Telling His Story
1 Peter 3:18; John 1:12
March 18, 2001 | Brian Bill
I want to begin this morning by reading part of an article written by Bob Greene, a nationally syndicated columnist.
“In the hours after the carnage at the school near San Diego—as the sick, too familiar, pit-of-the-stomach feelings returned—the nation once again began to search for answers. Maybe it’s finally time to just admit it: We don’t have the answers. Look around this country. School administrators don’t have the answers, and teachers don’t have the answers, and mothers and fathers don’t have the answers, and police departments don’t have the answers. The president of the United States doesn’t have the answers and the Congress doesn’t have the answers…
“But even if we, as a society, were able to prevent every student from having a firearm, we would still be left with the harder question: Why? Why has it come to this? Why do students murder? One theory…is that there is a growing soullessness in the land, a vacuum inside some young people: a vacuum whose utter emptiness is beyond our comprehending. The reason we as a society are struggling as we throw stopgap measures at the schools is that if we really knew—if we genuinely understood how to stop this—then we would have done it already…
“What we are dealing with is something so profound that it belongs as much to the area of theology as it does to education or law enforcement. Our attempts to construct barriers of safety around our schools—however well-intentioned the efforts—are just bandages over a wound that is growing too big…” (Pontiac Daily Leader, 3/13/01, “Terribly, The News Was No Surprise”)
We readily admit that our country has some problems, don’t we? This morning, I want to argue that the answer, like Bob Greene suggests, is theological. Are you aware that since the Columbine tragedy, there have been twenty-two shootings in American schools? Amidst the cries for tougher gun laws, we’re faced with a much bigger issue. The root problem is what the Bible calls sin.
My message this morning is based in large part, on a book written by my friend Ray Pritchard called, “An Anchor for the Soul.” I had the privilege of editing his manuscript and Ray gave me permission to use some of it this morning (Moody Press, 2000).
When God first created the world, Genesis 1:26 says that He made Adam and Eve “in his image” and “after his likeness.” We were made in God’s image, which means there is something in us that reflects who God is. You and I were made with the ability to know God personally. We can illustrate it this way:
But we have a problem. Even though we were made by God to know God, we generally pull back from Him. And, when we want to find Him, we can’t locate Him on our own, and so we end up searching in all the wrong places. Here’s an important truth to remember: We can never know God unless He reveals Himself to us. Thankfully, God has not left us to live in darkness forever. He has revealed Himself to us. Acts 17:27 says that God is “not far from each one of us.”
God is holy, which means He is utterly pure, free from all evil, totally without blame or error. Holiness is what makes God God. He never lowers His standards, never compromises, and makes no “deals.” He Himself is the final standard of right and wrong. As a result, everything He says about you and me is true.
Knowing the God who made you is the most important thing in life. It gives meaning and purpose to everything else. If you don’t know God, nothing else matters.
The Truth About You
A quarter-century ago psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote a landmark book titled “Whatever Became of Sin?” When you think about it, nothing has happened to sin but something has happened to us. We simply don’t want to talk about sin anymore. It isn’t a polite topic, in a politically correct world. Try mentioning the word “sin” the next time you go to a party and see how long it takes for someone to change the subject.
I heard a story about a painter who was contracted to paint the outside of a local church white. The deacons negotiated a price with the painter and he went to work. As he worked he decided that if he thinned the paint with some water, he could make even more money on the job. When he was done, he was already thinking about how he could spend his extra cash. But then it started to rain. And it rained. And it rained. As the paint ran off the sides of the church and into the gutter, the painter fell to his knees and cried out, “Why me, God? I’m sorry. What should I do?” Suddenly a voice was heard from heaven, “Repaint, and thin no more!”
Some of us need to do some repainting, don’t we? If we’re honest we must agree with G. K. Chesterton: “This one thing is certain—man is not what he was meant to be.” Something has gone wrong with the human race. Something evil lurks inside the heart of every person. No one is immune, no one is exempt, and no one is truly innocent – me included.
Call it what you will—a twist, a taint, a bent to do wrong. Somehow, somewhere, someone injected poison into the human bloodstream. That’s why, even when we know the right thing to do, we go ahead and choose to do wrong. Deliberately. Repeatedly. Defiantly.
