25. Is Jesus optional?

        Perhaps some of you who are listening to this broadcast wonder if I’m making too big a deal out of this Jesus thing.  Do people really need Jesus and the salvation He brings?   “Look at my life,” you say.  “I don’t claim to be a Christian, but I’m doing fine.   I’m a loving father.  An excellent employee.  A good citizen.  I try to follow the golden rule and treat others right.  I’m reasonably happy.  In fact, compared to some of the Christians I know, I think I’m actually doing better.  My neighbor to the west goes to church every Sunday, but he fights with his wife a lot. On the other hand, my wife and I get along great.     So if that religion thing works for you, that’s cool, but I’m not sure I need it.”

        In the Midwest United States, I’m surrounded by people who fit the description just given – decent, intelligent, hardworking folks who seem to be doing just fine on their own apart from Jesus.  While some of them are atheists, most of them aren’t.  They may even like Jesus – they find Him inspiring.     It’s just that Jesus doesn’t seem especially relevant or necessary for them.  He’s more of a hobby for other people; people who need him.  Is that a fair description?

       If you’ll give me a few minutes I’d like to discuss this “doin’ fine without Jesus” perspective.  On the surface, it seems to make a lot of sense, but let me throw in a few observations to consider.

·     The assessment of how we’re doing in life is relative to whose standard we’re using

When you say, “I’m fine” you’re assuming some standard by which you measure yourself.  Usually this is the standard of your own personal expectations.  You take the way you were raised, society’s norms, books you have read, the opinions of other people you respect, and so on, sort through this pile, and come up with your own personal standards.  We all do this.  In Western culture we have more freedom to choose our personal standards than people do in other, more rigid cultures.
        Here’s the key question, though: how do you know that your personal standards are good ones?  Just because they seem right to you, does that make them right?  Just because you say, “I’m doing fine,” are you actually doing fine?  Whose standard is an accurate measure of fine?  This leads to our second observation:

·     God says that He is the one who sets life’s standards for everyone

In Genesis 18:25, Abraham calls God “the judge of all the earth”.   Paul tells us that God and Christ Jesus will “judge the living and the dead” (2 Tim. 4:1).  The judgment described, is based, not on our standards, but on God’s.   Furthermore, in the Bible, God clearly communicates these standards and expectations to us through the Ten Commandments, the Golden rule, and in a number of other places.  His list doesn’t always match our personal list or society’s norms.  How do you feel about that?  Some people accept God’s role in setting standards, but lots of people don’t.  They think that they should craft their own standards. Others say, “Well, I think I am following God’s standards pretty well.”  This leads to our third observation

·     God’s standards are probably a lot higher than you think they are

If we ask the average person on the street about the quality of their life, they’ll often say, “I’m not perfect, but I think I’ve lived a good life.” Or “I consider myself a good person.”  Would you say that about yourself?  What does God say about people like us?  I’m afraid that it’s more negative than we think.  The Bible says things like:  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and “There’s no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10).  God’s standard is perfection.  Anything less than 100% right is unacceptable to Him.  And did you notice the words “all” and “no one”?  We’ve all failed God’s test of moral purity – more than we’re usually aware of.  This leads to the next observation

·     God judges us by standards that we don’t usually consider

What do I mean?  First, God judges our motives.  It’s not just what we do that matters to God, it’s also why we do it. Jesus, for instance, criticized those who prayed in public “to be seen by men” (Matt. 6:5), in other words, for show, rather than to honor God.  Second, God judges our hidden thoughts. Jesus said that whoever “looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt. 5:28). Third, God judges us not only for what we do, but also for what we don’t do (Matt. 23:23).  If we neglect His commands, that’s called a “sin of omission”.  Fourth, and please listen carefully, because this one is subtle, God judges us for choosing to act independently of Him.  If we say, “I don’t need God to live a good life,” that attitude taints even the good deeds we do.  Willful independence toward God is an act of rebellion.  This is where a lot of apparently good people get deceived.  They think that their relationship with God is irrelevant as long as they’re contributing to charities, being honest, or loving their families.  But, although these acts are good to do, if they’re done while resisting God, they will not please Him.  This raises another question:  does it really matter if my life pleases God?  This leads into our fifth observation:

·     God’s evaluation of us has consequences

One of the things a mature person eventually realizes is that they can’t please everyone.  So we learn to do what we believe best and let others think what they want.  If you don’t approve of me, oh well, I will survive.  When it comes to God, however, it’s a different story.  His opinion is more than just an opinion.  It also happens to be the universal standard of right and wrong, good and bad.  Every other opinion is measured against it.  Furthermore, God’s more than just a colleague.  As I mentioned earlier, God’s our judge.  He is the Supreme Judge in the universe’s Supreme Court.  The Bible says that every one of us, rich or poor, great or small, will one day stand before Him and be judged (2 Tim. 4:1).  Whether or not we agree with God is irrelevant.  We will be judged.  For some, that judgment will bring reward (2 Tim. 4:8), for others it will bring punishment (Rev. 20: 15).  The rewards are fantastic (Rev. 21:1-7, but the punishments, even the lighter ones, are terrible.  They involve a place called “Hell” where people will be excluded from God and suffer forever (Matt. 10:28).  Is this punishment necessary?  This leads to our final, most crucial point.

·     Only Jesus can save us from God’s punishment

Please hear me carefully:  apart from Jesus none of us can live a life good enough to be acceptable to God.  None of us.  No one.  Not even the best people this world has produced.  Apart from Jesus, none of us are good people. Furthermore, Jesus Christ is the only way to God.  All religions do not lead to God.  Jesus said:  “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). That’s a big pill to swallow.  Are you willing to do it?  Jesus came to bring you life.  Will you reach out to Him today and take what He offers?