This article contains a number of links which will take you to a brief explanation of a number of aspects that will crop up along the way.
1. Who is God, what is he like?
Think about the friends that you have at the moment, or have had.
How did you become friends?
When did they go from being an acquaintance to someone you regarded as a friend?
It's quite likely that you introduced yourselves to each other.
You shared information about yourselves, your name, the town where you live, your job, etc.
You talked with each other, over time finding out more about the other person.
You took an interest in their lives wanting to get to know them better.
And over a period of time, you moved from considering them just someone you were acquainted with, to someone you felt that you knew; a friend.
But what about those people with whom you didn't take the time to get to know, those people who never became more than acquaintances?
You may have shared details about yourself, but they may not have been interested in your friendship.
You can only get to know someone if they choose to reveal details about themselves to you, it's how an acquaintance becomes a friend.
Friendship is more than just knowing things about someone, there is a mutual trust, a concern for one another; there is a relationship between you.
For many people, this is the situation regarding their relationship with God.
They've heard of him, maybe send a quick prayer to him when they're in trouble hoping that he'll help them in their situation, or if they want something really special.
To many people God is merely an acquaintance, if anything at all.
But that's us and our relationship to God, but what about the other way around?
God has shared details about himself in 3 major ways:
Through the world
Through the Bible
Through the person of Jesus Christ
When we look at the world, at our own lives, we wonder at times - "What is the point of it all?", "Why am I here?".
We look in amazement and awe at the beauty that is in our world, the amazing symmetry in flowers, the fact that every snowflake is unique, the beauty of a forest after it's been snowing.
Such thoughts have led people to think that there must be a mind, a plan behind all this. It's not here by chance.
The Bible is where we find out about God.
The Bible unfolds the character and nature of God throughout the Old Testament, and we see many facets of God's character revealed to us in the books of the Bible. But the picture is incomplete.
Reading the Bible, the Old Testament in particular, can be very academic, we don't feel very involved, and God himself can feel very remote to us when we read about Him.
One of the things that Jesus brings to God's revelation of Himself is a person. We find it very difficult to relate to God, but we can relate to the story of another human being.
Jesus is God with skin on.
Without Jesus, our understanding of God would come from interpreting his word in the light of our imagination. But Jesus shows us without a shadow of doubt what God is like.
As the Apostle Paul said in Colossians 1:15, Jesus "is the image of the invisible God".
So God has provided us with details about himself, though the wonders of our world, through the narratives of the Bible, and ultimately through the person of Jesus Christ.
And this is one of the unique points of Christianity. Other religions follow a philosophy, they have their sacred texts and rules to follow, but none have a relationship with God as the prime focus except Christianity. And because of this Christianity is not the same as other religions, or even in the same league as other religions; it is different, unique.
So here we have the idea that God is a God that enjoys relationships. In fact He desires our friendship.
But how do we know that this is the case?
This is where the Bible comes in.
The Bible starts off with God creating the universe and people.
Since God created the world then He is the ultimate ruler of it. He made it, He owns it.
He also created humanity, and so God is our ruler. He made us, He owns us.
In Genesis 1:26-28 we see that God created man to rule over the world and the creatures that God had created, with God ruling over us.
And the Bible also tells us that God created us to have a relationship with Him, to be his friends.
In the Bible we see that God talks to people, sometimes directly and sometimes through intermediaries such as angels and prophets.
Further on in Genesis we are told about a very important Jewish gentleman, Abraham (a.k.a Abram).
In 2 Chronicles 20:7, Isaiah 41:8 and James 2:23, Abraham is referred to as God's friend.
Abraham (previously called Abram) was a man who obeyed God and lived in a way that God considered righteous.
Genesis 15:6 says "Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.".
This passage shows us that to be credited with righteousness, and so be considered by God to be his friend requires us to believe what God is saying.
Through Abraham, God creates a nation to be His chosen people, and He tells these people that they are to be different from everyone else. They are to obey God and the rules that He has set down for them, and so the other nations will see the kind of God God is by how He deals with His chosen people.
And a large part of the Old Testament is about Israel's relationship with God, and how God treats them when they follow and obey Him, and when they disobey Him.
And so from this we get the picture that it is very much God seeking out people, and not the other way round. Abraham did not choose God, God chose Abraham.
And this gives Christianity another difference when compared with other religions. Other religions tell of man's search for God; Christianity tells of God's search for man.
