A Friendly Visit And Words of Truth

 

A Friendly Visit

And Words of Truth

Richard Hollerman

Open the door of your mind and heart

Imagine a comfortable conversation

Prepare to learn what you never knew before!

Suppose that you were my friend and I knew that you had only a very brief while to live.  Maybe you have a terminal illness like cancer, emphysema, or some other serious disease.  As a matter of fact, we all suffer from an incurable “illness” that is called sin and none of us will survive for long.  All of us will one day die and this could be very soon.  The Bible says, “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).  However long it may be, death will surely come, unless the Lord Jesus returns in the meanwhile. 

We simply don’t know when our end will come.  God warns, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth” (Proverbs 27:1).  James also writes, “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow” (4:14).   Tomorrow may not come.  My sister recently suffered a heart attack and my brother found her on the floor.  They rushed her off by Care flight to the closest city and she survived.  But she could have died. 

We have all known friends and family members who didn’t make it.  They were with us one day and unexpectedly they were taken the next.  Many of these departed loved ones didn’t think they would die—and their first warning was the moment their heart stopped beating.  If you are like me, you sometimes glance at the obituary page of the newspaper and there we notice the young men and women, the middle age men and women, and the old age men and women who have died in the past several days.  Some of these deaths were totally unexpected, while others were slow and gradual deaths.  But they are all gone.  They were born, they lived, and they died.  It is now too late for us to interact with them, and it is too late for them to change their destiny.

Let’s aside the discussion of death for a moment and think about lifeWhy do you live?  What is the purpose of your life?  Why did God create you?  What are you doing here?  Is there any rhyme or reason for our brief stay on earth?  These are the penetrating questions we should ask ourselves. 

The wise man Solomon tried to find the reason for his life and looked for the purpose in many different ways.  He pursued earthly wisdom but then concluded that “all is vanity [futility] and striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14).  He tried to find pleasure and enjoyment, he built houses and vineyards, he made gardens and parks, and he collected gold and silver. He gathered singers and drew women around him.  He went on to become “great” and put no limit to his striving for pleasure and success: “All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them.  I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure” (2:10).  But after this vain quest, Solomon lamented, “All was vanity [futility] and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun” (v. 11).  In this empty search for meaning in life, Solomon admitted, “I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind” (v. 17).  His lifestyle was one that many today would admire and enjoy

We don’t have the ability or the money to buy all things or collect all things or travel to every destination.  Solomon did what few others can do, and He concluded that there was only futility in such a quest that leaves God out of consideration.  When God is missing, when we look at things from a merely human and earthly standpoint, life is just senseless and empty.  This is why atheism and agnosticism are so futile.  If there were no God, nothing would make rational sense.  The Bible says that one who says God doesn’t exist is a “fool” (Psalm 14:1) since all of creation testifies to an all-powerful, all-wise, and infinite Creator and Sustainer of all things.

There are many evidences for God’s existence.  The Bible says, “That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20).  Notice what is being said here.  Paul the apostle says that what is known about God and His existence is both objectively observed and also “evident within them.” In other words, deep in the heart of men and women, there is an innate realization that God exists and that He has created them and all the universe! 

Furthermore, each person’s conscience testifies that there is a great Maker of all things (2:15).  A person instinctively realizes that he has done wrong, that he has not lived up to the knowledge that he has, and this testifies to something beyond the physical—it is evidence of the way God has made our heart, our soul, our spirit, our conscience.  This is why the Bible says, “He [God] has also set eternity in their heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  There is something beyond the natural that we know deep in our heart.

We also noted above that God’s “eternal power and divine nature” have been “clearly seen” and understood “through what has been made” and because of this, every person is “without excuse” before God (Romans 1:20).  In other words, no one will be able to say to God, “I’m sorry, but I didn’t know that you existed!”  No, if we are honest with ourselves, we know that God exists and that He has created all things.  Every time we see the vastness of the starry sky, each time we see the petals of the flower or observe the delicate butterfly, every time we see photos of the marvels of a single cell—all of this is evidence of a great and powerful and wise Creator.  “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (Psalm 19:1). Is this something that you freely acknowledge, or have you tried to hide from these facts and denied God’s existence and His absolute moral standards?

Maybe you are confused about a lot of spiritual things.  You may readily acknowledge that there must be a God because of the evidence mentioned above, but you really are not sure that you are ready to go to heaven.  You may believe there is a God but you are not sure what He requires of you.  In fact, you may have come to “the end of your rope” and don’t know where to turn.

