What I Believe: Inherited Sin

In all the material realm sin is an attribute only of humans. This is because no other physical entities can know right from wrong. All things other than people do only what God has given them an instinct and ability to do. What they do may not suit what we think they should do. However, since they do not choose their actions based on knowledge of right and wrong, they are free from guilt. I believe that this was true of the first-creation humanity before the later version came to know right from wrong and hence to be able to make sinful choices.

The new type of humanity came to know right from wrong by doing wrong. You know the story and it seems only fair to credit both Adam and Eve for this addition to human capabilities. However, we should note that their punishments differed. Adam, I believe, bore the guilt that has been transmitted to all his descendants. This guilt could not be transmitted through Eve because a woman was to bear the child that would offer all humanity redemption from our guilt.

What I Believe: Origins and Natures of Humans

When it comes to the origin and nature of humanity, I am going to depart from traditional understandings. First, I think that the two accounts in Genesis of the creation of people are actually two events. The first one, on the sixth day of creation (Genesis 1:26-31) begins with a description of the creation of humans in the same terms as the creation of livestock, wild beasts, and varmints (my terminology). Then that creation account tells us that these people were to be fruitful and multiply and rule over the other animals (except wild animals) and the earth. This mandate to rule, I believe, constitutes their creation in the image of God, that is they were able to think rationally. Since these original people came before people had spirits and Jesus had a body they had to be in the image of God in some way other than physically or spiritually.

The second account, which is that of Adam and Eve, I believe, particularizes the origin and nature of current humanity. The creation of Adam and Eve marked the beginning of a new kind of humanity. It differed from the earlier humanity in that they had an indwelling spirit. As it is written in Ecclesiastes 11:5( ESV) “As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.” What we do know was that these new people had spirits that came to them while they were babies still in the womb.

These humans were also to have something new—a sense of right and wrong. This came into being when Adam and Eve disobeyed God. It also resulted in them being expelled from the Garden of Eden and forced to make their way in the “real” world and deal with their spiritless relatives. We are told in Genesis 6 how the sons of God found the daughters of man (earlier humans) attractive and the usual thing happened.

By the time of Noah, the attractiveness of the women and their culture had so overwhelmed the virtues of the sons of God that God brought about a mass extinction of humanity, except for eight people of the new type.

I think what I believe about the origin and nature of humanity is different from what you have been told or have read about. Nonetheless, what I have pictured retains the validity of the biblical accounts of creation and also allows for the prior existence of human-type people. It also takes into account the knowledge we have of the effects of mass extinctions on the overall history of life.

What I Believe: Created Spirits

The Bible mentions a wide variety of created spirits. One problem we have in knowing more about spiritual creatures is that the writers of Scripture had to use physical categories to describe spiritual realities. Another, more actual, problem is that we normally have little experience with spiritual creatures and so when we may think we are in the presence of angels of light they may actually be demons.

One defining characteristic of Satan and his minions is that they are liars. This is why it is so important in our thinking about spiritual creatures and events to seek only to know what is true because truth only comes from God.

There is a fundamental division between those created spirits who have chosen to serve God and those who choose to follow Satan. The lower ranks of those who follow Satan we call demons. The New Testament also tells us of powerful beings, apparently produced by Satan, that are described as frogs, dragons, two beasts, a false prophet, and a reigning prostitute.

On God’s side, in addition to angels, there are archangels, elders and seraphim. Angels act as God’s messengers. Archangels also act to bring God’s messages to people. They also have a role in the destiny of nations and wage war against the satanic spirits. The elders lead worship in heaven and may have other roles. The seraphim, with their multitude of eyes, appear to have the job of overseeing God’s physical creation.

On earth, I believe we are in the midst of a vast spiritual warfare. Satan’s intent is not just to cause problems for people but to bring physical and spiritual death to as many humans as he can. Were it not for the purpose of the Father, the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit, and the obedience to God of the angels we all, without exception, would be doomed to eternal death.

What I Believe: Resurrection of Jesus Christ

One of the loose ends that Jesus needed to get right on the first Easter Sunday, and the forty days that followed, was that he had really come back to true physical life. One way he did this was that on Easter evening he walked several miles on the road to Emmaus with two disciples. Later the same day he appeared within a locked room in Jerusalem to some of the disciples and asked them to examine his healed wounds (Luke 24). There is no way a human body could heal itself of the wounds of crucifixion in three days, as some people seem to think.

From all the testimony of the New Testament writers, I believe that Jesus was truly, literally, and actually raised from the dead on the third day and restored body, soul and deity to the person he was when he died on the Cross, except his wounds were healed.

The witness of the New Testament to the Resurrection has not prevented people from finding ways to deny the reality of the Resurrection, either by saying it could not happen or did not happen. However, none of these people were there when it did happen.

