ELI5 what Christians believe

Some people think that the universe was randomly created, that it just started existing one day completely on its own. Christians (people who believe in what Jesus Christ said) believe that the universe and everything in it was lovingly and carefully crafted by God.

We believe t was written like a song, spoken like a poem, molded like a sculpture, woven like a quilt. And we believe that everything was designed with a purpose. There are no accidents.

We believe God has all authority over the whole universe. He created it, so he is all-powerful above it, and he knows it deeper than anyone else can know anything else. But he’s also everywhere-present within it. He sees and knows everything about the universe he has made.

That makes him the best “evaluator” or judge of everything in the universe. He’s like an American Idol judge who is a perfect musician, singer, and producer all at once. As the best evaluator of the universe, what God says about the universe—his Word—is more credible than any other word. We call God's Word the Bible. God's Word is always true.

For example, if God says he is working all things for good, all things WILL be made good. And because God is all-good, he can allow things that are not good to take place, for the purpose of bringing about the greatest good. We are not God. So what we say is good may not line up with what God says is good. And ultimately he has the final word.

Because we are not God, we're not all-good like God is. We often make poor decisions, grave mistakes. Some of us even plan to do what is evil. Even when we do good, we often do it for the wrong reasons. This is called sin. God is completely without sin—he never messes up like we do. God says the payment for even one sin is that one day we will die.

But I thought God was good? How could he let us all die?!

God is good. But remember how I said he's the best evaluator of everything? To be all-good and all-knowing and the best judge of things, God has to call us out when we sin. He wouldn't be all-good if he didn't.

Fortunately, God is also gracious. He wouldn't be all-good if he wasn't. He knows what it's like to be tempted to mess up and he's got a plan for saving us from our struggle with sin.

That's where Jesus Christ comes in. (by the way Jesus was his first name, but Christ is not his last name—it’s a Greek word that means, “Jesus the chosen one.” Think Anakin Skywalker).

It gets a little weird here but stick with me. We believe that Jesus was a man, but also God. He was fully-and-totally-God in a man's body. He was all God, but also a man. Jesus is God in the world. God came to walk among us, to be just as human as we are, to hang out with us, and to teach us what we need to know about God (himself).

We know that Jesus is God because of the things that he said and did. The biggest of which was that Jesus died—as a propitiation for our sins—and then was raised back to life. Yes, we believe that a man died and was raised again—not like a zombie, but like, fully back to life.

Propitiation is a big word that means a payment paid toward a debt that someone owes. When we get a water bill every month, we owe that much money for all the showers we took, laundry we soaked, dishes we washed, pools we filled, faucets we left running, and drinks we sipped around the house. We have to make a propitiation for that water.

God said that the payment for sin is death. You mess up, you die. We all mess up, so we all die—that's the human condition. We're all going to die one day, we can't live forever, and it's a result of our first failures.

But God also said that he’s offering a one-lifetime-only, no-strings-attached, completely free gift: Life, through the payment that he made on our behalf. God is just and fair to punish crime, but he's loving and merciful to offer payment on our behalf.

In the life and death of Jesus, your debt to God is paid.

Jesus didn't just die though. He didn't just get buried—that wasn't the end. Because Jesus is fully God in a man's body, he was able to defeat death (like the boss battle at the end of a video game) by coming back to life. He died, he rose again.

No man has ever come back to life before, so it sounds crazy. But there were eye-witnesses to prove the whole thing. This is not the Walking Dead, this is a man fully dying and fully coming back to life to be a man again. He came back and he was seen by many people. Namely, he was first seen by two women.

You may not realize this but women have more rights today than they had in the first century. In the first century, women were used and abused and no one believed their word—they were treated as 'lower' than men. So, for the early Christians to hang their entire system of beliefs on the word of two women is a remarkable thing.

Think about it. If they were lying, wouldn't they want to tell a lie that the people of their day would actually believe?

In defeating death, Jesus made a way for us to defeat death as well. All we have to do is believe in Jesus, to trust him, to put our hope in him. If we trust him, we can live forever with him in a paradise called heaven.

The Bible says that it's all planned out for a person to die once, and then they meet God. If you trusted in God, you get to live forever in heaven—you get your life back in a new world, like Jesus came back to life here. If you didn’t trust God, when you meet him, he sends you away to die forever as payment for the wrong that you’ve done.

That eternal dying is called hell. And according to Jesus, hell is a pretty nasty place. In hell, you die and die and die and die and die and die and die over and over and over forever, tortured by horror of the awful place.

Hell is not a party for all the cool people, as Hollywood would have you believe. There’s not a devil DJ spinning records and passing drinks. It’s torturous, forever. I don’t want you to have to deal with hell.

