Where is the Victory?

Another tragedy has rocked our country and has left pundits scrambling to be heard the loudest for their cause in order to take advantage of it.  While racism and guns will be blamed – and may be part of the problem – the root of this is sin.  Racism does not exist without sin.  Gun violence does not exist without sin.  If we fix the sin problem we won’t have these tragedies any more.

And that’s the biggest problem.  Even if Christianity is wildly successful at taking people who are full of hate and filling them with the love of Jesus, all it takes is one person for such events to happen again.  But more to the point, does the church appear to be the least bit successful in reaching our culture and turning people from hate to love?  Certainly there are grand stories to be shared but overall it seems as though we are losing the battle.  And this is not just an issue in the United States.  In many places that were once predominantly Christian, it appears as though the battle has already been lost.  Grand cathedrals are no longer places of worship but are tourist attractions and markers of history of a bygone era.

From the perspective of most people, society seems to be getting worse, not better.  If that is the case, the broader question is why.  Why has the church lost ground in society?  Why has sin become so predominant everywhere we look?  And more importantly, why wasn’t sin defeated at the cross?

There are no easy answers to these questions and how a person responds to them will vary widely on the theology they’ve been taught to believe.  It wasn’t that long ago – a hundred years or so – that the predominant theology said the world would keep improving until the gospel reached everywhere and it would usher in Jesus’ Kingdom.

Now, many people believe just the opposite.  The world is getting worse and worse and it will only be fixed when Jesus returns with a sword to strike down His enemies.  Regardless of the interpretation or how literally one takes it, the book of Revelation certainly depicts a lot of calamity before peace is achieved.

This still begs the question of why though.  Why has the devil not been defeated?  It’s certainly a very hard argument to make that he is not present and active in the world today.  Where is the victory over sin and death that we were promised?  Are all of the promises of the cross only valid at the end of this age?

I don’t have all of the answers but I do have a few thoughts.  For starters, Satan has definitely been defeated already.  In our limited ability, we often depict a battle between God and Satan; I still use such metaphors myself.  That gives far too much credit to Satan and not nearly enough credit to God.  This was never a battle because that would imply that Satan ever had a chance at winning.  Satan has led a rebellion and that rebellion has been thwarted because it never stood a chance to begin with against an all-powerful God.

What we experience today is the effects of the rebellion.  The world is currently Satan’s domain.  He is the prince of this world.  To depict things in a modern context, Satan is holed up in a little house with the full force of the military outside of his door.  He currently has full reign over the things in that house but there is no way that he is getting away.  His rule is not absolute nor is it eternal.  While he holds sway over humanity now and he holds us hostage, it is only temporary and he has not usurped God’s power.

Satan has been defeated at the cross but we still see the effects of sin and death because we are incapable of viewing time from God’s perspective.  Two thousand years and counting since the time of Jesus is a very long time to us but it is the blink of an eye to God.  The rebellion has been crushed but Satan is still going to take as many people with him as he can.

We live in “the end of this age.”  Ever since Jesus ascended to heaven, every generation has had people who were convinced that He would return in their lifetime.  No matter the signs that people see, we don’t know when His return will be.  The end of the age can end tomorrow or it can stretch on for another two thousand years.  That seems unlikely to us but it certainly seemed unlikely to many in the early church who also expected Jesus’ immediate return.

The victory that we experience now is not the victory that we long for.  We long for a time when there will be no more sin or death.  We long for a time when all things will be perfect.  That is not this time.  There will be a day when that is realized however.  It has already been accomplished but it has not been put into effect yet.

We do see parts of the victory in the world around us though.  Amidst the kind of horror that we can only hope and pray we never experience, we can see Christians who respond with love and forgiveness.  This does not mean that there is not also sorrow and anger but I believe that it is only through the power of God that any kind of peace can be given in this kind of situation.

Compare the response of Christians to tragedy to that of non-Christians.  While I can’t say that it is universal, in general there is certainly a greater amount of love and forgiveness that surrounds a tragedy.  That is the victory of the cross that we experience today.  It is the ability to handle the worst of what life has to offer and still awake the next day and say “God is good.”  It doesn’t mean that a Christian is happy about the circumstances but they can still have a peace that passes understanding knowing that God still has the victory despite the evidence that sin is alive and well today.

In the end, we still long for the day when all sin is eradicated and Satan has no power over us.  While we wait, we will endure the effects of a broken world that is in rebellion against God.  But we do so knowing that it is temporary.  We will see the full effects of victory and we can experience the partial effects of it now.

