The ‘gospel’ is God’s good news for everyone.

‘GOSPEL’ IS A CHRISTIAN ONE-WORD SUMMARY

The word ‘gospel’ is the English translation of the Greek word ‘evangelion,’ which means ‘good news.’ From this Greek root we also get the word ‘evangelize,’ meaning to tell the gospel to others.

Gospel is a short-hand expression – a communications handle – which conveys great meaning to those who understand the profound spiritual facts which the word embraces. In Christian terminology, the word means the good news of what God will do for us personally – if we ask him – through Jesus Christ.

The gospel first burst upon the world nearly two thousand years ago and changed the course of history. It’s been distorted and misunderstood, and often buried under layers of church tradition, but it’s still as relevant and powerful as ever. The purpose of this handbook is to help people discover the gospel.

THE GOSPEL IS THE MOST AMAZING OFFER EVER MADE

The good news – the gospel – is that we can live a happy life now... that we won’t go to hell... and that there’s no cost to us! It’s no wonder that people who know the gospel get so excited about it (see Topics 70 and 90).

The gospel is the most amazing offer ever made – surpassing the benefits of all the world’s best products and services – and it’s free and immediately available! Only God could make such an offer!

As with most of God’s ideas, a normal first reaction is that it’s too incredulous to take seriously. But upon further reflection, we realize that God works that way, in both physical and spiritual realms, with designs and plans so spectacular that they barely touch the threshold of our comprehension.

THE GOSPEL REQUIRES A PERSONAL RESPONSE

The Bible says that the benefit of the gospel – a personal relationship with God forever – cannot be earned, purchased or demanded. The Bible says it’s a free gift offered to everyone, even though not everyone will accept it. As with any gift, it becomes ours only when we receive it according to the giver’s terms.

God gave us the gospel as something to respond to, something to give us personal interaction with him. Believing and accepting the gospel is the way we show love and gratitude to God. Rejecting the gospel is the way we tell him we don’t need him and want him to leave us alone.

The gospel is highly personal and practical, determining our happiness and eternal destiny. Important aspects of the gospel are examined in detail in Topics 53-70.

NOW THERE’S A NEW AND BETTER WAY OF LIVING

Not what we do.

OLD WAY

By self­ discipline, strive to be good enough to please God. Try to clean up your life yourself. Hope you will go to heaven.

The OLD WAY – trying hard to be good – is how life is without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s the way of all religions, even the way of cultural Christianity (see Topic 11). It’s admirable, but very difficult. It usually results in many rules and disciplines. But, even at best, no one can be consistently good enough to be worthy of heaven.

But what we get.

NEW WAY

As a free gift, get the power of God inside of you. Let God clean up your life for you. Know you will go to heaven.

The NEW WAY – having a new life with God inside – doesn’t depend upon doing good deeds. It’s based on a relationship with God, not performance for God. It’s a new life­style, but much more... it’s a new life!

People who haven’t personally experienced this new life have difficulty believing it at first because it sounds too good to be true, but it can be confirmed by personal investigation and experiment (see Topic 62).

IN SIMPLE LANGUAGE, THIS IS THE GOSPEL

(the ‘good news’)

Our sins will be forgiven

We can have God (Holy Spirit) in our lives now

We can have heaven rather than hell There’s no cost to us

Here’s a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject.

Romans 3:21-28
Not saved by good things we do

I Corinthians 15:2
Saved by the gospel

II Corinthians 5:17-21
It’s a whole new life

For help, see Topic 29.

Even good people can go to hell.

THE GREAT MYTH:

The people who will go to hell are those who do more bad things than good things.

NOT TRUE!

HUMAN MERIT IS NEVER ENOUGH TO AVERT HELL

After death, there are only two eternal states: HEAVEN and HELL.

The common notion, even among many who regard themselves as Christians, is that if there’s a preponderance of good deeds in a person’s life, he’ll go to heaven... and if there’s a preponderance of bad deeds he’ll go to hell.

But, according to the Bible, this is NOT the criteria God uses in determining who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. Some ‘bad’ people will go to heaven (like the thief who died on the cross beside Jesus). Some ‘good’ people will go to hell (like the pious religious leaders rebuked by Jesus).

A person goes to hell for relying on his own merits rather than on Christ’s merits, regardless of how ‘good’ he may be. Rejecting Jesus Christ – saying the Savior isn’t needed – is what condemns a person to hell.

HELL IS THE GREATEST RISK WE’LL EVER FACE

The greatest irony in life is that most people believe in hell and yet give relatively little thought to how to keep from going there. Hell is our greatest risk and it deserves our greatest attention.

For lesser risks, we have extensive analysis systems for insurance policies, risk-management programs, product safety boards, etc. But regarding the risk of hell, most people casually think that if they just ‘do more good than bad, it’ll probably work out.’ That’s not the way it works!

Anyone who isn’t sure of averting hell is playing a game with God more dangerous than Russian roulette. There’s time to accept God’s offer as long as we live, but at any moment death could come and seal our eternal destiny (see Topics 56-59).

WE MUST NOT JUDGE OTHERS REGARDING HEAVEN OR HELL

The Bible says that God alone is the judge of who’s going to heaven and who’s going to hell, and we must not make any judgments about individual people.

Each of us can know whether we’re personally going to heaven or to hell, but we don’t know about the relationships others have with God now or may yet have with him before they die.

Our role is to tell people about God’s good news (see Topic 52), not to judge or condemn them. Jesus said that some people who’s lives are now highly regarded by society will end up in hell, and some people who’s lives are now a total mess will end up in heaven.

Our eternal destiny has nothing to do with how good we are, but it has everything to do with how good Jesus Christ is and with whether or not we acknowledge and appropriate the fact that he’s offered to be our substitute.

GOD’S JUSTICE ISN’T BASED ON FAIRNESS

Our American system of justice is shaped largely by the work/reward and fairness principles of our capitalistic culture. But, as explained on pages INTRO­6 and INTRO­7, these marketplace concepts don’t apply to God.

