The Great Matter: A Presentation of the
Foundational Truths of Christianity
by Stuart DiNenno
Every thinking person who takes the time to consider the matter of the condition of the world in which we live soon recognizes that there is something very wrong with it. In particular, he sees that there is a tremendous amount of corruption in mankind. Nowhere is this fact driven home more forcefully than in our history books. When we read the record of world events we find that, to a great extent, we are reading a chronicle of brutality — human history is a narrative of nearly ceaseless warfare. It is estimated that in the 20th century alone approximately 200 million people were killed in either wars between nations or by acts of deliberate extermination within nations, making it by far the most murderous century in history. All of this savagery took place within the same time period during which tremendous advances in science and learning were occurring at a pace and on a scale which is perhaps unequaled in all of history. Rather than being his salvation, it appears that man’s ingenuity and education, to a large degree, has been used as a means to further the visitation of his cruelty and bloodshed upon his fellow man. In addition to the large-scale occurrences of slaughter found in the historical record, there are innumerable evils that we see manifested in the lives of millions of individuals within our own societies: murders, rapes, thefts, frauds, lies, infidelities, perversions. Man’s iniquity is seemingly limitless in depth, multitude and variation. Why is he this way? What is the source of all his depravity? Is there a remedy for it?
God has not left us without testimony in answer to these questions and that testimony is contained in the Holy Bible.
What follows is a condensed version of the biblical testimony regarding the condition of man and his relationship with God. Please consider it carefully. There is no more important matter in all of life.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) and He created all life therein. Everything was in a state of perfection, including the first man Adam. God gave him life and every blessing, and Adam was content in a free and trusting relationship with God, along with Eve, the wife given to him. They lived in a paradise, a world free of all the corruption, danger, and death that we now know. All things were theirs from which to freely partake, with only one thing forbidden them: “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat. But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17). To remain in a state of perfection and eternal life they had to do nothing more than to obey this one command of God.
But they disobeyed. They ate of the tree from which they had been forbidden to eat. “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.” (Genesis 3:6) It is not that the fruit of this tree, whatever it was, contained anything evil in itself but the evil was in the disobedience to God’s law — which is the definition of sin: “sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). And because of their disobedience “the eyes of them both were opened” (Genesis 3:7). That is, they now knew something that they had never experienced before — evil — and it was to become part of their nature, because through their own act of disobedience they permanently corrupted themselves. They had committed an act of treason against their loving Creator and the penalty for this disobedience was death, as God had warned them. Whereas they would have continued in communion with God eternally and never seen decay or death, they brought on themselves both spiritual death, which is separation from God, and physical death. “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
Not only so, but the Holy Scriptures of God tell us that the disobedience of the first man and his fallen state brought the same curse on all of his posterity, meaning all of humanity. By sin, our original parents were spiritually and physically corrupted, and by natural generation, we all have inherited their defiled nature, and through this inheritance we go on to produce many actual evils of our own, which brings upon us the consequent alienation from God and the death penalty. “…by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). This is what we call original sin. It has so marred our being that we all now have an inclination to evil and an aversion against that which is good, as well as an innate antipathy to light and wisdom, and a love for error and darkness. Thus we read in Psalm 14:3: “They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” and in Genesis 8:21: “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” This describes all of us in our natural state. Of course, men do not recognize their condition because they define good and evil, and knowledge and ignorance, on their own terms rather than by the standards established by their Creator. Even atheists will declare their own righteousness, though their very lives are a perpetual rebellion against their Creator and thus nothing but continual sin, and they will proclaim their own enlightenment in spite of the fact that only “the fool hath said in his heart, there is no God (Psalm 14:1; 53:1).
The entire Bible clearly demonstrates the fact that man is incapable of obedience to God. Consider the case of the ancient Israelites who, although they had the law of God expressed to them very clearly and in writing (that law is summarized in the Ten Commandments below) — which was not the case with any other nation — and they were carefully instructed in this law, and vowed many times to obey it, their history was one of repeated disobedience and rebellion. Not only in the cases of many individuals, but in numerous circumstances and at different times it was said of the entire nation “they would not walk in His ways, neither were they obedient unto His law” (Isaiah 42:24).
