into heaven.  So “being good enough” sounds good enough to us.  Because then as long as we live as decent people and make sure the good outweighs the bad, we should be able to get into heaven without having to make Jesus our Lord.  Right?

And we like the idea of working our way to heaven with our good behavior because we feel like we are doing something, having some control over the results.  We don’t like to leave things up to other people, even God.  We think, It can’t be as simple as just making a decision and saying a prayer, can it?  It’s got to be more involved than that, right?  We’ve got to earn our way, don’t we? 

It would be like someone telling us that all we have to do is push a red button and then we will get eternal peace.  And we go, “That’s it?  Just push this red button and then we’ll have eternal peace?  That’s too easy!?!  It doesn’t seem right.  We have to do something to get eternal peace.  We have to work at it.  Not just push a button.”  And so we never do push the button because we just don’t believe it works that way.

Well, God did provide a red button, so to speak.  We cannot work our way to heaven or earn our way to heaven.  But if we will trust Him and just push the button, we can be sure that our eternal resting place will be with Him in heaven.  Because it’s not about being “good enough”; it’s about accepting what He’s already done for us and the gifts He’s made available to us.  It’s that simple!

All of history has been about God’s attempt to reach out to us.  And it will ultimately end with us getting what we want: an eternity with Him or an eternity without Him.

Adam and Eve and the Fall of Mankind
In the beginning, God created us because He wanted a close, genuine relationship with us.  And Adam and Eve had this with Him in the Garden of Eden.  And it could have remained that way if they had obeyed God’s one, simple command to not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

God knew that if they did eat from it, they would introduce severe, heartbreaking consequences.  He wanted to spare them the knowledge of evil.  He wanted to spare them the consequences that come with evil.  And He wanted to be close to them.  And so that is why He clearly warned them not to do it.  But they did it anyway.

They chose to disobey, and they ate from the forbidden tree.  Now before this, they were unaware of evil.  They only knew good.  But by their sin, they became aware of evil and let it loose in the world.  And as a consequence, they introduced pain, disorder, and death into the human race.

[But why did God even allow the temptation in the first place, you may ask?  Because if people weren’t able to choose to disobey and reject God, then they wouldn’t be able to choose to obey and accept God.  And God doesn’t want robots who are forced to love Him.  He wants people who want to be with Him.  And in order for people to voluntarily love Him, He had to allow people to reject Him, to hate Him.  Isn’t that what we all want when it comes to love - to know that someone loves us because they want to, not because they have to?]

Death is part of the consequence of and punishment for mankind’s rebellion.  But it is also an act of mercy, in a way.  Because if mankind were allowed to eat from the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, to gain eternal life after introducing evil into the world, we would forever be under the influence of and in the presence of evil, never again able to get back a perfect relationship with God or to enjoy life without evil’s influence.  And therefore, we would never really rest from pain.  But through our physical death, we have a chance to leave this sin-filled life behind us and to enter again into the kind of eternity that we were meant to have.  If we choose an eternity with God.

And that’s the most important truth we could share:  We choose where we spend eternity!  And we only have this lifetime to make that choice.  And as I said earlier, there are only two options: God’s Team and Not God’s Team.  (Not official names.)

Because of the fall, we are all born on Not God’s Team.  And we will stay there unless and until we deliberately choose to join God’s Team.  We cannot accidentally end up on God’s Team.  Nor do we end up there by default; it has to be a deliberate, conscious choice.  And we cannot earn our way onto God’s Team.  There is no mysterious “good enough” scoreboard in heaven, where we get in as long as the good outweighs the bad. 

When we stand before God, it will be “I chose Jesus as my Lord and Savior” or “I didn’t.”  It’s clear-cut and sure.  It’s that simple!

Of course, we can deliberately choose to stay on Not God’s Team if we want to, by refusing God and His offer of salvation.  And there are plenty of people who consciously reject Him and serve their own gods: nature, false gods, themselves, etc.  And that is their choice.