God doesn’t equate justice with work or fairness. To illustrate the point, Jesus told the following story (Matthew 20:1­16), quoted here exactly as he said it:

‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a land­ owner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius [a day’s wages] for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

‘About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

‘He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing.

About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

‘‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

‘He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

‘When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going to the first.’

‘The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

‘But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

‘So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’

This story told by Jesus illustrates God’s character – he’s holy, love and just – and it explains why he’s not always fair.

Justice motivated by LOVE is better than justice motivated by FAIRNESS!

Here’s a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject. 

Luke 23:39-43
‘Bad’ thief on cross will go to heaven

Matthew 23:2-15
Some ‘good’ religious leaders will go to hell

Matthew 7:21-23
Some people who call themselves Christians and do the Lord’s work will end up in hell rather than in heaven

Matthew 7:1-2, Romans 14:12-13, I Corinthians 4:1-5, James 4:11-12
We shouldn’t judge others, God alone is the judge

For help, see Topic 29.

Heaven and hell result from the interaction of God’s character and man’s free will.

GOD’S CHARACTER DEFINES OUR ETERNITY

The knowledge that there’s life after death is built right into us. The overwhelming majority of people of all times, places and religions instinctively know there’s something beyond the grave. The Bible says clearly that there’s an after-life – either heaven or hell.

Heaven and hell are the logical extensions of God’s character. Stated simply, this is the fateful pattern in sequential order:

  • God is holy and has established and communiated spiritual laws (see Topics 5 and 47)
  • God is love and gives us free will to make individual choices (see Topics 6 and 48)
  • God is just and declares our sentence – hell – for a lifetime of sin (see Topics 45, 48, 52, 54, and 55)
  • God is love and offers a Savior to free us from the sentence; if accepted, this gives us HEAVEN (see Topic 51)
  • God is just and will forever leave alone everyone who doesn’t want the Savior; this leaves them with HELL

Notice from this pattern that salvation is a gift, and hell is the residual. If the gift (Jesus Christ) is rejected, hell is all that’s left.

Hell is what’s left after God leaves. It’s a confinement together of all unforgiven sinners, Satan and evil spirits, left alone to fend for themselves in an environment of unrestrained evil and suffering, without God and unable to die.

HEAVEN IS BEING WITH GOD FOREVER

Heaven is both a place and a state of being. People there will have a different (perfect) body, and there will be no sin, pain or sorrow. They will experience God’s best and will be truly happy and content. They will enjoy God, his revelations and his people forever.

There are many references to heaven in the Bible but no detailed description of it. It’s beyond our ability to comprehend, and human words can’t describe it (see Topic 8).

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. – I Corinthians 2:9

We don’t know details, but we know that heaven is a wonderful place where a minority of people will spend eternity in the presence of God.

HELL IS BEING ABANDONED BY GOD FOREVER

Hell is the exact opposite of heaven. It’s the terrible place where people who don’t go to heaven will spend their eternity, totally abandoned by God.

In hell, people will be tormented by their stupidity for rejecting Christ in their earthly life. They’ll be in constant pain and suffering because of confinement in a place without any of God’s holiness, love or justice.

Hell is not specifically described in the Bible, but the Bible refers to it as God’s absence, place of darkness, place burning with fire, prepared for the devil, crying and gnashing of teeth, stark loneliness, condemned, utter ruin, torment, etc.

The Bible says emphatically that hell is horrible beyond words and that everyone should act now to avert it.

MOST PEOPLE BELIEVE IN HEAVEN AND HELL

A recent national Gallop Poll shows that:

  • 77% of Americans believe there’s a heaven
  • 58% of Americans believe there’s a hell

More people believe there’s a heaven than believe there’s a hell, even though the Bible says clearly that both are realities. This is perhaps the ultimate example of human ability to deny truth when it becomes too frightening to face. It illustrates how we hear what we want to hear and selectively believe what we want to believe. But, of course, our beliefs don’t in any way alter the facts of God’s design plan. A wise person will adapt to facts rather than deny them, even when the facts are unsettling.

If most people believe that heaven is the best thing that can happen and hell is the worst thing, as surveys always show, it follows that most people should double-check their assumptions regarding God’s entrance criteria. Nothing could be more fatal than acting on the wrong assumptions.

Some people speculate on God’s criteria, but the Bible is the only authoritative source for an accurate answer. Beyond any reasonable doubt, the Bible is God’s book (see Topics 18-26), and it states clearly what a person must do to keep out of hell and be invited into heaven (see Topics 59-62).

HELL IS THE TOPIC NO ONE WANTS TO TALK ABOUT

There’s very little conversation about hell, even though most people in America believe in it and regard it as the most terrifying risk of our existence. Hell is virtually a taboo subject. For most people, the very thought of it is too frightening to express except in occasional sick humor.

There are three primary reasons for this silence: (1) a deep-seated personal fear of going there, (2) courtesy which makes it very awkward to even suggest that a relative, friend or acquaintance might be headed there, and (3) perplexity over how a loving God could torment people in such an endless and horrible manner.

Regarding the first reason, no one – at least no one reading this handbook – need have any personal fear of going to hell, because the way to avoid it is clearly explained. The avoidance – through Jesus Christ – is free and easy.

Regarding the second reason, hell will always be a sensitive topic and rarely discussed, for fear of being offensive. That’s our culture and nothing will change it. Ironically, the most loving thing a Christian can do for a non-Christian is to warn him of hell and tell him about Jesus Christ. But because such a conversation could jeopardize the relation- ship, the subject of hell is usually postponed for some appropriate time that never comes.

Regarding the third reason, there’s a common notion that some day God will turn in a fit of anger and cruelly, unmercilessly and eternally torture people for all the bad things they’ve done. That’s not what the Bible says. God isn’t going to torture people in hell. In fact, he’s not even going to be there. And that’s the point! Hell is where God isn’t. It’s a place that won’t have any of his holiness, justice or love – a place God has abandoned to people who say they don’t need or want him.

