For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Why? Why did God give "his only begotten Son"? It is apparent in this verse that God did what He did because of His love, and He promises eternal life to every one who "believeth in" Jesus. However, the question we want to consider is, Why did God send Jesus?
The reason is simple: Jesus was the perfect solution for saving humanity. Moses tells us, "He is the Rock, his work is perfect..." (Deut 32:4), while the psalmist declares, "As for God, his way is perfect..." (Ps:18:30). What can one contribute to a perfect solution? Nothing. Whatever is added only denies its completeness. But what about religious acts such as prayer, communion, baptism, and other so-called sacramental "means of grace"? Regarding salvation, Protestant and Catholic sacraments alike are an abomination before God. (This will be addressed in a future issue.)
God alone is our Saviour (Isa:43:11). Nevertheless, what was so momentous a situation that it would cause God to enter into His creation through a virgin birth, live a perfect human life, and die a sacrificial death?
The answer is sin.
Sin? Sin hardly seems all that significant these days. Even among evangelicals it is too often lost in a sea of psychological euphemisms, from "moral lapses" to "dysfunctions" and "disorders." However, no matter how evil is made "sin-lite" by Christian humanists, it cannot be rid of its lethal consequences: "sin...bringeth forth death" (Jas 1:15).
Death began its devastation of this planet the moment sin entered the Garden. All that God called "very good" was tragically affected. Loving fellowship between mankind and its Creator was destroyed by disobedience. Yet, in the immediate aftermath of mankind's first and worst tragedy, Adam and Eve pursued their own solutions. He blamed her; she blamed the serpent. Together they attempted to deal with their sin by hiding from God, fashioning a covering of fig leaves for themselves. Sin sired the selfisms, beginning with self-preservation and self-consciousness.
God rejected the guilt-ridden, self-serving attempt of Adam and Eve to cover their sin. It would not do. Sin not only wrought universal devastation (Rom:8:20-22; 5:12); it brought mankind before the bar of God our Judge, who declared the death penalty to be the only payment that would satisfy divine justice. God made that absolutely clear. In setting the conditions under which Adam could respond of his own free will to his Maker, God told him the consequence of an act of disobedience: "...thou shalt surely die" (Gen:2:17). It's doubtful that God's requirement was understood as a deterrent, for Adam and Eve had no experience of death. Even so, they must have surmised that to disobey would displease, even dishonor, the One with whom they had fellowship and a relationship of complete love.
God himself provided the skins of dead animals for their clothing (Gen:3:21). Since they had no prior experience of death's "sting," it's likely that Adam and Eve recoiled at such a solution. Surely thecovering He provided, this graphic exhibition of the catastrophe of death, spoke volumes. And it's entirely unlikely God did anything to the skins to make them less offensive. Why? Skins pointed to a terribly grievous death which would take place in the future for Adam and Eve and their progeny.
At the same time, the animal hides must have been a very real comfort to our original forebears. Physically, the skins covered their nakedness, spiritually their shame. More than that, they were a continual reminder of the One to come (Gn 3:15) who would "put away sin" (sin they inflicted upon their descendants) "by the sacrifice of himself" (Heb:9:26). Adam and Eve recognized that only God could undo what they had done. God himself had made that clear by replacing their ineffectual covering of vegetation with a covering symbolic of His solution: "...without shedding of blood [there] is no remission [of sin]" (Heb:9:22).
Ignorance and confusion are cause for most of the world's objections to "bloody" Christianity. The sacrificial systems of pagan and occult religions (from ancient Baal worship to today's Santeria) are rarely seen for what they are: depraved corruptions of what God instituted. Even some who call themselves evangelicals disparage the Old Testament for its exposition of animal sacrifices. Yet what God initiated with Adam and Eve was very simple. Mankind sinned. Sin separated humanity from Him. God's penalty for sin is death. Only the full payment of the penalty for sin could satisfy God's justice, forgive sin, and make fallen mankind acceptable to Him.
Beginning with the animals slain in the Garden and including all the lawful blood sacrifices throughout the Old Testament period, everything pointed to the future sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. In themselves, the animal sacrifices were not effective. Only faith in what they represented (i.e., a trust in Messiah's death and His blood shed to atone for sin) brought about acceptance by God.
Cain, however, had another idea. And like all attempts to improve on God's way, it was folly at best, prideful rebellion at worst. Cain's sacrificial offering of grain rather than flesh was rejected by God because 1) it was in disobedience to the Lord's instructions, and 2) it was faithless, representing Cain's own way of salvation, not what God's justice required.
The way of Cain is the satanic inspiration of every false religion and unbiblical practice. Man's bent since the Fall has been to pervert God's way, mostly in His name, and always for some self-serving purpose: "The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their [own] means; and my people love to have it so" (Jer:5:31). The ungodliness of pagan ceremonies is often obvious to Christians. Nevertheless, it is becoming more and more acceptable, as ecumenism and apostasy increase. What too few care to consider is that anything added by man to God's plan of salvation is just as abhorrent to Him as the most depraved pagan idolatry. Why? To reiterate, whatever is added is a denial of His Son's perfect and complete payment for our sins.
