We have examined evidence supporting that Jesus is the Son of God. If you accept this, you should not stop your spiritual journey. The next logical question would be why the Almighty God would become man and end his life on the cross.
Now if I had to answer this question succinctly, I would say that He did this for you and me to save us from eternal damnation and to bring us to Heaven. However, this answer is far too short. So let us develop our understanding of this concept together.
If God came into this world to save mankind, then let us first look at ourselves objectively. In order to understand God’s mysterious works, we first must understand ourselves clearly. First we must accept that we are all sinners deserving punishment before we are willing to try God’s medicine, which is His blood on the cross.
Nobody wants to talk about sin or admit one’s sins. In the nineteenth century there was a popular theory that all people are inherently good, but sinned just because of their circumstances. It was maintained that with widely available educational opportunities and effective social support, men would not tear each other apart, and the world would become heaven on earth. Communism is based on this belief.
However, reality tends to disprove this. In modern industrialized countries, education is no longer just a privilege of the rich but a right for all citizens. Yet, social problems are abundant in these countries, even more so than anywhere else. Furthermore, most of the devious crimes are committed by educated people.
All around is evidence proving humans’ sinful nature. Laws are made because people we cannot live together peacefully and resolve their disagreements satisfactorily. Even so, laws alone are not enough; as a society we need police and armies to enforce these laws. When these enforcers are not around, men reveal their true, sinful nature. No longer do we trust anyone. A verbal promise alone is insufficient; a written contract is needed before work commences. We must lock our doors and prefer to protect our homes with security systems.
We can probably agree that human beings are generally sinful. What we find hard to accept is that all of us are. We like to think of ourselves as the flowers bringing a nice fragrance to life whereas others are the troublemakers.
We have such a view because we tend to be tolerant towards ourselves. From a legal perspective, we are sinful only if we are convicted by a court that has examined the evidence and listened to defense arguments. The logical extension is that if I have never appeared in court, I cannot be sinful. This is clearly far too lenient, for there are many crimes that remain unsolved or unknown. These are also sins and their perpetrators are sinners.
To God, things are not that simple. His laws are not human laws, and his criteria are not human criteria.
First, His laws are absolute. While we try to distinguish between a severe and a lesser crime, to God, sins are sins. Furthermore, He sees all and understands all. Not only does He look at our external behavior but also at our innermost thoughts. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”66 He also said: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”67
According to the Bible, we sin not only because we do the wrong things, but also because we do not do the right things. The apostle James wrote, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.”68
Thus far we have only talked about the sins committed against each other. We also need to talk about the sins we commit against God.
While there are many types of sin against God, perhaps the most common is ignoring Him. The Vietnamese have high respect for their parents and disrespecting them is considered to be a sin. If we disrespect God, we commit a sin a million times worse than disrespecting our ancestors, because we disrespect someone who not only gave life to our ancestors but also created the whole universe.
When I was a young boy, my mother was hospitalized in a distant city. When my family went to visit her, her first question to me was whether I missed her. She didn’t worry about whether I behaved nicely toward my friends, but she kept asking me whether I missed her and wanted to hear that I did. So it is with God. He pays attention to us and wants us to pay attention to Him and put Him above everything else in our lives.
Unfortunately, when we honestly look at ourselves, we must admit that we have forgotten Him. Although we no longer worship mountain gods or fire gods as primitive people did, today we worship the gods of pleasure, money and fame. Some people put sports above all; some value love for another person, even to the extent of committing suicide when it is not reciprocated. However nobody, except Jesus, instinctively puts God as the top priority in his life.
Now money, houses, and families, by themselves, are not inherently bad. They only become a source of sin when we put them above God, and push Him away from our lives.
Someone asked Jesus, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” He replied “The most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”69 These two commands define all that God wants from us, but as simple as they are, nobody can fully obey them.
The Bible does not sugarcoat this matter. It does not look at us through rose colored lenses. It does not lifting us up into the sky, just to laugh at us in the Day of Judgment when we are sent to Hell. Instead, it looks at us as God does, helping us to realize that we are seriously ill and in need of medicine. Psalm 14 in the Old Testament says:
The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men
to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.
All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt;
there is no one who does good, not even one.70
Isaiah concurs: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.”71 He describes his people, saying, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”72 In a letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul emphasizes: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”73 Apostle John also writes: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”74
Throughout human history, only Jesus was sinless. All the rest of us are sinful, towards other human begins and towards God. Jesus put God above all, then other human beings, and lastly himself. But for us, our priorities are reversed. We put ourselves first, then others, and lastly, perhaps, God.
Being tolerant of sin, we tend to underestimate the resulting consequence. We simply consider these consequences as a price we have to pay to live in this world.
Our selfishness and pride actually have a profound impact on our lives. We cannot live in harmony with each other. We must compare and compete. We look up to some people and look down at others. We do everything to keep up with our neighbors. We carry within ourselves so much inferiority or superiority that they become like lashes whipping our backs in self-enslavement.
There are so many broken families in this world. Most result from the pride of those who do not admit their mistakes. We like to talk about our own goodness and others’ bad attributes. We prefer to hear our own voice rather than listening to others.