The world is a mess—we all know that. But, it’s a mess because we ourselves are messed up. The problem is not “out there.” It’s “in us.”
Romans 3:12-16 paints an accurate, though unflattering picture of each one of us: “All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways.”
The Bible traces sin back to the Garden of Eden. God told Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of one particular tree. The serpent deceived Eve who ate the fruit and then offered some to Adam. It was through that deliberate choice that sin entered the world.
Theologians call this event “The Fall.” It means that when Adam ate the fruit he fell from a state of innocence into a state of guilt. He fell from grace to judgment. He fell from life to death.
What does all this have to do with you and me? In some mysterious way, we were there when Adam sinned. When Adam sinned, you sinned. When Adam disobeyed, you disobeyed. When Adam fell, you fell. When he died, you died. Adam was the driver of the bus of humanity. When he drove the bus over the cliff, we went down with him. When he crashed, we all went up in flames. As a result, we’re separated from God.
Many people think God has some kind of divine voltmeter that registers Good, Neutral, and Evil. Most of us think that we’re doing OK – Not too bad, not too good, but right in the middle somewhere. We aren’t the best, but we aren’t the worst either. The Bible tells us that because of Adam’s sin we come into the world with the needle stuck firmly on “Evil.”
Sin has infected every part of your being—your mind, your emotions, your will, your intellect, your moral reasoning, your decision-making, your words and your deeds. No part of your life is exempt from the debilitating effects of sin.
The other night at AWANA, one of my daughters was given a big blue sucker. It was all over her mouth by the time we got home. It was very obvious that she had had a sucker. Sin is kind of like that. It’s all over our face – and every other part of our life. As someone has said, “If sin were blue, we’d be blue all over.”
Romans 3:10 solemnly states, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” How can God look down at nearly six billion people and not see even one person whose life pleases Him? Is this not an overly harsh judgment? The answer is that God judges according to a different standard than the one we use. Most of us grade on the curve. That is, we look to our neighbor and say, “I’m not as bad as he is.” But God doesn’t judge that way. Compared with God’s standard of perfection, there is no one, not even one person, who comes even close to being righteous in His eyes.
A couple months ago, a member of this church gave me this fluorescent orange t-shirt. I was very moved when he told me he just had to buy it for me when he saw it. I started to thank him and pulled the shirt out of the bag. Right before I opened it up, my friend said, “This is the perfect shirt for you. It made me think of you.” Can you see what it says on the front? It says, “Luzer!” I was just about to slug him when he showed me the back of the shirt: “…whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39)
Friends, in God’s eyes we are all spiritual losers and moral mess-ups. This doesn’t sound very good, does it? Let’s be honest – there’s something in us that resists this harsh conclusion. God says that we are like a basket of fruit that has gone rotten in the hot summer sun. We have all “gone bad” in His eyes.
What is sin? It is any violation of God’s righteous character. It is anything we say or do or think or imagine or plan that does not meet God’s standard of perfection. It doesn’t matter if you recognize it or not because it’s the truth.
About a month ago, I pulled into the church parking lot early in the morning. There was about an inch of snow on the ground and it was dark so I couldn’t see the parking spaces. As I drove to my normal spot, I realized that I couldn’t tell where the yellow lines were so I just parked where I thought I should. I knew there was a handicapped spot somewhere but since I couldn’t tell where it was I didn’t worry about it. A couple hours later, when I looked out the window, I realized that I was parked in the reserved spot. What do you think I did? Did I go out and move my car? No way. I just left it there.
Sin causes us to aim our lives in the wrong direction and to miss the mark of what God wants us to do and to be
That’s a good picture of sin. I was outside the limits. And, even when I recognized my transgression I did nothing to fix it. That’s what sin is. The word itself means, “to miss the mark.” Picture an archer shooting an arrow and missing so badly that not only does he not hit the bull’s eye; he doesn’t even hit the target. Sin causes us to aim our lives in the wrong direction and to miss the mark of what God wants us to do and to be.
The Consequences of Sin
Where does all this leave us? The Bible says, that because of sin, we are:
- Separated from God
We’re dying physically and we’re dead spiritually. We’re in big trouble. Unless Someone intervenes to help us, we can never be saved. The gospel is good news. But until we see how bad the bad news is, we will never understand why the good news is so good.