2. What kind of relationship do we have with him?
The Bible is quite clear that people have one of two kinds of relationships with God:
Those who are his enemies
Those who are his friends
We were made by God to be in a good relationship with him, but we have chosen to turn our backs on that kind of relationship, and so we openly rebel against him, such as taking the many gifts that he provides for us without acknowledging the giver.
We also choose to make the rules ourselves, deciding what is right and wrong, instead of following God's rules.
When we ignore God or rebel against Him it is called sin, and so a sinner is someone who ignores God or rebels against Him. Being a sinner is not just about being good or bad, or breaking the law, it is also about our relationship with God. When we sin it grieves and offends God; it breaks his heart.
Because God is a righteous and just God He can not allow our rebellion against Him, our ignoring Him, to continue for ever. Sin is a personal insult and affront against God. And He is within his rights to take this attitude because he created us to have a relationship with Him.
That is why we live and then die. As punishment for Adam and Eve rebelling against God, God made mankind mortal instead of being immortal like God. They no longer had access to the tree of life, and we see that with the exception of Enoch, the account of every one of Adam's descendants in Genesis chapter 5 ends with a record of them dying.
But whilst we share (through death) in Adam and Eve's punishment, because we are descended from them, we also have our own rebellion against God to answer for. This is what the Day of Judgement is reserved for.
On the Day of Judgement everyone will stand in front of God and be judged by Him for what they have done.
Now some people don't like this idea of judgement, and I'll admit I'm not that keen on getting judged myself. But if there was no justice, that would be worse.
If you have seen the film Schindler's List, you may remember the scene where a mother and child are brutally murdered in full view of a tiny toddler dressed in red.
The book, on which the film was based, says this. "Later in the day after he'd absorbed a ration of brandy, Oscar understood the proposition in it's clearest terms: they (the S.S. guards) permitted witnesses, like the toddler in red, because they believed that all the witnesses would perish too."
The guards did what they liked because they thought that they would never have to give an account.
They did what they liked because as far as they were concerned there would be no day of reckoning, no judgement.
Would you want to live in a world where evil does not matter?
God's anger against sin expresses itself in judgement. In the flood, by wiping out every living creature on the earth, we are given an indication of how much, sin offends God. And the flood is also used, in the rest of the Bible, as a model of how God will eventually and finally judge the world when He brings it to an end.
Acts 10:42 says this:
"He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead."
This passage tells us that no-one will escape justice, they will not get away with the evil that they have done.
So Christians and non-Christians alike will be judged by God.
And Revelation 20:12 and 20:15 also says this:
"12And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books." and "15If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.".
If we are enemies of God, (that is everyone who is not a friend of God), then we will be thrown into the lake of fire (i.e. Hell) for eternity. You have until the day you die to become God's friend, but once you die your time is up, and if you are not God's friend then you will be going to hell, which is the place where God is not.
If however, you do become God's friend then your name will be recorded in the book of life and when you die God will be there to welcome you into his kingdom, heaven, where you will spend eternity there. Heaven is a place of unimaginable beauty and security where nothing bad can happen, ever.
Being an enemy brings eternal death, but being a friend brings eternal life.
3. What do we have to do to have this relationship?
Abraham believed what God told him and was credited with righteousness.
In the same way, if I believe what God has said then I too will be credited with righteousness and become God's friend just as Abraham did.
Christians, like Abraham, still sin (we still break God's laws and ignore him at times), yet God still credits us with righteousness just as he did to Abraham.
How can this be?
How can God consider me to be righteous, and to be his friend even though I continue to do, say and think bad things on occassion?
Well, God can do this because I am a Christian.
By becoming a Christian I have access to God through Jesus. God has said that to be considered his friend I have to believe what God has said concerning Jesus, which is this (John 17:3):
"Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent."
God sent Jesus so that you and I could become friends of God.
By putting our faith, our trust, in Jesus we will be friends with God.
But why do we need Jesus, why not just put our trust in God?
Partly, because God has said to put our trust in Jesus.
James 2:19 says "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that - and shudder."
Belief in God is not enough because our sin prevents us from having a relationship with God.
But mainly, because Jesus solves the problem of our sin and allows us to have a relationship with God.
But couldn't some other way have been found so that we could have this relationship - why was Jesus's death necessary?
Genesis chapters 6 to 8 give the account of the flood and how God saved Noah and his family.
