Listen or Read: Your Choice
My parents treated the Santa Claus story the same way they treated “Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox,” as an imaginary story designed for entertainment. I feel sorry for kids playfully misled concerning Santa. I wonder if discovering the truth fosters skepticism.
If you treat the historic birth of Jesus Christ as you do Santa Claus tales, I urge you undertake some history research. Read the major historic documents: Paul’s letter to the Corinthians chapter 15, then the accounts from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Temporarily, you can ignore the Christian belief that God supervised their authorship; just evaluate the honesty of the authors and the implications of their reports.
I was about age 20 and had a rich Christian background when I was overwhelmed by doubts. Why would God allow this, and why that? I wanted to be a Christian; every alternative seemed shallow or untrustworthy. I settled on two options: sincere Christianity, or total skepticism about life and the despair that implied. Given those options I decided I could live with unanswered questions if I had a central core of truth.
I reasoned, if I honestly believe that Jesus is God, then I can believe anything He says. If He says black is white I can accept that, if I genuinely believe He is God. So what is the evidence that Jesus is God? His miracles? The fact that His enemies found no real fault in Him? I focused on the resurrection. If I were convinced that Jesus rose from the dead, I would believe He is God. I found a book that compiled and analyzed the evidence. My verdict was solid. I believed Jesus rose from the dead, that He is God, and that God has communicated with us.
That brings me to Christmas. Some truth about God is discernable from what He made. In addition, God sent prophets like Moses. But the ultimate communication from God to man was for God, the Son, to become a human. With God as His father and Mary as His mother, Jesus became a baby and experienced humanity. He served. He taught. And as His humanity allowed, He died. Victoriously, He rose again.
The chapters that follow include partial but sufficient information about why we need a heavenly savior and how to be rescued by the only heavenly savior. His birth is celebrated on Christmas. His saving activity is available any day.
It was 1962; I was 15 years old. The showdown was tense. What I remember most clearly is my dad’s sense of danger. He warned of war. A Russian ship with missile supplies was headed toward Cuba. The United States prepared to stop that ship. Then, the Russian ship turned back. Dramatic good news! Yet consider thousands of young children to whom that good news was meaningless because they had been unaware of the bad news. They were unaware, even though they were in danger as much as all Americans. Some good news is appreciated only by those who understand the bad news.
A Bold Entrance
The city was well known for its deteriorated conditions. Our neighborhood seemed safe, but changes were occurring rapidly. Police were ill equipped to deal with problems.
My wife and I had just awakened and were still lying in bed when suddenly a young fellow entered our bedroom. He walked around the bed to my side … climbed up onto the bed … and said, “I want in the middle.”
If he had been a stranger, his entrance would have been criminal intrusion. If he had been a friend, his entrance would still have been obnoxious. But because he was our toddler son, I was struck by the beautiful security of knowing you are wanted. I thought of an invitation in the Bible. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (KJV) Christians come boldly to the throne of God, the sovereign of the universe. Not with the boldness of a criminal, nor the crude, but with the boldness of a child who knows he is wanted. What a privilege: to know that God welcomes the prayers of His people.
Because God loves people, because Jesus died and rose again, peace with God and everlasting life are available. How? Read on.
Jesus taught a religious leader that for anyone to enter “the kingdom of God” he must undergo a radical change caused by the Spirit of God. (The Bible, The Gospel of John, chapter 3)
This major change can be called being “saved.” The Bible teaches that you have “sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and therefore need to be saved from God’s condemnation. This salvation is possible because Jesus died on the cross and rose again. If you turn from your wrongdoing and trust Jesus Christ to save you – He will.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (Bible, II Corinthians 5:17)
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God …” (Bible, Ephesians 2:8)
Will you receive God’s gift? In other words, will you make the decision to turn from wrongdoing and trust Jesus Christ to save you from God’s condemnation?
What If I Become a Christian?
What kind of life can I expect if I become a Christian? Answer: A life of righteousness, peace, joy, and trouble. All four.
