This question nagged me for decades. I didn’t understand how a man who lived and died 2,000 years ago could atone for my sin today. I finally had a light bulb moment while in prayer and I’m excited to share it! Let’s also go over the basics: Is the Bible true? Accurate? Did Jesus actually walk the earth? What did he teach? What is sin? And why do I need saved from it?
The last series I wrote called Who is Jesus? turned into seven fairly long parts! I understand it’s an incredible amount of information to absorb, so I decided to sum them up (along with the Is There Proof God Exists? series) the best I can in one 20-minute post and podcast.
Maybe your faith is waning or needs a boost. Maybe you’re on the fence about following Jesus. Or maybe there is someone you’d like to share the gospel with and need something concise to send. This one is for you.
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Foundations of faith: Head, heart, hands
The way I think is practically and logically — probably too much so! For those of us who think like this, sometimes Christianity can feel abstract, vague or more like a feeling, making it hard to hold onto. But it is none of those things. Instead it is structured, concrete and based on a book that has stood the test of time for thousands and thousands of years.
I sort of think of my faith as a foundation with building blocks:
- Is it true?
- What does it say or mean?
- Do I believe it?
- Will I follow it?
- How does that change or affect my life?
So we’re going to walk through these questions in the order of our head, heart and hands. I learned this idea at my local church, and it’s helped me through the years. The head represents learning the Bible and theology. The heart stands for our personal relationship and love for the Father. And the hands represent action, what we do with our faith, how we serve one another in the name of Jesus.
I’m going to nerd out and get to the head stuff first, but if that’s not your thing stick with me because we’ll get to the emotional heart stuff too.
HEAD: Is it true? What does it say or mean?
Is the Bible true?
One factor that sets the Bible apart from other world religious writings is its remarkable consistency. The Bible is composed of:
- 66 books
- written by 40 authors
- in 3 languages
- in 3 continents
- over 1,500 years
… and yet its themes and story remain unified. It was written by farmers, shepherds, kings, prophets, tax collectors who all agree on the two subjects notorious for war and discord — religion and politics! How could all 66 books written in prisons, palaces, wilderness deliver one message, the same message? It is the message of God’s eternal plan and how He will save his people.
Has the Bible been altered?
The Bible is not a translation of translations. It was written in Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew, which people still speak today. There are more than 5,600 copies of the new testament within 100 years of the original.
In the 1940s, a shepherd boy found what are now known as the Dead Sea scrolls in the Qumran Caves in Israel. The Dead Sea scrolls contain the oldest copies of scripture ever found, even as early as 4th century BC. Secular archeologists confirm their validity.
Fragments of the book of Isaiah were recovered, which was written hundreds of years before Christ, and not a word had been altered. It is safe to say that the Bible has the same words today that it has throughout the centuries.
Did Jesus actually walk the earth?
Looking for proof of Jesus outside the Bible, scholar Lawrence Mykytiuk wrote an article detailing specific works from non-Christians that mention Jesus and concluded, “As far as we know, no ancient person ever seriously argued that Jesus did not exist.”
Jesus fulfilled over 300 prophesies in the Bible. He essentially fulfills the old testament. No other religious document has ever dared be so laden with prophesy than the Holy Bible. Here are the major eight, all written between 500 and 1,000 years before Christ’s birth:
- The Messiah will die by having his hands and feet pierced (Psalm 22:16).
- The Messiah will be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
- The Messiah will remain silent while He is afflicted (Isaiah 53:7).
- A messenger will prepare the way for the Messiah (Malachi 3:1).
- The Messiah will enter Jerusalem as a king riding on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9).
- The Messiah will be betrayed by a friend and suffer wounds in his hands (Zechariah 13:6).
- The Messiah will be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12).
- The betrayal money will be used to purchase a potter’s field (Zechariah 11:13).
According to “Science Speaks,” written by Peter Stoner, the chances of the just eight major prophesies of Jesus being fulfilled by one person is 1 in 10 to the power of 17. 1:100,000,000,000,000,000
Evidence by historical accounts, manuscripts, fulfilled prophesy and archeology all support the Bible and Jesus’ life. But aside from that, we know there is a God. He wrote his law on our hearts. We can see his work on galactic levels all the way down the 3 billion letter coding of DNA in each of our cells.
