There is a tremendous difference between Religion and Faith. People usually ask what religion someone belongs to, thinking more of a club one can be a member of or not. "Everyone to his/her taste", as we can hear say. Tolerance - everything is being relativated; nothing is really true anymore. An absolute truth is not wanted anymore. Like this it is so easy to misconceive what Christian Faith really is about: that it is personal - the God of the Bible, the Creator of life, is personnally interested in us, for He has created us in His love, thus wanting a personal relationship with each one of us! So personal here does not mean to keep it inside of yourself for no-one else to see!
Whoever allows God to come close to him/her will soon start questioning many things, even themself. For some, this may be the cognition par excellence - and will joyfully run into God's arms, which changes their lives abruptly and saves it for eternity! For others though, this can be something really unpleasant and therefore, they prefer ruling it out. They don't realize God's loving arms and tend to dwell in unimportant realms. They begin criticizing "the church", meditate on their wrondoings of the past, like the crusades, the inquisition, enforced baptisms and so on (things that Christians already realized as wrong and repented a long time ago). They discuss a conservative, inerrant pope and condemn tithing. This and much more - as if "the church" had the only say in this world... Please note: I don't mean the church the way the Bible interprets it...
Sure, you will find some truth in all of this yet it's not hitting the mark! After all, is it "the church" that has created us and saves or redeems us? Often, "church" is being looked at as the most high institution whose word is absolute. Yet, not understanding well what "church" really means, we often see their different worship styles being criticized without knowing their reason. This kind of attitude is dangerous - it's even life threatening, if you don't question and change it where applicable. For it concentrates on secondary things instead of the highest essential - God Himself!
Also tolerance is okay as long as it means having the necessary respect and does not lead into the desintegration of one's own identity. It is known that exaggeration is never healthy, it is, as already mentioned, life threatening!
Jesus said: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life", (John 3:16 - New International Version, NIV).
The other way around it means, that whoever does not believe in Jesus as the Son of God, will perish, will get lost. This means, they will spend eternity without God. That is hell! This is no threat of punishment, but an automatic consequence. God's offer is more of a process of recovery: because originally, God created us for His Kingdom, for His Heaven! Yet nowadays, nobody is recalling this - it has to be brought back into our awareness.
As a result of disobedience though, man catapulted himself into a state which he is not able getting away from on his own. No matter how hard he tries. This is the state of sin! Sin is not only a condemnable deed - it is one, of course, but it is also much more: it really is a state, a condition, and means: life without God, being seperated from God. Since then, all following generations have been born into this distance to God - into sin. You the same as I and everyone else being born after us.
Sinful deeds are the logical consequence of this sinful condition. It's not only the big sins like murder, theft, abuse, etc. making us into sinners, but the smallest little "white" lie, unforgiveness, insults, greed, you name it... This is why the Bible says, "There is no-one righteous, not even one," (Romans 3,10 NIV). Or here, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God," (Romans 3,23). Quite a hopeless situation, isn't it? If you stop at this thought, then it can really drive you into panic, and rightly so.
God suffers in all of this the same as we do. Believe me! He could have reacted the hurting way because of this disobedience that led to the biggest human catastrophe ever, like it would be a very human way of reacting, and could have rejected men ever since. Yet His love is so unselfish, so unconditional, that such a reaction would not at all fit His character. And so without delay, He designed a plan of salvation for mankind: Jesus became the way to take us out of this misery! The only way - there is no other! He wants to rescue, deliver, save us from this hopeless situation, from this condition of sin, for He loves us and wants us close to Him. Read more about this in my article The Bridge.
And so, Jesus, the Son of God, became man, in order to live a life as we do (and not only watch it from His creator-distance), thus knowing all about life "down here" on earth so no-one could say He doesn't know. I'm pretty sure He knew about it even without the practical experience, but man simply needed this evidence. What a huge love this is He showed us by meeting this necessity of ours!! He wouldn't have needed doing this. But He is a God who does not expect us to come toward Him, knowing that no-one of us can succeed in this - yet He is a God who abandons His own unlimited glory, degrades Himself, slips into our limitation and comes toward us! Exactly this is what makes Christianity so unique!
