What is the answer?

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This past weekend has left the United States in a tiff.  Ok, maybe more like a blood feud.  A video was released of presidential hopeful Donald Trump demeaning women at best, condoning sexual assault at worst; the presidential debate was a joke; and completely ignored by mainstream news coverage is the report that eleven Christians were murdered by ISIS in Syria because they had converted from Islam and refused to denounce Christ.  Included in this number was a 12 year old boy whom the terrorists tortured by cutting off his fingertips in front of his father with the hopes of convincing them to convert, and two women who were publicly raped and tortured.  Many of those who have heard of this tragedy return to the conversation about the election chanting, “We must stop ISIS” and then proclaim their presidential choice as the answer.  Trump will squash ISIS.  Hillary has more experience and a real plan for our foreign affairs.  But you know what folks?  The president of the United States is not the answer.

Jesus is the answer.

I know it sounds cliche.  I grew up singing the song, “Jesus is the answer for the world today, above Him there’s no other, Jesus is the way!”  And while it sounds so simple and childlike, it is the profound truth.  No governmental leadership will provide a solution by which every worldview will be appeased.  No amount of force or murder will eradicate evil from the Middle East or the United States.  Even if we could convince our general population that love is the answer, we would all have different opinions about what love is and what love means.  Should we openly accept, condone and affirm every decision and worldview, or should we seek one another’s best by helping each other make wise decisions, even if that means we encourage change?

Our politicians, ISIS, and each of us individually, however, simply need Jesus.  We are wicked.  We are sinners.  Yes, Donald Trump tried to get a married woman to sleep with him and bragged about his ability to do whatever he wants to with women because he is “a star”.  Yes, ISIS beheaded, tortured and crucified eleven Christians.  Yes, we have treated one another with disrespect and hatred because of our individual political affiliations and choices.  And all of that is nothing more than wicked people doing wicked things – to various extents.  The Bible teaches us that we were born in iniquity (Ps 51.5), and that we are by nature children of wrath (Eph 2.3).  This means that apart from Jesus, all we can do is sin.  We are destined and doomed to evil deeds.

Along these lines, the Bible teaches us some pretty hard truths.  Apart from Jesus we are:
Dead in sin (Eph 2.3).
Lovers of darkness (John 3.19-20)
Haters of light (John 3.19-20)
Hard like stone (Ez 36.26, Eph 4.18)
Unable to love or submit to God (Rom 8.7-8)

What does all of that mean?  We might look pretty on the outside – like white washed tombs (Matt 23.27-28).  We might put on a good, moralistic act, but it is with wicked and selfish motives.  We all sin, and we will all continue to sin because it is our nature (1 John 1.8).

We all need Jesus.  I need Jesus.  You need Jesus.  Trump and Hillary need Jesus.  ISIS needs Jesus.  The answer is not to go in and wipe “them” out.  There is always someone else who is wicked to replace “them”.  But to see “them” fundamentally changed will save their souls and change their impact on their worlds.

Jesus found Paul – the foremost persecutor (read:  murderer) of the Church and changed him from the core, making him into the world’s most dynamic missionary and teacher.  If God can change and use Paul, He can change and use ISIS.  He can change and use Hillary.  He can change and use Trump.  He can change and use you and me.  There are, in fact, fairly regular reports of Muslims and radical extremists coming to faith and proclaiming Jesus.  Such are those who were murdered this weekend.

We spend so much time trying to separate our church and state, but the reality is that Jesus is the only hope for the state.  Even if we solve immigration, balance out our taxes and health care, and live at peace with the world, we are all still sinners and headed to an eternity of judgment and damnation.  If we, however, confess our sins and turn to God for salvation through Jesus, we will be saved eternally and enabled to die to our sins and our love one another.  We will be able to put one another first and see true and real peace.  We will be able to love.  Jesus is the answer.

Do people go to Hell because of sin or because of who we are?

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Hell.  It’s a scary topic.  We do not like to talk about it much because it is unpleasant and focuses on the wrath of God instead of the love of God.  We like warm fuzzy things, we like forgiveness, acceptance, tolerance and love.  But Jesus talked about Hell and destruction regularly, and that more often than Heaven.

But I want to pose a simple question for us to ponder:  do people go to Hell because of sin or because of who we are?  While this may seem a theological acrobatic at first, how you answer this question will establish the foundation of your belief system about man, God, sin and salvation.

Why?

It has to do with the nature of man.  Do you believe that mankind is inherently good and we have a sin problem?  Or do you believe that mankind is inherently wicked and incapable of doing good?  If you believe that mankind is good then Jesus is supplemental.  If you believe that mankind is wicked then Jesus is everything.  If you believe that mankind is good then we deserved Christ’s atonement.  If you believe that mankind is wicked then Christ’s death on the cross was completely unmerited and an act of grace.  If you believe that mankind is good then we all get a shot at Heaven.  If you believe that mankind is wicked then we all deserve Hell and Heaven is a gift.

Let’s consider the first sin.  It is unique in that before Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, there was no precedence for sin, and they were designed to live forever; death had not yet entered the world.  Adam and Ever were placed in the garden of Eden with a single rule:  Do not eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Were Adam and Eve perfect?  No, they were not – in that they had the ability to sin.  They were innocent; the only true, genuinely innocent human being to ever walk the face of this Earth.  But they still had a sinful nature that chose to rebel and disobey.  We also see that Eve lied to the serpent before lying was defined as a sin…our natures are deceptive.

