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 we should even long for?
According to the Christian faith, there’s at least three things that God longs for…
> 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 sin. No amount of commitment to God can make up for our lack of love and commitment to others. No amount 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.
This is why so many of us walk away from the church. We’re often walking away from the ladder.
The problem with the ladder
Trying to climb the ladder is a nightmare. It will either lead us to PRIDE or DESPAIR.
It can lead to pride.
The ladder can produce self-righteous, judgemental people who feel like they’ve got a right to look down on others because they’ve made their way up a few rungs. According to the Barna Group, there’s an alarming number of church attenders who are still trying to climb the ladder. They work hard, they live good lives, they pray, they read the bible, they give generously. But they aren’t humble. They don’t have peace. They’re not driven by joy.
It can lead to despair.
All this leads us to ask if there is some other way…
The real purpose of the ladder
It’s often been said that God would never ask us to do something we’re not able to do. But actually, the complete opposite is true. All throughout the Bible we find God calling people to do things that aren’t humanly possible. The same is true with God’s commands. We naturally assume that because God has given us a command, that He expects us to be able to obey. But what if there is something else going on? What if God knew from the beginning that we wouldn’t be able to climb high enough? What if God gave us commands for an entirely different reason?
The Apostle Paul explains why God gave us the law… “I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death” (Romans 7:7-11).
God never expected us to be able to climb the ladder. The law was never given to make us holy. Rather the law was given so that we would realize that we are unholy. The law was given to condemn us, not to save us. The more we try and climb the ladder, the more we slip and we fall, the more we realize that we are sinful, the more we realize that we need a saviour.
So when we look at the ladder, there are really three responses. The first is to keep climbing. The second is to walk away from God altogether. But the third is to go running to Jesus.
WHAT JESUS WANTS TO DO FOR US
Once a person stops trying to climb the ladder and runs to Jesus as their saviour, God is faced with two very significant problems…
God has to punish our sin, but does not want to punish us.
God wants us to do good works, but telling us to be good doesn’t work
So how does God solve these problems?
In order to solve the first problem, God had to figure out a way to punish 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.
For this reason, we can be 100% sure that we are forgiven. We can be 100% sure that we are going to heaven. Not because we are good, or committed or have good intentions, but because Jesus paid for all our sin in full.
So the obvious question is this: Can we go on sinning and still go to heaven? This brings us to God’s second problem…
In order to solve the second problem, God had to figure out a way to transform us from the inside out. So when a person runs to Jesus 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 the Resurrection Life (or a New Life).
So, spiritually speaking, there are really three kinds of people in the world…
Here we find a person who has not placed their faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit (H.S.) is not in their life, and the person sits on the throne (or driver’s seat) of their life.
2. Spirit-Controlled Christian
Here we find a person who has placed their faith in Jesus. Their life is no longer their own. They now belong to God. The Holy Spirit (H.S.) has come into their life and is on the throne (or 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.
3. Self-Controlled Christian
Here we find a person who has placed their faith in Jesus. 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 on the throne (or driver’s seat). God is definitely at work in their life, but their life is still dominated by sin.
So for those of us who have STOPPED TRYING TO CLIMB THE LADDER and have RUN TO JESUS to save us, we can be confident of two things…
1. Because Jesus died on THE CROSS to PAY FOR OUR SINS, we have ETERNAL LIFE
2. Because the HOLY SPIRIT gives us the POWER TO OVERCOME SIN, we have a NEW LIFE