The examples of seeing God in nature are endless, but one of my favorites is the golden ratio, or Fibonacci sequence. The golden ratio is God’s fingerprint found throughout nature. Take a look:
I love this anonymous quote: “We live on a blue planet that circles around a ball of fire next to a moon that moves the sea, and you don’t believe in miracles?” And I would add, “and you don’t believe in a maker?”
MORE: Is life and accident?
Who was Jesus?
Jesus was not born an ignorant man who had to figure out he was the savior. It was his choice from the beginning of time to put on the robe of humanity. This was a forever decision he made, executed and continues to carry out.
To begin to understand this sacrifice, which was not only dying on the cross, it was putting on flesh and blood and becoming a man for our sake.
Now stick with me on this one. Blood represents life. Blood is what separates us from the spiritual world. It is what ties us to this earth God made us through (Adam from mud) and for (we will continue to live here on the new Earth after Jesus returns).
This was not a one day on the cross sacrifice Jesus made. This was not a 3 year ministry sacrifice. This was not a 33 years on earth sacrifice.
This is what Dane Ortlund says in “Gentle and Lowly”:
“The Son of God clothed himself with humanity and will never unclothe himself. He became a man and always will be. This is the significance of the doctrine of Christ’s ascension: he went into heaven with the very body, reflecting his full humanity, that was raised out of the tomb. He is and always has been divine as well, of course. But his humanity, once taken on, will never end.”
Jesus lived in his humanity on earth the way he tells us to live — a life of love, compassion, humility:
▪️Born to a poor couple who offered a pair of turtle doves instead of a lamb at his birth (Luke 22:2).
▪️Born in a stable and placed in a feeding trough as a cradle.
▪️His royal birth was only announced to the low and humble shepherds in the field.
▪️He lived and spent most of his time in Galilee, which was looked down upon by the southern province of Judea, which contained Jerusalem.
▪️“He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2)
▪️He chose fishermen (instead of religious leaders or scholars) as disciples to continue his mission to save the world!
▪️He had time for those considered lowly by society. He waited for the woman at the well. He defended the adulteress from a brutal stoning. He did not bypass the woman bleeding for 12 years for a ruler of the synagogue with more status.
▪️He appeared first to women after his resurrection.
He came for the lowly, the outcasts, the humble, the lost. And they would be the ones to receive him, unlike the proud and the power-hungry.
What did Jesus teach?
Ok, here’s when things get sticky. Everyone wants a hero who rights wrongs, heals the sick, defends the weak and stands up to against corrupt authority. But some cannot accept this hero who says he is the only way to God. He did not say “all religions are stepping stones” or “find your own truth inside yourself.” He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
He claimed that he is God’s own son, who has given him authority over Heaven and Earth. He even said the Father and him are one (John 10:38). This is when he started making waves. The religious leaders declared blasphemy and began plotting his death. How dare he call himself God’s own son?
He preached he was the messiah prophesied by the Old Testament who could save his people from their oppressors and even their sin. The political climate in Israel was intense after suffering centuries of occupation — the latest being the Roman Empire, known for their brutality. The Hebrew people waited for their messiah in anticipation, however his rescue would not be the government overturn they demanded. It would be an overturn in the spiritual world instead.
Jesus reminded us we cannot uphold the law God gave the Israelites; therefore, we are in need of a Savior, an escape from our debt of sin. Jesus said he came to fulfill the law, not abolish it.
Jesus instructed that we cannot earn our salvation through good works, but it is by faith alone in him that we can make amends with the Father. Good works do and should follow this eternal decision, naturally, as we grow in the Spirit, but they do not pave a way to Heaven. For we have all fallen short no matter how much good we attempt.
Jesus taught us the two most important things are to love God and love people. The Pharisees, or religious leaders, tested him in Matthew 22 by asking:
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
It has been said, in fact, that loving God sums up the first five commandments and loving people sums up the last.
He told the disciples that we would die and be raised up in three days. After he ascended to the Father, the Holy Spirit would descend on them to guide and direct them. Then one day soon he will return and take his believers to be where he is.
This is a test
If you believe Jesus at one time walked the face of the Earth, you have a decision to make. This is a multiple choice test with only one correct answer.
Jesus was only one of these:
A.) a liar
B.) a lunatic
C.) or Lord
Those are your options. It is called the trilemma. He claimed to be Lord. So if he wasn’t, he was either a lunatic or a liar. “Good moral teacher” is not up for grabs.
HEART: Do I believe it? Will I follow it?
What was Jesus like as a person?
