For God so loved the world
God created us out of love and He gives us free will to love Him or not to love Him. He will never violate this freedom of choice, which He has given to us from the very beginning.
We have chosen to exercise our free will. We choose to love ourselves. We choose to serve ourselves. In our selfishness we forget God and others. But a person, who lives apart from God and who is spiritually dead to God, could in fact be heading for hell. How so? Hell is a place where God does not exist. It is a place where we live separated from God and where, I picture, everyone looks after himself with the motto “I, me and myself come first, last and forever!” Imagine living in such a place where we have to constantly look over our shoulder to see who is going to knife us. In such a place, anything goes—hatred, envy, resentment, cruelty, revenge, duplicity, trickery, deception, etc. It is a place where there is absolutely NO love, no peace, no joy, no patience, no goodness, no kindness, no faithfulness, no humility, no self-control and no friends but only enemies. It is a place of utter despair. Hell is not a place of eternal conscious torture but a place of eternal conscious suffering. Why? A loving God does not torture people but He will honor a person’s free will to choose to live where He does not exist. Hell is a place of eternal heartbreak. A place without hope.
But, God in His divine mercy and grace has designed a way back to Him for us. We don’t deserve this grace and we can never ever earn it. God’s grace is a favor that is being extended to us simply out of His love for us. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16 NKJV) He came down to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ to show us the way back to Him. He humbled Himself and died on the cross for our sins, to show us how to get back to God. Jesus did not come solely to make bad people good but He came so that a person who is dead to God can come alive to God. Jesus Christ came to show us how to forgive and how to love. He came to help us overcome our fear of God. He shows us God—who is love. He promises that if we love God and others as ourselves, we will be with Him forever. We will be eternally with God in heaven. Christians have this hope.
Thus, Christians are told to be always ready to give our reply to people who ask us about our hope. But we have always to reply with gentleness and respect as St Peter says, “Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, but do it with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15-16 TEV) We are exhorted to learn how to answer, in a sensitive, gentle and respectful manner, the hard questions that will come our way. St Paul encourages all Christians to be very careful concerning their speech, “Your speech should always be pleasing and interesting, and you should know how to give the right answer to everyone.” (Colossians 4:6 TEV)
Mother Teresa says:
“Often we Christians constitute the worst obstacle for those who try to become closer to Christ; we often preach a gospel we do not live. This is the principle reason why people of the world don’t believe.”(In My Own Words, 100)
“If you give to the people a broken Christ, a lame Christ, a crooked Christ—–deformed by you, that is all they will have. If you want them to love Him, they must know Him first. Therefore, give the whole Christ—–to the Sisters, first, then to the people in the slums. Do I give the Christ who is full of zeal, love, joy, and sunshine? Do I come up to the mark? Or am I a dark light, a false light, a bulb without connection, having no current and therefore shedding no radiance? Put your heart into being a bright light. ‘Help me to shed thy fragrance everywhere I go.’
“Let the poor, seeing you, be drawn to Christ. Poverty makes people very bitter, and they speak and act without realizing what they do. But do they remember Christ when they see you—–even if they get angry—–because you remind them of Christ?
Draw them to God but never, never to yourself. If you are not drawing them to God, then you are seeking yourself, and people love you for yourself and not because you remind them of Christ.” (Contemplative at the Heart of the world, 122)
The passages below are taken from Max Lucado’s book “He did this for you,” published in 2000 by W Publishing Group.
The cross. Can you turn any direction without seeing one?
Perched atop a chapel. Carved into a graveyard headstone. Engraved into a ring or suspended on a chain. The cross is the universal symbol of Christianity. An odd choice, don’t you think? Strange that a tool of torture would come to embody a movement of hope. The symbols of other faiths are more upbeat: the six-pointed star of Jerusalem, the crescent moon of Islam, a lotus blossom for Buddhism. Yet a cross for Christianity? An instrument of execution?
Would you wear a tiny electric chair around your neck? Suspend a gold-plated hangman’s noose on the wall? Would you print a picture of a firing squad on a business card? Yet we do so with the cross. Many even make the sign of the cross as they. Would we make the sign of, say, a guillotine? Instead of the triangular touch on the forehead and shoulders, how about a karate chop on the palm? Doesn’t quite have the same feel, does it?
Why is the cross the symbol of our faith? To find the answer, look no further than the cross itself. Its design couldn’t be simpler. One beam horizontal, the other vertical. One reaches out like God’s love. The other reaches up as does Gods holiness. One represents the width of his love, the other reflects the height of his holiness. The cross is the intersection of both. The cross is where God forgave his children without lowering his standard.
How could he do this? In a sentence: God put our sin on his Son and punished it there.
“God put on him the wrong who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God” (2 Corinthians 5:21, MSG).