Other people have come to the point where they admitted confusion and despair.  Bertrand Russell, the unbelieving philosopher, said, “Philosophy proved a washout to me.”  Schopenaur lamented, “Life is a curse of endless craving and endless unhappiness.”  The infidel Voltaire, at the beginning of United States history, wrote, “I wish I had never been born.”  Jay Gould, the millionaire, said, “I suppose I am the most miserable man in this world.”  Charles Lamb, the British novelist, said, “I walk up and down thinking I am happy and knowing I am not.”  We must admit that popularity, prestige, and position cannot bring happiness.  Material wealth, worldly possessions, exciting entertainment, fascinating travels, educational success, and every other earthly pursuit will leave one empty inside.

A lot of people hope they will be considered good enough on this earth to merit a place in heaven.  Muslims think that God will use a great scale that will weigh the good things and the good things and the bad things, with the hope that the good outweighs the bad.  There really isn’t assurance of what a person’s destiny will be.  Many Catholics, Protestants, and Jews also hope that their goodness is sufficient to give them a place in heaven.  A Catholic, for example, may be troubled that he has committed so many sins that he will need to spend thousands of years in purgatory where he will be punished and purified and then, after all of this time and misery, God will hopefully allow him to enter the bliss of heaven.  So many are depending on the following “credits” to their heavenly account:

·      Helping the poor and unfortunate

·      Being a responsible husband or wife

·      Trying to tell the truth most of the time

·      Not murdering, stealing, or committing adultery

·      Being kind to animals

·      Going to church on Christmas and Easter

·      Going to church every Sunday

·      Going to church for every single service

·      Going to Mass every week

·      Contributing to the church

·      Not taking God’s name in vain

·      Giving thanks at meals

They just hope that these deeds (that they consider good) will outweigh the bad things—or sins—they have committed.  But does this really make sense?

Do you consider yourself to be a good person?  In other words, when you look at your life, do you think you are generally good, respectable, and right with God?  Most people will acknowledge that God is the ultimate standard of right and wrong.  In other words, since God created us and has revealed His will through His written Word—the Bible—we can determine what really is good and bad in God’s own sight.  God’s nature, God’s moral law, and His Word are the basic criteria of human character and behavior. 

Let’s proceed below by imagining a conversation between John (a servant of God) and Mike (John’s friend who would like to discuss his spiritual condition).  First, let me introduce to you John, the interested Christian.  He loves God and studies His Word.  And he also deeply loves people—including his friend, Mike.

And now, I’ll introduce to you Mike, the friend, and host of this little visit.  Mike is a typical young adult who is somewhat confused in his beliefs and knows very little about Christianity or the Bible.  He does try to live a fairly “good” life and is generous and thoughtful toward others.  Most of all, he really wants to know the will of God.  He is a truth-seeker who is troubled about his spiritual condition.  He is concerned about dying and isn’t sure he will go to heaven.

Now I invite you to follow along with me as we “listen” to the following friendly dialog.

John: Hello, Mike. I thought that I would stop by tonight since you said you were interested in talking about your spiritual condition.

Mike: Welcome, Mike, I’m glad that you stopped by.  Won’t you please come in?

John: Thank you.  I’m glad that you wanted to talk these things over.  As you know, our relationship with God is the most important thing we can think about.  After all, each of us will either spend eternity in heaven or in hell.

Mike: Yes, you’re are right.  I’ve felt uneasy for some months now and can’t really sleep well at night.  I feel troubled about life and death.  I think I have lived a pretty good life but still I feel unsettled and wonder if I really am ready to die.

John: Mike, this indeed is the most important thing we can be talking about tonight.  Until I settled this in my own mind and heart, I didn’t have a confidence about my own death.  Someone has said, “A man is not ready to live until he’s prepared to die!”

Mike: Each day I check the obituaries and am reminded that so many people die each day—and some of them are younger than I am!  I just wonder when I see the details of their life.  Some must have died unexpectedly—from a car accident or from a heart attack or stroke. Others must have died more slowly, from cancer or another condition.  But they are all gone, all have died.  There won’t be any more opportunities to make things right with God.  I know that a couple of my friends speculated about reincarnation—but, really, I know that can’t be true.

John: I also often think about the end of life and the need to be prepared.  Not long ago, a young man from work was killed in a car wreck over the weekend.  I know that he wasn’t prepared to die and meet God, but he seemed to have no interest in spiritual things when I talked with him.

