In my previous post, What Must I Do to Be Saved?, I promised to begin a discussion — from a Christian perspective — on why people need salvation, followed by how salvation is obtained, and finally, what prevents people from being saved. This is the second of my proposed four posts. This is starting to look like it will be a long post, so be prepared.
So, DO people need to be saved?
The Christian answer has always been “Yes, people need to be saved,” but I’d like to explore why people need to be saved.
Christian theology claims that there is a heaven (a place where there is no pain or sorrow and where the believer sees God) and a hell (a place of eternal torment.)
For non-Christians, this isn’t a given. Is there a heaven? Is there a hell? The Bible declares both exist. It does so explicitly and without ambiguity. To quote all the verses here would make this an even longer post than it is already becoming. But so you know I’m not just making things up, here is a quote from Matthew 13: 41 – 43 about hell and heaven both:
“The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.”
This is Jesus speaking. Here’s another quote from Revelation 21:4 about heaven:
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the former things have passed away.
According to the Bible, there is no question but that heaven and hell exist. Also, it is clear that our eternal destiny will be either heaven and hell. It is here, in eternity, that justice, which has long escaped the human race, will be found. The poor will become rich. The rich will become poor. Those who love God will abide with Him forever in a world without pain. Those who hate God, or just don’t love Him, will be consigned to a place of eternal torment. The injustices of this world will be righted.
Most people don’t have a problem with heaven. It’s the idea of hell that people find hard to swallow. They say, “How can a loving God condemn someone to an eternity in hell?” For those people, hell does not compute. Isn’t God loving? How can He do that?
Let me explore why He can.
In the Beginning, God
God started everything, and the apostle John declares that God is love. (1 John 4:8) How can someone who is loving condemn a person to eternity in hell?
Here is the answer: God is love, but he is also holy. You, too, are more than just love.
I want you to think of the person you love most in the world. Picture that person.
Now, let’s suppose you found that this person was stealing infants from their families and torturing them for pleasure. You stumble upon this latest session by accident and see it with your own eyes. You are understandably horrified. The baby is crying, blood soaked, screaming in uncomprehending pain, and one of its fingers has already been removed. You can’t believe it. Not this person! He or she would never do such a thing! But you are forced to believe it because you see it. Let’s imagine the conversation.
You: Stop that! What are you doing? You’re hurting that baby.
You: What you are doing is … it’s evil!
Person: Who says so?
You: Everyone says so! It’s wrong!
Person: I don’t think so. I like it. Do you want to help?
You: [Horrified] NO!
Person: [Shrugs again] Okay. If you don’t like it, don’t do it. Just don’t get in the way.
You: [Almost speechless from horror] How many times have you done this?
Person: [shrugging again] Ten? Twelve? I lost count after baby number five.
So, given this scenario, do you — or don’t you — report this person to the police? If you report them, the person you love most in the world will be convicted on your eyewitness account and probably executed. Or do you stay silent because you love this person? Does your love for this person override your sense of right and wrong, or does your sense of justice impel you to call the police?
Here’s what I hope you answer would be.
I hope you would call the police. You don’t want your loved one to be executed, but you can’t allow this to go on.
God is in a similar situation with you and me.
Now, you’re thinking, “But most people don’t go around torturing babies! I certainly don’t! That’s bad. That’s like Hitler. Hitler was evil. He did things like that, but most of us aren’t that bad.”
Ah, but according to the Bible, that’s not quite true. According to Psalm 53 and quoted in Romans 3 by Paul, we are really that bad:
All have turned away; together they have become worthless; there is none who is practicing good, there is not so much as one.
Remember, we are talking about how God defines what is good and holy, not how you and I define it. You and I need to remember that God’s holiness is far, far greater than man’s holiness. Look back at the verse from Matthew. Jesus says that those who commit lawlessness will be thrown into the furnace of fire. You might say, “I’ve broken no laws,” but God will say, “What about my laws?” In Matthew 5:22, Jesus says this:
“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.”
I submit that there is no one who has measured up to righteousness like this.