As long as I think I’m better than other people, I’m not ready to be saved from my sin because I have not yet considered how great my sin really is. Jesus did not come to save “semi” sinners or people who don’t think they’re all that bad.
Why do we need God’s grace? Because all of us by nature are spiritually dead. When God looks down from heaven, the whole world looks like a cemetery to Him. All He sees are dead people. Because of sin we are separated from Him. We are unable to know God personally and we can’t do anything about our condition.
Check this out. When we were completely and totally and absolutely dead in our sins, God decided to do something to rescue us. Let’s take a look at Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” Salvation comes through faith, not by works, and not by religion. Grace saves us through faith. Something in us always wants to add to God’s free gift. It’s humbling to admit that we can do nothing to earn our deliverance from sin. And anytime we try to add anything to grace, we subtract from its meaning. Grace must be free or else it is not grace at all.
This view of grace is hard for good people to accept because it means we must give up our “goodness” in order to be saved. We must admit that nothing we’ve done matters in the least when it comes to being forgiven by God. Do you want to go to heaven? You either go by the grace of God or you won’t go at all. Here are two truths to keep in mind:
1. No one is too bad to be saved.
God specializes in saving people who live outside the lines of His perfection. Do you have some things in your background that you would be ashamed to talk about in public? Don’t worry. God knows all about it, and His grace is greater than your sin.
2. Some may be too good to be saved.
That is, they may have such a high opinion of themselves that they think they don’t need God’s grace. God’s grace cannot help you until you are desperate enough to receive it.
No one is so good that they can save themselves and none are so bad that God cannot save them!
Paid in Full
There’s a lot of confusion today about who Jesus really is. That’s why we’re kicking off a new series in April called, The Case For Christ. To be almost right about Jesus is to be totally wrong.
If Jesus is who He said He is, there is no truth more worthy of your time, and there is no person more important to know. The Christian church is made up of men and women who confess one revolutionary truth—that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of the living God.
Until you believe that, and confess that, you cannot be called a Christian. It matters not that you may have positive feelings about Jesus Christ, or that you think he was a very good man. You are not a Christian until you confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and put your faith in Him alone for your salvation.
Right before Jesus died, He shouted out, “It is finished.” This literally means, “to bring to an end, to complete, to accomplish.” Jesus did exactly what He set out to do. When He died, he left no unfinished business behind. In the Greek, this phrase also means, “Paid in full.” It’s an accounting term that means all debts have been paid.
This is truly good news: God’s holiness demands that sin be punished. God’s grace provides the sacrifice. What God demands, he supplies. Our sins have been paid for. Your pardon has been secured – if you’ll but ask for it. Jesus is the bridge that makes it possible for us to have a relationship with God. We can picture what Jesus did like this:
1 Peter 3:18 says, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God…” Let me give you the best news you’ve ever heard. It doesn’t matter how many sins you’ve accumulated on the ledger sheet of your life. It doesn’t matter how guilty you think you are. It doesn’t matter what you’ve been doing this week. It doesn’t matter how bad you’ve been. It doesn’t matter how many skeletons are rattling around in your closet.
God is not trying to sell you a presidential pardon. He’s not offering salvation at half-price or on an installment plan because it’s free of charge. Jesus paid your debt in full so you don’t have to pay anything. Jesus left no unfinished business behind. He completed what he came to do. When you come to Christ, your sins are stamped with the blood of Christ: Paid in full.
Why Working Won’t Work
Salvation is not a do-it-yourself kit. If you want to go to heaven, the first step is to stop trying to earn your way there. You have to “stop trying” and “start trusting” if you want to be saved. Write it in big letters. When it comes to saving your soul, WORKS DON’T WORK! BEING GOOD IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH!
There is no place in heaven for “good” sinners. As long as you cling to a shred of your “goodness,” you cannot be saved. But if you are willing to call yourself what you are—a sinner—you can be saved right now.
If God doesn’t want our “works,” what does he want from us? He wants us to trust Him. That’s all. In the New Testament, faith, trust, and belief all come from the same general root word meaning “to lean wholly upon,” as when you lie down on a bed, resting your whole weight upon it.
