Laws are everywhere. There are man-made laws such as the speed limit, and there are natural laws such as gravity. Laws can be counted on. Almost anywhere you drive, there will be a speed limit. And, anywhere you go (unless you're an astronaut), there will be gravity. Life is challenging and chaotic at times, but it would be even more so without laws. Some desire a world with no speed limits, but it would be too dangerous. It might work on certain roads, but it would never work everywhere. Can we even imagine life on Earth without the constant law of gravity?
But, what about the spiritual realm? Are there laws there also? Absolutely. They too can be counted on and are necessary in so many ways. I want us to consider four spiritual laws today. These laws affect you. They affect me. They affect the world! These laws are fundamental, and they're all found in the book of Romans.
LAW #1: "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23).
Everyone in the world has sinned (Rom. 3:10), and we often fail to realize the seriousness of such. Many attempt to justify themselves by comparing their lives to others (e.g., Luke 18:9-14).
Sin is serious in God's eyes, and it always has been. God is, according to Habakkuk 1:13, "of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness..." The prophet Isaiah taught that God's hand was "not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy that it cannot hear." However, the people's iniquities and sins had separated them from God and hidden His face from them (Isa. 59:1,2).
What exactly is sin? It is lawlessness. It is disobedience to God. I John 3:4 declares - "Whoever commits sin commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness." God will not judge us in comparison to each other but in relation to His glory (cf. Rom. 3:23). His glory is clearly seen in the sinless life that Jesus Christ lived. On this subject, Hebrews 4:15 states - "We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin."
Other than Jesus, the life of no man or woman can compare to the glory of God. Even just one sin causes us to fall short (e.g., Adam and Eve in Gen. 3). This truth leads us to ask: what is the result of sin?
LAW #2: "For the wages of sin is death..." (Rom. 6:23).
When we sin, we deserve or earn a wage. That wage is death. Death in this context is spiritual, not physical. It is eternal separation from God.
God's justice demands that we be punished for sin--the wages must be paid. We deserve everlasting destruction! As sinful creatures, we cannot live in the presence of a holy God--can we?
Admittedly, these first two laws are not very encouraging. Everyone sins, and sin causes spiritual death. However, there is good news in the next law!
LAW #3: "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8).
There is an escape from the wages of sin! Praise the Lord for this blessed truth!
God is not required to do anything for us (especially after we sin), but because of His great love, He made it possible for man to be cleansed of sin and free from its punishment. This possibility is a result of Christ dying for all mankind. Consider some passages that emphasize this theme: John 3:16 - "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life"; Romans 5:8 - "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us"; I John 2:2 - "And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world"; Hebrews 10:10 - "By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."
Christ is our propitiation (i.e., atoning sacrifice; I John 2:2). He was given in our place; that is, He died for our sins and took the punishment upon Himself. Consider II Corinthians 5:21 on this point - "For He [God the Father] made Him who knew no sin [Jesus] to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (cf. Heb. 9:26-28). This sacrifice was satisfactory to the Father (Rom. 3:21-26), and it fulfilled the requirements of the Old Law. The blood of Jesus was capable of taking away sins. This is something that no animal sacrifice could do under the Old Testament. "For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins" (Heb. 10:4).
God does not wish for any human to go to hell and be punished eternally for his sins. II Peter 3:9 is clear on this point - "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." But, we must realize that the sacrifice of Jesus only makes it possible for us to have eternal life. Simply because Jesus died for us all, does not automatically save anyone! How can an individual obtain eternal life? Consider the next spiritual law.
LAW #4: "...but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23).
By definition, no one can earn a gift. Salvation is a gift, and thus, no one can earn it (Rom. 6:23).
However, just because gifts cannot be earned does not mean that there is nothing to be done in order to receive them. Gifts that are offered must be either accepted or rejected. When we accept a gift, we are doing something. In such a case, we believe in the validity of the offer, we decide to accept it (on the terms stated, if there are any), and finally, we willingly receive it accordingly. When we receive a gift, we always do these three things, but, in so doing, no one could rightly claim that we have earned the gift.
