The Only Thing in Life that Really Matters
Everyone is on a spiritual journey. You may be actively seeking God, religion, or a purpose in life. You may be striving against the way things are. You may just be drifting along in your life, ignoring the tugging in your soul that there is something more to life than the daily grind. Whether you are active or passive, you are on a spiritual journey. Where is that journey taking you?
Perhaps you are an atheist, and you seek to be rid of the binds of religion. You may be a humanist, searching for morality based in logic and the qualities of humans. You could be a Buddhist, hoping to eventually reach Nirvana. You might label yourself a Muslim, Jew, Christian, Taoist, Hindu, or any other religion. Perhaps you are "not the religious type" - you're just hoping to be a good person so you don't offend God, just in case he/she is out there and cares. You could be trying to make a good life for yourself, in case this life is all there is. Maybe you "just haven't thought about it much," and plan on deciding later.
Wherever you are in your spiritual journey, there are still problems in your life. There are still problems in the world, despite the attempts to change them with religion, politics, and war. Why is there suffering? Why does pain exist? Why is hunger a global problem? Why does cancer exist? What about pollution, global warming, war, unequal distribution of wealth, unemployment, violence, sweat shops, genocide, hatred, and all the other problems in this world? What about the problems in your own life? You may be experiencing failed relationships, a sense of emptiness, lack of purpose, loss of a job, loss of a loved one, or something else that haunts you every waking moment. Even if your life is problem-free now, you know that you will face pain, sadness, and loss in the future. Even if you have the perfect life, you eventually will face death. Do your problems bother you? Do you wish you could make them disappear?
Death is a problem that doctors and scientists try to solve. The human race has lengthened its life span with organ transplants, genetically engineered tissues, vaccines, medicine, and good hygiene. Through science, the human race has tried to save itself, but has not succeeded. We try to eat well, exercise, and quit smoking. Are you trying to live a longer life? Why? Because the people on TV told you it would be a good idea? Eating your vegetables may add a few years to your life, but you will still die in the end. Since we cannot stop death, we try to make this life as good as possible. We pursue happiness in whatever way we can, but the problems in life always come back to haunt us.
The imperfections of the world find their roots in the story of the first humans: Adam and Eve. When God created the world, it was perfect; there was no death, only life. God said that in the day they ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would surely die (Genesis 2:17). The devil tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God, telling them that they would become like God, knowing good and evil. They ate, and that knowledge came at a high price: death entered the world, not just for humans, but for everything else, also. Adam and Eve had both a spiritual death and a physical death. On that day, their bodies began to die. They would have lived forever in paradise if they had obeyed God, but they rebelled. That means that the whole world experiences death and all the problems that come with it - sickness, disease, and pain. God is just and keeps His promises - He promised death, and He gave it. The choice of Adam and Eve to disobey God impacted the whole of the human race; we all will die. Adam and Eve also experienced an immediate spiritual death: separation from God. They were kicked out of the Garden of Eden, where they had walked with God. They had known Him as Creator and Friend. Now, all of humanity is separated from this intimate relationship with God.
We have a problem here. We were made to live forever, but we die. We were created in God's image for relationship with Him, but we are separated by sin. God, if He is a just God, should punish us all with death because we rebelled against Him. We owe God a great debt because we did not uphold our side of the contract.
What can we do about this? Absolutely nothing. Humans are the ones who must pay the debt, since we are the ones who rebelled against God's gracious agreement. We cannot, but we must. Doing more good than bad will not repair our separation from God. A finite human cannot fill the infinite gap between him/herself and an infinite God. "Our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6). We may do good things, but that does not change who we are on the inside: sinners separated from a righteous God. "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it" (James 2:10). If you sin even once, you are guilty of transgressing the law of God. It only took one act of disobedience for Adam and Eve to be kicked out of the Garden of Eden. Are you perfect? Can you honestly say that you have never lied, cheated, stolen, had lustful thoughts, or broken the law in any way? Have you always loved your neighbor as yourself?
There is no possible way that you have been perfect your entire life, and this is because of humanity's fallen state since Adam and Eve's rebellion. Even if you think you've been pretty good throughout your life, do not compare yourself with the people around you. Look at the mirror of God's law. How do you hold up compared to God? On Judgment day, who will be the one who decides your eternal existence? Will it be your co-workers? Your boss? Your neighbors? Your family? Yourself? What would give any of these people the right to decide whether or not you have been good enough? Do they know your thoughts, and every action since birth? God is the only one who has the right to decide whether or not you will spend an eternity with Him, and He knows you better than you even know yourself.
What standard does God use? Himself, and His law. Sin is disobedience to His law, and the ultimate result of sin is death (James 1:15). Our souls are eternal, so there are two options: eternal death, or eternal life. The human race stands condemned before God because of our sin. This means that everyone deserves to go to Hell, a very real place - eternal death, a torturous infinite separation from God. "Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned" (Romans 5:12). We cannot get ourselves out of this problem, because we all sin and cannot undo the curse of Adam and Eve.
What, then, is the solution? There must be a human who can pay the debt, but this human must be infinite and perfect. That Man is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. "For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:17). One man, Adam, brought sin into the world. One Man, Jesus, repaired humanity's broken relationship with God. He did this by dying on the Cross. It seems a strange way to fix a problem. Why was the Cross necessary? Jesus had to suffer and die because death is the just condemnation for sinning against God. In order for us not to die, someone else had to die. "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Hebrews 9:22). He signed our contract, paid the debt in full, and said, "It is finished" (John 19:30).
The story does not stop at the Cross. On the third day after his death, Jesus came back to life. Though the price he paid was death, death did not reign over him! His resurrection gives us a hope for our own new lives. God displayed His mercy toward humanity with a substitute death for us so we would not have to be punished with death, but He displayed His grace by giving us new life! He not only canceled the debt, He also restored us to a right relationship with Himself!
The solution for us, then, is Christ on the cross. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and turn away from your sins. Sin is anything you do that God would not want you to do, and anything you do not do that God commands you to do. You must trust Him to save you, instead of trusting in your own works. If Christ's sacrifice paid an infinite price, what can you add to infinity? There is nothing you can add to infinity to increase its value. Rather, when you accept Christ's gift and allow God to change your life, the good works flow from your love for God. When two people are in love, they enjoy doing nice things for each other. The nice things are not "obligations" or "penitance," but gifts of service out of love for the other person. Believers will do good things because they love Christ, not out of obligation. Many people are irritated by pious, holier-than-thou Christians who think they are better than everyone else because they do more good things. However, true Christian good works are done, often in secret, for the glory of God alone, whether or not the person gets recognition for doing a good deed (see Matthew 6:1-6). Following Christ is not easy; it means you accept complete humility, loving God above all else, and making a name for Him instead of yourself.
There are many ways that lead to destruction. Where is your spiritual journey taking you? The only true way is a hard, narrow way that leads to life (Matthew 7:14). It is a way that involves trusting in God's strength to save you, recognizing that your strength and good works are not enough to get you into Heaven. Are you willing to choose the narrow way? "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31).
Everyone on this earth still has problems; becoming a Christian won't erase them. The world will continue to have problems until Jesus returns to complete His restorative work. He will reverse the exile from the Garden of Eden by making a new heavens and earth. "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" (Revelation 21:3-4). Don't you want that kind of life? Those who believe will enter the Heavenly City. "But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life" (Revelation 21:27).
Is your name written in the Book of Life?