In the Bible, life in the kingdom of God (speaking of the current, spiritual kingdom composed of all who voluntarily submit themselves to Jesus as king and savior) is described as “righteousness and peace and joy.” (Romans 14:17) Other parts of the Bible explain that trouble is also part of a Christian life. Some of that trouble is just the plight common to everyone living in a fallen world: disease, natural disaster, abuse from other sinners, and personal errors. Beyond that, there is trouble purposely caused by people who resent Christians. (2 Timothy 3:12)
What then is the motivation for becoming a Christian, if trouble is part of the package? One reason is forgiveness. Jesus said, “whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them….” Matthew 7:12 How often have you broken that law? That makes you a lawbreaker. How often have you lied? That makes you a liar. “…all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire….” Revelation 21:8 Catch the reality? You need forgiveness.
Guilt is disturbing. Guilt is a warning system – warning because sin (wrongdoing) commonly causes extra trouble and sadness (Proverbs 13:15). Guilt warns of Hell. Unforgiven sinners are sent to Hell. Seek forgiveness. Only the holy Creator can provide the forgiveness we need.
Men have various ways of dealing with guilt, such as
(1) “Compared to other people I’m pretty good.” But that comparison doesn’t satisfy God. By His standard, you fall short. Having a lot of company in Hell won’t relieve the pain.
(2) “I’ve tried my best; surely that’s enough to satisfy God.” “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God ….” Romans 3:23 “…if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for in vain.” Galatians 2:21 (In other words, if we could obey well enough to gain righteous status, there was no need for Christ to die.)
(3) I’m, at the core, in my own way, spiritual.” Catch the chill in God’s response. “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe — and tremble!” James 2:19
(4) “Evolution shows that we are basically animals; the result of thoughtless chance. So there’s no basis for permanent definitions of good and evil; ultimately morality is just popular preferences.” If someone invades your house, steals your valuables, kidnaps a family member, and then is apprehended; will you stick to the idea that good and evil are merely preferences? Surely you wouldn’t expect someone to go to jail for having a different preferred morality? My guess is that in your heart you believe in right and wrong, which comes from an Almighty Judge.
Truth is, your guilt is well founded. You need forgiveness from the Almighty Judge. The good news is that the Almighty Judge loves people. He designed a way for justice to be satisfied. Jesus Christ, the
Son of God, was crucified, buried, and rose again as the means whereby people like you and me can be forgiven. If you turn from your wrongdoing (the Bible term is “repent”), and trust Jesus Christ to save you from God’s condemnation, He will.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life ….” Romans 6:23 “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8
Now back to where this article started. The same One who tells the truth about trouble can be trusted to lead into “righteousness and peace and joy….” It’s all part of the kingdom of God which lasts forever. Romans 14:17
How does a person become a Christian?
Realize that I, by nature, am not acceptable to God because I violate what is morally right – because I fail to meet God’s requirement for righteousness. Romans 3:23
Realize that by myself I cannot achieve acceptance by God, rather I am separated from God and destined for His wrath. Romans 3:23, John 3:36
Believe that Jesus Christ died and rose again to save us from separation from God. Romans 5:8
Make a decision –
To turn from wrongdoing to living God’s way (i.e. “repent” – which refers to our intention) Luke 13:3, Luke 24:47
To trust God to save me, freely – as a gift; i.e. trust (put my faith in, believe in) Jesus Christ as my personal savior. Ephesians 2:8-9, John 3:36
Safety in Numbers?
Both my parents died from pancreatic cancer. Pretend a doctor told me, “You have advanced pancreatic cancer,” or “Your wife has advanced pancreatic cancer.” Then he said, “But don’t feel bad. That is a common way to die.” Would knowing that death from pancreatic cancer is common take away my pain? I don’t think so.
Suppose a person is guilty of sexual immorality. Will God say, “No problem, sexuality immorality is common in the United States today?”
