ALL FALSE RELIGIONS DENY ESSENTIAL CHRISTIAN DOCTRINES
When Paul wrote his second letter to the Corinthian church, he was aware that the forces of darkness were already sending out deceiving demon spirits to promote false doctrine.
Paul tells the young Corinthian church, “But I fear lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted you may well put up with it!” (2 Cor 11:3,4).
In this passage Paul was rebuking the Corinthian church for tolerating false teachers who were promoting error. These false teachers, motivated by the spirit of the antichrist, were preaching:
- Another “christ” – not the Christ born into our world and revealed in Scripture;
- Another “spirit” – not the Holy Spirit, Who is the third Person of the Trinity (the Holy Spirit is fully God) Who dwells within those who surrender their lives to Jesus Christ.
- Another “gospel” – not the Gospel preached by Jesus and the apostles and revealed in the Scriptures.
False religions of today are still preaching the same kind of error.
The teachings of the world’s largest false religions, various pseudo-Christian cults, and a wide variety of lesser-known religions, vary greatly in their doctrines and practices. Yet, all of them share in common the denial or distortion of foundational Christian doctrines.
It is of utmost importance that you, as a church leader, study this section and become very familiar with the basic Christian doctrines presented here. Your study and knowledge of these key doctrines will provide a solid foundation for both your faith and your ministry to others. This study will enhance your ability to discern false religions and the cults that attempt to masquerade as genuine Christianity. Knowing the truth will keep you from the bondage of error (John 8:32).
The Bible exhorts, “be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim 2: 15). Church leaders and other believers should become “diligent workers” who study the Word of God daily and thoroughly. When they are very familiar with the real truth, false teaching or error will be immediately recognizable.
To illustrate this concept: A bank clerk needs to know how to discern whether money is genuine or “counterfeit”. He is trained to do this by spending hours and hours handling genuine money. Then when a counterfeit bill is slipped in, the bank clerk can readily spot that it is not right. The more familiar he is with the “real thing”, the harder it is to be fooled by a fake. In a similar but much more important way, being familiar with the genuine truth of the Bible will help you more readily spot heresy and error that contradict the Bible.
Regarding sound doctrine, take special note of Paul’s exhortations to Timothy: “Till I come, give attention to reading [the Scriptures], to exhortation, to doctrine” and “take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you (1 Tim 4:13,16)
[For further study, read John 7:16,17; Acts 2:42; Romans 6:17,18; 1 Timothy 1:3-11; 4:6; 6:3; 2 Timothy 3:16; 4:2-4; Titus 2:6- 10.]
For almost two thousand years Christians have held to Bible-based, orthodox Christian beliefs which are agreed upon by believers in Jesus Christ. Though small points of difference among believers might still exist, these are insignificant compared with the extreme and heretical differences found in the false doctrines of cults and false religions.
Presented below are some biblical, foundational doctrines that conservative Christians ALL hold in common. There is not room to present every detail; neither is it possible to discuss every Christian doctrine. But this list does reflect the basic core beliefs held by and essential to historic Christianity and can be used to help compare and discern the erroneous teaching of false religions and cult groups.
1. The Doctrine of the Scriptures
The Holy Bible is the only true revelation given by God to the prophets and apostles of the Old and New Testaments. However, false religions and cults:
- Attempt to promote their own writings as equal or superior to the Bible
- Claim that they have a “newer revelation” that replaces the Bible
- Claim that there are errors in the Bible or that it is incomplete. They assert that their beliefs, doctrines, revelations or writings “correct” the supposed errors or add the missing parts.
The Bible (the Old Testament and New Testament) is the ultimate authority because the Scriptures were given to us by God Himself (2 Tim 3:16). The Holy Bible, the Word of God, has been revealed directly by God into the hearts and minds of men who faithfully and carefully recorded those words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
The foundation of the Bible’s authority is God Himself. All true authority is ultimately based upon and derives from God (Rom 13:1). The Bible has its ultimate origin with and from God. Because God is the Author, the Bible has authority. It is considered to be authoritative (trustworthy) concerning God, salvation and the Christian life. To accept the Bible’s authority means that we should believe and practice what the Bible teaches.
- There are three principles that are key to the Doctrine of the Scriptures:
The Inspiration of the Scriptures – All Scripture is “God-breathed” (inspired by God), given to us by God (2 Tim 3:16; read also 1 Corinthians 2:13; 2 Peter 1:20,21). The Bible is not the invention of men or a collection of men’s opinions, ideas or mythical stories
- The Inerrancy of the Scriptures – The Bible is completely trustworthy because it is inerrant, which means the Bible contains NO mistakes or contradictions
It must be remembered that whatever God speaks is the Truth – and without error! This is because He is the “God of truth” (Isa 65: 16) Who “cannot lie” (Titus 1:2; see also Numbers 23:19; Hebrews 6:18). Therefore, since God is true (John 3:33), His Word is also true (John 17:17). The Bible is a completely trust¬worthy guide for our faith (belief in God) and practice (life and behavior).
Jesus Christ, Who quoted from the Scriptures repeatedly throughout His ministry, bore witness to the fully divine authority and trustworthiness of the Scriptures (Matt 5:17,18; Luke 4 :4,8-10; 24 :27,44,45; and many others).
3. The Infallibility of the Bible -The Bible, God’s Holy Word, is totally trustworthy for all that we need to know for doctrine, salvation and the Christian life.
This is why the Scriptures exhort us to “be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15; read also 1 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 3:16,17).
The Word of God – the Holy Bible – is complete as it is written. Nothing is to be ADDED to the Bible. Nothing is to be REMOVED from the Bible. No part of the Bible is to be ALTERED or DISTORTED. Many historical documents have been found that clearly prove that the Bible has been preserved accurately for thousands of years. The last book of the New Testament warns of the seriousness of altering the Scriptures (Rev 22: 18,19; read also Deuteronomy 4:2, 12,32; Proverbs 30:6.)