Or as another version reads, “Christ never sinned! But God treated him as a sinner, so that Christ could make us acceptable to God” (2 Corinthians 5:21, CEV).
Envision the moment. God on his throne. You on the earth. And between you and God, suspended between you and heaven, is Christ on his cross. Your sins have been placed on Jesus. God, who punishes sin, releases his rightful wrath on your mistakes. Jesus receives the blow. Since Christ is between you and God, you don’t. The sin is punished, but you are safe, safe in the shadow of the cross.
This is what God did, but why, why would he do it? Moral duty? Heavenly obligation? Paternal requirement? No. God is required to do nothing.
Besides, consider what he did. He gave his Son. His only Son. Would you do that? Would you offer the life of your child for someone else? I wouldn’t. There are those for whom I would give my life. But ask me to make a list of those for whom I would kill my daughter. The sheet will be blank. I don’t need a pencil. The list has no names.
But God’s list contains the name of every person who ever lived. For this is the scope of his love. And this is the reason for the cross. He loves the world.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. . . (John 3:16, NLT).
As boldly as the center beam proclaims God’s holiness, the crossbeam declares his love. And, oh, how wide his love reaches.
Aren’t you glad the verse does not read:
“For God so loved the rich ?
Or, “For God so loved the famous ?
Or, “For God so loved the thin…”?
It doesn’t. Nor does it state, “For God so loved the Europeans or Africans…”“. the sober or successful …““. . . the young or the old..
No, when we read John 3:16, we simply (and happily) read, “For God so loved the world. . .
How wide is God’s love? Wide enough for the whole world. Are you included in the world? Then you are included in God’s love.
It’s nice to be included. You aren’t always. Universities exclude you if you aren’t smart enough. Businesses exclude you if you aren’t qualified enough, and sadly, some churches exclude you if you aren’t good enough.
But though they may exclude you, Christ includes you. When asked to describe the width of his love, he stretched one hand to the right and the other to the left and had them nailed in that position so you would know, he died loving you.
GOD’S INVITATION TO YOU
I can remember, as a seven-year-old, going to my grandparents’ house for a week. Mom and Dad bought a ticket, gave me some spending money, put me on a Greyhound bus, and told me not to talk to strangers or get off the bus until 1 saw my grandma out the window. They made it very clear to me that my destiny was Ralls, Texas.
God has done the same for you. He has placed you on a journey. He has a destiny for your life.
“For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9, NRSV).
According to the Bible, God’s destiny for your life is salvation. Your intended destination is heaven. God has done exactly what my parents did. He has purchased your passage. He has equipped you for the journey. God loves you so much that he wants you to be with him forever.
The choice, however, is up to you. Even though he stands at the door with ticket paid and pocket money for the trip. . . many choose to go in directions other than the one God intends. That is the problem.
OUR PROBLEM: SIN
(WE’RE ON THE WRONG BUS)
When my parents gave me the ticket and told me which bus to board, I believed them and did what they said. I trusted them. I knew they loved me, and I knew they knew more than I did. . . so I got on board.
Becoming a Christian is getting on board with Christ. Jesus stands at the door of the bus and says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6, NKJV). Unfortunately, not all accept his invitation. I know I didn’t the first time he invited. I spent some time on the wrong bus.
There are many buses, each of them promising to take you to happiness. There is the bus of pleasure, possessions, power, passion. I saw a bus called party and got on board. It was full of people laughing and carousing; they seemed to be enjoying a nonstop party. It was quite some time before I learned they had to be loud to cover up all the pain inside.
The word for getting on the wrong bus is sin. Sin is when we say, I’ll go my way instead of God’s way. Right in the middle of the word sin is the word I. Sin is when we say, I’ll do what I want, no matter what God says. Only God can fulfill our needs. Sin is the act of going to everyone but God for what only God can give. Am I the only one who has spent time on the wrong bus? No. Some buses are more violent than others. Some rides are more lengthy than others but:
“All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6, NASB).
“If we say that we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves, and refusing to accept the truth” (1 John 1:8, TLB).
“We’re sinners, every one of us, in the same sinking boat with everybody else” (Romans 3:20, MSG).
To board the wrong bus is a serious mistake. Sin breaks our relationship with God. We were intended to journey with him. But when we are on a different bus headed the wrong direction, we feel far from God. This is why life can seem so cruddy. We aren’t fulfilling our destiny
Sin not only breaks our relationship with God, it also hampers our relationships with others. Can you imagine taking a long trip to the wrong place with a bus-load of people? With time, everyone gets cranky. Nobody likes the trip. The journey is miserable.
We try to cope with the problems by therapy or recreation or prescriptions. But nothing helps. The Bible says:
“There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death” (Proverbs 16:25, NLT).