From family feuds to international conflicts, there is one common factor: human selfishness and pride. We put ourselves above everything else and put God in a dark corner of our lives.
Not only does sin pollute our environment, it also penetrates the inside of each person. Inferiority and superiority complexes do not bring joy and competitions only give ulcers. Externally, sinners seem to enjoy what they worldly possessions; but deep down inside they silently cry knowing that they have sinned. Their innocent smiles disappear from their lips. Not being able to confess their sins to anyone, they quietly bear the torment of their own conscience. Sin may give some people money, but it takes away inner peace.
Outside we face wars, competition and conflicts; inside, we are in constant torment because of sin. But these are just the consequences of sin. We have yet to talk about the penalty of sin. When a child plays in mud, becoming dirty is the consequence, but being disciplined by his parent is the penalty. In the case of sin, the penalty comes from the righteous God.
Most Vietnamese believe in a God, a Creator. However, to many, their God is either too small or too remote, having nothing to do with them. Some people pay no attention to their God most of the year; when Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, comes, they try to bribe their kitchen god so that he only reports good things to the creator God. Some people are more practical, using God as a lifesaver, putting Him away and talking to him only in time of need.
When they are told that God is a loving Father or a true friend, they accept Him readily. But when they are told that He is a righteous Judge who does not tolerate and therefore must punish sin, they do not want to listen anymore.
But the Bible does not tell us what we want to hear, only the truth. It states that being righteous God must punish the sinners. The author of the book of Hebrews in the New Testament describes God as “the judge of all men,”75
The Bible talk not only about punishment, it also records historical punishing acts of God. He drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden after their disobedience.76 He sent the flood, killing all people except Noah’s family.77 He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because they tried to gratify their sinful desires.78 He inflicted disaster on the hardened Egyptians.79 He disciplined the Israelites for worshiping the golden calf80….
In addition to recounting God’s punishments as lessons for us, the Bible also explicitly gives us warnings. When we read the laws God gave to Moses, we cannot fail to see God as a judge, ready to pronounce sentences for the sinners. The prophecies in the Old Testament are not only attempts to forecast future events, but also calls on sinners to repent. The author of the book of Ecclesiastes concludes: “God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”81 Paul warns, “For he has set a day when he will judge the world.”82
God must punish sinners because He hates sin. “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil.”83 This is an important point we need to understand.
If God is worthy of our worship, He must be righteous. If He is blind or neutral to sin, He is no better than us. When a cheating father sees that his son lies, he laughs and commends the kid for being street smart. On the contrary, a father who puts honesty above all sees his son lie with profound sadness. God hates sin because He is absolutely righteous.
Being righteous implies being ready to punish sins. Please do not try to “bribe” Him. Please do not think that if you give God some of your material possessions, He will ignore our sins. This is absolutely ridiculous. God gave us our material possessions in the first place. How can I bribe my teacher by giving him back the points that he awarded to me? Furthermore, as the Bible says, “The sacrifice of the wicked is detestable--how much more so when brought with evil intent!”84
Being absolutely righteous and hating sins to the utmost, His sentence for us is clear: Death! We must die, both physically and spiritually, in an eternal death.
Our physical bodies die when our souls leave them. We all know this kind of death and we all wait until the day our bodies collapse. But how many of us realize that our bodies do not last because of God’s punishment of our sins? After Adam and Eve sinned, God said to Adam, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”85
Our souls die when they are cut off from God, who is the source of life.
God created us in His image so that we can worship and glorify Him, and enjoy His fellowship. Not wanting to create machines, He gave us freedom. Unfortunately, we abused this freedom and sinned. Not being able to accept sin, He was forced to cut off His fellowship with us.
Without Him, people would have no meaning in their lives. They would live as if they had died, having absolutely no hope, no goal. Inside a corruptible body, the soul of a sinner becomes as dry as a desert and withers like an autumn leaf. All that is left inside the soul is an emptiness that nothing can fill up.
People look for exciting news, alcohol, drugs or money just to fill that emptiness, but all these are useless. Not only do they fail to bring satisfaction for our souls, they become cruel masters, turning us into slaves serving them until the day that our bodies return to dust.
But that is not the end of the story, because the Bible also talks about the Last Day, the Judgment Day, in which our souls die for the second time, in an eternal and ultimate death. “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars--their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”86
If there are days that we live according to our own sinful nature, there will also be days that we will see God’s authority. If there are days that people can escape human laws, there will also be days that they will pay according to God’s law. Please do not look only at what happens today and say that God is blind. Actually, His net is wide and nobody can escape His judgments.
In the Last Day, all sins will be exposed and “God will judge men’s secrets.”87 In that day, “every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.”88
No living person has experienced that day, and nobody can imagine how terrifying it will be. The Bible, using human language, describes it as “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”89
Weeping and teeth gnashing are waiting for each of us, because we all have sinned; eternal damnation is what we will face because we all have trespassed. Do not ignore God and His warnings in the Bible, but take heed of what Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”90