What is Forgiveness?

It has become apparent to me that we really have no concept of what forgiveness really means.  Of course it’s not a surprise that the non-Christian world cannot understand the concept of absolute forgiveness, but I’ve been rather shocked that the church doesn’t seem to grasp the concept either.  As a pastor I’ve perhaps foolishly assumed that since forgiveness is something I spend a lot of time preaching about, that the church would actually understand it.

Theologically every Christian should understand the idea that sins are forgiven through Jesus and the cross.  This is not the stumbling block for forgiveness.  The real stumbling block becomes in how it is applied in everyday life.

When we ask God for forgiveness, there are no strings attached and it is instantaneous and complete.  Forgiveness from other people is a much more complicated venture even though it shouldn’t be.  Make no mistake about it, sin carries consequences and just because forgiveness is granted, it doesn’t mean that the consequences don’t still exist.  A criminal is not released from prison just because he is sorry for his actions or even if the person he has wronged has forgiven him.  Likewise, if a sin occurs within a relationship, that offense can easily be forgiven but that does not mean that there has not been damage done to that relationship.

The trouble with forgiveness from a human perspective is two-fold.  The first is whether the forgiveness we offer is truly unconditional.  There can be no forgiveness unless it is unconditional.  Our tendency is to attach strings to our forgiveness.  We’ll forgive someone so long as they make up for their wrongdoing.  We’ll forgive someone so long as they never do it again.

The second problem with forgiveness is that we place limits on the number of times we will offer it.  Matthew 18:21-22 has a telling example of forgiveness.

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Peter thought he was being gracious by being willing to forgive someone seven times but Jesus responded by saying “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”  The number is not meant to be literal but rather as a statement that forgiveness does not have a limit.

This certainly goes against our human nature.  There is a saying, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”  In other words, if we’ve been wronged more than once, it’s partly our own fault for forgiving and trusting a person again.  But this isn’t the way that forgiveness works.  Yes, we can forgive but the relationship remains damaged.  However, our forgiveness should not be contingent on whether a person may or may not wrong us again.

It’s easy to forgive when we believe a person made a solitary mistake.  Whether it was an out of character burst of anger or a momentary lapse in judgment, we find it easier to forgive when we think it’s not going to happen again.

However, when a person continually disappoints us, whether it’s through continual drug relapses or through repeated infidelity, that’s where forgiveness really matters.  Can you forgive someone when they’ve done the same thing to you a fifth time?  The Bible not only says that we should, it is demanded of us.

If we refuse to forgive someone because they’ve hurt us for the fifth or tenth or twentieth time, do we want God to hold us to the same standard?  How many times have we hurt God?  How many times have we placed something at a higher value than God?  How many times have we felt God calling us to do something but instead said “no thanks, I’ll do it my way”?

As I’ve said, sin has consequences and this isn’t in any way to imply that forgiveness means that a person should continue to stay with an abusive partner or to endure whatever other things sin brings about.  But it does still mean that we’re called to forgive.  In some cases the hurt is so great and the damage done is so terrible that it will take years in order to unconditionally forgive someone.  That’s possible but it is not an excuse to not forgive.

If there is no sin so great that God can’t forgive, there should be no sin so terrible that we are not willing to forgive it.  If the pain is too terrible right now, at least begin by acknowledging that there can be a time in the future when you can forgive unconditionally.

When we forgive, we open ourselves up for the possibility of future hurt.  We expose ourselves and take down our guard.  Our nature and perhaps even common sense says that this is foolish because we naturally seek to protect ourselves.  But the reality is that if we refuse to forgive unconditionally, we don’t need anyone else to hurt us.  Instead we’re just continually hurting ourselves.

Common sense as well as scientific research tells us that when we hold on to grudges and do not forgive, we cause ourselves harm.  Not only do we find ourselves filled with anger and bitterness, our health suffers when we won’t forgive.  We suffer from high blood pressure, stress, tension, and all other manner of problems.

In the end, there can only be one kind of forgiveness and it has to be the same kind of forgiveness that God grants us.  That kind of forgiveness is unconditional and without limit.  There is no sin so great that God will not forgive us when we repent and God will continually forgive us no matter how many times we fail Him.

Does God Exist?

When looking at the turmoil around the world today – fighting happening everywhere, innocent people dying, children being abused – it would be easy to question the existence of God.  The sad irony is that this statement is true today, it was true ten years ago, and it will be accurate no matter how far in the future you stumble across this post.  The world is a frightful, violent, and sinful place.  There will always be fighting in the Middle East, there will always be countries undergoing revolution, there will always be sinful people doing horrible things to other people.