Mike: Well, I’m glad that you are here.  I really want to find out what you know about God’s will and what we can do to be prepared to go to heaven.  John, I think I live a pretty good life.  I try to take care of my family; I try to be friendly and honest; and I try to help people in trouble.  Don’t you think that God will let me into His heaven?

John: Mike, let’s ask a few questions and find out how “good” you really are.  Okay?  First, God warns against committing the sin of “idolatry.”  Do you know what this is and do you ever commit it?

Mike: Well, I don’t have an idol or “god” in my house and really never think I was a idolater.  Oh, yes, I do have a little Buddha on the mantle. . . .

John: The Bible says that no idolater can inherit the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven (Galatians 5:19-21).  This means putting someone or something in the place of the true God.  The Hindus have about 330 million different gods, but we don’t need to be a Hindu to be guilty of idolatry.  Greed or covetousness is a form of idolatry since we seek money or possessions before God Himself.  The Bible says that covetous person is an “idolater” (Ephesians 5:5).  This is very common in the United States, as you know.  We can even make our job to be a god, or a boyfriend or girlfriend, or a husband or wife, or sports, or a house or car.  All of this would be different forms of idolatry.  Have you ever done any of this?

Mike: Well, I must admit that I’ve been guilty of making my job into a god and I also think that football is one of my “gods” or “idols.”  I really enjoy that sport must say that I even put it before my family or spending time with God.  Maybe sport car racing, the TV, my music CD collection, and sharp clothes could be other gods in my life.

John: Mike, the Buddha on the mantle would be one form of idolatry, but there is a more widespread form of idolatry.  The Lord Jesus said that the greatest or foremost command is this: “The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:28-29).  The Lord is speaking about a total, complete, unrivaled and comprehensive love that consumes our heart and mind, a love that is expressed in our thoughts, our motives, our words, and our behavior.  Do you think you have a love like this?

Mike: No, I certainly don’t love like that!  I don’t think that anyone has that kind of love.

John: You’re right.  None of us love to that extent.  But since it is the greatest of all commands, a failure to love certainly has to be the greatest of all sins!  When we love someone or something more than we love, revere, and honor God, we are guilty of idolatry.

Mike: Well, I must be guilty then.

John: Mike, from God’s viewpoint, what would He call you?

Mike: I guess I would be called an idolater!

John: Yes, that’s right, and God says that He will punish all “idolaters” in the “lake of fire”—which is another name for hell (Revelation 21:8).  He says that no idolater can inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10).  Now let me ask you another question.  Do you ever use cuss words, or take God’s name in vain, or use profanity?

Mike: No, not very often.  But sometimes I do use some bad words.  Sometimes I do take the names, “God” or “Lord” or Jesus” in a careless way.  It just seems to come naturally since Dad has a filthy mouth when I was growing up, especially when he was angry.

John: Many people take God’s name as a cuss word.  But the Bible says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth” (Ephesians 4:29).  Actually, “unwholesome” means “rotten” here.  That is the way God sees profanity and vulgar speech.  God tells us to put aside “abusive speech from your mouth” (Colossians 3:8).  Consider God’s name.  God has given you eyes to see, ears to hear, and a tongue to speak—but we have misused our speech by taking His name as a cuss word.  What would we think if someone used our mother’s or grandmother’s name in an abusive way!  Mike, the Bible says that taking God’s name as a cuss word is blasphemy.  What would that make you?

Mike: I’d be a blasphemer!

John: You’re correct, Mike.  Mike, the Bible says that “the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain” (Exodus 20:7).  As you can see, this is a very serious sin.  Now let me ask you a further question: Have you ever told a lie—not just a “white” lie but a real untruth?

Mike: I try not to lie.  But, yes, occasionally in the past I must admit that I’ve lied.

John: Mike, God tells us, “Do not lie to one another” (Colossians 3:9), and, “Laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor” (Ephesians 4:25).  Mike, you have admitted that you have lied. What do we call someone who has lied?

Mike: We call him a liar!

John: That’s right.  And since God is a God of absolute truth who “cannot lie” (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18), we can see why He hates any untruth.  The Word of God says, “Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD” (Proverbs 12:22).  The Bible also says that “all liars” will be sent to “the lake that burns with fire” (Revelation 21:8).  God says that lying is a very serious sin.  From God’s standpoint, what would He call you?

Mike: I definitely would be a liar!  I can see that I’m a sinner and that God can’t accept me.

John: Now let me ask you another question: have you stolen anything—even if it was small?