Many false religions and cults have removed portions of the Bible they did not like. Some have added “new revelations” that were NOT from God, creating new “bible” texts or books.
[For more information on the authenticity and authority of the Bible over all other religious writings, please see the previously published issue of ACTS Magazine from January 2000.]
2. The Doctrine of God
God is infinite. The human mind, however, is finite and therefore cannot fully comprehend God; nor can human language adequately describe God (see Job 11:7- 9; Isaiah 55:8,9; Romans 11:33). Yet God, through His Word, has revealed to us everything we need to know in order to approach, love, worship and serve Him (see Exodus 34:6,7; John 1:18; Heb 4:14-16; 1 John 4:9,10).
Though the entire Bible is a revelation of God and Who He is, let us look at some very specific Scripture references about the nature and character of God:
a. God’s Nature
- All Knowing – Isa 29:15 ,16; 40:27,28; 1 John 3:20
- Everywhere-Present – 2 Chr 6:18; Ps 139:7-10; Jer 23:24
- All Powerful – Jer 32: 17-18
- Infinite (not limited by time, space or the physical universe) – 1 Ki 8:27 ; 2 Pet 3:8
- Eternal (without beginning or end) – Ps 90:2; Isa 57:15; 1 Tim 1:17
- Self-Existent (“I AM”) – Exo 3:14; Isa 43:10-13; Rev 1:8
- Unchanging in Character – Mal 3:6; Jas 1:17
- Transcendent (apart from and above creation) – Ps 14:2; Isa 6:1, 2; Col 1:17
- Immanent (near and personal) – Jer 23:23,24; Ps 139:7-10; Acts 17:27,28
- Creator of All – Gen 1:1; Neh 9:6; Heb 11:3 The Only God – Deut 4:35,39; Ps 86: 10; Isa 44 :8; 46:9; Jer 10:10
- Spirit – John 4:24
- One (in being and substance) – Deut 6:4; Mark 12:29-32; 1 Cor 8:4
- Three (as Persons equally God and equally eternal) – Gen 1:26; Isa 6:8; Matt 28:19; 2 Cor 13:14
- God the Father – Matt 11:25; John 6:27;1 Cor 8:6; Eph 4:6
- God the Son – Luke 5:17-26 ; John 1:1; 5:18; 20:28 ; Titus 2:13; 2 Pet 1:1
- God the Holy Spirit – Luke 1:35; Acts 5:3,4;Heb 9:14
b. God’s Character
- Holy – Ex 15:11; Hab 1:13; Rev 4:8; 15:4
- Just and righteous– Deut 10:17; 32:4; Ps 145:17; 1 John 2:29
- Good and merciful – Ps 25:8-10 ; 34:8; 100:5; Matt 5:45
- Love – 1 John 4:8
- Truth – Num 23:19; Deut 32:4; Isa 65:16;John 14:6
- Faithful – Deut 7:9; Isa 49:7; 1 Cor 1:9; 2 Tim 2:13; Heb 10:23
3. The Doctrines of Mankind and Sin
Only the Scriptures can adequately and accurately describe who mankind is and what his current spiritual condition is. In the Genesis account of mankind’s creation, Scripture states that mankind (male and female) are created in the image of God (Gen 1:26,27).
This is not a physical “image” because God is spirit and does not have a physical body (John 4:24). This “image” can be expressed in the following characteristics of people (includes both men and women).
- People are personal beings, just as God is (Gen 2:7).
- People are moral beings, with an inbuilt “conscience” and sense of right and wrong. This gives them the ability and responsibility to choose between right and wrong (Amos 5:14,15; Rom 2:14,15; 12:9; Heb 9:14).
- People were created out of the same material as the rest of creation ( “dust”, Gen 2:7); however, people are distinct from the rest of creation in that they (male and female) were created in the image of God (Gen 1:27). People have an inbuilt awareness that a “higher power” exists. They are consistently religious and will worship something – even if it is themselves.
- People are spiritual though housed in physical bodies, they were created with the capacity for relationship with God Who is Spirit. A person’s body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and therefore is not to be used for sinful purposes (Rom 6:12,13; 1 Cor 6:19,20). The physical bodies of believers in Christ will be resurrected at the Second Coming of Christ, and the mortal will take on immorality (1 Cor 15:50-54). Non believers’ bodies will be resurrected for judgment at the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev 20: 11-15)
- People are created for rulership, with the capacity to participate in dominion over God gave people the capacity and authority to rule over creation (Gen 1:28) and sometimes over other people (Rom 13:1-7) – but they are to do so with the principle of love as their guide (John 13:34,35; Rom 13:8-10). Redeemed people are also destined to rule and reign with Christ (2 Tim 2:12; Rev 5:10).
God created people in His own image, and gave them the capacity to live a life of holiness, love and service. However, as a result of the sin of Adam and Eve, people have a sin nature – which gives them the capacity to choose the lowest depths of sin and depravity (Mark 7:21,22; Rom 3:10-12).
Yet, those who believe in Christ (though they are not sinless while still in this life) can be gradually restored, transformed more and more into the image of Christ (2 Cor 3:18; Eph 4:24; Col 3:10).
Sin and its effects span every barrier of race, age, language, economic status, nationality and gender. ALL people EVERYWHERE, of EVERY time in history, are sinners (Rom 3:23). The Word of God declares this to be true, and it can be easily observed by – and in- any one of us.
It is absolutely essential that we understand that God is not the originator of sin in our universe (Jas 1:13). He is the Creator of all things created (Rev 4:11), but He is NOT the author of sin and evil. The Bible makes very clear that it is not possible for God to have created sin (Deut 25:16; 32:4; Job 34:10; Ps 92:15 ; Isa 6:3; Zech 8:17; Jas 1:13; Rev 4:8; 15:4). Scripture records that it was Satan (Lucifer) who first rebelled against God in his pride and selfish ambition (Isa 14:12-14; Ezek 28:12-17), thus bringing sin into the universe.
