Questions and Considerations for a Skeptic: A Gospel Plea to be Saved
One of the many titles by which Jesus designated Himself was, “Faithful Witness.” He was afaithful witness because He testified accurately proclaiming the message given to Him by God the Father – “For I did not speak on my own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak” (Jn 12:49).
We must never forget that Jesus was a witness. A witness is one is does not aver from what he hears and knows to be absolutely true (Vines Dictionary). He does not alter the message. He does not back down in the face of opposition. He refuses to compromise the truth; he is willing to declare the truth full strength, even when his life is endangered.
Do you understand what it cost Jesus to get the truth to us? He faced unimaginable resistance – the religious establishment of His day accused Him of being demon-possessed; they said that His birth was illegitimate. Then after subjecting Him to so many insults, they plotted His murder. Eleven of His twelve Apostles were eventually tortured and murdered for the sake of the truth. Their time under Jesus’ ministry had so transformed them that they too had become willing to pay the price of a faithful witness.
Have you ever considered why the truth is so ‘expensive,’ and why it can be so inflammatory? Jesus gives us the answer in John 8. In that discourse Jesus attests to the fact that apathy toward personal sin allows one to remain a slave to sin. The Lord went on to say that those who die as slaves to sin will not inherit eternal life (Jn 8:34-35).
Now before you bristle at that truth proclaimed by Christ, realize that God does not share ourlaissez-faire attitude toward sin. He cannot share His eternal abode with a hardened sinner any more than you can comfortably share your bedroom with the rotting corpse of a horse.
Jesus continually testified concerning the seriousness of sin. That’s precisely what got Him in trouble. He came into a world like ours in this sense – that its citizens, like us, had the attitude, “nobody’s perfect, what’s the big deal about sin?”
Our problem is that when we think about the God of the universe, we seldom contemplate Him as He really is. The Psalmist dealt with this problem when he described the unbeliever’s imaginings of God as follows, “You thought that I was just like you” (Ps 50:21). The weight of that statement cannot be fully appreciated without its context – for the Psalmist is addressing the fact that the unbeliever imagines that the Holy God of the universe is just as apathetic about sin as the unbeliever is!
Bear with me while I suggest an exercise. Try to imagine God as great and infinite as He is revealed in the Scriptures. May I humbly suggest that it is something you are unable to do; the best that you can do is imagine a large version of yourself.
Perhaps an illustration will help. Remember the footage that came back from the first Apollo moonwalk? You remember it; a 175 pound man was skipping and nearly floating air born between steps as he glided across the dusty surface of the moon. Gravity was less of an issue because the size of the heavenly body he was dealing with was relatively small (in relation to the size of planets and stars).
Suppose that same astronaut attempted his skipping on the surface of a planet the size of Jupiter; do you know what would happen? Because of the mass of the planet, his 175 weight would now be closer to one third of a ton. He would be pinned to the surface of the planet, unable to walk upright. His breathing would be labored; his own weight would squeeze and crush his lungs and heart.
Now here’s the application. Sin is a life and death issue – not because of what some religious institution says. No, sin is a life and death issue because of the infinite immensity of the Holy God with whom we have to deal! We have no idea what it would be like to stand before this Holy God just as we have no idea how debilitating it would be to attempt to walk about the surface of a planet the size of Jupiter. We think of God’s glory as a light thing, but in fact the Hebrew word for glory, kavod, has the meaning of weightiness. There’s a mighty weightiness to God’s glory that would consume us in an instant if we were to stand before Him in our naked sinfulness. It His mercy that keep us from being consumed (Lam. 3:22).
This is the truth about which Jesus was a faithful witness. Jesus bore witness to the truth BECAUSE, as He said in John 12:50, “And I know that His commandment (the Father’s) is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me.”
The truth Jesus preached, when received, is the only way to be rightly adjusted to the God of the universe. It is the only way to be free and to have eternal life; it is the only way to know God as He truly is. It is the only way to be liberated from slavery to sin.
Now that brings up the subject of guilt. This is a subject which the Scriptures frequently address in the most realistic terms imaginable. You may express your objection in quite strong terms that you have no use for any organized religious ‘authority’ which attempts to lay a burden of guilt and fear upon you. The point is well taken; and it factors in nicely at this stage.
