This article is by Focus on the Family
IT WASN’T MEANT TO BE THIS WAY
Our world is broken. We see evidence of this around us every day, in our communities, in the news headlines, and in our own hearts. As human beings, our natural inclination is toward selfishness. Sometimes it’s easy for us to point out the selfishness we see in others. But if we’re honest, we can also see it in ourselves. We hurt others and we reject God in our quest for self-sufficiency.
It wasn’t meant to be this way. Wars, addictions, poverty, abuse,
loneliness, greed, suffering . . . these painful circumstances are symptoms of a deeper problem plaguing each human heart. Fundamentally, every person is estranged from the God of the universe, a loving Creator who desires to have an intimate relationship with each one of us. In those quiet moments, we might feel the emptiness in our hearts and the indescribable longing to be truly loved and truly known. We often try to fill this void with all kinds of behaviors and relationships. Some are healthy and some are harmful. But none of them can fully and truly fill the empty space.
BUT THERE IS HOPE FOR HUMANITY. THERE IS HOPE FOR YOU. . . .
The history of humanity’s isolation from God, as well as the solution to the problem, can be found in the pages of the Bible. Far and away the bestselling book of all time, the Bible contains a mixture of history, poetry, allegory, and other types of literature. Theologians and scholars will tell you that the Bible represents the words of God Himself, as com- municated to human writers in the ancient world—yet it remains time- less and relevant to us today. It is a trustworthy and reliable docu- ment that not only outlines the story of humankind’s alienation from God, but also outlines His plan for bringing humans back into an intimate relationship with their Creator and Heavenly Father— TRULY, COMING HOME.
The Bible tells us that at the beginning of recorded history, humans enjoyed a perfect, intimate relationship with God, the Creator of the universe who is perfectly just, loving, and holy. This is commonly known as the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. But that beautiful relationship was broken when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God. This act of rebellion was called sin. Adam and Eve’s sin not only fractured their own relationship with their loving Creator, it also ensured that all human beings, from that point forward, would be impacted by the stain of sin. Today, we can see proof of this all around us. All the pain we see in the world, all the loneliness and isolation, all the injustice, is ultimately tied to the sin and rebellion that exist within every human heart. Even things like disease and natural disasters, which lie beyond the scope of human choice, are evidence that our world is desperately disordered.The Bible says, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22).
Why does our sin separate us from God? Because He is perfect and blameless. The Bible says, “His work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4).
No matter how humble, respectable, and “good” we might think we are, we cannot have an intimate relationship with God on our own because His standard is perfection.
The Bible tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Not only that, it tells us that our propensity for sin and rebellion can only lead to one end—death. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), and that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men” (Romans 5:12). “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” (1 John 1:8).
GOD’S BEAUTIFUL SOLUTION
These are troubling words, but death is not the end of the story! Yes, God is perfect, holy, and just and must punish sin. But that same God is also loving and merciful. The Bible de- scribes Him as “the Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in stead- fast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7).
Because of His love and mercy, God sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to pay the penalty for our sin and rebellion.
If you’ve heard the Christmas story, you know how that plan was first set in motion. Jesus became a human being, just like us. Although He was God in the flesh, Jesus humbled Himself to the point of being born in a filthy stable in Israel more than 2,000 years ago.
Throughout His time on earth, Jesus did what none of us could do: He lived a holy and perfect life. Love, forgiveness, mercy, justice, patience—all the things that we, as humans, try so hard to live out but so often fail—Jesus demonstrated all of them perfectly. The Bible tells us that “He committed no sin, nor was deceit found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22), and “that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5).
But how did Christ take our sins away?
The familiar story of Easter explains it. Jesus was crucified and died on a cross. But three days later, He emerged from the grave, alive again! Because He was blameless, He was able to offer Himself as a perfect sacrifice for our sins, and God raised Him from the dead on the third day.
In other words, Jesus took the punishment that each of us deserved.
Although He was innocent, He subjected Himself to the horror of a humiliating and agonizing death in order to pay the price for our rebel- lion. The Bible says, “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).
God’s holiness and justice were demonstrated when Jesus died on the Cross and paid the price for our sins.
But God’s mercy and love were demonstrated when Jesus willingly took the punishment each of us deserved and died in our place.
The Bible says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8), and that Jesus “bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
Christ’s resurrection broke the power of sin and death and made it possible for humans to once again have an intimate relation- ship with God, just as they once had in the Garden of Eden. So, while the Bible rightly warns that “the wages of sin is death,” it also gives us the wonderful news: “But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
This is good news indeed!