If you believe what you like in the Bible, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the Bible you believe, but yourself.

– Augustine

Here’s a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject. 

Matthew 13:24-30
Jesus tells parable to illustrate how some people will go to heaven and some to hell

Matthew 25:41-46
Hell is eternal punishment, heaven is eternal life

Matthew 7:23, II Thessalonians 1:9
Hell is separation from God

Matthew 10:28
Both body and soul will be destroyed in hell

Mark 9:43, Jude 1:7, Revelation 20:15
People will suffer eternal fire in hell

Revelation 1:18
Jesus holds the keys of death and hell

Matthew 7:13-14
Only a minority of people will go to heaven

John 14:1-3
Jesus is preparing an eternal place for those who accept him

For help, see Topic 29.

God is just. He’ll leave us alone to suffer consequences if that’s our choice.

JUSTICE IS A COMMITMENT TO CONSISTENCY OF LAW

Justice is closely related to holiness and love rather than being a contrasting principle. When there are many things sharing common time and space – whether atoms in molecular orbit or people in a city – laws are needed to prevent chaos. Good laws are motivated by love, for the benefit of all.

But laws would be meaningless without a commitment to uphold them. Justice – which is the use of authority and power to uphold laws – is a basic requirement for life in community.

The Bible says that God is just. In other words, he has committed himself to act consistently in accord with his own spiritual laws.

To us, justice can mean either fear or security. We have nothing to fear when we understand and obey God’s laws, but we stand in terrible jeopardy when we disregard them. Just as walking off a cliff will bring tragedy for disregard of physical law, so refusing to listen to God will bring tragedy for disregard of spiritual law.

GOD USES SAME PRINCIPLES OF JUSTICE WE USE

In God’s execution of justice, as in our human execution, there are four paramount principles:

  • Freedom must be protected
  • Laws must be good, announced and enforced
  • Commitments must be honored
  • Punishment must be commensurate with offense

The Bible tells how God applies these four principles of justice to our individual lives:

FREEDOM. God allows individual choice. Every person decides the kind of life he wants to live, now and for eternity (see Topics 6 and 48). God expresses his will, but he doesn’t force it on anyone.

LAWS. God has explained his design plan and announced his spiritual laws (basic principles) in the Bible (see Discoveries 5-8, 32, and 47). The laws are for our own good, and quality of life is best when we follow them. Everyone is guilty of serious violations of spiritual law and therefore subject to punishment under God’s justice, but – this is the absolutely amazing part! – he offers a complete pardon to everyone who personally accepts Jesus Christ as substitute and personal Savior (see Topics 52-62). In other words, there’s a way we can be just as acceptable to God as if we’d never violated a single law!! But without the pardon, we’re subject to the punishment.

COMMITMENTS. God gives us a choice – accept or reject the Savior – and he holds everyone to the eternal consequences of his own decision (see Topics 56-59). God will honor his commitment to everyone who chooses the Savior, and he’ll abandon everyone who chooses to be left alone.

PUNISHMENT. The worst sin is rejecting God’s offer of a Savior(see Discovery 6), and for that worst sin a person gets the worst punishment – hell – which is eternal separation from God (see Topics 50-51).

If God is just, why does he allow injustice?

 Justice means upholding what’s right by punishing what’s wrong.

God administers justice at two different levels: At one level, he deals with mankind as a GROUP, and at another level he deals with each person as an INDIVIDUAL.

GROUP JUSTICE

Adam and Eve were the first man and woman on earth. God told them that they could eat fruit from any tree except one. They challenged God by eating the forbidden fruit and tried to hide from him. He imposed this punishment:

‘Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.’ – Genesis 3:17-19

The punishment didn’t pertain to just the first man and woman, but to all their offspring and to the environment.

At first thought it might seem unfair that people living today should have to pay the penalty for sins of ancestors. But the objection is really moot because everyone knows that everyone disobeys God. We sin individually in our own ways today, and therefore punishment of the whole human race is appropriate.

It’s true that we all sin because God designed us vulnerable to temptation, but free will is an essential part of love (see Topics 6 and 48).

In group punishment, certain individuals suffer more than others. Afflictions strike the group at random. A flood, a disease or a thief will strike without regard to the victim’s degree of sin.

Considerable temporary injustice – unequal hurt resulting from group punishment – is unavoidable when life is lived in community with others, especially as people prey upon one another for personal advantage.

Group punishment actually experienced by most people is relatively minor compared to extreme punishment, especially compared to hell. And the duration of group punishment (less than 100 years on earth) is but a tiny fraction of the duration of individual punishment (eternity in hell). Therefore, God’s justice is seen most clearly and importantly at the individual level.

INDIVIDUAL JUSTICE

Group justice pertains to but a moment of eternity, but individual justice pertains to the whole of it!

There’s a judgment coming after death when everyone, personally, will stand before God to give account of his sins and how he dealt with them (see Discovery 96). By knowing spiritual law from the Bible, and knowing that God is just, we can know now what we’ll hear on judgment day.

Staying within the bounds of justice, God satisfies the penalty for sin by providing a perfect substitute (Jesus Christ) for everyone who accepts him as Savior in this lifetime. (It’s like someone standing before the judge and paying the fine for a friend.) Everyone gets justice... but not everyone gets heaven, only those who accept the Savior (see Topics 52­-62).

See Topic 51 for the story Jesus told to illustrate God’s justice

Here’s a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject. 

Isaiah 30:18
God of justice

Psalms 9:8
God governs with justice

Proverbs 29:26
Man gets justice from God

Luke 18:1-8
Ultimately everyone gets justice

Romans 3:25-26
Christ’s sacrifice demonstrates God’s justice

For help, see Topic 29.

God is love. That explains why we have free will.