When time was ripe, Jesus sacrificed Himself and paid for something He never did! Yet it was necessary in order to build a way for men to come into true relationship with God the Father again, to get out of this state of sin. Jesus took it all that upon Himself, for He loves us so much and knew all along that we are not at all able to bring such a sacrifice - that without Him, we would be stuck forever in this condition of sin. It is this Jesus wants to save us from! Isn't it fantastic??!!! And this is exactly the point I was having my problems with several years ago: Why should I need a Savior? What should He save me from? I could not grasp it... Not until I at last heard the right explaination about this sin condition and understood that it really doesn't have anything at all to do with "being good" or "doing good"!
With Jesus, we really have a chance! His sacrifice enables us to become God's children (John 1:12). Not accepting His sacrifice, we would remain only God's creation. Yet think of Genesis, the history of creation! We were created and not begotten! So I really do wonder why people so often think that everybody is a child of God, even people who ought to know it better...
Pondering this well, we are much better off today than those who lived in unity with Gad back then (I'm saying this with all necessary respect): for if we accept His offer, He makes us His children! Similar to the process of adoption. Isn't this much better than simply remaining His creation? Contrary to an earthly adoption though, which goes along with a lot of bureaucratic and other requirements, the adoption to become God's child has only one requirement: Jesus' sacrifice is a gift to us. This is what mercy means; we don't deserve it, nor do we merit it, yet we get it anyway! It doesn't cost us anything, we only have to accept it by faith, meaning trustingly! So this is the only requirement: accepting it!
This is also the meaning of what Jesus says, "... that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." Eternally in God's Kingdom, that is. And we are allowed to have a stake in this life already here on earth, if we trust in Him and believe in Him! It means to claim the salvation to ourselves, which comes from this sacrifice. Even though we cannot relate to the process of this salvation, because our mind is not apt to this kind of understanding. But it does have its effect if we claim it to ourselves. And this is the important thing! What a great message!
Unfortunately, many of us don't realize this at first glance. For some, it might take years searching, and many of those aren't even aware of their search. But God has set eternity into our hearts (Ecc 3:11); which means: everybody starts searching for Him sooner or later, asking for the meaning of life (where do I come from? Where do I go to? Why am I living at all?), because we all bear a slight idea of the truth in us. But unfortunately, many people get bogged down in their search. Often this is because they fall victim to the one who doesn't like it at all if we approach God... About this you can also find more in The Bridge.
And this is where religion comes into play: Faith is what God Himself puts into the hearts of people. While religion is man-made. It is the expression of man's search for God; laws made by men developing into something like they never existed in God's Kingdom. God Himself points this out in His word, the Bible, while reproaching the people back then for paying more attention to their self-made laws instead of paying attention to HIM (Isaia 29:13). This is religion! Tragically, it is no different today than it was back then.
This indwelling certainty of eternity in us, our search for God or for the devine plus the tendency of people to wrap everything into laws and rules, is the reason for the existence of so many religions and cults like New Age, Spiritism, Shamansim, Gnostic and you name it. Sparks of truth can be found in all of them - but not the whole truth...
I, too, had to search for a long time. And it was not possible without desperation, wrong desicions and hurting. But then at last, I found Him - Jesus that is, and since then my life changed completely! Also today, I face things of this world, like problems and sometimes even sickness, for I am still living in this world. I didn't suddenly mutate into an alien! But now I have answers I never had before. I have a hope I never had before. I have a certainty I never had before. I am allowed insights which was absolutely impossible without Jesus. I have experienced His peace and His joy, which go way beyond our human understanding! Both come out my most inner being, put in there by the Holy Spirit, with the certainty: "I know that I know that I know that Jesus lives!" This is someting much greater than whatever circumstance would ever be able to produce in me, not even I myself could produce it. This peace, this joy, this certainty are put into us by the Holy Spirit the moment we get saved!
