Fishers of Men - Part 4
Why Jesus, Why The Cross?
Have you ever wondered why Jesus had to die on the cross? Couldn’t there have been another way? What is God’s plan for us? What does He expect out of us? Why did He give us the Bible? Why does He expect us to obey what is in the Bible? Is it true that a person can go to heaven if they live a good moral life, or is there more to it than that? These are the questions that we want to answer in this lesson. The answers center around the fact that we need a Savior.
Why The Bible?
Contrary to what some might think, God did not give us the Bible in order to restrict us from doing things that are enjoyable. God told Israel in Deuteronomy 10:12-13 that His laws were given for their good, "which I am commanding you today for your good?" See also 1 Peter 3:9-12. It is just like an automobile manufacturer that includes an owners manual along with the car. The purpose is not to restrict the car owner, but to enable the owner to get the most enjoyment and satisfaction possible out of the car. The point of the manual is to enable us to avoid problems, not to cause problems. The Bible is just that; an owners manual sent from God so that we can get the most out of this life, and especially enjoy the life to come. Since God created us (Genesis 1:26), and God loved us so much that He sent His Son to die for us (John 3:16), it is obvious that whatever rules or restrictions He has given were meant for our good.
The Bible was also given to bridge the gap between God’s infinite understanding and our limited understanding (Isaiah 55:8-9 "For My thoughts are not your thoughts"; 2 Tim. 3:16-17 "that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work"). God doesn’t want us living a life by trial and error. God desires to bring us up to speed about life and reality as soon as possible.
The Bible is given so that we can live morally pure lives and be in fellowship with a God who is moral and just (1 John 1:1-10). God is our pattern and example, read the following passages: Matthew 5:48; John 13:34 "that you love one another, even as I have loved you"; Ephesians 4:32 "And be kind to one another…just as God in Christ also has forgiven you"; 5:25-27. The rules or commands in the Bible are not senseless and irrational requirements and neither are they arbitrary commandments. Rather, the moral standard in the Bible exists because the God who authored the Bible is moral. We are to love our enemies, because He loves His enemies, we are to be pure in thought, because He is, we are to tell the truth, because He is a God of truth.
Our Problem: Sin
Now of course, there is one big problem with all of this: we do not always live up to God’s standards. We violate His law, and such violations are labeled sin (1 John 3:4). Romans 3:23 tells us that all have sinned.
What is the result of our sin? In such a condition, we cannot live with God. Sin separates us from a relationship with God (Isaiah 59:1-2). The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). It is obvious, that the death under consideration is spiritual death, separation from God, for physical death doesn’t immediately come upon the person who sins. If we die in our sins (John 8:24), that is unforgiven, then we will remain eternally separated from God (Matthew 25:46).
It is also interesting to note that it does not matter how many times we have sinned or how "bad" our sins were. Even one sin separates us from God and leaves us in the condition of not being able to live with Him. In Luke 7:41-42 Jesus told a parable to a Pharisee who thought he would be saved because he had sinned far less than a very sinful woman who was also in Jesus’ presence. In the parable Jesus showed that the Pharisee was in exactly the same condition as the sinful woman because even though his sins may have been fewer, he could not pay the penalty (debt) for his sins any more than she could. Thus, we are all in the same boat: Lost, and unable to get out of this condition by our own good works (Titus 3:5). Unfortunately, one of the great myths of the religious world is that good deeds make up for what we have done that was wrong. Neither can we atone for our sins by doing some great and tremendous act of self-sacrifice (1 Corinthians 13:1-3; Micah 6:6-8 "Shall I present my first-born for the sin of my soul?")
