UNDERSTAND THE ANCIENT WORLDVIEW OF BELIEVERS:
Understanding the 1st Century Mind
Every 1st C, non-biblical document indicates earliest Christians (Believers & Followers of Jesus of Nazareth, a.k.a. The Way) understood their faith in the context of a boundless community: a family, with no human hierarchy, just a spiritual organism with One Head —Jesus Christ… embodied by said followers and nothing like the institutional, professional ministry we see today, most certainly not state churches.
Since their rise in the late 1930s and throughout the Cold War, fundamentalist and conservative evangelicals preach an external behavior focused and authoritarian religion of “go to heaven” and “escape hell fire” gospel, which they gain from a 14th C. European tradition of Dante’s Inferno & from flat readings of the New Testament, instead of interpreting by contexts, especially that of a 1st C Jewish and/or Greco-Roman mind. A proper interpretation would show that a 1st C person understood eternal, conscious, physical torment in “Hell” to be a misunderstanding of what Jesus and the Apostles taught.
Furthermore, original Christianity was never about “going to Heaven instead of Hell.” 1st C followers of “that Way” understood their beliefs to be:
A. YHWH is the Hebrew God, the Creator of all and highest God.
B. The ancient, pagan gods were (rebellious) angels that had been abusing the power that YHWH had given them, when YHWH divided the nations (Deut. 32). That dividing of the nations happened, because humanity had wanted it to be so in cooperation with said rebellious spirits. God complied.
C. Jesus of Nazareth is YHWH in flesh, who came to make it possible—after millennia of suffering fear and oppressive subservience—for humans not to be subjected to and divided (many times violently) by the pagan gods (fallen angels) any longer but to be reconciled as one new humanity to Him.
D. Jesus also was incarnated and physically died and arose bodily, in order to reconcile mankind to God, because mankind had become apparently willfully subservient to the influence of these rebellious angels [a.k.a. Sin (big S)], which is evident by sins (little s; trespasses, offenses against the moral revelation found in the Hebrew Decalogue, as well as THE trespass of angelic and human cohabitation, a.k.a. production of demigods, angelic bestiality). Accordingly, we humans were irrevocably designated for the same eternal destiny as they, until Jesus arrived, as promised.
E. With reconciliation to God through Jesus comes spiritual regeneration (new ability to become a partaker of the Divine nature, via the indwelling Holy Spirit)… and thus a new class of humanity, without regard to ethnicity, social status, gender, etc. The “in Christ” identity surpassed all other former and lesser identities.
F. And Jesus—having risen from the dead and having ascended far above all beings in authority—will return to exact judgement on all evil (spirit beings and anti-Christ systems) and injustice, before making all things new (including a Resurrection to Life for believers and a Resurrection to Judgment for those who reject God, i.e. Jesus).
Repent Toward God; Faith in Christ
So, when you read the command in the New Testament to “repent toward God” and have “faith in Christ,” it literally is a mandate for all humans from every nation to:
1. Throw off allegiance to their ethnic/national gods, in order to return to YHWH as the Creator of all & Highest God, as revealed in character (deeds & words) by Jesus of Nazareth.
2. Therefore, proclaim Jesus is the risen (authoritative) Lord, because he raised from Sheol (hell, realm of the dead) & ascended far above every other earthly and spiritual authority. All who believe should live together in harmony by “the new and living Way,” in the Name of Jesus and by the influence of the Holy Spirit, which is (in every case) Divine Love (selfless, fearless care for & loyal devotion to the honor & wellbeing of both friend AND enemy).
A MODERN APPLICATION:
1. God is not the Creator of evil. He originally created all things in a state of untested goodness. Christianity offers an answer to the “Who/What” and “why” questions of the origin, design, meaning and destiny of all things; but the Bible does not attempt to assert an answer to the “when” or “how” question of all things. That is, interpretatively honest Christianity will not assert an age of the universe or use the Bible to refute scientific data on matters like the age of the cosmos, etc.
2. God’s initial design for us humans in this life was not to know evil, but to experience only life in harmony with Him. Humans were conferred by God the bearing of His image (likeness & regency) to all other earthly creation. (Genesis 1-3)
3. God is the Creator of free will, and that means people can choose wrong/evil, as well as good/truth. God does not violate the free will He gave, even though humans abuse it and one another, or defy God. Free will is necessary for true love and true choice. (Genesis 1:26,27; 3)
4. When the course of the human experience were being tested/determined (fig. program via user election; Genesis 3), humanity (through federal representatives: Adam & Eve) chose to know both “good AND evil,” instead of God’s prescribed path. Therefore, the image of God in humankind (His likeness & our regency under Him) was preset toward sin (innate dissimilarity to God) and our appointed role as his sub-regents was forfeit to malevolent spirit beings (angels). Said innate corruption is confirmed, manifested and evidenced by the fact that all sin (ex. shortcomings, character flaws, vices, etc.); …and also, because of mankind’s forfeiture of pure goodness, we now live in a fallen world, filled with the relentless experience of knowing both good and evil (physical suffering, disease, disaster, death, etc.). Such happenings are what can be called “natural evils.” These natural evils seem like punishments, but they are actually the natural consequences of humanity’s choice, in the most ancient times, to experience evil alongside good. They are not directly from God. But, God states that he makes rain fall on the just and unjust. That is, He treats everyone (as much as possible, apart from a fallen world & human choices) with the same blessings of life, so that we might know his impartiality and non-vindictive nature. And, Romans 8 declares that even the rest of creation groans, while awaiting the time humanity is fully redeemed by God’s Plan.
