Belief in God as Creator and in His authority as well as in our responsibility to Him is almost universal among men. The fact that our daily lives do not measure up to God’s standards is also quite generally conceded, but the solution to this evident shortcoming is the subject of many theories and religious practices: “How can a man please God and be accepted of Him?” “What does God want of me?” These are questions that have arisen in the hearts of men since the beginning of time.
No matter who you are, there is something that God does want of you; but one obvious problem always presents itself in any attempt to please Him or offer some gift acceptable to Him, and that is the fact of man’s sin in relation to God’s absolute holiness. What intelligent man would deny the basic fact of sin? Positive evidence is displayed with inexorable regularity on the news pages of the whole world, told out in crimes of violence, greed, hatred, jealousy, rage, vice, lust, worldwide mistrust, and strife. Regardless of date, place, names of individuals, or other details that may vary, each story can be told in one short word: sin. And every person who is honest enough to admit it knows that this infectious virus has festered to some degree in his own heart and life.
The Bible makes it clear that sin has separated man from God and placed him under the penalty of God’s judgment: “As it is written, there is none righteous, no not one” (Romans:3:10—emphasis added). God is holy and righteous, and, as the great Judge of all the earth, His verdict will be perfectly right for every man and within the scope of His law. This verdict has been announced for centuries from the pages of His Holy Word: “The wages of sin is death—the soul that sinneth, it must die.” Death is, of necessity, a complete separation from the Giver of Life.
To think that God can be bought with money, time, or work given to a church or to some good cause, or that His verdict can be swayed by “influence” of church or “saint” is to expect less of the Righteous Judge than you would demand of a man in a similar position upon earth. Surely God cannot be enticed to break His own law.
A prisoner stands before the court. The evidence has been heard and weighed. He is found guilty of a great crime, for which the law demands that the judge mete out a severe penalty. Can any amount of promises to reform through positive thinking, pledges to devote time and money to good causes, or proof of membership in a church and charitable societies ever alter the fact that the prisoner has committed a crime? Would these deeds nullify the penalty demanded by the law? Of course not! Nor can good works or church membership or the act of belonging to any other organization alter for one moment the fact that man is a sinner before God.
In a court of law there is no procedure for adding up the “good” the accused may have done to see if it will outweigh the crime for which he is being tried. The question before the court is simply, “Guilty” or “Not Guilty.” And it is the same in the eyes of God. No amount of good deeds can ever nullify the fact of sin; and the verdict of “guilty” has already been pronounced by God upon the whole race of man: “Now we know that whatsoever things the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Romans:3:19—emphasis added).
When the verdict of “guilty” has been pronounced in a court of law, if true justice is to be done, friends of the prisoner, no matter who they may be, must have no power to change the verdict of the judge or sway him in his duty under the law. Do you, then, believe that any church body or official can sway the judgments of Almighty God?
What vanity, therefore, to trust in some church (no matter what type it may be) or in some “saint” that someone may have named as influential to mediate your cause with Almighty God! Can He be influenced to go back upon the righteous penalty He himself has pronounced upon sin? Can He be persuaded to compromise with the undeniable fact of our guilt before Him?
Certainly basic logic leads us to the inevitable conclusion that if any man is to be accepted of God it must be upon a righteous basis—not on the basis of penance, prayers, rituals, good deeds, gifts of time and money, or the influence of a church or a “saint.” None of these can alter the fact of our sin and guilt before a righteous, holy God and are therefore only bribes attempting to pervert judgment. These attempts may work at times among men—but never with God.
The teachings of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament gospels very strongly emphasize this point. If there was one thing that Jesus constantly stressed during His life upon earth, it was the fact that God is neither deceived by nor pleased with an outward show of piety, even when it comes to religious attendance to ordinances that He himself gave to the Jews of old. In fact, God’s eyes pierce through all of these things to examine man’s very heart.
In the well-known Sermon on the Mount, Christ dealt not with externals but with those things that are the result of a right attitude of heart: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (emphasis added). That this is not the natural condition of man’s heart is quite evident, and the Bible reiterates this fact again and again in such verses as Jeremiah:17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the Lord search the heart.” Thus the question of man’s sins (the fruit) must not only be settled in effecting reconciliation to God on a righteous basis, but sin itself (the root) must be put away and the “deceitful…and desperately wicked” heart made “pure” in the sight of God.
