Stephen R. Johnson
Introduction. What did Jesus actually teach? What concepts, ideas and ideals did he share with his followers concerning God's relation to mankind, a person's relation to God, and on what basis should we try to relate to one another? The essence of Jesus' teachings is encompassed in genuine love and unselfish social service. In his teachings, in his life and how he lived it, Jesus revealed God to men and women, and led men and women to God. What is to follow is a selection of main highlights of the gospel of Jesus; that is, not so much the gospel about him, but rather what he actually and so generously taught his apostles, disciples and other followers, even his enemies.
The Fatherhood of God. Jesus taught that first and foremost God is a father to us, our spiritual father. God is referred to as the Universal Father since he is the primal Father to all of his creatures. Just as in an ideal earthly family, our spiritual parent loves all children in the family group, but also loves each child individually. Similarly, God loves mankind as a whole, but also loves each one of us as individuals. Therefore we are not "cosmic orphans," but rather members of the family of God. He knows us perfectly, including our thoughts, inner longings and true intentions. God sends an actual "fragment" of himself to indwell our minds in order to share in our lives, spiritualize our thinking, and lead us Godward. Jesus often referred to this fragment of God or divine source as the “living water” or "waters of life." Nevertheless, God has given us free will to make our own choices, and he never does ought to arbitrarily violate the sanctity of this free will that he has bestowed on us. Most of the work of the indwelling spirit is done at an unconscious level in our minds, though our cooperation facilitates this work. Having a genuine and wholehearted desire to know God, to love him and to do his will is the best way to facilitate this cooperation.
The brotherhood of man. Since God is our Father, it must follow that we are brothers and sisters in his spiritual family. This is a spiritual truth in that it refers ultimately to our spiritual relationship to one another. Unfortunately, mankind as a whole has not yet experientially actualized this reality. We are taught to love one another, but love of a fellow human being cannot be achieved by a mere act of the will alone. We must come to know a person, especially their sentiments and motivations, before we can really learn to love them. We are spiritually alike because of the indwelling spirit of God, but we can be quite different with regard to our philosophical interpretations and the way we think about our individual spiritual experiences. Jesus taught that we could have spiritual unity, without necessarily having philosophical uniformity. As individuals we can strive in our daily lives, as we come in contact with our fellows, to "love our neighbors as ourselves," even to love our fellows as Jesus loves us. And Jesus loves us both as a father and as a brother. He went about doing good, and he was genuinely interested in others. The highest interpretation of the Golden Rule is to treat others according to our best and highest ideals of how we believe God would treat them in like circumstances. And God is living love.
The faith sons of God. Jesus taught that through the exercise of faith we can daily realize and experience in our lives the ennobling truth that we are sons of God. Sincere faith is the requirement for entrance into "the kingdom of heaven," this realization and experiencing sonship with God. This is our salvation, which is the free gift of God. Jesus likened this faith in God to the implicit trust that a child has for its earthly parents. Living faith is dynamic and it grows. Its exercise progressively expands our ability to acquire truth, experience new meanings in our lives, and to deepen and broaden our values. Faith can be characterized as sublime hope, as the "inspiration of the creative spiritized imagination." In a real sense, living faith can help build "bridges" in our minds from the known to the unknown. But these bridges must be based upon a genuine hunger for the living truth of God and a "thirst for righteousness." When we search for God, this is evidence that God has already found us. Remaining in the kingdom of heaven is predicated on growth and progress therein,"bearing the fruits of the spirit." Bestowing genuine love on our fellows and engaging in whatever unselfish social service we are capable of are the keys to this growth and progress. And those men and women who are spirit-born and God-knowing show forth in their lives the fruits of the divine spirit, which are: loving service, unselfish devotion, courageous loyalty, sincere fairness, enlightened honesty, undying hope, confiding trust, merciful ministry, unfailing goodness, forgiving tolerance, and enduring peace. Although Jesus characterized the kingdom of heaven in different ways, his last word in this regard was always "The kingdom of heaven is within you."