God saves the ungodly while they are still ungodly
The Bible says that God justifies the wicked. This is hard for many of us to accept because we think God wants good people in heaven. As a result, we spend our lives trying to be good enough to go there when we die. But here’s the rub. No one can ever be good enough to go to heaven. We think God is saying, “Clean up your act and then I’ll save you.” God says something shockingly different: “I’ll save you while you are still dirty and then I’ll help you clean up your act.” Mark it down. God saves the ungodly while they are still ungodly.
The verdict is just in from heaven and the bad news is, you are guilty. The good news is that Christ is entirely righteous. If you will accept those two rulings from God’s supreme court, an amazing miracle will take place. Christ will take your guilt and you will receive his righteousness.
DO vs. DONE
In this we see the simplicity of Christianity when compared with the religions of the world. Religion is spelled with two letters: “D-O.” Religion is a list of things people think they have to do in order to be accepted by God—go to church, give money, keep the Ten Commandments, be baptized, pray every day. The list is endless. It’s always Do . . . Do . . . Do.
Christianity is spelled with four letters—“D-O-N-E.” Salvation is not based on what we do but upon what Jesus Christ has already done. If you want to go to heaven, you don’t have to do anything; you just have trust in what Jesus Christ has already done for you.
That’s the whole difference—Do versus Done. Either you try to do it yourself and never make it, or you believe that Jesus Christ has already done it for you.
That raises a key question: If salvation is predicated on believing in Christ, how do you know when you have truly believed? True saving faith involves the intellect, the emotions, and the will.
Let me demonstrate by showing this brief video clip. You’ll see what’s going on inside a man as He contemplates the gospel message.
Faith begins with knowledge, which is where the intellect is involved. Then it moves to the emotions where convictions are developed. Saving faith must then move to the will, where a commitment is made.
This refers to the factual basis of Christianity. Faith is based on knowledge and knowledge is based on truth. Truth must be proclaimed before saving faith can be exercised. Saving faith is intelligent faith. You aren’t saved by information but you can’t be saved without it.
Imagine that you’re in a burning building and cannot find your way out. “Where is the exit?” you cry out. Through the smoke and haze comes the answer: “Go down the hallway, turn left, go down one flight of stairs, the exit is on the right.” Are you saved because you know where the exit is? No, you still have to make the journey yourself. But if you don’t know how to get there, or if you have some wrong information, you’re going to burn to death. Knowing the truth intellectually doesn’t save you but you can’t be saved without it.
Conviction means to know something and then to be persuaded that it is true. The most common word for “believe” means “to have confidence in, to regard as completely reliable.” The word “Amen,” which is a Hebrew word that we use in English, literally means, “Yes, it is true.” Saving faith involves saying “Amen” to the facts of the gospel. Conviction is essential because you must be personally convinced of the truth, but that alone is not enough either.
Commitment speaks to the action part of faith. We might use the word “trust” in the sense of “relying fully upon.” True saving faith always ends in personal commitment. Sales people understand this principle. After the presentation is made, at some point people have to sign on the dotted line. If they say, “I know that’s a good product,” you haven’t made a sale. If they say, “I believe I need that,” they are closer but you still haven’t sold anything. But when they say, “Where do I sign?” you’ve just closed the deal.
In the 19th century the greatest tightrope walker in the world was a man named Charles Blondin. He was the first man in history to walk on a tightrope across Niagara Falls. One time he took a chair and a stove with him and sat down midway across, cooked an omelet and ate it. Another time he asked the cheering spectators if they thought he could carry a man across sitting in a wheelbarrow. A mighty roar of approval rose from the crowd. Spying a man cheering loudly, he asked, “Sir, do you think I could safely carry you to the other side in this wheelbarrow?” The man boldly shouted out, “Yes, of course.” To which the Great Blondin responded with a smile, “Then, get in!” The man turned and walked away.
That makes it clear, doesn’t it? It’s one thing to believe someone can walk across by himself. It’s another thing to believe he could safely carry you to the other side. But it’s something else entirely to get into the wheelbarrow yourself. That’s the difference between knowledge, conviction, and commitment.
