YOU STILL HAVE TO DECIDE
Years ago, a good friend and I took a course in Comedy at the University of New Orleans. It is was an adult education course with no credit. We had to introduce ourselves and tell what we do as an occupation. I naturally told them I was a pastor. One of the guys apparently did not like Christians and talked about Satanism and dark things. His name was Jamie.
We were leaving one night, and we walked out with the instructor. He remarked, “every time Jamie speaks, I cringe for you.” Considering this was a comedy class, my flippant remark was, “if Jamie wants to go to hell, that’s his business.” The instructor’s response was, “now that is funny” and had a good laugh.
There is more truth in my response than we may realize. One of the tragic lies is that God sends people to hell. Those who hold such view never take in consideration that the person has to take responsibility for the state of their relationship to God. In fact, in scripture, we find that God demands from us a response to God’s invitation. And we find that hell was never designed for humans. Hell was designed for Satan, his demons, and those who follow him.
In Luke 18, a ruler of the people came to Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life? He claimed he had kept all the commandments from his youth. I suppose that claim was a claim of perfect according to the Law. But his righteousness was self-deception because no one can keep the law perfectly.
Jesus did not attack his attitude about keeping the Law even though no one keeps the Law perfectly. His simple response was, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Lk. 18:22 ESV) And the man went away very sad because he was extremely rich. Jesus exposed that the man was in violation of the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Wealth was his god and he refused to let go of his god.
We worry about Christian’s refusal to bear witness to Jesus by the way they live their lives and rightly so. The church is supposed to be a witnessing community and that is a problem today in a society that does not want to hear the voice of People of God. It is tragic. Living a Christian life takes a certain amount of courage and trust in the gift of salvation that God gives us.
Yet, that does not relieve the non-Christian of responsibility. How we respond to God is a monumental, life changing decision. Every person is required to respond to the grace of God. People often build barriers to that responsibility by thinking I am a good person and I deserve to go to heaven, or some other objection including the rejection of belief in God. But the problem never goes away.
I read this week of a sociologist who said that religion was fundamental to the nature of humanity. Most people derive their moral and ethical behavior from some kind of religious sentiment. Interestingly, the writer claimed to be an atheist. The sociological truth that he discovered did not change his mind about the existence of God.
How we relate to God affects the complete sum of our lives, from how we treat others to how we live moral and ethical lives, to how we die. Non-Christians can imitate Christians in the way they treat others and in issues involving moral and ethics. Non-Christians can try to claim they derive morality for some other source. But, non-believers cannot imitate Christians in ultimate matters like death and life after death. They have no hope in life or death.
I’m not sure how an atheist faces ultimate questions. If we are accidents of nature, which accumulates knowledge and wisdom and expertise, then isn’t it a horror to think that all of that dies and is lost forever? Doesn’t this hint that there is more to life than mere meaningless existence and then total extinction?
The Bible is a collection of thousands of years of dialogue between God and man. It is an authoritative and timeless statement about the nature of God and our relationship to him. We are made in the Image of God. Male and Female are both equally the Image of God He is our creator, he sets the rules, he designed our purpose, he gave us our world. Yet, humanity violated those rules and continues to violate those rules. We have marred the Image of God with our sin. Thus, we have been rightly judged by God who is the only one who has the right to judge us.
The question that I have asked for many years is “why did God keep us around? What did he not destroy us, scrap the whole project?” Humanity has been a massive collection of evil deeds with a few relatively good ones in between the evil. We humans have slaughtered ourselves by the billions and we allow others to live in a heartless poverty that sucks to soul from any person. Then we try to blame it all on God, the ultimate poor excuse for our condition. Why didn’t he just start over? The only answer I can find is that he loved us.
The Bible makes it clear that salvation is impossible from our side of the equation. The Bible makes it equally clear that judgment requires a life. It is the ultimate death penalty. But God has made the provision of a life for a life. One can be saved if a substitute can be found.
The best source that summarizes the two thousand years of salvation history as presented in the Law of God is the book of Hebrews in the New Testament. We find that Jesus is God in the flesh, Very God of Very God, of the same substance with the Father. This one who is God became our high priest and our sacrifice. It infinite, perfect God, second Person of the Trinity, became our substitute. He offers himself as a substitute and died on the cross bearing our sin, our penalty. He rose to life again so that we might have eternal life in and through him.
It’s a lot to take in. We still make many objections. But these are the cold hard facts of what God has done on our behalf so that we might be made right with him. We acquire this salvation be trusting him, believing that what he did, he did for us. We have nothing else to offer. He is our savior.
This is the good news taught in Scripture and proclaimed by God’s church. The One who walked among men doing good became our substitute and provided us with a sure salvation. Yet many still will not yield to God on this matter of salvation.
One of the main barriers to trusting God is the hypocrisy of Christians and the church. The Lord knows that modern Christians and the modern church has given ample offense against the truth of Christ and certainly provides a very good excuse to reject God. But no excuse relieves us of the responsibility to come to Christ by faith. No matter the failure of churches and Christians, we are still faced with the demands of our God and creator. The offer of salvation through Christ costs us nothing. It was costly to God. We give up the baggage of our sin and guilt before God. We are filled with the Holy Spirit who is the seal of our salvation (Eph 1:13), we are given a new and meaningful purpose in this life, and we have the promise of the resurrection when God makes all things new.
My comment still stands, “if you want to go to hell, that’s your business.” You still must decide.