Lives being transformed
Our foundations of faith
The Bible is God inspired. We delight in and wrestle with it, in the pursuit of timeless truths for everyday life.
Therefore, we believe…
1. God is love, always acting for everyone’s good, whether we feel it or understand it.
2. In one eternal Creator God in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
3. We are all made in God’s image and sin when we don’t love God, our neighbour, (the world) and ourselves wholeheartedly.
4. We are all offered forgiveness, liberation from the past, and eternal life, which we receive when we freely accept and follow Jesus.
5. Jesus is the Son of God; fully God and fully human. He was born of a virgin, lived a perfect life and willingly died on a cross, rose again, conquered death and evil, met with his followers and returned to his Father.
6. God the Father and Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to enable us to accept and follow Jesus, guaranteeing eternal life; equipping us in building his community and being our guide and helper in the everyday.
7. God made a good and beautiful Creation. He invites us to enjoy it and equips us to be his partners in taking care of it.
8. Jesus taught about the kingdom of God and demonstrated it by the way he lived. This kingdom is expressed today through the Church and wherever God is active.
9. The local Church is a family of ordinary, flawed but forgiven people who seek to love God and love their neighbour as they love themselves.
10. Our relationship with God is nourished in a multitude of ways including prayer, Bible reading, being together and enjoying Creation.
11. Jesus will return to create a new heaven and a new earth right here and will fairly judge us all according to our understanding and response to Jesus. This judgement will determine if we spend eternity with God.
God is Love
In English we have one word for “love”. The Bible has many, both in Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). For example, in Greek we have:
- Eros: From which we get the word “erotic”. It is a physical and intimate kind of love.
- Philia: This is often translated as “brotherly/sisterly love”. It is a transactional love that says: “I’ll help you if you help me”. It is a respecting of each other in a business partnership.
- Storge: This is a natural and instinctual love of parents towards their children and vice-versa.
The early followers of Jesus used a different word for love though. They felt that none of these words captured God’s love shown through Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension. They used the word Agape.
Agape is a love that is active before it is a feeling; it isn’t blown by the winds of feelings. It is a love that gives us what we need, which might not be what we want… It is a love that is costly to the person giving it. It’s a love that the recipient can reject and is therefore a massive risk to the giver.
This is the love the writer of 1 John had in mind when he wrote: “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Love is not an attribute of God or just one part of God’s character. If God were a stick of rock love would run right through the middle. Now, in saying this we’re not ignoring other parts of God’s character. To be sure, God is just, merciful, gracious, jealous, protective, etc.. But God’s justice is loving, God’s mercy is defined by love, etc..
Thomas G. Long, a gifted American preacher and writer, says: “God does not love us out of need, does not possess us out of insecurity, but God does desire that we reciprocate with love – not for God’s sake, but for ours.”
God is love; this love is both a vulnerable and strong love at the same time.
Willingly died on a cross, rose again
From conception to ascension Jesus’ main aim was to bring God’s kingdom and therefore remove the barrier of sin, reconciling humanity with God.
In full agreement with his heavenly Father and in the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus lived the life we can’t live and willingly died the death we should have died to offer us life. Fulfilling many Old Testament prophecies, Jesus died on the cross for us.
He stood in our place taking the consequence of Sin.
He released us from the slavery of Death.
He triumphed over the Devil who only wants to bring about ruin and death.
Jesus invites us, in our regret, to change direction (repent) and turn to him. If we do this we are his and he is ours; He will never let us go, turn his back on us or forget us.
God proved Jesus had removed the barrier of sin for all Creation by rising to life again three days later! He wasn’t just another criminal who had died at the hands of the Roman authorities instead, he had triumphed over death and deprived it of its sting.
From foetus to a heavenly return Jesus shows us God cannot stand sin and loves us so much that he refuses to leaves helpless and alone in it.
God made a good and beautiful creation
The first book of the Bible tells the story of God creating everything (Genesis 1-2). Some Christians believe this to be a literal six day event whilst others understand it to be an ancient poem. The Hebrew word for “day” (yom) has several literal definitions: A period of light (as contrasted with the period of darkness), a general term for time, a point of time, sunrise to sunset, sunset to next sunset, a year, a time period of unspecified length and a long, but finite span of time (an age, epoch or season).
This story, this poem, was a Jewish response to the creation stories of other people groups of their time. The other stories differed in one major way; they started with a battle between a good and a bad god in which the good god wins. The Jewish story made it clear that there is only one God, who is good and created all we are see and feel.
Some people have thought that God made creation perfect and we messed it up. Genesis says God made it “good” and “very good” when he created us.
The Hebrew word for “good” (tov) can mean the following: “Good, pleasant, beautiful, excellent, lovely, delightful, convenient, joyful, fruitful, precious, sound, cheerful, kind, correct, righteous; the good, the right, virtue, happiness, pleasantness.” The author of The complete word study of the Old Testament says: “It may refer to practical or economic benefits, wisdom, aesthetic or sensual goodness, happiness, or preference. An important meaning of the term is moral goodness, as contrasted with moral evil.”
Please note, it doesn’t say “perfect” is one of the possible meanings. Also, why would God say of creation that it is “perfect” and then, after creating humanity in his image saying, “it is very perfect”? It doesn’t make sense. If creation was perfect before humanity was made it can’t be any more perfect. In saying this we’re not slighting God creating this beautiful place we call home. It is very good!
