It’s so ironic to me that as much as humanity prides itself on its understanding of knowledge, we do not even understand ourselves. Its an absense of the knowledge of our own human nature. And because of this lack of self-awareness, we cannot fully know and grasp who God is, and more importantly, the magnitude of what he has done for us. The gospel goes so much deeper than the basic story of Jesus hanging on a cross for our sins. We hear the “Easter Story” every Sunday morning (hopefully), but do we truly let it impact our hearts? In the book of Acts chapter 2 in verse 37, after Peter had informed the Israelites that it was their sins that had nailed Jesus to the cross, the text says that they were, “pierced” or “cut” to the heart by Peter’s message. And as a result of their feeling the weight of Christ’s atonement for their sins, a great revival and genuine repentance broke out among them. Such a difference from the type of so-called regenerate we see in our world today.
As followers of Jesus, we can get so blinded by the little church bubble we live in day in and day out. We surround ourselves with believers and at times our biggest point of contention is splitting theological hairs regarding doctrine that we already adhere to within the church. It is so easy to forget that we as the body of Christ are an island to ourself in this world ruled by Satan. Not everyone has a firm grasp of what the gospel truly is about. And Id venture to say that the reason they don’t understand the true gospel of Jesus Christ, is because they primarily do not understand their own human nature.
For proof of this, just go up to most people in your own home town. I once heard a pastor say that it was easier to distinguish between a believer in Christ and someone who doesn’t know him in the northern parts of the United States. His reasoning for saying this was that he claimed up north, people will make no bones about their religious allegiances. They will tell you they are Christian, Buddhist, or even atheist and be totally upfront about it. But here in the Bible belt, most everyone will tell you that they are a Christian. And their reasoning behind their claims of faith in Christ at times will be so opposite to scripture. Here are a few justifications I have personally heard in the deep south as to why people think that they are a Christian.
This is more a more common belief than many would think. And people really believe that they have right standing in front of God because they attend church. They dont think this way because they lack intelligence in any way. Rather, it is because they dont really understand the nature of their own being as revealed to us through scripture. If we could just get those who believe this to think about how preposterous this statement is in light of how salvation works, then they might have a better understanding of who God is.
Here is a basic example. Imagine that I told you my car engine was in great need of some major transmission work. And I told you that I was going to fix it myself. You ask me if I am a mechanic, to which I reply, “Why yes, I am a mechanic.” You respond to me, “Well you must have a passion for cars and love and study things pertaining to automobiles.” To which I reply to you, “No Im not really passionate about cars and I only read car magazines occasional that I see at on the magazine racks at the grocery store. In confusion, you then ask me then what in the world would make me think that I am a mechanic?? It is obvious I dont love mechanics, I dont seek to know the deeper things regarding how cars work, and my knowledge of them is summed up in an occasional devotional manner at best! Again, you ask me, “Charlie, what makes you think that you are a mechanic? My response, “Because I go and hang out in an auto body shop once or twice a week.” If you are smart, you do not want me working on your car. And I say that in all seriousness.
A silly, fictional story, but it paints the same picture as a professing Christian who believes when they die, they will go to Heaven on the grounds that they attend church on a regular basis. No true love for Christ. No yearning to know him deeper and no passion to be about his mission. Their assurance lies solely in their spotless record of church attendance.
2. Because Their Family Members Are Christians
As outrageous as this may sound, Ive actually known people who think this way. A family friend who is not a believer in Jesus once told my father a story about he and his girlfriend going sailing out in the ocean. A terrible story blew upon them and he claimed that he was terrified. Faced with a possible life threatening situation, he said that he began to think about his eternity if they should die. And he said he found comfort in knowing that even though he was not a believer, his girlfriend was. And he believed that if they had died, he would have gotten in on the grounds that he was with her. Clearly, he had no understanding of the gospel. He believed that he could gain righteousness through the fact that he loved his girlfriend and he knew her. But Jesus shattered this idea of a man made righteousness.
“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”John 14:6.
Once again, a reasonable way to combat this line of thinking would to be to use the illustration of the mechanic again. Would you let someone work on your car whose only credit to being a mechanic was that their father worked on cars? If so, you might want to invest in a skateboard.
3. Because They are Good People
This is the biggest deception going on in our world today. That people will inherit eternal life because they are good people. But this defense raises a multitude of questions. For starters, you are good in comparison to whom? What is your measuring rod of goodness? There are people who genuinely love the Lord, but have prayed for God just to wipe out all the bad people on earth. Is that really a prayer you want to be praying? We tend to look at serial killers and people who cheat in their marriages and think of them as the “bad people.” And we are in some way, good, because we would never do those things. But on that day standing before the Lord in judgement, we will not be measured according to how good we were in mans eyes, but instead, we will be judged according to Gods standards.
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sisterwill be subject to judgment.” Matthew 5:21-22.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”Matthew 5:27-28.
