CHRISTIANITY CAN BE BETTER THAN WE THINK
The online forum ‘Yahoo Answers’ contains a post with the heading: “Why are Christians so boring?” The author of the post goes onto say:
“Christianity spells monotony. I feel like being a Christian means not enjoying life. No partying, enjoying Sundays, cursing, or having any fun in general. Every Christian I’ve ever talked to is so monotonous and God-fearing, it’s hard to be around them. Personally, the weather doesn’t amuse me. Why can’t they just let loose and have fun? It seems like you can’t even have fun in the afterlife, try and get smashed on that holy wine and God might kick you out.”
Whilst this might not be everyone’s perspective, it certainly raises some important questions:
> Does God care about our well being?
> Is He interested in the quality of our lives?
> Is eternal life with God something that is even desirable?
According to the Christian faith, there’s at least three things that God longs for us to have…
> ETERNAL LIFE
God didn’t create us just so He could send us to hell. Rather, He longs to spend eternity with each and everyone of us. The Bible says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
> FULL LIFE
Despite what many of us might think, God wants us to experience love, joy, peace, and purpose. He wants us to enjoy His creation. Jesus said: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
> RELATIONAL LIFE
God’s ultimate desire is to be in relationship with us. He loves us and wants to adopt us as His sons and daughters. The Bible says: “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters” (2 Corinthians 6:18).
Whilst God wants us to experience eternal life, life to the full, and a relationship with Him, things did not go the way God had planned.
Humanity rebelled against God, and as a result sin entered the world. And with sin came consequences:
> THE PENALTY OF SIN
Humanity could no longer live forever in its sinful state. When sin entered the world, death entered the world, and eternal life was lost.
> THE CONSEQUENCES OF SIN
Along with death came evil and suffering: selfishness, hatred, bitterness, jealously, gossip, betrayal and brokenness.
> THE BARRIER OF SIN
Because God is Holy, sin created a barrier between Him and His creation. We became separated from God and no longer lived in relationship with Him.
So in light of all of this, what are our options?
OPTION (A) – CLIMB OUR WAY BACK TO GOD
One thing nearly all religions have in common is their solution to the problem of sin.
They teach that we if we just try hard enough, we can make up for our sin and climb our way back to God.
Some try and climb by living a good life. They figure that as long as they treat people well and genuinely try and do the right thing throughout their life, then God will grant them eternal life.
Others try and climb by being committed to God. They’ve made a promise to obey Jesus and live for Him. They believe that as long as they stay close to God and always submit to Him, then God will stay close to them.
Many believe that they can climb the ladder by having the right heart. They know there are times where they fail to obey God, but as long as they never deliberately sin, God will surely forgive them and give them life to the full.
Some climb their way through religious rituals. Others do it by making radical sacrifices. Some even climb by trying to accumulate a number of spiritual experiences.
The problem of course, is that none of us can climb the ladder. The ladder demands perfection, and we’re simply not good enough, committed enough, or spiritual enough to get to the top.
Consider the following:
> We hurt the people we love. Do we really think we can obey God’s command to love our enemies?
> We struggle to keep commitments we make to ourselves. What hope do we have of being committed to God?
> We want to lash out at the hint of someone wronging us. How can we possibly follow Jesus’ call to turn the other cheek?
> We so easily find ourselves complaining the moment things don’t go our way. To which God says: “Rejoice always…give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
No amount of good works can make up for our wrongdoing. No amount of commitment to God can make up for our lack of love and concern for others. No amount of spiritual rituals can cleanse us from our sin.
This leads us to the second option…
OPTION (B) – WALK AWAY
The ladder can so easily lead us to a place of despair. The more we try to climb, the more we slip and fall, the more we experience guilt and shame. And the last thing this guilt and shame makes us want is to be close to God.
This is why so many of us walk away. Perhaps we walk away from God, or perhaps we walk away from the church. But either way, we’re really walking away from the ladder.
So if trying to climb the ladder is pointless, and walking away from the ladder leads us to a place of despair, how does God get us to experience eternal life, the full life, and a relational life? He provides another way…
OPTION (C) – GRACE
Martin Luther explains it like this…
“Now when a man has learned through the commandments to recognize his helplessness and is distressed about how he [might climb the ladder]… then, being truly humbled and reduced to nothing in his own eyes, he finds in himself nothing whereby he may be saved…
When the conscience has been thoroughly frightened by the [ladder] it welcomes [God’s] grace with its message of a Saviour who came into the world, not to break the bruised reed, but to preach glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, and to grant forgiveness of sins to all the captives”.
In other words, rather than keep climbing the ladder, and rather than walk away, we appeal to God’s grace and mercy, trusting Him to save us…
In his book “Pilgrim’s Progress”, John Bunyan uses the following analogy to explain the difference between trying to climb the ladder by obeying God’s commands and trusting in God’s grace:
Suppose there’s a room in a house that’s completely covered in dust. A man walks into the room and begins to sweep using a straw broom. Although it looks like the broom will remove the dust, it actually makes things worse. As the man sweeps, the dust begins to lift off the ground and fill the air. So the man sweeps even harder. But the more he sweeps, the worse things get. Eventually the dust begins to choke the man and he gives up and walks away.
A few hours later, a lady walks into the room and sees that it’s completely covered in dust. Instead of reaching for the straw broom, she fills a bucket with water and washes the dust away.
