The challenge of sin and how one may obtain forgiveness overshadows nearly every other theme in our lives. While some have learned to ignore it, guilt eats many from the inside out. More than any other motivating factor, most people seek out religion to answer the question of guilt as we have all committed wrongs that have pained others. More seriously, we have offended our Holy creator, who sets the standard of holiness.
When you compare many of the world’s religions side by side, you can find any number of answers to this challenge. Buddhism asks you to empty yourself of all desire and negativity to reach nirvana. Eastern philosophy asks you to do enough good deeds to outweigh the bad. Catholicism and Mormonism churches theoretically hold the keys to heaven. To enter, you will need to join and follow various rules and sacramental ordnances . I have noticed that nearly religions have you do a multitude of things to either earn or qualify for forgiveness needed for salvation.
On the surface, this almost seems logical. After all, if one presumes that we create some sort of spiritually based debt when we commit an act of iniquity, than certainly enough selfless or holy acts that benefits mankind could, theoretically, pay it back. As children, we would try to get away from punishment by promising better behavior in the future.
Yet, if we ponder how justice works, we see the shortcoming in this logic. When we commit a civil offense, we cannot trade in our good actions, past or future, to get away from the penalty. Recently, I police officer gave me a ticket for a traffic violation. Despite my nearly flawless driving record through two decades, and promise to learn from my error, the officer still issued the citation. An appeal to the judge to waive the requisite penalty based on future promise would fall on deaf ears. I broke the law, and I must pay the penalty.
The Bible makes it clear that the wages of sin are death, not promised (or actualized) good behavior. Once we’ve committed even one selfish act, we bring ourselves under the terrible penalty of sin. And, most of us have committed not one, but a multitude of sin. Interestingly enough, when asked, most reply that they believe they are ‘good’ people…as if we’ll all be graded on a curve. Unfortunately, the holiness of God demands that He judge us based on His Holy scale, not our understanding of it.
Back to the topic of hand, as I studied world faiths, I saw one, clear contrast as I read the Bible. John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” In Acts 16 a keeper of the prison “29 …called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 And he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ 31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Christianity provides the only method of salvation whereby God has already done all of the work. In just about every other faith, you have to jump through hoops, prove yourself worthy, and hope it is enough. The Bible, on the other hand, says “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph 2.8-9) Jesus paid the price, in full, on the cross.
Occasionally, some friends of different faiths will point out that such a message implies that the sinner may continue to go on sinning. In fact, he probably will knowing that he’s forgiven of all sin, past, present and future. To make such a statement shows an ignorance of the New Testament message. When one puts their faith in God, Jesus says they become ‘born again.’ God takes the old nature of that sinner, and replaces it with a new heart. Where, before, the sinner cared mostly to satisfy his own desires (selfishness), he finds he loves his God and fellow man more. The Bible states that God grants repentance, or a desire to turn away from sin, as well. The sinner no longer finds sin captivating or compelling. While he or she may still struggle and fall from time to time, the characteristics of the Christian life, over time, will include a surrendering of their sinful way to the Lord, and a new heart filled with love for God and fellow man.
The Bible goes so far to state that a life void of love and holiness characterizes a dead faith (and, therefore, not a saving faith). James says, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” A child born of parents will have the characteristics of both. If he does not have any, people suspect that he is born of different parents. This applies to spiritual birth, as well. If one claims to have been re-born by the spirit of God, but lives like the devil, one would logically question if that person ever game to a saving faith in Christ. For the Bible states that “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
Are you born again? Do you have heart that truly desires the Holiness of God? Do you delight in His ways?