(In conceding an aspect of the point about guilt; church history’s dirty laundry reveals the following fact: when organized religion departs from the Scriptures, the inevitable result is a man-made system that attempts, but fails to manage human guilt.)
Now back to the objection about guilt. In Southern California the other day I saw the following banner stitched onto a motorcyclist’s backpack: “To hell with guilt!” Obviously this biker felt that guilt was “cramping his lifestyle.” In other words, he had a definition of freedom that meant living without guilt.
This is precisely where the message of Christ is infinitely practical. The ‘freedom’ which Christ spoke of in John 8 includes freedom from guilt. The issue is; how do we get there – how can a man live guilt-free? When one reads John 8, it’s quite clear that organized religion is not the path to freedom from guilt. Remember; it was the religious leaders who were opposing Jesus during His discourse about sin, truth, and freedom.
Let’s compare the California motorcyclist’s approach to freedom from guilt with Christ’s truth about freedom (the truth He received from His Heavenly Father). The motorcyclist’s approach could be paraphrased as follows: “I hate guilt; it disturbs my pursuit of personal fulfillment. Therefore I have made a decision to reject guilt feelings.”
Here’s the amazing thing – Jesus is offering the very thing the motorcyclist craved – freedom from guilt. The motorcyclist’s desire is legitimate; it’s realistic. He’s more of a philosopher than he realizes; for guilt is the human condition; guilt is what makes our lives miserable. But here’s the problem. The motorcyclist wants freedom from guilt, but NOT by way of truth. Jesus offers freedom from guilt in a much different way; through the assured and guaranteed path of the authoritative truth which He is preaching.
This is the reason the motorcyclist will not be successful in his pursuit of a guilt-free life. He is attempting freedom from guilt by avoiding the truth of God in Christ. Denial and repression of God’s truth cannot bring freedom from guilt. Ultimately his denial mechanism will fail.
Again an illustration will help make this more understandable. A little over one hundred years ago there was a surgeon named Joseph Lister. He was convinced that the reason his fellow surgeons were losing over fifty percent of their patients to infection was because they refused to sterilize their surgical instruments. (What was common practice back then would horrify us today; surgeons operated upon disease-infected patients and then wiped off their scalpels on their aprons before working on the next patient.) Lister warned that by not using sterile knives, the doctors were spreading infection between patients.
Lister’s peers mocked him as an ‘old maid,’ too fastidious to be taken seriously. Lister was practically driven mad by what he saw. Patients who were stitched closed soon swelled with infection and died a painful death.
It wasn’t until the microscope lens became powerful enough to see living bacteria that Lister was vindicated and antiseptic procedures became the norm. Here is the application for us. Apart from the ‘lens’ of Scripture (the Words of Christ) we are unable to see sin for what it is. We are unable to see it as the ‘infection’ of the soul. We are oblivious to its destructive power.
Because we are already troubled with guilt, the last thing we want to hear is a message which will bring our guilt to the surface and intensify it. In essence, we don’t stay long enough in the “doctor’s office” of Scripture to hear the remedy. The diagnosis is so painful to our pride and so troubling to the conscience; we walk out before we hear about the cure. We’re strongly tempted to return to our failed efforts to live guilt-free; we’d rather deal with guilt by means of denial rather than by the truth.
Jesus discussed this universal tendency of man to run from God’s diagnosis of the heart. In John 3:19 Christ Jesus says, “And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil.”
That sure hits home. In fact our Lord is saying that because of sin and its accompanying guilt, men will run from the truth. They do not want God’s light, Jesus Christ, to shine intensely upon their lives. Now it’s easy to see that the issue here is that sinful man abhors the exposure of his sin. But notice also in this verse that Jesus is stating that rejection of the light brings a certain kind of verdict from God. It means that men who reject the light cannot plead ignorance; because their denial of the truth is willful; they’ve seen the light and they don’t like it nor want it to illuminate their thoughts, actions, and motives.
This reminds me of a tragic, but true story about the crash of a Spanish jetliner. The pilots were flying in a severe storm. Navigation was proving difficult; a planned landing had to be suddenly aborted due to violent weather. During their new heading the pilots heard a warning voice from the radar instrument, “Pull up! Pull up!” The black box records that one of the pilots yelled out, “shut up gringo!” and shut off the radar. Moments later the plane slammed into the side of a mountain killing all aboard.