Bunyan goes onto explain that the room represents the human heart, and the dust represents our sin.
The man trying to sweep the dust away is like someone seeking to remove their sin by trying to obey God’s commands, or in other words trying to climb the ladder. The more we try to obey, the more we realize just how truly sinful we are, and eventually we give up and walk away.
But the woman who comes with the bucket of water represents God’s grace. Our sin is simply washed away.
SO HOW DOES A PERSON TRUST IN GOD’S GRACE TO SAVE THEM?
Here’s one simple explanation…
(A) ACKNOWLEDGE that we are sinners who are unable to save ourselves.
(B) BELIEVE that Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sin, and then rose from the dead.
(C) CAST our entire lives and eternity into Jesus’ hands, trusting Him to save us.
The moment we do this, God fulfills the initial desires He had for our lives:
DESIRE #1 – ETERNAL LIFE
In order to fulfill His first desire, God had to figure out a way to bring about justice for our sin without punishing us. So 2,000 years ago, He sent His Son Jesus to die on a cross.
A lot of people believe that Jesus’ death serves as an example of sacrifice for us to follow. Others see the cross and a great demonstration of God’s love for people. Although both these perspectives are true, the reason Jesus died on the cross was to cop the punishment for our sin.
The Bible says that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (1 Corinthians 5:21).
All our past sin, present sin, future sin, accidental sin, and deliberate sin was cast upon Jesus while He was on the cross. God poured out His wrath upon Jesus. Jesus was condemned so that we can become uncondemnable.
At the same time, all of Jesus’ righteousness was cast upon us. So that every good thing that Jesus ever did is credited into our account. So although we are still sinful, God now treats us as if we live perfect, holy, and pure lives.
Three days after His death, Jesus rose from the grave, proving that he conquered the power of sin and death.
For this reason, we can be 100% sure that we are forgiven. We can be 100% sure that we have eternal life. Not because we are good, or committed or have good intentions, but because Jesus paid for all our sin in full.
DESIRE #2 – FULL LIFE
In order to fulfill His second desire, God had to figure out a way to transform us from the inside out. So when a person trusts in God’s grace to save them, they don’t just get all their sin paid for, they also receive the Holy Spirit.
Bill Bright said: “The Christian life is not difficult – it is impossible… Only one person has ever lived the Christian life, and that was Jesus Christ. Today He desires to go on living His life through Christians whom He indwells”.
In other words, the Spirit of Jesus, also known as the Holy Spirit, comes and lives in us and through us. His job is to give us a new life (or life to the full).
So, spiritually speaking, there are really three kinds of people in the world…
Here we find a person who has not trusted in God’s grace to save them. The Holy Spirit (H.S.) is not in their life, and the person sits in the driver’s seat.
> SPIRIT-DRIVEN CHRISTIAN
Here we find a person who has trusted in God’s grace to save them. Their life is no longer their own. They now belong to God. The Holy Spirit (H.S.) has come into their life and is in the driver’s seat. He is giving them the motivation and power to live like Jesus. They still struggle with sin, but they are no longer dominated by it. They are experiencing the love, joy, peace, and purpose that God longs for them to have.
> SELF-DRIVEN CHRISTIAN
Here we find a person who has trusted in God’s grace to save them. Their life is no longer their own. They now belong to God. But they are not experiencing all that God wants to do in their life. Although the Holy Spirit (H.S.) has come into their life, they have placed themselves back in the driver’s seat. God is at work in their life, but their life is still dominated by sin. They are not always experiencing the love, joy, peace, and purpose that God longs for them to have.
In reality, the Christian’s experience is often one of back and forth between being driven (or empowered) by the Holy Spirit, and then at times putting themselves back in the driver’s seat. This is why Christian’s are far from perfect. Just because they have the Holy Spirit doesn’t mean He is always in control.
So God’s desire that we experience life to the full comes about not through effort or commitment, but rather by surrendering control to the Holy Spirit on a moment by moment basis.
DESIRE #3 – RELATIONAL LIFE
The Bible teaches that because Jesus has removed the barrier of sin, and we have received the Holy Spirit, we are also adopted as God’s children:
“To all who did receive [Jesus], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.”
The following two stories give us a glimpse of just how desperate God is to adopt us as his children:
Charles Swindoll said…
“Let’s imagine you have a six-year-old son whom you love dearly. Tragically, one day you discover that your son was horribly murdered. After a lengthy search the investigators of the crime find the killer. You have a choice.
If you used every means in your power to kill the murderer for his crime, that would be vengeance. If, however, you’re content to sit back and let the legal authorities take over and execute on him what is proper-a fair trial, a plea of guilty, capital punishment-that is justice. But if you should plead for the pardon of the murderer, forgive him completely, invite him into your home, and adopt him as your own son, that is grace.”
In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, we read about a son who turns his back on his father, and sets out to live his life free from his father’s influence.
But when everything went wrong, and he hit rock bottom, he decided to go back to his father to see if he could become a hired servant:
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.” (Luke 15:18-19)
The Father wasn’t interested in another hired servant though. He longed to be back in relationship with his son:
“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)
“[Then] the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:22-24)
This is the kind of love that God longs to express to us. And it’s what we receive the moment we place our trust in God’s grace to save us.