Recently one my cousins who is a few months older to me and one of my best friends growing up asked me a few questions that led me to write this letter to him. He is a very accomplished individual and had interesting journey of his own like I have. He was born in a family that served the communist party of India(his dad is still active) which led him to Russia as a young boy and he learnt Russian and went through his engineering and then successfully worked in Moscow. After the fall of communism he became a successful business man and currently lives in Dubai with his wife and two beautiful children conducting business in Russia and India. I love him dearly and he always was a great example for me growing up. So read on..
Thank you so much for giving me an opportunity to share my faith with you. Having embraced multiple religions and practices since I was a child, as undoubtedly you are aware, I never felt the lack of God in my life. It was only until I found myself asking questions at various points in my life like ‘Who is God?’ ‘Who is God to me’? and ‘Is this God I am serving the one true God’? made me look for answers.
I would be honored to send these books to substantiate your research in mail if you would so like:
- More than a Carpenter, by Josh McDowell
- A Case For Christ, by Lee Strobel
- The Jesus I Never Knew, by Phillip Yancey
- Bible (New Living Translation) at http://www.biblegateway.com
It might be of benefit at this point to understand how I came to what is often called ‘the saving knowledge of Christ’. This is important as I grew up in a god- fearing home since I was a baby and have followed many paths which included Catholicism at School, Hinduism and idol worship at home. At my mother’s insistence, and by her example, this included the reading of the Gita on a regular basis, worshipping the god Venkateswara. You may remember, all of us brothers have that in our name. I followed various ashrams and movements, which included, Aurobindo Ashram, Shirdi Sai Baba, Vivekananda, transcendental meditation movements just to name a few. And all this by the time I was 20 years of age! I also made the trips to Aurobindo ashram, Shirdi Sai baba many times on my own as a kid.
When I came to the U.S. Christianity was the last thing on my mind. Since I went to private Catholic school all my life, with prayers and assembly every morning before school, close relationships with the brothers and sisters, I honestly thought I understood what Christianity was. I was heavily involved in temple and ashram activities after I came to U.S. until the defining time in my life when mom passed away quite unexpectedly. You see, mom was about to come to the States and live with me. She was my rock. I shook an angry fist at God and went into rebellion for a period of 18-24 months. I even kicked out some missionaries who came to my door at Grad school. The irony of all this, and hindsight is that, God was preparing me to know His Son all this while.
To begin, let me give some conclusions I came to before I elaborate in which I hope to answer some of your very fine questions:
1) Knowing Christ is a heart change and not a head change. The head change comes later as the renewal of mind. For some people it is immediate and others it takes time. The transforming power of Christ in someone’s life comes through the study of His word and what is called the ‘walk’.
2) The ‘Trinity’ Father, Son and Holy Spirit were all present before time. (Genesis 1:1, 26; 3:22; 11:7; Isaiah 6:8)
3) Adam and Eve are the two first humans on earth. God created man in His own image. The approximate existence of the world is about 6000 years. This is contrary to the misleading and often misrepresented findings of Evolution theories. (Genesis 1:26) Lee Strobel’s book is a great, in depth reference to this.
4) He created man to worship Him and have dominion over all creation. (Genesis 1:27-30)
5) There was no sin in man at that time. (Genesis 2:25)
6) Satan (who was an angel and along with other angels, decided he could be greater than God and was removed from God’s court which is heaven.)
7) There is heaven and hell. (Daniel 12:2,3;Matthew 25:46; John 5:28; Revelation 20:14,15)
8) Sin separates man from God. The ‘fall’ of Eve and Adam in the garden is the beginning of this. (Genesis 3:2-7)
9) Since the ‘fall’, everyone is born with a sin nature and hence needs a savior.
10) No amount of good works we do can get us close to God as man’s ‘good’ is not pure and God is pure and holy.
11) Religion is man’s quest for God, Christianity(as described here, as Christian is a very loosely used word) is God’s quest for man.
