First, the Bad News

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Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once observed that "Most of us read the Bible the way a mouse tries to remove the cheese from the trap without getting caught." (1) Certainly, the Bible can be approached from a number of angles. Each day, it is read by millions for inspiration, devotion and practical guidelines for living. Others approach it as a great historic or literary work. I do not diminish any of these, as God's Word contains principles which will help anyone who reads it. However, we have missed the entire purpose if we overlook the Bible's most foundational themes: Who is God? What is His Law? How did I break His Law? and most importantly, How can I be reconciled to Him?

The Gospel message is often presented in terms such as "God loves you, and has a wonderful plan for your life." This statement, while certainly true, is overly simplistic. If we are going to experience His love and His plan for our lives, we must first deal with the barrier which keeps us from it in the first place, which is our sin. First and foremost, coming to Jesus is a cry for mercy, not a bargaining session. As wonderful as the joy, peace and blessings of the Christian life are, it all goes back to man's number one need: The need of forgiveness from a Holy God.

Much is said today about the "innate goodness of man," or to use more modern language, "I'm OK, you're OK." However, God's Word gives us a very different perspective. When describing the true nature of humankind, the Bible does not paint a pretty picture: " ....born and conceived in iniquity and sin" (Psalm 51:5) "...all our righteousness are as filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6) "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9) "There is none righteous, no, not one" (Romans 3:10) "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23) "...dead in trespasses and sins." (Ephesians 2:2)

As you can see, it is not a matter of "This person is a good person" vs. "This person is a bad person." When compared to the perfection and majesty of an infinitely holy God, we all come far, far short. Evangelist Ray Comfort tells the story of a little girl who, looking at some sheep, commented on how pretty and clean they looked against the green grass. However, as she looked at them after a snowfall, these same sheep looked dingy and dirty. The background made all the difference. Comfort goes on to say:

If you and I judge ourselves using the background of human standards, we come up quite clean. We can find plenty of people who are worse than us. The average sinner looks almost pure compared to Adolf Hitler. God, however, will not judge us using human standards, but by the absolute standards of His Law...(2)

In Exodus 20:1-17, we see the summary of God's Law, commonly known as the "Decalog" or the Ten Commandments. Most of us have had at least some exposure to these Commandments. Perhaps you memorized them as a child. However, they take on a whole new light when you look at the New Testament's teaching on exactly why God gave them to us. Galatians 3:24 tells us that God's Law is a "schoolmaster" or "tutor" designed to lead us to Christ. In other words, the Law shows us our sinfulness and our need of God's salvation. The Commandments are more than simple moral codes against stealing or committing adultery. They are a lens designed to show us our weakness and frailty before God, and how lost and hopeless we are without Him. With this in mind, let's take a look:

Friends, as we look at God's Law in this light, can any of us say that we have never violated it? Even if we have broken only one Commandment in our entire lives, we have still violated God's Law, and we stand as eternal criminals before Him (James 2:10). We must realize this before we can fully accept the love and mercy He offers us. This is why God gave us His Law: To show us our sinfulness and our need for His forgiveness and cleansing. In Romans 6:23, God's Word tells us that the wages of sin is death. Just as we receive wages from working for our employers, so we also receive wages for our disobedience to God. By death, we do not simply mean the physical end of our lives. Not only is death physical, it is also spiritual, which is far worse. Spiritual death involves being eternally condemned to a horrible place called Hell.

Make no mistake about it: The Bible teaches, in very graphic detail, that there is a literal, everlasting Hell for those who die in their sins. Hell is described as "Shame and everlasting contempt" (Daniel 12:2), "Everlasting punishment" (Matthew 25:46), "Weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 24:51), "Fire unquenchable" (Luke 3:17), "...wrath, tribulation and anguish" (Romans 2:8-9), "Eternal fire...the blackness of darkness forever" (Jude 7:13). As the great Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards put it:

That world of misery, that lake of burning brimstone, is extended abroad under you. There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell's wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor any thing to take hold of; there is nothing between you and hell but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up. (3)

How could a loving God create such a place? In reality, a loving God has no choice! Like all of God's other characteristics, His love is an extension of His holiness. His love is a holy love, and anything that is holy cannot coexist with sin. The debt of sin must be paid. This is where we truly see the love of God in its most beautiful form: In the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.

In His death on the cross, Jesus paid in full the price for our sin, a debt we could never pay ourselves (4). As the only sinless person who ever lived, only Jesus could pay the price for our sin, becoming our substitute and taking the punishment in our place:

For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He (even) gave up His only begotten (unique) Son so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life."(John 3:16, Amplified Bible)
In Matthew 16:26, Jesus makes the powerful statement "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul?" Think about that for a moment: A single human soul is more valuable to God than the entire world! We also read about the great rejoicing that happens in Heaven over one sinner that repents (Luke 15:7). In fact, the only time in the entire Bible that God is depicted as running, He is running to greet a wayward child that is coming home (Luke 15:20).

I realize that this sort of "Hellfire and brimstone" message is very unpleasant to read, but it is part of God's Word, and it is a message that we cannot ignore. It has been said that in order to appreciate the good news, we must first realize just how bad the bad news is. If you already know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, what better motive could we have for serving Him with our whole hearts than reflecting on exactly what He has saved us from? If you do not yet know Jesus, you cannot say that you have not been warned about the perils of neglecting or rejecting Him. Eternal issues are at stake for you. The choice could not be more obvious. No amount of religion, sincerity or good works can save you. Jesus said "I am the Way,the Truth, and the Life, NO ONE comes to the Father BUT BY ME." (John 14:6)

Friend, this is the most important decision you will ever make. You are not promised a tomorrow. You can invite Him into your life right where you are (5). Pray this prayer, and if you really mean it, be assured that God will here you and that He will save you:

"Heavenly Father, I come to you fully acknowledging that I have sinned against you and that I come far short of Your Holy Law. I turn from my sin right now, and I ask that You forgive me and cleanse me from everything in my life that is displeasing to you. I believe that Jesus died for my sins, and that He rose from the dead. I ask that you reveal Yourself to me and remake me into a new creation, and by Your grace, I will serve you for the rest of my life. I pray this in Jesus' Holy Name, amen."

If you prayed this prayer, please write to us so that we can rejoice with you! Also, if you would like to talk to someone one-on-one about your decision, call toll free 1-888-NEED-HIM (633-3446).

2004 JHB

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