Unfortunately, through the ages, the devil has distorted Christianity so much that the Gospel has often been obscured. People, even lifetime churchgoers, often don't have a clue as to what real Christianity is all about. So just exactly what is Christianity? Sometimes, the "Christianity" being attacked by our culture today is such a false, twisted caricature that it bears little resemblance to the true faith. Indeed it ought to be attacked. Recently, a lesbian who claimed to be a Christian came "out of the closet," declaring war on historic Christianity—the religion of the Cross. It turns out that as a child she had been placed naked on a cross by an adult—for some twisted, religious reason. Today she resents and rejects the Cross of Christ as the means of salvation. Woe to the person who did this terrible misdeed, for it has caused her to reject a "straw man" of Christianity, not the real thing.
But God's timeless truths about the salvation He offers us in Christ are not made null by the sins of professing Christians. Even if the entire official Church were to become apostate, that would not nullify the Gospel. Therefore, I want to devote the rest of this chapter to the purpose of clarifying what true Christianity really is.
The basic message of Christianity is not "do," but "done." "It is done" were the last words of Christ before commending His soul to the Father. It is done. It is finished. It is complete. It is accomplished (to quote Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ). It is enough. Tetelestai is the Greek word Jesus said when He breathed
His last. This Greek word was often used in economic transactions, and it means "paid in full." Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sins. The atonement is completed, and now, all who trust in Him may have eternal life freely.
JESUS: "YOU MUST BE PERFECT"
I remember twenty-five years or so ago, my wife and I were invited to a dinner at the home of one of our church families. There must have been about 10 or 15 people present. There was a long table and I was invited to sit down near one end of the table; my wife was seated near the other end. Across from me was the mother of the hostess, a lady about 65 or 70, and she said to me, "Oh, Rev. Kennedy, I am so happy to be seated across from you, because I've always wanted to ask a minister a question."
And I said, "Well, fine, I will be glad to try and answer it. Don't make it too hard or I'll have to get up and go ask my wife. But what is it?"
She said, "How good does a person have to be, to be good enough to get into Heaven?"
Now, that's a question many people ought to ask themselves. So many do not even bother to do so, but at least this woman had the intelligence to realize that if one was going to get into Heaven by being good, one should intelligently ask how good is good enough. What is the passing grade in this course? Is it 70 or 75 or 80 or 60 or 50 or what is it?
And I said, "Oh, is that your question? Well, that's easy."
And her face just broke out in a huge smile. She said, "Do you mean you know?"
And I said, "Of course. That's the simplest possible question."
She said, "You will never know how relieved I am. I have been worrying about that for years."
I said, "Well, you will never need to worry about the answer to that question ever again, because from this day forward, you will know."
She said, "Oh, I'm so glad I came." She said, "What is it?"
I said, "Jesus said it very clearly, very understandably. He said, 'Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect'" (Matthew 5:48).
The smile left her face. She looked like one of those cartoon characters that had been hit by a skillet. Her face just sort of fell onto the table, and she sat there silently for a long time. Then she said, "I think I'm going to worry about that more than ever."
I replied, "Dear lady, I did not go into the ministry to make people worry, but far from it—to deliver them from their worries." I was then happy to share with her the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that while none of us is perfect, and none of us has lived up to God's standard, and all of us have fallen short, Jesus Christ came to do what we have been unable to do.
The Law of God shows us the helplessness and hopelessness of our condition. The Law declares to us that if you offend in one point, you are guilty already. In fact, the Law would even take us to the end of the trial, that we might see the outcome of our judgment. Would you like for me to tell you how your encounter with the judgment of God will come out? Christ has already told you. He says, "You are condemned already."
There it is—a preview of coming attractions. You already know the end. If you are trying to gain admission into Paradise by keeping the Law and doing good works and being the best person you can be—then let me tell you that the verdict is already in. You have failed. You have flunked. Your grade is "F," and the declaration of the Judge is, "Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41).
Again, Christianity is good news. Jesus died for us, in our place, and offers us the free gift of eternal life. Thus, God has made salvation available to us by His grace, which is unmerited favor.
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