So with the presence of so much evil in the world there are plenty of people who want to take this as proof that God does not exist.  Because if God existed – and He is the loving God that we claim Him to be – then He certainly wouldn’t turn a blind eye to all of the horrible things that go on in our planet.

There are two approaches to this false notion.  The first is the truth that God exists but God is not present everywhere.  Listen carefully because this is not saying that God is not omnipresent – everywhere.  I know it sounds like I just contradicted myself.  What I mean is that God does not dwell in the heart of every person.  Sinful people do sinful things.

If you sit in a bright and sunny room and then close the curtains to that room, the room gets dark.  The existence of dark in that room is not proof that light does not exist.  Everyone knows that it is just outside of the curtains and that to make the room light once again all that is needed is to open the curtains.  It’s the same way with God.  Evil exists because God has been shut out.  God does not force Himself upon anyone and turn them into mindless creatures who can do nothing but follow His will.

So, evil exists not because God wants it to but because man wants it to and God has given man freewill to choose rather than forcing us all into loving Him and obeying all that He says.

The other side to the problem of evil is that God has done something about evil; He fixed the problem once and for all by sending His Son into the world to die for humanity’s sin.  As horrific as the problem of evil looks when we glance around at the world today, that is minor compared to the real issue.  The horrors that exist in this world, while certainly not meaning to trivialize them, are nothing compared to the fact that sin separates us from God.  Separation from God is hell, figuratively and ultimately literally as well.  The horrors of this world are just a fraction of how horrible eternal separation from God truly is.

Of course everyone wants a quick solution to the problem of sin.  It would be nice if Jesus’ work on the cross had not only defeated sin but had also eradicated it.  It has been 2000 years, so what’s the hold up?  Clearly God does not work on our timetable and the short lifespan that we enjoy is nothing in the eyes of God.  He is not slow to enact His plan.  The coming of Jesus was first prophesied about way back in Genesis 3:15 in the Garden of Eden.  It took thousands of years until Jesus came.  The Israelites left Egypt in 1446 BC to go to a land that had been promised to their forefathers 400 years beforehand.  While they temporarily possessed much of it, they never took hold of the entire inheritance and still wait 3800 years later.  The Israelites were promised a descendant of King David to reign on his throne forever.  It took 1000 years for Jesus to come and 2000 years after that the people of Israel are still waiting for that literal reign to occur.

The point of the brief history lesson is just a reminder that evil is already defeated; it is taken care of, eliminated, wiped away.  What we see and will continue to see are the death throes of sin and evil.  It’s not that God doesn’t exist or that He can’t handle the problem of evil.  He already has.  The problem is that we cannot see the big picture and we are here for what is ultimately a short time in what appears to be a long process to our eyes.

The unfortunate reality is that while we wait for the culmination of sin’s defeat we will continue to experience sin and evil in this world.  It is not pleasant nor pretty.  It is likely to get even uglier before the end.  Every generation since Christ left has looked around at the evil in the world and been convinced that it was so horrid that it was evidence that Jesus was returning in their lifetime.

Whether Jesus returns tomorrow or in another thousand years is frankly anyone’s guess.  Sin and evil will continue until that day when they are completely eradicated and all of humanity stands to be judged whether at the Judgment Seat of Christ or the Great White Throne of Judgment.  As we wait we have two responsibilities.  The first is to do our best to spread the love of God to fight back against evil.  And the second is to simply pray “Come quickly Lord Jesus.”

What Does Christ Mean?

Previously I wrote extensively about the name Jesus.  This is a continuation on the thoughts about Jesus’ name but now focusing on Christ.

It’s quite possible that you see the name Jesus Christ and you think those two names together as Jesus’ first and last names.  Well, that would be incorrect because the people of that day didn’t use last names like we do today.  Jesus would have been identified as Jesus, the son of Joseph, or more technically “Jesus bar Joseph” as “bar” means “son of.”  (You’ll see “bar” in several names in the Bible.  Barnabas means “son of encouragement.”  The murdered who was released to the people instead of Jesus on the Passover was Barabbas which very ironically means “son of the father.”)

So, if not a last name, where does Christ fit with the name Jesus?  Quite simply, Christ is a title.  It is no different in usage than how you would refer to someone as Dr. or sir.  Given the meaning of this title, it might be more technically correct to say Jesus the Christ.  Or one might argue that the word “the” is implied in the meaning of Christ and therefore unnecessary.