GOD LOVES US AND WANTS A RELATIONSHIP WITH US

The Bible says that God has a deep and tender feeling of affection and attachment for each of us, and he has an enduring concern for our individual well-being.

He’s not remote and unknowable as many people believe. On the contrary, he wants to have a personal relationship with each one of us.

The Bible says that God is love – not just that he has love, but that he IS love. Said another way, the character of God IS everything communicated to us by the wonderful and powerful word love.

Relational love must have an object, and the object must have freedom to love or not love in return. To be meaningful and satisfying, love requires free will, even though this sometimes results in the pain of rejection (see Topic 6). God will tolerate a person’s rejection only for a while – this lifetime, which could be cut short at any moment – and then God won’t offer his love any more (see Topic 68). Separation from God’s love is called hell (see Topics 50 and 51).

GOD’S LOVE DISTINGUISHES CHRISTIANITY FROM RELIGION

If God were only holy, sinful man couldn’t have a close personal relationship with him. But the Bible says that, besides being holy, God is also love.

The Greek manuscripts from which our English Bibles are translated use multiple words for ‘love’ which convey more precise meanings than our single word. The manuscripts use a word meaning sensual love (eros), another word meaning friendship love (philos), and another word meaning unmerited and caring love (agape). It’s the latter word that’s used to describe God’s love for man.

This agape kind of love means much more than warm feelings. It means thoroughly enjoying a deep and intimate relationship and giving unselfishly in practical ways to meet the needs of the loved one.

It’s at this point where Christianity is in sharp contrast to the religions of the world (see Topics 11-14):

RELIGION is man reaching up to God... trying in vain to please him with rituals and good works, in fear.

CHRISTIANITY is God reaching down to man

...in the person of Jesus Christ, in love.

Christianity is usually referred to as a religion – and in the sociological sense it is – but essentially it’s a love relationship between God and man.

GOD’S LOVE IS UNIVERSAL AND UNCONDITIONAL

God loves everyone in the world personally and impartially. His love is superior love because it’s steady and rational, not changing by moods, senses or response. His love isn’t caused by anything in the people he loves. It flows from his own character.

Human love is often sacrificial and beneficial, but it rarely seeks the well-being of undeserving people.

We usually put conditions on our love, but God’s love is unconditional.

We often love because certain people are attractive to us, or respond well to us, but God loves because it’s his nature to love. No one is at a disadvantage with God because of birth or upbringing, because of appearance or inabilities, or because of past sins.

God loves even the worst sinner. It’s not necessary to clean up our life before experiencing, enjoying and benefiting from his love (see Topic 58).

If God is love, why does he allow suffering?

The human suffering we observe and experience is the result of evil (see Topic 47) and group punishment (see Topic 49). Given these two conditions, suffering on earth is inevitable. God allows it – temporarily – because, as explained in those discoveries, he’s holy and just.

We think suffering here is bad – and certainly it is – but relative to what? Compare present suffering to the extremes: Suffering here is worse than heaven, but better than hell.

It’s probable that God, who sees the eternal perspective, isn’t as concerned about present suffering as we are. In fact, he may see suffering as helpful for our long­term good:

‘God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world. A bad man, happy, is a man without the least inkling that his actions do not ‘answer,’ that they are not in accord with the laws of the universe...

‘Until the evil man finds evil unmistakably present in his existence, in the form of pain, he is enclosed in illusion...

‘No doubt pain as God’s megaphone is a terrible instrument: it may lead to final and unrepented rebellion. But it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment. It removes the veil: it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul.’

– C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Were it not for suffering – either our own or others we observe – we wouldn’t see the consequence of sin. We would think everything is fine, without God, and our indifference to him would subject us to infinitely longer and more severe suffering in eternity.

Suffering shows us sin. And hatred of sin turns us to God. And God, in love, offers us an eternity without suffering.

Here’s a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject. 

I John 4:7-19
Love originates with God, God is love

John 3:16
God sent Jesus Christ because of his love for us

Romans 5:8
Jesus Christ died for us, demonstrating God’s love

Ephesians 2:4
God’s great love for us gives new life

I John 3:1-2
God loves us enough to adopt us into his family

Romans 5:5
God pours out his love through the Holy Spirit

Romans 8:35-39
Nothing can separate us from the love of God

Romans 8:17-21
Present suffering nothing compared to eternity

I Peter 4:10
Suffering only for a little while, then heaven

For help, see Topic 29.

God is holy. There’s a conflict between his holiness and man’s sin.

HOLY MEANS NEVER VIOLATING DIVINE LAW

By observing the universe, we see that God operates by intricate principles and meticulous order – we call them laws (rules governing the relationship of things). The Bible says that God conducts his world according to physical laws and spiritual laws.

The word holy refers to the consistency with which spiritual laws are followed and applied. The word refers uniquely to God, but some people or things are said to be holy in the sense that they’re dedicated to God, follow spiritual laws, or have godly character. The Bible says that only God is truly holy.

When referring to God, holy means consistently perfect, always in accord with spiritual law, without error.

When referring to man, holy means sacred, consecrated, set apart, dedicated to God.

Loosely defined, holy means good to the point of perfection.

OUR SIN CONFLICTS WITH GOD’S HOLINESS

To say that God is holy means that he establishes and follows divine law. There are certain unfailing ways God does things in the spiritual realm, just as in the physical realm. We’re safe when we obey the laws but in jeopardy when we disobey them.

God’s laws are not arbitrary. They make sense as a way to regulate objects and people that share common time and space. Just as god’s gravitational law defines the orbits of physical mass in space, so God’s moral law (honesty, kindness, sexual purity, etc.) defines optimum living for people in community. Without good laws and compliance there’s uncertainty, chaos and tragedy.

Sin is willful violation of God’s spiritual laws, written for us in the Bible. We sin when we do what God has told us not to do and when we don’t do what God has told us to do. We sin both by commission (doing) and omission (not doing). Our sin is in critical conflict with his holiness (see Topics 5, 6 and 53).

