Everyone can have new life now.

TRAIN ILLUSTRATION

to explain spiritual principles

The train is stopped at the station. You look out the window and see the signs. Youʼre on Track 1. You donʼt like the direction youʼre headed!

You get out of your seat fast, before the train pulls out. You cross the platform to Track 2. You present your free ticket and board the other train.

Your transfer was simple and easy… but you had to make a decision and make a move to get headed toward the right destination.

This illustrates how a person becomes a Christian.

Theological summary:

Godʼs ʻelectʼ (people chosen for heaven) are those who in ʻfaithʼ(trusting the signs) move from Track 1 to Track 2. God ʻpredestinedʼ (determined in advance) that they (group who choose Track 2) will go to heaven. He ʻforeknewʼ who (specific individuals) would choose Track 2, but his infinite wisdom did not affect anyoneʼs ʻfree willʼ (personal choice). With ʻgraceʼ (unmerited favor) he ʻjustifiedʼ (paid penalty for sin) and ʻglorifiedʼ (admitted to heaven) everyone on Track 2.

See next page for further explanation of these theological terms.

TRAIN ILLUSTRATES KEY

THEOLOGICAL PRINCIPLES

Using analogies from the train illustration on the preceding page, here are technical words used by theologians to express important spiritual concepts:

ORIGINAL SIN: WEʼRE BORN INTO SIN
Everyone is born with a sinful nature. Everyone comes into the world on the track headed for hell and stays on it except for those who choose of their own free will to get off and change trains at the station.

PREDESTINATION: GOD HAS LAID THE TRACKS
Some people say there is really nothing we can do about our destiny… that God has determined it in advance (predestination). True, he has laid the tracks and our options are limited. But we have a choice of either of two tracks. He has predestined that all who stay on Track 1 will go to hell, and all who change to Track 2 will go to heaven. There are no other tracks, and no other destinations.

FREE WILL: WE CHOOSE OUR DESTINATION

God has predestined the routes, but we choose (free will) the track. Most people are too pre- occupied to look out the window and heed the signs. To change, we simply get off the train on Track 1 and walk across the platform to the waiting train on Track 2… and it’s a better train with softer seats and nicer passengers.

FAITH: WE TRUST THE SIGNS

We believe that the signs at the station (Bible, testimony of Christians, urging of the Holy Spirit) accurately identify the tracks and directions.

ELECTION: GOD CHOOSES SOME FOR HEAVEN

God’s plan is that everyone on Track 2 goes to heaven. He has chosen (election) what group of people will go to heaven, but each individual chooses (free will) whether or not he wants to be a part of that group.

FOREKNOWLEDGE: GOD KNOWS IN ADVANCE

God, in his infinite wisdom, knows in advance (foreknowledge) what track each of us will choose. He knows us that well! But his foreknowledge does not affect our free will in making our own individual choice.

JUSTIFICATION: JESUS PAID THE PRICE

By what right (justification) can someone simply get off the train headed for hell and get on the train headed for heaven? Because Jesus Christ offers a fully paid ticket, purchased by his death on the cross.

GRACE: WE DONʼT DESERVE IT

We didn’t have to pay for the Track 2 ticket with our own money or works. It was a free gift from God, more than we deserve.

GLORIFICATION: WEʼRE ADMITTED TO HEAVEN

Everyone on Track 2 goes to heaven. Each train runs in one direction only. It’s a one-way trip for everyone, for eternity. None of the passengers on Track 1 – not even the rich and famous – can come back to the station and change to Track 2 when they discover they’ve made a mistake. Once a train pulls away from the station (death), it’s too late to change.

Hereʼs a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject.

Romans 5:12-19, Romans 7:14-20
We are born with a sin nature

Romans 8:29-30
God knows in advance how every person will respond; he predestines those who respond positively to his call and justifies and glorifies them

Ephesians 1:11-14
Those who believe Godʼs words are chosen and predestined for heaven

Romans 3:24-28
We are justified by Godʼs grace and our faith, not by good things we do

Ephesians 2:8
We are saved (from going to hell) by grace through faith because of the free gift (ticket to heaven) from God

Romans 5:18-21
Adam corrupted human nature but Christ justifies us through grace and gives us eternal life.

For help, see Topic 29.

God’s offer of new life requires only confession and a desire to turn from sin.

EVEN GOOD PEOPLE ARE SINNERS

Sin is not a thing. It’s a condition, a privation of something good.

To ask about the origin of sin is like asking about the origin of darkness or the origin of decay. Just as darkness is the absence of light, and decay is the absence of health, sin is the absence of goodness and respect (especially to God). Sin, like darkness and decay, is found in varying degrees.

Some people live very good lives with relatively little sin, and some live wretched lives with considerable sin. But, regardless of degree, the fact is that every person is a sinner in the sight of God.

Reading the Bible will reveal sin and intensify a person’s conscience, but even without the Bible, everyone has an innate sense of right and wrong. To violate our God-given conscience is to sin (see Discoveries 5 and 6). We sin by doing what we know we should not do and by not doing what we know we should do.

It’s useless to measure degrees of sin because the Bible says: (a) Any unpardoned sin, however small the sin, is enough to keep a person out of heaven. (b) Accepting God’s offer gives a person complete pardon of all sin, however large the sin. Therefore, the issue is not the degree of our sin but rather the receiving of God’s pardon.

