by Rev. Scott Kroeger
Over the years, I have met many people who took their understanding of Christianity from sources such as newspapers, blogs and websites. Whenever there is a report in the news of a prominent Christian who has acted badly or a where some aspect of a Christian is reviewed (and often reviled) in the media, people draw their understanding of all things Christian from them. Some will even go as far as actually reading the Bible and then pick it apart in criticism. There are whole books and websites dedicated to pointing out the problems, foibles and inconsistencies of Christians, their Bible and their faith.
As I have engaged in discussions with people as a Pastor, and as a University and Police Chaplain, I soon discovered they often have quite remarkable and ridiculous ideas about what Christianity is about. So I try to explain to them what the gist of Christianity is all about.
I usually begin a conversation noting something they have something they have alluded to, or commented on that will cross into the spiritual/moral realm of thinking and tease it out a bit before I suggest that we have something in common. I might share with them how my thinking on that topic is informed by my Christian world and life view. I might even ask them what their spiritual background and history is. This is useful information as you seek permission to ask them an important question:
"Have you come to the place in your personal life where if you were to die tonight...you would know for certain that you have eternal life?"
Most people will easily answer this question with a "yes", "no", or "I don't know" or some variant. Many people are actually quite relived to know that you can know for sure the answer to this question. The Bible says,
1 John 5:13 ESV
“I write these things to you who believe..., that you may know that you have eternal life.”
Then I ask them another question...
"Suppose you were to die tonight (and I pray that doesn't happen--but hey, things happen)...and you were to meet face-to-face with God, and he asked you, "Why should I let you into my heaven?"...what do you suppose you would say?"
Over the years I have been genuinely surprised at the number of people who have never considered such a question. And as they fumble and grasp for words, their response usually falls into a few categories, the largest of which has something to do with how good they have been, how they try to be nice, and treat people OK, go to church, or even try to keep the 10 commandments of the Old Testament of the Bible.
I might even ask them how that last one is going...before I offer up some really good news to them. I begin this Good News this way:
HEAVEN IS A FREE GIFT
Not many people understand this but the fact is...Heaven is a free gift. Even the Bible agrees:
Romans 6:23 ESV
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
It is not something that can be earned and it is definitely not something any human being ever deserved. Man’s way is to earn or try to deserve, to pay, or work for everything. But God’s way is that of grace – to receive freely what we don’t deserve.
Ephesians 2:8–9 ESV
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
If your mum or dad gave you present because they loved you...and you opened up you wallet or purse to get a fistful of dollars to hand them as a thankyou, would they not be insulted. We don't buy "gifts" anymore than we can buy the gift of Heaven by God's kind offer. Exactly how much would have to pay to get into heaven anyway? How good do you think you would have to be to get into the Kingdom of God?
UNDERSTANDING THE NATURE OF MANKIND
This can be seen more clearly when we understand what the Bible says about mankind in general. Alas, it is not pretty or altogether kind. Each of us is a sinner. The Bible puts it this way:
Romans 3:23 ESV
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”
In this day and age, it is hard to know what is a sin and what is not. Sin can be defined as "any lack of conformity unto, or transgression of the Law of God." Some people think they are somewhat safe as they "don't sin all that much". If you were only to sin say ten times a day...OK, wait, we'll make you a saint and say you only sin three times a day. At 365 days a year we are already in excess of 1000 sins annually. If you live to the ripe old age of 70+ years we way over 70,000 sins in your life at this cheap rate. Imagine then if you were to come before a local magistrate with 70,000+ counts against you. Why, a judge would likely lock you up and throw away the key.
You see, with the standard that God has set: we should not sin at all. This is a tough ask, but still demanded nevertheless.
Matthew 5:48 ESV
“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
The Bible describes sin this way…
• Anything we do, that God has said not to do- “…sin is lawlessness” -- 1 John 3:4 ESV “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.
• Anything we fail to do which God commands – James 4:17 ESV “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
• Any evil thought – Proverbs 24:9 ESV “The devising of folly is sin, and the scoffer is an abomination to mankind.”
• Any word we should not say – Matthew 12:37 ESV “for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.””
