Before there was the universe, the earth and all the things in it, and us, there was God. God is good, powerful, and creative beyond our imagination.
In an expression of His goodness and a declaration of His glory, God created the universe, including the heavens and the earth, the plants and the animals, the sun and the moon.
God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”Genesis 1:27-28
God created men and women to reflect His good nature and to live forever in harmony with Him, ruling over the earth. They were to live in accordance with His commands to them and He would provide for them. God established that disobedience of His commands would lead to death.
Then sin entered the world.
Sin is the manifestation of evil in people's disobedience of God. Although God gave His people commands to obey, they disobeyed Him, believing their own desires to be better. They rejected God's sovereign nature.
God responded to people's disobedience to Him by cursing them and cursing the earth. Because of God's inherent holiness and people's inherent sinfulness, God and His people could no longer live in harmony together. People were condemned to die, no longer enjoying the eternal life that they originally had.
“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?”Deuteronomy 10:12-13
God established a covenant with the nation of Israel, calling them His chosen people and giving them special revelations and laws. Yet, even as He blessed them, the Israelites continued to disobey and reject Him.
Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.Romans 1:21-23
Instead of God, they prized idols: false, inanimate objects resembling “gods” and demonic spirits. Israel was, therefore, met with discipline. However, God also repeatedly extended forms of grace and forgiveness, receiving Israel back as His chosen people even as they strayed far from Him.
For to us a child is born,Isaiah 9:6-7
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
For centuries, through prophecies, God foretold a time when He would end evil and redeem Israel from its sins. He promised to do this through a savior and king, a Messiah who would establish a glorious, peaceful, everlasting kingdom. As Israel battled against its enemies and its own covenant with God, it looked with eager anticipation towards the this promised Messiah.
These prophecies were fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, God's own Son. Jesus was born as a Jewish man during the Roman Empire. However, he clearly possessed divine attributes. He traveled throughout Israel, declaring that the kingdom of God was near and that they would be judged in the end and therefore should repent from their sins. He taught them how to follow God, clarifying the Law of God that Israel had misunderstood. He performed healings of the diseased and disabled, showing signs of the coming kingdom in which he would restore physical brokenness. By displaying all this evidence that He was the Messiah hoped for by the Jews, he gathered a large crowd of followers, Christians.
As this following became more prominent, both the Roman and Jewish authorities noticed and felt threatened. Accusing him of claiming to be a king, they sentenced him to death by crucifixion. Jesus was nailed to a large wooden cross and left to hang until dead.
“But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.”Acts 3:18-22
Yet, God had His own purpose behind this crucifixion. This, too, had been prophesized to Israel: the Messiah would suffer for the sins of God's people. In his suffering, Jesus bore the punishment of death that God's people deserved for their sins. By this death, God reconciled himself with humanity. Everyone who believes in Jesus, repents of sin, and devotes his life to following God's commandments can receive the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life. They are credited as righteous by the righteousness of Christ and their faith in him.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.1 Corinthians 15:20-26
After his death on the cross, Jesus was buried in a tomb. Three days after his crucifixion, Jesus resurrected from the dead, leaving an empty tomb behind him and appearing to many of his disciples in living form. His resurrection proved his identity as the Son of God, demonstrating his power over death and validated God's promise to resurrect the dead.
Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus ascended to heaven, returning to his place with God the Father.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.Ephesians 2:1-8
God's sacrifice of Christ to atone for the sins of humanity despite its rejection of Him is the ultimate display of His love. It is the sufficiency of this sacrifice, not a moral character or good works, that saves Christians from the death that they deserve and exalts them as righteous.
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.John 14:26
Before Jesus ascended to heaven, he comforted his followers with the knowledge that wouldn't leave them alone on the earth. He promised that they would receive the Holy Spirit. This Holy Spirit is the third person of God, besides the Father and Jesus, the Son.
Christ continues to call people to accept this gospel, repent of their sins, and follow Him. All followers of Christ are gifted with the Holy Spirit, God Himself working within them to refine them. By the power of this Spirit, Christ's followers can live in light of Jesus's command to love God, love others, and teach others about the gospel. Jesus's teachings during his earthly ministry work as a model of the Christian life.
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.2 Corinthians 5:14-21
Indeed, those who accept Christ's call are considered new creations. Their old, sinful selves, are a thing of the past. They are viewed by God as righteous and holy by Christ's atoning sacrifice. They aim to reflect that righteousness in action, not out of obligation, but rather, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, out of a earnest desire to follow all that God has commanded.
God chose Christ's followers as his children, co-heirs to His kingdom with Christ. Because of this, Christians can have the same intimate, father-child relationship with their Creator that Christ has with His Father. Although God is all-powerful and exalted far above His people, He also cares for each one of His people with a perfect love.
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.Ephesians 4:17-24
So how does one live as a Christian? He casts aside sinful desires and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, aims to obey God's commands and model his life after Jesus's. Yet, he also recognizes that he is justified by Christ alone, not his own works. The Christian life is one of both effort and faith.
And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “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.”Matthew 22:35-40
The overarching commands of God are to love God and to love one another. The love of God requires the denial of other, secondary desires. The Christian life requires making the glorification of God one's central priority. It is the fulfillment of this first command—a whole-hearted love for the God who embodies love—that empowers the second one, to love other people.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”Matthew 28:18-20
Another of Jesus's commands to His followers is to share the gospel that they have received with others and to make other followers of Christ on this earth. This command follows naturally out of the primary commands. To make followers of Christ both glorifies God in this world and provides for other people the one thing that can ultimately satisfy them.
Christ's followers are to live in a way that is different than that of general society, which is corrupted with sin. They are to glorify God in all that they do and form a radically different, loving, united society that acts as a sign of Jesus's coming kingdom in which all of creation will be redeemed.
Jesus ensured Christians that in the present world, the Christian life isn't completely easy. If they truly follow him in His call to discipleship, they will surely encounter suffering from many sources. They will be tempted by evil and yet have to deny their desires and look to their greater reward in God's kingdom. They will be misunderstood and persecuted by the world.
Yet the overwhelming love and joy found in being a child and servant of God and the promise of God's eternal kingdom will sustain them.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’”Matthew 25:31-34
There will be a day of judgment when followers of Christ will be judged as righteous and enter this eternal kingdom, while others will be condemned to eternal punishment in hell.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”Revelation 21:1-3
In the eternal kingdom, God will restore the goodness of His original creation and more. Sin and its effects—pain and death—will be defeated forever. Jesus will reign as king and His subjects will live in perfect harmony with God.