BIBLE GIVES PRINCIPLES BUT DOESNʼT DEFINE EVERY SIN

Sin is essentially a relationship matter. It’s only incidentally a performance matter. God cares more about our heart than our deeds.

The Bible doesn’t list and categorize every sin, but it gives us principles and real-life examples of the kind of relationship we should have with God and with other people. Here are the principles for a model relationship:

TEN COMMANDMENTS: Listed in Discovery 38. (God to Moses, Exodus 20:3-17)

TWO GREATEST COMMANDMENTS: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Jesus, Matthew 22:37-39)

GOLDEN RULE: ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you.’ (Jesus, Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31)

Sin is violation of these principles. Obviously, everyone is a sinner. By these standards, we can understand why the Bible says that ‘all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.’ Consequently, everyone is bound for hell unless he receives a pardon, and God says he gives a pardon in only one way: upon confession of sin and acceptance of Jesus Christ as personal savior.

EVERYONE MUST CONFESS AND REPENT PERSONALLY

To get the benefits of God’s offer (see Topic 56), and to establish a relationship with him, the Bible says we must recognize our sinful condition and confess and repent to him – personally!

A person doesn’t have to name every sin but he must at least acknowledge his general sin nature, his disgust with it and his desire to change.

A prayer by a clergyman during a church service or mass imploring God to forgive the sins of the congregation is a good gesture of corporate contrition, but it’s not sufficient to forgive anyone’s sin unless the individual also prays it for himself – personally!

With God, confession and repentance is not a mechanical or corporate matter. It’s a personal matter, from the heart, direct with God. No one can do it for another.

REPENTANCE IS SINCERE SORROW FOR PAST SIN

Repentance means seeing our sin from God’s perspective and being sincerely sorry for it.

Our natural inclination is to justify sin and to minimize and make excuse for it. But in repentance we humble ourselves before God and repudiate our sin.

The keen awareness of the holiness of God and the indignity of our sin causes sorrow, but the presence or absence of tears does not measure genuineness of repentance.

REPENTANCE IS ESSENTIAL CONDITION OF GODʼS OFFER

Many people don’t take God’s offer seriously because it seems too simple to be believable. Human experience teaches us to be suspicious when something of great value is offered free of charge. Most thinking people usually dismiss such offers as bogus or ask, What’s the catch?

In a way, there is a catch to God’s offer: He will not give us new life unless we confess our sins and sincerely desire to turn from them.

This change of mind and intention away from sin and toward God is called repentance. It’s only through repentance that we can receive God’s forgiveness. We must sincerely desire to live a new and better kind of life.

SUPERFICIAL REPENTANCE DOESNʼT FOOL GOD

There must be genuine repentance, otherwise God won’t answer a person’s prayer for forgiveness. A person can’t fool God into thinking he’s sorry for his sins if he’s not truly sorry or doesn’t want to discontinue them.

 

Accounting illustration:

God credits our account

Some people think God has a big ledger sheet and records all of our good deeds and all of our bad deeds and, at the end of our life, ʻbalancesʼ our account like an accountant: if thereʼs more good than bad, we go to heaven; if thereʼs more bad than good, we go to hell. But thatʼs not what the Bible says!

Instead, the Bible says that if we ask him, God will ʻcreditʼ our account with Jesus Christʼs righteousness. Only a perfect life (Jesus) has enough merit to balance against all our sins. Without Jesusʼ righteousness, we donʼt have enough merit in our account, regardless of how many good things we do. Without his righteous- ness, weʼre spiritually bankrupt and canʼt get to heaven.

The Bible says that Jesusʼ righteousness will ʻcoverʼ all our sins (not ʻcoverʼ as to hide under a blanket, but ʻcoverʼ as to fully satisfy or forgive a debt).

The Bible says that Jesus, by his perfect life and sacrificial death, paid the debt of all our sins. If we acknowledge and accept him as our substitute (savior), all that he DID (paid penalty for all sin) and all that he IS (perfect in Godʼs sight) will be credited to our account.

The Bible says, however, that God doesnʼt credit our account automatically. Very important point!! Each of us must personally ask him to credit our account (see Topic 62)… and if pride or busyness prevents us from asking, we donʼt get the credit.

Hereʼs a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject.

Romans 5:12-19
We are born in sin; Adamʼs sin corrupted his human nature and the human nature of all his descendants

Isaiah 64:6
Our righteousness is like filthy rags before holy God

Romans 3:23, Romans 5:12
Everyone is a sinner

Romans 6:23
Result of sin (without Christ) is eternal separation from God

I Timothy 1:15
Jesus Christ came to save sinners

Romans 4:24-25
Christʼs death is ʻcreditedʼ to us for our sins

For help, see Topic 29.

God loves every individual, and he makes his offer to us just the way we are.

How do we know all this?

This handbook makes bold assertions about how God thinks and acts. To a person who doesnʼt understand whatʼs happening here, it sounds like bigotry and arrogance. How can anyone possibly claim to know so much about God?