There's a group of people who hang out together and talk about all of this stuff. It's called the Church. There’s one Church (one group of people who believe in Jesus and follow God’s Word), but multiple churches (groups of believers all around the world, in each community).

At church, you'll learn how to read God's Word, how to talk to God, how to live a life that would make God proud, and how to tell others about this incredible thing.

Because God is so good, the people who truly believe in God try to do good. That’s the mark of a real church—it’s a group of believers doing good in their community. There are fake churches out there just like there are fake Yeezy’s and autotuned pop stars, I'm sad to say.

An authentic church is a place that's doing good in the world. A place that’s helping the poor, needy, orphaned, widowed, anxious, sick, elderly, and oppressed. A good church is a great place to get plugged in and start doing good in the world.

A good church is an amazing thing. See, God's people come from all walks of life and share their resources to be able to do the most good, to help people in need all over the world, and to spread the message of Jesus far and wide.

Many churches feed thousands of people each week, donate food and clothing, and meet basic needs. Some churches even have men and women on-call to help with rescue efforts after major storms, fires, and floods. Through a good church, you can be a part of exciting efforts to make your world a better place.

As you go to church and serve your community, you'll learn more about who God is and what his Word says. You’ll begin to develop a relationship with God: He’s like a good father, a good brother, a good friend. He’s there for you.

You'll develop a relationship with God. Not like a dating relationship, but a different kind of personal intimacy. The act growing closer to God in relationship is called worship. In worship, we are giving God attention and affection—we’re telling him we want to know more about him and that we love him. Worship is just what you do when you love something.

Think about it. When someone posts about how much they looove pumpkin spiced lattes from Starbucks, they’re worshiping. They may not be bowing down or mumbling a chant to the latte like something out of an Indiana Jones movie but they’re giving attention and affection to the thing that they like.

If you really love something, you’ll start to learn more about it.

Some people love coffee so much that they learn just how to make the perfect latte every time. I love Star Wars so much I can name the full succession of Sith lords from the days of Old Republic to fall of the Empire. Some guys love football so much they can rattle off all kinds of player stats without even thinking.

God is so much better than a #PSL, so much more real and meaningful than Star Wars, better than football too. He’s our maker, our good father, our closest friend, our redeemer, our battle-fighter, our King—he’s everything. He deserves our attention and affection. We should want to learn more about him. That’s worship.

That’s really all you need to know to get started! It’s simple. I’ll recap:

TL;DR

God created everything, so he’s the best evaluator of all of it and he gets to say what’s good and what’s bad. He is always good, we are not always good and he said we have to pay for the bad by dying. But he also offered another way of life through Jesus.

Jesus came, Jesus died, Jesus rose again, and trusting Jesus brings us life. Our new life should be lived in service to others and in dedication to God, helping others find life and learning about God as we grow.

If you’ve got any questions about all of this—I know it’s a ton of stuff to process—go find a good church that’s helping people in your area. Talk to the pastor of the church. Talk to one of your believing friends.

Read the Bible and ask God to show you the answers you seek. When looking at churches and speaking with the leaders of churches, if they say anything that sounds super weird or out-there, and if they're not helping people, avoid that place. There are people out there who use God to hurt people and gain wealth. They're the worst.

FAQ

If there is one Church, why are there so many different kinds of churches?

This is a question I get all the time. We should all be working together as Christians, as the Church, to bring hope and light to a dark world. To love people like Jesus loved people. But sadly, we don't all work together. In fact, we don't all believe the same things. We interpret the Bible in different ways, thus different types of churches are needed.

We call different types of churches denominations.

Part of the reason we have denominations is that, over hundreds of years, the Church has spread to different nations, tribes, and continents. There has been a lot of debate about how much of a nation’s culture or tribe’s way of life we should adopt as a church and to what extent we should be changing a culture or a people.

The Bible says to be “in the world, but not of the world.” To some Christians, that means abstaining from all cultural influence. Think of the Amish, who live simply, and some might say primitively, in modern America. Other Christians believe in using cultural mores to advance the message of Jesus.

In the 1800s, missionaries in China decided to wear traditional Buddhist attire, so as not to offend anyone that might benefit from hearing God’s Word. It's not that they were deceiving anyone, they just didn't want to be rude. Some Christians thought that wearing Buddhist clothing when we're not Buddhists was wrong.

So divisions in the Church have arisen in part over cultural norms and standards and over disagreements about what the Bible truly means.

And this is perfectly fine, because, to be honest, the Bible doesn’t say much about how we should dress or speak as Christians.

In fact, the very first denomination was recorded in the Bible, between Christians who observed Jewish food laws (don’t eat pork, don’t eat food from the pagan temple, etc.) and Christians who didn’t want to observe Jewish laws because they never had to before believing in Jesus.

Denominations have also come from healthy debates between believing communities.

I'll add more to the FAQ section of this blog post as time goes on.