A quick history lesson
When the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God, Paul says that sin entered the world. The Catholic Church calls this “original sin,” and they baptize babies because that original sin needs to be eradicated.
But I think the Catholic Church sees “original sin” incorrectly. As I understand it, we don’t inherit guilt from Adam and Eve, we inherit a tendency to sin. We inherit a disposition to go our own way, do our own thing, and put other pursuits before the God who created us. This tendency, which informs our actions, causes us to “sin.” Sin means that we commit actions that are contrary to the laws of God.
God gave the famous ten commandments to the Hebrew people (along with many other laws), but they couldn’t obey them. Time and time again, they disobeyed those laws. You and I are no better. I just quoted Jesus saying that simply being angry with your brother is akin to murder. When you got angry and the idiot who was driving, that was a form of murder as far as God was concerned. He also declared lustful thoughts to be on a par with physical adultery. The New Testament says that gossip, foul language, and drunkenness are as bad as murder, theft, and adultery.
God is so holy, none of us can meet His standard.
If there is one theological position that has been proven by centuries of recorded history, it’s that we aren’t good. We are evil. Bigotry. Slavery. Adultery. Theft. Murders. These all dot our history like cancerous lesions on a sick body. If most of us are good, why did we do things like that? If the bulk of us are good, why didn’t those good people rise up and stop slavery before it started?
You might say, “I’ve done none of those things,” but I challenge you to look over your own life. If you are at all introspective and thoughtful, you must admit that you have failed to meet — not just God’s standards — but your own standards of right or wrong.
And if you think you’ve met your standard, read another parable by Jesus recorded in Luke 18: 9-14. A Pharisee thanks God that he isn’t a bad person. A tax collector, however, asks God to be merciful because he knows he’s a sinner. The Pharisee, who thinks he’s a pretty good guy, is the one that is NOT forgiven. If you think you’ve met your standard and are “pretty good,” you just acted like the Pharisee, a group of people who eventually put Jesus on the cross.
So, now what?
Well, we can pretend that what we did isn’t wrong — or at least so wrong as to warrant eternal punishment. We can disregard God’s standard of morality and establish our own, easier standard and attempt to live by that. When we do something that we’re forced to concede is wrong even by our own standard, we can attempt to make it right, or we can ignore our actions and hope no one else noticed. The truth is, though, we can’t undo things we’ve done.
We can live like this, but this means we’ve got a problem: God. His standard is the one by which we’ll be judged whether we want to be or not. God’s holiness — His perfection — is the yardstick, and our own measuring tools are crooked and misshapen in comparison. God simply does not have to abide by our standard, and He has the power to hold all of us accountable to His.
But God has a problem, too.
Yep. I just said that God has a problem.
Not only is God holy, but He is also compassionate. He really is love. In fact, “love” is the only attribute of God that is so completely his nature, that he is “love.” It never says God is holiness, or God is Justice. God is holy and just, but he isn’t holiness or justice. But God is love. And the fact that we keep sinning and breaking His laws gives Him great pain. He could put a stop to it right now, but if He does so, He will be forced to judge the world. Peter tells us (2 Peter 3:9) that God is holding back so more people can be saved. But if He doesn’t put a stop to it eventually, the scales of justice will never be balanced. Injustice and lawlessness will continue forever. So, he must eventually judge the world.
But He loves us. He really loves us. It’s not because he doesn’t know us, or simply because he “loves” human beings in a general sense. He knows us personally, warts and all, and still loves us for who we are. He doesn’t want to condemn anyone to hell, but His holiness cannot abide our sinful tendencies.
What is God to do? He already gave his law to the Jewish people, but they couldn’t follow it. Jesus provided us with an even stricter law that we all know we can’t obey.
This is why salvation is necessary
Because all of us have disobeyed God, we need to be saved. God needed to find a way to provide a way of salvation for his created beings, because if He didn’t, we would all perish in that furnace of fire that Jesus mentioned. Because He loved us, He provided a way.
Next Saturday, I’ll provide the Christian explanation of the solution that God found.