God, by creating humanity in His own image, gave humans the ability to make choices. God knew that it would be possible for mankind to either choose to love and walk with Him – or choose to sin and rebel against Him. This did not make sin a necessity, only a possibility.
God created mankind perfect and placed him in a perfect environment. God gave Adam and Eve everything they needed – and only the simplest of commands to obey (Gen 2: 16, 17).
God, in His righteousness and goodness, did not permit Satan to force Adam and Eve to sin. Nor does God permit Satan to force any born-again Christian to sin today. Satan cannot force us to sin against our will (1 Cor 10:17). Satan did, however, tempt Adam and Eve by using deception and twisting the truth to lead them astray.
Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and yield to temptation. This process of (1) temptation and (2) willful choice to give in to temptation, is still how sin is brought about today. “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (Jas 1:14,15). Satan can be blamed for tempting Adam and Eve; but they were responsible for their own choices to yield to Satan’s temptation. The same is true for us today when we face temptation. God will hold each of us responsible for the choices we make. No one else is responsible for our sinful choices (Rom 14:12; Heb 4:13). Temptation alone is not sin; but it can lead to sin and therefore must be resisted (Rom 6: 12,14;13:14) through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The nature of sin is best described as anything that offends, violates or contradicts God’s character, or holiness. Sin is willful rebellion against God and His just and righteous commands. The Bible says this about sin: “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (Jas 4: 17). Sin is more than just a single wrong act; it is the natural disposition of the sinner (Gen 6:5; Matt 7:17,18; Rom 1:18-32). Therefore, man must be “born again”, and given a new nature (John 3:7; 2 Cor 5:17).
- The penalty for sin is death (Rom 6:23). This means three kinds of death:
Being spiritually dead while still physically alive (Eph 2: 1-5);
- A literal, physical death and then the judgment (Heb 9:27);
- Eternal death, the separation of the human spirit from God for This last death is called the “second death” (Rev 21:8; read Matthew 25:41).
As already mentioned, sin is universal to all mankind (Ps 143:2; Isa 53:6; Rom 3:10-12; 1 John 1:8). “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). But God, in His great mercy, is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). Therefore, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, Who “died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died.for them and rose again” (2 Cor 5:15).
4. The Doctrine of Jesus Christ – His Person and Work
The Person of Jesus Christ – and the work accomplished by Him as the Founder of the Church – is central to the Christian faith. Christianity is NOT just another belief system, a list of moral codes, or a set of mysterious “revelations”. True Christian faith is based upon and inseparable from our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. Therefore, having an accurate and thorough understanding of Christ’s Person and work is essential.
A. Jesus Christ’s Person
- Jesus Christ’s Virgin Birth (Matt 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38; 2:1-35; John 1:14;Gal 4:4).
The virgin birth of Jesus was prophesied in the Old Testament (Isa 7:14) as a sign of the Messiah’s arrival. The virgin birth of Jesus Christ is critical and foundational to His Person and work, and therefore to all of New Testament theology.
If Jesus had been born of a natural, human father, He would have inherited the sinful Adamic nature of the human race (Rom 5:12-21). Thus, He would not have been sinless. If Christ had not been sinless, His atoning death on the Cross would have been invalid: He would have died for His own sins and thus would not have been able to be the sinless sacrifice for all humanity (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 7:26,27; 1 Pet 1:18,19).
If Jesus did not have a virgin birth, it would mean that He is not God born in the flesh. Therefore, He could not return as the King of kings and Lord of Lords (Rev 1:17,18; 17:14; 19:16).
Without His virgin birth, Jesus Christ could have been nothing more than a well-intended but misguided and mentally unstable religious zealot. All of His claims about His deity, His death, His subsequent resurrection from the dead, and God’s unfolding revelation as to His Kingdom, would be invalid without the fact that Jesus Christ was God born of a virgin.
2. Jesus Christ’s Humanity
Jesus shared in the burdens, weaknesses, temptations and limitations of being born “in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:7; read also Hebrews 2:14,17,18). He became fully human, yet was without sin (Heb 4:15) .
- was born an infant (Luke 2:7);
- grew up after the manner of all children (Luke 2:39-51);
- grew up physically, intellectually and socially through childhood to adulthood (Luke 2:52); hungered for food and thirsted (Matt 4:2; John 4:7) ;
- experienced weariness (John 4:6); needed sleep (Matt 8:24);
- felt sorrow and grief; wept (Luke 19:41; John 11:35);
- physically died (John 19:33);
- was physically resurrected from the dead as the “firstfruits ” (1 Cor 15:20-23) prefiguring the resurrection of all believers in Christ (Matt 28 :1-8; Luke 24:36-43; John 20:24-29 ; 1 Cor 15:4-7).
3. Jesus Christ’s Divinity (Deity)
False religions and cults seek to deny that Christ was and is fully God.
Some false religions or cults acknowledge that Christ was a real, historical person – but they deny that He is God. Other groups teach that Christ was a “spirit-being” who “worked his way” to “godhood”, and claim that other people can do the same through their “good works”. Many bound in false religions consider Jesus to be a mystic or great teacher; but they do not accept what Jesus, the Son of God, actually taught.
Any religion, person or teaching that denies that Jesus Christ is fully God is false and in error.
There can be no doubt from the biblical record that Jesus was – and is – God. By contrast, the founders of other religions are considered significant by their followers because of their teachings. However, none of them ever claimed to be God; nor did they perform the kind of works that would prove such a claim to be true. Only Jesus Christ has made this claim and proved it through His life, ministry, teachings, sacrificial death, and subsequent resurrection.