Before the flood humanity was sinful, only Noah was considered righteous by God, and so God destroyed the world. After the flood, sin is still there, we see that in how Noah behaves indecently when drunk, and in the actions of his son Ham by not honouring his father and gossiping to his brothers about the state of their father, and not covering him up. And after the flood comes the tower of Babel story where mankind is acting in the same old ways just as before the flood.
So what the flood shows us is that even the most drastic action as wiping out not only mankind but all the animals and birds, etc and leaving on the most righteous person on the planet does not get rid of the problem of sin. So all our attempts at dealing with the problem of breaking God's heart (which is what sin does to God), of trying to build a better world are doomed, ultimately to fail. If destroying the world doesn't fix the problem then what will?
It also shows that even the most righteous human being is still sinful. Something even more radical is needed.
And we get a glimpse of what this radical solution is, through the sacrificial system that God put in place for his chosen people.
With the chosen people, the Israelites, God showed them that they could be declared righteous before Him (and so have a relationship with him) by performing certain sacrifices.
So your "Joe Public" Israelite who believed God, would take a female goat without defect and sacrifice it whilst confessing their sin onto the goat. The priest would then pour out the blood of the sacrifice onto the altar and so make atonement for that person and they would then be forgiven by God. With their sin removed they could then be in a relationship with God.
But these sacrifices are not sufficient.
Firstly the person only remains righteous until they sin again, which in all probability, given human nature, wouldn't be very long, and secondly an animal is not a particularly good substitute for a person.
The point of the sacrifice is that your sinfulness has a price that needs to be paid, you need to make atonement for your wrong doing. Now you can either pay that price yourself or you can have someone or something pay it for you. And since the price of atonement for your sin is your life blood then having a substitute to take your place sounds like a really good idea.
But the sacrifice only atones for our sin up to that point, the sins that we will commit in the near future will also need atoning for. Which means a lot of sacrifices.
What is needed is a perfect sacrifice, that only needs to be done once, and that is a perfect substitute for us.
Animals whilst they are clearly accepted by God are not a perfect substitute for us, and so another human being would be a better sacrifice. But another human being would not work, because the sacrifice must be without defect, in other words without sin. The problem with us is that all of us are sinful, there is no-one who is fully righteous in the eyes of God.
And so we are in the situation that we have an imperfect sacrificial system and are unable to make complete atonement for our sin.
As someone once said, "We are in the hole and have no means of climbing out of it, and we are still digging!"
And so because we have no means of doing it ourselves, God has stepped in and sent the ladder down enabling us to climb out of the proverbial hole that we're in.
As Noah and the flood demonstrate, we can not cure the problem of sin because we are the problem; sin is in our very nature, and so only God is in a position to do anything about it. And He has, in the person of Jesus Christ.
The ladder was, and is, Jesus. God in the flesh.
Jesus came with the sole intention of dying. He came to be our perfect sacrifice so that we could be God's friend.
Jesus was man.
Jesus was without sin; he never sinned; he never did, said or thought anything wrong about anyone, and he never ignored God.
Jesus is therefore a perfect substitute for us - the perfect human being.
His life was given so that we might have life forever.
But if Jesus was just a man, then it would not work.
If Jesus was just a man then Jesus could only atone for one person's sin.
If Jesus was just a man then God is pretty immoral for allowing an innocent life to be taken to pay the price for the sins of a guilty person.
Fortunately, Jesus was also God; God the Son.
"Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" John 14:9
God the Father sent His only Son to be born a man to take the punishment that we deserve for turning our backs on God onto himself.
As John 1:14 says, "The Word [Jesus] became flesh and made his dwelling among us."
God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are the three persons of the one God.
One God. Three persons in the Godhead.
Yes it's confusing, it's just something that you'll have to accept as true.
And so, God himself has paid the price that God himself has said must be paid for our disobedience. He has taken the punishment that we fully deserve upon himself.
Also, because Jesus is God then his sacrifice is a once and for all time offering.
When Jesus was on the cross, all our sin, past, present and future was poured out onto him, two thousand years ago.
And only by being God could this possibly happen.
When we repent of our sin today, Jesus is there interceding with God on our behalf, telling Him that he has taken the punishment we deserve upon himself; and so we are forgiven through the atoning sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross.
This works in a way that we may not be able to fully understand, but the Bible is quite clear.
Hebrews 2:9-18 says this:
9But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. 10In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. 12He says,
"I will declare your name to my brothers;
in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises."
"I will put my trust in him."
