Point of Reference
by Fred Price
Notorious English atheist Richard Dawkins has repeatedly questioned Christianity's positive impact on the world, referring to our beliefs as wishful thinking and superstition at best and a means of manipulating the gullible masses at worst. He is particularly put off by the "blood, blood, blood" of Judaism and Christianity, questioning the prominent place sacrifice has in both faith systems.
Many people, churched and unchurched alike, prefer to restrict their message exclusively to God's love, grace and mercy. I mean – come on now – who are we to tell anybody else they're a sinner or suggest they might not make it to heaven if they don't change their ways? Like evangelist Rob Bell1, they question the very existence of hell, preferring to emphasize the love expressed by Jesus on the cross, and proclaiming a universal salvation; whether we acknowledge it or not. But doesn't it seem just a bit extreme to suffer and die the way Christ did if sin were really that inconsequential and redemption that easily achieved?
Scripture clearly states that, "...all have sinned and fall short of the gory of God,..." Romans 3:23 Anyone claiming otherwise, "...mak(ing) Him (God) out to be a liar and his word (having) no place in (their) lives." 1 John 1:10 The redemption story having no meaning for those who have no sense of guilt and therefore, perceive no need of forgiveness. But some of us aren't as "bad" as others, what do we really have to feel guilty about? James reminding us that, "...whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking it all." James 2:10 In God's eyes, sin is sin; any deviation from his will being rebellion against him. Involvement in "little sins" leading to the acceptance of sin in general and a deeper participation by those who try to categorize some sin as "really bad" but other sin as having no real consequence. Scripture boldly asserting that, "...you may be sure that your sin will find you out." Numbers 32:23 Paul defining sin as doing anything that, "...does not come from faith..." and faithfulness. Romans 14:23 John equating "lawlessness" and "wrong doing" as anything done contrary to God's will. ( 1 John 3:4 & 5:17)
The question is: Is God's love capable of saving all sinners or not? The answer being: Sure it is, if we respond to it appropriately. Which starts with the realization that we have all sinned and have no way of saving ourselves. That conviction of sin compelling us to confess it in sorrow and strengthening our resolve to live as God dictates. ( John 16:8) Scripture promising that he is then, "...faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9 Confession being key in that it allows – or forces – us to confront our shortcomings while developing dependence on Him.
Jesus came to, "...seek and to save,..." the lost. Luke 19:10 To"...save sinners..." 1 Timothy 1:15 He died to save all men, but in truth, not all men are saved. As with those who challenged Jesus' right to question their heart's intent, needing to be convinced of their illness before he could prescribe a cure. ( Matthew 9:12) Proving the point that no one is excluded from the opportunity for salvation, grace covering all sin for all people; but not automatically, with no acknowledgement or involvement on our part. We must respond to God's offer of mercy and redemption by acknowledging there is a God who sets the rules; which we haven't and can't fully keep. Paul summing up his ministry with, "I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds." Acts 26:20 (See also Matthew 7:15-20 & John 15:1,2to see the importance Jesus placed on "fruitfulness" as well.)
Everyone readily confesses to needing understanding and love, questioning their need of salvation from sin – not so much. Everyone wants to go heaven, but question the reality of hell and anyone's right to consign them to it as a result of their lack of commitment. That's why we rephrase any mention of sin as a mistake, imperfection, or a poor choice. But by doing so we remove the urgency for repentance, salvation and redemption; because if there is no sin, then there can be no punishment for sin. (See Hebrews 12:5-11, Revelation 3:19 & 1 Corinthians 11:32 to see God's take on discipline, sometimes expressed as a code of behavior and other times as punishment; but all because of love.) If everyone is ultimately saved, even when they choose an alternate route to achieve it, by an all loving – which he is, all forgiving – which he is not, God; then why bother with church, why struggle to change, why not indulge myself and still be saved?
The truth is, scripture emphasizes the reality of sin even as it provides for its' eradication. Jesus first recorded message being, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." Matthew 4:1 Paul reminding us that, "In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent." Acts 17:30 Peter assuring us that any "delay" in Christ's return is a result of his, "...not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." 2 Peter 3:9 (See also 2 Corinthians 7:10)
God's love did indeed compel him to respond to our need and he expressed that love by removing our debt of sin and guilt through the blood of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Check back next week for more on the fundamental importance of the cross in our gospel.
1Rob Bell is pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan with an attendance of 7,000. His publication, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived , handles the scriptural references alluding to Hell and judgment as allegorical and an attempt to force people to respond as "the church" dictates.
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Fred Price - married (49 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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