For instance, let's pretend that you and I are currently in the same room. I have a briefcase at my side. I tell you that the briefcase contains one million dollars (and the bills aren't counterfeit or stolen!). I proceed to state that if you are willing to do ten jumping jacks, then I will give you the briefcase and the money inside. Now admittedly, most of you would rightly be skeptical about me having a million dollars legally in my possession. But, since we are pretending, let's assume that you believe my offer to be genuine. You believe that I really do have a million dollars in the briefcase and that I will indeed give it to you if you do the jumping jacks. Will you decide to accept the gift? I suspect you'd be willing to meet the simple condition I've set forth. Of course, the ten jumping jacks certainly wouldn't earn you a million dollars so far as making you deserving of the money is concerned. Also, you probably wouldn't understand the reason why I requested them instead of something else. But, nevertheless, let's say you are willing to comply with the condition I set forth to receive the gift. After your tenth jumping jack, you willingly receive the gift I promised you!
Now granted, the illustration is unusual, but it lays the groundwork for us to talk about God's gift of salvation. I believe His gift of salvation works in much the same way as the scenario we just imagined. First, we must believe that God's offering of this gift is valid. This eliminates many people immediately who do not even believe in a supreme being like Jehovah. If a person doesn't believe in God, then they cannot rationally believe in eternal life as a gift from Him! We must then decide whether or not we will accept salvation on God's terms (and yes, there are conditions to receiving this gift, though jumping jacks aren't included in them--more on this in a moment). Finally, we must willingly receive the gift in the manner God instructs us to.
This raises the question: how can we today receive the gift of salvation that God offers to all mankind? Let's consider a Bible example from the first century to answer the question.
Acts 2:36-41 reads - "'Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.' Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?' Then Peter said to them, 'Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.' And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, 'Be saved from this perverse generation.' Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them."
How did these 3000 souls on the Day of Pentecost take hold of the gift of God's salvation? First, they knew assuredly--they believed--that Jesus is the Son of God and that eternal life is found in Him. Then, they repented of their sins--they decided that they wanted to accept God's gift and that turning away from sinful living was the right thing to do. Finally, they received the gift of salvation by being baptized (i.e., immersed in water for the forgiveness of their sins). This is how several thousand people accepted the free gift of eternal life from God!
Just as ten jumping jacks does not truly merit one million dollars, neither does faith, repentance, and baptism merit eternal salvation! Both situations describe a gift being given with simple conditions to be met first. The fact that some simple conditions are required does not change the truth that the gift has not been earned or deserved. There are those who affirm that complying with divine conditions in order to receive the gift of salvation is like trying to earn one's way into heaven. Friends, they are seriously mistaken! God has every right to give His gifts as He sees fit--conditionally or unconditionally. If He wants to give eternal life to those who believe, repent, and are baptized, then that is His right. These acts are so small in comparison with eternal life itself that salvation is still undeniably a gift. Whether the recipient understands why I would require jumping jacks or the Lord would require faith, repentance, and baptism, is irrelevant. The fact is that the conditions for receiving the gift are determined by the giver. If we want to receive the gift, we must do so on the giver's terms--period!
Dear listeners, you can accept the gift of eternal life in the same way that those in Jerusalem did! Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Savior and be willing to confess that before others. If you don't, you will die in your sins (John 8:24; Rom. 10:9,10)! Repent of your sins. If you don't, you will perish spiritually (Luke 13:3)! Be baptized to wash away your sins. If you don't, you cannot be saved (Mark 16:16; Acts 22:16; I Peter 3:21)!
Once you have done these things, the gift is yours! You haven't earned a home in heaven, but the Lord is faithful and gracious. He has promised eternal life to those who accept the gift on His terms, and one can know that he is saved. As I John 5:13 teaches - "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God" (cf. Matt. 10:22; Rev. 2:10).
Once you have embraced God's gift, share it freely with others! Teach them the gospel; show them these four spiritual laws we've considered. Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.