BECAUSE GOD IS HOLY, WE CAN KNOW OUR DESTINY

Holy is the opposite of capricious (changing abruptly, inconsistently and often without reason or notice). We have yet to encounter a physical or spiritual law we haven’t been able to rely upon once we truly understand it. When the laws are known, we can foresee consequences of our actions and inactions.

We take great comfort in knowing that God is holy... that he makes his spiritual laws known to us, that the laws don’t change, and that the laws are consistently applied.

Because God is holy – always acting in accord with his laws – we can know now, from the Bible, what will happen to us after we die.

If God is holy, why does he allow evil?

God allows evil – temporarily – but this is not the same as saying he causes it. Everything he created is good:

‘God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.’ – Genesis 1:31

Evil is not a thing, not even a force or a power. It’s a condition. It’s the absence of good, just as darkness is the absence of light (see Topic 8).

Evil cannot exist apart from good any more than cancer can exist apart from a body. Evil is a corruption or privation of something good.

Because God is a personal God, and wants a relationship with us, he gives us freedom of choice, which is essential for real love (see Topic 6).

Evil results from actions and inactions of our choosing which violate his spiritual laws.

Thus, the potential for evil – even the certainty of it – is inherent in God’s design plan which makes us free moral agents, but the actual cause of evil is our decision to disobey God. We cause it, but he allows it.

As punishment for man’s disobedience, God put a changing and aging process into his creation (see Topics 6 and 34). The result is natural evil (diseases, famines, earthquakes, etc.) and moral evil (crime, abuse, dishonesty, etc.). This is a temporary situation. One day he will, as described in the Bible, eliminate all evil here by restoring the earth and confining in hell all who are rebellious to his plan and purpose.

MEANWHILE, evil can work to our long term good

by giving us an understanding of spiritual matters. Without knowing evil, we wouldn’t desire God’s holiness.

The greater the evil, the more people turn to God for solution. The lesser the evil, the more people ignore God and rely upon themselves. Ironically, since eternity is ultimately more important than present life, evil now – if it brings us to God – can do more good than harm.

Evil is a condition only on earth (now) and in hell (forever). There’s no evil in heaven.

We begin our eternal existence with a short stay on earth – 100 years or less – during which time we’re shown both holiness and evil. We’re told by God that we must decide here which condition – holiness or evil – we choose as our environment (but in magnified degree) for the rest of eternity.

After our time on earth, the two conditions will no longer co­exist. For each person, everything will then either be all holy (heaven) or all evil (hell), depending upon individual choice.

God will always allow evil (essential for free will), but one day he’ll confine it (in hell). The fact that he hasn’t confined it yet doesn’t mean that he can’t, or won’t, confine it in the future. According to the Bible, it’s not yet time, and therefore good and evil still co­exist.

Here’s a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject. 

Leviticus 11:44-45, Leviticus 20:26, Psalms 99:1-9, I Peter 1:16, Revelation 4:8, Revelation 15:4
God is holy

Genesis 3:14-19
Toil, pain and death is punishment for man’s sin

Matthew 13:24-30
Jesus tells about good and evil co-existing for a while

For help, see Topic 29.

God is a divine person with attributes we can comprehend.

GOD’S ACTIONS PROCEED FROM HIS CHARACTER

In the discoveries so far, we’ve seen God only from the standpoint of how he functions (his trinity). This is as limiting as trying to understand a person solely by observing what he does without regard to why he does it.

The Bible says God is a divine PERSON. Therefore, convictions, feelings and motivations lie behind his actions. To really understand God, we need to inquire about his personal character.

DISTINGUISH BETWEEN ‘DOING’ AND ‘BEING’

The Bible reveals two dimensions to God: One dimension is what he does, the other is who he is. One dimension is FUNCTION, the other is CHARACTER.

It’s the distinction between doing and being. Since we’re made in the image of God, we understand this concept because the same distinction can be made of us. A person’s visible doing always proceeds from that person’s invisible being.

For an accurate concept of God, we need to understand both his FUNCTION and his CHARACTER. Topics 40-45 tell us about his function (how he works as a trinity) and Topics 46-50 tell us about his character (why he does certain things). The better we understand God, the easier it is for us to place our faith in him.

GOD’S CHARACTER: HOLY, JUST AND LOVE

From study of the Bible, we discover that God has three dominant and inter-locking attributes: He’s HOLY ... he’s JUST ... he’s LOVE. All three parts of his trinity have these attributes.

When we comprehend the attributes, we know not only what God DOES but also who God IS. Then we can better understand the purpose behind his actions.

WE MOVE NOW FROM TECHNICAL TO PRACTICAL

We can learn something about a man by observing the house he built. We can learn considerably more by reading his correspondence. But we learn most by meeting him personally and living with him.

It’s the same with God. Observing his universe gives us some information ... reading the Bible gives us more ... but knowing him personally gives the greatest understanding.

All of the discoveries so far in this handbook have been somewhat technical – about God’s existence ... spiritual design ... people’s beliefs ... Bible evidence ... Bible summary ... and trinity function.

All of this is interesting and important, but now we come to the heart of Christianity: God’s CHARACTER – the essence of who he is, the explanation for what he does, and the kind of help he offers.

GOD IS THE SOLUTION TO PERSONAL PROBLEMS

Throughout history people have been saying that God, somehow, is the solution to our problems. That kind of thinking seems to be built right into us.

Yet for all the religious activity in the world,

HOW GOD HELPS US

In the preceding Discoveries, we’ve learned things to know about God. Now in the next 24 Topics we’ll learn how to actually know God, personally!

When we know him personally, we get wonderful practical benefits, not only after death (see Topics 50 and 97) but also right now (see Topics 71­89). He’ll help us with the problems of daily living.

It’s his trinity FUNCTION that gives him the means to help, and it’s his CHARACTER that gives him the desire to help.