We don’t need to guess. The Bible says, “Now the works of the [sinful nature] …which are: adultery, fornication … those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21) Jesus spoke of the alternative to the kingdom of God: “hell fire – where…the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9:47-48) What if “hell” is not physical fire forever? What if everlasting fire is just a word picture? First, it may be actual fire. Second, anything that Jesus accurately pictures as everlasting fire will be horrible.
For anyone willing to face up to the bad news, good news is available. A person currently on route to everlasting torment can be rescued. Because Jesus died and rose again, rescue is available. If you decide to begin living right and trust God to put you in the kingdom of God, He will – as a gift. The same Bible that pictures hell describes the kingdom of God as “righteousness and peace and joy.” Romans 14:17 Please understand, as long as you are in this world there will be problems, but being at odds with God need not be one of them.
Children Should Know
God is powerful, more powerful than anyone else, more powerful than everyone else put together. God made people. The sky is beautiful because God made it that way. Trees and flowers are nice because God made them that way. Animals are fun to watch because God made them that way. Food tastes good because of God. Families were God’s idea. God loves people.
Everyone should obey God. Whatever God requires is right. Disobeying God causes trouble, sadness, and punishment from God.
Because we do bad things and sometimes have bad attitudes, we deserve terrible punishment. Everyone who ignores God will get that punishment. But because God loves people there is a way to be saved from God’s anger.
“…the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus …”
“For by grace you have been saved through faith”
Jesus Christ is God’s son. He is God but He is a man also. He didn’t deserve to be killed, but God was willing for Him to suffer for us. After He suffered and died, He came alive. He’s alive now.
Because Jesus died and became alive God offers you a gift. The gift includes God forgiving all your wrongdoing, treating you as His child, and letting you live in His new world forever. This gift is for you if you want to turn away from being bad and will receive the gift by simply trusting God to give it to you. Trusting – that’s also called “faith.” Another way to say it is “believe.” Do you want to obey God? Will you trust Jesus to forgive you?
We can read about God and His thoughts in God’s book, the Bible. Some sections of the Bible that describe God’s gift are John 3:16, Romans 6:23, and Ephesians 2: 8-9.
Let’s Be Straight Up
If a person is driving a stolen car, he isn’t eager to meet with a police officer. Likewise, if a person is living in an immoral way, he isn’t eager to hear from God, unless that person wants to change. In that case, undeserved kindness and help is available.
Beware of designing your own religion; it won’t be accepted. It is true that God offers grace (undeserved kindness). It is true that Jesus died and rose again as part of a forgiveness plan. But someone can only be accepted by God on God’s terms. To be forever rejected by God is disastrous To be accepted by God becomes heavenly. I urge you to accept God’s provision for a new life. The change was labeled by Jesus as being “born again.”
Yours For the Taking
Years ago I was teaching some boys in a Bible class. I wanted to illustrate that everlasting life, new quality of life, and forgiveness (the whole salvation package) is received by faith. It is a gift offered to anyone willing to turn from his wrongdoing (the Bible word is “sin”) and trust Jesus to save him.
I offered one boy a penny. He took it. I took off my watch and offered it. He just sat there. What made the difference in his responses? I took it as faith, assuming he believed I would give him a penny, but didn’t believe I’d give him my watch.
Everlasting life, new quality of life, and forgiveness together is a gift. If you decide to turn away from wrong (sin) and trust Jesus Christ to be your savior (in other words: to save you) from the wrath and judgment of God, it’s like reaching out to take an offered gift. Through that faith, the gift becomes yours.
I don’t know what I would have done if he had reached for the watch. But God’s offer is for sure. God the Son became a man, died, and rose again in order to provide this opportunity.
The Bible says “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And “by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”
Will you decide to turn from your wrongdoing and trust Jesus to save you from the wrath and judgment of God?
If you become a Christian, identify yourself as one by being baptized. Find a church where people are faithful to the Bible and get involved. A person thrives as a Christian by continuing to turn from any wrongdoing and trusting God to help him live rightly.
Copyright © 2017 Scott R. Long
6516 Georgetown Lane Ft. Wayne IN 46815
Scripture taken from the New King James Version, Copyright © 1982 by
Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.