Is it important for building contractors to have a master plan before they begin construction of a building? Does an orchestra need to have a full musical score before they begin a performance? Does a SWAT team need to have a master plan before they storm a building? Does someone who writes computer code need to know the final outcome they desire before they begin creating a new program? We could go on all day asking these kinds of questions, but the answer in all cases is a resounding YES! If you do not know the big picture from the beginning, no matter what you are doing, you will make all kinds of mistakes and create problems for all who follow.
This principle also applies to our lives as Christians. If we want to effectively interact with people in our society who live by other worldviews, we must certainly understand the various worldview possibilities that we are confronting. But it is not enough to know what the others are and why they are not the truth. We must also have a strong grasp of our own beliefs. After all, how can we share our faith with others if we don’t know its message? We must grasp the big picture.
In a short article like this, it is not possible to go into great detail about this topic. There are other venues where it is possible to give mote complete explanations. It is possible, though, to lay out the big picture. And that is our purpose here. If we really desire to grasp the big picture of our Christian faith, there are three categories we must master. First, we must understand who God is and what he is like. He is the beginning point of everything. Secondly, we must know the story of our faith – from start to finish. Finally, we must grasp the practical implications of the story for daily life, master the skills for implementing those implications, and actually begin practicing them in life. Let’s take a brief look at these three essentials in order to grasp the big picture of our Christian faith.
A General Understanding of God
There are several characteristics of God that can be described in a general sense. We know from Scripture that there is only one living and true God whose essential self is spirit and who exists as a Trinity. We know that he is eternal, he is a person and is personal, and that he is characterized by such attributes as spirit, knowledge, creativity, personality, free will, eternalness, dominion and self-consciousness. For his own purposes, God created the material universe and is actively involved in keeping it going. Further, God has revealed himself to be perfect in every way.
In addition to this general understanding of God, he has revealed the Trinitarian nature of his personhood. This is expressed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
God the Father
As Father, God has revealed himself through his creative power and in the way he maintains order in the material universe. By observing the natural universe we can see that he is a God of order and that he expresses himself through the mechanism of cause and effect. We can also recognize his creativity and concern for the created order.
God also displays his fatherly attributes in his relationship to mankind. This does not mean that every human being is related to him in a father-child relationship. But there is the potential for individual humans to actually enter into a personal relationship with God.
God as Jesus Christ
As Jesus Christ, God revealed himself in human flesh. Though he is often referred to in the New Testament as the Son of God or the Son of Man, Jesus is, in his essence, God. But though he was God, he was also fully human. Jesus’ conception in Mary’s womb was supernatural, but he was physically born in the land of Israel. His death came about by execution on a Roman cross as a common criminal.
God’s purpose in becoming a human being and living a life on earth was twofold.
First, it was a way for him to reveal himself in a visible and tangible way to mankind. Since God, in his essence is spirit, it is impossible for humans, who are confined to the material world, to understand everything about him. By becoming a human being, God was able to provide a concrete understanding of his character and his expectations.
Secondly, Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection from the dead provided the means for mankind to overcome the bondage of sin and death. As human beings, our sin against God causes us to deserve eternal separation from him. By his death and resurrection, Christ paid the penalty for our spiritual crimes, demonstrated his authority to offer forgiveness, and presented us with the opportunity to receive that forgiveness.
On the third day after his death, Jesus was bodily raised from the dead. Then, after 40 days of appearances to his followers, he rose to heaven and was elevated to the right hand of God where he now serves as the intermediary between man and God. One day he will return to the earth in all of his power and glory to judge the world.
God as the Holy Spirit
The third expression of God is the Holy Spirit. In this form, God is able to interact with each individual human being on a direct and personal basis, all at the same time.
The Holy Spirit is not a separate entity from the Father and from Jesus Christ, though he is a separate personality. In the form of the Holy Spirit, God inspired men to write Scripture, and continues to inspire individuals as they read that same Scripture in order to help them understand the truth contained within it. He also works personally and directly in the lives of individual human beings and causes them to recognize their need for a relationship with himself.
II. The Story of Our Faith
The beginning of the Christian story has its roots in the creation of mankind. Before God created man in his own image, there were no created beings which fit into this category. At some point, God made the decision to create another class of being which would have the characteristics of personhood and be capable of sharing a personal relationship with him.
In order to accommodate that purpose, God began by creating the material universe where this new being would live. Before that, there was no such thing as the material reality that we now know. So, God created it out of nothing.