But I fear that far more people will end up in hell not by choice, but “accidentally.”  Because they ignored the truth about God and decided to not make a decision about Him.  And they thought that it would still be okay, that they would up in heaven by default because they didn’t deliberately reject God.  These are the people who say, “I hope I’ve been good enough to get into heaven” or “Sure, I’m spiritual; I believe in a God out there somewhere.”  But they ignore what the Bible says about the only way to salvation. 

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”  (Acts 4:12)

Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14:6)

“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed…. For those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.”  (Romans 2:5-8, emphasis is added)

Not making a choice about God is still not choosing God’s Team.  Not accepting the truth is still rejecting the truth.  And that automatically keeps us on Not God’s Team, the team we start out on and will die on if we don’t accept God’s way of getting off that team: repenting of our sins and believing in Him.

I think of life as a raging river headed towards deadly waterfalls (hell, eternal separation from God).  And we’re all floating down this river while we are alive on earth, headed to destruction, with no ability to get out of it on our own.  But all along the way, God reaches down His hand to try to pull us out.  He pleads with us to grab His hand.  He sends warnings about what’s up ahead.  He doesn’t want us to die in the waterfall. 

But … He won’t force us to heed the warnings or grab His hand.  He’s decided to give us the right to accept Him or reject Him.  He does all He can to save us, but He leaves the final choice up to us.  And if we refuse His hand and ignore His warnings, then we stay in the river and inevitably go over the waterfall and die.

“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve … But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”  (Joshua 24:15) 

The choice is ours: Grab His hand or stay in the deadly river!

”But how could a loving God send people to hell?”
This question stops one of my brothers from believing in Him.  Because “How could God do that!?!”

But the truth is this: God doesn’t “send” anyone to hell.  He doesn’t threaten us with hell, as in “If you’re not good enough, you’re going to hell.”  As if we’re all on a big bus headed to heaven, but if we’re not “good enough” then He will kick us off and put us on the bus to hell.

No!  We’re all on a big bus to hell, and God is trying to get us all off that bus and onto the bus to heaven. 

God doesn’t threaten us with hell; He warns us of hell, as in “The bus you’re on is headed to hell!  Please, get off that bus and get on the bus to heaven, accepting the way of salvation I made possible for you.”

He wants all people to come to Him.  He waits patiently over the course of history for as many people as possible to come to Him, pursuing them for years and years.  And He doesn’t give up on us, because He wants us with Him in eternity.  He is far more concerned with where we’re going than where we’ve been, which is why He is so ready and willing to forgive (Forgiven by Crowder), no matter what we’ve done in our past.  If we will just come to Him as we are (Come As You Are by Crowder).

He doesn’t “send” us to hell ... but He does reluctantly allow us reject Him, which consequently leads to us staying on the path to hell.  (And as a matter of fact, according to Matthew 25:41, hell was created for Satan and the angels who rebelled against God.  It was not made for humans.  It's we humans who choose to follow Satan there by rejecting God and His free gift of salvation.)

“Where God’s Justice and Love Meet”
When Adam and Eve disobeyed, they introduced sin into mankind and the world.  And because God is holy, He cannot tolerate sin.  Because He is just, there had to be a penalty for disobedience.  He couldn’t just ignore it or excuse it.  There had to be a penalty.  We would expect any judge worth his position to demand justice and the payment of the penalty for crimes committed.  What would we think of a judge who turned a blind eye to someone who stole or murdered?  That wouldn’t be right, and the judges wouldn’t be trustworthy.  (And could you imagine the horrible condition society would be in if judges never punished anyone for the crimes they committed!)  There has to be a penalty that fits the crime.  This is what justice is.

Well, the penalty for mankind’s sin was separation from God and, at death, eternal separation.  Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden and separated from God’s presence.  And this “separation” is passed down to all of us because sin is in the human race.  We are all born on that path of separation, the path to hell.  And if we die while still on it, we will remain eternally separated from God.

But here’s the thing, none of our attempts to get off that path on our own will work.

That’s the bad news. 

But this is the good news: God made a way.  We can choose to get off that path of separation and into an eternal relationship with God (heaven) because of what He has already done for us.  Yes, God is holy and just (and so there has to be a penalty for sin), but God is also love.  And in His love, He couldn’t bear to have us separated from Him.  He so desires a relationship with us that He made a way for us to spend eternity with Him … by paying the penalty Himself (Secret Ambition by Michael W. Smith).

