We’ve spent the last few days studying how to rightly relate to God, since that’s the secret to finding true satisfaction in life. But how do we get into this relationship with him? It would seem to me that that’s the most important question, so we’re going to spend a week looking at it. Before we start on the Gospels of Mark and Luke, we’re going to gain some clarity by delving into soteriology. What’s that? You might guess that the suffix (“-ology”) means the study of something, but few people outside theological circles know what it is, and it’s a good term to know. It’s the subset of theology that deals with salvation.
I can hear it now: “I know I’m saved, so I’ll see you in a week.” But soteriology deals with a lot more than just how to get saved. That can be explained to a six year old in about fifteen minutes. God desires all people to be saved, so he’s made it pretty simple in that regard. But the topic covers a lot more than just how to accept Jesus, trust me. If you give me a few days to discuss it, I might be able to make it interesting. If you know me, then you know that I’m a practical theologian. If I introduce a fifty-cent word, there’s a reason. We’re going to delve into some fairly deep thinking on this, but hopefully it’ll be worth it.
Before we get to the solution, we need to make to understand what the problem is. That’s one of the big questions in philosophy, by the way: What’s the matter with the world? A doctor can’t prescribe a cure if he doesn’t have an accurate diagnosis. Buddha said that it’s suffering which is caused by desire. Marx said that it’s economic inequality. Some eastern religions would say that there really isn’t a problem, since everything is just an illusion anyway. As someone pointed out, if the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.
But the Bible’s pretty clear on this: The problem is sin. What do we mean by that? There are plenty of definitions, but here’s mine: It’s the lack of conformity to the expressed will of God. Literally the word is “to miss the mark,” like you're shooting an arrow at a target and miss it. God has a standard that he’s laid out for us, and we miss it. Interestingly, the book of Ecclesiastes (and you thought we were done with it!) has a verse that lays it out of us—“Indeed there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.” This verse lists two type of sin: Sins of omission (“does what is right”) and sins of commission (“never sins”). In other words, we don't do what we're supposed to do, like love God with all our being and our neighbors as ourselves, and we also do what we're not supposed to do, like lie or steal.
Then we come to the universality of sin. Read today’s passage again and count how many universal terms you see, like “no one,” “all,” etc. My count is ten. Keep in mind that the main way that Scripture writers emphasized something was repetition. Paul is trying to hammer home just how serious this is.
This problem (sin) has spread like an invisible cancer, but its results are readily seen. In fact, there's absolutely no aspect of human existence which is not--to some degree or another-- affected by this. You've never seen a government, a business, a church, a family, a marriage, or a person who’s not affected by this. It’s the cause of physical decay in the world and of physical deterioration for us. And its most stark consequence is physical death.
But it doesn’t end there. The reason is that God is a holy God and must punish sin as it deserves. You've undoubtedly hurt other people through your sins, like lying or theft or even physical violence. But the primary Person who’s offended and attacked by your sin is God. As R.C. Sproul put it, every sin is cosmic treason.
And there’s ultimately only one punishment that God has for sin: Hell. Yes, there is a Hell. Jesus--the most compassionate Man who ever walked the planet--talked about it extensively. He spoke more about Hell than about Heaven or any other topic. He warned people about it because he didn’t want anyone to go there.
So that's our problem. I don’t know about you, but I’m really glad that the message of the Bible doesn’t end here.
Father, you could have easily left us on our own. We put ourselves in this mess, didn’t we? But you chose to intervene, and oh, how it cost you! Thank you so much.