Whatever view a person holds about God must necessarily arise from two sources:

(1) objective fact and (2) personal experience, our own and/or the testimony of others. The statements in this handbook rest upon both sources:

OBJECTIVE FACT. Topics 18-26 are essential underpinnings for everything stated in this handbook. Evidence proves beyond any reasonable doubt that the Bible is our most authoritative source of spiritual information and is in fact Godʼs message to us (see Topic 26). This handbook simply states what the Bible says and provides references in the margins so that the reader can go direct to the Bible and read Godʼs statements personally.

EXPERIENCE. This handbook incorporates the personal spiritual experiences of thousands of people, particularly their positive testimony regarding a radically changed life after accepting Jesus Christ as personal savior and regarding the way Bible principles have been proven true in their lives.

SIN IS BARRIER TO RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD

The central message of the Bible is that God is more than just a remote, unknowable power in the universe. He’s a divine person – with mind, will and emotion (see Topics 39-49) – who wants to have a personal relationship with us. But our sins get in the way.

He designed us so that our relationship with him and with others is good when we live by principles outlined in the Bible. When we pursue selfish interests, however, we often disregard those principles and offend God and others in the process, and the result is blocked relationships. The offenses are called ‘sins,’ and our sins separate us from God (see Topics 5-6).

The way to correct a blocked relationship with God is not unlike the way we correct it with other people. If a child disobeys his parent… if a worker contravenes his employer… or if someone wrongs his friend… it isn’t money, penance or ritual the offended party wants, but rather sincere repentance. Repentance means being truly sorry for the offense and determining not to do it again.

God doesn’t demand or expect perfection from us, but he does expect us to acknowledge our offenses, be truly sorry for them, and determine not to repeat them.

The Bible says (I John 1:9):

‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.’

NO LIFE IS TOO BAD FOR GOD TO TRANSFORM

There is no sin, or combination of sins, or quantity of sins, so bad that they can’t all be forgiven immediately.

WE DONʼT HAVE TO CLEAN UP FIRST

God will accept us just the way we are. We don’t have to clean up our lives to meet him. If we had to clean up first and live a good probationary life before meeting him, then salvation would involve our own good works, but the Bible says clearly that salvation is a free gift and that good works has nothing to do with receiving it.

The criminal who was crucified at the same time as Jesus is an example. Hanging on an adjacent cross, he acknowledged that Jesus was God and asked for eternal life. Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’ There was no way the condemned criminal could rectify his life by himself, and certainly not in his last moments of life. He simply came to Jesus as a needy sinner, but that was enough for him to receive the gift of eternal life in heaven.

God wants us to come to him out of our need, recognizing our great difficulty in living a good life without his Holy Spirit within us. We get his Holy Spirit (see Topic 44 ) when we accept Jesus Christ as personal savior.

Putting good works before salvation is like putting the cart before the horse. Good works (more of them) is a result of salvation, not the cause of it (see Topic 64).

GOD DOESNʼT TELL US TO BECOME RELIGIOUS

Some people mistakenly think that new life in Christ means becoming religious, faithfully attending church meetings, performing rituals, giving money and following many rules.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say that this is a part of salvation. In fact, some of Jesus’ harshest words were for clergymen who make human rules and then tell people this is what God demands.

Being religious means obeying rules and performing rituals in an attempt to impress God with our goodness. But this won’t impress him. In fact, the Bible says that ‘all of our righteous acts are like filthy rags.’

What God wants from us is to humbly acknowledge that we’re sinners and that we need a savior. Such an acknowledgment offends the pride of people holding a humanistic view of life – where prime importance is given to man and human values – because it requires man to bow before God. This this is exactly what God demands.

It’s at this point that many people reject Biblical Christianity and turn instead to cultural Christianity (see Topic 11) where they can practice religion and get a sense of well-being from their own performance.

God doesn’t ask for religious performance, but rather for contrition and acceptance of his offer.

CONTINUAL REJECTION HARDENS THE HEART

God’s offer of new life is a standing offer to every person for his entire earthly life. If the offer is rejected or ignored on one occasion, it may be reconsidered at any other time.

However, this is dangerous business because not only is there risk of unexpected intervening death, but also repeated rejection or procrastination hardens a person’s heart so that it becomes increasingly difficult for him to make the decision to accept Jesus Christ as personal savior. Eventually he will become cynical and calloused and will no longer even hear the message.

This is particularly a problem in ‘Christian’ America where everyone hears so much about salvation through Jesus Christ and where the real message of the Bible is often badly distorted and poorly presented. It’s easy for a person to become inoculated to spiritual talk and to dismiss it as old rhetoric.

Every time a person encounters and ignores God’s offer, he increases the spiritual hardening of his heart and thus increases his probability of spending eternity in hell.

TODAY IS BEST TIME TO ACCEPT GODʼS OFFER

God has given us a decision period – our earthly lifetime – for deciding whether or not to accept his offer. Everyone is only one heart-beat away from the end of the period.

Today is the most reasonable day to accept God’s offer because we never know when an unexpected illness or accident will claim our life and terminate the offer.

A reasonable person, aware of the offer but not having yet accepted it, should conclude that the stakes are too high to procrastinate any longer.

Hereʼs a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject.

Ephesians 2:8-10
New life is a free gift from God; good works is a by-product, not a pre-condition

Luke 11:39-52, Matthew 23:1-33
Jesus has harsh words for clergymen who make human rules and then tell people this is what God demands

Isaiah 64:6
Our righteous acts are like filthy rags and shriveled leaves before holy God

Luke 23:40-43
Jesus says thief on the cross will be in heaven

I John 1:9
God will forgive if we will confess

For help, see Topic 29.

