A number of years ago, in a previous ministry, I was sitting in a University of Florida cafeteria dining room table with a student who had visited our large group meeting held on campus the week before. Surprisingly, even though I had never met him before the evening on which he visited our meeting, he was not only willing, but he was eager to meet with me again, this time on an individual basis. I immediately made an appointment to meet with him during the next week. As we conversed in the campus cafeteria that day, I discovered that this student, although a non-Christian at the time, was extremely transparent about the emptiness of his life. Through a personal, tragic circumstance, he had almost lost his life, had lost all of his friends and also had entered into a valley of depression. He was a handsome young man with a vibrant personality. Although small in frame, he was a body builder and had an active social life, showing me his little black book of female students’ names, college women whom he could contact at any moment, if he was looking for a “good time.” He was succeeding in school, enjoying the college scene and some might conclude, “what more could he want in life?” He was drinking in the pleasures of the collegiate “good life” and was envied by many of his peers.
But while we spoke, it was obvious he wasn’t happy; rather, he had been broken by his “worldly” lifestyle as well as his personal life crisis and he was living with an internal sense of guilt and shame. We spoke at length and the conversation was both engaging and positive. Amazingly, even though he was in his early 20’s, he had never been inside a church building, never had attended a worship service, nor had he read any part of the Bible. But, he did believe in God and finding himself at the end of his rope, he was seeking the truth about the questions of life.
In his seeking for God, he came to understand that the answers to his questions were to be found in God’s Word, the Bible. Eventually this young man received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, finding forgiveness for his personal sins and failures, purpose for his future, a relationship with the living God and a warm community of good friends. He was wonderfully changed and didn’t look back.
Today, as you have entered the RTS website, for whatever reason, possibly you feel some affinities with this young university student, wondering about the answers to the questions of life. I hope this short introduction to the Christian faith might assist you in some way to find what you are looking for and indeed, to find God Himself. If you have a Bible in hand, you might prefer to look up the various references (noted in parentheses) for your own study and inquiry.
The answers to the questions of life always start with God. The Bible begins with the premise, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth….” (Genesis 1:1). The living, personal, almighty God is the Creator of all that is, the entire universe. When we consider the origins of life, God’s existence is the most obvious answer to the intricate and amazing world in which we live. We could not be here by chance! Because God is our Creator, each of us owes Him our entire life; He brought us into being and sustains our every moment of existence (Acts 17:25-28). He has given us everything we have and we are accountable to Him for all we do. God created mankind – men and women – in order that we might know Him, enjoy a relationship with Him and honor, serve and love Him as our maker and sustainer.
OUR DILEMMA – OUR FAILURE
As mentioned above, God made humanity that we might know Him personally, love Him and walk through life in relationship with Him. But, as we consider the world around us, we recognize that man is not living in a natural relationship with God; rather God often seems distant and unapproachable to mankind. Unbelief prevails. This reality forces us to inquire into what happened to the original design of God’s creation. The Bible tells us that after God made man and woman in his image (relational, personal and creative beings – Genesis 1:26), our first parents actually rebelled against Him in the garden of Eden (a wonderful place of perfect fellowship with God). Man’s original rebellion affects each of us, as we all have inherited this sinful nature and the personal guilt which ensues from our own sinful acts; therefore, we continue to seek our own way and our own will rather than God’s will. The Bible calls our state of rebellion and our acts of autonomy “sin.” This sin nature and its expressions of self-centered behavior cannot coexistence with God’s perfect being. This is one reason why God appears to be far off to all men.