The application is obvious; God has planted a conscience in us to send out a warning whenever we stray off course morally. But here’s the chilling part of the airline story – the pilots shut down the warning device. It is possible to override the dictates of conscience and shut it down just as the pilots did.
Internal warning devices are a great benefit. Consider how merciful it is that parts of our bodies emit pain when the danger of damage is near. Heat, pinching, bending, piercing, and pressure on a part of the body cause it to send out a pain signal. One of the reasons that lepers lose fingers and toes is because the disease kills the nerves that send out the pain warning. Without these sensitive pain receptors, the individual is unaware when forces cut into his tissues.
God has planted a conscience in man. It serves as a moral receptor that sends out warnings when we come close to committing wickedness. It is constantly weighing our motives and actions. It tells us when we are uncaring and malicious. It uncovers lies. It approves of our behavior when we avoid evil and do the right thing. The conscience functions like a tiny courtroom. It admits evidence; it uncovers motives; it determines guilt or innocence. It demands justice – it calls for punishment of wrongdoing.
The Scriptures make it clear that the reason we have a conscience is because we are made in the image of a righteous and holy God. When a man fights against his conscience he is fighting against his very being; he is warring against who he is as the very image of God. He can scream at his conscience, “shut up!” But no amount of yelling can change him into something else – he never was, nor will ever be, a highly evolved animal: he is the image of God.
This courtroom of conscience we carry around bears witness to a greater courtroom, the courtroom of God. Our conscience speaks of God’s moral authority. Our conscience tells us that God’s moral government is wise, and good, and righteous; it tells us that a world without the Ten Commandments would be a hellish place to live. Our conscience also tells us of our future court date before God’s throne.
The Holy Scriptures confirm in graphic, authoritative terms what our consciences have whispered to us all along; that there is a just and holy God who will bring every transgression into account. Yes, our conscience also tells us of our future court date before God’s throne.
Now it is against this backdrop alone that divine forgiveness takes on inestimable preciousness. Think of the infinite gift and blessing of having your conscience cleared by God, clean before God, reset to a state of purity in His sight so that you can meet with Him as your treasured Friend.
God knows our condition. He has compassion upon sinners who lay trapped in a cycle of sin and guilt. It is exactly at this point that we must listen very carefully to Jesus. For He tells us that coming to God for a clear conscience must be your highest priority. All other endeavors must take a back seat to this ultimate goal of being right with God.
False religion has always described “rightness” with God as some kind of moral ladder which a man climbs toward heaven. But that is not what Christ Jesus taught. Our Lord spoke of “rest” instead of climbing (Matt 11:28-30). He preached the need for men to come to God and be forgiven.
Please hear me out a little longer – as long as your conscience has a memory of sins committed for which you are responsible – you cannot help but regard God as your Judge, and therefore as your enemy. But when a sinner receives divine forgiveness, all that enmity is changed into friendship in an instant.
This is how God expresses His love to our lost souls. He puts His crucified Son on display and offers forgiveness through His shed blood. Does this not touch and move your soul in the slightest? If a friend were to give you an extremely valuable gift your mind would eventually wonder, “What in the world must that have cost him?” So also, the sinner who consents to be forgiven and protected by Almighty God asks, “What did this amazing forgiveness cost?”
In order for divine forgiveness to be precious to you two things must take place. First, you must see the depth of your need for forgiveness.
Look at all of your false hiding places into which you have retreated. You trust your own mind above the infallible Word of God. You lean upon your own opinions of things; a hodgepodge of ideas that make up a hopelessly inconsistent view of the world and yourself. You think you are well-armed against the God of the universe because you have found Him to be unjust in His rule over mankind. But all you have done is to bribe your troubled conscience into a tremulous state of false peace, knowing that false peace will not hold you up at the hour of your death.
As a result you devalue the most precious gift in the universe – divine forgiveness. Was the Lord Jesus Christ wasting His breath when He faithfully uttered His Father’s Word, when He warned that a man’s conscience will gnaw upon him forever like a worm if he rejects the gift of forgiveness in this life?
