Christianity is unique among all of the world’s religions because its portrait of the nature of man is so dim, and its remedy so dramatic. In Christianity, getting right with God is not a matter of self-improvement or even self denial. It is not a matter of offering some kind of sacrifice to God to appease Him. Christians recognize that every human problem ultimately goes back to one thing: sin.
Most people are quick to say “Nobody’s perfect,” but looking around us, and inwardly, we find that it’s not just that we are not perfect. It’s more serious. The Bible says it this way:
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12)
Stated plainly, we’re evil by nature. Some people, who have been exposed to the darker side of humanity, or have seen the horrors they are capable of committing, are quick to realize this fact. Others, however, are convinced because of some good things that they have done that they are “good people.” How can you be evil if you don’t feel evil inside?
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
Some people have even spent a lifetime trying to do what they believe is right, which is something to be commended, yet, nothing is able is able to change the fundamental fact of human nature. If we were good by nature, we wouldn’t have to try, it would be natural! Any one who is honest will quickly tell you that they fall short of even their own standards of good, much less God’s standards.
Where it Came From
You may be asking yourself, how could a loving God create something evil? In fact, he did not. When God created the world everything was good.
And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31)
But when God created the man and the woman, he gave them a choice. He placed two trees in the garden with them: The Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And He only gave them one instruction:
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)
He did not place any other restriction on their behavior. He simply gave them this one choice. Either they could choose to follow His way, or they could choose their own. They chose to reject His way and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When they ate from the tree, they “fell” from their perfect relationship, satisfaction and peace with God to a place of separation and insecurity. The fruit they ate was corrupting and they became corrupt. Not only was this the beginning of all of the problems of mankind, it was also the pattern by which all sin is committed. We choose our own way instead of God’s. We inherited the corrupted nature they got from their sin, and have never stopped it.
Although man is evil, God on the other hand, is good by nature. He is Love. He is kind by nature. He is gentle, patient, longsuffering, and every other virtue one could use to describe Him. This creates a problem. Evil can not be in fellowship with good. In fact, because God is good, and just, He is compelled to deal with evil. When someone that people believe to be guilty is found not guilty, everyone is outraged because it is a miscarriage of justice. Deep inside we sense that a wrong must be punished in some way. If someone steals from us, they should repay us. If someone hurts us, they should go to prison.
Our evil nature and all of the sins it leads us to commit in life cannot be ignored. In fact, it is amazing how easy it is for us to ignore our own sins, but hard to ignore the sins of others! Our sins deserve justice.
For the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23)
In fact, sin is the reason that we all die. Had sin never entered the world through Adam and Even, and had they eaten of the Tree of Life instead, there would be no death. Yet, if there is one certainty in this life, it is death. All of the greatest kings and queens, popes and generals ultimately must face it. Our lives are fleetingly short and fragile. Only one mistake in a car, or one random act of violence, separates us from death. Life is like a young hot shot driving his car to the edge of a cliff at high speed: He will not know the cliff is there until it is too late. Everything seems fine, and then suddenly it’s all over.
Unfortunately there is nothing that we could offer which can remedy the situation. No amount of money can change us from sinners to righteous. No amount of work can change us from evil to good. We stand condemned by our sin before a holy and just God and we are unable to fix it.
All of the world’s religions have tried in some way or another to address this problem. Some deny that sin exists, some provide strict moral structures, some provide hope for a reincarnated life in which to improve, but none is able to fix the fundamental problem. The world religions and the best human efforts have failed because mankind is unable to bridge the gap. We are separated from God and without hope.
Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ… having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:12)
Our separation from God is more than momentary. We are separated from God and deserving of death, after which we will launch out into an eternity without Him, where we will pay the due penalty for our sin forever in hell. The Bible says that “it is appointed to men once to die, and then the judgment.” The cares of this life and the emphasis that many modern preachers place on the here and now obscures this fact. Some even teach that Christians will not face a judgment, but only rewards. Jesus says, however, that “men will be made to give account for every careless word they have spoken.”
There is a final judgment, and everyone will face it. The question is what will you face. While everyone will face a review of their lives and deeds, at the end of that review, we will either find forgiveness and mercy, or we will find everlasting punishment. The hard truth is that those who have turned away from their sins and placed their trust in Jesus in this life will find mercy, and those who have not, will not. Because many pastors do not want to scare and bully people into salvation they have neglected teaching people this hard truth. Although God is not wanting anyone to go there, Hell is a real place and it is a terrible place to be. While no one knows for certain exactly what it will be like, the Bible speaks of it as the “lake of fire” and as a place where the “worm never dies.” Even more significantly it is a place where people are eternally cut off from the love of God. It is hard for me to imagine a day without love, much less an eternity.