It is important to emphasize this last point. No one will be saved because they merely lived a good moral life. We cannot make up for our sins by being good. Even sinning once is like owning a million dollars to the bank with nothing but a weekly paycheck that wouldn’t even make a dent in the interest. In Acts 10:2, we read of a man named Cornelius who was "devout, feared God with his whole house, gave much money to the poor and prayed to God always." And yet Cornelius was lost because he had not done what the Lord required of him to obtain forgiveness, i.e., faith in and obedience to the will of Jesus Christ. Forgiveness is the only way we can be saved (Acts 11:13-14). The Bible is clear that works of human merit cannot obtain salvation (Ephesians 2:9; Titus 3:5).
God’s Answer To Our Problem
Here is where the love of God and the grace of God comes in. While it is true we are lost, God does not want us to stay in that condition. Remember, He made us so that we could live with Him. And yet, He cannot simply "overlook" our sins because that would not be justice---He would not be a just God. (We are not pleased with our judges today who allow murderers to go free on technicalities. This is not justice and such is not in the character of God.) Jesus died for the world while mankind was in a condition of alienation (Romans 5:6-8).
So how does God remain just (sin is punished, Ezekiel 18:20; Romans 6:23) and yet still offer forgiveness (i.e. extend mercy)? ReadRomans 3:21-26. God does so by having someone else suffer the punishment we deserved (1 Peter 3:18). By doing this, justice has been served, God’s perfect character remains in tack, but at the same time God can forgive us based on the fact the penalty was paid.
Now who could God get that would suffer the punishment that we deserved? He could not get one of us because we are already in debt to Him (we can’t even atone for our own sins, much less the sins of others). He must find someone who is innocent of sin, owing no debt for his own sin, who would be willing to pay our debt with his life. Thus God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, came to this earth because of His great love for us, lived a perfect life (1 Peter 2:21) and then died on the cross, paying the penalty we owed. Read Isaiah 53:1-10.
All of this reveals the true horror of our own sins. They are not mere mistakes or goofs. Sin is moral evil, and only the life of God in the flesh can atone for such sins. The blood of harmless animals couldn’t even begin to atone for such sins (Hebrews 10:1-4).
How Do We Obtain This Great Salvation?
Since Jesus died for all men (John 3:16), and the vast majority remain lost (Matthew 7:13-14), it is very clear that the death of Jesus did not unconditionally save everyone. Conditions must exist for gaining the benefits of the sacrifice of Christ. It must also be clear, that since Jesus, God in the flesh, (John 1:1,14) died for our sins, that salvation is only through Him (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Therefore, I must do whatever Jesus Christ has asked me to do in order to obtain this forgiveness. To do whatever He has asked of me is to have true faith in Him (Hebrews 5:8-9).
What exactly must I do? Following the sacrifice of Jesus, on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, the reality of this salvation is proclaimed. People: 1. Heard the gospel message (Acts 2:37; Romans 10:17). 2. They believed that Jesus was the Son of God (Acts 2:36-37; John 3:16). 3. They were told to repent of their sins, which means to turn from the habit of sinning (Acts 2:38). 4. And be baptized, which involves an immersion in water (Romans 6:1-4; Acts 8:36-38), for the remission of sins, which means to be saved or forgiven (Acts 2:38; Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21; Acts 22:16).
Hebrews 10:22-26 sums it all up by telling us that we first must draw to God with faith, repentance, and baptism. And then we must hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering. And finally, we must consider one another (that is, also help each other to stay saved) by not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together (meeting with other Christians). Instead, we are to stimulate one another to love and good works.
Finally, the beauty of all of this is that once we are in Christ (Galatians 3:26-27), we can continue to have forgiveness for our sins. We didn’t live perfectly before we became Christians and we won’t after we become Christians. Our salvation continues to be on the basis of forgiveness. How do we obtain forgiveness after we have been saved? Read 1 John 1:7-2:5. We obtain forgiveness after we have become a Christian by obeying God and confessing our sins to Him when we fall short we can maintain ourselves in a state of being "cleansed from all sin". This cleansing isn’t automatic or unconditional, but is based on our own willingness to admit when we do sin and seek to make correction. Why Would Anyone Want To Turn Down Such A Great Salvation?
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church Of Christ/644-9017