The payment required was death (a physical as well as “spiritual death,” an eternal life apart from Him).  And so Jesus (God the Son, who took on human flesh) came down here and died a physical death He didn’t deserve so that He could pay the price for our sins, so that we could trade in eternal death for eternal life.  This enormous act of love (Oh, What Love by City Harmonic) met the requirements of justice.  The price has been paid!  We don’t have to pay it on our own, unless we choose to by rejecting the payment Jesus made on our behalf.

The greatest question Jesus asks: “Who do you say I am?” 
And this is another crucial difference between religion/false religion and Christianity: Jesus Christ.  What we decide about Jesus Christ determines if we have religion/false religion or Biblical Christianity.

When it comes to religion (or a generalized spirituality), God can be anything to anyone.  He can be found in the trees, in Mother Nature, in unity, in music, etc.  He can be Buddha, the universe, a cow, or even ourselves.  He can be whatever the person wants Him to be.  And we can get to God in any number of ways: meditation, drugs, good works, giving money, being sincere in whatever faith we have, sex, etc. 

And that is what makes it “religion” or “false religion.”

“Religion” doesn’t have to acknowledge Jesus as God, Lord, and Savior.  “Religion” doesn’t have to claim that Jesus is the only way.  “Religion” doesn’t have to believe that we cannot work our way to heaven, no matter how good we are.  “Religion” can be whatever tickles our fancy or makes us feel good about ourselves, life, the universe, and the end.  What a mess!

I know people want to believe that all religions are right and that everyone goes to heaven as long as they were sincere in their faith. 

But the truth is that not all religions can be right, not when they all teach different things about who God is and how we get to heaven and what heaven is.

If each religion has a different map . . . written by different people . . . with different directions . . . to different places, they cannot all be essentially the same thing.  They can all be wrong, but they cannot all be right!  This “all religions are the same thing” idea is a very sweet-sounding, “love everybody,” naïve way to convince oneself that you don’t have to make a decision about it.  That no matter what you believe, it’ll all be okay.

But – like it or not - it does matter what you believe.  Tremendously!  Eternally!

“Religion” will not save.  It is only Jesus who saves.  And He doesn’t save just because He was “a good person, a good teacher.”  He saves because He is God.  Whatever you do, do not say that He was a “good, wise person” unless you also claim that He is God.  Because if He isn’t God, then He was either a liar (deliberately deceiving people into following Him and believing He was God) or He was a lunatic (mistakenly believing He himself was God). 

When deciding who Jesus was, you only have three options: liar, lunatic, or Lord.

(And don't think that Christianity is a "blind faith" where you have to suspend all reason and commonsense.  It's actually a very reasonable, fact-based faith, backed up by history and science.)

In Christianity, Jesus is God, and it is by His sacrificial death – and only by His sacrificial death - that we are saved.  Because Jesus wasn’t just another man.  He is part of the trilogy that makes up the one God of the Bible.  Jesus is God in the flesh, the Holy Spirit is God in spirit form, and then there is God the Father.  But they all-together make up God, the one and only God.  (It’s a mystery, I know, but this is the way it is.)

And because of Jesus’ death - because God paid the penalty that His justice demanded - we now have the option of going to heaven.  We can accept His payment on our behalf so that we can once again have a relationship with Him.  Or we can choose to pay the penalty ourselves by ignoring Jesus, by rejecting Him and His sacrificial death, thereby remaining on that path of separation that leads to hell.

But if we want spiritual life, the only option God has given is to allow Jesus’ death to pay the price for our sins.  And all it takes on our parts is a decision to believe that Jesus alone made the way for us.  It is choosing to make Him Lord and Savior of our lives (Sweetly Broken by Jeremy Riddle). 

This is the “red button” that will bring us eternal peace. 

He has closed 99% of the gap between us and Him.  He has done 99% of the work to make salvation possible.  And all we have to do is turn toward Him, open our heart to Him, and believe (We Believe by Newsboys).  It's that simple and sure.