God’s offer of new life is a personal offer. No one can accept or reject for another.

BIOLOGICALLY, NO ONE IS BORN A CHRISTIAN

A person may be born into a Christian culture, a Christian family, or the Christian religion, but no one is ever born a ‘Christian.’

A person becomes a Christian (using God’s definition) by personal decision, never by biological birth.

No one can chose the circumstances of his birth or upbringing, but everyone who has heard about God’s offer of new life must choose whether or not to accept the offer.

When a person accepts it, he becomes a Christian. As long as he rejects (or ignores) the offer, he’s not a Christian, even though he may espouse Christian principles, exhibit Christian virtues and may even call himself a Christian and be a baptized member of a Christian church.

CHURCH CANʼT MAKE ANYONE A CHRISTIAN

A church can give valuable instruction, but it can never make anyone a Christian by declaration or rite. Becoming a Christian is an individual decision, not a group decision.

New life can never be bestowed by an organization as a privilege of membership or as an award for compliance. Faithfulness in church attendance and performance of religious rituals can never make anyone a Christian.

GOOD WORKS CANʼT MAKE ANYONE A CHRISTIAN

A person’s good works can never make him a Christian, regardless of the degree of sincerity and diligence.

Good works are part of the Christian life, but they are by-products of the life, not the causes or prerequisites of it.

PAYMENT CANʼT MAKE ANYONE A CHRISTIAN

A person can never become a Christian by paying a price. A Christian has a position with God, and a relationship with God, which can’t be acquired like a product or service. Rich and poor receive it the same way, as a free gift.

PRAYERS OF OTHERS CANʼT MAKE ANYONE A CHRISTIAN

The prayers or actions of others can’t make anyone a Christian, either now or after death.

In this lifetime, each person must make his own personal decision regarding Jesus Christ, to either accept him as Savior or reject him as Savior. There’s no way around this personal encounter.

Others may pray that a loved one will accept Christ, and these prayers may heighten the Holy Spirit’s call to that person. In this way, a person may experience the effect of other people’s prayers and thus have greater spiritual sensitivity, but the person must make his or her own decision to accept or reject Jesus Christ.

TO REJECT JESUS CHRIST IS TO REJECT GOD

In dealing with us, God has vested himself completely in Jesus Christ, who he’s put in charge of all divine-human relationships on planet earth (see Discovery 43). For us who know about Christ, it’s not possible to take God without taking Christ. A person’s response to Christ is his response to God, and his rejection of Christ is his rejection of God.

What about other religions? What about people who have never heard of Jesus Christ? (Answers are in Discoveries 10-18, 27-28, 32, 61 and next page.) These questions are often a smoke screen for people who don’t want to face the fact that they must personally decide either to accept or reject Jesus Christ, and their indecision is a form of rejection.

Is Jesus Christ the only way?

Discoveries 18-26 show that the Bible is our highest source of spiritual authority and is in fact Godʼs message to us for this period in time.

The Bible says the only way a person who knows about this message can escape Godʼs punishment for sin and spend eternity with God in heaven is by personally accepting Jesus Christ as savior before the personʼs life on earth ends. The alternative is hell. Period. The Bible is very clear about it.

But the Bible is not clear about what happens to people who have never heard this message. For that issue, we need to consider the two concepts – ʻaudienceʼ and ʻimputeʼ – discussed below:

Audience. Messages are intended for the persons to whom they are addressed and delivered. The New Testament is clearly addressed and delivered to us who now have copies of the Bible. But what about people who lived before the Bible was written? Or people who live in places where the Bible is unknown? Are these people held accountable for responding to the Bible message, or are they subject to other messages we may not know about?

God apparently has other ways to heaven for people outside the New Testament audience. For example, the Old Testament says that Enoch pleased God and is in heaven, even though itʼs unlikely he ever prayed to accept Jesus Christ as his savior. The Bible speaks similarly of Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, David and many others.

But Jesus said: ʻI am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.ʼ

There are two explanations for reconciling these Bible statements: (1) Jesus was not referring to all humanity, but only to people in the New Testament audience, or (2) Jesus was referring to all humanity, but the benefits of his sacrifice are sometimes ʻimputedʻ to people who donʼt even know about him if these people are seeking God in the best way they know with their limited knowledge.

Impute. The word ʻimputeʼ is a theological term which means ʻto ascribe (righteousness or guilt) to a person as coming from another.ʼ For example, Jesusʼ righteousness was imputed to the thief on the adjacent cross. The thief had lived a life so bad that civil authorities sentenced him to death. He understood very little about Jesus, and apparently he was never baptized. But because of the thiefʼs last minute positive response to what little spiritual knowledge he was given, Jesus said he will be in heaven, in contrast to the unresponsive thief on the other cross.

We donʼt know how many people throughout world history may have had the benefits of Christʼs death imputed to them because they lacked spiritual information or capacity to understand. But we do know that today weʼre individually responsible for responding to the degree of revelation God has chosen to give us. We have the highest degree of revelation so far – the New Testament – and it explains why we must personally accept Jesus Christ in order to be worthy of heaven, regardless of how God may deal with other people at other times or in other places. Clearly for us, Jesus Christ is the only way.