Here’s a partial list of problems God has promised to help us with:

simple observation shows that very few people find much solution in God. That must be either because God is remote, indifferent and/or weak or because most people don’t really know him.

The inquiry in the remainder of this handbook is to discover whether or not God can, and will, help a person in practical ways. It’s one thing to believe in God – to know that he exists somewhere in outer space – and something quite different to have a relationship with him that has personal daily benefit.

Guilt Loneliness Grief Relationships Disappointment Bad memories Poor health

Depression Addictions

Lack of motivation Failure Weariness

Fear

Self image

Knowing God isn’t an academic matter – it’s highly relational and practical! In fact, it’s the key to our happiness!

Here’s a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject. 

Psalms 33:5
God’s character – holy, just, love

Matthew 11:28-30
Jesus invites everyone to bring their problems to him

For help, see Topic 29.

We call God by many names, depending upon our focus.

THERE’S ONLY ONE GOD, BUT HE HAS MANY NAMES

In referring to God, we use dozens of different names, titles and terms. Some of the most common names are shown in the table here, but many other names are also used, such as Creator, Jehovah, Lamb of God, Messiah, Word, etc. All of these names are found in the Bible.

This use of interchangeable names is confusing to many people. Why not keep it simple and just call him God?

The reason for different names is because, at various times in our thoughts and conversations, we want to focus attention on a particular aspect of God. By using a different name we can convey a different shade of meaning, as explained in the table.

There’s only one God, even though he’s called by many names. We can use his names interchangeably, depending upon our focus.

GOD’S NAME SHOULD BE HONORED AND RESPECTED

Many people, especially in humor or in rage, speak of God as though he’s a joke or as though he can be used for invoking damnation upon someone or something. Obviously, this is very offensive to God and is a sin.

Some of the first and most basic instructions God gave to mankind are contained in the Ten Commandments (see Topic 38). Item three on the list (even ahead of murder!) is:

‘You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.’

Ironically, swearing is evidence of the unique- ness and deity of Jesus Christ – people can’t find a more blasphemous thing to say! People don’t swear by Muhammad, Buddha, or Abraham Lincoln.

(create graphic...)

The name GOD is the broadest and most general name for deity, the ‘Almighty Being.’ It encompasses the meaning of all his other names. However, use of this general name sacrifices shades of meaning conveyed by more specific names.

The name FATHER puts emphasis on God as the single all­wise and all­powerful creator and sustainer of the universe. The name emphasizes his concern and loving care.

The name JESUS is his human name, just as James and Robert are common names today. He was known as Jesus of Nazareth (the town where he lived).

The name CHRIST is his title: the ‘Anointed One’ (Christos in Greek). This means the one sent by God, the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament.

The name SON focuses on the human part of God’s trinity and how he came to earth as a man to communicate with us and to pay the penalty for our sins.

The name SAVIOR focuses on the Son as the one who saves us – if we ask him – from the power and penalty of sin and gives us eternal life.

The name HOLY SPIRIT focuses on the relational part of God’s trinity and how he comforts and counsels us from within.

The name LORD focuses on God being in charge of the conduct of our life when we yield to the Holy Spirit.

LIFE IS A SPIRITUAL JOURNEY

Life is – or at least should be – an exciting spiritual journey, with stimulating new discoveries along the way.

Actually, the journey through the various stages of spiritual understanding can be made very quickly – especially with help from a handbook like this – but many people get distracted with other things and stop for a long time at a particular stage of the journey, or just wander around, and some never get going to the next stage.

 

As sketched below, the names of God take on new meanings at each new stage of the journey:

GOD

Right from the start, we know there’s a supernatural power at work in the world. Because we see evidence of divine intelligence and planning, we ascribe a personality to this power, and we call him God.

FATHER

As we move along on our spiritual journey, we begin to sense that God is loving and kind, and that he really cares about us. We begin to speak about him with reverence and affection, calling him our heavenly Father.

JESUS

All along the road we encounter the name Jesus and vast numbers of people who talk about him. We get a vague understanding that somehow this name is the key to spiritual understanding.

CHRIST

Our inquiry about Jesus leads us to study the Bible, and from it we learn that Jesus was the Christ (the one sent by God) as foretold in the Old Testament. We come to realize that he was God in a human body, and we join others in acknowledging him as our spiritual authority. By this time, we are frequently using the name Jesus Christ and may even be identifying ourselves as one of his followers.

SON

As we progress on our journey, we use the term Son of God to express God’s trinity nature and the concept of a universal spiritual family.

SAVIOR

At some specific time and place on this spiritual road, we accept Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as our personal Savior. This is the highlight of the journey, and from this point forward the road seems much easier, and we meet new and wonderful traveling companions.

HOLY SPIRIT

When we accept Jesus Christ as personal Savior, God gives us the Holy Spirit as a marvelous divine inner presence to guide us the rest of the way.

LORD

The further we travel the spiritual road, the more we use the name Lord because increasingly we let him take control of our life. He proves himself dependable, and we totally trust him. The journey takes us through death and into eternity, and we end up in heaven in the presence of God.

(IMPORTANT: The Bible says we can’t get to heaven without personally accepting the Savior – see Topics 50, 51, 55 and 62.)

Everyone should ask: Where am I in my spiritual journey? Where will I be when I die?

The names of God – dozens of them – are found throughout the Bible and are too numerous to cite here!

The ‘Holy Spirit’ is the part of God who personally relates with each individual.

‘HOLY SPIRIT’ IS PERSONAL CONNECTION WITH GOD

The Holy Spirit is the part of God’s trinity that connects with our human spirit (see Discoveries 7-8). This gives Christians a personal relationship with God and a supernatural power for daily living.

The power is not because of a mysterious flow of energy but because God enters the life of a Christian as his or her personal counselor. (Jesus used the names ‘Holy Spirit’ and ‘Counselor’ interchangeably.) The practical result of good counsel is wisdom, strength, success, confidence and happiness.