In fact, the only men and women among them considered righteous by God were not those who earned His favor through good works, but those who believed the testimony of God, recognized their own sinfulness, and cried out to God for mercy. God personally spoke to Abraham and promised to make of him a great nation, yet he could only be counted righteous because he trusted what God had promised him, not because of his works “For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” (Romans 4:2-3) Even king David of Israel, whom God chose and called “a man after mine own heart” (Acts 13:22), could only cry out to God for mercy: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.” (Psalm 51:1)
The reality is that no one can claim to be free of sin: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8) And no one can stand before God on his own merits: “If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” (Psalm 130:3)
Consider the Ten Commandments, which is a summary of God’s moral law:
Thou shalt have no other gods
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy
Honour thy father and thy mother
Thou shalt not kill
Thou shalt not commit adultery
Thou shalt not steal
Thou shalt not bear false witness
Thou shalt not covet
As you consider this list, you must be honest with yourself: You have broken these laws. You are guilty of disobedience to God. In case you doubt this, I will now prove it to you.
In the interest of brevity, I will forgo a very thorough exposition of the commandments which would reveal the multitudes of ways in which each one can be broken, but I will briefly go through them thoroughly enough to show that you are a lawbreaker.
Let’s begin with the first commandment. “Thou shalt have no other gods.” You might claim that you have never followed a false god but unless you have been living in faith and obedience to the true God, then you have indeed been following a false god. It can be no other way
Do you want to know who has been your god up until now? Whoever you have recognized as the highest authority in your life, to determine for you what is right and what is wrong, this has been your god. If the LORD of the Bible has not been your supreme authority over all else, so that His revelation contained in the Holy Scriptures has been your moral standard, and instead your standard comes from the institutions of this world, the so-called conventional wisdom of the age and the moral code of modern society, which in many cases is very immoral according to biblical concepts of right and wrong, then you have only been obeying a false god.
The same is true whenever anyone lives without any deference to the will of God. Perhaps, like most people, the guiding principle of your life has been to do what is best for yourself, as long as you don’t see any harm in it, but this is repeatedly condemned in the Bible as doing what is right in your own eyes. If you have been living in such a way that the God of the Bible is not the ultimate determiner of right and wrong for you, then regardless of how good of a person you may think yourself to be, the reality is that you have been living in a continual state of disobedience to the very first of the ten commandments. You have been living your entire life in wicked rebellion against God and without any regard to any of His laws, and so you see that you are condemned even before we move on to an exposition of any of the other nine commandments.
The first four of the Ten Commandments express man’s duty to God. If you have not acknowledged and obeyed God before now, then you have not kept any of these laws, because it is not possible to do so if you have not recognized the God who gave them. Even if you have never bowed down and worshiped a false god, if you have not submitted to the true God, then you have only worshiped yourself. Your own selfish will and desires have been your god, your idol to which you bow down, in effect. And so you cannot possibly have obeyed any of the first four commandments.
The last six of the Ten Commandments express man’s duty to his fellow man. If you claim to have never broken any of these laws you are only deceiving yourself. Who among us has never been disobedient to those in authority and so never has broken the fifth commandment, and never done physical harm to anyone and so never has broken the sixth commandment, and never been sexually impure and so never has broken the seventh commandment, and never done anything dishonest and so never has broken the eighth commandment, and never told a lie and so never has broken the ninth commandment, and never coveted what others possess and so has never broken the tenth commandment? Such a person does not exist.
Let’s look at just one of these commandments in detail:
Consider the Ninth Commandment, which is against lying. Think about how many ways this law can be broken besides just saying something that is blatantly untrue. You can break it by adding to the truth or exaggerating the truth, you can break it by withholding portions of the truth, you can break it by rejecting the truth, you can break it by concealing the truth, you can even break it by revealing truth that you were obligated to keep to yourself. There are a multitude of ways that we can violate this commandment and we all have done so numerous times. This is why the Bible says “the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity” “every kind of beasts hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:6-8) Do not violate this commandment once again by claiming that you have not broken it. You know that you have not always, as the courtroom oath says, told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
You can try to soothe your guilty conscience by telling yourself that you have not committed some of the worst sins, but if you have done them in thought, that alone is enough to condemn you. You may be a murderer without a murder weapon: “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15). You are likely to be an adulterer, even if you have never cheated on your wife: “whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). If you have ever hated God in your heart, or denied or questioned His existence, even if it is something that you kept to yourself in your own thoughts, this is all sin, and very grievous sin, and there is nothing hidden from your Creator who knows the thoughts and intents of your evil heart.