He is not just doctrine and words on a page, there are many sides to him. He is kind and tenderhearted to those who call to him. He has compassion on people and walks through their pain with them. He has humor, inside jokes and close friends. But he is also just and will not stand for corruption or pride.
He is slow to anger.
We see Jesus angered only a couple times in scripture — and it wasn’t when his will was obstructed, it was when his father’s will was obstructed (Jen Wilkin’s, Sermon on the Mount). Two occasions were when 1) people had turned the temple into a marketplace instead of a place of worship and he overturned their tables and even made a whip to drive them out (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-18; John 2:13-22)! And then 2) in the Capernaum synagogue when the Pharisees said he could not heal a man on the sabbath and refused to answer his questions (Mark 3:1-6).
So we can see that he is slow to anger, but when he is, it is righteous and selfless.
He is gentle and lowly.
Dane Ortlund says, “In the four Gospel accounts given to us in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — eighty-nine chapters of biblical test — there’s only one place Jesus tells us about his own heart.”
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
This king of the universe describes himself as gentle. And lowly. Dane continues: “The posture most natural to him is not a pointed finger but open arms.”
He desires us to come to him.
Jesus spent much time in prayer and often went to be alone in the morning with God (Mark 1:35). And in the most beautiful prayer ever prayed in John 17, Jesus tells God that his desire is for us to be with him in Heaven.
Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
The servant king is offering invitation to follow him. He is always a gentleman, knocking at the door, not bursting his way in. This is a mutual covenant you enter with him — one that makes you family and friends. He loves you deeply. If you knew how much, your heart wouldn’t be able to contain it.
What is sin? Why do I need saved from it?
Now we’re really going to have to examine our hearts. Say we believe it’s true — the Bible is accurate and Jesus is who he says he is. Say we have a grasp on what he taught and desires from us and believe he died on the cross to pay for our sins. The next question is will I follow him?
Before anyone can truly follow Jesus he or she needs to understand why we need a savior in the first place.
Our purpose in life is to glorify God. A sin is when we miss the mark, when we fall short, when we do not glorify him.
Ask an average person on the street if they are a good person. I imagine most would respond “yes.” However the Bible tells us that we have “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Let’s look at the 10 commandments. Ask yourself: Have you worshipped anything other than God? Have you taken his name in vain? Have you ever dishonored your parents? Have you ever murdered someone in your heart? Or looked at someone with lustful intent other than your spouse? Have you ever stolen something? Or lied? Or coveted?
Clearly no one can say no to all of these — or most of them. Some years ago, as a newly-committed Christian, I wasn’t sure what a sin was. I googled for a list. The list I found was expansive, but I quickly found out, not exhaustive. So I began to ask myself this question I heard on the radio: Can God bless this? It’s not a perfect definition, but it can put new perspective on our smaller, everyday actions.
Can he bless this tv show? This drink? This computer time? The way I’m treating my family? The white lies to avoid things? The gossip I just shared? …
So we all sin, but why do we need saved from it? Because our sin keeps us separated from a holy God. Sin is a decimation to his creation. We are endanger of hell if we chose to reject Jesus’ offer and remain in our sin. God will judge us one day — think of all the things you’ve said and done — but there is one who paid the price for you. All you have to do is accept it.
You could never earn your way to Heaven or do enough good to cover those sins.
You are on trial. God is the judge. Jesus is your defense. Satan stands there accusing you, listing your sins and faults and demands you be declared guilty. But our defender has paid our debt for us so our God sees us as righteous and free.
The solution is to turn toward God, not away from him, and ask forgiveness. You are now granted a full pardon, for your debt has been paid in full by his son. It’s true we don’t stop sinning this side of Heaven, so this will be a repeated process, but with the help of the Holy Spirit we can grow from our mistakes, learn and leave sinful habits.
HANDS: How does this change my life?
When we decide to follow Jesus, we enter a covenant with him by taking communion, by being baptized and beginning to live in the Spirit rather than just our physical body.
We don’t talk much about covenants today. Perhaps the most familiar covenant to us is marriage, which is interesting because did you know that to the disciples (during the Last Supper) it sounded like Jesus was offering them marriage proposal! And he is offering this to you as well.
An ancient Jewish marriage proposal included:
- Groom makes a payment to his potential bride’s father to buy a chance to marry her.
- Then the family and relatives would gather and witness the groom pass the bride a cup of wine. He would say, “This is my covenant with you. Will you take and drink it?”
- If she accepts, she drinks it and that is essentially saying “I do.”
