The mega-fun topic of SIN, DEATH, and FORGIVENESS!

Jesus said, “You must be born again.”  John 3:3

Why can’t God just forgive us and be done with it?

I have to admit, I have put this off for months. It’s been nagging at me since September, now here it is, almost Christmas. All I do for this blog is just read scripture and write down my thoughts, so why is this so much harder than any other post? Maybe because that pesky question of forgiveness is what the entire Bible is all about?

Our common ancestors, Adam and Eve, were given Paradise and completely screwed it up by the third chapter of the first book of the Bible. I found this hard to understand when I was a little kid reading my Children’s Bible for the first time. Why was eating some fruit so terrible? It sounds silly, even comical. They didn’t kill anybody, right? Sure, God told them not to do it. But they were sorry afterwards, weren’t they? Why didn’t he just forgive them and let everything get back to normal? He’s a loving God, right? Why kick them out of the Garden and curse them (and us)? That just seems cruel.  

James 2:10 says, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” But there are over 600 laws in the Old Testament! Who then has a chance? It isn’t fair! Is it?

Theologians, atheists and everybody and their grandma who’ve ever given any thought at all to the God of the Bible wonder about this sooner or later. I’ve read a lot about it, and heard a lot of scholars talk. I’ve read the Bible myself and prayed over it, gotten angry over it, and questioned God over it. I’ve had to do a lot of soul-searching, examining choices I’ve made and wondering about the effects I’ve had on other people. The conclusion I’ve come to is there is no such thing as a sin that’s “no big deal.” It’s not possible. 

The above verse in James is hard to grasp for most of us. For myself, at least. Is God really saying that if you broke one point of the law you’ve broken all of it? So, me snapping at that clerk in the store and making her cry condemns me just as much as Hitler slaughtering 6 million Jews? 

Yes . . . and here are just a few reasons why I believe it:

1. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke Chapter 16, the guy in hell wants Lazarus to bring him some water. But Abraham tells him “…between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.” A lot of Bible teachers believe this is a story of actual people and not a parable. So if we assume that there is a real chasm between heaven and hell, then the question is how and why did it get there. I think the moment Adam and Eve bit the forbidden fruit, they were on the rich man’s side of the chasm. They rejected God because they rebelled against the only law He gave them. They thought it was more prudent to listen to a snake than to listen to the voice of God. And from then on they were separated from God, with no way to get back to Him. All because they ate a piece of fruit. It wasn’t a “little thing,” after all.

2. God gave mankind authority over all the earth in Genesis 1:28: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” But when they listened to the devil’s lies instead of to God, they handed that authority over to Satan, thus becoming the servants of Satan (sin/rebellion/death). Remember when Satan tempted Jesus he said, “I will give you all their [the earthly kingdoms’] authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.” (Luke 4:6). Jesus called Satan the “prince of this world” in John 12:31.

(Note: Satan doesn’t own this world and he isn’t the supreme ruler. God has always had that authority. “To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it.” – Deuteronomy 10:14.  It’s kind of like God owning a building, giving the superintendent’s keys to Adam and Eve, then they give those keys to Satan. Satan may be able to run all over the building for now, but he doesn’t own it and he never will.)

3. When Adam and Eve rejected God’s authority by eating the fruit, they died. Their spirits were dead from that day on, and their bodies started on the road to decay and death. What God told them in Genesis 2:17, “…you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die,” was the truth. So if He had just said, “oh, well, you silly kids, you shouldn’t have but I guess I’ll let it slide this time,” then He would have been a liar and a fool and therefore not someone worthy of our worship and our trust.

4. The sin is laid on Adam’s shoulders, not Eve’s, even though she ate first. There are debates on this but I think it was because Adam was the head of the house. It sounds like he was right there when the snake was talking to Eve. He had the authority to order the snake to be quiet, but he didn’t. He could have corrected Eve when she misquoted God’s command, but he didn’t. He could have knocked the fruit out of her hand, but he didn’t. He could have refused the fruit when she offered it to him, but he didn’t. Eve was deceived; Adam made a deliberate, conscious choice to reject God. We are all his descendants and so we all inherit his nature—the nature of a dead spirit that is enslaved to sin. All the pain, suffering, greed and hate that we call history happened because of the choice that one man, the ancestor of all of us, made one day thousands of years ago.

The first sin recorded in the Bible was eating a piece of fruit. 

The second was murder.

No small sin.