Hereʼs a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject.

John 3:36
Indecision about Christ is a decision against him

John 14:6
Acts 4:12 Jesus Christ is the only way

John 3:16, John 3:36, John 6:40
ʻWhoever believesʻ are key words for eternal life

Luke 23:39-43
Jesusʼ conversation with thief on the cross; gift of grace is not a reward for good works

Titus 3:-4-7
Not saved by good things we do

Genesis 5:21-24, Hebrews 11:5-6
Enoch pleased God and is in heaven even though he didnʼt know about Jesus

Genesis 15:6, Hebrews 11:8-16
Righteousness ʻcrditedʼ to Abraham even though he didnʼt know about Jesus

John 3:35, I Corinthians 15:27-28
God has now placed everything in Jesusʼ hands

For help, see Topic 29.

God’s plan is a matter of offer and acceptance. No response is rejection.

OFFER AND ACCEPTANCE IS A PRINCIPLE OF LIFE

Our whole society functions on the basis of offer and acceptance. This is the basis of all contractual relationships. For example:

  • A dealer offers merchandise... a buyer accepts by paying the price and taking the merchandise.
  • A person offers his time and skills to a company... the company accepts by hiring him.
  • A man offers to be the woman’s husband... the woman accepts by marrying him.

God’s way of dealing with us is not illogical or unrelated to these kinds of ordinary human contractual experiences. Every day we are bombarded with offers, which we either accept or reject, consciously or subconsciously. The quality of our life depends upon which offers we accept and which we reject.

The Bible says clearly and repeatedly that salvation (from hell) is an offer from God. We understand because we have already learned the concept of offer and acceptance from our dealings with other people.

AN OFFER IS WITHOUT BENEFIT UNTIL ACCEPTED

The best offer in the world is worthless unless it’s accepted. In legal terms, there’s no deal without offer and acceptance.

It’s of no consequence that a person is too busy to hear or fully understand the offer. If he has notice that an offer is being made, it’s his responsibility to investigate it. Failure to investigate means forfeiting all benefits that could accrue from it.

IGNORING AN OFFER IS SAME AS REJECTING IT

Future intentions don’t count. Even though a person may plan to investigate an offer at some later time, the fact is that every offer is rejected unless or until it is accepted. Ignoring or procrastinating is a form of rejection.

By not accepting now, a person is at risk of having the offer withdrawn or facing changed circumstances. God’s offer of new life terminates upon our death, which could happen quickly and unexpectedly, leaving us with no second chance. Ignoring God’s offer now is a foolish risk.

A FREE GIFT IS BEST POSSIBLE KIND OF OFFER

A gift is a particular type of offer. It’s given without requirement that something be given in return. But even with a gift, there’s no way to get the benefits without accepting it. A gift is never forced upon a person – it’s only offered.

The Bible says that salvation is an offer from God

… but more than that, it’s a FREE gift. But just knowing that a gift is available doesn’t make it ours. We have to reach out and personally take it.

GOD DOESNʼT ACCEPT COUNTER OFFERS

When a person doesn’t like an offer, and proposes something else, he has rejected the original offer and made a counter offer.

It’s effrontery when we do this to God. His offer is spelled out in the Bible, and it’s the same offer to everyone. God doesn’t entertain counter offers, and a person deludes himself by thinking he can negotiate a special deal with God.

MOST AMAZING ʻPRODUCTʼ IS OFFERED BY GOD

It demeans God’s plan to make it ordinary and mundane, and to present it as a commercial product. That’s why, in awe and respect for the majesty of Almighty God, special theological terms are used to explain him and his dealings with us.

Jesus sometimes used illustrations from the commercial world of his day (sower, vineyard, shepherd, etc.) to help explain the plan. So, for just a moment, without being disrespectful, let’s re-state God’s offer in a format that would be common in our product-dominated world today.

‘Salvation’ is the respectful theological term and concept, but a ‘New Life product’ is the way a secular person might think about it:

How important is it? Nothing is more important than our happiness now and our eternal destiny after death!

Who’s offering it? The designer and creator of the universe! If God is capable of designing an incredible universe which we personally observe and use every day, we have confidence that he’s capable of designing an excellent and eternal life for us. No product carries a better name!

What are the benefits? As summarized in the box above, the benefits are absolutely amazing! Properly understood, everyone wants these benefits, but no other product or service can give them.

What’s the price? The ‘free’ part is appealing, but the ‘confession’ part is hard on the ego and is probably the biggest reason why some people don’t want it. No one can take credit for it, and there’s no personal status in it.

How do I get it? Even though the product is free, no one gets it automatically. If a person wants it, he must humble himself before God and ask for it in a personal encounter with him (a specific confession in a specific prayer – see Topic 62). Most people either don’t understand the need for this personal encounter or they postpone the encounter because they think they have to clean up first or have other pressing things to do first. A product offered does no good until actually accepted and received, and therefore procrastination has the same effect as rejection.

Hereʼs a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject.

John 3:16, John 3:36, John 6:40
ʻWhoever believesʻ are key words for eternal life

John 3:36
Indecision about Christ is a decision against him

Revelation 3:20
God is standing at the door of our life, asking if we will accept his offer and let him in

For help, see Topic 29.

