Life’s most Crucial Question
“If a man dies, will he live again?”
This is the question asked by the namesake of the oldest book in the Bible (Job 14:14). Death is an appointment we will all one day keep (Hebrews 9:27). Everyone instinctively knows that the death of our physical bodies is not the end of our existence (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Even the one who professes to be an atheist knows this. The atheist may say he does not believe in God, but when his head hits the pillow at night and he is left to his own thoughts, he knows there is a Creator. He knows the truth, yet he suppresses the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18).
What determines where we spend eternity once our appointment with death comes? Most people have this vague notion that as long as their good deeds outweigh their bad deeds, God will let them into Heaven. We think of ourselves as good people because we tend to evaluate our goodness by comparing ourselves to other people. If I compared myself to Saddam Hussein, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin or Pol Pot, I’m a pretty good guy. I’ve never done any of those things. But, there is bad news. Really bad news.
The Really Bad News
God does not evaluate our goodness by comparing us to other people. He evaluates our goodness by comparing us to Himself. And compared to God none of us is good. All of us have broken God’s moral laws. All of us have told lies. We are liars. Nearly all of us have stolen something. We are thieves. We have taken God’s name in vain. We are blasphemers. We have looked upon others with physical lust. We are adulterers at heart (Matthew 5:28). We are all sinners (Romans 3:23). We are rebels (Isaiah 1:28). Left in our sins not only are we alienated from God (Colossians 1:21), we are His enemies (Romans 5:10).
When we break laws on earth, there is a penalty to be paid. When we break the laws of God there is also a penalty to be paid. When we break earthly laws, the penalty is temporal. When we break God’s laws, however, the penalty is eternal because God is eternal.
“But God is a good God!” people object. “A good God would never send anyone to Hell,” they surmise. The goodness of God is not the assurance of the sinner’s rescue, but rather the guarantee that justice will be done. God is good. In fact, He is the only One who is intrinsically good by His character and nature (Mark 10:18), and a good God must punish sin. If He did not punish sin, then He would not be good.
Let’s say a man committed murder and his crime was caught on a video surveillance camera. The man was arrested. The murder weapon was found with the suspect’s fingerprints all over it.
Multiple eyewitnesses testified he was the murderer. The suspect has his day in court and is found guilty. It’s an open and shut case.
The judge says to the convicted murderer, “You have just been found guilty of murder. Do you have anything to say for yourself before I pass sentence?” The convicted murderer responds, “Well, judge, I think you are a good judge. And because you are a good judge, I think you should let me go. After all, I’ve only committed one murder on one day. All the other days of my life have I never murdered anyone.”
What if the judge replied, “You know? You’re right. I am a good judge so I think I’ll just let you go. You’re free to leave. Have a nice day.” And the convicted murderer walks out of the courtroom a free man. Would that be a good judge? No! That would be a terrible judge. A good judge must punish crime. God is the ultimate good Judge and He must punish sin. If He did not punish sin then He would not be good. Many people are counting on the goodness of God to excuse them from their sin but it is the goodness of God that will seal their fate.
But what of the love of God? The Bible clearly teaches that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). The question is often asked, how could a loving God send people to Hell?
The question itself is a bit misleading because it implies that God is actively sending people who are merely passive participants. This is not the case, though. People whom God sends to Hell are there because of a lifetime of sin and rebellion against God. Further, God’s love is not a coddling love. It is a holy and just love.
In fact, God’s love is fully demonstrated in that He does not give us what we deserve. Romans 5:8 says “But God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” God’s love is demonstrated in that even though we were yet sinners in rebellion against God and deserved nothing but His wrath, God sent us His only Son to die in our place. That is the penultimate expression of love.
The one who dies in his sin will very rightly and very justly go to a very real place the Bible calls Hell. And let’s not soft-pedal Hell. I have heard many preachers say that if someone dies in his sin he will be eternally separated from God. But that’s not entirely true. The most terrifying thing about Hell is…God. Because He is there. He is there in His wrath. According to Revelation 14:9-11, the condemned
…will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of his anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.
People in Hell are separated from God relationally. This is what is in view in 1 Thessalonians 1:8- 9. There is no relationship between God and the condemned. There is no fellowship. There is no love exchanged. But judicially, people in Hell will be in the presence of God for all of eternity as
His wrath is poured out. The fire will not be quenched and the worm will not die (Mark 9:48). The most terrifying thing about Hell is God, because He is there in his wrath.