The Holy Spirit gives spiritual counsel: how to have inner peace in the midst of trouble; how to develop good character; how to overcome worry, depression, loneliness and boredom; how to optimize physical health; how to help others; etc. The Holy Spirit is the constant inner divine presence, making a person complete, providing new and better motivations, and making it possible to live a good life with little self-effort.

Because this counsel, when heeded, promotes a happy and healthy life, there are practical benefits which result, such as greater success on the job and better relationships with family and friends. How- ever, because the counsel is holy, it’s not available for selfish motives of physical or ego gratification.

WHY GOD CALLS PART OF HIS TRINITY ‘HOLY SPIRIT’

God chose spirit as the best word to describe a basic part of his trinity and a basic part of our trinity. The Greek word for spirit literally means ‘wind’ or ‘breath.’ Our modern translation of the word means ‘...an incorporeal life principle that inspires, animates, or pervades thought, feeling and action.’

When a person opens his spirit to the Holy Spirit, he has the breath of God within him. The spirit-part of trinity is a life-directing worship and communication connection between God and man.

The Bible uses the term ‘Holy Spirit’ – or simply ‘Spirit’ with a capital ‘S’ – when referring to God’s trinity. The Bible uses the word ‘spirit’ with a small ‘s’ when referring to man’s trinity. The meaning of the word ‘Holy’ is explained in Topic 47.

The Holy Spirit IS God – not a force or influence. Therefore, the Holy Spirit should be referred to as ‘he’ rather than ‘it.’

Jesus told his disciples that after his death and resurrection they would receive the Holy Spirit... God IN us, not just AMONG us! Various terms are used in the Bible to describe this inner presence of God in the life of a Christian, including ‘gift of the Holy Spirit, ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit,’ and ‘filled with the Holy Spirit.’

Before a person becomes a Christian, the Holy Spirit is outside his life. Even from the outside, however, a person can often ‘hear’ the Holy Spirit convicting him of sin, telling him of his need for Jesus Christ, and pleading to be invited in. People are miserable when they resist the Holy Spirit and reject Jesus Christ. In fact, this is the worst possible sin, and it’s the only sin that’s absolutely fatal (see Topic 6).

After a person becomes a Christian, the Holy Spirit is inside his life. A person still has free will and therefore may choose at times, and to degrees, to tune out the counsel of the Holy Spirit. The Bible calls this ‘grieving’ or ‘quenching’ the Holy Spirit. A person doesn’t cease being a Christian because he does this, but he loses spiritual energy and vitality. Fortunately, God forgives easily, and a good relationship can be re-established quickly (see Topic 75).

God within is different from the concept most people have of God. Most people think of him only as God in heaven – remote and distant – because they don’t understand the trinity and don’t know him personally.

TRINITY MAKES PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP POSSIBLE

The trinity design – God’s trinity and our trinity – is what makes it possible for infinite God to have a personal relationship with finite man.

If God were only the Father, we could enjoy his creation but we couldn’t know him.

If God were just Father and Son, we could have better understanding and forgiveness of sin, but we still wouldn’t really know him.

But because God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit – the full trinity – we can enjoy his creation, understand him, have forgiveness of sin and know him personally.!

CONNECTIONS

There are many similarities between God’s physical design plan and his spiritual design plan. Thinking about the physical world helps us understand the spiritual world.

For example, we know how physical connections work. We connect two wires, and light comes on (see Topic 8). We connect two pipes, and H2O flows from one to the other in the form of water, steam or particle ice (see Topic 40).

Other examples: We connect a heat duct to a furnace... we connect a monitor to a computer... we connect oxygen to plutonium...

At the time the Bible was written, people didn’t know about wires, pipes, chemical bonding and many other examples of physical connection we know today. So, using grape vines as an example of that day, Jesus explained how a branch from an old vine can be ‘grafted’ (cut and re­connected) into a new vine, and life miraculously flows from the vine into the grafted branch as if that branch had always been there.

These examples of connections in the physical world have important counter­parts in the spiritual world. By personal act of the will, we can leave our spirit unconnected, or we can connect it to God’s spirit, or we can connect it to ‘evil spirits’ (see Topic 76).

The Bible says there’s only one spiritual connection we should make, and this connection can be made easily and quickly (see Topic 62). We should accept Jesus Christ as our savior, and this automatically connects our spirit to God’s spirit (i.e., it brings God inside of us and establishes an eternal personal relationship).

BEFORE

a person becomes a Christian

Holy Spirit is OUTSIDE our life

AFTER

a person becomes a Christian

Holy Spirit is INSIDE our life

Here’s a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject.

John 16:7-15
Son is not now physically present in world, but Holy Spirit is spiritually present

John 14:17, Romans 8:9, I Corinthians 3:16
Holy Spirit indwells (lives within) Christians

Romans 8:16
Holy Spirit communicates with human spirit

John 14:16 and 26, John 15:26, John 16:7-15
Holy Spirit is Counselor

Romans 8:1-4
Holy Spirit gives us power to live a good life

Ephesians 4:30, I Thessalonians 5:19
We shouldn’t grieve or quench Holy Spirit

I Corinthians 6:19
Body is temple of the Holy Spirit

For help, see Topic 29.

The ‘Son’ is the part of God who came to earth in a human body.

‘SON’ IS JESUS CHRIST, GOD IN A HUMAN BODY

Jesus Christ is the part of God’s trinity known as the ‘Son.’ He’s a human body with a divine soul and spirit – the one and only God-man – who came to earth about year zero (our calendars are numbered from the time of his arrival). He ascended to heaven 33 years later, living the entire time in a small area along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea known today as Israel.

He had the normal physical and mental characteristics of human beings, such a hunger and tired- ness, joy and sorrow. He wasn’t married and didn’t have any children. He was well known only during the last three years of his earthly life.