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is God’s only solution for our sin.

JESUS CHRIST DIED AS OUR PERSONAL SUBSTITUTE

The Old Testament foretold that God would send a Savior to take away the sins of the world (see Topic 23). He came as promised in the person of Jesus Christ. In theological terms, this is called the ‘incarnation,’ meaning the appearance of God in human flesh.

He allowed himself to be crucified at the hands of men who didn’t believe him. Usually men are crucified for something they did, but Christ was crucified only for saying he is God incarnate. What he said was so preposterous to them that they killed him for blasphemy.

Because of the enormity of the aggregate human sin to be punished, and because there is no greater value than life itself, nothing but his life could be an adequate sacrifice for all the sins of the world.

He became the once-and-for-all sacrifice for mankind so that no further sacrifices are needed. The Bible says we won’t be punished for our sins because he has already taken the punishment for us, provided that each person believes in his heart and mind, individually, that Christ died on the cross as the sacrifice for his sins and that this is God’s free gift, requiring only personal acceptance of it in order to get any benefit from it.

Jesus Christ, in love, became our substitute, dying in our place. Because he paid the penalty for our sin, we don’t have to pay it ourselves.

CRUCIFIXION WAS WORST KIND OF EXECUTION

The cross was an instrument of execution used by the Romans, who controlled Palestine at the time Jesus lived there. Jesus was sentenced to death by crucifixion by Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, at the demand of religious leaders who were furious that Jesus claimed to be God and was developing a large following.

Here’s a brief description of death by crucifixion (from Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Harper & Row):

‘Though the procedure was subject to wide variation according to the whim and sadism of the executioner, by the Roman period several features were fairly standard...

‘There the offender was stripped and flogged. The prisoner's arms were affixed to the crossbar with ropes or nails, and the crossbar was then raised and attached to the upright stake. A small wooden block attached to the stake beneath the buttocks supported the weight of the suspended body, which was bound to the stake with ropes. Often the feet were also affixed to the stake with ropes or nails. Because deterrence was a primary objective, the cross was always erected in a public place. Death came slowly, often only after several days, resulting from the cumulative impact of thirst, hunger, exhaustion, exposure and the traumatic effects of the scourging. After death, the body was usually left hanging on the cross. Because of the protracted suffering and the extreme ignominy of this manner of execution, it was viewed by the Romans as the supreme penalty, the ‘most wretched of deaths’ (Josephus), and generally reserved for the lowest classes and the most heinous crimes...

‘The Biblical account of Jesus’ crucifixion reveals few variants from the usual procedure.’

It’s amazing to note that over 700 years earlier, the Old Testament foretold that the Savior would be crucified... written long before crucifixion was used as a means of execution (see Topic 23).

JESUS CHRIST DIED FOR US, BUT HE LIVES AGAIN

Three days after being buried in a tomb sealed and guarded by Roman soldiers, Jesus miraculously came back to life and spent the next 40 days teaching his disciples. During this time he was seen by over 500 witnesses.

Here’s the Bible account of how his life on earth then concluded: ‘When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. They worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere…’

The more we learn about God, the more we realize that everything he does has good reason, even from human perspective. The resurrection and ascension of Jesus is no exception. It profoundly effects us in three ways:

  • It’s final proof that Jesus is God, that his words can be trusted, and that he’s alive
  • It’s transformation of the localized Christ as man into the universal risen Savior, with ecstatic disciples willing to die for the astonishing truth they discovered
  • It’s demonstration of a future resurrection which will happen to all of us after we die

VALUE OF THE SACRIFICE WAS QUALITY, NOT TIME

Jesus hung on the cross for about six hours (9:00 am. to 3:00 p.m.) before dying. Then, he experienced hell for three days, suffering terrible torment on our behalf. On the third day, God (Father – see Topic 42) released his soul from hell and put life back into his dead body.

Some people say, or at least secretly think, that this was not such a big sacrifice since it all happened in only a few days. We know that many people have given their lives for others, permanently, without any hope of restoration to life again. How could only a few days of suffering by Jesus be equivalent to eternal hell for all sinners?

That kind of thinking disregards the fact that in the spiritual world time has little significance compared to quality. We have no way to comprehend the intensity of Jesus’ suffering and humiliation. For all we know, in order to take the sins of the entire world, his suffering may have been infinitely greater than what any human can ever experience, even in hell. We simply don’t know, and therefore no one is in a position to judge the degree of anguish.

But the duration and intensity of suffering is not the main point, but rather the quality of the one who suffered. The main point is that God’s love for us is so great that he paid the penalty himself and, furthermore, regardless of our opinion or sense of balance, God says that the sacrifice IS adequate for our complete forgiveness.

DEATH AND RESURRECTION ARE NECESSARY FOR NEW LIFE

In God’s plan, Jesus’ death and resurrection was essential in order for us to have new life.

At first thought, we may think blood and death are too gory – and resurrection too bizarre – and wish that God had chosen some more pleasant and conventional way to give us new life. But the fact is that this is the way he chose to do it. It’s his world and his plan, and we’re in no position to say he should have done it some other way.

If we’d designed the reconciliation, we probably would have made it more difficult. We wouldn’t let people off the hook so easily. We’d make them suffer and pay a price for their wrongdoing.