Within that material universe God created one place which was capable of sustaining the physical life of this new creature that he would create. When this place was ready for man, it was a literal paradise. It was God’s purpose that he and man would physically enjoy one another’s company eternally in this place.
Out of his purpose, and when the earth was ready, God created mankind in his own image with the personhood attributes of God, himself. This included such things as the ability to be self-aware, creativity, the ability to have knowledge, free will, and the like.
In the beginning, mankind was perfect. There was no sin and no sin nature to pollute the new creation that God had established. At that time, God and man physically interacted with one another on the physical earth without interference.
The concept of the fall gets to the very heart of why human beings are separated from God. It also gives us an understanding of our own human nature and the nature of the material universe.
The relationship that God had with the first man and woman was completely unhindered. They enjoyed perfect fellowship as they lived together in the earthly paradise that God had created.
Unfortunately, there came a time when Adam and Eve willfully disobeyed God and did the one thing that could break fellowship with him. The thought to disobey was not their own, however. On that fateful day, Satan took the form of a beautiful serpent and tempted the humans to disobey God. This fact does not take away from the guilt of Adam and Eve for their disobedience. They could have made the choice to obey God, but they didn’t.
The result of this act introduced evil into paradise and created a situation where the paradise itself was destined for destruction. God cannot live in the presence of sin, and the introduction of evil caused the destruction of the unrestricted relationship that Adam and Eve had enjoyed with God.
But the result was even more widespread. As it turned out, sin is not just a spiritual concept that affects humanity. It literally penetrates the entirety of the material universe that God had originally created as a perfect paradise. The fall had a spiritual root but it resulted in catastrophic physical manifestations.
Life After the Fall
Since entering the world, sin has become the primary principle which rules the universe. The ultimate outcome is that it broke the perfect creation which God had made.
The first result was that it created a separation between man and God. One of the primary characteristics of God is that he is holy – without moral blemish. The nature of this holiness is such that he is not able to dwell in the presence of sin: that which is unholy. So, when the first humans opened the door and allowed sin to enter their being, God was no longer able to remain present with them in the same way.
But sin not only became a part of the fabric of human existence, it penetrated the very created order itself. The physical result of this entry of sin was to make the earth, indeed the entire physical universe, subject to decay and degradation.
The fix, though, was not something that would happen at the snap of a finger. God designed it to be something that would work itself out through a historical process which would accomplish the purpose for which he had originally created it.
For mankind specifically, the entry of sin into the world created two problems. The first problem that was introduced was physical death. The second problem that emerged was spiritual death – eternal separation from God. To solve this sin problem, God created a plan of salvation whereby a substitute could stand in for the individuals who deserved to personally bear the penalty for their own sin. This plan was initiated immediately after the fall and gradually unfolded until its ultimate fulfillment when Jesus Christ became the valid sacrifice for the sin of mankind.
In the fallen world, Satan has a powerful influence. He is a personal presence in the world and is the very father of sin. He not only got the sin ball rolling, he is active in keeping it going by using every trick he can to entice individual human beings to follow him and rebel from God. Mankind will continue to struggle with this until the time is fulfilled for God to end the time of fallenness.
When God saw that Satan had invaded his creation and injected the sin virus in an attempt to destroy it, God could have made the choice to destroy the world and start over. However, rather than allow that Satan had defeated him, God decided to overcome Satan and, in the process, fix (redeem) his creation. He would do this by providing mankind a means of salvation and by ultimately creating a new heaven and new earth from the carcass of the old.
This process began with God’s decision to send a redeemer into the world who would offer himself as a sacrifice in place of the those who found themselves separated from God because of their sin. This redeemer would have to be a person completely without sin in order to be worthy of standing in this position. As no other being was qualified, God determined that he, himself, would become this redeemer.
As the infection of sin had permeated the created order, the fix would require a process which would remove the sin, and at the same time accomplish the original purpose of the creation. Since the original purpose was to populate the earth with creatures who would enjoy fellowship with him, God allowed the process of procreation to proceed. Only those individuals, however, who chose to spend eternity with him would be allowed the privilege of this eternal fellowship. Those who did not choose this path would be destined to spend eternity outside of his presence.
As the history of the earth moved forward, God revealed himself in nature, in the consciences of individual human beings, through the history of the nation of Israel using specially called persons whom he divinely inspired to write Scripture, through the incarnation of Jesus Christ and by directly indwelling individuals who acknowledge him as Savior and Lord.