If we receive a gift, for example, we usually rejoice. We rejoice when our little child begins to walk. We are happy after passing an exam. We feel glad when reconciling after a quarrel. At the same time, we can feel peace. If everything surrounding us is in harmony, we feel joy and peace. But both, joy and peace, can suffer considerably if anyone component is missing, if there is no trigger, if someone does not share our opinion or even starts fighting. There are several reasons for people to lose their peace and joy.
God's peace and joy are completely independent from such triggers or reasons, though. They are being put into us by the Holy Spirit and can be experienced despite an illness paralizing our daily life, despite friends fighting and despite whatever thing that disturbs our daily routine.
Yet everyone has to experience this by themself. Nobody can do this for you. As the saying goes, "you can lead a horse to the river, but it has to drink by itself." I can talk to you about Jesus, I can draw your attention to some Biblical truths, I can point out several facts, I can share experiences with you. But I cannot make you have the experience. I cannot make you have Jesus' peace and joy. Like I once had to take the decision myself in order to get all of that, so you will have to take the decision yourself, too, if you want to have this and more! Each way starts off with the first step.
Would you like to take the chance of doing this first step? Then why not take it as a given fact that God is good and loves you endlessly! Ask Him to reveal Himself to you. Leave it up to Him, how it should happen, for He knows you much better than you will ever know yourself. After all, HE has created you! God loves answering such prayers if they are honest! Whenever you are ready to entrust yourself to Jesus, take this decision! It doesn't take more than telling Him of it. And this is best done in prayer. A prayer is nothing else but a conversation with God - it is no ritual, no formulistic reciting of a precast verse. Come to Jesus the way you are and talk to Him the way you usually talk, in your very own words!
Let me give you an example of such a prayer. As I said, don't simply repeat what I say. Because it is not about me and my words - it is about you! My words can only be sort of a guide to you. Read them and then use your own words. But if you use my words, then please try and make them your own:
"Jesus, I am aware that I have sinned by living my life without you and that I have done many things that were not right (if there is something weighing on your soul, then tell Him now). Please forgive me. Now I accept the sacrifice that you made for me. Thank you, Jesus, for what you have done for me and that I may live now the real life! I give you all of my guilt, all of that I know and also that I don't know yet. I give you all of my hurting. I put my whole life into your hands and allow you to guide me. Thank you, Jesus, that I belong to you now, that you are now my brother and that I am now a child of God!"
If you talk to Jesus like this (it has to be honest though and must come from deep down your heart), than you can be sure that He has forgiven and saved, redeemed you! The whole of Heaven is rejoicing with you! But don't just leave it there. For then it would be just like a bonfire getting smaller and smaller until it extinguishes completely, if you don't fuel it with more wood. It's the same with faith: you have to fuel it! This is best done by giving God some of your time as often as possible. Time, appointments, meeting, fellowship - all of this is important for any relationship, also for the relationship with God! Talk with Him, listen to Him, learn from Him!
Read the Bible as often as you can for it is God's word - His love letter to you! Start with the New Testament, for these are new testamental times we are living in! And the Old Testament will open up to you much better via the New Testament. Since most of us have no Jewish background, we simply cannot understand many things of the Old Testament, they are alien to us. Yet Jesus Himself was Jewish; means He talked out of that background to people who had the same background and thus were able to understand what He said. We have to first learn about certain contexts and coherences. - Talk to like-minded people, to other Christians, listen to what they have to say. Many of them have a long Christian walk already behind them, thus knowing what they are talking about. It won't always be the same with you than it was with them, but their experiences and knowledge can be an encouraging guide for you.
Hopefully you will have the possibility to join a biblical, Christ-centered church. If you hear of Alpha Courses, I recommend you join one. They are designed for everybody who is interested in Christianity and wants to know and find out more. Check out their links Alpha USA, or Alpha UK, which is their international site. There you will find out whether and when there is a course near you. Look out for this sign:
In the meantime, it has reached the status of a quality mark! Of course, there are also other good faith courses. Yet, Alpha is a course being applied by more and more churches worldwide these past years - just because it is interdenominationally well-balanced and good. It is supported by all main Christian denominations meanwhile.
But now I have said more than enough! Be abundantly blessed - even though you are not yet ready to entrust your life to Jesus now. But hang on in there!