Letting his righteous indignation show, the Apostle Paul chided the Galatians for allowing themselves to be intimidated by those who were adding obedience to the law as a requirement for salvation. Paul twice repeated that those who would teach or follow such teachings are "accursed" for the gospel's sake (Gal:1:8-9). The simple accounting in the Epistle to the Galatians is very clear: Faith in Christ's completed atonement plus any human work or religious observance equals "another gospel" which "pervert[s] the gospel of Christ" (Gal:1:6-7). The calculator tape adds up to zero salvation. A perverted gospel saves no one.
For a few weeks in September, no doubt the greatest number ever of people throughout the world collectively focused on death. Princess Diana and Mother Teresa were esteemed by the masses, and their final destination was a topic considered by religious and nonreligious alike. As with most eulogies, where only the positive aspects of one's life are tendered, so it certainly was with Diana. Her charitable works, if many in the secular world have any say in it, are a basis for her "canonization." Regarding Mother Teresa, some of the religious-minded suggestions went beyond sainthood.
A Hindu professor at Creighton University Department of Business wrote, "On this confused Earth, which is busy with materialistic goal-achieving, there was only one person closest to God: Mother Teresa. She cannot die. She simply merged with the Supreme Being....Her religion of service to the needy transcended any single religion. In fact, one might say that she followed the path of karma yoga (selfless action) for achieving union with God." John Cardinal O'Connor, reflecting more the Catholic mindset, said, "If she is not in heaven [bypassing purgatory?], then I am really terrified of dying, because of all she did." A one-line letter to the editor of a small-town newspaper had this to say: "If Mother Teresa doesn't have a nonstop ticket to Heaven, no one does." In other words, if she didn't earn her way in, there's no hope for the rest of us.
Good-works salvation is hardly just a Roman Catholic belief; it's the number one ticket to heaven in the minds of most people the world over. All the world religions, including many which profess to be Christian, require the individual to perform certain acts in order to merit entrance to heaven or a place of eternal bliss. Hindus believe they must go through innumerable life cycles or reincarnations, paying for the misdeeds of each former life while hoping against hope that their present life will not add to their future suffering. Various yoga practices provide the ways and means to attain moksha, or fusion with the infinite.
Buddhism, the "in" religion of the '90s, involves the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path, which is said to end cycles of suffering by abolishing all desire. Nirvana is reached by the perfect practice of the eight ways of right living: 1) right viewpoint, 2) right aspiration, 3) right speech, 4) right behavior, 5) right occupation, 6) right effort, 7) right mindfulness, and 8) right meditation. That this is presently the most favored religion of Hollywood is rather ironic.
There is no outside redemption in Islam; as a man sows, so shall he reap on the final day of reckoning. "Every man's actions have We hung around his neck, and on the last day shall be laid before him a wide-open book" (Surah 17.13). Those who live according to the teachings of Islam to the best of their abilities hope to reach Paradise, most often described in terms of sensual delights. The only sure way of reaching Paradise is to be in holy war against the infidels.
Biblical Christians have far more in common with those who follow Judaism than they do with practitioners of the other major world religions. Nevertheless, the unbridgeable gap which separates true Christians from religious Jews is works salvation, i.e., keeping the Law. Whether one is orthodox, adhering strictly to the Torah, the Mishna, and the Talmud in order to be acceptable in the sight of God, or a conservative, with a more lenient interpretation of the Torah, or a reformed Jew at least hanging in there with an observance of the sabbath, all depends on the final evaluation of their moral and ethical behavior to determine whether or not they will be with God in the afterlife.
All the cults which consider themselves to be Christian have a common belief: one gets to heaven on the basis of merit (Jesus simply showed the way or opened the door; one must follow His lead, earning salvation as He did). Forgetting the fact that all the cults have a false Jesus and many erroneous ideas about Him, nevertheless, nearly all of them believe that He lived a perfect life in order to attain salvation. Who then can honestly say that he or she is living up to that standard?
On the other hand, there was a sinful man who went through life as a thief. In the process of being punished for his crimes, he hung on a cross near another Man who was also being crucified. Perhaps still charged with energy and pride, the thief began his torturous ordeal by joining the surrounding crowd in mocking the Man wearing a crown of thorns.
Then, as the day wore on, the thief's view of the Man changed: a conversion took place in his heart. This criminal, this man of depravity with few if any morally or socially redeeming works to "outweigh his evil," became a unique witness to the most spectacular event in the history of the universe: the gospel was being carried out but a few feet away. Of course, this thief wasn't alone—yet he was one of the few to grasp what was taking place during those darkened hours.
The condemned criminal, with nothing to offer, with nothing redemptory that he could accomplish before death—no time for sacraments, for penitential ritual, for water baptism, or any other so-called salvational means of grace—did the only thing God requires (Rom:10:13). He simply confessed that he was a sinner and cried out in faith to the One whose pending death would pay the complete penalty for his sins, and the sins of the whole world: "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom" (Lk 23:40-42).
The immediate reply from the lips of our Lord and Savior to this thief from the dregs of humanity is the most thrilling declaration ever received by any biblical figure: "And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise" (Lk 23:43). Whether at death's door or not, that same blessed assurance of eternal life with Jesus Christ is for everyone who comes to Him just as the thief did—simply by faith alone. TBC