Mike: Well, when I was younger, I did occasionally steal candy from the supermarket.  And a few years ago I stole a few tools from my boss.

John: Mike, what do we call someone who has stolen items from another person?

Mike: A thief!

John: You’re right.  And God says, “He who steals must steal no longer” (Ephesians 4:28).  The Bible tells us that no thief can inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).  Again, this shows us how God looks at these kinds of things even though society tells us that it is fine to sometimes do wrong.  In light of this, how do you view yourself?

Mike: I must admit that He would consider me a thief!

John: I commend you for being honest with yourself—and with me—and especially with God.  We really can’t hide anything from Him (Proverbs 15:3).  And now, one more question: Have you ever hated another person?

Mike: I try to be kind to other people, but occasionally in the past I hated different people, especially if they cheated me, betrayed me, or treated me badly.

John: I understand.  Although common, God says that hatred is a very serious sin.  He says, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15).  God says that in His sight hatred is the same a murder!  And He says that murder is a sin that is “worthy of death”—which means the punishment of hell (Romans 1:29-32; Revelation 21:8).  In God’s sight, even if we become angry with another, it is the same as murdering him (Matthew 5:21).  Mike, from God’s viewpoint, what would that make you?

Mike: Well, I’ve gotten angry and even had a touch of hatred for a few people who offended me.  So that would make me a hater and a murderer in God’s sight.  I’m really feeling rotten inside because of all these sins!

John: Actually, Mike, this is good for God wants us to admit our condition before Him.  I have a final question: Have you ever lusted—or had sexual desire—for another person?

Mike: Yes, I have to admit that that often happens.

John: Mike, the Lord Jesus says, “Everyone who looks at a women with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).  This means that when one lusts, God considers this the same as adultery—and the Bible says that no adulterer “will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).  We read that “fornicators and adulterers God will judge” or condemn (Hebrews 13:4).

Mike: I can see that all of this leaves me in a bad situation.  I wonder what I can do?  I’ve tried to ask God to forgive me and I won’t sin again.

John: It’s good that you realize that God can forgive.  But there is a problem with this.  Suppose you committed a really serious crime and you stood before a good human Judge.  He passes sentence and tells you that he must fine you $10 million!  You have nothing to pay such a huge amount.  Maybe you would say, “But Judge, I’m sorry that I committed that crime.  I won’t do it again!   Can’t you dismiss the case?  I just don’t’ have that kind of money!”  Mike, would that work?

Mike: No, he must pay the fine.

John: That’s right.  If the Judge is a good and just Judge, he can’t just let you go free.  A just Judge must punish the offender.  He can’t take a bribe.  Suppose you were to say, “Judge, I not only won’t commit this crime again, but I have been trying to help old ladies, I am kind to stray dogs, I provide for my family, and I pay my parking fines!”  Do you think the Judge would then release you?

Mike: No, because regardless of how he changes and regardless of how much good he plans to do, he has committed a serious crime and it must be paid!

John: Very true.  The Judge would be unjust if he just released the criminal.  You can’t remedy the problem and be released by just doing good things.  The crime must be paid.  God is somewhat like that.  He is the “Judge” of all the earth (Genesis 18:25).  He requires justice since He is absolutely holy and righteous.  The Bible says, “He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished” (Exodus 34:7).  God says that “He will judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:31).  Now, if God gives you what you deserve, where will He have to send you?

Mike: It looks like He will need to send me to hell!

John: Mike, as terrible as that is, you do understand what God is saying to you.  In fact, everyone has fallen into sin and this is what the Bible says about our condition: “You are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Romans 2:5).  This means that God’s eternal “wrath”—righteous anger—is on someone in sin.  “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. . .” (Romans 1:18).  “The judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things [sins]” (Romans 2:2).  If someone is in sin, this means that he cannot enter the Kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).

Mike: John, this is really scary.  It would seem that no one can be saved and go to heaven!  I had thought that I could somehow make it by trying harder and being good, but I now see that its all hopelessness!

John: Mike, I’m glad that you can see how serious it is.  Some people go through all of their life and never understand that they must pay for their sin—every single sin—and this must be paid with eternal punishment in hell.  In fact, some people hate the justice and wrath of God and so abhor the idea of hell that they just deny that there is such a place—even though it is found in God’s Word!  It’s tempting to just close one’s eyes to the truth of everlasting punishment since it isn’t convenient!  Even some religious people can’t stand the thought of hell, so they reject such an idea.