The Hebrew word for “perfect” (tamin) can mean: “Blameless, blamelessly, complete, entire, full, intact, integrity, perfect, sincerity, unblemished, uprightly, who is perfect, whole, without blemish, without defect.” It is used often in verses about sacrifices to God such as Exodus 12:5 and Exodus 29:1 and occurs 91 times in the Old Testament. It also speaks of God is verses such as Deuteronomy 32:4:
He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.
If the writer of Genesis wanted to say that Creation was perfect why didn’t he use tamin instead of tov?
God made something that was good and invited us to be partners in caring for it. And when we care for our planet, God’s planet, we’re more inclined to see its beauty!
The kingdom of God
Christians have often misunderstood “the kingdom of God” as “Heaven” or “the Church”. It’s neither.
In “Jesus and the victory of God” Tom Wright says:
“The most important thing to recognise about the first-century Jewish use of kingdom-language is that it was bound up with the hopes and expectations of Israel. ‘Kingdom of god’ was not a vague phrase, or a cipher with a general religious aura. It had nothing much, at least in the first instance, to do with what happened to human beings after they died. The reverent periphrasis ‘kingdom of heaven’, so long misunderstood by some Christians to mean ‘a place, namely heaven, where saved souls go to live after death’, meant nothing of the sort in Jesus’ world: it was simply a Jewish way of talking about Israel’s god becoming king. And, when this god became king, the whole world, the world of space and time, would at last be put to rights.”
In Matthew’s gospel Jesus mentions the Church twice (16:18-20 and 18:15-20) and the kingdom of God fifty-five times. The Church should be a signpost for God’s kingdom. It is key to God’s plans but the kingdom isn’t limited to the Church.
The kingdom of God was the emphasis of Jesus’ teaching, for instance, in the parables in Matthew 13. Jesus said the kingdom is:
- Often small to start with
- A feast to which all are invited
- Larger than, but includes the Church
- Planted by God before we arrive on the scene
- A field (the world) we must buy (live in)
- Always growing in mysterious ways
- Consistently hidden
- A bringer of joy
The kingdom was not replaced by the Church when Jesus ascended to heaven and gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit. It was still the focus of the early Church leaders such as Philip and Paul (Acts 8:12, 19:8, 20:25 and 20:28) and must be ours. We, as individuals and a local church in Tonbridge must seek and focus on the kingdom of God.
We can become so familiar with some words that they lose their importance and impact. “Sin” is one such word which is often only used for the really big things. You may have heard someone say: “I don’t beat my children and I pay my taxes. I not a sinner, I’m a good person.”
So what does sin mean?
The most frequently used words for sin in the Old Testament (chata) and New Testament (hamartia) both essentially mean “to stray from the path” or “to miss the mark.” The path/mark is God’s intention for us. Whenever we miss this in thought, word, action or lack of action we sin. No wonder the writer Paul says: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
From God’s perspective all sins are the same but from a human point of view all sins are not the same: Cheating at a family game of cards does not have the ramifications of cheating on your spouse. The consequences of sin can be catastrophic for individuals, communities, nations and the entire world.
Some may ask: “But didn’t Jesus say all sins were the same in Matthew 5:21-30 when he spoke about murder and adultery?” Not quite. Jesus exaggerates, challenging us to carefully examine our thoughts and actions. He is making it absolutely clear that sin is a serious business and we should do everything to avoid it. Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “Not only will we have to repent for the sins of bad people; but we also will have to repent for the appalling silence of good people.”
We should stand up against sin, in other words, repent of it. “Repent” means to turn in my thoughts, then my heart and then my actions away from those things which cause me to stray from the path of God’s design for my life.
We should also stand up against the sin in ourselves as it says in Romans 12:9: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” We struggle to genuinely love others if we are burdened by evil.
We should stand up against “systems of sin” as it says in Proverbs 31:8: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” Children dying of preventable illnesses, parents unable to feed their young, women being trafficked, elderly folk dying alone; these situations are wrong. We can do no other but stand against them.
In the gospels Jesus only seems to demonstrate a disgust for sin when it was committed by religious leaders (e.g.: Matthew 23:27-28). Why? Because Jesus couldn’t stomach religious hypocrisy; showing God and others how good we think we are, whilst loading religious obligations onto others which they have no chance of fulfilling. Jesus knew that religious hypocrisy was a major reason why many people didn’t follow God.
These religious leaders didn’t like Jesus because, amongst other things, they said he spent time with sinners. Jesus saw them as neighbours, even those who were his enemies and he didn’t particularly talk about their sins, but about God’s forgiveness of their sins instead. In Luke 7 a prostitute crashes Simon’s party and anoints Jesus’ feet with oil. He responds with the words: “Your sins are forgiven.” In John 8 a woman caught in adultery is thrown before him amidst a crowd of men demanding that she be stoned to death. It’s a trap and Jesus tells them that the one without sin can cast the first stone. After they’ve all left Jesus stands with the woman who hasn’t been condemned by the crowd and says: “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Sin is serious. We should stand against it.
Thank God Jesus doesn’t dwell on or leave us in our sin. When we turn to him we can find freedom and peace.