12) Bible is inerrant word of God (authenticity of translation has been proven by manuscript evidence more than any other piece of literature in human history).
13) Christianity is having a personal relationship with Jesus and there needs to be no other mediator between man and God. Priests, pastors and denominations are man-made and caused confusion on this simple truth. Though pastors, elders all have their place in the church and community and mentorship is key to growing spiritually and is modeled consistently through the old and new testament.
14) Any worship that glorifies anything other than the God of the Bible is considered idolatry according to Bible, as seen in the first and second commandments listed in book of Exodus.
15) There is only one way to God and that is through accepting Jesus’ finished work on the cross, who was crucified sinless for our sin and rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven. John 14:6; John 3:16
16) Jesus is the Messiah Israel is waiting for manifested in the flesh in His first coming, fulfilling over 300 messianic prophecies. He will come again to judge the dead and the living and establish His kingdom in righteousness and in so doing will fulfill the remaining prophecies.
17) There are 66 books in the Bible. Forty men shared in the writing of the Bible over a span of about 1,600 years from the time of Moses to the last book written by John. The last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, was written about 443 B.C. The first book of the New Testament, Matthew, was written about 40 A.D. leaving approximately a 500 year gap between the Old and New Testament books. Yet through manuscript evidence and many other archeological evidences, an amazing continuity is firmly established. Evidence has been produced throughout the history of mankind on the authenticity of the Bible. As recent as 1947-1956 findings of Dead Sea Scrolls which included pieces of each of the books of the Old Testament, except for the book of Esther. There are also numerous extra-biblical writings throughout time that authenticate the translations and understanding of the Bible. A useful antidote I have heard is the Old Testament is Jesus concealed and the New Testament is Jesus revealed.
The above represents truths I have come to know and understand through study. God got hold of my heart in 1993 and revealed His Son Jesus Christ to me. The following thoughts share more of my personal reflections, the softer side of my ‘walk’ with God since then.
One of the hardest concepts for me to understand and cope with after I became a Christian was this concept of ‘being born a sinner’. Mind you, not only sin was a hard concept for me to grasp let alone being born with it. I only inherit the physical DNA of my parents, but the sinful nature I have inherited from Adam, the first human. That is why no one had to teach me how to be angry at my siblings or jealous of the toy someone else has or disagree and have temper tantrums on my parents. I was born with it. It’s a small proof of the inherent sin I had in me. When Eve (second human God created to be companion for man) first sinned in the garden when Satan tempted her into saying that she can be equal to God, she fell for it and Adam’s sin of omission by not protecting his wife from evil started the cycle of sin. Until then, in the book of Genesis God tells that man was created in His own image without sin and had perfect communion with his Father. The sin in the garden broke that perfect communion and separated us from God and the restoration process has since then begun as God is holy and perfect and does not co-exist with sin. The other account of Genesis is that the profound difference between all other life forms God created and man is the free will to choose and the conscience to know right from wrong.
The price to pay for restoration of this relationship back to where it was, is that someone had to die (the wages of sin is death) and conquer the death (that is why Christ rose on the 3rd day) and whoever believes in this truth has had their debt of sin paid in full (past, present and future sins). This is what restores communion with God. It has nothing to do with the good works I do in this world or what I grew up with the concept called karma. My good works, if anything, are a reflection of the gratitude for what He has done for me, and reflect the depth of my obedience to Him to be His servant in this world. Nothing I can do earns me communion with the One True God.
Okay, that said, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Here are the really tough questions I wrestled with:
1) Where is my mom? In heaven or hell?