Mike: As I said, it would seem that we are all doomed.  I thought that if I would do enough good deeds, somehow God would take this into consideration and that my good deeds would balance out the bad things.  Now I’ve discovered, from what you have shared, that my sins must be paid for.  There seems to be no way out!  I guess that hell must be where God sends me!

John: Mike, I’m glad that you can see it this way for there are many who just aren’t willing to face the facts.  They seem to want to avoid the cold facts and reality of the impossibility of saving ourselves from hell.  For one thing, we have sinned too much.  If we only sinned three times in a day, this would be over 1,000 sins in one year, or 10,000 sins in ten years.  Quite frankly, we surely commit more than three sins a day and probably ten or more times as much.  We can understand how the Bible says that people “add sin to sin” (Isaiah 30:1) and God talks about sins “piling up as high as heaven” (Revelation 18:5).  Not only does God say that we are sinners, but we also lack the positive righteousness of God.  You see, we must be accepted as righteous as God Himself if we would enter into His heaven.  We must be forgiven of sin tgo escape hell and we must be righteous to enter heaven!

Mike: This really paints a depressing picture of the human race.  And I can see that surely I have no hope since I can see that I have sinned so often.  I did try to be a good person, but even with my goodness, I can see that I just can’t attain heaven on my own.

John: That is the key, Mike.  We can’t do it on our own.  But this is just what most people try to do.  The Bible refers to some “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous” (Luke 18:9) and says that people often seek to “establish” their own righteousness or goodness before God and others (Romans 10:3).  This self-justification or self-salvation actually is impossible.  There are many degrees of physical fitness.  Some may be able to jump 5 feet, others may jump 10 feet, and a few can jump 15 feet.  But even the best athlete can’t jump the whole way to Hawaii!  Some people are trying to “jump” or make it to heaven on their own and don’t seem to recognize  their inability.  It is the way of the world.

Mike: I must confess that I thought I could make it to heaven myself if I just was good enough and “spiritual” enough.  Now I can see that it’s impossible.

John: Mike, God says, “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).  We can’t be saved or rescued from sin and hell “as a result of works” even if we really try hard.  We can’t be good enough!  In fact, even if we were to live a totally perfect and sinless life in the future, we still have to pay for the sins we have already committed.  There just isn’t any possibility.  So again and again, the Bible says that we are not saved or forgiven “according to our works” (2 Timothy 1:9) and “not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness” (Titus 3:5).

Mike: Well, if we can’t save ourselves from hell, is there a way to make it to heaven?

John: The Bible speaks of the “gospel”—which really means “good news.”  The good news of God has to do with Jesus Christ, His beloved Son.  How can Jesus be the good news?  Let me explain something that I think you will find both fascinating and refreshing!  Do you remember how we talked about a criminal standing before a human judge and if such a judge was a good and just judge, he would need to condemn the criminal for his crime?

Mike: Yes, I remember what you said.

John: In our illustration, the righteous human judge would need to charge the criminal the full fine that the civil law imposes.  God is like this and His moral Law is like this too.  Abraham asked, “Shall not the Judge of the earth deal justly?” (Genesis 18:25).  If God is righteous, He must impose the sentence of spiritual death on the sinner since “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).  God must impose the “fine” of His judgment on the one who has the guilt of sin.  God must do this since His anger  or righteous wrath falls on the sinner: “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Romans 1:18; see John 3:36).  The Bible says that because of sin, “the wrath [or anger] of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 5:6).  Mike, this is the kind of thing that many churches “sweep under the rug” when they tell people that their condition isn’t that bad and that God will just forgive them if they ask Him.

Mike: I’ve heard that myself.  I just thought that we could ask God to forgive us and He would do it because He loves us.

John: Mike you see, God says that everyone has sinned—including you and me (Romans 3:23).  This includes the sweet little ladies, committed young people, brutal gang members, responsible church-goers, religious leaders, monks and nuns, Billy Graham, Mother Teresa, and everyone else.  We’ve all sinned!  Everyone has come under the righteous judgment of God.  Everyone must be punished for his sin—unless God provides the remedy.

Mike: This seems to be an air-tight case, John!

John: It is true that He loves us, but the Bible tells us how this love was expressed.  Maybe you have heard this verse, which has been called the most popular verse in the Bible.  But listen: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  This shows that God loves us with an unbelievable degree of life—so great that he was willing to give His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to come to this earth!  But what did Jesus do when he was here?  “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  What did He do when Jesus died “for” us?  “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3).  How did He do this?  “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross” (1 Peter 2:24).  What was the result of this great event?  “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).