OUR DILEMMA – GOD’S REQUIREMENTS
The Bible tells us that God is holy (1 Peter 1:15-17). He is in essence morally perfect, pure, and altogether flawless in his being and character. His holiness makes Him so unlike us that we should be in awe of His greatness and live before Him in reverent fear. His awesome nature becomes even more overwhelming to us, because Jesus tells us that God requires perfection on our part, both in heart attitude and action (Matthew 5:48). And God requires us to be holy like Him, as well. Added to this requirement is the frightening reality that God knows everything about us – our words, actions and even our thoughts. Nothing is hidden from His sight and He will judge us based on this knowledge of us (Hebrews 4:12-13). Our sin – our lack of holiness and inability to be perfect – is what has caused God to appear distant and inaccessible to us. We are unable to approach Him (I Timothy 6:15-16) or to have a relationship with Him because He is too pure to coexist with sinners. They cannot see Him in His holiness and live. In His justice and righteousness, God, as the judge of all men, must condemn us for our sins against Him.
Sin is defined in at least three ways:
- Disobedience, rebellion or transgression – acts of the will, which break God’s law (I John 3:4). We have all broken God’s law, as expressed in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20).
- Unbelief – the inability of the mind to trust God (Titus 1:15).
- Personal failure – the inability to fully glorify God, which includes falling short of His glory (Romans 3:23).
One great theologian of recent days, Dr. John Leith, has stated that sin is also defined by these categories: unbelief, pride, disobedience, idolatry, apathy, the removal of good and sensuality. Unfortunately, we cannot escape the indictments which these definitions bring upon us; we are all guilty of seeking our own way. Because of our sin and guilt, each of us inevitably will face these consequences of God’s judgment (Hebrews 9:27): spiritual death (the inability to know God personally or have relationship with Him – Ephesians 2:1), physical death (aging and the death of the body – Genesis 2:17) and eternal death (being cast out of the presence of God, suffering in body and soul forever, a fate which the Bible calls “hell” – Revelation 20:11-15). These prospects, being true, are disheartening and frightening.
The Bible describes man’s dilemma – his being separated from the God who made him – as his being “lost” (Luke 19:10). Man has lost his fellowship with God and his sense of purpose in this world. He has lost the answers to life – life has become an unsolvable mystery to man. And he has marred the image of God in which he was originally created; the ugliness of broken human relationships is a vivid demonstration of this loss. The world has fallen from its originally intended purpose at creation – we have lost the opportunity to know and glorify God and to serve Him in a rich and mutual relationship. Sadly and tragically, man lives under the judgment and condemnation of a holy God, whom he could have otherwise known and enjoyed.
The ultimate question of life is this, “Can men and women, fallen from their original perfect state of being and their initial relationship with God, restore what was lost in their disobedience to their Creator? Can they ever come to know God personally and avoid His righteous judgment and their personal condemnation?” The Bible tells us that in and of ourselves, we cannot return to God or restore what has been lost. Because of our sin, we cannot please God in any way; the imperfect cannot appease the One who requires perfection (Romans 3:10-12). We also cannot save ourselves or reach God by our own efforts (Ephesians 2:8-9). Our good works, morality, generosity, social involvement and religious efforts are unable to please God or make us acceptable to Him. Our motives are mixed with self interest; our righteousness is as filthy rags in His sight (Isaiah 64:4).
The good news, however, is that God has done something wonderful – in some ways unbelievable – about our predicament. He has given us a gracious gift! (Romans 6:23). As a matter of fact, the word “gospel” simply means this: good news. Because sinful man cannot approach a holy God in his own ability, God has intervened by sending His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is no ordinary man; he is the second person of the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and as such is deity or God Himself (John 1:1, 14; Colossians 1:15-16, 19; Hebrews 1:3). He is eternal, before all things (John 8:58), declared to be the creator and sustainer of the universe (Colossians 1:17) and is the worker of inexplicable miracles. As a man, however, Jesus took upon Himself flesh and blood like ours, being born of a virgin mother, with no earthly father (God was his father). He had no sin nature, nor did He ever commit sin. Jesus was God in the flesh, born in perfection and able to live His entire life in perfect conformity to His Father’s will. This is significant because, whereas we are unable to keep God’s law or satisfy His perfect requirements, Jesus fulfilled all of God’s requirements and perfectly satisfied God the Father with His righteous life. With Jesus, the Father was well pleased in every way (Matthew 3:17; 17:5). Whereas the law of God condemns each of us, as sinners, Jesus has kept all of the law and fulfilled its demands for perfect obedience.