————

(This isn’t my original thought; I’ve heard it many times but it makes sense and is in perfect alignment with the Bible) If God is perfect, then he can’t just sweep sin — any sin — under the rug. Because if He does that, then He is not a just God. Nor would He be a loving God, if you think about it. If a drunk driver ran me over and crippled me for life, I would want justice. That driver knew it was wrong and dangerous to drink and drive but he did it anyway. His choice ruined the rest of my life. I would cry out for justice. When the case came to court, if the judge said to the drunk driver, “I forgive you. Cased dismissed,” he might be very merciful and kind toward the driver but he wouldn’t be fair or kind to ME.  

And think about eternity. God’s kingdom is absolutely perfect. It is a place of perfect love, joy, peace, beauty, and community among all its inhabitants. I think it is a place that almost all of us desperately long for in our hearts. So what if God swept just one sin under the rug and it was never dealt with? Just one little thing, say one person who occasionally gossips about other people. How long would it take for that one little thing to destroy all of Heaven and turn it into the same cesspool we’ve turned Earth into? Remember, Adam and Eve snacked on some forbidden fruit, and their son murdered his own brother. God absolutely cannot allow even the smallest taint of sin to go undealt with . 

Paul warned the people of Corinth, “Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?” Sin MUST be dealt with, or it will grow like the yeast in bread dough and infest everything.

It’s no good trying to deal with it ourselves. Remember that chasm that has been fixed between hell and Heaven. As sinners we are on the wrong side of that chasm. What can we do to fill the abyss so we can cross over? It’s eternally deep. What are our “good deeds” worth? They are a joke. Most of our works are selfishly motivated anyway, if we are honest with ourselves. And even the most noble thing a person can do, which is to die to save someone else, can’t fill that hole because we are dead sinners trying to save other dead sinners. 

No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him—
The ransom for a life is costly,
No payment is ever enough—
That he should live on forever and not see decay.
– Psalm 49:7-9

We sin every single day and we know it. Even if we really, really don’t want to. That cruel remark slips from our lips, that lustful thought enters our head, that little thing is just sitting there for us to steal, that little white lie is so easy to say….I didn’t mean it! I’m sorry! I’ll do better tomorrow! But tomorrow comes and we don’t do better. We don’t fill that chasm, we just keep digging it deeper and deeper. We are lost. We are in that rich man’s same hell and we are as hopeless as he is to ever get out of it.

UNLESS . . . . . 

Sinking down for the last time

Oh boy! Kathe’s Kraptastic Art is Back!

STILL MUSING ON JOHN 3:3 – “YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN.”

Sorry this is late. I’ve been on vacation, escaping the smoke to go someplace where there was slightly less smoke. When you can’t breathe, “slightly less smoke” is a gift straight from Heaven. We’ve had a lot of rain since I’ve been back, so everything is perfectly lovely and clear again. Thank You, Jesus! My lungs and I are extremely grateful.

On my September 6 blog I was reading through different Bible verses pertaining to original sin, going back to the Garden of Eden in Genesis chapter 3. If you’ve ever read the Bible straight through, you see how generally depraved people have been from the very beginning and will continue to be straight through to the bitter end. No character in scripture apart from Christ is flawless. The closest we see is Daniel; we aren’t told any of his character flaws but we do see him confessing his own sin in Daniel 9:4-6. I don’t have to search my own conscience very deeply to know that I am a sinner. How many times in my life have I lied, cheated, stolen, raged, slandered, gossiped, etc.? More than I could ever count. Every time I hear someone say something like, “I’m a good person! I don’t need any saving, thank you very much,” I want to laugh in their face. I know they’re lying, I know THEY know they’re lying, and I know that THEY know that I know that they’re lying, so why do they bother?

Because we don’t want to be accountable to anyone. Because we know in our heart of hearts that we don’t have an excuse. Every rotten thing we’ve ever done or said or even just thought is piling up on our souls like Jacob Marley’s chains.* And we don’t want to face it. Pretend God isn’t there and He’ll go away, right?

But the day of reckoning is coming. Each and every one of us will have to stand before the Lord God Almighty and give an account for our lives. Do any of us really think we have any merit at all? That it is one big cosmic scale and our so-called “good deeds” are going to outweigh our bad?

“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” – Matthew 5:28. — Whoah! If even our own private, fleeting thoughts make us sinners, who then who of us could be saved? We’re screwed!

Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. – Isaiah 45:23

As surely as I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God. So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. – Romans 14:11-12

There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes. – Romans 3:10-18 (quoting various OT passages).

