I sat with a man in my office that I recently began meeting with to discuss the ‘gospel’, the Bible, and what it means to follow the person of Jesus. To begin our time I asked a simple question – What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? I didn’t ask this to trick him; I sincerely wanted to know how it was he defined what it meant to be a follower of Christ. As he shared with me, I learned that he didn’t have an understanding or definition of what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus, though he did speak of being ‘Christian’ and trying to be a person that lived in a right manner. I then asked, “Did Jesus really have to die?” A look of thoughtfulness came upon his face. “No, I suppose not,” he said. “So why did He die?” I then asked. In great honesty he said, “I’m not really sure. I guess I’ve never thought about it.”
As I prodded into what he meant by living in a ‘right manner’, I soon discovered that his definition of sin was limited to drinking, drugs, outright crime, and cheating on your spouse. Being that he no longer lived in such a way (for he had been sober and faithful to his spouse for a number of years) and was living in a ‘right way’, therefore, he wasn’t wronging God in any way. Finally, this led me to ask, “Do you have sin in your life, things that God would not be pleased with?” Again, with great sincerity, he said “no”.
This conversation was very enlightening to me and a sobering reminder of the wisdom of our world. If we don’t see our ‘sin’, hence our need for a Savior, then what good is the gospel? Jesus came preaching the gospel, the good news of the kingdom… but what constituted it being good news? Here was the point of disconnect for my friend with whom I spoke. He didn’t see the necessity of Jesus dying on the cross because he didn’t see the depth of his own rebellion against God. I wonder, is this not descriptive of our culture? Speaking generically, our American culture believes that we are a relatively ‘good’ people. As long as we do what is right (albeit in our own eyes), we obey most of the laws, we don’t cheat on our spouse (beyond the lust of our eyes or a flirtatious exchange here and there), rob a store, or murder someone, then we are okay. This is a problem as it fails to reveal the source of all problems we see and experience in our lives and world – SIN. To ‘sin’ is to miss the mark, not by our definition, but by God’s.
Exodus 20 is an insightful passage as Moses received the Law, or Ten Commandments, from God. You shall have no other gods; You shall not make for yourself idols; You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God; Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy; Honor you mother and father; Do not murder; Do not commit adultery; Do not steal; Do not bear false testimony; and Do not covet. This was the standard of ‘holiness’ that the people of God were to live by, but as we know from history, they failed to do so. In fact, before Moses could even make it off the mountain, the people had already created for themselves a golden calf to worship rather than the one true God!
Does this not describe you and me? The world we live in? We have replaced the one true God with many ‘gods’ (kids, money, status, etc.). We have created many idols in our lives as our lusts have become our motivation. And to misuse the name of God has become part of our everyday language. We don’t have to look very far down the list of commandments to see that we have indeed missed the mark. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. Somehow or another, we need to understand the depth of our rebellion against God before we can understand the goodness of God. As Jesus came preaching the gospel, He did so after generations of the Hebrew people tried to maintain a right relationship with God. Laws, regulations, ceremonies, sacrifice upon sacrifice… but ultimately, God would unfold His plan of redemption with Christ, our Savior, as the climax of His redemptive story. Being both fully human and fully God, He lived a sinless life, and ultimately would serve as the perfect blood sacrifice, the Passover Lamb, to do away with our sins once and for all. This is the good news! What we could not do for ourselves, Christ Jesus has done for us, for those who believe in the Him and follow His ways.
My prayer, not only for our work here in the South Side, but our nation and world as a whole, is that we become acutely aware of how broken we truly are. Until we can see how far off the mark we are, and how great our sin is and our need for a savior, we will never be able to understand the good news of the gospel. And before we can begin to think about fighting poverty and restoring families, we need to come to terms with our sin and rebellion, and by His grace, so will His good work be performed in us. As trite as it may sound, Jesus truly is the answer. Praise be to God.
Eric Basye, February 2014