Romans 10:9 tells us what’s required to restore our relationship with God.  “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” 

And I have to say, that’s a wonderful opportunity!  Letting Jesus’ death do all the work of getting us into heaven.  And all we have to do is choose it, like accepting a gift.  How merciful!  It is so much easier than we make it out to be with our “good enough” scoreboard and our efforts to earn heaven.  (As a Christian, “being good and living right” isn’t something we do to get into heaven.  But it is how we will want to live after we accept Jesus, living out our thankfulness, our love, and our desire to honor Him.)

This life is not all there is.  And this life isn’t really about this life at all.  Our time on earth is our deciding ground.  It is the time for God to build His eternal kingdom, His eternal Family.  But the choice is ours.  We can reject Him.  We can ignore Him.  Or we can choose Him!  We can choose to believe (Manifesto by City Harmonic) that the Bible is true and that Jesus is who He says He is.  We can choose eternal life, because of what He has already done for us!

Not ready yet? 
Maybe you are not ready yet to accept Jesus as Lord.  Maybe you don’t really believe yet.  But maybe you want to believe, or you want to want to believe.  These are good, important steps.  He will meet you wherever you are at.  If you sincerely reach out to Him and open the door to Him - even a little bit - the truth will begin to be revealed to you.  And the more you seek, the more you find.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”  (Jeremiah 29:13)

But it has to be a sincere, genuine attempt to find Him.  If you are only pretending to look for Him, hoping you will find nothing, then you will get what you are looking for: Nothing! 

But if you really want to believe (or want to want to believe), then the best thing you can do is tell Him this.  Simply say out loud something like, “God, I don’t know if I really believe in You.  But I want to know if You are really there.  Please, show me if You are real.”  Pray this sincerely and often, and then keep your eyes open.  And when the desire to give up comes, push past it and pray this prayer again.  And then see what happens!  Keep your eyes open and you will begin to find Him.

“But I still have doubts!  How can I be a Christian?” you might be asking.  (Welcome to the club!)  The way I see it is that we can choose to believe in God and Jesus ... even with doubts.  In fact, the only way that we can believe in God and Jesus is while we still have doubts.  Because whether we admit it or not, we all have doubts and unanswered questions all the time, about different things.  (We are just more unaware of them when life is going well.)

This is why we have to step out in faith.  God says that faith is absolutely necessary.  If we wait until we have no doubts, we will never believe.  But we can choose, as an act of our wills, to accept that He is telling us the Truth in the Bible, even if we don’t totally understand everything yet. 

Faith isn’t saying, “Wow, I have all the answers about everything related to You and I am totally convinced!”  (Although that would be wonderful, of course.) 

Faith is saying, “God, I don’t understand everything.  But I will choose to take You at Your Word, even though I have doubts and questions.  Open my eyes and help me believe.”

(This section - about faith being a gift - was removed on 3/11/20, to get rid of the "Calvinist" sound it had, which I wrote before I studied up on Calvinism and its heresies.  For why I believe that "salvation, through faith, by grace" is the gift, and not just faith itself, see this post.)

God wants us to choose Him.  He wants us to accept Him.  And I believe He will help us find Him, if we want to find Him.  If we want to believe.  If our hearts are turned toward Him and we are looking for Him.  He isn't trying to hide from us.  He actually wants to be found! 

And so even if you have doubts, remember what the doubting, fearful father in Mark 9:24 cried out honestly, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"  (I think this is one of the greatest, most vulnerable, most real prayers in the Bible.)

Our part is not to climb our way to heaven; it’s simply to reach up and grab the hand He’s reaching down to us, to accept His gift of forgiveness, salvation, eternal life, turning our face toward Him and saying, “Okay, I choose You.  I want to believe.  Help me!  Give me faith!”  If we will just open the door to Him - honestly telling Him where we are in our level of faith and doubt, and asking Him to help - He will grow our faith, our understanding, and our belief in Him.

And as we walk with Him, we will learn to trust Him more and to believe in Him more.  And we will come to know that doubts and questions are a part of life and the Christian journey.  And when they come up, the best thing we can do is not feel bad about ourselves or doubt our faith, but to take those doubts to God in prayer and ask for His help.