Not only did Jesus, God’s Son, live on this earth without sin, he also came to earth in order to satisfy the demands of God’s wrath, i.e. God’s anger against our sin. The only way to escape God’s wrath, eternal death and hell (our judgment) is through Christ’s work on the cross, a work done on behalf of those who will trust Him. Jesus died on the cross as a substitute for sinners (Isaiah 53:6; I Peter 2:24). He took the punishment (God’s wrath) our sins deserve upon Himself and willfully suffered for us, so that we who believe might go free (free from God’s judgment). His death on the cross was a death made on our behalf, God coming to die in our place, so that we might be pardoned in regard to the guilt and punishment required by our sins.
This is what we mean by the great love of God. God loves sinners and demonstrated His love for us in that while we were still sinners, ungodly, and God’s enemies, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-11). This is the amazing good news we call the gospel. Christ lived a perfect life, did nothing deserving death and yet he gave His life on the cross – the capital punishment of His day – in order to suffer and die on our behalf. His body was beaten, bruised and pierced and He did this because God loves us (John 3:16). Christ came to reconcile us to God. Stunningly, God, who came in human form through the person of His Son – one who knew no sin – truly suffered and died, becoming sin for us so that in Him we become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). He then rose from the dead in order to affirm that He indeed is God and could give life to all who would trust Him (I Corinthians 15:3-4). This is the wonder of the gospel. As I accept Christ’s work on my behalf – i.e. His active obedience (living perfectly in my behalf) and his passive obedience (suffering and going to the cross to die for my sins) – I escape the hell and punishment I truly deserve. Also, I receive His perfect record, credited to the debt I owe to God and paying off that debt. I am now dressed, so to speak, in Christ’s perfect work, presentable to God the judge, and my acceptance before God is only through Christ. And because He is alive today, I can know Him personally, like a friend. This is an amazing reality and truly the answer to the ultimate question of life.
The Bible clearly tells us that Jesus is the only way to reach God (John 14:6; 1 Timothy 2:5). The uniqueness of Christianity lies in the fact that the means to solving our dilemma is not found in our own efforts, i.e. trying to be a good person, building our own spiritual resume, being generous and benevolent or following faithfully a moral code or a philosophy of life. Religion by definition is said to be man’s attempt to reach God; Christianity is God’s plan to reach man and redeem – or save him – from his lost-ness. Religion is based on man’s efforts and is therefore flawed and inadequate, due to man’s sin, but Christianity is a relationship based upon God’s gracious initiative to provide a sacrifice for man’s sins. The only way to have a relationship with God is to become right with God, i.e. to find a means to satisfy God’s wrath against our sin. Christ’s is that means. Once we recognize our brokenness, like my University of Florida friend mentioned earlier, we can find pardon and forgiveness and peace with God (Romans 5:1). We do so by repenting (or turning) from our sins and self-centeredness (Luke 13:3; Isaiah 55:6-7), confessing our sins to God (I John 1:9) and trusting Christ for the work he has done on our behalf (Acts 16:31). We become Christians, sons and daughters of God, by receiving Christ as our Lord and Savior (John 1:12). Faith is simply taking God at His word, believing that He will keep His promises and He will accept us through the work of His Son, Jesus. You must call upon Him and He will hear you (Romans 10: 9, 13).
I invite you to receive Jesus Christ into your life today, asking Him to save you from your lost-ness and to change your heart. He is indeed the answer to the ultimate question of life, “How can I know God?” In Christ, you will find an abundant life today – walking in relationship with the risen Christ – as well as a life beyond this one which surpasses our imagination – everlasting life with the God who made us to know Him forever.
If I, or anyone at RTS, can assist you further in your journey of faith, please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rod Culbertson, Jr.