The crux (pun intended) of Christianity is the cross. Christianity teaches that God’s standard is perfection and that even the best people violate that standard. Because God is both infinitely just and infinitely merciful, he became man in the person of Jesus, lived a perfect life and died a horrific death so that we need not. Forgiveness and new life is available, free, as John 3:16 witnesses, to “whoever believes in him.”
Jesus is widely acknowledged, even among secularists, as a profound teacher and a great humanitarian. But those labels don’t account for his determined course to the cross, where he died a horrific, humiliating death under the condemnation of others’ sin.
Neither does the Heaven-on-Earth philosophy of preachers who picture God as eager to give us all Escalades and accolades if we’d only recognize what truly cool people we are.
God indeed loves to give good gifts (Matthew 7:11), and prosperity and health are certainly to be desired (3 John 2). But if good wishes and happy self-talk are all Christianity has in the face of eviction or a ripped-apart family or a grim diagnosis or the world’s overload of evil, that’s no Christianity worth the name.
It’s also easy for preaching to devolve into mere urgings to be better people.
Scripture is replete with admonitions to overcome flaws and do good works, but some turn good works into a means to an end. The 1600s theologian Walter Marshall wrote bluntly of this: “If you seek to earn your salvation by sincerely trying to do good works, you are condemned.”
Less ambitious earning-one’s-salvation adherents satisfy themselves with “better than that guy” standards. Not being brawlers, swindlers, wife beaters, child molesters, murderers or drug dealers puts them ahead of plenty of other folks, they reason, so surely God is OK with them.
Contemporary Baptist theologian Albert Mohler warns against that outlook.
“In order to participate in this seduction, we must negotiate a moral code that defines acceptable behavior with innumerable loopholes,” he writes. “Most moralists would not claim to be without sin, but merely beyond scandal. That is considered sufficient.”
As inconvenient as this truth might be, sin is a universal problem to which humans cannot provide our own remedy. Our helplessness is as deep as that of a corpse: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” (Ephesians 2:1).
That’s why health-and-wealth theology is hollow, good works don’t make us alive and Jesus can’t be dismissed as a mere teacher or humanitarian.
Remember this, on this Good Friday: On the cross, God died for men.
That’s the crux of the matter.
Contact Daily Journal reporter Errol Castens at (662) 816-1282 firstname.lastname@example.org.