On the other hand, heaven is a real place. Heaven is a place where all of our sins will be washed away and forgotten forever. It is a place where we will enjoy endless love and fellowship with God through Jesus. It is a place of unimaginable beauty of all kinds. Music the ear has never heard, and sights that no eye has ever seen. It is a place of endless fellowship with a God who loves us more than we could possibly imagine, and with others who love Him. This too has been lost in our quest for material success and wealth. The most important people and richest people in history all have one thing in common: they are all dead. All of the riches in the world will amount to nothing when you die. This life is so short in comparison with the vastness of eternity. We must live our lives with eternity in mind. When we face opposition and trial, if we are caught up in this life, then we will be continually frustrated, but if we live with heaven in mind, then every trial seems small in comparison to the incredible reward before us.
Although the gap between evil and good has proven impossible for man to bridge, God has provided a way: He sent his Son Jesus to accept the punishment for evil that we deserved.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
How could God kill his own Son? Jesus willingly volunteered because of his surpassing love for us. It is an almost unimaginable act of heroism. Jesus took the punishment for your sin on the cross. Even though you are wicked at heart, and have no hope of your own to be reconciled to Him, God loved you enough to die for you so that you could be reconciled with Him. And not only reconciled, but be given a new, clean heart, and eternal life.
Although God has provided the answer to life’s fundamental problem surprisingly few accept this answer:
For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)
Many people simply do not want to leave their life of sin. If being right with God means leaving their life of sin, they do not want to have anything to do with it. Christianity is offensive because it declares that everyone is a sinner and needs to repent. Those who do not want to face these hard facts create elaborate rationalizations of why the Gospel must not be true. These rationalizations may be complex theories or philosophies, or simple avoidance, but the point is the same – deny the Lord in order to enjoy the pleasures of sin.
Many others reject Jesus because believing they are good already. Sometimes within their own constructed morality, and sometimes even within Christian morality, such people are trying to essentially earn their way to heaven. They recognize right and wrong in the world, and are convinced that because they are more moral than someone else they know that they are therefore going to heaven. Or most sadly of all, they are convinced by their ability to outwardly obey the Ten Commandments that they are in right standing with God.
Jesus declares that the problem is so bad that repentance alone will not even solve the problem. The only way to a relationship with God is to believe in Jesus.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
Jesus death for us gives all of us chance to fix what was broken in the Garden of Eden. Going our own way and refusing God’s solution for sin is like choosing to eat from the forbidden tree all over again. But choosing to accept Jesus as payment we deserve for our sin is eating for the Tree of Eternal Life. Rejecting human effort and placing our trust in Jesus is called faith. The person who wants to be saved must turn from their sins, submit their lives to God and believe His Son for their salvation.
We live in a time where faith in Jesus is too often boiled down to simply raising your hand in a meeting. In reality, salvation is about turning your life around. Before you are saved you are headed in the direction of the world, which leads to destruction, and after you are saved, you are headed in the direction of heaven, which leads to eternal life. This does not mean that everything is fixed overnight, but it means there is a definite change of heart. It means that there is a desire to obey God regardless of the cost and what others think about it.
Many who call themselves Christian and attend church weekly are actually in a very dangerous state. Believing that salvation only consists of being a faithful member of a church, or praying a prayer one time at the altar, they continue their lives without concern. Salvation is not an “add on” to our existing life. It’s a total replacement. Real salvation involves a total examination of all of our beliefs and values to get them into line with God’s beliefs and values. Real salvation for Zaccheus meant righting all of those he had wronged and even giving half of his possessions away as a way of repudiating his former life of extorting money from people.
Real salvation means turning away from every other hope of reconciliation with God. If there were any other way to be saved, God would never have sent His only Son to die in our place. Jesus died to make a way where there was no way. A moral code, even a good one, is not a sufficient remedy for the depth of problem that mankind faces. While many people try their best to be good people, the fact that it takes so much effort to people to “try” and be good shows that something deeper is at work. It’s not just that we may have told a “little white lie” once. It’s that our hearts are inwardly corrupt. We are in need of more than a moral code, we are literally in need of a new life. Only one person can promise that, and that is Jesus.
Salvation is Now
The Holy Spirit is kind to us, not wanting anyone to perish, but wanting everyone to repent and spend eternity with God. He draws us toward Him, giving us sometimes subtle, and sometimes crystal clear opportunities to choose Him. Many reject him however. Some reject Jesus because they love selfish pleasure more than what is right. They know in their hearts that he is the true and only way to salvation but they do not want to turn away from their sin of choice. Because of this they delay and delay until it is too late.
Those who think that they can postpone getting right with God really are making a choice: a choice to reject God and play roulette with the future. None of us is promised another chance. When I was sixteen, on a sunny day in Georgia on a church trip, the driver rolled the van killing one of my friends, disfiguring another, and nearly killing me. I cannot tell you to this day how I could possibly have survived being thrown from the van onto the pavement. But I can tell you neither I nor my friends planned on dying when we got in the car that morning. If you’re not ready to die, then you’re really not ready to live.