You see, the end result of sin is death . . . spiritual death. “The wages of sin,” Paul writes, “is death (Romans 6:23, NIV). Spend a life on the wrong bus headed in the wrong direction, and you’ll end up in the wrong place. You’ll end up in hell. Not because God wants you in hell. His plan for you is heaven. Your destiny is heaven. He’ll do anything to get you to heaven, with one exception. There is one thing he won’t do. He won’t force you. The decision is yours. But he has done everything else. Let me show you what I mean.
THE SOLUTION: GRACE (GO TO THE RIGHT BUS)
If the problem is sin and all have sinned, what can you do? Well, you can go to church, but that won’t make you a Christian. Just like going to a rodeo doesn’t make you a cowboy, going to church doesn’t make you a Christian. You could work really hard to please God. You could do a lot of good stuff, give away a lot of things. . . the only problem with that is that you don’t know how many good things you have to do. Or you could compare yourself with others: “I may be bad, but at least I’m better than Hitler.” The problem with comparisons is that other people aren’t the standard; God is!
So what are you going to do? If you aren’t saved by going to church or doing good works or by comparing yourself to others, how are you saved? The answer is simple: Go to the right bus.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NIV).
Note what God did:” … He gave his only Son.” This is how he dealt with your sin. Imagine it this way. Suppose you are found guilty of a crime. You are in a courtroom in front of the judge, and he sentences you to death for your crime. His sentence is just. You are guilty, and the punishment for your crime is death. But suppose that the judge is your father. He knows the law; he knows that your crime demands a death. But he knows love; he knows that he loves you too much to let you die. So in a wonderful act of love, he stands and removes his robe and stands by your side and says, “I’m going to die in your place.”
That is what God did for you. The wages of sin is death. Heaven’s justice demands a death for your sin. Heaven’s love: however, can’t bear to see you die. So here is what God did. He stood and removed his heavenly robes. He came to earth to tell us that he would die for us. He would be our Savior. And that is what he did.
“God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. . . God put on him the wrong who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God” (2 Corinthians 5:19,21, MSG).
THE RESPONSE: TRUST (GETTING ON THE RIGHT BUS)
What does God want you to do? He wants you to get on his bus. How is this done? Three simple steps: admit, agree, accept.
1. Admit that God has not been first place in your life, and ask him to forgive your sins.
“If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong” (1 John 1:9, NLT).
2. Agree that Jesus died to pay for your sins and that he rose from the dead and is alive today.
“If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9, NIV).
“Salvation is found in no one else [Jesus], for there is no other name by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, NIV).
3. Accept God’s free gift of salvation. Don’t try to earn it.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9, NIV).
“To all who received him, he gave the right to become children of God. All they needed to do was to trust him to save them. All those who believe this are reborn!–—not a physical rebirth . . . but from the will of God” (John 1:12, 13, TLB).
Jesus says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in. . .” (Revelation 3:20, NIV).
With all of my heart, I urge you to accept God’s destiny for your life. I urge you to get on board with Christ. According to the Bible, “Jesus is the only One who can save people. His name is the only power in the world that has been given to save people. We must be saved through him” (Acts 4:12, NCV).
Would you let him save you? This is the most important decision you will ever make. Why don’t you give your heart to him right now? Admit your need. Agree with his work. Accept his gift. Go to God in prayer and tell him, I am a sinner in need of grace. I believe that Jesus died for me on the cross. I accept your offer of salvation. It’s a simple prayer with eternal results.
I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God. I want him to be the Lord of my life.
Once you’ve placed your faith in Christ, I urge you to take three steps. You’ll find them easy to remember. Just think of these three words. They each start with a “b”: baptism, Bible, and belonging.
Baptism demonstrates and celebrates our decision to follow Jesus. The water of baptism symbolizes God’s grace. Just as water cleanses the body, so grace cleanses the soul. Jesus said, “Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. . .” (Mark 16:16, NCV). When the apostle Paul became a believer, he was asked this question: “Now, why wait any longer? Get up, be baptized, and wash your sins away, trusting in him to save you” (Acts 22:16, NCV). Paul responded by being baptized immediately. You can, too.
Bible reading brings us face to face with God. God reveals himself to us through his word by the Holy Spirit. “Let the teaching of Christ live in you richly” (Colossians 3:16, NCV).
Belonging to a church reinforces your faith. A Christian without a church is like a baseball player without a team or a soldier without an army. You aren’t strong enough to survive alone. “You should not stay away from the church meetings, as some are doing, but you should meet together and encourage each other” (Hebrews 10:25, NCV).
These three steps–—baptism, Bible reading, and belonging to a church–—are essential steps in your faith.
I pray that you’ll accept this great gift of salvation. Believe me, this is not only the most important decision you’ll ever make, it’s also the greatest decision you’ll ever make. There’s no higher treasure than God’s gift of salvation. (33-53)