It is important to remember that Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, was not created by God. Rather, Jesus Christ:
- Is part of the Trinity, and is coeternal and coexistent with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit (John 1:1,2; Acts 5:3-4; 2 Cor 3: 17,18);
- Is eternal (Mic 5:2);
- Was before Abraham (John 8:58);
- Was active at the creation of the universe (John 1:1-3; Col 1:16,17; Heb 1:2,10);
- Existed before that creation (John 17:5,24);
- Continues forever (Heb 1:8,11; Isa 9:6; Rev 1:11);
- Is unchanging (Heb 13:8);
- Is ever-present with us (Matt 28:20).
BIBLICAL PROOF THAT JESUS CHRIST IS LORD
During His earthly ministry, Jesus Christ claimed to be God (John 5:18; 8:58; 10:30). Mark 2:5-12 reveals that Jesus forgave a paralytic’s sins; then, to prove that He had the right and power to do so as God, Jesus Christ healed him. Jesus Christ gives eternal life (John 10:28). He gives His disciples power to perform miracles (Matt 10:1, 8). Jesus declared that He and the Father are One (John 10:30). The Jews clearly understood that Christ claimed to be God (John 10:31-33); this was the reason for their negative, hostile reaction to His claim.
Jesus Christ said that He and God the Father are identical in character, purpose and mission (John 14:9). He did the works of His Father (John 5:17; 10:3,38) and demonstrated authority over nature (Mark 4:35-41). Jesus Christ knew the thoughts of people (Mark 2:8; Luke 6:8; John 2:23-25). He had the power of life and death (John 6:63; Luke 7:11-17; John 11:1-44). He also taught His followers to pray in His Name (John 16:23,24). Jesus received worship (Matt 2:2,11; 14:33;28:9,10,17; John 9:38; Heb 1:6), knowing that God alone is to be worshiped (Ex 34:14; Matt 4:10). Jesus received worship because He is truly God!
JESUS CHRIST: FULLY GOD AND FULLY MAN
The New Testament affirms that Jesus is God. Jesus is described as: “the brightness of His [God’s] glory and the express image of His [God’s] person” (Heb 1:3); the “image of the invisible God ” (Col 1:15) with “all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” dwelling in Him (Col 2:9).
Jesus and God the Father are One (John 10:30). The Greek language in this verse indicates that They are one in substance but not the same Person; this sup¬ports the theology of the Trinity.
Jesus is called “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2: 13); “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28); and “God …manifested in the flesh” (1 Tim 3:16). Christ also possessed – and demonstrated by His life, ministry and sacrificial death – the character of God. Christ’s moral attributes include:
- Love – John 3:16; 13:34; 15:12,13; Rom 8:35
- Truth – John 8:31-36; 14:6; Rev 3:7
- Servanthood – Matt 20:25-28; John 13:13-17; Phil 2:5-8
- Holiness – Luke 1:35; Acts 4:27,30; Heb 7:26; Rev 3:7
- Righteousness – Rom 5: 17-21; 2 Tim 4:8; 1 John 2:1,29; 3:7
It is abundantly clear that the Scriptures teach that Jesus Christ was and is God. He was both fully man and fully God at the same time. Other religions acknowledge Christ’s existence, but attempt to deny His deity and do not believe what the Bible so clearly teaches about Him. Any teaching that denies Who Jesus Christ is according to the Bible is heretical – and must be rejected.
B. Jesus Christ’s Work
As stated, Jesus affirmed His Divine nature when He said, “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30). The Jews’ reaction clearly reveals that they understood the implications of Jesus’ statement – He was claiming to be God (10:31,33).
But Jesus did not just claim to be God, even though that was and is true. He validated (proved the reliability of) His claim by the works He did. He repeatedly told His listeners that (a) His works were of God and (b) His works proved that He was/is God. “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him ” (John 10:37,38; see also John 5:17,36; 9:4; 10:25; 14:10,11; 15:24).
1. His Ministry
Jesus, in His earthly ministry:
- healed the sick, blind and deaf;
- raised the dead; cast out demons;
- supernaturally fed the hungry;
- thwarted the devil;
- confronted the religiously self-righteous;
- taught repentance from sins and forgave sins;
- revealed the loving heart and character of God the Father in both His Person and His teaching.
2. The Cross
Death and eternal separation from God are the consequences of man’s sin. However, Jesus Christ “wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us …[and has] taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col 2:14). By dying on the Cross as a sinless sacrifice for mankind, Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sin and reconciled us back to God. [For more on the Cross, see the “Salvation” doctrine.]
3. His Resurrection
The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ after His death is a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (Ps 16:10; Acts 2:31). But more than that, it is foundational to faith in Christ for salvation (Rom 10:9, 10). Paul affirms that the Christian faith is based on the truth of the resurrection of Christ.
Read 1 Corinthians 15:14-19. If the resurrection of Jesus Christ were not a fact, then:
- the apostle ‘s preaching would be in vain (v.14);
- the faith of the believers in Corinth (and the faith of all Christians) would be in vain (v.14);
- the apostles and others ‘would be false witnesses (v.15);
- the Corinthian church (and all Christians) would still be in their sins (v.17);
- those who have died believing in Christ would be without salvation (v.18);
- Christians would be of all men the most miserable (v.19).
The literal, physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is a key component of the Gospel (1 Cor 15:4; 2 Tim 2:8; also, see “What Is The Gospel?”).
The resurrection of Christ stands alone in its importance and uniqueness in all of history.
The following scriptural facts help us understand the implications of Christ’s resurrection for every believer:
- Jesus Christ was truly and completely dead physically. He did not just faint, nor was He in a temporary coma (Mark 15:44,45; John 19:33-35; Rev 1:18).