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. – Galatians 5:19-21.  OUCH! TOO CLOSE TO HOME!

Okay, I think now I understand what Jesus was getting at when he told Nicodemus that we must be born again. The first birth is the sinful nature we inherited from Adam. No matter how much we want to be good, or how hard we try, we keep falling flat on our faces. Like Sisyphus in the old Greek story, we are doomed to keep pushing a rock up a hill; a rock that always gets away from us and rolls away before we reach the top. No matter how hard we try, we can never get to the top.

In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, we are told that there is an eternal chasm fixed between heaven and hell, and no one can cross it. (Luke 16:26). We are trapped in our sinful nature and we cannot and will not ever get out of it by our own power. A man going down for the third time can’t save himself from drowning even if he is a good swimmer. A woman falling to her death from a cliff can’t save herself even if she is the best rock climber in the world. We cannot escape the sin nature we’ve had since the moment we were conceived. We are on a one-way trip to hell and eternal punishment AND, if we are honest with ourselves, we know we deserve it. We’re not the innocent victims of Adam’s original sin. We sin and we like it. It feels good to get our own back on someone we hate. It’s fun to have sex even if we’re not married. Who doesn’t secretly enjoy a good meltdown fit of rage? Who hasn’t said we deserve it, it should be ours, as we nick something that belongs to someone else?

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob doesn’t send people to hell on a whim based on his own capriciousness. We walk there all by ourselves. What God does is offer us a way OUT. A new nature, free from sin—no more pushing an endless rock up an endless hill. He offers us a restored relationship with Himself. That is what being born again means.  

The bad news and the good news: “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” – Hebrews 9:27-28

Next time: HOW DOES GOD SAVE US? WHY CAN’T HE JUST FORGIVE US AND BE DONE WITH IT?

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  …for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” – Romans 10:9-13

*Jacob Marley was the ghost of Ebenezer Scrooge’s business partner in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

Nothing more important.

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No man can redeem the life of another
or give to God a ransom for him —The ransom for a life is costly,
No payment is ever enough—
that he should live on forever and not see decay.
– Psalm 49:7-9

But God will redeem my life from the grave;
He will surely take me to himself.
– Psalm 49:15

It’s been weeks now since I found myself stuck on John 3:3 where Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” As I mentioned in an earlier post, I believe the reason I kept coming back to this verse is because being born again is the most important thing of all. For each and every one of us. There is not, there can never be, anything more important. Our lives on this earth will be over before we know it — it is our eternity that matters most. Where will we spend it? It is one of the three most important questions anyone can ask themselves: 1) How did I get here? 2) What is my purpose? and  3) What happens to me after I die?

So, painfully slowly, over the past few weeks I’ve tried to glean from Scripture the basic points of being born again:

  • What does it mean to be born again?
  • Why do I need to be “saved”? Saved from what?
  • I’m a moral person. Why can’t I just do good deeds and make things right with God?
  • Who is Jesus?
  • What is Jesus?
  • How can one man pay for the sin of everyone who ever lived?

And the truth is, I’m overwhelmed. After all, I’m just a secretary. I’m not a biblical scholar, I’m no one special, and certainly not someone others ever listen to about anything important. People far more educated than I am have devoted volumes on these topics; people who know the Bible backward and forward. I have to Google most verses that come to my mind because I can never remember what book or chapter they were in. 

But then I remember that this is not about me. I know in my heart of hearts that there is nothing more important than being saved. Than being washed clean by the blood of Jesus through his sacrifice on the cross. I know who and what I am without Christ, and I don’t like that person very much. I also know who and what I am IN Christ, and that nothing is better or more fulfilling and beautiful than belonging to Him. Governments come and go, fads come and go, but Jesus is forever. He said, ‘Before Abraham was, I AM!” (John 8:58)

I am also overwhelmed with how to write out these points, because the Bible is a bottomless well of information and it is all about Jesus. From Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, every verse in one way or another tells its portion of the greater story of Jesus, our Lord. 

God is our refuge and our strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
He lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The LORD Almighty is with us;
The God of Jacob is our fortress.

– Psalm 46:1-7

Only God knows if anybody even reads this, but if you do my prayer is that you will be encouraged if you are a believer in Christ, and that you will come to know him and be made alive in him if you are not. There is nothing more important.