Remember, our feelings follow our thoughts.  Our thoughts follow where our mind goes.  And our mind goes wherever we decide to let it go.  If you will choose to put your faith in (to set your mind on) the Bible and in God even though you don’t “feel it,” your feelings will eventually get in line.  And as you walk with God and dig deeper into His Word and watch Him work in your life, your faith in Him will be strengthened.  But it first takes a decision to believe, without waiting until all your doubts are gone.  Because that will never happen.

People who don’t want to find God won’t.  People who don’t want to believe in Him will not find “proof” of Him.  But people who do want to believe in Him will find Him, if they have the eyes to see and ears to hear, because He will help them.

God is doing all He can to reach out to us - through nature, through His Word, through Jesus coming here in the flesh, through knocking on the door of our hearts, through implanting within us a deep sense that Someone is out there.  But He leaves how we respond up to us.

People often say things like "If God's real, why doesn't He prove that He's real?" 

Well, He did ... it's called Creation.

"Oh, that's just evolution.  It's nature," they respond.  "If He's really real, why doesn't He send us a clear message, in black and white?" 

He did ... it's called the Bible.

"No, that was just written by men.  It's an interesting old book.  Nothing more.  But if He was really, really real, why doesn't He come down here and show Himself to us physically?  Then we'll believe!" 

He did ... and His name is Jesus.  And they still don't believe.

No one will be able to say, “But I didn’t know God was real.”  Because God says that we will not have any excuses when we stand before Him and He asks, “Why didn’t you believe in Me?”

Romans 1:20, “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.”

He will hold us all accountable for the choice we make (or don’t make).  And in the end, He will give us what we asked for.  If we ask Him to pay the penalty for our sins, He will do it.  (He already has!)  But if we ask to be left alone, He will allow it.  He won’t like it and it will grieve Him; but He allows it because He has given us the freedom to choose.

[Now, to put some people at ease, I do believe the Bible teaches that there is an age of accountability, an age when we are old enough to choose or reject Jesus’ sacrifice.  If a child dies before this age, they are under His grace and mercy and automatically end up with God in heaven for eternity ... because they never made it to the age where they became accountable for their choice.  But after that age (I have no idea what age that is, and it’s probably more like a “condition” than an actual number age), we are held accountable for the choice we make or don’t make.  But if you lost a baby or child, I believe that you can rest assured that they are already safe in His loving care and will be there to meet you when you get to heaven.  And this would also apply to mentally-handicapped people who never acquire the ability to make a conscious, deliberate decision about Jesus.  God does not hold people accountable for choices they are unable to make.  That would go against both His love and His justice.  See "Do Babies Go To Heaven If They Die?" and "Bible Verses that Support an Age of Accountability?"]

Making the Decision
If you want to express your belief in God, your decision to choose Jesus as your Lord and Savior, accepting His payment for your sin so that you don’t have to pay it yourself with eternal separation, it doesn’t take any real effort on your part.  It was all done by God already.  His forgiveness and grace are already available to all of us for the taking.  And all we have to do is accept them for the free gifts they are.  All it takes is a genuine desire to turn to God, opening up our hearts and hands in prayer, grabbing ahold of that amazing grace and forgiveness (Grace Like Rain by Todd Agnew).

There is no magic formula for the prayer, but as I already said, if you “confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.   For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved... ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”  (Romans 10:9-10, 13)

If this is something that you want to do, here is a prayer that you can pray.  (Or use your own words, maybe something as simple as "God, I believe You.  I confess my sins to You right now.  And I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior.")  It doesn’t have to be fancy; it just has to be real.