Whether you can face up to it or not, the reality is that you have violated the ten commandments innumerable times in word, in thought, and in deed. You, like the rest of us, stand condemned by God’s law. If you say otherwise, you are only lying to yourself. Again, “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8).
Should you think that partial obedience to God’s law, or being mostly obedient to it, is good enough for us to be acceptable to God, consider that it took only one sin of Adam to bring ruin upon all of mankind and the penalty of death upon all men. Again “by one man sin entered into the world…” All the evil that we see in the world today and have seen throughout all of history sprang from that one evil act — the original sin of Adam. That is the hideous nature of sin. It thoroughly corrupts the entire soul of man.
The Bible says “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” (James 2:10) We certainly all have committed far, far more than one sin in our lives and so if Adam was condemned for only one sin, we cannot allow ourselves to be deceived into thinking that we have been good enough for God. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23).
The reality is that even those things we have done that appear to be good works, those things that you might have counted as “points” in your favor, are polluted by sin so that it is said ”…we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (Isaiah 64:6). Yes, “all our righteousnesses”, that is, all our so-called good works, “are as filthy rags.” Perhaps you think to yourself that you have not done as much evil as you might have done, or as others have done, but God requires you to be completely free of evil as He is completely free of evil: “Be ye holy; for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16) And none of us can meet that standard or even come close to it: “The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” (Psalm 14:2-3)
The truth about yourself which you must face before you can ever hope for reconciliation with God is that you are depraved at heart. Like every other descendant of Adam, despite what you may tell yourself when you look in the mirror, you are, in your natural state, a God-hater and a rebel against His law. The things that you have done which appear to be good works are not only tainted by sin, but they actually have nothing in them that is acceptable to God. On the contrary, everything about them is sinful. Why? Because none of it has been done in faith and “without faith it is impossible to please him” (Hebrews 11:6). Impossible! You may be one of the many who claim belief in a god but if that god is not the God who has revealed Himself to us through the Holy Scriptures, then you have only created an idol in your mind — you are worshiping a false god. And if you say you have not committed as much evil in your life as others, it is not because of your inherent goodness, because you have no inherent goodness. It is only the outward controls placed upon you by the restraining hand of God, including your physical constitution, your circumstances, social forces, and your own desire for self-preservation that keeps you from doing as much evil as you could do. It is essential that you understand the fact that, in your natural state, you have no goodness in you, and unless you face up to it, you cannot ever hope to receive any mercy from God. Perhaps nothing is more detestable to God than self-righteousness.
In the Bible, we are given a picture, by Jesus Christ Himself, of the self-righteous man who trusts in his own goodness to make him acceptable to God vs. the humbly repentant man who knows he is sinful and can only ask God for mercy. This is contained in Matthew 18:10-14.
“And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
The Pharisees were a sect of religiously observant Jews in the time of Jesus Christ. This one trusted in his own righteousness and good works, and because of it he was not justified, meaning that he was not accepted by God. Now you might say to yourself, “I’m not like that. I don’t proclaim my own righteousness and I don’t think I’m better than anyone else.” But if you are clinging on to a belief that you and your “good works” are going to be acceptable to God, then you are proclaiming your own righteousness and exalting yourself. You may not be doing it outwardly but you are doing it inwardly and God knows your heart. You are attributing falsehood to God because He has made it clear that we are not acceptable in and of ourselves, as I have shown above. The entire point of the parable above spoken by Jesus is to expose and condemn such self-righteous thinking.