So, getting to the point, what does Christ mean?  It means “anointed one” or “the anointed one.”  This doesn’t sound like too big of a deal unless you realize that the term Messiah also means anointed one.  When people referred to Jesus as Christ, they were recognizing Him as the Messiah.

In Peter’s confession of the Christ, Jesus asked the question “who do you say I am?”  Peter answered by saying “you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Peter did not respond just by repeating back a title that he had heard.  Instead, he was recognizing that Jesus was the Messiah that had been prophesied about and whom the Jews were waiting for for hundreds of years.

Some translations of the Bible are now choosing to translate Christ as Messiah in certain situations.  This is neither good nor bad in my view.  In some cases it makes it clear that the title is understood as the Messiah.  However, if you were familiar with Christ in the particular passage, it could lead to confusion if you don’t understand why the change occurred.  They mean the same.

The final question concerning Christ is whether we should use it alone, in place of Jesus, or only in combination – Jesus Christ.  To me, it makes no difference.  I use Jesus or Christ or Jesus Christ interchangeably in my writing and speaking.  The same person is recognized no matter how it is said.

In the New Testament you’ll also find Jesus, Christ, and Jesus Christ used interchangeably.  I haven’t studied closely enough but there may be a pattern to the usage by each author.  Paul might use Jesus more often in certain instances and Christ more often depending on the context.  I simply can’t say without more research.  But I can say that all three are used independently of themselves and therefore I have no problem using any of them myself.

So refer to Jesus as you like.  Just remember that Christ is not His last name.  Instead it is a title that is an acknowledgement of Him being the Messiah.

What was Jesus’ Real Name?

It may sound like a silly question to ask “what was Jesus’ real name” unless you’ve spent some time on Christian message boards or reading certain Christian blogs.  If you have, you’ll probably notice certain people adamantly insist on referring to Jesus as Yeshua.  These people will often argue with you why you are wrong for calling Jesus, well, Jesus.

What this all comes down to is languages and the translations of those languages.  Some people don’t really that the Bible was not written in English.  Instead it was translated into English from the original languages.  More knowledgeable people know that the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek.  But technically part of the Old Testament was written in Aramaic as well and that does have a bearing on this whole thing.

The Jews spoke and wrote Hebrew up until King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and carried the people away into exile.  In Babylon they were surrounded by a new culture and a new language – Aramaic.  Part of the book of Daniel and the book of Esther were written in the language of the Babylonians – Aramaic.  When the exiles returned in Ezra and Nehemiah’s day, they were unable to understand their own scriptures because they were written in Hebrew.  Only the educated scribes and scholars were still able to read the scriptures which is why the people reacted as though they had never heard them read before – they hadn’t.

Things get even more complicated by Jesus’ day.  In Jerusalem there would have been three languages spoken.  The common language of the Jewish people would have been Aramaic still.  The scribes and scholars would have been able to read Hebrew but it wouldn’t have been used commonly.  Then there was the Greek language.  This was known as the “trade language” because it was the common language of the rest of the Roman world.  If you had to deal with anyone who was a Gentile, you probably had to deal with them in Greek.

Now, why is all of this relevant?  Because Mary and Joseph would have spoken Aramaic like the rest of the Jews.  The name given to Jesus would not have been Jesus, nor would it have been the Hebrew Yeshua either, but the Aramaic form of this name.  And guess what, that Aramaic doesn’t look anything like any kind of English – Jesus

And that’s really my point.  No matter how you insist on pronouncing it or what you insist is the “real” name of Jesus, unless you speak and write ancient Aramaic, you’re using a translation of the name.  Several of those Aramaic letters have no equivalent sound in the English language.  One close approximation is Eashoa.  Others have insisted it is still Yeshua.  The fact is that nothing can be 100% correct because we just don’t have letters for those sounds in English.

Having sort of answered the question “what is Jesus’ real name” there is still another question out there.  And that would be, why is Jesus called Jesus?  And that’s a fairly easy one.  That Aramaic name, no matter how you want to pronounce it, is translated in Greek as Jesus.  Technically in Greek it looks like Iesus because there is no letter J in Greek.  Since the New Testament was written in Greek, that’s what the early church would have referred to Jesus as, not His Aramaic name and not His Hebrew name.

In the end, it’s not a matter of what the name is or how we pronounce it.  What is truly important is what the name means.  The Aramaic approximation means “life-giver” which is actually my least favorite meaning.  Both the Greek and Hebrew forms of the name mean Yahweh (the Lord) saves.  There could hardly be a more appropriate meaning for the name of Jesus.