The sad part about this is that given such a perfect standard by God, it is clear that no individual can do anything to save himself from a rather catastrophic end. Let me explain.
If your mum or spouse was to cook you up a three-egg omelet for breakfast (because you really like them), but while breaking the eggs into a bowl, found the last one of the three eggs to be putrid and rotton. The smell is overpowering, but because of the cost of eggs these days she throws it in anyway, thinking that maybe you won't notice. It is put in the pan and after a certain amount of time comes out all golden brown and looking great. It's then plated up and served to you. You are hungry and excited...until you get a whiff of that horribly smelly concoction. Would really take a bite? I think not.
This illustrates how we must think about our sins before God. We often presume that we can get into heaven if we have more "good deeds" than the number of sins we have committed. And so we try to serve up to the Creator, the omelet of our lives...all the good things we do...with only a few of the really odious sins we have committed. The problem however is that since the wages of sin is death, demanded by a God who is perfect...try as we might we cannot succeed is saving ourselves.
Proverbs 14:12 ESV
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”
Do you see now why it is impossible for any person to save themselves? Perhaps this comes into sharper focus when we look at what the Bible says about God.
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT GOD
The Bible describes God as first of all, a God of love. He is a merciful God who doesn't want to punish us. In fact, the second half of 1 John 4:8 ESV says: "...God is love.” This is demonstrated all through the Bible by a heavenly Father who is faithful and loving to his creation, creatures and humans.
But another part of God's character is that he Is just, and therefore must punish any and all sin...even if you were to commit just one sin in your whole life.
Exodus 34:6–7 ESV
““The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.””
Think of it this way. You are arrested for bank robbery and appear before a magistrate, who upon conviction, passes down a sentence of life imprisonment for your offence. As they are about to take you away, your father jumps up from the gallery and shouts for the judge to take him instead of you. The magistrate says, "I don't care who does the time for the crime...as long as someone pays." But just as they handcuff your dad to be led away, the magistrate looks at his paperwork and says, "Hold on there...it says here that you are also guilty of bank robbery. You have to serve your own time dad."
So, your mum jumps up and says she will do the time for you...but the magistrate says that she too is a convicted bank robber who must serve her own time. In fact, it is a similar situation for all your brothers and sisters who volunteer to do time for you...yet all of them have to do time for their crimes. This of course leaving only you left to do the time for YOUR crimes. God must punish those who are guilty and no one can escape this problem because God is holy and can never be in the presence of sin, now or ever.
In the end, this dilemma leaves the entire human race in rather dire straights. But the Good News is that God has solved this problem in the Person of Jesus Christ.
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT JESUS CHRIST
You should know two things about the one they call Jesus Christ of Nazareth;
- First you need to know who this Jesus is. He is both Divine and human at the same time. According to the Bible, Jesus Christ is God, the second person of the Trinity, the Creator of the universe. God came down into human flesh. He is the infinite God-Man who came to the earth and was born of the Virgin Mary. The Bible confirms this:
John 1:1, 14 ESV
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
John 20:28 ESV
“Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!””
- Secondly, you should know about what Jesus did...what he came to the earth to do. He came and died a horrible death on a cross in order to pay the penalty for our sins and then rose from the dead three days later in order to purchase a place in heaven for us which He offers as a free gift. Most people know Christ died on the cross. But few understand its significance.
If we were to take all those 70,000+ sins and put them into a book called "Your Record Book of Sins" it would no doubt be a thick book. This book is what keeps you from getting to heaven. Let my left hand represent you with the Your Record Book of Sins on the top of it, coming between your left hand and your right hand which represents God in Heaven. There is no way to get from the one to the other...certainly not on our own. However, the Lord has a way to do this:
Isaiah 53:6 ESV
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Now image that your right hand (which represents God) takes the Record Book of your sins and pulls in onto itself...just like God with your sins. He put them on his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. When Jesus was on that cross he did what no other human being could do...pay for the sins of the world. And as he breathed his last breath Jesus uttered a Greek word--"Tetelestai" which when translated is a financial term meaning "The debt is paid"...literally "it is finished". This illustrates that all my sin, which God hates, was placed on Christ when He died in my place on the cross. When Jesus died he purchased for us that place in Heaven
But I want you to know that you had nothing to do with it. It was all God, all Jesus and his finished work. There is another word we use in this circumstance. It is called GRACE representing God's unmerited favour. Or even God's Riches At Christ's Expense...something we get when we don't deserve it. We get this Grace when we believe by faith.