This is the bad news. This is what you deserve. This is what I deserve. This is what we have earned for ourselves by our willful sin. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). No amount of good works can satisfy the righteous wrath of God that burns against our sin. The Bible says that our works are as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) before a God who is thrice holy (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8). Our good works will profit us nothing on the day of judgment.
The question, then, is this:
How can a God who is holy and just pardon sinners without compromising His righteous justice?
There is good news.
Why the Good News Is So Good
Here is the good news: God loves you.
God, solely by His grace, has made a way – indeed the only way – for us to escape His wrath. God has made a way for us, His enemies (Romans 5:10) to be reconciled to Himself. God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to the earth. He was and is fully God and fully man. He is one Person with two natures: human and divine. He is the God-man.
Jesus rebuked false teachers, false religious systems, healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead, performed miracles, and preached the Gospel. He lived a perfect life of perfect obedience to the Father. He then willingly laid down His life on the cross. His life was not taken, He gave it (John 10:18).
On the cross, the full, undiluted fury of God’s wrath that the sins of His people have earned was poured out on His Son, Jesus, and Jesus drank in every last drop of it. He became what the Bible calls the propitiation for our sins.
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. – 1 John 4:10
To “propitiate” is “to appease” or “to satisfy.” Jesus satisfied the wrath of God by offering Himself as the ultimate and only sacrifice for sin. On the cross our sins were imputed – or counted – to Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 the Bible says, “He made Him Who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Jesus did not literally turn into sin, but He was made an offering for our sin (Romans 8:3). The punishment that you and I deserve, God directed toward His own Son. God punished Jesus on our behalf
(Isaiah 53:10). Jesus died on the cross and then three days later was bodily raised from the dead (Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20), proving Himself to be who He said He was, God in human flesh.
We have no righteousness on our own. We are dead in trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1-3) and have become worthless (Romans 3:10-12). We must have the righteousness of Someone else. We must have the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Just as our sins were imputed to Him, we must have His righteousness imputed to us, and His righteousness cannot be purchased with the filthy rags of our works.
Question: If perfect righteousness is required for eternal life, how do we, as guilty sinners, obtain it?
Answer: In the grace of regeneration, God grants faith to believe and counts faith as righteousness.
God’s Holy Spirit convicts of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8), grants faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 1:29) and repentance from sin (2 Timothy 2:24-26).
We must abandon our good works and place our full faith and trust in the work of Jesus Christ that He wrought for us on the cross. We must trust in Jesus alone and repent of sin.
Repent and believe.
But what does it mean to repent? Most people believe that repentance is just willing oneself to turn from certain sins. But this is not biblical repentance. The Greek term for repentance is metanoia (me-ta-noy-a) and it literally means to change one’s mind. Many teach that in order to repent one must simply change his mind about sin. In other words, acknowledge your sin as being sinful and that constitutes repentance. But that is only a partial truth and partial truths simply will not do when it comes to matters of eternity.
Genuine repentance comes when God grants repentance (Acts 5:30-31; 11:17) and when this repentance is granted, our minds are indeed changed, but everything about us is changed. Our desires are changed. Our affections are changed. We begin to love what God loves and hate what God hates. And genuine repentance always results in real, tangible fruit (Matthew 3:8; Acts 26:20).
If there has been no repentance, there has been no conversion (Luke 13:3). There has been no salvation. If you are unsure whether or not you have truly repented, then follow the Apostle Paul’s instruction in 2 Corinthians 13:5 and examine yourself to see if you are in the faith. Look at your life and ask yourself these questions:
- Am I trusting in Christ alone for my salvation?
- Has there been a change in my life?
- Do I love what God loves?
- Do I hate what God hates?
- Do I have a hunger for His word?
- Do I have a love for the brethren?
- Do I stand up for Christ in the face of persecution?
- Is there an increasing pattern of holiness in my life?
- Do I grieve over my sin?
I think it important to expand upon that last question a bit. One of the hallmarks of a genuine Christian is that he grieves over his sin. The Bible speaks of two kinds of sorrow over sin: A worldly sorrow and a godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:9-10). A worldly sorrow leads to death. What is a worldly sorrow?
