I have some sad news. Last night, I had a seizure. We went to the UNC hosptial where they did a CAT scan and an MRI. The results showed a brain tumor. The growth is operable, but there is a significant risk as with any operation. So I wanted to take this opportunity to share the gospel with you. I have tried to share this message in bits and pieces over the years through our friendship and some of my essays, but in light of the occassion, I wanted to share it more fully.
All of you know what I used to be like in high school and college, and although I may have been fun-loving, I could also easily have been called profane, cruel, and arrogant. Then I put my trust in Jesus, through knowing my wife Christina, and a change happened. Obviously, I am still the same person. I still love you guys from the depths of my heart and spouting Pritkzur-isms and Dok-isms is still a staple in the Shenvi household. And I still sin in many ways. But in another way, I am not the same person. I have a new love for mercy, compassion, gentleness, patience, self-control. All of these things are the work of God in my life as he remakes me. And yet in spite of the radical change that occurred in my own life and that inevitably takes place whenever anyone grows in Christian maturity, the central message of Christianity is not moral self-improvement. The central message of Christianity is the gospel or "Good News" of Jesus, that he came to rescue us from eternal punishment and win for us eternal life.
For most of my adolescence and early adulthood, I thought I understood the basic message of Christianity, but later I realized that I had never really heard it at all. Without really exploring it or reading about it, I had assumed that the message of the gospel was essentially the message of every religion: Live a good life, do good works, care for the poor, love your neighbor, and you will be acceptable to God. In other words, God accepts and blesses good people. But after actually reading the Bible and talking with Christians, I discovered that the message of Christianity is quite different. In fact, the message of Christianity is the exact opposite of what I had thought. The apostle Paul summarizes this message in his letter to the Romans: ďall have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.Ē The message of the gospel is that God rescues bad people.
Why is this ďGood NewsĒ? Because ultimately, all of us are bad people. All of us -no matter how moral or good or upright or decent we consider ourselves to be- are lost in Godís eyes and in need of radical forgiveness. The Bible comes to the best of us and to the worst of us and says that we are all spiritually dead an that we need to be born again. Whether we are the most moral, decent person in the world or the most immoral, disreputable person in the world, we are all guilty of breaking God’ís commandments and when we die, we will all fae God’s judgment. Our only hope is to put our trust not in our own goodness, but in God’ís mercy in Christ. I can imagine tht many of us are indeed offended by the insinuation that we are sinners. I myself would have strenuously objected: “ I’m not perfect; I have my faults. But frankly, I’m far better than most people. I’ve never done anything really bad, so I’m sure that God will forgive my sins, whatever they may be.” But the Bible gives us two clear reasons that our objections are hopeless.
First, our objections ignore the depth of our sin and second, they ignore the goodness of God. First, if we believe that our sin really isn’ít so bad, it shows we haven’ít ever taken Jesusí teaching seriously. Almost everyone acknowledges that Jesus was a great moral teacher, perhaps the greatest in human history. And yet, if we begin to seriously consider his moral teaching it should frighten us. What is it that God requires of human beings? Love. Jesus taught that all of Godís commandments can be summed up by two commandments: Love God with your whole heart and love your neighbor as yourself. And something in us recognizes that Jesusí teaching is true. Deep inside, we know that we ought to keep these commandments.
But the question is: do we keep these commandments? Do we love God with our whole heart? I know I donít. Even my best deeds are tainted by pride, self-righteousness, and self-centeredness; I spend far more time thinking about myself than honoring God and living as he commands. What would you say of a man who found it completely natural to go weeks, perhaps months, without speaking a word to his wife, whom he claimed to love? That would be terrible. And yet, we can easily go just as long ignoring God, who ought to be even closer to us than our spouse. What about loving our neighbor? Do we truly love other people as we love ourselves? If we are honest with ourselves, we must answer no. We often avoid people with problems because we donít want to be burdened with their poverty, their emotional needs, or their hurts. The Bible says very clearly that there is not one of us who is righteous, that all of us have broken Godís laws in terrible ways, and that all of us are guilty before God. What about loving our neighbor? Do we truly love other people as we love ourselves? If I am honest with myself, I must again answer no. I avoid people with problems because I donít want to be burdened with their poverty, their emotional needs, or their hurts. From out of these two failures to love God and love others all of the terrible actions like murder, adultery, theft, and greed that we recognize so easily in others yet fail to see in ourselves. But the Bible says very clearly that there is not one of us who is righteous, that all of us have broken Godís laws in terrible ways, and that all of us are guilty before God.
