The Great Matter
by Stuart DiNenno
What follows is a very condensed version of the biblical testimony regarding the condition of man and his relationship with God. Consider it carefully. There is no more important matter in all of life. Great grief and sorrow will surely follow if these things are not taken to heart and embraced.
“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 not just evil in a general sense but their own evil, because it was through their own act of disobedience that evil entered into 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. That is, where 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.
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 inherited nature 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).
The entire Bible clearly demonstrates the fact that man is incapable of obedience. 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 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 favour 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: “Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness’ sake, O LORD.” (Psalm 25:7)
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)
The Ten Commandments:
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 read through the list above, you must be honest with yourself: You have broken these laws. You are guilty of disobedience to God.
Regarding the first four laws which express man’s duty to God: If you have not acknowledged and obeyed God before now, then you have not kept these laws, because to have no other gods means that it is your duty to serve the only true God. Even if you have never worshiped a false god, then you have only worshiped yourself — your god is your belly, as the Bible puts it. Your own selfish will has been your god, your graven image to which you bow down. And so you cannot possibly have kept these four commandments.
Regarding the last six laws which express man’s duty to his fellow man: If you claim to have never broken any of these laws you are only lying to yourself. Who among us has never been disobedient to his parents, or never told a lie, or never coveted what another man possesses? And even if you’ve never killed, or stolen, or committed adultery in deed, you’ve done these things in thought and that alone is enough to condemn you according to the testimony of God in the Holy Scriptures. “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15) and “whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).
And lest 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 sprung 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 good works we have done, those things we might count as “points” in our 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 rightessnesses are as filthy rags”! It may be true that you have not done as much evil as you might have done, or as others have done, but God requires us 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: “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)
And although 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, there is still, 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 no covering for their sin will receive what is described as “the second death” (Revelation 2:18). This is the state of being that the Bible calls hell. While this state is spoken of metaphorically, and so the reality of it is not fully communicated to us, the figurative terms that are used to describe hell do fully express the reality 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. Consider: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (Corinthians 5:10a) and “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31)
So then, what must we do to be spared from this punishment and to have peace with God? We need to know how to 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 you are to be saved from the wrath of God, then you must first give up all trust in ourselves and all hope of pleasing God with our own works. It is not possible for you to work our way into a state of reconciliation with God and save yourself 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 big difference between the first Adam who was the beginning of 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 given life, Christ is the giver of 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 was not merely a man but also the Creator Himself! “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9). In the flesh He was “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) — not only “in the form of God” but “equal with God” (Philippians 2:6).
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 all the rest of your days, you would still continue to sin into the future because it’s part of your nature. You have absolutely nothing to offer God and you never will have anything to offer.
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 your evil and the death penalty for it assumed by Him, and His righteousness credited to your account, then you could be justified in the sight of God.
And this is exactly God’s plan of redemption.
It was ordained by God that Jesus Christ come into the world specifically to be put to death to make an atonement for those 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 was 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 it we had earned it. We are told of “the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works” (Romans 4:6) And it was through Christ’s perfect keeping of the law that we are justified in the sight of God, though we could not keep the law summarized in the Ten Commandments: “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 also 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 was a man, He was also the Son of God so that He could 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 our sins and believe the gospel — the good news 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 to turn away from them. It involves a recognition that you have done wrong — that you have rebelled against God, and that 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).
And it is by faith, which is a gift of God’s grace [unmerited favor], that the truths of salvation can be apprehended 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)
And 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)
And so as the disciples of Jesus Christ said centuries ago to the people of their time, so say we now: “we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20) Do not obstinately set yourself against Him! “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)
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 it will grow with time and effort for God “is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.” (Heb. 11:6)
The Bible is a very long and profound collection of God’s revelation through His prophets and disciples, and so there is much more that could be said. What is communicated in this document 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 in 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)