This was the title for my study last Sunday on 1 Peter 3:18 – 4:6. Sometimes things happen after the fact that you wish would have happened before. I’ve just had an exchange online via a friend’s Facebook status. This exchange caused me to realize a few things about the Gospel and the people it is intended for, including myself. One thing I realized in a way I have not before is this:

The biggest obstacle to faith in Jesus is the same thing that draws people to Him – God’s grace.

Here is the original comment my friend made.

You will soon stand before the God of the universe and give an account of your life. The bible says, we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, and the punishment for sin is death and an eternity in hell. Are you ready for this?

Seems harmless enough, if you already believe it. Apparently my friend has some friends on Facebook who hold to part of this, and those who hold to none of it. One person expressed a preference to emphasize more of God’s love and less of His judgment. This reminded me of something Dr. Walter Martin used to say.

Give them Jesus. And if they won’t take Jesus then give them Moses.

One person in particular, let’s call her Sue, who apparently isn’t a believer at all but rather believes everyone should have the freedom to believe whatever they want and no one is truly “right”, prefers it when people who share what they believe don’t sound crazy by inferring that people will go to Hell if they don’t believe what you believe. To which I said, (from here it will be me quoting myself while summarizing what Sue said since I don’t have permission to directly quote her)

Which is exactly why there is no perfect and right way to say, “You need Jesus.” If a person is in a place to receive it, they will receive it, no matter how nice or harsh it sounds.

If the ship is sinking, does someone sound crazy telling other on the ship, “It’s sinking, we need to get into the lifeboat.”? Are they an alarmist? Is it not the “right place” to deliver the message?

This isn’t opinion. It’s reality. I’m not advocating walking down Main Street with a “Turn or Burn” sandwich board sign, unless God tells you to do so. He’s told people to do weirder things. I do think FB is the perfect place to share the faith and evangelize.

Sue said that that’s fine so long as the boat is sinking. But if the boat isn’t sinking, then you would look like a crazy person. She would rather hear something compelling, not something extremist. I said, “Yeah, but the boat is sinking.” She thought that was fine for me, but if she doesn’t see a problem with the boat, then it isn’t sinking. I said,

Well, ones percepeption of the sinking doesn’t change the fact of the sinking. But, let’s try this.

Ever told a lie? I’m going to guess you have. Ever lusted after someone? Thats adultery. (God’s definition.) That means you have sinned. “The wages of sin is death.” Sin separates us from God. The problem is our nature. (Your boat is sinking.) “If we confess our sin He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

It isn’t about how good or bad we are compared to anyone else. It’s us compared to Jesus. The only solution is Jesus Himself. He said this, not me or my opinion. You need to be in Jesus’ boat. You can’t fix your own.

Sue said that she makes her own reality, that my reality isn’t hers, and that I should come to realize this with age and life experience. (By the way, I’m 36 which is far from being an elder, but she looks a good five years younger than me. How does that work?) She tried to leave it at that, but could I leave it there? No way. I said,

Reality is not relative. It’s absolute. You may think you have your own, but you don’t. Knowing and communicating the truth doesn’t make one an extremist. It simply means he/she is in line with reality.

I’m saying 1+1=2. That is absolute truth. You are saying 1+1=whatever you want it to equal. That doesn’t work in math nor does it work in eternity. God is real. He is loving and He is just. All humans are separated from Him because of our nature. His justice and holiness require that in eternity we are separated from Him. His love was expressed in Jesus paying the price for us to be redeemed (bought back) and able to be in His presence for eternity.

I wasn’t raised this way. Quite the opposite. It is with age and life experience that I come to see this more and more as reality. Life isn’t a multiple choice test with all of the choices being “All of the above.” It’s a true or false test. It’s a yes or no test. It’s about what is real and true. Guilty or innocent.

Sue replied with more of the same “you have your truth and I have mine” stuff, which I’m not dismissing, it’s just so nonsensical. At which point I took it to a point of authority.

Who decides what is right and wrong, true or false? These things must come externally. If I believe it’s OK to kill people, who is to say I’m wrong, regardless of the law (man’s laws)? The law decides legal or illegal, not moral or immoral. If I decide it’s right to kill anyone I want, and the individual gets to decide their own reality, then I can do what I want. But everyone knows (because God put it there) that that isn’t how things are supposed to work.