Before coming to earth in a human body, God told about himself (in Old Testament times) through special revelation to his spiritual spokesmen (Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, David, etc.). They prophesied hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth that God would come to earth in human flesh, and the prophesies were fulfilled in every amazing detail (see Topic 23).

Jesus is his name (like James or Robert). As a man, he was simply called Jesus of Nazareth (his home town). Christ is his title (Christos in Greek, meaning the one sent by God, the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament).

‘SON’ CAME BY HUMAN BIRTH TO A VIRGIN

Since it’s impossible for man to rise up to the level of God, it was necessary for God to come down to the level of man in order to relate with us.

He could have chosen any number of ways of coming ... for example, by descending from heaven as a full-grown powerful man, riding onto the scene in a chariot with fanfare and entourage. He chose instead to come into the world in the same way all humans do – as a baby born of a woman. His life was lived in a setting of ordinary circumstances rather than pomp and power.

He was born to a young Jewish woman (Mary) who was engaged to a young Jewish man (Joseph), but she’d never had sexual intercourse. God miraculously started the physical life of Jesus within her without normal conception. It’s very significant that Mary was a virgin because:

  • Jesus was part man (human body from mother’s side)
  • Jesus was part God (divine soul and spirit from father’s side)
  • Because of his human body, he was able to live among us, communicate with us and die for us.
  • Because of his divine soul and spirit, he was sinless and thus qualified to be our perfect substitute (see Topic 54).
  • Mary is revered by Christians for being a wonderful person, chosen by God for the highest possible honor, but she wasn’t divine.

WHY GOD CALLS PART OF HIS TRINITY ‘SON’

The Bible sometimes refers to Jesus as ‘the Son of God’ and sometimes as ‘the son of man,’ but usually the Bible refers to him simply as the ‘Son.’ God apparently chose ‘Son’ as the one word to best describe the human part of his trinity because it’s a word everyone understands.

The word son helps portray the concept of a universal spiritual family, with the loving heavenly father, Jesus as the perfect son, and true Christians as adopted children (see Discovery 42). The concept of son has within it these ideas:

  • son receives life from his father son is subordinate to his father
  • son communicates and lives family values
  • son is greatly loved by his father (the greatest sacrifice a father can make)
  • son can be natural (like Jesus) or adopted (like us)
  • son receives inheritance from his father (things of value the son hasn’t earned but gets by virtue of his family position)

‘FATHER’ SENT ‘SON’ TO SOLVE CRITICAL PROBLEM

Everything about God’s design plan is masterful, and his trinity is a masterful way of resolving the conflict between his character and our sin. (This conflict and solution is explained in detail in Topics 47-49 and 53-54.)

The problem: How can an infinite and holy God have an intimate relationship with a finite and sinful human?

God solved the problem with his trinity nature. With a special human body, God was able to communicate essential information to us. And with that body, he was able to make the once-and-for-all sacrifice for our sins.

The Bible says that Jesus Christ is the only Son of God, so we’re not confused wondering if there are other ones.

It doesn’t matter that God might have solved the conflict between his character and our sin in some other way, or even that we may wish he’d solve it some other way. The fact is, according to the Bible, this is the only way God has chosen to solve it.

Fortunately for us, God’s solution is very easy. We simply decide whether or not we want to be an adopted son or daughter in his family. If we decide by a conscious act of the will to personally accept Jesus Christ and his sacrifice for us (see Discovery 62), we get essentially the same standing in God’s family as Jesus himself! We don’t get into God’s family automatically, and therefore individual failure to act leaves a person on the outside (see Topic 51).

‘SON’ WAS CRUCIFIED AND RESURRECTED

Jesus Christ lived the first 28 years of his life in relative obscurity, mostly in the town of Nazareth in Israel. Then he entered the public scene, declaring himself the Son of God. For the next three years he engaged in a high-profile teaching and healing ministry in Israel, sometimes speaking to crowds of 5,000 or more people at a time. This caused the religious and civil authorities to fear that his enormous popularity would lead to an insurrection that would threaten their positions.

The authorities tried to persuade him to recant his statements about being the Son of God. He wouldn’t recant, and they decided to kill him.

Late one evening they arrested him, brought him into Jerusalem for an impromptu trial, beat him, and sentenced him to death. By 9:00 a.m. the next morning, before the people of the city knew what had happened, he was nailed to a cross and left hanging to die for six hours in excruciating pain as a public humiliation.

His dead body was placed in a borrowed tomb, but three days later it miraculously came alive again and eluded the Roman soldiers who were guarding it. After 40 days of personal teaching to over 500 people, Jesus ascended from his disciples’ sight into heaven with instructions that they should tell everyone what they had seen, heard and experienced (see Discoveries 55 and 90).

God knew that the clash of man’s sin and Jesus’ holiness would result in the death of his Son. It wasn’t a mistake. In fact, it was precisely as prophesied in the Bible long before it happened (see Topic 23). This was an essential part of God’s grand plan for us.

The importance of the death and resurrection of the Son of God is explained in Topic 55.

Here’s a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject. 

Luke 1:26-38, Matthew 1:18-25
Angel tells Mary and Joseph about Jesus

Mark 1:10-12
Not all of God is in Jesus

Matthew 1:20-25
Jesus is the Messiah the Old Testament said would come

Luke 22:66-71
Under questioning, with his life at stake, Jesus says he’s God

John 14:6
No one comes to the Father except through the Son

Matthew 11:27, Luke 10:12
Father has committed (delegated) everything pertaining to this world to the Son

John 3:13-18
God gave us the Son so we can have eternal life

Ephesians 1:5-10, Romans 8:22-23
Through the Son, we can be adopted into God’s family

Romans 8:17
We become heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ

Hebrews 1:1
God formerly spoke through the prophets, but now he’s spoken through the Son

Matthew 26:1-28:20, Mark 14:1-16:20, Luke 22:1-24:53, John 18:1-21:25
Trial, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ

For help, see Topic 29.