I have said much about the evil of man but I have not yet spoken of justice. Justice is something that God demands. It is, in fact one of the attributes that reflects His character and being. Sin requires punishment because it is a despising of God and His laws, regardless of whether we recognize it to be so. If sin were not punished, then there would be no justice. Now it might seem, according to the judgment of our corrupt and self-serving minds, that the increasing feebleness of age and the eventual death of the body is itself penalty enough for sin, but there remains, after this death, the judgment of God: “…it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27) And all those found in the day of judgment having received no forgiveness of their sins, will receive what is described as “the second death” (Revelation 2:18). This is that state of being which the Bible calls hell. While this state is spoken of metaphorically, and so the reality of its experience is not fully communicated to us, the figurative terms that are used to describe hell do fully express the depth of its horrors. Hell is a place of punishment, it is an eternal and irrevocable state, and it is something that we all — without exception — deserve. Jesus Christ described the future state of the wicked in very frightening terms, calling it an “everlasting punishment,” and a place of “torment” (Luke 16:24, 25, 28) and “outer darkness,” (Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 25:30) most often associating it with fire, such as three times in Mark chapter 9, where He says “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched,” and in Matthew 13, verses 42 and 50 where He says, “And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth,” and again in Matthew 25:41, “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire…”
“We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10) and “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31) if we are going to be judged based on our own works.
“How can a loving God have a place of everlasting punishment?” is the objection of many. I answer, “How can a just God allow evil to go unpunished?” Think about all the evil that has been done in the world by many men who lived a comfortable life and died peacefully in bed. Where is justice if there is no punishment for them after this life? Of course, many of the same people who question the justice of eternal torment do not have a problem with believing that the so-called “worst men” are worthy of it but they cannot imagine themselves to be worthy of it. This is only because they have no true comprehension of the scope and magnitude of their sins and how vile they are in the sight of a holy God in whom there is nothing but virtue. They are ignorant of their true condition and the fact that what is said of mankind in general is true of themselves, such as Genesis 8:21 “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” or Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
Earlier in this message I quoted the Bible passage that says “without faith it is impossible to please Him” — “Him” meaning God. You might think to yourself, “It is true that I have had no faith, and maybe I cannot please God without it, but does this make me worthy of eternal punishment?” Yes, it certainly does, because the opposite of being faith-full is to be faith-less, and to be faithless is to be unbelieving and to be unbelieving is to call the truth a lie, and He who gave it a liar. It is to perpetually hold an accusation of evil against God. To go through life without faith in God is to be, in effect, spitting in the face of God continually or constantly having your fist raised in the air in defiance against Him. The Bible says of God that “He is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil” (Luke 6:35) and that “He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.” (Acts 17:25) To have lived a faithless life is to have spent your entire life receiving the enormous multitude of gifts that God has given you in this world — which is everything that you have, and which is all undeserved — and not only never being thankful for any of it, but all the while despising Him as you receive those gifts. Hell is a place of justice, and if you live a faithless life, then the justice you will receive is the eternal punishment that you deserve, which you can only avoid if you give up your life of rebellion against Him.
No one has difficulty believing that “God is love,” (1 John 4:8) and He certainly will provide a means of loving reconciliation for those who sincerely acknowledge their sinfulness and cry out to Him for mercy, but we must also understand that “God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29) to the wicked who refuse His gracious offers of redemption and instead obstinately continue in a life of self-willed rebellion. “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God” (Romans 11:22).
So then, what must you do to be reconciled to God and spared from this punishment that you deserve? You must become just in His sight. “How then can man be justified with God? or how can he be clean that is born of a woman? Behold even to the moon, and it shineth not; yea, the stars are not pure in His sight. How much less man, that is a worm? (Job 25:4-6) “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one.” (Job 14:4) Seeing that all are unclean in the sight of God and under the condemnation of God for sin, then it would appear that the situation is hopeless. And indeed it truly would be hopeless if we were left to ourselves. When the disciples of Christ asked Him “Who then can be saved?” He answered, “With men this is impossible” (Matthew 19:25-26) If we are to be saved from the wrath of God, then we must first give up all trust in ourselves and all hope of pleasing God with our own works. It is not possible for us to work our way into a state of reconciliation with God and save ourselves from punishment.