- Jesus Christ was bodily resurrected; the resurrected Christ was OT a disembodied spirit or an apparition (Luke 24:36,39,41-45; Ps 16:10; Acts 2:31).
- Jesus Christ, after His resurrection, was seen in His physical body by many witnesses (Luke 24:30- 36; John 20: 19,26; Acts 1:3,2 1,22; 1 Cor 15:3-8).
- Jesus Christ’s resurrection was unique in that He would never die again (Acts 13:34; Rom 6:9,10; 2 Tim 1:10; Rev 1:18). There have been other people miraculously resurrected from the dead (e.g., John 11:1-44), but each of these goes on to die a physical death at the end of their life on
- Jesus Christ’s resurrection proves His claim to Deity (Matt 12:38-40; John 2:18-22; Rom 1:4).
- Jesus Christ’s resurrection shows that His sacrifice on the Cross was accepted by God the Father (Rom 4:25; Heb 9:23-28; 10:11-14).
JESUS IS ALIVE!
Jesus Christ died on the Cross for our sins, then was resurrected on the third day. The following facts could be true ONLY of a living Savior Who is presently and eternally reigning in power and glory:
- Christ is Head over all things to the Church (Eph 1:19-23);
- Christ is our High Priest, representing the heavenly Father to us, and representing us to God the Father (Rom 8:27; Heb 2:17; 3:1; 4:14,15; 5:5-11; 6:20; 7:25, 26; 9:11);
- Christ has given spiritual gifts to the Church (Eph 4:8-13);
- Christ, as “the first born from the dead “(Col 1:18), guarantees for all believers a physical resurrection at His second coming, and the same for the rest of humanity at Judgment Day(Acts 17:31; 26 :23; Rom 8:11; 1 Cor 15:20-24,50-52; Phil 3:7- 11; Col 1:18; Rev 20:11- 15). [For more about the final resurrections, see “Doctrine of Last Things”.]
“But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the first fruits pf those who have fallen asleep (died]” (1 Cor 15:20). Hallelujah! Christ is risen! Thus, through every toil, sorrow and tribulation, believers may be confident and joyful – knowing that Christ has conquered death, we are triumphant, and we will rise and reign with Him victorious throughout eternity!
4. The Doctrine of Salvation
Because false religions and cults deny that Christ is God, they also completely reject the fact that Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross provided for mankind’s full salvation.
Of all the glorious works of our Savior, Christ’s death on the Cross in mankind’s place is of supreme importance. In one single act, Christ “wiped out the handwriting [certificate of debt] of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross ” (Col 2:14).”That through [His] death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through f ear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb 2:14, 15).
The Cross was not an accident or after thought! God purposed and foreordained His plan of salvation from the moment of man’s fall in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3: 14,15; Acts 2:23,24). Death and eternal separation from a loving God was the consequence of man’s sin. However, God, because of His great love, planned a way for the price to be paid for sin so that mankind would not be separated from Him forever.
The focus of this divine plan was in the Person of Jesus Christ and His substitutionary sacrifice of His life for ours. Christ did for us at the Cross what we could never do. By dying on the Cross for us, Jesus took on the penalty we ourselves deserve. His death paid the ransom for our sin and allowed us to be restored back to God. Hallelujah!
All other religions attempt to gain credibility by pointing to the teachings of their founders. Christianity goes well beyond, because of the supreme importance of the teachings AND the death and resurrection of the Founder!
Without Christ’s death and resurrection as the incarnated God/man, Christianity would be nothing more than rules and rituals – just another religion. But because of Christ’s death, we have eternal salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord! By His death on the Cross, Christ made it possible for man to be reconciled to God: “… Who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 5:18; see also Romans 5: 10; Ephesians 2:16). Christ’s substitution for mankind on the Cross satisfies for all time the demands of God’s justice and Law in regard to our sin. To simply illustrate this reconciliation, imagine God and man standing and facing each other at creation. When Adam sinned, he chose to turn his back toward God. Then God, Who cannot condone sin, had to turn His back to Adam. Christ’s death satisfied the requirements of a holy God, so God turned back to face man. Now the choice is man’s to accept Christ’s sacrifice and salvation and thus “turn around” (repent) to face God again in relationship.
Jesus Christ’s sacrifice was foreshadowed in type by the Levitical sacrifices commanded in the Old Testament. The animal to be sacrificed for sin had to be perfect, without blemish (Lev 9:2,3). This was a fore¬ type of the sinless and perfect Lamb of God, Who would come to earth to give His life as a ransom for our sin (Matt 20:28; John 1:29). His death was necessary (Lev 17:11; Heb 9:22) because the penalty for sin is death (Ezek 18:4,20).
A sinner cannot be forgiven only on the basis of his or her repentance. God can forgive only when the penalty for sin has been paid and His justice has been satisfied. Christ paid that penalty for our sins at the Cross. This allowed God, Who is righteous and just, to forgive us based on om repentance and our faith in Christ.
Christ’s death provided a covering over (or atonement) of the guilt of the sinner, making the sin invisible to the eyes of a Holy God. This concept of God no longer recognizing our sin is conveyed in Isaiah 38:17: “For You have cast all my sins behind Your back.” (Read also Psalm 51:9; 103:12; Isaiah 43:25; Micah 2:19.)
Jesus Christ’s substitutionary atonement has satisfied God’s justice, freeing God to be merciful in offering us the free gift of salvation (Rom 6:23) by grace through faith in Christ (Eph 2:8).
WHY ARE NOT ALL SAVED?
Scripture clearly teaches that Christ died for all humanity, not for just a privileged few (read John 1:29; 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:6; 4:10; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 2:9;2 Peter 3:9; 1 John 2:2). The question might then arise, “If Christ died for everyone, why then are not all saved?” The answer to this question is quite simple.