And now, just in case you were wondering, Jesus was hardly a unique name.  We equate it with the one and only Jesus but there were several by that name in the Old Testament, they just happened to be transliterated from the Hebrew rather than translated into Greek.  You know the Hebrew form of Jesus better, not as Yeshua, but as Joshua.  In the end, call it what you want, it all means the same.  And if you speak a language other than English, you’re going to find another translation or transliteration and it’s going to sound even different.

After all of this, you might still be wondering about how “Christ” fits into all of this.  Well, that’s going to be another post, so be sure to click the link above for that information.

Why did people live longer in Genesis?

There are a number of possibilities why people lived longer in Genesis.  Although some people want to dismiss the ages as simply exaggerated I believe these are literal ages and not symbolic in any way. 

To answer the question, first of all note when the ages dropped off dramatically – right after Noah and the flood.  They cut in half for Noah’s sons, then half for their sons, and then finally the next generation – Abraham – lived close to what we’d consider a normal life.  This would seem to indicate that the flood caused some kind of change that shortened lifespans.

The first reason that people may have lived longer in Genesis is that God is supernaturally expanding people’s lifespans.  God keeps people alive longer so that they populate the earth.  If this is case, it is no surprise at all that the person who apparently walks so close to God that God allows him to escape death, Enoch, is the father of the person who lives longer than any other man, Methusaleh.  Even among incredible lifespans, Methusaleh is blessed. 

The flood caused great changes to the earth.  Going back to the second day of creation, we should note what takes place.

Genesis 1:6-8

 And God said, “Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water.”  So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so.  God called the expanse “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

We know that the air contains moisture and that clouds are a collection of water in tiny droplets but this appears to be more.  At creation, the earth is more like a tropical rain forest that does not need rain because of the canopy of water overhead.  Genesis 2:4-6 gives more indication as to what all of this looked like.

 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created.  When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens- and no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground.

There was no rain and the earth essentially took care of itself because of the streams that sprung up and the moisture in the air.  The thick atmosphere served as protection from the sun and numerous harmful things like radiation which we know about now.  There is no telling what kinds of diseases did not exist because it could not live in such an environment.  All of these things would help people live longer.

Another possibility has to do with atmospheric pressure.  Scientists believe that the atmospheric pressure was about double what it is now.  This makes sense when one considers what all of the extra moisture would do in the air.  I don’t understand all of the science behind it but greater pressure seems to help with healing.  Hyperbaric chambers are designed specifically to increase the pressure around the body which helps with oxygen in the bloodstream.  Football players have started using these in their homes to recover from injuries.  The medical community is using them for everything from treating burns, to carbon monoxide poisoning, to healing crush injuries.  There are also studies being conducting regarding the use of hyperbaric chambers for the treatment of autism and even certain types of hearing loss.  In other words, the world before the flood could have been an environment that allowed the body to heal itself much better than today.

The fourth possibility has to do with genetics.  In short, Noah was the last to have the longevity gene.  His children had it, but only half because they only got it from their father.  The next generation only had one quarter of it.  This would give an explanation as to why the ages cut in half from Noah to the next generation.

In truth, we can’t be certain but any or all of these are possibilities as to why people lived longer in the book of Genesis.

Is it wrong to go to nightclubs?

Whether it is a sin to go to nightclubs  falls into the broad gray area of Christianity.  We would like everything to be black and white but frankly Jesus said nothing about nightclubs or thousands of other things like rock music or the internet.  So good judgment must be used when making such decisions.

Going to nightclubs in and of itself is not wrong.  But the question must be asked why is a person going and are they going to participate in sinful activities there.  This is where it can be sinful to go to night clubs, dance halls, etc.  If the idea behind going clubbing is to meet someone and then hook up in some sort of sexually immoral way, then absolutely it is wrong.  The same goes for getting drunk and all of the other problems that leads to.

The bigger issue is a matter of perception and there isn’t a cut and dry answer.  In 1 Corinthians 8 Paul writes about food sacrificed to idols.  Some people were very much against eating such food because it had been used in an idolatrous ceremony.  Others weren’t bothered by eating this food because they did not acknowledge the idol so it meant nothing to them.  The point is that some people are going to be bothered by the idea of going to nightclubs regardless whether sinful activity takes place there or not, it gives the perception of doing wrong.  In the end each person must decide whether they are willing to sacrifice their desire to go clubbing in order to avoid a bad perception or if their conscience is free because they aren’t participating in sinful activities and it is other people who need to get over their perception.

