Nothing jolts you into perspective and reality as sharply as the premature passing of a friend.
A mutual connection told me about it as I was following the news of the national election and planning a post on getting out of worry. Suddenly what I was doing didn’t seem so important anymore.
He was someone I knew fairly well. Just into his 40s, taken by circumstances that by all standards should never have happened to him. A husband, a son, a brother.
Often at times like these we lament the transience of life, and remind one another to cherish relationships and spend time with our loved ones.
True as that is, there is one relationship that we must prize and secure above all others: the relationship of being permanently right with God.
Regrettably, the gift of salvation and eternal life has today been reduced to words on a tract handed out by evangelists and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Many churches today simply skip the message of the cross most Sundays in favour of “more practical” messages like focusing on growing better Christians and helping communities.
But let’s not forget that God sent His Son to die for us for one reason and one reason alone.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes on Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:16-17)
The church exists to preach and share the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel of Jesus Christ is summed up in the 2 verses above, spoken by Jesus Himself to an experienced teacher of religion.
It is the good news of an offer of instant and unconditional salvation. A transfer from a guaranteed future in hell to a guaranteed future in heaven. For eternity.
Man was never made to have to die. That’s why Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, and that’s why we grieve at lives lost and extinguished. But man sinned and triggered death. And God made man with a spirit, which has to be housed – if not in heaven, then in hell.
These days, most people give little more than a shrug at the mention of hell. Religious teachers – and even some grace preachers – downplay it to various degrees, calling it a temporary stop on the way to heaven or completely dismissing it with the universalist teaching that everybody is automatically saved under the work of Christ.
Well, hell is real. Check the Bible.
No one spoke about hell as seriously as Jesus did. It is a place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. A place where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. A tormenting lake of everlasting fire that everyone – dead or alive – ultimately ends up in forever, if they are not found to be in the salvation of Christ.
Hell isn’t a scare tactic or scam constructed by the church so that more people will dedicate their lives to God and give money to the church. Now, there are fraudsters out there. And there are fraudsters deceiving people in the name of Christ and the church.
But actually, God doesn’t need anything from us. After all, He is God.
God doesn’t need our money, worship or service. He is the Creator of all, including gold and jewels. Moreover, He has angels aplenty to serve Him, and all creation – bar man – already worships Him.
We are the ones with all to gain in accepting the salvation God offers. In doing so, we gain God’s own righteousness, forever. Eternal life in heaven is guaranteed. Abundant life on earth is ours. God’s constant presence and help is assured. We need Him.
To be sure, numerous teachings abound of attaining heaven and avoiding hell. The fastest way to spot the real McCoy amongst all of these is to find the difference in who is responsible and who initiates.
All religious systems have us having to do good to some extent and work towards God.
The gospel of Jesus Christ alone proclaims that God initiated the salvation plan for us. And we are saved on the basis of accepting Jesus’s work alone, with none of our own efforts needed.
On our own, none of us can ever do enough to qualify for salvation and heaven. Only Jesus, God coming as the perfect Man, could. And He did, for all of us. Jesus paid for us a debt He never owed simply because He loved us.
The work needed for our salvation has been done. God’s offer of salvation in Jesus is there for all to receive. But we need to accept it personally in order for it to apply to us.
I don’t know if my friend ever accepted that offer. I hope he did.
There are some who put off thinking about their salvation for later, until they need to. But life’s too fickle for that, and we may not always get the opportunity we think we’ll have.
Your salvation is too precious to wait. You might think it sounds too good to be true, but that’s exactly what the gospel is. News that sounds too good to be true, but in fact is.
Because when we encounter Jesus, we encounter grace.