Recently, a college student wrote to me, asking, “What is the difference between a ‘deist’ and a ‘Christian deist’?” My reply is, a “deist” believes that God created the world, including humankind, and God governs the world through natural laws which may be known through observation, experience, and reasoning. A “Christian deist” believes this, too. A “Christian deist” also believes that Jesus was a “deist” because he taught that the two natural laws governing humankind are “love for God” and “love for neighbor (each other).”
The first premise of deism is “God is the Creator of the world, including humankind.” As explained in my essay entitled How Can You Love God?, we show our love, or respect, for God as our Creator by investing our time and abilities, that God has given to us, to produce something good in the world (that is, to help create the “kingdom of God” on earth).
The second premise of deism is “God governs the world, including us, through natural laws.” From the design of our human nature, we find that God intends for us to love each other. As explained in my essay entitled Love Your Neighbor, we show our love, or respect, for our “neighbor” (other human beings) by not doing anything that causes human suffering and by doing whatever we can to relieve human suffering. Violation of this natural law is destructive to ourselves because we are acting against our nature.
As explained in my essay entitled The Kingdom of God, everyone knows the two natural laws which are intended to govern human beings–love for God and love for each other. Jesus said that God’s laws (word) are sown like seed “in the heart” but each of us, as individuals, must choose whether to follow God’s laws of love, or not follow them. The choice is ours to make.
As explained in my essay entitled Repentance and Forgiveness, the “failure to love” is called “sin.” We fail to love God when we do not use our time and abilities to do whatever we can to make this world more enjoyable for everyone. We fail to love our “neighbor” (anyone) when we cause human suffering or do not try to relieve human suffering when we can.
If we, as individuals, are committed to following God’s laws of love, we know when we fail to love. You cannot escape your own judgment of yourself. Your dissatisfaction with yourself, and your feelings of remorse, can be relieved only by repenting from your sin (failure to love), and by asking God for forgiveness. And, if possible, you must seek forgiveness from anyone you have sinned against. You must also be willing to forgive others who have sinned against you. According to Jesus, God forgives us when we repent of our sins and we are willing to forgive others who sin against us.
Repentance and forgiveness are central in the teachings of Jesus. When Jesus preached the “good news” (gospel) that the “kingdom of God is at hand,” he called for people to “repent” and believe the good news. It is through love, repentance, and forgiveness that the “kingdom of God” (the rule of God) becomes a reality in the lives of individuals and in human society.
It is important to recognize that forgiveness cannot be “earned” or “deserved” by doing something, or “bought” by paying something. We must repent of (turn away from) our sins in order to open ourselves to receive forgiveness, but we can do nothing to earn, deserve, or purchase forgiveness. This is why Christian deists reject the theory that Jesus died on a cross to “pay” the “death penalty for sin” so God can forgive people. This “substitutionary theory of atonement,” which came from Paul of Tarsus and is central in trinitarian theology, is an insult to God. God’s forgiveness is not “for sale.” Jesus taught that God freely forgives us when we repent of our sins and we are willing to forgive others who sin against us.
The everyday practice of “Christian deism,” as a personal religion, is based on love, repentance, and forgiveness. When we awaken each morning, let us say a little prayer, thanking God for the day and asking God to guide us in living by love. When we go to bed at night, let us review the day to recognize any failure to love. In prayer, we should confess any failure to love, and ask for God’s forgiveness. We should also determine to seek forgiveness from those we failed to love.
The teachings of the human Jesus about love, repentance, and forgiveness help me to understand the principles of deism. I am a “disciple” (student) of Jesus because I learn from his life and teachings. Jesus believed that he had been “anointed” (chosen) to preach the good news (gospel) that the “kingdom of God” comes on earth through love, repentance, and forgiveness. The term “Christian” refers to any follower of Jesus “the christos” (which means “anointed one”). This is why I call myself a “Christian deist.”