The actual sacrifice to overcome the sin problem occurred when Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross. Jesus was not an ordinary man, but was God who stepped out of heaven and put on skin. When he came to earth, he lived a sinless life which qualified him to become the sacrifice for the sins of mankind. When he was crucified, he actually fulfilled God’s requirement for undoing the sin problem which had been introduced in the beginning. He also provided for the redemption of the entirety of the sin infected created order. With the resurrection of Christ, God demonstrated that he actually had the power to accomplish this task, and the completion of the redemptive process was sealed.
At the time of the resurrection, however, the entire process was not yet completed. The full number of human beings which God desired to populate his creation was not yet complete. That population is being built by the continuing redemption of those who willfully enter into a personal relationship with God based on the sacrificial death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In God’s perfect timing, the redemptive fix will be completed and God will put his resurrected people in the recreated paradise to once again dwell physically and personally with him for eternity.
God’s plan for the redemption of mankind works itself out as a process. It, of course, all began in the mind of God and was put into effect at his instigation. But it works itself out in the life of individual humans based on decisions that are made by each person during their life on earth.
At physical death, those who invited Christ into their lives during their physical life on earth will enter directly into the presence of God. This begins a new phase of the process in which believers dwell with him for the rest of eternity.
This initial entry into heaven, however, does not represent the final step of God’s redemptive purpose. Redemption involves not only the salvation of mankind, but also the restoration of the created physical order that was corrupted by the introduction of sin. When the full number of believing human beings is accomplished according to God’s plan, he will put an end to the sin corrupted created order and recreate it as a “new heaven and new earth.” This will represent the restoration of God’s originally planned paradise on earth.
At that point, all of the believers who have been brought into the presence of God at their death will be resurrected to the new earth and given resurrected bodies. All of these people will begin, then, to dwell in this new condition on a physical earth for eternity as God originally intended.
The nature of this new earth will be paradise. There will be no pain or sorrow or death. We will all have productive and purposeful work to do so that we will experience our eternal life as joyful and in no way monotonous or boring. In living out life in paradise, believers will live eternally and experience the glory of God to the full extent that it is possible for each individual to do so.
III. Experiencing God as a Real Person in Daily Life
If God is a real person and it is possible to know him in a personal relationship, then there must be some way to objectively experience that in daily life. In fact, there is. We do it as we actively engage God in the communication process. There are several ways that we engage that conversation and we will examine those now.
The first way we directly engage God is by prayer. In its essence, prayer is nothing more than simple communication. But we use the special word “prayer” when that communication is directed toward God, rather than toward another human being.
It is important for us to understand that prayer is an actual conversation with a real person, and not the mere uttering of words into space. Prayer only happens as an individual stands in the presence of God and personally interacts with him. It is not about mere talking or getting things. It is about intimacy.
Since we are not able to see God with our physical eyes, it is difficult for many people to think in terms of interacting with him as a real person. But if we actually want to experience our faith as real, this is something that we must learn how to do.
To do that, we must understand the true nature of how we interact with God. At first glance, the idea that we can communicate with him in the same way we communicate with human beings may seem a bit strange. But if you reflect on it a bit, you will begin to recognize that it truly reflects who we are as human beings.
As physical persons, we interact in the physical world with our physical bodies via our senses (sight, touch, taste, smell, etc.). However, there is an essential part of our personhood which cannot be detected by our physical senses. That is because our essential self is spirit. What we find is that there are, indeed, two elements of our existence on earth, and that the body and spirit can be distinguished from one another. We are spirit and are attached to a body, but the body is not the self.
As a result, even our essential communication with other human beings is not done on a physical level, but is essentially a spiritual process. It is just that the spiritual persons who are communicating with one another are housed in a physical bodies. This idea has important implications not only for our relationship with other human beings, but for our relationship with God, as well. We have identified God as a spiritual person who is not housed inside of a physical body as we are. But since the essential nature of our personhood is spirit, it is not at all odd that we would be able to interact with another spiritual person, even if he does not have a physical body.
Let’s briefly explore how we can tangibly engage God in communication as the real person that he is.
1. Use Your Imagination
When some people hear talk about using the imagination, the idea of something “imaginary” immediately comes to mind. But imagination and imaginary are not the same thing. We certainly can imagine things which are imaginary (things which do not actually exist). But we can also imagine things that do exist but which we cannot currently see.