So according to Jesus, those who have harbored lust or hate in their hearts are just as deserving of death and punishment as the persons who have committed adultery and murder. And there lies the problem within us. We do not view ourselves as bad. As long as we are not breaking any worldly laws, we see ourselves as being good people. When in reality, we are just as wicked and depraved as the murderer on death row without being covered by the saving blood of Christ.
“All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Romans 3:12.
In Romans, Paul points this out. All men have turned away in chasing their sin. No one does good in the site of the Lord, not even one. Isaiah 55 says it differently. Isaiah says that even our best works are like filthy rags without the blood of Christ. That means that we are so eaten up with our sin nature, that even on our best day, we could never measure up to the standards of righteousness before God. Some would argue that we are born innocent and sin nature is something that is learned. But to counter this, all one has to do is look at a toddler. When they dont get their way, they hit, kick, throw things, and bite. Did you ever think about why it is that God made babies so tiny and weak? Its so that in their sin nature, which is in them from birth, that tiny baby wouldnt be able to kill their parents in their sleep in a fit of rage.
One minister actually argued on national television that he didnt believe God would never hate anyone because God is love. And I submit to you that because God is love he must hate. You see I love children, therefore I hate abortion. If God is love he must love what is righteous and hate what is unrighteous. And in his justice, God must give the death penalty to all of those who have sinned against him. If someone murdered your family, you would be right for seeking the death penalty, because you loved your family.
So where does that leave us? Because if this is true, then we have all sinned and fallen short. We are all radically depraved in our sin nature. And as a result, we are all rightly deserving of an eternal death row sentence. We have no hope. Church attendance cannot save us. Our family cannot save us. And even our best efforts to do right cannot save us. All of us, from birth, are born with a rebellious nature towards God. This truth no doubt will not sit well with some. But I would have to ask have you never read this scripture……
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” John 3:36.
Meditate on the word “remains.” Whoever believes in Christ has eternal life, but those who reject remain under Gods wrath. Remain….as in they have known no other state of being besides abiding under the wrath of God for their entire existence. To remain is to stay somewhere you have always been. Without Jesus Christ, the churched, the good families, and the morality seekers all remain under the wrath of God.
So what are we to do? If we have no hope, being born in this state of depravity, where do we turn? It all goes back to the verse in Acts 2:37 regarding people hearts being pierced. When Peter told these people of their sinfulness, and how Jesus came to die in their place and to take the punishment due them, their hearts were pierced. Meaning they were broken and repulsed at the sinfulness in their lives. And that their very nature was repulsive to God, so much so that there was nothing they could do to save themselves.
But they realized that a substitute had been sent to drink the cup of wrath that was to be poured out upon them. And as a result of knowing how depraved they really were, and the radical price Jesus paid so that undeserving sinners could experience fellowship and eternal life with God, they were broken in thanksgiving. Thankful that God in his mercy poured out his wrath upon his only son, so that those deserving of punishment could instead receive grace, being called adopted children of God. That is a level of love foreign to the world we currently live in.
As all of the books of the old testament point to Christ, one of my favorite examples is in the book of Jonah. Jonah is much more than a fish tale. It was a direct acknowledgement of the coming Messiah. God’s wrath was seen at the end of Jonah chapter one where Jonah was on the boat with these other men. The storm was the wrath of God, and the whole boat was sure to be destroyed under it. But here is what happened…..
Jonah said, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”
13 Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.” 15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.” Jonah 1:12-16.
Jonah is a type of Christ. Not the messiah himself, but a shadow of what was to come. If you notice, the men were terrified. But Jonah was their atoning sacrifice that appeased the wrath of God. And the last verse says that the men in the boat who were saved worshiped the Lord in thankfulness that they were spared. These men were pierced to the heart.
And to all those who would be pierced to the heart just as the Israelites were, is given pardon from their death sentence. And I use the word pierced as in the book of Acts, because a person who is pierced to the heart….broken over how wretched they really are becomes keenly aware of how great a price was paid for them on the cross through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Only a pierced person can find true repentance and life change, because they dont want to be that same person who rebelled against God. And only a truly repentant person can believe in Christ. Because when we grasp the full weight of this, we cease to only know Jesus in a Sunday School, devotional kind of mentality.
We see him as savior.
We see him as the Son of God.
We see him a wrath remover.
We see him as righteousness provider.
We see him as sin forgiver.
We see him as soul satisfier.
We see him as redeemer. And we see him as the Lord of our lives.
And this realization presses us into knowing who we really are apart from Christ, and therefore knowing the true depth of the love of God. Many preachers shudder at the thought of preaching on the wrath of God. They only want to tickle the ears with talk of Gods love. But they dont fully understand the depth of Gods love. Because Gods love and his wrath are inseparable. And it’s because of his wrath that his love is made that much greater and evident in our lives.