We should rejoice that God’s plan is such a remarkable reflection of his character (holy-just- love) and is so easy for us.

Hereʼs a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject.

I Corinthians 15:12-28
Jesusʼ death and resurrection are essential parts of Godʼs plan

John 1:29
Jesus takes away sins of the world

Acts 4:12
Jesus is Godʼs only provision for our sin problem

Mark 16:14-20, Luke 24:50-53
Jesusʼ final statements and his ascension to heaven

For help, see Topic 29.

God resolves the conflict by offering to exchange our life for Christ’s life.

EXCHANGE IS A BASIC PRINCIPLE OF LIFE

The world functions on the basis of exchange. For example:

  • Through trees and plants, sunlight is exchanged for oxygen
  • Through our bodies, food is exchanged for energy
  • Through steam turbines, coal is exchanged for electricity
  • Through bulbs, electricity is exchanged for light
  • Through employment, labor is exchanged for money
  • Through markets, money is exchanged for goods
  • Nothing is free. Every benefit has a cost, involving some kind of exchange. And in the spiritual realm, we learn from the Bible that:
  • Through Jesus Christ, our sin is exchanged for God’s righteousness

SACRIFICE IS A COMMON TYPE OF EXCHANGE

Because some kind of exchange underlies every benefit, it’s assumed by most people that we must pay to get benefits from God. In religious terminology, these supposed exchanges are called ‘sacrifices’ (what man gives to get God’s favor). The religions of the world specify thousands of sacrifices of various kinds: giving of offerings, doing certain things, refraining from doing certain things, performing rites and rituals, etc.

The ultimate benefit we can get from God – new life (see Topics 56, 59 and 62) requires an exchange. However, the exchange doesn’t require a sacrifice from us. Instead, it requires only personal acceptance of a sacrifice already made for us by him!

A big difference! Only God could provide a sacrifice that’s an adequate exchange for all of our sins.

JESUS CHRIST MADE THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE

In the Old Testament – before Christ came – God directed people to make sacrifices to him in order to make amends for their wrongdoings. The most important kind of sacrifice was a blood sacrifice (see Topic 33). This demonstrated the exchange principle with regard to sin: forgiveness is given in exchange for a blood sacrifice.

Why blood? Because blood is the essence of life.

It’s the highest price anyone can pay.

The Old Testament sacrifices help us understand what Christ did by dying (literally shedding his blood) on the cross. Without seeing the exchange principle, we might think his death was just a tragedy at the hands of misinformed men. But the Bible says his death was not a mistake. It was the main reason he came to earth... to exchange his life for ours... to take our sin and give us his righteousness.

In simple language, here’s what the Bible says: Our sins will be punished. That’s a fact, consistent with God’s holiness and justice. There’s no way around it.

The only question is, will our sins be laid on us or laid on Jesus Christ? If they’re laid on us, we’re punished in hell. If they’re laid on Jesus, we escape hell and (being sin-free) are rewarded in heaven.

That’s the marvel of the great exchange. Because God is not only holy and just, but is also love, he gives us the opportunity to willfully exchange our sin for Christ’s righteousness!

It’s an absolutely staggering thought. It’s so simple that even a child can understand it, yet so profound that the wisest philosopher cannot fully grasp it.

God’s spiritual designs – like his physical designs – are mind-boggling to us, yet they are evident enough for us to use and enjoy, and they are downright exciting.

CHRISTIAN LIFE IS AN EXCHANGED LIFE

God offers us new life through Jesus Christ. A Christian is one who has accepted the offer.

A Christian has exchanged his old life for a new one, and in this exchange his sin is replaced by Christ’s righteousness. Therefore, he’s no longer guilty in the sight of God and thus is ‘saved’ from hell. (For information about heaven and hell, see Topics 50,51, 97 and 98. Recognize also that not everyone who says he’s a Christian really is, as explained in Topics 11 and 62-64.)

The Bible uses the word ‘redeemed’ to express this exchange concept, and Jesus Christ is called our ‘Redeemer.’ Then, as now, the term means to exchange something of lesser value for something of greater value. The term had emotional meaning in Bible times because it also referred to a kinsman who buys back a family member who had been taken into slavery.

The concept of an exchanged life is so incredibly simple, yet so profound, that we can hardly comprehend it. Said another way, here’s the simplicity of it:

No one can get to heaven unless he’s totally righteous... Christ offers to give us his total righteousness... so that (if we accept him) when God looks at us he sees Christ’s righteousness rather than our sin.

The irony is that God’s plan is so simple and so easy that most people won’t believe it. Not only do we get eternity in heaven, but we get a better life right now (weight of sin lifted from us, warmth of God’s love, holy spirit within, etc., as explained in Topics 44 and 71-90). It all seems too good to be true!

Because it’s so easy, God’s plan goes against our nature. There’s something within us that says we should work or pay for heaven, in our own way. The idea that our righteousness, even at its best, is not good enough for heaven is insulting to us, and it’s difficult for us to humble ourselves enough to acknowledge to God that we are unworthy of heaven.

When it comes to the moment of decision, our sinful nature is threatened and tells us to wait until a later time to exchange our life (give it up) for Christ’s life (a new nature we take on). The Bible says, however, that a person is not a Christian until he purposefully and willfully makes this exchange with God.

