The way of salvation that Jesus proclaimed was not through organizational membership or accurate knowledge of the Scriptures--although both of these enter into it. In order to gain life, people had to come to Jesus personally. Under the new covenant there would be no other way to the Father, except through Jesus.
Look at the covenant arrangement God established with Israel. Jews were in a special relationship with God by virtue of being members of the nation of Israel. This was to be followed by a new arrangement at some future time according to the "new covenant" prophecy of Jeremiah, chapter 31. Under this new covenant "'they will all of them know me, from the least one of them even to the greatest one of them,' is the utterance of Jehovah. 'For I shall forgive their error, and their sin I shall remember no more.'" (verse 34 NW)
All sorts of sinful people--even prostitutes and corrupt tax collectors--came to Jesus and received forgiveness of their sins. The forgiveness was a free gift, not earned by good works. This angered the Jewish religious leaders who wanted people to seek righteousness through the works program they had outlined to them. But those who accepted Jesus as their Savior rejoiced and were overjoyed to feel the burden of sin lifted off their shoulders.
Besides promising forgiveness of sins, the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:34 also said, "'they will all of them know me, from the least one of them even to the greatest one of them,' is the utterance of Jehovah." This did not mean just additional details of knowledge or information about God, but actually knowing God personally. How? By personally living with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, on a day-to-day basis. When Philip asked to see the Father, Jesus answered, "Have I been with you men so long a time, and yet, Philip, you have not come to know me? He that has seen me has seen the Father." (John 14:9 NW)
Those who actually lived with Jesus (who is the exact representation of the Father--Heb. 1:3) could get to know God in this new intimate way that was not possible for people who just "searched the Scriptures" as the Pharisees did. (John 5:39) The "knowing Jehovah" that Jeremiah prophesied about is this sort of close, personal relationship with God through His Son.
And Jeremiah was not offering a new covenant for just a handful of men in the First Century. Rather, it would be God's way of dealing with men from that time onward. For example, Paul's relationship with God through His Son began when Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus. Later on, Paul told of occasions when "the Lord stood near me and infused power into me" (2 Tim. 4:17 NW), and when Paul spoke to the Lord about his "thorn in the flesh." (2 Cor. 12:7-9) As a zealous Jew, Paul had had a relationship with God before, but only from a distance. Now, as a Christian, he really knew God.
Stephen saw Jesus in a vision during his trial. Some time later, after his trial broke up and he was brought outside the city, Stephen called out to Jesus. "And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them.'" (Acts 7:59-60 RSV) There is no indication that the earlier vision was repeated then. Rather, Stephen had an on-going relationship with Jesus and felt free to call upon Him.
Were Paul and Stephen unique in having a personal relationship with the Son of God, calling upon Jesus in time of need? Evidently not, as Paul described Christians as those "who everywhere are calling upon the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ." (1 Cor 1:2 New World Translation)
Jesus promised this continuing relationship with His disciples: "For where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there I am in their midst." (Matt. 18:20 NW) In fact, we have Jesus' promise that "he that loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will plainly show myself to him. ...and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our abode with him." (John 14:21-23 NW) The Living Bible paraphrases it this way: "When I come back to life again...I will only reveal myself to those who love and obey me. The Father will love them too, and we will come to them and live with them." (vss. 20-23)
Jesus does not usually reveal himself to people today in a blinding light, as he appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus. Rather, it is more as described at Galatians 4:6--"God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!'" (Revised Standard Version)
At first I was afraid to approach God in prayer to confess my sin and ask Jesus into my heart as my Savior and Lord. Due to my religious training, I was afraid of receiving a demonic spirit. But then I read Jesus' words at Luke 11:10-13--"For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or it he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (RSV) So, I prayed and received Jesus' spirit into my heart. I experienced a personal fulfillment of Galatians 4:6 and came to know God as my Father in a way that I had never known before.
So, the Gospel of the Christian Scriptures, the new covenant that Jeremiah 31 foretold, is not a new set of doctrines to learn or new facts about God (although some erroneous doctrines may need to be un-learned). Rather, it is a salvation that includes a new life right now, as a new creature by virtue of being born again and living a new Spirit-filled life.
Jesus introduced this new life when He told Nicodemus, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God...Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again." (John 3:3-7 KJV)
All of those who come into the new covenant undergo this change: "You, however, are controlled not by your sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. ...Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit who makes you sons. And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father.' The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children." (Romans 8:9-11, 14-16 NIV)
When you are born again, you are a babe in Christ at first. And just as toddlers tend to fall while learning to walk, so it is with learning to walk in the Spirit. But the Father will help you grow as His child. You will form a longing for the Word, and the Holy Spirit will teach you as you read. You will see more and more clearly that Jesus could not be merely the first angelic creation, as some cults teach, but that He is, as doubting Thomas finally came to believe, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28 NW)
Besides learning more about God and growing in love for Him, you will also come to see yourself as part of the body of Christ. This is "the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven." (Heb. 12:23 NIV) The true church, Christ's body, crosses denominational lines and includes individuals both in and out of the various religious organizations that men have set up. It is composed of all those who look to Christ as Head, who have been "baptized by one Spirit into one body." "Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,' it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. ...The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!'" (1 Cor. 12:12-21 NIV) So, we need our brothers and sisters in Christ, even if we see ourselves as quite different from them.
It may be difficult at first to adopt this scriptural view of our brothers in Christ: "If a person's faith is not strong enough, welcome him all the same without starting an argument. People range from those who believe they may eat any sort of meat to those whose faith is so weak they dare not eat anything except vegetables. Meat eaters must not despise the scrupulous. On the other hand, the scrupulous must not condemn those who feel free to eat anything they choose, since God has welcomed them. It is not for you to condemn someone else's servant. ...If one man keeps certain days as holier than others, and another considers all days to be equally holy, each must be left free to hold his own opinion." (Rom. 14:1-5 Jerusalem Bible) If you accept this view of the brotherhood, then you will find it easier to fellowship with Christians from other backgrounds.
Ask the Lord to guide you into the fellowship He wants you to be in. He will answer your prayer. Of course, He may put you into a local congregation like the one in Corinth, where the gifts of the Spirit were being misused and where the Lord's Supper was not being celebrated properly. (1 Cor. 14:23, 11:20) Or, He may send you into a church like the one in Pergamum, where corrupt practices and false teachings prevailed among some members. (Rev. 2:14, 15) Or, you may find yourself in a congregation like the one in Sardis that had "a reputation of being alive" but was actually "dead." (Rev. 3:1 NIV) Such experiences can help you to grow and to deepen your personal relationship with Jesus as Lord. "Bear what you have to bear as 'chastening'--as God's dealing with you as sons," part of your training from the Father. (Heb. 12:7 J.B. Phillips)
We all should admit, as Paul the Apostle did, that "we can see and understand only a little about God now, as if we were peering at his reflection in a poor mirror; but someday we are going to see him in his completeness, face to face. Now all that I know is hazy and blurred, but then I will see everything clearly, just as clearly as God sees into my heart right now." (1 Cor. 13:12 Living Bible) So, while 'accurate knowledge' of every detail is not yet available, it is the Christian's privilege to "know" God through a close, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If you have not yet done so, tell God right now that you need Jesus as your Savior, and receive Him as your Lord. He invites you: "Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28 Today's English Version) "I will never turn away anyone who comes to me." (John 6:37 TEV)
Need help to call upon Jesus for salvation? See: www.BillyGraham.org.