Dear God,

I admit that I am a sinner and that I have been living life apart from You.  But I don’t want to do that anymore.  I want to spend eternity with You.  And so today, I am turning to You.  I am choosing to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  I believe that He came here and died for my sins, and that He rose from the dead, proving that He is God.  I ask for forgiveness for my sins, and I choose today to make Him Lord of my life.  I open up my heart to You and ask You to fill it with Your Holy Spirit, so that I can live the rest of my life for You.  Thank You for Your sacrifice for me, and thank You that because of it, I can spend eternity with You.  In Jesus’s name, I pray.  Amen

If you chose to pray this, tell someone about it.  Telling others is an outward testimony about what has gone on in your heart and it helps to cement your decision to turn to God.  And so does getting baptized.  So tell someone, get baptized, and get a Bible and start reading.  And find a good, Bible-believing church so that you can grow alongside other believers.  (But don’t rely on them to tell you how to understand the Bible.  There are far too many wayward churches nowadays preaching lies and half-truths.  Learn God’s Word for yourself, deeply and thoroughly.)  And welcome to the Family!

[And if you are not a believer and didn't pray this prayer, what are you waiting for?  Are you so sure that God isn't real (God's Not Dead by Newsboys)?  That Jesus isn't coming back like He said (People, Get Ready  by Crystal Lewis)?  Are you sure enough to bet your eternal soul on it?  Don't wait too long.  Someday it will be too late (I Wish We'd All Been Ready).]

1.  Is there anything you want to talk about here or anything that stood out to you?  Any Bible verses you want to bring up or talk about?

  How have you grown over the years in your understanding of Christianity, world religions, and atheism?  How have you grown in the way you live the Christian faith and witness to those outside of it?

  Have you ever had the chance to witness to a non-believer or get into a conversation about faith with an atheist or a person from another religion?  How did it go?  What worked and what didn’t? 

  Did they ask any questions or have any arguments that really made you think?  What kinds of things (arguments, questions, evidence, etc.) have made you really wonder about or question your faith, possibly even making you doubt it?  What helps you keep your faith in the midst of these doubts and questions?

  Why is it so hard for some people to believe in God?  In Jesus?  (And is it easier for people, in general, to accept the idea of God but harder to accept Jesus?  Why does Jesus make all the difference?)  What excuses do some people have for not believing in or turning to God?  If you ever have the chance, how might you respond to these? 

  What are some misconceptions that people have about Christianity?  What are some ways – in word or action - that Christians misrepresent Christianity, God, Jesus, faith, salvation, forgiveness, grace, mercy, the life of a believer, etc.?  Examples from life?  Any other heretical teachings you have heard from "Christians" or churches?  (And how have people badly misrepresented God and Christianity throughout the course of history?)  Why might we do this, what problems does it cause, and how would you address it? 

  What are some other problems that people have with Christianity, Jesus, God, the Bible, etc., things that might prevent them from wanting to become a Christian (or at least prevent them from seriously considering it)? 

  Why might some people prefer atheism or the other religions, instead of Christianity?  What makes them appealing? 

  People sometimes complain that Christians are “elitist,” that we think we are only ones with the truth and the only ones who will go to heaven and that we are intolerant of other people’s views.  Is this different (in general) from the other religions out there, or are most of them “elitist” and intolerant?  If most other religions are like this too, why single out Christians?  Why are people more tolerant of other faiths than of Christianity (or is this just the way it seems in the media)? 

  Is it fair for society to expect Christians to be apologetic for our faith, making us feel ashamed of it and like we have no right to think that what we believe is true because it offends people who don’t agree? 
            [Basically, society says that it’s okay to believe whatever we want as long as we don’t think it’s “the Truth” . . . because that offends others.  They are basically pressuring us to admit that we don’t really believe that our beliefs are true.  That way, no one gets offended.  Can you see how unfair, unrealistic, and backwards this is?  Why would we choose to believe in something that we didn’t really think was true?  And why should anyone have to act like what they believe is true might not really be true?  Just to make others feel good about their differing opinions?] 
            In what ways does society try to pressure us to be soft in our faith, to be quiet about it, or to compromise it?
            On the other hand, what are some things that we Christians should be apologetic about?  What are some things that we (as a whole) have done or said that should be criticized?      

  Why is there so much hatred and disdain for Christianity, in the world and in the media, compared to other religions?  Is there anything we can do about it in our own little spot in the world?  How can we be a Christian in a winsome way, without compromising our faith but without repelling people either?

