I regularly go for late night walks in the streets around my home. I tend to go in the middle of the night because that is when it is most quiet. It is my quiet place where I go to spend time talking with and listening to God. Whilst out walking a while back, I became intently focussed on the Holy Spirit, the part of God that comes to live within us and I was totally struck by the entirely awesome nature of God being within us.
Many secular people believe in various parts of the Christian faith without perhaps realising it. Lots of people around the world believe in a God figure. Some don’t have a belief in God as such, but they believe in a supreme creator or something bigger than themselves. For others it is perhaps because they just cannot figure out our existence through another means and for more it is the ‘safety net’ of something or someone ‘out there’ for when the going gets tough and life chucks a curve-ball at us. Whichever it is, each of these groups of people have some sort of belief in a God figure and so for us as Christians, the idea that we would believe in a God who created everything is not too far-fetched.
The three monotheistic religions, namely; Islam, Judaism and Christianity all believe in a single God. They all believe that God loves us even if that degree of love is perhaps not automatic and the same is true of polytheistic religions such as Hinduism. For Muslims, God loves us only if we do according to his commands. For Jewish people, God loves us, but we must follow a set of rules and plead in order to get to heaven. For Christians, God’s love is eternal and unconditional. This belief that God’s love is unconditional is pretty incredible. It means that regardless of what we do, regardless of what we say, regardless of how messed up we are or how good we are God still loves us the same. Indeed, before we even loved God, he loved us for the simple reason that he loved us before we were created. Most parents tend to have a very deep love for their children. They will do anything to defend them, even when they do wrong. The parents still love them (even if they do not love their actions). It is similar with God: He loves us regardless of what we do and that is a tremendous comfort to know that when we make mistakes and even if we deliberately rebel and go directly against God, perhaps even deny his very existence, he still loves us just the same. It is important to state that this love should not be confused with acceptance of sin or used as an excuse to sin. He absolutely hates our sin, he absolutely hates it when we reject him and go our own way, but he still loves us as individuals. When Jesus returns for final judgement, he will still love those who ultimately go to hell. This may be hard to fully understand, but just as Parents still love their children even if they have to punish them for consistent wrongs, so it is with God. In short, God’s love alone does not save us. He will forgive us, but we need to ask for it and repent of our sin first.
We started with God himself and found that it turns out many more people believe in a God figure, even the religions who believe in multiple gods, so that makes belief in God fairly common. Now we have examined the love of God. For Christians and Jews, that love of God is not predicated upon our doing or achieving anything, he simply loves us. That knocks out Islam where love is based on submitting to a god figure and strict accordance with rules. The nature of the God of the Christians is getting more specific.
If that unconditional love is not too much for you to take, then consider this: That love that God has for us, led him to have great compassion on us and he wanted to rescue us from our plight of sin, but as the Bible says, “the wages of sin is death”. To pay that price for our wrong doing would either result in our death (or at least all of us who have done wrong) or someone else who was without sin to die in our place. Since the fall in the Garden of Eden, humans have had sin built into them from conception. As a result there is such a thing as original sin. If you do not believe it, then consider this for a moment: Who tells babies and young children how to misbehave? As a result of this mess we were in, God took compassion on us (because he loves us) and entered the world in the form of the Jesus. The Pastor of my church always says that ,“there was an agreement between the tripart in the heavenlies that Jesus would go”.
If Jesus had been conceived in the normal way as a result of the coming together of Mary and Joseph, then that act of love would have created Jesus – he already was and so was implanted into Mary supernaturally. Having been born, grew to a man walked the earth and led a life pretty similar to most men of his age – he was a carpenter like his earthly Father. The only difference being he never sinned. Ultimately, in death he sacrificed himself in joy and love for us that we might be free from sin. That is pretty remarkable.
For Jesus to die is not uncommon at all – we are all probably going to die one day given that humans expire. For him to die at the age he did was perhaps less common, but many people die today in their 30s, so a fairly unremarkable event in itself. For him to die in the way he did was reasonably common – he had been accused of blasphemy and so was accorded the standard punishment of death by crucifixion. What is remarkable, what is so incredible that after dying he rose again, in so doing defeating death, walked the earth once more before ascending into heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father before his return. That act of sacrifice was done in and for love – it was done because “he first loved us”. No other religion has God stepping out of heaven and walking the earth with us. No other religion has God dying for us. Indeed, the very portrayal of God as a human is of utmost insult to Muslims. No other religion has God taking the place which was rightfully ours as a result of our misdemeanour. This single act is what separates Christianity from every other belief structure that has ever seen the light of day.
