God’s Great Exchange
“If you were to die tonight, are you sure that you would have eternal life?”
A rather bold question! But a necessary one to ask: Are you sure where you would be, if your heart were to stop beating in your sleep tonight, or if you were to suffer a serious auto accident on the highway tomorrow?
Let me ask the question another way: “When that moment comes that you leave this life and stand before God, and if He were to ask you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ what would you tell Him?
Would you say, “I’ve tried to do my best”?
Would you say, “I’m not perfect, but I’m not a criminal either!”
Would you say, “I hope God will be merciful, because I’ve got a lot to be forgiven”?
Just what would you say to God?
Well, first, we need to ask another question: “What does God say to you?”
What God Demands
You see, God has certain standards, certain requirements. What He expects of us is not that we try hard or do our best, He says rather, “Be holy, as I, the Lord your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2) God demands that we be perfect. “Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
Now that’s a pretty high standard to live up to! But God is the One who sets the standards. He has made it clear what He asks of us, what He asks of all people.
His law can be summarized in two sentences: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
That’s what God asks, or rather what God demands – to love Him above everything else, and to show love to your neighbor. It’s His unchanging will for all people of all time. He demands that’s what we are to be - holy. To be holy means to be without sin, without fault, without transgressing God’s commands - even once.
And if we could do that, then eternal life would be ours. Jesus says, “Do this and you will live.” (see Luke 10:27,28)
What God Sees
Now, have you always done what God asks?
Have you always been holy, perfect? I know I’m not. I haven’t always loved God with my whole “heart, soul, strength and mind.” Yet, that’s what He asks of me. There have been times, admittedly, when I’ve put other things before God – my priorities, my pleasures, myneeds. I’ve thought more of myself than I’ve thought of Him. How about you?
Have you “loved your neighbor, as yourself?” Have you overlooked someone in need? Have you failed to honor your parents as you should? Have you used your tongue to whisper gossip or to tell a lie? Have you used your eyes to look lustfully? Have you used your hands to hinder someone rather than help them? Have you used your feet to run away from responsibility, or worse, to run away from God?
Looking at ourselves, we see we have not measured up to God’s standards. God tells us what we ought to do and what we ought to avoid, but simple honesty says we haven’t done what is asked of us. In fact, we’ve done just the opposite of what God has asked.
And the Bible says that those who fall short of what God asks – those who sin – will reap the wages of sin. “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) Every time a sinner dies is testimony to sin’s power in our world. The wages of sin is death. Although we don’t like to think of it, none of us can escape it. Death will, one day, come to us all.
So, how do we bridge the gap between what God demands of us and where we are now – falling far short of what He asks? What hope do we have?
Well, we can try to bridge that gap on our own.
1) We can try harder. “If only I do my best, if only I try my hardest, won’t God be pleased with me?” Remember, God says, “Be perfect . . .” not “try harder.” Even our very best falls short of perfection. And God, who is absolutely perfect Himself, won’t accept anything less than perfection.
2) We can try the balancing act. “Yes, I’ve done some bad things in my life, but if only I make up for them, all will be okay, won’t it?”
But can you “make up” for something you’ve done? Once you’ve hurt someone’s feelings, or harmed someone’s reputation, or spoken a damaging lie, can you “make up” for it by doing a good deed? Can you erase what you’ve done by trying to do good?
Once a deed is done, it’s done. You cannot “make up” for it. A lie once spoken cannot be taken back. A ruined reputation won’t return just because you try harder. Justice demands more than that.
3) What about comparing ourselves with someone else? “At least I’m not as bad as . . . ” We can easily find someone we look good standing next to – a thief, a murderer, a pedophile. Compared to them we look good.
But have you also thought: what if others could see me on the inside – what I’m thinking – all the time? Would you want someone to know your inner thoughts … about them? … about someone else? … about yourself?
No, the real test is not how we look next to someone else; the real test is how we look next to the one genuine person; how do we look next to Jesus, who was perfect, without sin of any kind? Can we even begin to match up to Him?
Trying harder … the balancing act … comparisons – they all fall short, because none of them can erase sin. None of them can forgive sin. None of them can make us righteous, holy, perfect in God’s sight. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 16:25)
God says that even one sin will keep us from enjoying the eternal peace in heaven He desires for all people. “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” (James 2:10) Like a mirror that is shattered and broken by one crash, or a balloon popped by a hole from one pinprick, so one sin breaks the law!
God’s Great Exchange
How do we get across that gap between where we are and where God wants us to be? How do imperfect people become perfect in God’s eyes?
At the cross of Christ! There God’s demand for holiness is reconciled with His love and compassion for sinners. There God’s justice is satisfied.
For you see, Jesus was the one perfect person to walk the face of this earth. He had no sin. Not once did Jesus cave to the pressure to sin. Not once did He allow temptation get the better of Him. He asked his enemies: “Can any of you prove Me guilty of sin?” They couldn’t! They couldn’t find one sin that would stick to Him, because He had none. He was holy. He was perfect.
By His holy, sinless life Jesus perfectly fulfilled every requirement of God to qualify for life with God now and life with God forever.
As our “stand in” Jesus kept every one of God’s commandments for us, in our place, as if we had kept it. He loved God His heavenly Father with all of His “heart, soul, strength and mind.” Never once did He flinch from loving His Father. And He loved His neighbor as Himself. He showed compassion, kindness right up to the end. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Those were His words to those who drove the nails into his hands and feet!
Yes, Jesus fulfilled God’s demands perfectly, and then He also paid the price necessary to ransom us from our sins.
“The Lord laid on Him the iniquity (sin) of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6) The sins of anger we have committed; the sins of hatred against someone else; the sins of lust for someone else; the sins of lying to get ahead or to avoid punishment; the sins of failing to love others – all sins, every sin we have committed or one day will commit, Jesus took them all to the cross.
God placed on Him the punishment we deserved. God made Jesus guilty of our sins, as if He had committed them. He was innocent, of course, but He took the punishment. You can hear the note of victory in John’s voice when he points to Jesus and says, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
Our debt to God has been paid! “It is finished!” Jesus said from the cross. (John 19:30) He completed what He came to do. He paid the ransom price for the whole world of sinners – for you, for me, for all!
Jesus did what we couldn’t – live a perfect life – and He endured what we deserved – the punishment for our sins. And now, through faith in Him, this great gift of salvation becomes ours.
“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
Yes, it is true, “the wages of sin is death” but it’s just as true, “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) A gift is not earned, but given. God in His mercy and grace also freely gives the gift of eternal life. We couldn’t earn it. We certainly don’t deserve it. But by grace (undeserved love), He gives it freely.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8,9)
Augustus Toplady, the hymnwriter, says it this way:
Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling.
Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me
If we are asked by God, “Why should I let you into My heaven?” in faith we point to Jesus and say, “He’s why You should let me into Your heaven. Your Son opened the way to heaven for me. He’s my Savior.”
“Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” Acts 16:31