Basics of Christianity: #5 – Despair to Hope

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I said the good news is coming; first the bad news. The Bible is clear; we are all in a desperate situation. This may be hard to take and you won’t be the first to feel the weight of it, but take heart, the bad news is followed by incredible news.

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Can’t you feel it?  Many of us talk a good game when we are out in the world, but when we are alone with our thoughts–that is when it is hard to push away the feeling that we are not who we were meant to be.  Whether we believe in God or not, the feeling is there.  Our brains may go into overdrive trying to justify our behavior, and we may think we are okay, but we don’t feel like we are okay.  We try to bury that nagging feeling as deep as we can, but every now and then it returns–just as strong as ever.

There is right and wrong.  Who says?  You do, don’t you remember?  Remember that time you did what you did, said what you said, and thought what you thought–and then you heard a voice?  I would say that it was an accusing voice but that’s not right, is it?  It was a convicting voice.  Accusations were unnecessary, pleading innocent was pointless, for the voice came from a firsthand witness–it came from you.  Your brain did its best to defend you, but you were convicted by your own heart.

We do not need the laws of our society to tell us what is right and what is wrong.  We don’t need our parents, or teachers, or pastors.  Romans 2 says that God’s Law, meaning his idea of right and wrong, is written on each of our hearts.  We can swear up and down that we don’t know that something we did or said was wrong.  We may even start to believe it in our heads, but our hearts will not be deceived.  No matter how fervently we deny our wrongdoings, no matter how deep we bury the feelings of shame, they eventually float to the surface.  In our most solemn moments, our consciences bring back the memories of our failings.

Why should these old failings matter?  Nobody is perfect, so why should our own imperfection haunt us?  No one is keeping score, right?  Right?

The word the Bible uses is “sin”, which means anything we do, say, or even think that doesn’t line up with what God says is right and true.  The Bible is not wishy-washy about it either.  The standards couldn’t be higher.  God does not grade us on a curve.  Our goodness is not measured against other humans, but against God himself, and we all fall short.  Yes, all of us.

Perhaps sin is easier to understand next to its opposite–Holiness.  It is not an easy word for humans to comprehend completely.  We don’t have many examples.  If the Bible is to be believed, God is completely Holy and Good, utterly free of all evil.  Evil of any kind does not belong in his presence.  Next to Him, any sin stands out in stark contrast, any ugly thought, any harsh word, any selfish action.

That word sounds harsh, doesn’t it?  Evil.  It feels like it should only apply to mass murderers, or child molesters, but Jesus makes it clear in his “Sermon on the Mount” that everyone who stews in anger is as guilty as the one who gives into that anger and kills another.  Everyone who is jealous of what another man has is as guilty as the one who steals it from him.  Everyone who lusts after another man’s wife is as guilty as the one who has sex with her.

This doesn’t sound right!  My anger, which every human has felt, puts me in the same boat as a murderer?  My jealousy makes me as guilty as a thief.  That’s crazy, unless… I really see God as COMPLETELY HOLY.  When I see God as that, my minor anger, slight jealousy, and tiny bit of lust looks pretty ugly.

To paraphrase Max Lucado:  Suppose God simplified matters; instead of expecting good behavior to qualify for Heaven, he only expects us to jump high enough to touch the moon.  Some of us can get a couple feet off the ground, others a couple feet higher.  Some can’t get off the ground at all.  Should we who jump four feet feel better than those who jump one inch? We still missed by 280,000 miles.

We are so used to excusing the “little things” in ourselves, because we see that little bit of anger, jealousy, unkindness, or unforgiveness all the time, in ourselves, and others.  What if, though, it isn’t about the degree of sin, but the presence of it?  Do you think The Completely Holy God thinks it’s wrong of me to have sex with my friend’s wife but he doesn’t mind if I think about it all the time?

There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.  All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.  Romans 3:10-12

We all, every one of us, stand together, convicted of our sin.  We can deny it all we want, to each other, but when we stand before God, there will be no denials, no lies, no pleas of ignorance.  Our sin will be right there in front of us, plain as day.  We have dishonored God by dishonoring ourselves and others and justice must be served.

For many, this confirms what you always thought, the Bible is all about judgement.  If we are all sinners and God is going to judge us no matter what we try to do now, then why even bother with it?  What’s the point?  Right?  We are damned if we do, and damned if we don’t.

This is a gigantic misconception.  Yes, there is much talk of judgement and wrath in the Bible, but that is not its overall story.  Don’t miss this, as so many people tend to do;  The Bible is not about judgement,  it is about God wanting to free us from judgement. 

The Bible is a love story.

Stay tuned.  The sun is starting to peak from behind the clouds.  A.J.

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