5. If we are not experiencing natural evils, then the evils we experience are the results of our (and others’) corrupted nature (like Satan’s nature more than God’s). That means we & others can do things that affect our lives, directly or indirectly (1 Peter 2:20, 3:8-22). Most times, we suffer, due to the choices of others… and this universe works according to the principle of action and consequence. But, if we cause the effect of suffering on ourselves (for having done wrong or risky things), what else do we expect? Some ask, “why do bad things happen to good people?” But there is only One who is Good, and He died for the unjust willingly… so that we may be rescued, not condemned (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). Moreover, God calls Himself the Redeemer, because He can cash in the evils we experience—at the hands of others and of our own doing—for a better story of our experiencing His goodness, unfailing Love and His glory.
6. We also have a very real, spiritual enemy: Satan and fallen angels and demons. Not only do these evil spirits operate in the unseen (spirit) realm on the individual level, but some also operate unseen on the local, regional and even national / international levels. Again, these beings were given a ruling occupancy, when mankind chose to know evil…. and when God further turned over the rulership of the nations to them, due to mankind’s desire (as accounted in the Bible at the Tower of Babel, see Genesis 11 & Deuteronomy 32:8-9). The presence of and corrupting influence of these fallen spiritual beings is another major reason why there are wars, disease and famine, caused mostly by the greed of human national/global economy and governance “leaders.” The Bible calls the sum of these enemies “the (fallen) World,” and Bible scholars agree that the “world” is Satan’s anti-God system of rule for subjugating and continually deceiving humanity (2 Corinthians 4:4). Those who are held captive by Satan via “the world” are also equated with “the world,” since they are its constituents by default. Thankfully, Jesus says to His disciples, “In this world, you will have Tribulation, but be of good courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In other words, Jesus arrived in human flesh, in order to defeat Satan’s present, evil world and set human captives free!
7. God will—one day—create a new world, after he brings all evil to justice (Revelation 20-21). Those who trust Him for their own forgiveness and for a relationship with Him will see all things righted… but that time is not now. Currently, we wait patiently and endure, knowing that we (who believe) are rescued and awaiting the appearing of Jesus (Titus 2:13), the only Source of mankind’s reconciliation to God.
8. During our (believers’) wait, God wants to turn our trials and hardships into the way to teach us about selflessness, love, wisdom, meekness and devotion to Him (James 1). Without these trials and hardships, our corrupted human nature would just keep turning inward and never be transformed into being like Jesus, our Savior (Hebrews 11-12). These hardships and trials, allowed by but not designed by God, are called “correction,” and they are not vindictive actions by God. Offenses must happen in this fallen world, but God wishes to work redemption through them. Hardships can be transformative, if we trust the Redeemer of all evil to do Hus work presently and hereafter. In that process, we ourselves are changed; and that transformation has a great deal to do with His plan for the Ages and our specific purpose in His Kingdom. Again, God’s transforming us through the process of redeeming hardships is not punishment—an unending judgement for eternity. If we experience the evil people do, or the consequences of our own wrongdoing, it is never “God’s Plan.” But, again, He can redeem it because of Jesus. If it is a natural evil (sickness, death or destruction) then He makes all things new in the new world. Besides these things, believers are presently to act as if the future kingdom is already present in their person. This is called the New & Living Way that Jesus Himself demonstrated and instills in believers. This “Way” is completely opposed to that of “the (fallen) World,” with its strong & corrupting, selfish desires.
9. Punishment (separation from God’s Life, Love and Light in eternity) can happen only to those who reject Jesus, Who is God’s Rescuer and Healer from all evils. To reject His rescue is to be defiant by choosing to remain in the sickness of sin; to exercise free will to remain condemned for preferring a fallen nature and evil deeds. (John 3:19, 31-36)
10. Actions to take:
—Denounce your corrupted human nature (the “fallen self”) and Satan & all his doings.
—Announce your Faith that Jesus (Yeshua of Nazareth) is the Son of God, Who was miraculously born to Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, and Who (after living a sinless life) died for our sin and was raised again, so that we can be reconciled to God and healed of inner corruption.
—Proclaim the Creator of All (YHWH) is your God and the Rightful Ruler of All Creation… that Jesus (YHWH incarnate) will return to bring all evil to justice.
—Show this belief openly by:
A. being baptized in the Name of the Trinity: Father, Son & Holy Spirit, according to the mandate of Jesus.
B. continually participating with the Spirit of God, Who constantly influences each believer to live out their identity as a new creation, part of the spiritual Body of Jesus… for the purpose of being transformed into one, who feels His kind of emotions, thinks His kind of thoughts, speaks His words, and does His kind of deeds. This participation cannot mature, if one is not meeting together with other believers in a community of the Faith.