It is easy to believe in a God figure – especially when life is tough. It is fairly easy to believe that God loves us, less so to contemplate that that love is unconditional. Then the idea that God himself would come to us is quite simply an alien concept to every other religion. All other religions focus on the need for good deeds to achieve a ticket to heaven, in essence trying to get to God by works alone. The Christian belief is centred on allowing God to come to us. It is the complete opposite of what every other religion will ever teach you and it is the exact opposite of what the world will teach about reward for no achievement. That is why the teachings of Peter, Paul and the other disciples after the ascension of Jesus was so revolutionary.
There are many examples in history of people taking bullets for others they love, but they have not been resurrected. Jesus ‘took the bullet’ for us by dying in our place, but his death did nothing in itself – he was human and humans die. The narrative is fairly unremarkable at that point. However, it is the resurrection that brings new life and that breaks all the rules. It was this raising to life that defeated death and sin. Jesus didn’t just have to take our place by dying; he had to be raised to life again in order to break the power of death. It is through this that we too can gain forgiveness for our sins today and be in communion with God himself. What happened next is even more remarkable than his existence, his unconditional love, his death and resurrection.
After Jesus’ ascension, God sent the Holy Spirit to live within us. The Holy Spirit is part of God. That part of God can live within us. Did you get that? God can (and wants to) literally live in us. That is totally mind-blowing, as the great hymn-writer Charles Wesley put it “lost in wonder, love and praise”.v So, first we have a God who has existed for eternity. That much is fairly easy to believe and indeed fairly universally accepted by world religions. Then we learn that that God is an all loving God whose love for his creation (us) is unconditional. This turns the tables a bit in a world where we are taught to give to receive rather than simply to just give. Things start to get interesting when we learn that when God saw all that had gone wrong, he knew he had to do something about it. So because of his great love for us, he decided to step out of heaven and live on earth, eventually being put to death and returning to life again, in so doing defeating death and taking our place by paying the price for our sins. As mentioned earlier, this is too much for many religions that see it as an affront to God to consider him as part of humanity. As if that was not enough, God’s love is so boundless and so incredible that he wants to actually come and live in us. I’ll say that again, God’s love is so boundless that he wants to come and live within us.
We do not believe in and serve a God whose love is built on conditions of our achieving something. We serve a God who loves us so much that even if we ridicule and reject him, he still loves us. We serve a God who loves us so much that he gave his only son Jesus that ‘whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life’. We serve a God who is not just waiting to meet us when we die – we serve a God who is waiting for us to answer his call. We serve a God who longs to live within us, a God who is waiting for us to allow him in.
Furthermore, in believing in this eternal God who has unconditional love and who laid his life down for us we see something that fully encapsulates the love of God for us: It is the fact that the trinity – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit have always existed and always will. They didn’t just exist as spare tools around the garage; they existed to serve a particular purpose. God the creator, God the saviour, God the companion . All are of equal importance and all are reliant upon the rest of the trinity. If there was Holy Spirit but no Jesus, then that would be great for a time – God would come and live within us whilst we walk the earth, but come the time of death we would have no recompense for our sins and we would die as sinners and not leave the earth as saints. If there was Jesus but no Holy Spirit then we could get all the forgiveness that we ever wanted and needed, but would struggle to live out a life for God without him within us. Finally, if there was no creator, then none of it would have even ever happened.
Becoming a child of God – being loved unconditionally, my sins forgiven on the cross and God living in me is indeed a remarkable wonder. A wonder that I do not fully understand, nor can I fully figure out and one I’m not sure I want to be able to understand completely for that is part of the mystery and wonder of it all. The important thing is to accept it. I have accepted God’s love for me. I have accepted his death and resurrection as the sacrifice which paid for my sins and I have accepted his offer to come and live within me. I don’t need to understand it for God to work through me, I just need to allow him to do so and that is the wonder of God in me.