Christ Standing at the Door
In the last book of the Bible we find the image of Christ standing at the door and knocking. The picture comes from Revelation 3:20 where Jesus offers to enter a lukewarm, lethargic church and have a restored relationship with those who will let Him in. While this passage refers to Christians, it has application to those of you who have never opened the door of your heart to Christ: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”
The three elements of faith are made clear in this verse.
- I hear the knock—That’s knowledge, where the intellect is satisfied.
I go to the door—That’s conviction, where the emotions are engaged.
- I open the door—That’s commitment, where the will makes a decision.
God’s offer is now on the table. The wheelbarrow waits. What are you going to do?
Salvation Made Simple
When it comes to great spiritual issues there can be no neutrality. No one “drifts” into Christianity by accident. At some point you must consciously trust Christ as Lord and Savior.
John 1:12-13 offers a simple outline of what it means to come to Christ for salvation: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
1. A Simple Step—Receiving Him
The way of salvation begins with a simple step: Receiving Christ as Lord and Savior. To “receive” Christ means to welcome Him as an honored guest and to have him make your heart His home. It’s what you do when someone gives you a gift – you take it, or receive it. Once you do, then it’s yours. Before you receive it, it doesn’t really belong to you. Salvation is not something we achieve, but something we receive.
2. A Wonderful Result—Child of God
The word “right” means “honor” or “privilege.” The moment you receive Christ into your life, God gives you the honor of becoming a member of His family. This verse teaches us that not everyone is a child of God. Sometimes people carelessly say, “We’re all God’s children,” but only those who receive Jesus as Savior are true sons and daughters.
3. A Mysterious Truth—Born of God
Salvation doesn’t run automatically from one generation to another. You aren’t a Christian just because your parents are or because you’ve been going to church for a while. Some of you have been inoculated with small does of Christianity, which has kept you from catching the real thing.
The entire gospel is wrapped up in this short phrase: “born of God.” Salvation is from the Lord. It’s a free gift, not a cooperative venture where you do your part and God does His. But someone may object, “Don’t I have a part to play in salvation?” You do indeed have a part. Your part is to be hopelessly lost in sin and God’s part is to save you. God alone gets all the credit.
That brings us to the moment of decision. I’ve used this illustration before but it bears repeating. Imagine three frogs sitting on a log. Two decide to jump off. How many are left? That’s not a hard question. Three minus two equals one. But one is not the right answer. The right answer is three. You haven’t jumped off the log because you decided to jump. The frog is still on the log until he actually jumps off. A person who is almost persuaded is still completely lost. To decide to receive Christ is good. But receiving him by faith is the only way to be saved.
That is what it means to be a Christian. It means trusting in Christ so much that you risk your eternity on what Jesus did on the cross. Trusting Jesus for salvation means to trust Him so completely that if He can’t take you to heaven, you aren’t going to go there. Are you willing and ready to do that?
Christ has opened the door to heaven and paid the price of admission with His own blood. Will you not trust Him and make Him your own? He’s knocking at the door of your heart. Will you open yourself to Him right now? Here are two words to remember: Admit and Accept. Admit that you are a sinner who is separated from God. Accept Jesus as your sin substitute by receiving Him into your life.
After the recent shootings at Santana High School in Santee, California, several people have come forward and admitted that they wish they would have said something to the authorities about the shooter beforehand. Apparently he had been making threats several days earlier. They had information they didn’t share and now they feel really bad for keeping it to themselves.
Friends, I would feel terrible if I didn’t share some information that will radically redirect your life and determine where you spend eternity. If you want to become a Christian, then you must receive Jesus into your life. If you want to be saved, then you must have the Savior.
If you’re up for it, you can pray this prayer with me. But only do it if your mind, your emotions, and your will are ready.
“Lord Jesus, for too long I’ve kept you out of my life. I admit that I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself. I repent of my sins by changing my mind about the way I’ve been living. I don’t want to be a spiritual loser anymore. No longer will I close the door when I hear you knocking. By faith I gratefully receive your gift of salvation. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth. With all my heart I believe you are the Son of God who died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead on the third day. Thank you for bearing my sins and giving me the gift of eternal life. I believe your words are true. I accept you into my heart. Be my Savior and Lord. I surrender to your leadership in my life. Make me into the person you want me to be. Amen.”