THE GIFT OF GOD RECEIVED BY FAITH
Lots of people will say they believe in God. They have a faith that something "exists out there" that we may call God.
People have all kinds of weird ideas about what Faith is and what it is not. Faith is a lot like set of keys. To get into a certain place like your house, only one key is going to do the job. There are other keys on the ring, but if you try to use them you will only be frustrated and disappointed. Only one key fits the lock. Faith is the key to heaven and it is the only key that works.
To appreciate this we need to understand what Faith in Jesus is not...
- It is not mere intellectual assent. The word “mere” is important because it indicates that we do need to assent intellectually to the facts of the gospel; but that in itself is not enough. In other words it is not just tipping our hat to God or just knowing lots of stuff about God. Perhaps one of the greatest scholars and theologians of the Christian Faith is someone who most certainly does not believe any of it...the Devil himself. Satan knows a lot about God...but has no faith in God or a faith that leads to eternal life. In fact, the Bible says:
James 2:19 ESV
“You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!”
Matthew 8:29 ESV
“And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?””
- Neither is Faith meant to be understood as related to a moment in time or something that is temporal. By “temporal faith,” we mean trusting God in the temporary crises of this life.
a. Sickness /surgery – healing faith.
b. Money problems – financial faith.
c. Flying or driving dangers – traveling faith.
d. Big decisions – deciding faith.
These all have one thing in common – they are temporal. This kind of faith is good, but it must be understood that it can save no one.
I knew men who were soldiers who in battle would by faith pray hard inside their foxholes for God would protect them. God may have saved them from dying that day...but it is not a faith leading to eternal life.
- What Faith is...is trusting in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. It means you don't rely on being "good" or "kind" or "obedient" to get into heaven--but that you simply trust that Jesus' sacrifice for you is enough to get you there. Nothing needs to be added to that. All it requires is your belief in faith. There are three parts to having this faith:
a. Knowledge - the intellectual element.The Bible puts it very simply...
b. Assent – agreeing with the facts.
c. Trust – relying or depending.
Acts 16:31 ESV
And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.””
The amazing story of Charles Blondin, a famous French tightrope walker, is a wonderful illustration of what true faith is. Blondin's greatest fame came on September 14, 1860, when he became the first person to cross a tightrope stretched 11,000 feet (over a quarter of a mile) across the mighty Niagara Falls. People from both Canada and America came from miles away to see this great feat.
He walked across, 160 feet above the falls, several times... each time with a different daring feat - once in a sack, on stilts, on a bicycle, in the dark, and blindfolded. One time he even carried a stove and cooked an omelet in the middle of the rope!
A large crowd gathered and the buzz of excitement ran along both sides of the riverbank. The crowd “Oohed and Aahed!” as Blondin carefully walked across - one dangerous step after another--pushing a wheelbarrow holding a sack of potatoes.
Then a one point, he asked for the participation of a volunteer. Upon reaching the other side, the crowd's applause was louder than the roar of the falls!
Blondin suddenly stopped and addressed his audience: "Do you believe I can carry a person across in this wheelbarrow?"
The crowd enthusiastically yelled, "Yes! You are the greatest tightrope walker in the world. We believe!"
"Okay," said Blondin, "Who wants to get into the wheelbarrow."
As far as the Blondin story goes, no one did at the time!
This unique story illustrates a real life picture of what faith actually is. The crowd watched these daring feats. They said they believed. But... their actions proved they truly did not believe. Similarly, it is one thing for us to say we believe in God. However, it's true faith when we believe God and put our faith and trust in His Son, Jesus Christ.
Let me push the point even further...