It is summed up most efficiently in a Bible verse that is recognized by many people, even those who aren’t familiar with the Bible. You may have seen it on signs, church buildings, and even posters at football games and other sporting events:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
RECEIVING GOD’S GIFT
A personal relationship with God and the promise of eternal life with Him are a precious gift. There is nothing you can do to earn it. But you do need to receive that gift.
In other words, in order to have peace with God, you don’t have to “do” anything, because Christ has already lived a perfect life and paid the price for your sins. You can’t earn your way to God on your own. But you do need to believe that what the Bible says about your own sinfulness and Jesus’ perfect holiness is true.
THIS INVOLVES FOUR SIMPLE STEPS:
If you will take those four steps, you will experience the presence of Christ in your heart and life. You will become a child of God and a member of His spiritual family. The Bible says that when God’s Spirit fills you, your old self is replaced with something new: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18).
THE BIBLE SPELLS THIS OUT REPEATEDLY:
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).
“To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
A CHILD OF GOD
If you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ, you have the assurance that your sins are forgiven. You are His child, and you can rest knowing that He will be with you every moment of your life and every step of your journey.
He will never leave you or forsake you. Again, the Bible offers numerous assurances that those who place their faith in Christ have the promise of His presence with them in this life, and eternity with Him in the life to come.
Jesus Himself said:
“Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24).
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29).
And other biblical writers share similar encouragement that those who place their faith in Christ are brought into a personal relationship with a loving God:
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
“Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).
EMBRACING NEW LIFE
Does being a Christian mean you won’t ever sin again? No. Don’t be surprised when you continue to struggle with various sins and temptations. Everyone struggles! Here’s how the apostle Paul, who wrote many of the books in the Bible, explains his own battle with sin and temptation:
“I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:18-20; 24-25).
Following Jesus means living with the assurance that you have a personal relationship with God and trusting to guide you in your thoughts, actions, and decisions.
It also means embracing the knowledge that all of your sins, past and future, are forgiven.
The last part of those verses is critical! It means that through prayer, through reading the Bible and gathering with other Christ-followers who are also endeavoring to love and serve Him, and most importantly, through the power of God’s Holy Spirit, you have the ability to make significant progress in your battle against sin, addiction, bad habits, and other challenges. Why? Because God has promised to be with you in that struggle. The apostle Paul puts it this way: “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
With that in mind, and as you begin your new life as a child of God, you might find it helpful to distinguish between what Christianity is and what it isn’t. Here are some things to consider:
A GUARANTEE OF HEALTH AND WEALTH
The Bible tells us that God wants to bless us: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). However, this doesn’t mean that following Him is a means of gaining wealth and material possessions. God loves us and provides for our needs, but sometimes His greatest blessings are a sense of peace and security even amid difficult circumstances.
RULES AND REGULATIONS
The Bible contains many guidelines and commands from God for holy living. However, as we’ve already established, no one has the ability to follow these guidelines perfectly. If that were possible, Christ would not have needed to die on the Cross for us. People who place their faith in Jesus are empowered by God’s Spirit to desire His will and, through prayer and other spiritual disciplines, to become more like Him as they grow. Even so, our “good works” are never the basis upon which God accepts us. He accepts us because of what Jesus accomplished for us with His perfect sacrifice for our sins.
FREEDOM FROM PROBLEMS
Being a follower of Christ does not make us immune to life’s trials and challenges. In fact, Jesus tells us, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Becoming a follower of Christ is first and foremost about a personal relationship between you and the One who created you and loves you infinitely. When trials come, you can find comfort in this: “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).
As a follower of Jesus, it will be important for you to find a church-based community of other Christ-followers who can encourage you and walk with you through life’s joys and challenges. “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
PEACE, STABILITY, AND HOPE
Although followers of Christ are not immune to life’s trials and temptations, they have a loving Heavenly Father who will walk with them amid the storms. “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). In Jesus, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
YOU ARE LOVED
As you embrace your new life as a follower of Jesus Christ, take heart in the knowledge that God is with you and will never leave you. He’s as close as your very breath, so talk to Him in prayer throughout the day, asking Him to give you guidance and strength. Read the Bible and find a Bible-centered church community to help you understand and apply it in your everyday life.
Above all, know that God loves you more deeply than you can imagine. One Christian author calls this God’s “never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always-and-forever love.”*
May that love give you hope, encouragement and strength for the journey—the journey of coming home!