Even though we can’t see God with our physical eyes, he is a real person who is actually with us all the time, even when we are not consciously aware of his presence. When we use our imagination to recognize his presence with us, we are enabled to “see” with our spiritual eyes a real spiritual person whom we cannot see with our physical eyes. Imagining God standing next to you as you pray can help you experience him as the real person he is.
2. Make Actual Opportunities to Talk with God
Even though God is with us all the time, a conversation requires that we be consciously aware of the person we are talking to. We are only engaged in prayer when we take the time to consciously talk to God. There ought to be some special time, or times, during the day when we spend some real quality time with him.
But prayer is not just a matter of a person talking to God. It is an actual two-way conversation. That means that we must also learn how to listen to him speak to us. There are several means of doing that.
Meditation is actually a very powerful communication tool that God wants to use in your life. This is confusing for many Christians is because of the association the term “meditation” has with Eastern mysticism. In Far Eastern religions, meditation is a practice where people are taught to completely empty their minds in the attempt to grasp the fact that we are part of an impersonal life force.
Christian meditation, though, is the exact opposite. Rather than trying to empty one’s mind, Christian meditation is concentration on something. The most effective thing to meditate upon is a portion of Scripture – God’s known revelation. As we do this, we will begin to become aware of truths contained in Scripture that we never thought of before. This will all take place in our thoughts, which is the place where we are able to hear the voice of God.
Practicing meditation is as simple as selecting a passage of Scripture and mulling it over and over in your mind. By incorporating meditation into your devotional life, you will learn to quiet your mind and hear the voice of God as he seeks to give you insights for your personal life.
It should be noted that not every thought we think is a communication from God. In addition to communications from God, some thoughts are our own and some come from Satan himself. We must learn to distinguish which belong to whom. One key clue is that God will never teach us things directly which go against what he has revealed through Scripture.
We have already seen that the Bible is God’s revelation of himself to mankind. A revelation is a communication that he has already sent to us. It tells us about who he is, what he is like, how we can know him and how we ought to live. As we read Scripture, God is talking to us.
Since God’s Scriptural Revelation to us is in book form, it is easy to fall into the trap of reading it in the same way as we read any other book – that is, to read it passively and impersonally. But the nature of the Bible is a little different. It is a personal communication from God, so we must take a different perspective. We need to read it as a personal letter to us. This is not just a note to mankind, it is a personal letter to you. Simply taking time to read the Bible allows you to grasp context – the big picture about God and his ways.
Another way of hearing God’s voice more clearly is to deal with his revelation by means of in-depth study. We do this by taking a portion of Scripture and digging deeply into its background and implications. This allows us to understand the depth of the truth that is contained within.
Remember, the purpose of Bible study is not simply to become smarter about Scripture. The Bible is God’s revelation of himself to us. We read and study so that we can hear his voice, understand him and know him more deeply and personally.
Using Your Daily Life to Communicate with God
As we look at this next element, let’s keep in mind what this whole section is about. It is about living in relationship with God. Living in relationship with God involves all of the things we have dealt with above – communicating with God through prayer, meditation and digging into his revelation.
But a key point we must keep before us is that our interaction with God is not simply about moments in time when we make a special effort to put our focus on him by prayer and Bible study. Rather, it relates to every part of our lives.
When we invite Christ into our lives, God, by his Spirit, actually takes up residence in our bodies. In other words, we don’t go to church to worship God. When we go to church for a worship service, we take God with us so that we can worship him together with our spiritual family.
The implication of this is that worship really takes place everywhere we are and in everything we do because we are continuously in the presence of God. Even our work, our play, our chores, our relationships, indeed everything in every part of out lives, is related to our interaction, and thus our communication, with God.
The three elements that we have looked at above cover the core essentials of our faith. We must start by knowing who God is. Without this knowledge we may end up worshiping the wrong God or worshiping him in a way which does not match his character. Secondly, we must understand the full scope of our faith. God has made the created order for a purpose, and we must understand the full scope of that purpose in order to align our lives with it. Finally, we must know how to personally connect with God and actually make the effort to grow in our relationship with him.
As we grasp these basics and implement them into daily life, we put ourselves in a position to grow in ways that before would have been impossible. And when we do, we set out on the road to fulfilling the very purpose God created us for.
© 2008 Freddy Davis