But we are left far from hopeless because immediately after telling His disciples that it was impossible for men to save themselves, Jesus said: “but with God all things are possible.” God has, freely of His grace, provided a way of reconciliation and forgiveness that we cannot provide for ourselves. Not that this is owed to any of us, of course, because then grace would not be grace. Grace is unmerited favor and we have no merit upon which to claim God’s favor. God would be perfectly just if He chose to condemn all of us to eternal punishment, for that is what we all deserve. And it is not offered to us by God because He needs us in any way. He is all-sufficient and complete in Himself: “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that He is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though He needed any thing, seeing He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.” (Acts 17:24-25)
In His loving mercy God has provided a remedy, and that remedy is contained within the person of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) As sin came into the world through one man (Adam), so righteousness also came into the world through one man (Jesus Christ) “Therefore as by the offence of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one, the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” (Romans 5:18-19)
But there is a vast and incomparable difference between the first Adam who was the beginning of the creation of humanity and “the last Adam”, Jesus Christ, who is the beginning of the restoration of humanity. “The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.” (1 Corinthians 15:45) “Quickening” means life-giving. While Adam was merely a created being who was given life, Christ is the One who gives and sustains life. It is He “which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world” (John 6:33), and He can give life because He is not merely a man but also the Creator Himself. “For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9). Jesus Christ is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) — not only “in the form of God” but “equal with God” (Philippians 2:6). Only He could say in referring to God “he that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9) and “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30).
And now let us return to you, my reader, and the problem of your sin. You are guilty of crimes against God and criminals have to be punished. There is a debt. Restitution has to be made. God cannot just overlook all of our sins or there would be no justice. His laws would be no laws at all, if there were no consequences for breaking them. But you cannot pay your debt because you have nothing with which to pay. You are an unclean thing. You are full of sin. Even if you could erase the record of your life up until now (which you cannot do) and promise to serve God with perfect obedience all the rest of your days, you would still continue to sin into the future because it is part of your nature. You have absolutely nothing to offer God and, in and of yourself, you never will.
You need redemption but it must come from outside of yourself and it must come from someone who is perfectly righteous. And there has been only One perfectly righteous man, Jesus Christ, who while in the flesh lived a perfect life in obedience to God’s law. If you could somehow have the penalty for your evil paid by Him, and His righteousness credited to your account, then you would be justified in the sight of God.
And this is exactly God’s plan of redemption.
It was ordained by God that Jesus Christ would come into the world specifically to be put to death as an atonement for those whom God has chosen out of the world. It is through the sacrificial death of Christ that “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7) It is Jesus who came into the world “to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26) As to righteousness, the Bible speaks of it being “imputed”. This means that the righteousness of Christ is credited to us as if we had earned it. We are told of “the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works” (Romans 4:6) Unlike any man who has ever lived, Jesus Christ lived a life of sinless perfection and it is through His perfect keeping of the law of God that we are justified in the sight of God, which we are unable to do for ourselves: “by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:39)
Therefore, it is both said that God “hath made Him [Jesus] to be sin for us, who knew no sin” and that we have been given “the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). That is, God has laid our sins upon Jesus Christ and through His death our penalty has been paid, and God has also raised Christ from the dead, and through His resurrection and obedience we have newness of life and justification with God. He was both “delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification” (Romans 4:25)
Jesus Christ, though He is a man, is also the Son of God so that He can say “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30). Only Christ being both fully God and fully man, could have the sufficiency in Himself to pay the death penalty for all His people. Again, “in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9). And only Christ could overcome death for His people by rising from the grave to newness of life, which He did of His own power: “I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” (John 10:17-18).
Think about what an expression of God’s love this is — that He would send His only beloved Son to die for us while we were still wicked rebels against Him! “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus Christ is the just One who paid the price for us, the unjust ones: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.” (1 Peter 3:18)
And although you cannot obtain this salvation by good works, as we have already seen, there does remain something that you must do to lay hold on this salvation and be justified with God: You must repent of your sins and believe “the gospel” — which means “the good message” of salvation. “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15).