Yes, Christ died and made payment with His own blood for the sins of all mankind. But in order to receive and enjoy the benefits of this “paid-in-full” salvation, each person must believe in and receive Christ and His work for himself or herself personally.
All can be saved by Christ’s sacrifice – and God desires that none would perish without salvation (2 Pet 3:9). However, in order to be saved, it requires an individual decision by each person to believe in Christ (John 3:16).
This truth is reinforced in Romans 10:9, 10: “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation”. Christ’s provision of salvation must be believed and received personally and individually by faith. That is why we must share the Good News of the Gospel with others (Rom 10:14; see also John 1:12; 3:16).
GOD’S GRACIOUS PROVISION
Since Christ died for all people everywhere – and since it is necessary to personally receive His salvation- what happens to those who die in infancy?
Those who die before they are mentally able to make a moral choice to either accept or reject Christ’s offer of salvation are covered by Christ’s atoning work at the Cross. The sin of rejecting God and His provision of salvation through Jesus Christ is not possible for an infant or a very young child.
At some point in a child’s mental, emotional and spiritual development, he or she becomes able to make a conscious choice to believe and receive salvation through Christ. Different children may reach this point at different ages.
Therefore, it is very important that churches provide for teaching, ministry to, and even evangelism for children in a language and way they can understand. Children can be saved; they are also capable of worshipping, praying, learning Scripture, and even ministering to others. Each child should certainly be taught how to function as part of a church body and how to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ (Matt 18:1-6; 19:13- 15).
In this matter of salvation for those who are mentally unable to make the decision to receive Christ, let us give thanks that we have a merciful and loving heavenly Father, of Whom we may proclaim, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen 18:25).
5. The Doctrine of the Church
In Matthew 16:16, Peter declares that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus responds with, “Blessed are you … And I also say to you that you are Peter [Greek petros, small pebble] and on this rock [Greek petra, bedrock] I will build My Church” (Matt 16:17,18).
With this statement, Jesus proclaims that the Church will be built upon Jesus’ Divine Person – upon the bedrock of Peter’s confession that Jesus is truly the Son of the Living God! The Church will not be built upon any ordinary person or system of church government. The government of the Kingdom of God, which includes the Church, is upon Jesus Christ’s shoulders (Isa 9:6-7; Mark 12:10; 1 Cor 3:11; Eph 1:22; 5:23,24; Col 1:18).
What is “the Church”? The Greek word for “Church” is ekklesia, which means “the called out ones”. It describes a group of people called out for a special purpose. In New Testament usage, the word “church” refers to those who have been “born again” (John 3:3, 5), those we call saved.
To better understand what the Church is, let us first look at some things the Church is not:
- The Church is not one particular denomination. Some denominational groups claim that only their members are the true Church. This is false and cannot be supported from the Bible, especially in light of how the New Testament defines “church”. Though there are various denominations with differing emphases, the Bible warns against divisiveness (1 Cor 1:11-17) and exhorts us to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:16). All those who truly believe in and receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are part of His Church!
- The Church is not a social club or any other kind of civic group or organization. The Church was divinely begun (Matt 16:18) and exists to fulfill the will of the Founder, Jesus Christ (Matt 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; Eph 3:10; 1 Tim 3:15). The primary purposes of the Church are: to preach and teach the Word of God, making disciples; to exalt the Name of Jesus and God the Father through worship and in prayer; to serve the practical needs of the surrounding community; to carry out a consistent program of missions and evangelism to the whole world.
- The Church is not a building. The word ekklesia is always used in the New Testament to indicate people (believers). There were no special buildings for the use of Christian gatherings until three hundred years after the Church began! As time passed, it became convenient to call the buildings in which Christians gathered “churches”. But a Church is the people who gather, not the building they gather in.
Essentially, the true Church of Jesus Christ is the Body of His “called out” people: Those called out from a life of sinful self-service and death, to live in the blessedness of a loving relationship with God the Father both now and through eternity. The true Church is made up of those who have sincerely put their trust in Christ for salvation (John 3:3-6; 1 Cor 12:13; Heb 12:23). Just attending a church service, or holding a position or title in a church or denomination, does not make a person saved or part of the Body of Christ (His Church). Being truly born again (John 3:3,5) – and having the transforming work of the Spirit of God active in one’s life (Titus 3:5) – is what qualifies one to be part of the Church, the Body of Christ.
The Church can be viewed in two ways:
- First, as the universal Church, which consists of all those who have been born again of the Spirit of God and baptized into the Body of Christ by that same Holy Spirit (John 1:13; 1 Pet 1:22-25; 1 Cor 12:13).
- Second, as the local church, which is any group of believers in Jesus Christ who are gathered in a local setting to celebrate their hope and salvation through Christ and to grow as disciples (Matt 18:20). Examples in Scripture include: the churches in Asia (Rev 1:4); in Galatia (Gal 1:2); in Corinth (1 Cor 1:2); in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1); at Ephesus (Acts 20:17); in homes (Acts 2:46,47); and many more.
Each local church is to reflect the character of Christ, the Head of the Church; each local church is to mature into fulfilling all of God’s will and purpose (Eph 4:1-16).
6. The Doctrine of Last Things
The “end times” is a large subject that is often controversial. There are many books, charts, plans and opinions one can study. The Bible does not tell us everything about the last days, and because of this there is much speculation about end-time events. However, the Scriptures do reveal very clearly truths that are without question, and that we know will happen.
These key truths are of great importance to us as Christians. They also have profound implications for those caught in false religions and cults.
For the purposes of this study, there are four very important and clearly revealed scriptural truths regarding the end times that need to be understood:
A. The Literal Return of Jesus Christ (The Second Coming)
The Bible makes very clear that Jesus Christ will come back to earth! Acts 1:9 records that Jesus (after His resurrection) physically went up into Heaven while His disciples watched. Suddenly, angels appeared to them and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, Who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:10,11).