- She was then called “one who was bought with a price.”
- The groom would go back to his town and the two didn’t talk during the engagement period except the best man who would relay messages.
- The groom spent this time building a mansion. It wasn’t our idea of a mansion though! It was a room built onto his father’s house.
- The father decided when the “mansion” was done.
- When it was finished the groom and groomsmen would march into the bride’s town. She doesn’t know the day nor the hour. The men blow their horns to announce they had arrived.
Jesus told the disciples:
- Drink of the wine, representing my blood shed for you. This is the New Covenant.
- We’re not going to see each other or awhile. But the Holy Spirit will relay messages.
- You don’t know when I’m coming back, but you are referred to as “one who was bought with a price.”
- I’m going to my Father, who has many mansions. I will prepare a place for you.
- When the Father says it is time, I will bring my angels and sound the trumpets.
- I will bring you home to Heaven for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb!
Our horizontal covenants with each other are messy and complicated because we are sinful and selfish, but the vertical covenant between you and Jesus is peace, unconditional love, unending faithfulness. He will never turn you away — even after empty promise after empty promise. You are his forever. Covenants are forever.
How can Jesus dying on the cross atone for my sins?
I didn’t understand how Jesus dying on the cross could atone my sins until I began to learn about covenants.
1. First, let’s note that God is just and cannot let evil go unpunished. And the Bible is clear: “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) Our sin from the beginning has corrupted and distorted his perfect creation and separated us from him.
2. Now, a covenant is a solemn oath between two loving friends. It is essentially saying: We are one. Your enemies are my enemies. Your family is my family. From this moment forward we are one. Traditionally, throughout time and throughout the world, a covenant was sealed with a sharing of blood. Because blood represents life. This transfusion of life is symbolic. They share the same blood and life now.
When we take communion and drink the wine representing his blood and eat the bread representing his body, we are entering a blood covenant with him. We are making him a part of us and us a part of him. What this means is because he put on our robe of humanity, we may put on his robe of righteousness.
Jesus lived a sinless life and therefore conquered death. He still shed his blood and willingly died though. For what purpose? He went to the cross so we wouldn’t have to.
3. He can be our sacrifice, our substitute, because we have accepted him and are one with him. It is so that those who enter the covenant with him, who become one with him, will be admitted into the Lord’s presence on his account rather than our own. We are adopted children of God because we are one with Jesus and God is his Father, his family. The Holy Spirit can dwell inside of us for the same reason.
Because of Jesus willingly died as our substitute, there is hope for the hurting. Hope for the grieving. Hope for the addict. Hope for the angry. Hope for lost. Hope for all of us who have sinned and cannot get to God on our own. Our hope is in Jesus and Jesus alone — the servant king who came down from Heaven, lived gentle and lowly life in every way, healed the helpless, loved the unlovable, taught the unteachable and died for even those who would reject him.
How can I become a follower of Jesus?
These events are still as relevant today as they were 2,000 years ago and you have a part to play. If your heart is pounding and there is a lump in your throat, don’t put this off for another day. Wipe away that tear. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done, God wants you. His son calls you. This can be the beginning of a transformation like you’ve never imagined.
Here’s what to do:
- Pray to God in your own words. Ask for forgiveness from your sins. Tell him you accept his son Jesus as the messiah and that you believe he died for your sins. Invite him into your life and make His will your will.
- Receive the Holy Spirit and begin the renewing and transformation of your mind and life.
- Begin reading or listening to the Bible on a regular basis.
- Get plugged into a Bible-based church. Check out this church directory by The Gospel Coalition. This is key to having those seeds He has planted flourish and not be pecked away by the birds.
- Take communion with the wine representing his blood and bread representing his body. This is the New Covenant you are entering with the King of the Universe.
- Get baptized and publicly declare your love for the Lord Jesus!
- Go tell the world about the good news of Jesus Christ!
Are you wayward? Have you not been baptized? Do you need a recommitment? It’s not too late! Now is the perfect time. For not one day of life is guaranteed.
You might not be able to see his face as the disciples did. You might not see the kindness in his eyes or hear his soothing voice confessing his love for you. You might not be able to physically touch his scared hands, feet or side. But his promises remain. What he did stands — the same as then as today. He loves you and calls to you in your spirit. Do you feel it? One day we will see his lovely face, hold onto his scared hands and hug his body of flesh and blood that he took on for our sake. The day is coming soon, friend.