It is not only unbelievers who have had a problem with resurrection from the dead. Paul had to write a rather sharp passage to the Corinthians concerning how essential Christ’s resurrection was for them if they were to be free from their sins.

“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.  We are even found to be misrepresenting God,because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:12-17 ESV).

Paul’s language is somewhat complex because he is arguing both for the resurrection of Jesus Christ and for our own resurrections. What he is emphasizing is that the entire edifice of Christian testimony rests on the reality of resurrection as God’s unique gift to the faithful. If there is no resurrection for us then we are no-hopers and in no better state than nonbelievers.

What I Believe: Our Redemption

Let us think of our redemption in terms of things that are flawed or dysfunctional being made right. I believe redemption begins with the good news of Jesus’ work being received by those who are sufficiently poor in spirit to know their need for it. Next, there comes liberty for those people trapped in wrong behavior and not able to free their selves. Moral blindness is a sign of God’s disfavor. Having our sight restored means we can see ourselves, others and the world as it really is and agree with God’s judgment as to how things actually are.

When we are redeemed we are moved from God’s disfavor, where we all begin our moral lives, and brought into the effective righteousness of God. I do not think this means we are perfected but we become instead blessed by the fullness of God’s gifts to his children. In other words, I think we drink spiritually of the living water and eat of the bread of life. We are no longer subject to God’s condemnation. This is not because we have been ransomed from Satan but because we have been returned to our right position with God.

Being redeemed means we are not only spiritually made new but freed from oppression from outside ourselves. This is because we should be free from fear of financial disaster, imprisonment or death, which are the usual tools of oppressors.

In addition to a personal side to redemption there is a social side. It is not generally thought that when Jesus read from Isaiah in the synagogue of Nazareth he was defining also social redemption but let us look at the words. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19 ESV).

I think that Jesus was speaking of both personal and social redemption when he read this passage from Isaiah. Personal redemption produces a new kind of person. Social redemption results in a new kind of culture. Both kinds are fruit of effective Christian believers.

The people Jesus spoke to did not want redemption. They wanted miracles like Jesus had performed in other Galilean cities. When he did not give them what they wanted they tried to kill him. We have technological miracles and progressive hopes so many people of our time are not interested in nor see a need for redemption. I believe they are acting if Christ is dead and thus unable to do anything useful for them or their society.

 

What I Believe: The Work of Jesus Christ

Jesus had about thirty years to be prepared and prepare himself for the work he would do during his last three years on earth. In fact, it is not until the last week of his pre-crucifixion life on earth that he gets to the really heavy lifting. It is in that week he enters Jerusalem fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies concerning the arrival of the Messiah, finalizes his conflict with all the different sects of Jewish religious and political leadership, teaches and heals amongst the crowds, institutes the Lord’s Supper and is betrayed, manages and endures his trial and crucifixion, and rises from the dead, and then on that Sunday he begins wrapping up with his followers the loose ends he had left hanging.

What is to be noted about his last week is that it was probably only slightly more busy and dramatic than the other weeks of his active ministry. We, of course, do not have his calendar for that time but John assures us that if all Jesus did were written down there would not be room on the whole earth to hold the books (John 21:25).

So far I have presented you with just the earthly works Jesus did. What is difficult for me is to know how to tell you of the spiritual work he did in his ministry. I know that he did what was necessary to remove from us, and all others who believe in him, the inherent and evident sin of our natures through his obedience to the Father even unto death. And it was not an easy death. But it is not possible for me to understand how the death of a single person was sufficient to do all that had to be done to satisfy our guilt before God. There must have been something agreed between the Father and the Son that allowed all to be accomplished by Christ’s death that was needed. I do know I do not have anything I can add to the transaction.

What I Believe: Non-Christian Views of God

One non-Christian view of God is that held, in different ways, by Unitarianism and Islam. This is the idea that God has a unity as one person and which denies the deity of Jesus and the deity and personality of the Holy Spirit.

Deism sees God as out there somewhere (transcendent) and having once acted as creator is not further active in earthly affairs (immanent).

Pantheism goes the other direction. It sees God in all that exists and all that exists in God.

Polytheism is any religious system than contains more than one god. Hinduism is an example. So are the various pagan religious ideas that occur all over the world.

Buddhism has at the center of its beliefs nothingness (Nirvana).

Other systems of thought that do not contain a God are Agnosticism which believes that God is either unknowable or unprovable, and Atheism and various secular ideologies which deny the existence of God.

There are belief systems that have their roots in Christianity but whose ideas are not orthodox. These beliefs are rejected by implication in the Nicene Creed.

These beliefs are not alternate paths to God as some people think. I believe they lead people away from the true knowledge of the triune God.