Did the religious rituals of the Jews bring about this pureness of heart? Here are the words of Christ spoken to a group of the religious leaders: “O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things?” (Matthew:12:34) “For out of the abundance of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew:15:19—emphasis added).
These words of Christ are an indictment of the heart of man as well as of the form, ritual, and hypocrisy of the religious world. Thus Christ proclaimed that because the heart of man is corrupt, his good works cannot be accepted by God. Even religious ordinances once given by God to the Jews as a type and example of truth that was to be revealed in Christ became perverted by their evil hearts, and the empty form that remained had become an abomination to God.
Jesus taught that the very essence of what God requires of man is this: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind; thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew:23:36-40, Luke:10:25-28). God wants the true love and devotion of your heart!
But how can the heart of man, which contains the “root of sin,” as Christ describes it, produce the true love and devotion that God requires? And how can a condemned sinner be brought to the place of reconciliation and love before a Holy God? How can God be just and yet pardon the sinner? How can He dispense love and mercy to a sinful race without compromising righteousness and justice? The answer could only be devised by God’s infinite wisdom, and it is the most wonderful message ever heard by human ears.
God’s answer to this seeming dilemma is proclaimed by the gospel, His “good news” to man. The message is one of perfect love, not prostitution; of infinite mercy, but not compromise; of complete and absolute pardon, yet the strictest of justice. It is the marvelous story of infinite Love giving its all to win us back to Himself: the story of God himself, who came down to earth to inhabit a body of flesh and blood, was born of a virgin that as a man He might be our representative, and, as our representative, might take our place in judgment, paying the extreme penalty demanded against sin by His own holy Law. Nevertheless, many would fail to respond in repentance, submission, and love to the Christ of the cross, who stands with outstretched hands that still bear the nail prints, and pleads—“Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew:11:28).
O the love that drew salvation’s plan!
O the grace that brought it down to man!
O the mighty gulf that God did span
God wants you to bow before Him just as you are, a guilty lost sinner, accepting gratefully and sincerely the pardon and forgiveness He offers in the person of Christ. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son: that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John:3:16).
Surely, it is evident that what God wants of you is not some outward form of religious ritual but is instead an inner reality. He doesn’t want your penance but the complete submission of your will; not your gift of any material thing but the true love and devotion of your heart. Yes, our hearts are corrupt by nature, and it is only by the “new birth” through faith in Christ on the basis of His having paid the full penalty for our sins that God can forgive us, create within us a clean heart, and accept us in the person of His Son. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John:3:3).
Oh, the wonder of God’s salvation! Our submission to God is not, in the final analysis, the giving up of anything but rather the receiving of the infinite “everything” that He offers to us in Christ! God wants to bestow His love, His riches, His grace, His infinite blessings in an endless flood upon you forever and forever! Won’t you right now stop trying to pacify God with religious ritual or some gift of yours to Him, and just by faith accept Christ as your Savior, surrendering control of your will into His hand, and giving Him the true love and devotion of your heart so that He can fill you with Himself?
“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ...That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in [his] kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians:2:4-9). “Mercy…God’s great love…making us alive…the exceeding riches of His grace…His kindness…[being] saved…through faith…as the gift of God…[throughout] the ages to come…”!
Only the God who has communicated to us through His Word, who is the Creator of the universe, has provided for His rebellious creatures a way for them to be reconciled to Himself, a way for them to live with Him forever. No other God or god or Supreme Deity or Force worshiped among men has offered himself or itself sacrificially for the salvation of his creatures.
No other God claims to be love and then thoroughly demonstrates that consummate virtue by subjecting Himself to a humiliating death upon a cross as He pays the full penalty for the sins of mankind.
The penalty had to be paid in order to satisfy Divine justice. It involved not only Christ’s physical death but the experience of the Son being separated from the Father. The dread of that event was foreseen by Jesus as He knelt before the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew:26:36-39). “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke:22:44).
In the 18th Century, the hymn writer Charles Wesley wrote these incredibly wonderful words: “Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?” That act of love is beyond our ability to fathom, yet it is even more incomprehensible to understand why anyone would not want to receive it. In John chapter 15 verse 13, Jesus informs us of what that act means even for sinful humanity: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John:15:13). Who would not want to be His friend for all eternity?