Jesus, during His earthly ministry, also promised His disciples that He would return (Matt 24:30; 26:63,64; Mark 13:33-36; Luke 19:11-27; John 14:3).
The first apostles taught extensively on the Second Coming of Christ. Peter preaches about Christ’s return (Acts 3:19-21); rebukes those who scoff at it (2 Pet 3:3,4); and stresses the unexpected nature of Christ’s return (2 Pet 3:8-10).
The Apostle Paul’s writings are filled with references to Christ’s Second Coming (1 Cor 15:51,52; Phil 3:20,21; 1 Thess 4:16,17; 2 Thess 1:7-10; Titus 2: 13). James tells us to be patient for Christ’s coming (Jas 5:7,8). The writer of Hebrews refers to it twice (Heb 9:28; 10:37). John gives several references to Christ’s personal and public return (1 John 2:28; 3:2,3; Rev 1:7; 22: 12).
Scripture records that many events will take place in the final days. It is not stated, however, at what point during those events Jesus Christ will gloriously return to earth. Yet it is enough for us to know that Jesus Christ will return according to God’s perfect plan (Mark 13:32; Acts 1:7). Be assured that our Savior loves us eternally and has promised, “I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3) and “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18)
B. The Two Resurrections
In the Gospel of John, Jesus states: “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28,29). In the last days there will be two resurrections.
THE FIRST RESURRECTION
The first resurrection will be for those Christians who have already died. Then immediately following will be the taking up of those believers in Christ who are still alive. “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess 4:17; see also 1 Corinthians 15:50-53). These events are all part of the first resurrection. The first resurrection will occur at Jesus Christ’s Second Coming: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess 4:16).and will include all the saints (redeemed ones, believers) who have ever lived; this is the “resurrection of life” mentioned in John 5:29.
THE SECOND RESURRECTION
The second resurrection will take place just before the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev 20:4-13). This second resurrection will be for all the rest of the dead who will be raised for the “resurrection to condemnaTion” (John 5:29).
C. The Judgment
Hebrews 9:27 states, “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” This and other Scripture verses (Gen 3:19; 1 Cor 15:22; 2 Cor 5:10; Rev 20:13) make clear that there is one death, and then judgment for all.
There are no endless cycles of reincarnation, no earning the way to various levels of heaven by good behavior, no “holding places” of decision. Each person will die but once; and each person will then face judgment after his or her death
Every person will face the almighty and all-know¬ing Creator God, Who will judge every life on its own merit. Just as there are two resurrections, there will be two judgments:
THE JUDGMENT OF BELIEVERS IN JESUS CHRIST
Believers in Christ will NOT be judged according to their sins. The judgment for sin that believers deserve, along with its necessary punishment, was already laid upon Christ at the Cross! Jesus Christ fulfilled the judgment and penalty for sin that should have been ours (Isa 53:5,6,10; John 5:24; 2 Cor 5:21). Repentance from sin and belief in Jesus Christ allow believers to receive this great salvation!
For the sins we commit in this life after we have come to know Christ as our Savior, we are convicted by the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:5- 13; Gal 5:16-25) and disciplined by the Lord (1 Cor 5:5; 11:32; Heb 12:7). When we repent and confess our sin to God, we are forgiven through Christ’s atoning blood – of the sins we commit (1 John 1:9).
Believers will be required to give an account for – and will be judged on – the deeds they have done or not done while on earth (1 Cor 3:12- 15; 2 Cor 5:10). We are not saved by our works, as we have already studied. However, each believer in Christ will be judged as to the use made of the life and possessions God gave him or her.
Believers will be judged in the following areas:
- “As stewards of the mysteries of God” that are now revealed (which are the Gospel and the plan of salvation). What did we do with what we knew and under¬stood of Christ? (Col 1:24-29). Were we faithful to His revelation? (1 Cor 4:1-5).
- The use of the gifts, talents, abilities and opportunities given by God. Were these used to build up the Body of Christ and reach out to the world? (Matt 5: 14-30; Luke 19:11-27).
- The use of the material resource that God gives. Did our money and possessions help to further God’s Kingdom purposes, or were they used only for satisfying our own desires? (Matt 6:19-21; 2 Cor 8:8- 15; 9:6-15).
- The use of every opportunity to preach the Gospel and thereby fulfill Christ’s last command – the Great Commission. Did you freely share your faith and testimony with anyone who would listen? Did you do your best to support and assist with evangelism and missions? (Matt 28:18-20; Rom 10:14; Col 1:28; 2 Tim 4:1,2).
- The use of every resource available to reach out to a needy world around. Did we: “do good to all people” (Gal 6:10); show hospitality (Matt 25:35; Heb 13:2); care for the sick and imprisoned (Matt 25 :34-40); take care of widows and orphans (Jas 1:27)? Even a cup of cold water given in Jesus’ name has its reward (Matt 10:42).
- The enduring of suffering and tribulation that comes to believers because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Did we remain faithful to Jesus Christ and His Gospel message in spite of hardship or persecution? There will be reward in this life and in eternity for those who endure and remain faithful (Matt 5:11,12; Luke 6:22,23; 2 Tim 2:3,12; Jas 1:12; 1 Pet 2:20; 3:14,17; 4:15-19).
STRICTER JUDGMENT FOR LEADERS
Leaders in the Body of Christ will receive a stricter judgment because they have a greater privilege and therefore a greater responsibility to lead the flock of God.
- A leader’s teaching will be judged (Eccl 5:1-3; Jas 3:1).
- A leader’s life is to be an example of Christlikeness and godliness (Phil 3:17; 1 Tim 3:1-13; 4:12-16; Titus 2:7,8).
- A leader’s obedience to the Word and to the promptings and conviction of the Holy Spirit is of utmost importance. God is not as interested in our great programs, buildings or self-efforts as He is in our obedience to all He asks and requires (1 Sam 15:22,23).
