by Dick Innes
I walked into the religious instruction classroom in a secular school and, with tongue-in-cheek, wrote in large letters across the blackboard: "I hate religion."
"Man, in this class, you'll get shot," gasped on student in amazement.
"But I'm sold on real Christianity," I responded.
"What's the Difference?" half the class chorused.
The point is one can be religious without necessarily being Christian. Let me explain. True, Christianity is a religion, but it's much more than that. It's also much more than believing a creed. It's a relationship with God and people. It's knowing God personally, experiencing his divine love and forgiveness, and communicating this to every life we touch.
We start by realizing that no matter what we have ever done or have failed to do, God loves us and is vitally interested in our total life--both for this life as well as the next.
In fact, Jesus said, "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). And again, "I came that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10b, NIV).
The great thing in the world is to come to the realization that God is not out to punish you for wrongdoing but that he loves you unconditionally and does indeed have a wonderful purpose and plan for your life.
Unfortunately, it is our wrongdoing or sin that blocks out our experiencing God's love and receiving the full and abundant life that he has for us. And let's face it, "We have all sinned and fallen short of God's standard" (Romans 3:23). Sin, of course, is not merely doing wrongful acts. It is anything that falls short of the perfection that God envisioned for us--including our damaged emotions, negative attitudes, and mixed motives.
GOD never left man--man left God
Punishment for sin comes from the wrongdoing itself. Sin has its own self-destructive consequences--first spiritual death and ultimately eternal death (Romans 6:23); that is, eternal separation from God, the author of all love and life.
Like a burned out electric light bulb that cannot respond to its power source, man being spiritually dead cannot respond to God's love and power without his help. God's love and power are constant. As sinners we're dead to it.
Because our sin has separated us from God, we have been left with a "God-shaped vacuum" or spiritual emptiness. The world's many religions are all evidence of man's endless struggle to fill this vacuum. And his relentless search for inner peace through pleasure-seeking, power, fame, fortune, drugs, and mystical experiences all tell of his inner emptiness. But as Augustine put it, "You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you."
As it is impossible for us to find God or peace with him through our own efforts, God in his love and mercy sent his own sinless Son, Jesus Christ, to save us from our predicament (see Ephesians 2:8-9).
Christ is the only way to GOD
Christ did this by dying on the cross in our place to pay the ransom price for our sins--which was death. Thus Jesus Christ is God's only provision for our sin and he is the only way back to God and eternal life (see John 14:6 and Romans 5:8).
As the Bible says, "For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men" (I Timothy 2:5-6).
If you were found guilty of serious crime and were condemned to death, would you accept a free pardon from the President? I certainly would.
Through the consequences of sin we are all condemned to eternal death. But because Christ died on the cross in our place and paid our ransom, God now offers us a free pardon. All we need to do is to respond to God's love and accept his pardon.
How can we do this?
First, confess. The Bible says, "If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness: (I John 1:9, NIV).
Second, repent. Turn from sin to God. Jesus said, "The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe in the good news" (Mark 1:15, NIV).
Third, believe. "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31, NIV).
Fourth, receive. Again God said, "To all who receive him [Christ], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12, NIV).
It is responding to God's offer of a free pardon for your sin, accepting his forgiveness and making a commitment of your life to Christ that makes you a real Christian. To help you do that, pray the following prayer either out loud or just in your heart:
"Dear God, I confess that I am a sinner. I genuinely repent of my sins and ask for your forgiveness. And Lord Jesus Christ, I believe that you died on the cross for my sin. I now respond to your call to follow you. I receive you as my Lord and Savior--and make a commitment of my life to you. With your help I choose to serve and obey you. Please make me the person you want me to be. Thank you for dying for my sin, for your free pardon, for your gift of eternal life, and for hearing and answering my prayer. Amen."
Here's Great Assurance
If you sincerely confessed you sin and prayed to receive Christ, you are now a true Christian and have the gift of eternal life. You are a brand new person inside with a new spiritual life. You are a child of God and a member of his family (see II Corinthians 5:17 and John 1:12). God promised all of this. So believe it. Accept it. Take it by faith and not feelings. Feelings change, but God's Word never does.
And his Word, the Bible, says, "And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life" (I John 5:11--13, NIV).
Your new spiritual life, however, needs care just as your physical life does. We would like to encourage you to become involved in a local church body that preaches the Word of God and can encourage you in your spiritual growth and daily walk with the Lord.