This was a big battle initially for me as I refused to believe she was in hell because of the wonderful sacrificial life she had to live and the good she has done for me and everyone. I came to understand that as wonderful as she was, she was a sinner just like everyone else, in need of a savior. Nevertheless, I had many sleepless nights and as I continued to get stronger in my relationship with God through the study of the Bible and mentors who allowed me to think and pray on this, eventually a great peace came around me. I still don’t have the right answer. The study of Gospel of John and Revelations helped me have peace with this. Secondly, I am not sure if my mom ever had been given a chance to hear the gospel of Jesus explained to her to reveal her Son, but that is not the point. Though as a Christian, I am to spread the good news of the Gospel, it is not me who decides who gets to know Him and at what time. That is between God and them. My relationship with Him is personal and I am the only one to answer when God does give me a chance to answer the question ‘Do you believe I sent my Son to die for your sins so you can have the lost connection restored and have everlasting life with Me?.” How I am able to answer that central question will decide everything for me. It is none of my business how someone else answers it. I am comforted that by Jesus’ own words he states in Matthew 18:14 “In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish”. I am to intercede in prayer on their behalf but I cannot worry about the outcome. Worrying is a state of fear and opposes faith, so worrying is really sin as stated in the Bible. I am to bring up my children in the way of the Lord as the Bible commands, but somewhere along the line they have to ‘own’ their faith by accepting Christ into their hearts when He reveals himself to them.
So how do I love my family who do not know Christ in a saving way? In just the same way Christ loved the people around Him when he walked on earth. There were believers and non-believers. There were even believers that after believing ran away from Him and everything in between. He came to do the work of His Father and obedience to His Father was more important than anything else. My love for my family became so much more unconditional once I gave my life to Christ that I get to see them through His eyes today which removes all judgment, and I can see them as God sees them.
So where is my mom you ask? I don’t know. I do know this much: God used her in my life to be where I am today. I am ever so thankful and I pray she is with Him. If she is with Him then I know that Jesus saved her and she accepted Jesus as her savior. I know that if I reject the gospel I am going to hell. Beyond that I am not to speculate, but be thankful for the incredible things she taught me, which God used to reveal Himself to me. I have special love and appreciation for her role in my life because I understand this truth now.
It is God’s will that ‘none should perish’ (Matthew 18:14) and He wants everyone to be saved, because He is ‘merciful’ and’ just’. Merciful by sending His son Jesus to do for us what we could not do for ourselves, namely die as a sinless man in our place. He is ‘just’ because He does not violate His own law which in it He created us in His own image and gave us free will to choose. So He will give us a chance to choose (Ephesians 2:8.9). So before I leave this earth, myself and everyone has to answer one question. ‘Who is Jesus to me and am I going to heaven?’ The answer I give better line up with the truth.
2) What about other religions?
As you know, I used to embrace a polytheistic (many gods) approach to spirituality, but after this revelation I really believe there are two distinct camps that all religions fall into. One is a man-made, works-driven approach in a never-ending quest to find God and experience enlightenment. The true heart of a Christian (which has nothing to do with denominations, beliefs, priests etc. though they all have a place) is God’s quest for man for the purpose of redeeming him back to Himself, which man is incapable of doing for himself. I’ve heard it quipped this way; I had a debt I could not pay and Jesus paid a debt he did not owe. Realizing no matter how hard I work at it, I cannot close the distance between myself and God, but God has predetermined to redeem me! And He will use any means to reach me.
3) Am I better than other people because I know Jesus?
Absolutely not, if anything, this revelation should produce more humility, compassion and gentleness for other people in my heart as I truly understand my state of being separate from God. I am more sensitive to sin than I have ever been as Satan even more hates me because I got it right with God and I am better target for him to chase. It is in the end a losing battle for him, as the finished work on the cross took care of that. Satan will be completely annihilated through the second coming.
Having said all this, I claim to be no expert in the Bible, nor I will claim to understand everything, all I know is that I am fortunate to know for sure that I am going to see my Father in heaven when I leave this earth because of the finished work of the cross. So, is Jesus a prophet or Son of God or both? The answers are very clear in the Bible.
I pray that this will in part raise your curiosity further and that you will delve deeper into mystery of grace as presented in the truths of the Bible. You have everything to gain. If this is only making you ask more questions and maybe even a little confused, you are right on track.
In Christ and in His love,
Your brother(sinner saved by grace)
Chinna. (aka Venkat)