This is by no means a complete list of biblical standards for church leaders. But it serves as a reminder that, as His word attests, God is VERY concerned about our character. He cares more about what we are becoming in our obedience to Him, than about any works we might do (Matt 7:22). God desires that we be shaped more and more into the image of Christ, growing in discipleship and obedience, and serving as a good example to those we lead (2 Cor 3:18; Phil 3:12; 2 Thess 3:6-9; 1 Tim 4:12 ; 1 Pet 5:2,3).
THE JUDGMENT OF NON-BELIEVERS IN JESUS CHRIST
Although mentioned in several places in the Bible, the judgment of non-believers in Jesus Christ is best explained in Revelation 20:11-15. This is referred to as the Great White Throne Judgment. According to Scripture, this judgment will take place after the 1000- year Millennium, following the second resurrection (Rev 20:4-13).
Those who have died in Christ (believers) will have already been resurrected at the first resurrection. This second resurrection is to bring all of those who have ever lived – and those living on earth at the time of the second resurrection – before the throne of God to receive their judgment.
There are seven principles found in Romans 2: 1-16 that form the basis of this judgment upon the unbeliever. This judgment of God is:
- according to truth (not imaginations) – 2;
- according to accumulated guilt – 5;
- according to their deeds (absolute justice) – v.6;
- without partiality toward anyone – 11;
- according to obedience to – and not simply the knowledge of – God and His Word – vs.12,13;
- by Jesus Christ, Who is appointed by God to judge the world – 16 (cf. Acts 10:38-43; 17 :29-31);
- according to the Gospel of eternal salvation as a free gift by the grace of God through faith in Christ
Scripture seems to indicate that there will be degrees of punishment at the judgment (Luke 12:41-48). But regardless of the punishment, every person that dies without Christ will be separated from God completely. This absolute separation from the Person of God and from every trace of His great love, grace, goodness and kindness will last for an eternity (Matt 25:46; Luke 16:19-31, esp. v.26; Rev 14:11); this is the worst possible consequence of non-belief in Christ.
This very fact of the final judgment and eternal separation from God that awaits unbelievers should stir us with compassion for those who do not know Jesus Christ as their Savior. Christ has already paid the price to save them from that dreadful judgment. This is the Good News of the Gospel message – that all who receive Christ and His sacrifice can be saved from eternal damnation!
All those who die without Christ are held in Hades, the place of the dead (Rev 20: 13). They are kept there until the second resurrection. There will be no more opportunity for a decision for Christ once a person has died. At the second resurrection, the unbelieving dead will be raised to stand before the Great White Throne in the presence of God to receive their eternal judgment. They will then be cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:15) along with Satan, his demon angels, the false prophet and the beast (Matt 25:41; Rev 19:20;20:10).
D. Eternal Life
“And these [the wicked] will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt 25:46). There are many, many Bible verses about the unending duration of life after death, too many to list here.
The Greek word, aion, and its derivative, aionios, are used almost two hundred times in the New Testament. Both of these words convey the idea of “duration without end”.
There is one eternal destiny for the unrighteous – those who have rejected Christ or never heard and responded to the Gospel. There is a very different eternal destiny for the righteous – those made righteous through faith in Christ (Eph 2:8,9), receiving the free gift of salvation made possible by His payment for sin.
1) Eternity for the Unrighteous
The eternity appointed for those who die unsaved (the unrighteous):
- complete separation from God (Luke 13:25,28);
- everlasting punishment (Matt 25:46; 2 Thess 1:9);
- everlasting contempt (Dan 12:2);
- unquenchable fire (Matt 9:43,45; Jude 7; Rev 20:10);
- a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 13:42,50);
- consignment to outer darkness (Matt 8:12; 22:13; 2 Pet 2:17; Jude 13);
- the wrath of God (Rom 2:5,8-9; 1 Thess 1:10);
- everlasting torment (Rev 14:10,11);
- punishment in accordance to their works (2 Cor 11:14,15; 2 Tim 4:14; Rev 22:12);
- eternal destruction or ruin (2 Thess 1:8,9; 2 Pet 3:7);
- the second death (Rev 20:14; 21:8).
An eternity without Christ would be a terrible destiny indeed. We must heed Paul’s exhortation when he declares, “Him [Jesus Christ] we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect [complete] in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor striving according to His working which works in me mightily” (Col 1:28,29). And to Timothy, “Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering and teaching” (2 Tim 4:2).
Though all people have sinned (Rom 3:23) and deserve eternal punishment; God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). Thank God for His indescribable free gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ! (Rom 6:23). By God’s grace and Christ’s sacrifice, we are saved from eternal damnation and have been given this message of salvation and reconciliation to give to the world (2 Cor 5:19,20).
2) Eternity for the Righteous
For the believer in Christ Jesus, eternity is radically different than it is for the unbeliever.
The eternity appointed for those who die saved (the righteous):
- upon the moment of death, the believer is present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:6-8; Phil 1:21,23);
- eternal life (1 John 5:11,12);
- the mortal shall put on immortality, and death shall be no more (1 Cor 15:50-58);
- full transformation into the image of Jesus (Rom 8:29; 2 Cor 3:18; 1 John 3:2);
- the end of suffering, pain, sorrow and death (Rev 21:4);
- continuance of our personal identity in Heaven:
- Our names, which fire written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, signify personal identity (Luke 10:20; Phil 4:3);
- Our bodies will be resurrected or raptured, signifying God’s redemption of the whole person — body, soul and spirit (1 Thess 4:16,17);
- We will be recognizable in Heaven, only without sin’s presence to warp Christ’s image in us (1 John 3:2).
With such a glorious future ahead for the believer, let us follow the admonition of the Scriptures: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor 15:58). Hallelujah!