Mike: Wait just a moment.  Let me understand this.  This really seems to be saying something important and I want to take it in.  I’ve always seen crosses around the country—on church steeples, in jewelry hanging from a neck, or on the back of cars.  But just what happened with Jesus hung on the cross and died?  I’d really like an explanation here.

John: Of course.  Suppose that you stood before a human judge and He fined you $10 million dollars for your crime.  (We know that serious crimes are not paid with money like this but we’re just making a point.)  The judge knows that you don’t have the money to pay so your situation seems hopeless.  Then suppose that the Judge has a beloved son who empties his bank account and stands before his father, the judge, and agrees to pay your fine..  He hands his father the entire $10 million.  The judge concludes that justice has been paid, cancels your debt, and commutes your sentence!  You are a free man!  Not only this, but your love for this son is so great that you feel indebted to him all of your life.  In fact, all that you do during your life is done with the gracious judge and loving son in mind.

Mike: I really like this story and I can see where you are going with it.

John: Yes, just as the human judge had a son who paid your fine, so the great Judge of heaven and earth gave His beloved Son who came to this earth as a man.  He lived a sinless life and died to pay the price of our sins.  Or we might say that He paid the “fine” for our sin, and since He did this, we need not pay for our sins ourselves.  Jesus did it for us!  As we have read, Jesus “bore our sins in His body on the cross,” He “died for us,” and He “died for our sins.”  God is willing to dismiss your case and allow you to go free—free from sin and free from the sentence of hell!  This is really “good news”—wouldn’t you agree?

Mike: Yes, that really is good news!  I think that all of this is finally coming together in my mind and it’s making sense, something that I never understood before.

John: Mike, there is something else that must be mentioned.  If you stood before that human judge and his son paid the fine, it wouldn’t work unless you accepted this canceling of your debt.  It is like a gift that someone gives to you.  If they handed you a gift, you would need to receive that gift in order for the gift to benefit you at all!  Likewise, God offers us freedom from sin, death, and hell—and offers us righteousness, eternal life, and eternity in God’s heavenly kingdom.  But we must receive or accept this gift.  And we must receive the Lord Jesus Himself.  As the Bible says, we must “receive” Christ Jesus the Lord (Colossians 2:6).

Mike: This is clear.  But how can we accept eternal life and receive the Lord Jesus?

John: The Bible is plain about this, Mike.  God calls on us to recognize our sinful state as well as our sins.  When we grieve over such sins (2 Corinthians  7:10-11), He wants us to repent of them.  This means that He wants us to have a different view of Him—that He has been offended and that we haven’t given God the first place that He must have.  He also wants us to repent of any sins we are aware of, any offense or wrong in our life—in thought, word, and deed. 

Mike: Tell me more about repentance.

John: Repentance is a change of heart and mind that is expressed in a change of life and behavior.  God says, “Repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order than times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).  The Word of God also says, “God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent” (Acts 17:30).  We must change our attitude toward our sins and also toward God and His will if we would be rescued from His righteous wrath!

Mike: I can understand that now!  I really feel broken inside because of the way I’ve left God out of my life and followed my own way.  I wonder exactly what I need to repent of—for I’ve committed a lot of sins in my life.

John: Mike, it has a lot to do with what you recognize as sin.  You probably know that your smoking is sinful; thus, you should repent of your use of tobacco and determine to put that behind you.  You should repent of your anger, your bad tempter, your lying, your using profanity, and anything else you know is sinful.  I have a  pamphlet to give to you that will help you with your question: Repentance: Help to Fulfill the Hardest Command.  I also think you will want to read a related pamphlet, Restitution.  This shows that if you choose to repent, you will want to make restitution—make things right for wrongs you have committed.

Mike: All of this should help. And I can see that I do have a lot of repenting to do if I want to be right with God.  When I think of the thousands of sins I’ve done, I surely want to repent and do all I can to correct those wrongs.

John: The Bible says that “all of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord [God] has caused the iniquity [or sin] of us all to fall on Him [Christ]” (Isaiah 53:6).  We have gone our own way of selfishness and sin, but the Lord calls us to center our life on God and His will.  Mike, along with repentance, God requires that we place all of our confidence in God to save us for Jesus’ sake.

Mike: I can see that.  Is this faith?