  I bristle every time someone calls me “religious” or refers to Christianity as a “religion.”  Why do you think I do this?  How does Christianity differ from the idea of “religion”? 

  How is Christianity different (specifically) from the other major religions of the world?  How are they similar?  Can you think of more religions than what I wrote about?  Share what you know about them. 

            (Additionally ... Some people call churches like Bethel and Hillsong "cults."  What are characteristics of a cult?  What are some red flags people should be aware of that might help them discern if their church is off-track or in danger of heading that way?  Churches like these often point to "spiritual fruit" - such as the fact that lots of people are attending and "finding God" there - to prove that God is at work in their church and blessing them?  Is this always accurate proof of a church's faithfulness?  What are some legitimate fruits and what might not be?  How can we be discerning about this?  Are Christians too quick to throw out the words "cult" and "heretic"?  Why might we do this?  What problems might it cause and how can we caution against it?)

  What gets us into heaven (and into hell)?  What doesn’t?  (Why should God let you into heaven?  And how can you know that your faith is real and genuine and placed on the right thing?  What are the crucial differences between someone who will hear “Well done, good and faithful servant” and someone who will hear “Away from Me, I never knew you”?)  What are some ideas other people have about this?  Why might they think that way and what are the problems with their views?  How can you respond biblically? 

  Why can’t “All roads lead to heaven” be true?  Or “All religions essentially believe in the same God”?  Or “All good people go to heaven”?  What are logical contradictions and problems with these views?  And how can we respond to them?

  Many people want to think that it’s not what you believe that matters, but it’s how sincere you are in your faith.  Is it true that sincerity is the basis for salvation?  Why do we want to believe this?  What problems are there with this?  And how could you respond compassionately to someone who says this?

  Some people also think that those who are brought up in different religions or as atheists should get a “pass,” that their rejection of Jesus shouldn’t be held against them because they couldn’t control the way they were raised.
            They say things like, “But what about those who were raised as Muslims (or Buddhists or Hindus or atheists)?  They were never taught about Jesus when they were they young and so they never had a chance to become a Christian.  It’s not their fault that they were brought up that way.  And it’s not fair to claim that they will be punished for it, when they couldn’t control what religion they were brought up in.”
            How would you respond to this biblically?
            Do all people – even those of different religions – have the same chance of finding God and obtaining faith in Jesus? 
            While we cannot control what religion we were raised in, are we still held accountable for remaining in that religion?  For continued rejection of Jesus? 
            Is there a difference between those who have never heard the Gospel before (such as those who live on a primitive, unreached island) and those who are part of a religion who has heard of Him but rejected Him?  (I looked at this briefly in the predestination lesson.) 
            Can you think of any other questions or dilemmas related to this?      

  How would you describe to an unbeliever Christianity and faith in Jesus - what it is and what it isn’t?  [I think many people in America call themselves “Christian” just because they live in a “Christian” nation and are good, patriotic Americans.  And many feel that since they believe in a God out there in the universe somewhere, it must mean they are Christians.  This is not “Christianity.”]  What is the message of the Bible and what is Jesus’ reason for coming to earth?  How might we complicate or misrepresent these?  How can we explain it (salvation, faith, and Jesus’ purpose) simply and concisely to a non-believer?

  Which Bible verses do you consider “key” in explaining salvation and the need for Jesus to an unbeliever?  The most commonly included ones are Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, Romans 5:8, Romans 10:9-10, 13, and John 3:16.  Are there any you would add?  Any that you consider just as important or that have meant a lot to you personally?   

  What kinds of arguments do people have against God, Jesus, and the Bible?  If you want to, role-play this again like we did in another lesson (or just brainstorm arguments for and against, and ways to respond).  Take turns defending Jesus, Christianity, God, the Trinity, the Bible, heaven and hell, salvation by faith alone, etc., while others challenge you on it.  See if you can think of biblical responses for the arguments that come up.

  How can you answer people who claim, “Well, I don’t believe in the Bible or in God” (as though their belief means that there is no God) or “Jesus didn’t even exist”?  How would you answer them if they don’t want to hear Bible verses because they don’t believe in the Bible?