So from here on out, until I’m done with the nagging issues that John 3:3 put on my heart, I will basically just write out Bible verses that I found on the various topics. Please read them and ask God to show you if they are true. No matter what religion you are, or even if you are an atheist, if you ask the God who created the universe to guide you to truth, you WILL find what is true. For it is written:

“ASK and it will be given to you; SEEK and you will find; KNOCK and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)

Jesus said those words. He also said,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

I waited patiently for the LORD;
He turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
Out of the mud and mire;
He set my feet on a rock
And gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
A hymn of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear
And put their trust in the LORD.

– Psalm 40:1-3

All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version of the Bible.

Born Again? Why?

John 3:3: Jesus said: “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” 

My last four journal entries were just reprinting the book of Ruth. It’s a good story, and I wanted anyone who might not have access to a Bible, or who might not take the time to go look it up, to be able to read it in its entirety. In it we see people who were lost and then were found, who were as good as dead and then made alive again, who were empty and then made full. And, overall, it is a story about love. That in a nutshell is the story of the entire Bible.

Jesus said no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. He describes that further in John 3:5: No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but Spirit gives birth to spirit.

Okay, so it makes sense that flesh gives birth to flesh. We came from our parents, they came from their parents, and so it goes back through the millennia until the very beginning. What happened then?

According to Genesis, all human beings on the planet are descended from the same two people, Adam and Eve. (Adam means “man” and Eve probably means “living”, according to my NIV text notes.) So if flesh gives birth to flesh, then we are all in a sense born of Adam. So far, so good. So why do we need to be born again?

Genesis chapter 3 describes how man sinned against God and the world fell. Everything that was made beautiful and perfect and eternal, was now under a curse and the penalty was death. 

Eve sinned first, but Adam is held to blame. I’ve heard different takes on this, but the most reasonable reason is that, as the head of the house, he could have stopped Eve but didn’t. He could have ordered the serpent to be quiet, for he was given authority over all the animals (Genesis 1:28), but didn’t. He listened. The serpent (Satan) tempted him with the same temptation that led to the devil’s own fall, “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5), which echoes Satan in Isaiah 14:14, “I will make myself like the Most High.”  

For whatever reason, the first man thought it was a good idea to want to be like God himself. He wasn’t content with living in a breathtakingly beautiful, fruitful, peaceful, happy place as long as he had to be subject to God. He wanted to take God’s place, even if he didn’t fully understand at the time exactly what he was doing. (Maybe he did? I don’t know. Scripture gives us the bare facts here, not the inner workings of Adam’s mind.) 

But on that day, instead of becoming a god himself, man became cut off from God because of sin. Physically, he began the process of dying that day, and since he was a spirit being as well as a physical being, then apparently his spirit was as dead as his body. That became his nature. And since we all descended from him, we all inherited that nature. If we just take a look at the world around us, or take an honest look into our own hearts, we can see how painfully true that is. The desire to dominate others (in essence, be a god over them), has infected every government that has ever been on this planet, from the ancient Mesopotamians until today.

Galatians 5:19-21 says: The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality; impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.  If any one of us has indulged in any one of these, even if just for a moment and in our own minds, then we have demonstrated that we have the sin nature we inherited from Adam. And, therefore, we are cut off from God, in our spirits as well as our decaying bodies. God is perfect. In his kingdom is not even the slightest hint of imperfection or sin. If he allowed one speck in, then what would stop his kingdom from becoming the cesspool that we have turned planet Earth into? We are cut off from God; there is an unbreachable chasm between us and God. Read the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31: “…between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.” – Luke 16:26.  I take one of the meanings of that to be that no amount of good deed-doing can ever bridge that chasm, since it says NO ONE can cross it.

That leaves us dead, lost, forsaken. Hopeless. We’re cut off from God. We sin and we can’t stop sinning no matter how much we want to. We can’t make it right. We deserve to die and we deserve to be right where the rich man found himself after death.

BUT WAIT . . . God said to the serpent in the garden, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15).  Hmmm, interesting! Adam isn’t a part of this scenario, it is between Eve and the snake. Her seed will be bruised, but will crush the head of the serpent. That means to kill it, to defeat it. How can Eve have a seed that doesn’t come from Adam?

… And that is where Jesus comes into the picture. 

… “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” What’s that all about?

I love this stuff! The greatest story ever told, for sure. And it is OUR story. See you next time!

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved . . . For, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  – Romans 10:9-13

Good Bible/Bible Study Resources (English language):

educatingourworld.com

answersingenesis.org

blueletterbible.org

biblegateway.com