A worldly sorrow is that sorrow which is horizontally oriented. In other words, it is a sorrow that is centered around ourselves. A worldly sorrow is the kind of sorrow that says, ‘What would happen to me if my sin were to be exposed? What would be the consequences to me?’ A worldly sorrow seeks to cover up our sin because we do not want the consequences of our sin. One who has a worldly sorrow over sin would go right back to that sin if he could get away with it and no one would know about it. This sorrow leads to death. Eternal death.
But there is another kind of sorrow over sin, and that is a godly sorrow. A godly sorrow results in a “repentance without regret leading to salvation” (vs. 10). A godly sorrow over sin is that sorrow which is vertically oriented. In other words, a godly sorrow is directed not toward ourselves, but toward God. A godly sorrow is when we grieve over our sin because we understand that our sin grieves God (Ephesians 4:30) and we do not want to grieve Him.
God has been so good, so kind, so generous and so merciful toward us. But we have sinned against Him. We have despised His good gifts to us. We have presumed upon His kindness and patience. We have acted altogether selfishly. We have mocked His holiness. And yet…
God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8.
That, dear one, is an utterly amazing statement. God gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16) Who had done no wrong and Whom He loves with an infinite love to us to be sacrificed for us. Only in the cross of Christ can we see how much God hates sin and how much He loves us. When we sin, it grieves God - and that should grieve us.
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that Christians cannot sin. Christians can and do sin. A Christian stumbles into sin, but he does not swim in sin. A genuine Christian does not enjoy sin. He does not look for opportunities to sin. When a Christian sins, it grieves him. And just as much as we should want a Savior from Hell, we should want a Savior from sin. The man who wants a Savior from Hell but does not want a Savior from sin, has a Savior from neither.
If you are not certain where you would spend eternity if you were to die today, then I beg of you, dear one, to get really honest before God. Confess your sins to Him. Confess your utter need of His mercy and forgiveness. Ask Him to save you. Repent of sin and place your trust in Jesus Christ. If you will come to Him in godly sorrow over your sin and if you genuinely desire to follow Him in obedience for the rest of your life, He will save you. You will pass from death to life (John 5:24). The wrath of God will be removed. Your sins will be forgiven and they will be put away as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12) and God will remember them no more (Hebrews 8:12).
“All that the Father gives to Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” – John 6:37
Isn’t that a wondrous promise? If you will come to Christ empty-handed, seeking forgiveness of your sins, He will not cast you out. He will save you. The evidence of your conversion and new life in Christ will be a lifetime of obedience and bearing good fruit to His glory.
I Have Trusted Christ. What Now?
If you have trusted Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord of your life, you now need to find a good, doctrinally sound church. If you need help finding a good church, please email me. I may be able to help you find one. This is so vitally important. You need to be in a good church where you will hear the word of God preached rightly by men who are biblically qualified to preach. You need to be fed, you need to be encouraged, you need to be shepherded, you need accountability, you need a place to serve and you need fellowship with like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ.
Many people think that becoming a Christian will make their lives better. It will do that, but not necessarily in the sense in which most people think of “better.” Your life in Christ will be “better” in that it will be filled with the joy and grace that can come only by living a life of obedience to Christ. But your life in Christ will not be “better” in the sense that it will become easier.
Contrary to what many preachers and “Christian” movies would have you believe, God does not promise you a fat wallet or a healthy body. He does not promise you will get a new vehicle, a nicer home, or a promotion at work. Your life in Christ is not about to get easier. It is about to get much, much harder. The Bible says that “all who live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). There are no exception clauses to this verse. If you truly desire to live godly in Christ Jesus, you will be persecuted. Get ready for it. It’s coming. And it may even come from members of your own family (Matthew 10:35-36).
But you are equipped to handle it with grace and in such a way that brings honor to your King (Philippians 1:29). You are now indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. He will create in you a desire
to read, understand and obey God’s word. In this you will “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). You have the fellowship of the saints (Acts 2:42; Hebrews 10:25; Colossians 3:16), your brothers and sisters in Christ who are now your family are all over the world (Matthew 12:46-50). You are anything but alone.
Get a good study Bible. I recommend the John MacArthur Study Bible in either the NASB or ESV translation.
Also, if you email me, I will send you a list of other resources that I recommend to people that will help you grow in your new faith in Christ. These resources will both edify and challenge you. They will help you learn how to read and study scripture. They will help you build a solid theological foundation upon which to build your life.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you.
(2 Corinthians 13:14).