John: Yes, Mike.  The Lord Jesus said, “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).  We also read, “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).  Turning from sin is not enough. We also must turn to God and believe in Him.  This especially means that we must place all of our trust in Jesus Christ who gave Himself for our sins.  In other words, we must take away all trust in our good deeds and righteousness, and must rely entirely on what Jesus Christ did to save us when He died on the cross and rose from the dead.  This is so fundamental that the Bible says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

Mike: Well, John, don’t millions of people on earth believe in Christ?  Are they saved?

John: It’s true that a lot of people have a factual or head belief in Jesus Christ, but it must go beyond that.  There is an account of a tight-rope walker named Mr. Blondin.  A long time ago, he walked across the raging, treacherous waters of Niagara Falls on a tight rope.  As the story goes, he then walked across pushing a wheelbarrow.  The excited crowd cheered him on.  Then, when Blondin arrived back on the shore, he asked, “How many of you think that I can push a person across the Falls in the wheelbarrow?”  All of the people expressed their agreement and said that he could do it!  He then pointed to a man in front and said, “Climb in and I’ll take you across!”  Blondin couldn’t find anyone to take him up on the challenge.  You see, they didn’t have the kind of faith—or trust—that would cause them to risk their life to this skilled walker.  Millions of people say that they believe in Christ, but they are unwilling to commit their life and eternity to Him!

Mike: That’s a vivid story and I can see what you are saying.  John, I believe that I do have such a faith or commitment where I want to give my whole life to God and do His will.  I’m sick of myself and my disobedience.  How could I have hurt God so much in life?

John: That’s great, Mike.  Faith, in the Bible, consists of a belief of the facts of the gospel—that Jesus is the Son of God and Lord and that He died for our sins and rose again (1 Corinthians 15:1-5).  It also involves the aspect of trust and reliance on Christ as Sin-bearer and Savior from our sins.  Thirdly, it also means that one will submit to Jesus as Lord and order his life according to His will.  God’s Word says, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).  Notice how faith and obedience are used in the same verse and are closely related.  Genuine faith will express itself in a submissive and obedient attitude toward the Lord Jesus.  Do you see this, Mike?

Mike: It does make perfect sense to me, John, and I’m glad that you are pointing this out to me.  I can see that my life needs a radical change and I am feeling terrible that I have left God out of my life for such a long time!

John: God does want to forgive you, Mike.  Now let me explain what the Lord says about coming to Him for salvation.  He told his disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.  He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).  When someone comes to the point of faith or belief, Jesus says that he must show that faith in the act of baptism.  Do you know what baptism is?

Mike:  Sure, it is a ceremony that a preacher does soon after a baby is born.  But now I’m beginning to question all that I’ve been taught since I can see that I’ve been mistaken so much.  Is this what baptism is?

John:  Mike, although this is a popular view of baptism, there really isn’t evidence for it in the Bible.  As you notice from the verses I quoted, we must “believe” and then be “baptized”—and not the common idea of being baptized as a baby and later coming to faith.  No, Jesus knew what He was saying.  Peter also said something like it: “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38).  God wants people to learn about Jesus and His death for their sins, and he wants them to repent of all their sins, including the basic wrong of putting self the center of life.  Then he wants that repentant person to be “baptized” in Christ’s name “for the forgiveness of your sins.”  This is quite simple even though a lot of people are confused by it or try to pervert these words.

Mike: It seems really clear to me now.  A baby can’t really believe in Christ and can’t repent of his sins, so how could he be baptized—according to the Bible?

John: That’s true.  The Bible records Philip’s preaching to the lost people in Samaria, and it says that when they “believed” in Christ, “they were being baptized, men and women alike” (Acts 8:12).  When a man from Ethiopia learned about the Lord Jesus, he also was baptized (vv. 35-39).  Later, Jesus appeared to Paul, who was a violent opponent of the way of Christ.  Paul was so grieved that he had persecuted Christians, that he didn’t eat or drink anything and spent three days praying (Acts 9:9-11).  Eventually the Lord sent Ananias to Paul and his words were significant: “Why do you delay?  Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16).  Is this clear to you?

Mike:  Indeed it is.  I can understand his remorse and his desire to “wash away his sins” by calling on the Lord in baptism.

John: Along with this, let me mention this.  One aspect of coming to Christ is a change of “masters.”  By this I mean that most people want to manage their own affairs.  They want to “do their own thing” and to determine what to do and what not to do according to their preferences and desires.  As we look at God’s will, we can see that the Lord wants this perspective to radically change.  This is actually part of repentance and the act of baptism.  When someone comes to baptism, he is changing masters—turning away from self and turning to Christ.  The Bible says, “You turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:9).  They turned from idols and sin and they turned to God. It involves a negative and a positive.  Likewise, Jesus wants us to acknowledge or confess that Jesus is Lord and God—of the entire universe as well as our own individual lives.  The Bible says, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9-10; cf. 1 John 2:23; 4:15). 