Bible statement about the exchange

Godʼs offer of exchange is made and explained in many ways and places in the Bible. Hereʼs an example, from II Corinthians 5:17- 21:

ʻTherefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconcili­ation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting menʼs sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christʼs ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christʼs behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.ʼ

The conflict between our sin (deserving punishment) and Godʼs character (holy-just-love) is reconciled by this exchange plan which he implemented through Jesus Christ.

Hereʼs a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject.

Romans 4:22-25
God ʻcreditsʼ Christʼs righteousness to us

Ephesians 2:13-18
God destroyed the barrier and ended the hostility through Jesus Christ

Ephesians 1:7-10
Christians are ʻredeemedʼ by the blood (death) of Jesus Christ

For help, see Topic 29.

Our sin creates a conflict between God’s holiness, God’s love and God’s justice.

GOD WONʼT VIOLATE HIS OWN CHARACTER

The Bible reveals two dimensions to God: One dimension is what he does (function) and the other is who he is (character). We can best understand his actions when we know his character, because actions proceed from character.

God’s essential character is HOLY, JUST and LOVE (see Topics 46-49), evoking each of the following responses to our sin:

HOLY ➞ hate sin (withdraw from sinners) JUST ➞ identify sin (punish sinners) LOVE ➞ tolerate sin (pardon sinners)

Obviously, our sin poses a dilemma for God. It appears that whatever action he chooses, he would violate some aspect of his own character. With respect to our sin, it seems impossible for God to be holy, just and love all at the same time.

If God were to withdraw from us – as holiness dictates – he couldn’t have a personal relation- ship with us.

If God were to punish us – as justice dictates – he couldn’t pardon us.

If God were to pardon us – as love dictates – he would violate holiness and justice, and make them meaningless.

We could speculate forever on the possible ways he could reconcile this situation without violating his own character, but the important thing isn’t what he could have done, but what he actually did.

In everything we know about God and his creation, we see that his plan is awesome – staggering to our minds – and thus we can expect that his solution to this dilemma will also be awesome. And it is!

We learn (in Discoveries 53-59) that God resolved the dilemma by coming to earth in human body (1) to tell us about our sin problem, (2) to bear the punishment for our sin himself, and (3) to give us a pardon for our sin! This solution allows him to be thoroughly HOLY, JUST and LOVE, all at the same time, without any conflict of character.

This story illustrates the principle:

The judge has just imposed the sentence, a very large fine. The agony for him is that the defendant is his own son, and his son has no money. The judge hates crime and is commit­ ted to enforcing the law, but he still loves his son and doesn’t want him to go to jail. So the judge steps down from the bench and offers to pay the fine himself.

On a much grander scale, this is what God did in love to resolve our sin problem without violating his own principles or character.

RECONCILIATION IS MAIN THEME OF THE BIBLE

There’s a rift between God and man, caused by our sin.

Knowledge of this rift is built right into us, and it’s the basis of every religion. Our instinct says that we do wrong things that offend God, and we need to do something to make it right. Throughout history, people have been trying to find better ways to make peace with God. Most religions say we must appease God by obeying rules, performing rituals and offering sacrifices. But the Bible says that doesn’t do any good.

Throughout the Bible, there’s a frequently recurring question: How can God and humanity be reconciled? Or, put another way: Can anything we do bridge the gulf between holiness and sin, between God and humanity?

Sin is mankind’s biggest problem (see Topic 6). We all have it in our lives, some more than others and some worse than others. But

for everyone it’s a reality that can’t be denied. We try to control and suppress it, but it’s hard work and usually a losing battle. Its a heavy feeling, a dirty feeling, a nagging feeling. It blocks our relationship with God and robs us of genuine happiness. We want to stop it, get rid of it. But how? The picture of the natural human condition is people struggling without God, and often struggling against God.

What’s needed is ‘reconciliation,’ which means a changed relationship for the better between persons who were formerly estranged from each other. It’s a relationship issue, not a performance issue. When the relationship is right, performance improves, but that’s the minor part of it. The major part is that God is a divine person (see Discovery 46) and wants a personal relationship with each of us (see Discovery 48).

Reconciliation is the main theme of the Bible, from cover to cover. Reconciliation occurs not when we do something great for God, but when we understand and accept the great thing he’s done for us through Jesus Christ.

GODʼS PLAN FOR RECONCILIATION

From the Bible, we can tap into Godʼs thinking regarding our sin. In a brief and paraphrased form, hereʼs his plan as heʼs revealed it to us:

I will go to the world in a human body so people can actually hear me and see me. My life in human form will be an example of holiness, justice and love.

Eyewitnesses will record my words and actions for future generations. I will offer my human body as the once-and-for-all sacrifice for everyoneʼs sins. In that way I will show that thereʼs a terrible penalty to pay for sin, but I will pay it myself to show my love, and I will declare everyone pardoned who repents of his sin and personally accepts my sacrifice. Those who donʼt accept it will have to pay the penalty of sin themselves, and spend eternity separated from me.

This plan – examined in detail in Topics 54-60 – reconciles our sin with Godʼs character.

Hereʼs a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject.

II Corinthians 5:17-21, Romans 5:10-11, Colossians 1:-21-23
God reconciles us to himself through Jesus Christ

For help, see Topic 29.