I have a chair in my office. I believe that that chair actually exists. I also believe that that chair will actually hold me up. But what would I have to do to prove to you that I actually believe it will hold me up? I presume that you would demand that I sit on the chair...in the same way Charles Blondin demanded that one of them sit in his wheelbarrow. God demands our faith in Him and that we sit in the "Chair" that is Jesus Christ--and trust Him to hold us up and save us. There was a time when I trusted myself for eternal life – the good things I was doing, etc.., then I came to understand I needed to transfer my trust to Christ alone and all He did on that cross.
So, the bottom line is that Salvation (all of it) belongs to the Lord our God...as the author and finisher of our faith. You don't have anything to contribute or offer regarding your salvation. You might ask then what are we to do after we believe by faith. The answer to that is given to us in Scripture:
Ephesians 2:8–10 ESV
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
We do good works not to get saved...but because we are saved by faith. But we do live the rest of our lives in an "attitude of gratitude". One person put it this way: "Faith is the hand of a beggar reaching out to accept the gift of a King. That gift to you is Eternal life with Jesus Christ. It is a gift that is received in faith.
DOES THIS MAKE SENSE TO YOU?
If it does, then the question needs to be asked: What is stopping you from receiving the gift of eternal life right now? What we are talking about is this:
- A transfer of trust from saving yourself...to letting Jesus save you. It's that whole chair thing.
- Receiving the resurrected and living Christ. Actually agreeing that Jesus entered into space, time and history to accomplish salvation for his people.
- Receiving Jesus Christ as your Saviour. Check this out: Revelation 3:20 ESV “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”
- Receiving Christ Jesus as Lord. This where the rubber meets the road. You no longer are your own. Jesus owns you. His the Lord of all your life, your thoughts, your actions and being.
- Repenting of your sins. This is something every Christian has to do. Not just once...but daily before the Lord. We have to be holy like God.
If you are willing to do the five points above, then find a quiet place where you can respond to God's calling of you to receive eternal life. As you pray to Jesus, talk to Him about points 1-5 above with your whole heart, mind and soul.
WHAT'S THE RESULT OF FAITH?
There is some real benefits from God giving us the gift of Faith.
- You get Eternal Life with Jesus in Heaven. It is kind of nice knowing where you going when you finally die.
John 6:47 ESV “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.”
- You become part of the family of God. You become a son or daughter of God. You have millions of other believers (called saints) who are also your new brothers and sisters in Christ. You will find them in local Christian churches...and they would love to hear about your new faith. So welcome!
- You get the Holy Spirit of God taking up residence in your life. With God now living in you and guiding your conscience daily, He will begin a great transformation in you that will change into becoming more like Jesus. Becoming like Jesus is the goal of every Christian.
Well there are some things that you should try to do in order to kick start your new Faith in Jesus.
- Begin to read the Bible. Try starting with the New Testament Book of John (see the contents page in most any Bible) and read a chapter a day. The Bible is your handbook of Faith. It will teach you all you need to know about God.
- Talk to God regularly through prayer. You might want to begin by acknowledging God as Creator and then thank Him for the salvation and faith in Jesus you have received. You should then confess your sins to God and ask <daily> for forgiveness. God is anxious to hear from you on that score. You can then bring some of your concerns and requests to God as he delights in giving us good gifts. Remember to close your prayers in the name of Jesus (as he requested).
- Worshipping God is one of the great things all Christians get to do. We do it privately each day, but we also take the opportunity to meet with others on the Lord's Day (Sunday) to gather together with other Christians to praise God with singing, prayer and listening to the preached Word of God delivered by a minister. This will edify you and you will grow in your knowledge of God. Join us each Sunday morning at 9:00am. Map is on the home page at the bottom.
- Being around other Christians is also a great way to grow and develop. Meeting up with people (sometimes called Fellowship) will give you examples of how others live godly lives. You can meet together for meals, Bible studies, helping the poor, and serving others in the name of Jesus.
- Lastly, you will want to share your new-found faith with others. As Jesus becomes a reality in your life, it is good to share what has happened to you by telling your family, your friends and colleagues. You are God's instrument in spreading the Good News of Faith in Jesus. There are plenty of other people out there who need to know where they are going when they die. So tell them about Jesus!
If you would like to tell us that you have become a Christian...we would love to hear about it. Or you might have some questions we can answer for you. Just fill in your details below and someone will be in contact with you.