The religion of personal experience. Jesus taught that true religion is the religion of personal experience. He focused on the individual and his or her personal relationship with God. God has personality, albeit his personality is divine, most holy, perfect and much more. Nevertheless, God the Father is a person, and our personal religious experience is bound up in our active faith-trust in him. Our supreme love of God, actually feeling his presence and love—and the desire to do good to others—these are all very personal experiences for an individual. Jesus did not espouse any rigid or uniform set of intellectual beliefs to follow such as creeds or doctrines. The only "authority" we dare rely on is encompassed in the divine leadings of the indwelling spirit of God, and the influence of the Spirit of Truth (the spirit of the Father and his Son Jesus). Jesus taught the truths of the gospel in an authoritative manner, but he was never authoritarian. When we are perplexed or confused about our circumstances and are unsure, the Spirit of Truth is always there to "show us the way,"just as Jesus would do if he were personally present. "Seek and ye shall find."
God's love and mercy. The two attributes of God that Jesus emphasized by far the most in his teachings, and in how he lived his life, were love and mercy. The Father is not a vengeful or angry deity to be appeased or feared; he does not keep a damaging checklist of our wrongdoings. God's love for us as individuals is divine and perfect, and is unconditional in the highest human sense. The source of all true love is God, and is the ancestor of all spiritual goodness. Genuine love must be unselfishly bestowed, for it cannot be self-contained. Jesus never tired of telling the story of the good shepherd who would leave his ninety and nine sheep that were in the fold and go in search of his one lost sheep. In terms of wrongdoers, Jesus hated the sin but loved the sinner. He taught that we should love even our enemies, and to return good for evil. Although God is a just God, his mercy is abundant. When we err, the Father forgives us even before we think to ask him for forgiveness; however, we are able to experience the consciousness of this forgiveness through the act of forgiving others. "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." Mercy is applied love, and in human affairs there are certain steps we must traverse to learn its ministry: justice, fairness, patience, and kindness. In terms of God's divine justice and mercy, Jesus taught that mercy may be lavish, but justice is precise. Although mercy is not a contravention of justice, he who would receive mercy must show mercy.
God's will. Jesus focused in his mind the will of the Father as holy, just and great, as well as true, beautiful and good. The highest human concept of God's will is embodied in truth, beauty and goodness. Nevertheless, these realities are not static or frozen; rather they are living and dynamic. The indwelling spirit of God is truly the Father's will in the mind of a human being. Jesus' interpretation of religion was at all times in terms of the Father's will; and Jesus taught that we should seek to expand our knowledge of the Father's will and petition for a richer endowment of wisdom effectively to do that divine will. Further, Jesus emphasized that we should try our very best to acquire the mind of spiritual insight. We can appreciate beauty, but truth cannot be defined in words, only by living. And truth cannot be had without the exercise of faith, living faith. Jesus taught that we are hardly in the kingdom of heaven when the Father's will is merely our law. However, when the Father’s will truly becomes our will, “It is my will that your will be done,” then are we enhanced to the high position of the free children of God, liberated sons of the kingdom. The more we honestly try to know and to do the Father's will, the more real we become as individuals. Jesus taught the living realities of the will of God—truth, beauty and goodness—in place of the idea of the kingdom of God. He also emphasized that the Father's will can be done in any earthly occupation. He taught that he who would be greatest among us should become server of all. And to be great is to be good.
“I have called upon you to be born again, to be born of the spirit. I have called you out of the darkness of authority and the lethargy of tradition into the transcendent light of the realization of the possibility of making for yourselves the greatest discovery possible for the human soul to make—the supernal experience of finding God for yourself, in yourself, and of yourself, and of doing all this as a fact in your own personal experience.” The Urantia Book page 1731
(For an excellent and thorough restatement of the life and teachings of Jesus, refer to The Urantia Book. This book is an anthology of 196 papers dealing with a range of topics and contains 2,097 pages, 776 of which cover the life and teachings of Jesus. It is published by URANTIA Foundation, 533 Diversey Pkwy., Chicago IL 60614, which holds the copyright.)