And again he says,
"Here am I, and the children God has given me."
14Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil - 15and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants. 17For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life."
God no longer accepts animal sacrifices because He has given Himself as the ultimate atoning sacrifice; and so the only way to be friends with God is through believing in the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ.
And this is not a case of plan B because plan A (the flood) didn't work. This has been God's plan from the very beginning, before the universe was even created. How's that for thinking ahead!
God's plan is:
Centred on Jesus Christ
To bring all things in heaven and earth under the authority and rule of Jesus Christ
To give us, His children, every spiritual blessing
To bring glory to God
Ephesians 1:3-23 gives a good summary of what God's plan for eternity is all about.
4. What if we don't want a relationship with God?
If you want to continue as God's enemies then that is your choice, and God will respect that.
But the ladder (that is Jesus) is there waiting for you to notice it, to use it and to come into a wonderful relationship with God. And Jesus is the only way that you can become God's friend, and enter heaven.
And you have until the day you die, or until the second coming of Jesus, whichever is sooner to decide.
The only thing is we don't know when either of those events are going to happen, we just know that they will.
Either way, once the event happens (you die or Jesus comes back) that's it, it will then be too late to repent and put matters right.
"So what?" you may think.
Well, your answer to that will depend ultimately on what you believe happens when you die, but the Bible is quite clear that hell is not a very nice place to be.
There will be gnashing of teeth and wailing; a place of eternal agony (Luke 16:19-31); a place where God and everything that he has created is not.
As far as God is concerned, it's heaven or hell depending on whether you have chosen God's friendship or remained an enemy, respectively.
The book of Revelation (20:12-15) says that the dead will stand before God's throne and the books will be opened, and absolutely everyone were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.
But there was another book, called the book of life, and anyone whose name was not found in this book, the book of life, then they were cast into hell.
So entry to heaven is not determined by what you have done, but whether your name is in the book of life.
And only those who are friends of God will have their names in the book of life.
To become a friend requires you to believe God, and to put your faith, your trust, in Jesus.
God wants to see everyone come into His kingdom, He doesn't want anyone to go to hell.
But there are two kinds of people in this world - those who are going to heaven and those that aren't.
And one of the reasons for creating this article is to tell people what God has done through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.
That's the reason why I have been involved with Alpha courses and Christianity Explained courses, and why I will continue to be involved, so that people have an opportunity not only to hear and discuss the Christian message but to also respond to it.
If you wish to become a Christian then you might like to say the following prayer:
I am sorry for the things I have done wrong in my life.
I know I am worthy only of your punishment.
Please forgive me now.
I turn from everything which I know to be wrong.
Thank you for sending your son, Jesus to die on the cross for me so that I could be forgiven and set free.
From now on I will follow and obey him as my Lord.
Thank you that you now offer me forgiveness and your presence with me by your Spirit.
I ask knowing that you promise to listen and answer.
If you prayed that prayer and meant it then you are now a Christian and you can be assured of a place in heaven. You will need to find a church where you feel welcome and that will enable you to grow in your faith, and to remain faithful. You can not do it on your own, you do need to be part of the Church family. This link will take you to a talk that I did at an Alpha course recently about why, as Christians, we need the Church.
If you haven't yet made that step of faith, then let me encourage you to do so.
Ask yourself this question, "Why not, what's stopping me?"
You are most welcome to e-mail me (see below), or seek out a Church where you feel comfortable asking such questions. Doing a course, like Alpha or Christianity Explained, is a good way of finding out answers.
But there will always be questions.
Becoming a Christian does not provide you with all the answers, that's why we have faith.
Becoming a Christian does require you to put your faith, your trust, in God and His promises.
But it is certainly not a blind faith.
You must make that step of faith with your eyes open.
And it is only by thinking the issues through and asking questions can you come to a decision that is based on the truth.
Christianity is not about keeping a set of rules in the hope that doing so will get you into heaven. It's about taking sides, taking God's side. Christianity is about being a friend of God's, about becoming a son or daughter of God. And if you love Him, then wanting to keep His rules, to obey His commands will come naturally and joyfully.
Knowing that God is on my side, having the reassurance that I will be going to heaven, means that keeping the rules and trying to do things which please God, is not a burden but a joy.
Jesus promises that if you seek him you will find him; if you come and knock on his door then it will be opened for you. But are you seeking him in the right places, and knocking on the right doors?
And if he comes and knocks on the door of your heart, will you open it for him and invite him in?