To repent of your sins means not only sorrowing for your sins but also turning away from them. It involves a recognition that you have done wrong — you have rebelled against God, and you must forsake sin and embrace, in faith, the truth of God and the way of righteousness. “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19) “God now commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30) “Repent and turn to God, and do works meet for [appropriate for] repentance” (Acts 26:20). “Repentance is absolute and necessary if the sinner is to make peace with God, for repentance is throwing down the weapons of rebellion against Him.” (Arthur Pink) “True repentance includes a true sense of sin, a deep sorrow for sin, a hearty loathing of sin, and a holy shame and blushing for sin.” (Thomas Watson) At one point in the history of Israel, God foretold that He would bring His disobedient children to repentance and said, “Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations.” (Ezekiel 36:31) One of the most righteous men in the Bible, when he was confronted with the holiness of God and knowing his sins, said, “I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6) If you are truly broken-hearted over your sin and repentant for what you have done, that is a sign that God is working in you. “The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” (Psalm 34:18) “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7). Notice that the wicked is required to “forsake his way” and “return unto the LORD.” Repentant sinners must not only turn from their most grievous sins but completely abandon a self-pleasing way of life and devote themselves wholly to pleasing God.
It is by faith, which is a gift of God’s grace, that the truths of salvation can be embraced by you and credited to you. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9) Think not that you can be justified in the sight of God without faith: “without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
Notice the necessary condition of faith or belief in the following Bible passages:
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved. He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:16-18)
“Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” (Romans 3:24-26)
“I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25)
The simple answer to the question “What must I do to be saved from God’s wrath?” is this: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:9-10)
However, it is vital to understand true faith. Saving faith is not only an intellectual grasping and assent to the truth of the theological propositions contained in the Bible. There are more than a few biblical examples of men who understood the truths being preached to them and even expressed a form of belief, yet their lives were unchanged and they were not forgiven. A living faith not only accepts the great doctrines of Christianity as true, but embraces them with the heart and affections; and is thus the source of sincere obedience to the divine will, which will be exhibited in the life of the believer. That belief of the divine testimony which is genuine faith always has associated with it a deep sense of sin, a consenting will and a loving heart toward God, together with a reliance upon, a trusting in, and a resting in Christ. It is that state of mind in which a poor sinner, conscious of his sin, flees from his guilty self to Jesus Christ his Saviour, and rolls over the burden of all his sins upon Him, and which is manifested in a life of obedience, though never perfect, to the commandments of God. These attributes are what characterize the true faith by which we lay hold on the promises of God and receive the justification of Christ — a faith that justifies us not by its own merit, but by the merit of Him in whom we believe.
So there it is. The way of salvation is clear. It may be difficult to accept at first like a bitter medicine, but you must face up to the unpleasant truth about yourself and believe “the good message” of Jesus Christ, for He is the only way of life and the only way to God: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12)
As Jesus Christ said centuries ago to the people of His time, so now I say to you: Repent and believe the gospel! Do not obstinately set yourself against God. “To day if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts” (Hebrews 3:15). Now that you have been exposed to the light of God’s love do not reject it and choose to remain in the darkness of sin, and thereby bring further condemnation on yourself: “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). The Bible makes it clear that willful unbelief of God’s clear testimony is evil and will bring “the second death” (a metaphor for hell) upon those who persist in it: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Revelation 2:18). In fact, “he that believeth not is condemned already” (John 3:18) and even now “the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36).
This is the Great Matter. Do not delay dealing with it. “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). Do not put it aside and say to yourself, “We will hear thee again of this matter,” (Acts 17:32) as some did when it was preached to them by the disciples of Jesus. If you have made it this far, you have heard the substance of the gospel — more than enough to leave you without excuse if you do not submit yourself to Christ.