The US wants those in Saudi Arabia and Iran to treat women better. Why? Who are we to say? Why are we forcing our morals on them? That seems wrong to hold someone to our morality, my beliefs. Does anyone see the problem with this? “But it’s a human rights issue.” Who decides what human rights are? This is what relative, post-modern thinking does. That’s where it goes when used consistently.

No, truth, reality, morality must come externally. They must come from God. They did. It’s the Bible.

At this point someone else chimed in with something that got me thinking and connecting some dots in ways I had not connected before. He effectively said that God is supposed to be loving, not this vengeance-crazed God. My response to him was

God is both. He shows love and grace through Jesus. But why are love and grace through Jesus needed? Because man is sinful and bound for eternity apart from Him. Otherwise we wouldn’t need God’s love. There would be no problem. This is what God and Jesus say. “The road is narrow and there are few who find it.” “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through me.” “The wages of sin is death. But the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” “But God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

God is loving to those who recognize their need for Him. He is righteous and just to those who don’t. He’s both.

Here is the first of two revelations for me. It was this coupling throughout the New Testament (at least) of God’s love and God’s judgment in such proximity that I had never connected before. They are interwoven. People want to hear about the God of love, but they miss the fact, they miss the point that the love is there for a reason, that it was expressed in a specific way for a reason. They want to know that God loves them but want to skip over the “why” or the need for His love in the way He chose to express it. Without God’s justice, there is no gospel, no good news. There can be no good news without the bad news!

Sue chimed in again by saying that I’m assuming that Christianity has been proven to be the only answer, when it’s just a belief system, and one of many at that. I said,

You are still missing the point. It isn’t about my reality or your reality. There is only one. The truth and validity of God’s word is demonstrable. That’s why we believe it. That’s why we trust it. Sure there are times when I wish parts of it weren’t true. But it isn’t a matter of opinion or a vote. God says what He says, and being God gives Him the right to do so.

Christianity has been proven. Many times over. Yet people like yourself choose not to believe it for a variety of reasons. That’s what’s missing in your thinking. The Bible is true. It has been proven so. Jesus is real. History demonstrates it. What God says about the past, present, and future is also verifiable.

I don’t believe this primarily because I want to, I believe it because it’s is true. Not my truth or a truth, but THE truth, just as Jesus said. I dont’ want to believe what the bank says about my balance at the end of the month, but I have to because they are the authority. It’s the same with God and His word.

It isn’t simply a religion among many. It is proven, demonstrable truth. Just like gravity, just like 1+1.

Interestingly at this point Sue’s tactic took a turn. (How’s that for alliteration?) She said that she prefers to engage with those who say what they believe because they feel it in their heart, but they could be wrong and we’ll just have to find out. (Really?) She said that, in the end, when all the Christian Rock and Ted Haggards are gone that I will get that it all really boils down to my own relationship with God. She appealed to the fluff, the fake, and the failures of Christianity (more alliteration, I’m on a roll!) and made it about them, not about Jesus or God or herself even.

After another short exchange with another believer who “gets it” she said that we need to ask if Christ is the answer to all the wrongs, if simply asking for forgiveness makes it all OK, and thought that simply asking for forgiveness was letting someone off the hook too easily. OK.

Sue, there is nothing easy about it. Jesus, God in the flesh, who never sinned, allowed Himself to be scourged, beaten, and crucified. He then rose on the third day, according to the scriptures, predicted centuries prior. Those who are in Him have, by proxy also died. They have been bought. They have been crucified with Christ and they no longer love but Christ lives in them. They were buried in His death and rose with Him in His resurrection. They are new creatures. They have new natures. It isn’t as if they are supposed to go off and do whatever they want. Because of their new nature, they will want to love God and others. They will want to serve God and others. Their lives are no longer their own.

It isn’t just saying, “God I’m sorry, forgive me.” It’s that and repentance, or doing a 180 on your old life and living a new one, not in your own strength but in God’s. He asks us to do the impossible, then makes it possible.

This is where the rubber started to hit the road, and the beginning of my second personal revelation started to take shape. Her response to this was some confusion. She said, “All you have to do is stop murdering and you will be forgiven? So someone who never murders but questions the reality of God goes to hell but the murderer goes free? What if someone like Hitler made a deathbed confession? Are they saved?” Here we go.

No, it isn’t “stop murdering and you will be forgiven”. It’s when you are forgiven you will stop murdering. It isn’t about doing to earn. It can’t be earned. It is just given. But there will be evidence in the life of one who has received it, one who “gets it” if you will.