Is God all powerful?

According to Christian researcher George Barna (www.barna.org) 70% of Americans and 93% of Christians believe that God is the all powerful creator and is still in control of the universe today.  This number is shocking considering how many people also believe that the universe was created in a Big Bang and that human life is the product of evolution.  Many want to say that God created by use of these but in doing so God isn’t much of a creator at all.

From cover to cover the Bible depicts God as all powerful.  In Genesis He is the creator of the universe.  In Revelation He is the victor over evil and the everlasting God whom we have hope of being with forever.  This is one of the most basic Christian beliefs and this explains why so many people, Christians and non-Christians alike believe in some kind of all powerful God.

But if people believe that God is all powerful, why do they live their lives like there is no God?  The answer is that we want it all.  We want the security of a God who is there in times of trouble and we want Him to leave us alone when things are going alright. What we really want is a genie in a bottle.  That way we can have a wishes granted when things get tough – sicknesses, financial difficulties, relationship troubles – and then we can put a cork on him when we don’t want to hear about how we should live our lives to avoid some of these problems.

After 9/11 we saw the hypocrisy of our legislators standing on the steps of the Capital singing God bless America when some of those same people are fighting to have the name of God removed from our currency, our courtrooms, and our pledge of allegiance. We want God’s blessing so long as it comes with no strings attached.  We want an all powerful creator God who has absolutely no expectations of us, will let us live our lives as we please, and will come running to rescue us when we need help.  And then of course we expect Him to go away again and not bother us once we’re past our time of need.

Was Jesus sinless?

According to Christian researcher George Barna (www.barna.org) only 40% of Americans and 62% of Christians believe that Jesus lived a sinless life.  This view among Christians is perhaps the most perplexing of any to me.  If Jesus sinned while on earth, what is the basis for one’s salvation?  Why was Jesus’ death on the cross any more significant than if you or I sacrificed ourselves?  No one is going to heaven by virtue of my sacrifice and if Jesus had sinned while here on earth He would be no different than the rest of us.

When sacrifice was implemented in the Old Testament, the requirement was a perfect sacrifice.  The Jews were expected to present an umblemished sacrifice because it pointed to a perfect savior who would be a sacrifice for them.  The book of Malachi rails against the Israelites for giving worthless sacrifices of crippled and unfit animals.  This was because it was saying that anything was acceptable as a sacrifice despite what God had required.  Unfit animals were not acceptable because they didn’t point to the perfection of Jesus who would die on the cross once and for all for our sins.

Jesus gets lumped in with other religious figures.  He was a good teacher.  He taught people to resist doing wrong and wanted everyone to love one another.  If this is all that Jesus is, then He is no different than Buddha, Confucius, Gandhi, or Martin Luther King.  It is because Jesus was sinless that He was capable of bearing our sins on the cross.  He was the unblemished sacrificial lamb that was slaughtered at the time of Passover.  Nobody but a sinless person could take away our sins.

Can I work my way to heaven?

According to Christian researcher George Barna (www.barna.org) 72% of all Americans and 53% of Christians believe that it might be possible for someone to earn their way into heaven through good deeds.  This doesn’t go so far as to say that these people believe that they are working their way into heaven but that some others might be accepted because of good deeds.

John 14:6 says, “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

There is one way to heaven and that is through Jesus.  There are no shortcuts or alternative routes.  This belief is likely held out for people who seemed good but never could be bothered by Christianity.  We don’t like the idea that God would punish someone who was “relatively good.”  But the fact remains that pretty good doesn’t meet God’s standard.  We are all sinners and we are all in need of forgiveness, even those who were pretty good and who tried to live a good life.

Once again, we must go back to the idea of absolute standards.  God set the standard at perfection.  If we can make it into heaven by being good, how good is good enough?  How could we ever have assurance of salvation if making it into heaven depended on some other standard that we were never given?  But we were given a standard.  The standard is perfection and we fall short of it.  And because of that we need the forgiveness of Jesus.  Good deeds are not going to be enough.

Good deeds do not address the issue of sin.  We all sin, even the best of us.  But how can a good deed make up for something bad that we have done?  Once hurtful words are out of our mouth, they can’t come back.  Once we have done something wrong, we can’t undo it, only hope to repair the damage from it.  Only forgiveness addresses the issue of sin.  Forgiveness is what is needed to make it to heaven, not good deeds.  There are no good deeds that can make up for the bad things that we do, no matter how many good things we do.