If you have doubts, perhaps that it is due to a lack of understanding. You will have many questions that require answers. Sometimes becoming a strong Christian requires years of study and this may be all new to you. But do not rationalize unbelief! Be on guard against it: “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” (Hebrews 3:12) If the things presented herein sound “unscientific” or “illogical” to you, that is only because spiritual things are above the level of our full understanding. They are not in contradiction to human reasoning but superior to it. God is far, far above our level of understanding so that we cannot know all His ways. “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33) Rather than doubt, we must humble ourselves before God and have faith in Him as a little child has faith in his father: “And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:2-3) “Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.” (Luke 18:17) Your faith may be weak in the beginning but God will cause it to grow stronger if you seek His knowledge with all your heart, for God “is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
If this message has touched you more than superficially and the truths communicated herein have truly pierced your heart in a life-changing way, you must understand that this is the Holy Spirit of God working in you. I spent a great deal of time earlier in this message speaking of the innate ungodliness and depravity of man, and it is important to understand that this must be changed and to know how it is changed. In our natural state, we are incapable of obeying God or even properly understanding and embracing the spiritual truths expressed in this article. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14) In fact, our minds are naturally in opposition to God and unable to submit to His law. “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” (Romans 8:7). Not only so, but we are said to be “alienated from the life of God” (Ephesians 4:18) and “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). We can no more live the Christian life by our own strength nor respond to the Christian message of our own volition, than a dead man in his grave. In fact, spiritually speaking, we are dead men.
What we need, then, is a rebirth — a resurrection from our spiritually dead state. We need to be regenerated, or as Jesus said, “born again.” “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) Regeneration is an inward cleansing and renewing by the Spirit of God. It is “the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5). Elsewhere it is spoken of as a passing from death to life (1 John 3:14); becoming a new creature in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17); a renewal of the mind (Romans 12:2); a resurrection from the dead (Ephesians 2:6); and being quickened (Ephesians 2:1,5).
This new birth is entirely a work of God. “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh” (Isaiah 55:7). God has made us alive when we were spiritually dead. “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) It is important for you to understand the fact that this is a monergistic act, meaning that there is only One agent working to change you, which is God, rather than being a synergistic act, where you and God cooperate in your change. We must give glory to God alone for our salvation. It is God who grants you repentance from your sinful way of life (Acts 11:18), it is God who opens your heart to receive the truth (Acts 16:14) and it is He that gives you the gift of faith by which you are saved (Ephesians 2:8). This is all part of being born again and it is all entirely a work of God. When we were dead in sins and completely helpless to save ourselves, God gave us life, and life eternal. (Ephesians 2:5) The Christian life is a supernatural work of God and we are incapable of doing anything good apart from Him. “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
God also causes us to stand fast in faith until the end of our lives. Those who are truly regenerated by the Holy Spirit “are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.” (1 Peter 1:5) Christ said, “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:28). I spoke before about everlasting punishment for the wicked, but for the righteous, those who are born again and therefore will persevere in faith, the end result is everlasting life. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life” (John 6:47). The Bible speaks of the afterlife mostly in metaphorical terms, so the state of perfection and paradise that is called heaven is not described literally, just as the state of ruin and punishment that is called hell is not described literally. However, we do know that the former is “an exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17), “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled” (1 Peter 1:4), a deliverance from all evils and an exemption from all sufferings forever (Revelation 7:16-17, 21:4), an abolition of physical degeneration and death (Luke 20:36, 1 Corinthians 15:52-55), a permanent and impassable segregation from the society of the wicked (Matthew 25:46, Luke 16:26), a place where “the righteous shine forth as the sun” (Matthew 13:43) and where there is bliss without termination — the “fulness of joy” forever (Psalm 16:11; 1 John 3:2, Jude 24).
Meditation upon these truths should make us “rejoice with joy unspeakable” (1 Peter 1:8) and freely and abundantly pour out our thanksgiving to God “O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.” (Psalm 106:1), because the fullness of this gift is beyond the expressible, “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15).
The Bible is a very long and profound collection of God’s revelation through His prophets and apostles, and so there is much more that could be said. What is communicated in this article could only be called “the beginning of wisdom.” But if Christian doctrine is new to you, there is much to consider even in this short paper. And so, perhaps it is best to end here on an encouraging note with just a few of the many promises of God to the believer, those who trust in Him. The following are some of the words of Jesus Christ:
“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)
“Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:14)
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” (John 5:24)
“I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)
“I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28)
An audio version of this message can be found at the following linked page:
The Great Matter: A Presentation of the Foundational Truths of Christianity