But second, our objections are silenced in the face of Godís goodness. We might assume that God will overlook our sin because he is good. But in fact, the Bible tells us that God cannot overlook our sin for precisely that reason. If someone told me that my wife had been kidnapped and were being tortured in a nearby building, what would you say to me if I responded placidly: “ That’s ok; I’m a very loving person”? You would not conclude that I was loving, but that I was a sociopath. What then must God feel when he sees billions of men and women and children all over the world suffering starvation, oppression, and injustice? A God who did not care about the misery that we inflict on ourselves and on others would not be a God of love. Instead, the Bible says that because God is a God of goodness and love, he hates evil and injustice and greed and adultery and theft and murder. Because God is a father to the fatherless and a friend of widows and orphans, he will see that they get justice one day. But as a result, all of us stand condemned. We are all guilty of breaking Godís good commands, and of creating the misery that we see all around us. And one day, God will call us all to account for our evil deeds.
What hope is there, then? If we are all guilty and deserve God’s judgment, how can we be rescued? How can God be both a just judge and a friend of sinners? The answer is found only in the cross of Jesus. All of us stand condemned before God’s justice. But God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son to rescue us from our sin. Rather than punish us, God punished Jesus. On the cross, God poured out his wrath against sin and on the cross God Himself, in the person of Jesus, absorbed that wrath so that forgiveness could be offered to all who will receive it. Three days after his crucifixion, God raised Jesus from the dead, vindicating him as the Savior of all mankind and showing that the debt had been paid in full: through the death and Resurrection of Christ, God is reconciling all people to himself, not counting men’s sins against them. The good news of the gospel can be summed up by the phrase "Jesus in our place." Jesus obeyed God perfectly on my behalf, loving God and loving his neighbor as Himself. And on the cross, this same sinless man was punished on my behalf, so that I could be forgiven. It’s the Great Exchange: Jesus gets the punishment that I deserve so that I can receive the blessing that He deserves. This is how God rescue sinners like you and me.
What does this mean? First, it means that we all need Christ. The entire verse that I quoted at the beginning about the universal sinfulness of man concludes ďAl have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.Ē If we hope to avoid Godí wrath on the basis of our good deeds or our religious works, we have no hope at all. Not because God is unfair or unjust or bad, but precisely because he is just and good. A good judge gives people what they deserve, and we all deserve punishment. Only by turning to Jesus, who lived and suffered and died in our place, can we escape Godís just condemnation. Christianity alone claims that people in heave getwhat they do not deserve; instead they are justified ďfreely by his grace.Ē But second, it means that salvation is a free gift which anyone can have. The crack addict, the prostitute, the doctor, the lawyer, the pastor Ė all can be accepted on the basis of what Christ did for us. There is no room for boasting, pride, or superiority, because salvation from first to last is a free gift. Third, it means that anyone who has received this gift must and will live a transformed life. When we turn to Christ, God fills us with his Spirit. We are literally a new creation. If our life is unchanged and there is no new love, patience, gentleness and self-control in our hearts, then we have probably never really trusted in Jesus.
Thank you for reading this far. I wish the circumstances were more pleasant, but I trust that God knows what He’ís doing. In fact, I am surer today of His grace and mercy than I was before my diagnosis, having seen so much of evidence to His care towards me in the hospital. When something like this happens, I think we ought to consider carefully what we are living for. Certainly, it should make us realize how relatively unimportant career and success are compared to family and friends. But if we don’t also stop to consider whether eternity is at stake, whether there is even a possibility that death is not the end, then we are severely missing the point. Life is either ‘a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’ or it has eternal significance. Even when we rise out of them, we seldom look beyond family or country or philosophy to give us our ultimate purpose in life. But if God exists, and if eternity depends on our response to Him, there is nothing that ought to be more important to us in our daily lives. At least give Christianity a hearing by reading the gospels, the biographies of Jesus in the Bible. There are also many excellent spiritual and apologetic resources on shelves that Iíd be happy to send to you.
Even more urgently, recognize your sin, turn from it, and trust in Jesus alone to rescue you. He is not just a historical figure, but the living Lord of heaven, who stoops down to knock at our doors and beg us to be forgiven. Don’t turn him away; embrace him. I hope that I will see you all again in person soon, but if not, I hope see you in eternity.
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