Mike: I’m more convinced now than I’ve ever been that Jesus is the only way and I want Him to be the Lord or “boss” of my life.  He really is the only way of salvation.

John: You’re correct, Mike.  Now let me mention a couple other matters.  The Bible word, “baptism,” means immersion in water.  A Greek scholar by the name of W. E. Vine defines the word as “the process of immersion, submersion and emergence” from water (Expository Dictionary).  The Ethiopian man we mentioned earlier came to water, he and Philip “went down into the water” where he was baptized or immersed, then “they came up out of the water” (Acts 8:38-39). 

Mike: This is all coming together in my thinking and it really is becoming clear!  I can see that the religious ceremony that had been done to me when I was a baby really wasn’t the baptism of the Bible!

John: That’s right, Mike.  I also once thought that infant baptism was God’s will, but the Scriptures are so plain as to what baptism is. Let’s also notice Romans 6:3-4: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?  Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”  Baptism relates to a “death” and “burial” and “resurrection.”  When one comes to Christ, he “dies” to sin and the world, then he is buried in baptism (that is, buried in immersion), and then he is raised from the water.  This symbolizes his identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ which constitute the essence of salvation.  But that is not all.  The Bible says that one must “walk in newness of life”—he must live a new life with Jesus as his Lord.  Other scriptures would explain baptism further, such as Colossians 2:11-13; Galatians 3:26-27; and 1 Peter 3:20-21.

Mike: What should a person’s life be like after he is baptized?

John: That’s a very good and needed question, Mike.  Christ told His disciples before He left them to go back to heaven: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in [into] the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Mike: Haven’t I heard that this is sometimes called the “Great Commission”?

John: Yes, this was Christ’s commission to his disciples and it’s meant for us today as well.  Jesus said that what He commands is based on the universal authority that He was given (Matthew 28:18).  Then he tells them to go and make disciples of all the nations.  A “disciple” is a learner, one who follows someone for the purpose of learning and obeying.  Jesus wanted all people to follow Him, learn from Him, and obey His teachings.  How does one become a disciple?  Jesus says, “baptizing them in [into] the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (v. 19).  We might say that we enroll in Christ’s school of discipleship by being immersed into a relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  But that isn’t all.  Jesus goes on to say, “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (v. 20).  This means that anyone who is baptized is just beginning his Christian life.  It will be the beginning of a life of learning and doing all of the will of Christ found in His Word!

Mike: I can see that baptism isn’t just a simple ceremony that means nothing.  It’s really filled with significance.  And it obligates a person to follow Jesus and His teachings in all matters.  I’m ready to do that!

John: I’m glad to hear that, Mike.  Some people mistakenly think that baptism is the end, but the Bible says that it’s the beginning!  It begins a whole life of love for God!  It’s a love-life, a life that is filled with the Lord Jesus and His Kingdom.  It’s a life that will bring a person to that Heavenly Kingdom (2 Peter 1:8-11).  When you come to Christ, God sends His Holy Spirit into your heart and life.  Notice that Peter says, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38-39).  God gives the Holy Spirit to us as a gift when we repent and are baptized in Christ’s name for the forgiveness of our sins.  The Holy Spirit then enables us to overcome sin and live a holy and overcoming life (Romans 8:6-14). 

May God bless you, Mike, and may He give you His full and complete forgiveness as you repent of your sins, as you trust in Jesus to save you, and as you come to Jesus in baptism!

A Sequel

If we were to follow this story to its conclusion, we would describe how “Mike” came to Christ and was baptized into Him.  We would tell of his exciting discovery of a new life of freedom from sin and condemnation, and we would illustrate how his life was changed in a dramatic way and filled with God’s Holy Spirit who enables one to produce “fruit” or qualities of righteous living (Galatians 5:22-23).

But, in a sense, you are the one who completes this story.  For, you see, you are “Mike.”  Whether you are a man or woman, you are the one who is receiving this teaching from the fictionalized “friend” by the name of John.  You see, a true friend is one who loves you and tries to meet your needs.  And what greater need is there than the need for salvation from sin and an entrance into heaven!  How will you finish your own story?  What will you do with the Lord Jesus and with the information that you have read?  That is for you to decide!  May God bless and help you to choose Him and eternal life….


 

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