In the next life the conscience will accept no bribes. For your conscience is a friend of God’s Law; it demands justice; even when that justice is against you. The conscience, if it is lied to and bribed in this life will take eternal revenge in the next life. Do not think that God must fashion implements of torment in hell. A man’s conscience will be the source of his eternal misery. Before you dismiss this because it is not to your liking, consider what it cost God to purchase forgiveness for sinners.
Yes, the second thing that must take place in order for you to value God’s forgiveness; you must consider what the cost was to God. The Only Begotten Son of God’s love became a man and lived under the curse in this troubled world. He experienced the whole of life from birth to death. He obeyed His Father perfectly for our sake – an obedience that reached its pinnacle in His willingness to die upon a cruel cross.
While hanging between heaven and earth, the demons tormented Him. Bystanders lashed out at Him, hurling cruel abuse. The Heavenly Father turned His gaze away and let fall upon the Son the very wrath against sin that we deserved. The Scriptures say, “All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Is 53:6).
The Son of God was dying a substitute in place of guilty sinners. He was bearing the penalty of their sins in His own body. It was the death of the Just One in place of the unjust. This is the very reason God can bestow forgiveness freely – it is because justice has been done! The penalty for our sin; death and separation from God has been paid in full by the Son of God!
Do you see the greatness of the cost? Can you comprehend what it cost for your conscience to lay down and be at peace – knowing that justice against your sins has been satisfied?
The cost was great because God is great and sin against Him is horrific. But God is satisfied with the work His Son has performed on that cross. The completeness of God’s satisfaction is expressed in the Gospel. For in the good news of the Gospel God’s way of man’s right-standing with Him is uncovered and made known (Rom 1:17a).
A smaller price than the death of the Son of God in our place could not have secured divine forgiveness. But bless God, the price has been paid. Think of it, because of the death and resurrection of Christ, God is free to pronounce the believing sinner forgiven and righteous in His sight. Now here is the inescapable truth – your conscience, in order to be guilt-free, will accept nothing less than this divine pronouncement that God holds nothing against you. No fellow sinner, whether priest or parishioner can utter this word of acquittal to your conscience. It comes only from the Word of Christ in the Gospel.
Why gin up empty arguments? Why settle for a false peace when the Judge of all the earth is willing to receive you in Christ just as you are? When He is willing to speak peace to your conscience and welcome you into His eternal family? When He is willing to give you a new record in heaven and a new heart?
Oh the love of God in Christ. He knows our frame; that we are but defiled dust – but He has made His eternal intentions known in the sending of His Son. He knows what is necessary for man to be at peace with Himself forever.
The power of the Gospel to cleanse the sinner’s heart is remarkable. A social worker friend of mine who is a pastor was granted admission to see a tightly secured prisoner. He was a young black man arrested for attempted murder. The social worker walked into the man’s jail cell and said, “I’m here on behalf of the Judge.” The man was downcast and silent. The worker went on to say, “The Judge of the universe is the One I represent. He does not hold your crimes against you because He has charged them to the account of His Son.” The prisoner could only look puzzled. He asked for the worker to return. After explaining the Gospel to this man on three different occasions, he believed and repented and was wonderfully forgiven by God.
God’s revealed attitude toward you is a willingness to forgive you and receive you freely. He is willing to let bygones be bygones and to cast your sins into the sea of His forgetfulness. Now what is your attitude toward God? You charge Him with injustice. You turn up your nose at His most precious gift – divine forgiveness.
Wouldn’t it be wise to inquire at this point whether or not God has a special place for people who reject His love, who prefer to live in self-deception? Is there an eternal dwelling place besides heaven where the immortal soul can be at rest? You know the answer. Jesus tells us that there are but two eternal abodes.
Your Creator holds out reconciliation to you. His revealed disposition toward you is love and compassion. His Word is truth. When you despise His Word and trust your own opinions you throw down the gauntlet before God and defy Him to fight you.
Because God’s truth is eternal, you will remember reading this plea. The time is short; recognize that God’s testimony is about both man’s preference for and sin and it is about God’s gracious remedy in Christ. I plead with you to give up your fight against God. Stop opposing the welfare of your own soul. Be reconciled to God through Christ.
“Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).