So the last few posts I have been talking about who God is, why he has to punish sin, but also why he loves us regardless. This post I want to talk about what our response to this unfailing kindness should be, and why for many the proper response is not the popular response.
God's requirements for any man to get into heaven are quite hefty--my Bible spends about 200 pages mostly on the Law of Moses, from the Ten Commandments in Exodus to the end of Deuteronomy. And of these laws, there are so many that are contrary to what we want, that we often break these laws without even realizing it. But even these are still sin, which means falling short of the glory of God, and our God is just, which means that he must punish that sin to preserve the holiness of himself, who is the picture of perfection. If God did not punish sin, then that is the same as saying that he either does not hate sin, or that he is not God (which really are one in the same).
But God loves us, and he hates seeing his children sinning, and it saddens him to see us being separated from him by sin. But he still needed to punish sin, so in the greatest act of selfless love, God sent his son Jesus Christ to this earth to live the perfectly sinless life that no one else could, and showing the world what love truly looks like. There is no greater love than that of a man who lays down his life for his friends, and the act of Jesus taking the punishment for all our sins as he died on the cross is proof of that love. The punishment that we deserve--an eternity separated from God in hell, the second death--is the punishment that Jesus took upon himself. But the power that death has over sinners held no power over the perfection of Christ, and he rose from the grave on the third day, defeating death and showing the entire world the power of God. But he didn't just defeat death, he enabled us all to defeat death, to cast down the chains that sin has imprisoned us with since the fall of man. And this gift of eternal life is freely given to anyone who puts faith in Christ Jesus and follows him all their life.
This Gospel is the single greatest story of love and of redemption ever told, and it is one that will never be surpassed. It is a story that transcends age, race, and time, changing the hearts and lives of untold millions around the world, in an incredible number of languages.
But it is also a story that is far too often taken for granted, a trend that has also been passed down through the ages in ever nation. You have probably heard mention of "American Christianity," probably along with the idea that the Church is a place you go to on Sunday mornings and forget about the rest of the week. Before anything, I just want to dispel the idea of an "American Christianity," because the problems we have in our churches are the exact same as the ones that plagued the very first churches after Christ. Read the Seven Letters to the Churches in Revelation (and my blog series about them) and you will see the exact kind of stuff the churches back then were dealing with: forsaking the love of God in lieu of pursuing doctrine(WestBoro Baptist Church); letting the persecution of the world change your beliefs (churches not treating homosexuality as a sin, but simply letting it remain); rampant sexual immorality, especially among church leaders; a general lack of passion for Christ in the church, and on and on. So don't give into the lies of Satan saying that American churches are messed up, any church that is not solidly founded on and fueled by Christ alone is going to be messed up.
But this brings me to a good point: once you have believed in the absolute truth of the Gospel, don't let Satan discourage you from finding a church. An enemy is only going to attack when you are close to the target, and so the closer you get to Christ, the more Satan is going to try and make your life hell, because he knows he will never be able to torment you for eternity in hell. But this is where you stand firm in your decision to follow Christ; this is where you seek help because you know that you can't do it alone. Get plugged into a church, and this doesn't mean just going to worship services on Sunday. Really get to know the people in the church, join a small group, seek discipleship and accountability (more on this later), and pursue the righteousness of God through his Church. God wants to have a relationship with you, and he has given us everything we would ever need to establish this relationship in the Church. Our first response to the love of Christ on the cross should be becoming part of a church family.
When you are in school and want to get a good grade, how do you achieve that? You study, you do your homework, you put in the time you need so that you can get what you want. The same is true for getting close to God. How can you expect to get to know Him and have a real relationship with Him if you don't spend time with him, by reading his Word and in prayer. But the time you spend with God shouldn't be a chore like homework is; rather having time to devote to God is like pursuing any friendship. You know that you want to be friends with someone, and you know that if you want to establish and maintain this friendship you need to spend time around that person. You need to talk to them, get to know more about them, live life with them. But the communication should be two ways, you need to also spend time listening to them, and allow them to seek to deepen the friendship with you as well.
And this is why the Christian faith is so incredible, and how I know that this is real, not a lie spoken by the devil to pull me away from God. I know, beyond any shadow of doubt, that there is a God out there who wants to have a relationship with me. He has spoken to me through his Word, the Bible, and he speaks to my heart when I need to hear him. I believe in the deity and the truth of Jesus Christ, and God has rewarded me by coming down to me, by drawing me close to him and wanting to build a relationship with me. There is no other religion like Christianity, and there is no other God who wants to be our loving, caring Father. But I have only come to realize this by seeking out this relationship for myself.
You can go to church, you can believe in Jesus Christ, but in the end if you do not have a relationship with Christ, it all means nothing. Jesus says that if we believe in him, then we will be saved. But he also says that if we love him, we will follow his commands, and that not everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But if you truly believe in Jesus, you simply cannot go on living the way you were, in sin. Your heart will be changed to hate that sin, and you will want to follow Jesus and live like him, because he is perfection and our salvation. A true belief in Jesus is characterized by a radical, selfless love for others, and an unfailing and undoubting devotion to him.
This is the true and proper response to the Gospel: that we deny ourselves the sinful pleasures of the world so that we can pick up our cross and follow Jesus' commands our of a love that is given by God.