Through that one sin, death entered the world.  We know that the punishment for sin is death (Rom 6.23), and we know that all have sinned (Rom 3.23).  But we also see that,

“For in Adam, all die…”

– 1 Cor 15.22

We are all in Adam in the sense that we are human beings.  We have a human nature, which is a sinful nature, which is undeniable.  Paul explains a bit further in this passage:

“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…”

– Rom 5.12

We have indeed all sinned.  But we have all sinned because it is our nature to sin.  There is no person who has ever walked the face of this earth without sin – aside from Jesus Christ.  And it was Adam’s falling from innocence to the temptation of sin that solidified that we are now all under the burden of enslavement to sin.  We all carry the burden of original sin:  we are not born innocent and given the same opportunity to live in freedom that Adam was given.  It is now, “appointed unto man to die” because of Adam’s sin (Heb 9.27).  No baby can live forever if he is able to not sin.

What else does Scripture have to say about who we are?

“For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

– Rom 8.6-8

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

– Rom 5.10

“And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds…”

– Col 1.21

“…for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light.”

– Eph 5.8

We are born hostile towards God, unable to please Him, enemies of God, alienated from Him and darkness.  Scripture says that we ourselves are darkness without Jesus.  But the most ominous of descriptions is this:

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

– Eph 2.1-3

We are born Spiritually dead, enslaved to sin (Rom 6.20).  We are incapable of any righteousness (Rom 3.10).  We are unable to please God.  We are wicked.  We are born separated from God – because of the judgment that came upon the world when Adam sinned, and the whole world is groaning under the judgment (Rom 8.22-24).

Hell is a place of judgment and retribution.  The punishment (or wages) of sin is death.  Eternal death.  We are already dead, spiritually when we are born, and we are destined for an eternity of death unless Jesus intervenes.  We are born guilty and we continue to add to our sentence with every sin that we commit.  God is holy and righteous and would not send anyone to Hell who had not sinned and did not deserve it, but because we are in Adam, we are all born deserving it.

We sin because we are sinners.  We are spiritually dead.  We are aliens from God, enemies of God even, and incapable of doing anything good.  So, does God send people to Hell because of sin, or because of who we are?  Both.  They are one in the same.  Even the smallest sin would condemn us as guilty, but all of us have enacted an abundance of sins that makes the judgment “guilty” easy.  And we are incapable of doing anything good or pleasing to God until we come to faith.  Our very nature is sinning, and therefore damnable.

But God.

My two favorite words in all of Scripture.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

 – Rom 5.8

God is ready and willing to consider your sentence served, if you confess your sins and hide yourself in Jesus Christ.  He paid your penalty so that you might live.  He will reconcile you to God, He will give you His Spirit and make you no longer a child of sin and wrath, but a child of grace.  He will give you life and destine you for an eternity with Him.  In the same way that we are born in Adam, we can be reborn in Christ.

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.

 – 1 Cor 15.22

Trust Him today.

I am a pretty good person.

I like to think I am a pretty good person.  I go to church, I give money to charity, I work for a non-profit organization and talk to my neighbors as I come home from work.  I smile and wave at strangers and try to honor my parents, I pay my taxes and usually drive the speed limit.

That makes me pretty good, right?

I suppose it depends on the standard by which we judge and are judged.  In the New Testament, Paul makes some pretty bold statements about our sinful state.  He calls us “children of wrath” by nature – that the very essence of who we are is that which deserves wrath (Eph 2.3), and more clearly he defines humanity as children of disobedience (Col 3.6).  We are so disposed to disobedience against God that it is as though disobedience is our father.  By nature, the devil is our father and we are slaves to sin (John 8.44, 34).

David, “the man after God’s own heart”, observes the reality that he was “brought forth in iniquity, and in sin [his] mother conceived [him]” (Ps 51.5).  It does not take long observing a young child, one who cannot yet even communicate verbally, to see the sinful, disobedient and rebellious nature emerge.

“Everyone is under sin.”

 – Romans 3.9

We often talk about God’s fairness, equality and common love to all of humanity.  This is true.  But the verse which states “There is no partiality with God” is from Romans 2.11, where Paul makes the argument that God will judge all the same, justly and without special allowances.  All who have sinned will be condemned.  We are all under sin.  And being under sin, our relationship with God is destroyed:

“There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands; there is non who seeks for God…There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom 3.10, 18).

And because we are all under sin, our relationship with others is destroyed:

By our mouths and what we say:  “Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness” (Rom 3.13-14)

By our actions and what we do:  “Their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known” (Rom 3.15-17).

But there is hope!  The righteousness of God has been manifested (Rom 3.21)!  Unless your righteousness is perfection, unless you have never sinned, you cannot enter into God’s presence.  None of us, therefore, by our very nature, can enter into God’s presence.  But Jesus lived a perfect life and through His death and resurrection offers us His righteousness.  We can be found covered by Him, such that when God looks at us He sees Christ’s righteousness and welcomes us in.

“But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

Rom 3.21-16

Let us be reconciled to God.  And through that relationship with Him, let us be reconciled to one another.