Here’s the distinction. We don’t sin and then become a sinner. We sin because we are sinners. A person doesn’t commit murder and become a murderer, they commit murder because they are a murderer. Sin, our sin nature is what separates us from God. Sin nature produces sin actions, regardless of degree. Jesus said if you have hatred in your heart for your brother (fellow human) you are guilty of murder, even if you didn’t perform the act. See the difference?

So if Seung-Hui Cho, or Hitler, or Sadam Hussein, or Sue do whatever they do, and on their deathbed genuinely repent and ask forgiveness, which only God can tell, they will be forgiven, like the guy on the cross next to Jesus.

There are no degrees of sin. Sin is sin is sin. A lie is the same as adultery is the same as murder. It isn’t just the action, it’s the heart and the nature that motivated the action. This is why it doesn’t matter how good or bad you are compared to anyone else.

It’s like the sign at the fair that says, “You must be this tall to ride this ride.” If you don’t measure up, you don’t ride. It’s that simple. It’s as if there is a sign in heaven that says, “You must be this righteous to enter these gates.” and it’s a picture of Jesus. No one can possibly measure up. This is why Jesus did what He did. This is why it’s called grace; getting something you don’t deserve. Mercy is not getting what you do deserve. God extends both. No one deserves grace. No one can earn it. It’s something God has chosen to do, and we can chose to accept or reject it.

Suddenly, right and wrong became more absolute for Sue than they were earlier in the conversation. I was told that this answer was wrong, at least a non-truth for her. She said that she doesn’t believe that God would forgive a murderer but not forgive someone who lived a good and selfless life but questions God’s existence. She said that we shared different understandings of God and tried to shut down the dialog with a warm “nice talking to you!” Could I let it go at that? Could I let it go at someone saying they knew God apart from actually knowing God? Uh, no.

I can call mine reality because God Himself defines this. I have not been expressing my opinion, I have been sharing scripture without the chapter and verse.

God Himself says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 3:21-26 and 6:23 for full context.) All means all, even someone that leads a “truly selfless and charitable life.” Why? Because it isn’t about earning, it’s about nature. Sin needs to be forgiven. The one who leads such a life as you say needs to be forgiven, just as the murderer does, because all have sinned and fall short.

This is the best thing of all! Why? Because it levels the playing field. It means no one is any more deserving or less deserving, because no one deserves it in the first place.

And you want to talk about fair? What about God? If anyone has been treated unfairly in this, it is God. It wasn’t fair for God to need to send His Son to die in your place. But He did it because, in His estimation, you and I are worth it. We get what we deserve, and no one deserves Heaven. Jesus didn’t deserve death, but He took it because He loves us.

People often criticize God for being unloving. “If God is so loving, why is there (fill in the blank).” That’s not the question. The question is, “If God is such a jerk, if He is so unloving, why did He send His Son to die to pay the price for me, a price I can’t repay?”

You say we have two perceptions of God. Upon what is yours based? Show me in His word where someone can earn their way but God can’t/won’t forgive others. You won’t find it because it isn’t there.

God loves you. Your boat is sinking. He’s offering you the only way to safety and you don’t deserve it. No one does. That is love.

Apparently that was it for her because she stopped replying. But her objections got me thinking. She is objecting to God’s grace. She is actually being critical of God because he wants to forgive the murderer but won’t allow someone who was relatively good yet unrepentant into His kingdom.

Grace was her obstacle to believing in God as He has revealed Himself in scripture. Grace. The very thing that enables us to come to God in the first place, no matter who we are or where we are in life, even on a deathbed, was the thing should could not get over. Grace, the expressions and extension of God’s love for the world through Jesus Christ, was too much for Sue and she would have none of it. And there it was.

The biggest obstacle to faith in Jesus is the same thing that draws people to Him – God’s grace.

God is loving and He is just. They are inseparable and one cannot exist apart from the other. They come together, they unite, they conjugate if you will, in grace. Grace is where God’s love and His righteous judgment collide. It rewards the humble and it offends the proud. It enables the meek and it weakens the self-righteous. It completes those who “get it” and confounds those who don’t.

Thank you, God, for your love, your justice, and your grace. I don’t deserve it, yet I have it. You are Just. I am unjust. Thank you, God for giving the just for the unjust. Thank you, Jesus, for bringing me to the Father when I could not bring myself (1 Peter 3:18). I pray for “Sue,” that your Spirit would continue to work in her. Spirit, convict her of sin, righteousness, and judgment, so that she can come to repentance and receive your grace and salvation. May she be a powerful witness to others one day. Amen.