Being Presbyterian 101
1 John 4.-8 says, “Beloved, let us love one another because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God; whoever does not love, does not know God because God is love.” In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says the greatest commandment is to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself” (Lk 10.25-28).
If God is love and Jesus commands us to love God with everything we have and to love our neighbor the way we would love ourselves, we believe the most important thing we can do is love…love God, our neighbors, ourselves, and God’s creation.
The Bible is the foundational book for the Christian faith. In it, we discover the depth and breadth of God’s love for humanity and for the world. The author of 2 Timothy.16-17 says that, “All scripture (that’s another name for the Bible) is inspired by God.” In other words, we believe God inspired human beings to write the words contained in the Bible. What we read in the Bible are stories of how ancient people experienced God.
So, is the Bible true? Yes! Can all of it be proven? No! And that’s OK! There is more than 1 kind of truth contained in the Bible: there is truth that is facts that can be empirically proven and then there is truth that directs how we should live like, “Love your neighbor” or “treat others the way you want to be treated.”
Are there mistakes in the Bible? The Bible was written over a span of 1500 years by more than 40 authors writing in 3 different languages (Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, which is the language Jesus spoke) in several different social, political, and economic contexts. So, yes! The Bible is not inerrant (without error) or infallible (incapable of being wrong).
We can’t prove that God is real. No church, denomination, or religion can. Not even the Bible can prove God exists. What it can do, however, is show us how the authors of the Bible and the characters in the stories the Bible contains interacted with God. And through that, we come to understand more about what God is like and what God wants from us.
God is relational…God wants to know his people. God is experiential…in the hug of a friend or the laughter of a child or the beauty of a rainbow, we can experience God. God is loving…God’s love is unconditional and eternal. God love’s you no matter what.
We call God “he”…does that mean God’s a man? No. Actually, the Bible often uses a neutral or plural word for God. But the society and time in which it was written was dominated by men, so God was thought to be a man. Whenever possible, we try to use gender neutral terms for God.
Since we can’t physically experience God, we believe God became on of us in the person of Jesus Christ. We call Jesus the Son of God because we believe he came from God the way you came from your parents…your parents are a part of you.
So, why did God become human? We believe Jesus lived and died to reconcile us to God. He experienced human death, so that one day we can experience life with God. We believe that through something called sin, we became separated from God. Jesus was born, lived, and died, to reconcile us to God…to bring us into a whole and healthy relationship with God. Jesus didn’t die because of human sin; he willingly died for us, so one day we can stand in the presence of God.
Have you ever heard the cheer, “We’ve got spirit, yes we do. We’ve got spirit, how about you”? That spirit is our essence…who we are. It’s kind of the same with God. The Holy Spirit is how God reveals himself to us, how we experience God, and how we come to know Jesus. The Spirit is the divine witness to Jesus. It is the Holy Spirit that brings us to faith and motivates us to live in ways that honor God and testify to our relationship with Jesus.
While we become Jesus-followers through the Spirit, we also believe the Holy Spirit works in us and through us. The Spirit equips us with gifts to use in the church and in the world, so the love of Jesus can be shared not just in our words, but by how we act and how we serve the “common good” inside and outside the church.
Grace is something God extends to us because we don’t always live the way we should in the world. Sometimes, we do things that hurt other people and God’s creation and, in doing so, we drive ourselves farther away from God. Well, it’s God’s grace that draws us back. Through God’s grace, we find forgiveness and a better relationship with God.
Think about it this way: imagine you ran away from home. You really should be disciplined for it, but instead, your parent says, “I’m just glad you’re home safe.” Well, grace is God saying, “I’m not going to punish you for running away and doing what you wanted. I’m going to love you and welcome you home. I’m going to forgive you no matter what.” That’s grace…and it’s a beautiful gift. There’s nothing we can do to earn it.
Sin is anything that separates us from God. Some people believe that we are born sinful, what we call “original sin.” In recent years, some progressive Presbyterians have come to believe that we are not born sinful…that sin is not our original condition. Instead, sin comes from human selfishness and a desire to focus only on ourselves. We are born beautiful with the spark of God’s divine love inside us and the potential to become people who honor God and live in love.
Sin can also mean actions like lying, cheating, stealing, committing murder…things we do that alienate us from God. Sin is missing the mark God. We fail to be who God wants us to be and who we know we should be.
Ephesians 2 says, “…by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…” Our lives are marked by seeking our own agendas, our own glory, our own power rather than God’s, what we call sin.
Through Jesus Christ, we receive grace, mercy, and forgiveness and we are saved to love God and live with God for eternity at the end of our earthly lives. By believing in Jesus and living in faith, we are saved.
Presbyterians believe you can never lose your salvation. There is nothing you can do to lose God’s love. The same God who gives us the gift of salvation as an act of free grace, will continue to keep us in salvation no matter what.
Now, that doesn’t mean we can just do whatever we want to; it isn’t a license to sin. If we profess our faith, say we’re saved, and then go out and do whatever we want to, our profession of faith and the salvation we claimed through it weren’t real to begin with.
Worship is what we do in response to our experience of God. When we give praise, glory, and honor to God, we tell the world that we are not God and we show God the depth and breadth of our love for God. We worship as our way of thanking God for the blessings we have received from God…even when they might seem few and far between.
Worship is our act of praise. In worship, we sing and pray, we read scripture and listen to a message that explains what we read, we affirm our faith in God and recommit our lives to God.
Worship is also how we’re called to live. Everything we do and say is supposed to be an act of worship. In other words, it’s supposed to honor God. Worship is the nourishment we need to live lives that are pleasing to God.
Prayer is one of the ways we communicate with God. While it might seem like we talk and God just listens, Presbyterians do believe God answers prayer… sometimes it’s just not in the way we want or expect.
When we communicate with God, we offer God everything that’s happening in our lives. We offer God adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication (a fancy way of saying we ask God for things, not selfishly, but because we feel they are what we or someone else needs in that moment).
The Bible actually commands us to pray, but for some of us it can be hard. We don’t know what to pray for or even how to pray. That’s where adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication come in. Take the first letter of each word and you get “ACTS.” It’s a corny, but simple way of remembering how to pray and what to pray for.