  We talked about this in the predestination lesson, but let’s look at it again briefly.  I said that God offers the gift of faith but that we have to accept it.  But there are Christians who believe that God determines who will have faith and who won’t, that we have no ability to accept or reject it, and that if He has determined that we will be believers then it will happen, regardless of what we want. 
            Do you think faith is “forced” on us?  Or is it up to us to accept it or reject it?  How does our answer to this affect the way we witness to others, how we represent God and Jesus, what we say to them, and how we pray for them? 

  Do Christians (or you personally) still sometimes struggle with doubts?  Any specifically?  How do doubts affect us and make us feel?  Do you think God understands when we have doubts?  What are some wrong ways we handle them and what would be more effective ways to handle them?

  How would you address the sign the little girl was holding up, the one that said something like “Religion says we are broken, imperfect, and sinful.  But science says we are intelligent, beautiful, and capable of great things (implying that science doesn’t call us broken, imperfect, and sinful).”  What other differences can you come up with between science and Christianity?  (I am changing “religion” to Christianity because Christianity is not “religion.”  And I am only speaking from a Christian viewpoint here.) 

  What questions and dilemmas does science not have answers for?  Does Christianity have answers for these questions? 

  Can you find any “faulty logic” in the arguments that some people use to defend the idea of “science without God” or atheism?  (Bonus question:  Can you think of arguments or reasoning that Christians use to defend Christianity that is faulty, that causes problems and confusion, or that hurts more than it helps?  How would you address these things or respond to them?)    

  Why do some people – even scientists – insist on deleting God from science?  Can scientists who refuse to consider the possibility of God and who go into their experiments and studies with a pre-existing bias against God (believing that He cannot exist) really be called “scientific”?  Doesn’t the scientific method mean considering all the possibilities and letting the results lead you to the answer?  Why do people refuse to consider that God and science can coexist? 

  I said that it takes more faith to believe that everything happened by accident than to believe in God.  What do you think I mean by this?

  What does this verse mean, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18)?  When in life might we encounter the truth behind this verse? 

  How would you answer questions such as “Why did God create sin in the first place”?  “Why did God create people if He knew they would sin”?  “How could a loving God send people to hell”?  “Why doesn’t God prevent the bad stuff from happening”? 
            What other kinds of questions do people ask?  What answers can you give?  (And what answers do Christians sometimes give that are not helpful or that are off-base?)

  What kinds of questions could you ask atheists and non-believers to get them thinking about (or interested in) God and faith and the afterlife?  What could you ask those of other religions to get them to see the difference between their religion and Christianity?

  What kinds of problems happen when there is no objective standard for right and wrong, when morality is subjective and up to man to determine?  What kinds of problems are you seeing nowadays in your own family, community, and society because of this?  Is there really such a thing as “What’s true for you may not be true for me”?  Which kinds of truths are relative and which are not?

  People sometimes say that faith in God is a crutch, that we lean on it because we are weak and need something to hold us up.  Is this true?  Is it wrong to believe in God because we need Him?  Or is our neediness ultimately a good thing because it drives us to Him?  Why do many people refuse to acknowledge their weakness and neediness? 

  What do other people lean on and rely on when they won’t lean on God?  What problems might they eventually encounter from this?

  What kinds of theological differences do genuinely-Christian, Bible-based churches have, between different denominations?  Which should matter and which shouldn’t?  Which do we make too big of a deal out of?  Which theological beliefs should be foundational and non-negotiable if you are going to call yourself a “Christian church”?  And which are okay to have differing beliefs about?

  In what ways have the views and practices of other religions seeped into society and permeated culture, maybe even polluting Christianity and our churches?  How have the views, practices and values of the world seeped into our churches?

  What kinds of attitudes and approaches do not work when witnessing with people?  What kinds do?  What makes them open their ears to us and what make them close their ears?  What things should be part of a Christian’s character and what shouldn’t be?  Examples?

  How can we reflect Christ to others and reach our neighbors, friends, and families in real ways?  How can you personally?  How can we try to reach those who we love and care about but who are very resistant to the idea of God and Jesus?