Foundation for Life Lesson 7 Why Only One Way
We are continuing our study on the Foundation for Life and Biblically the foundation for life is truth. Whenever you talk about truth today you run into a problem because there are many people who no longer believe in one absolute truth. In fact, for many people, the very thought that there is one absolute overruling truth is a concept that is loaded with arrogance. How can you say that you have the truth or that you know the truth? This system of religion, or that system of knowledge, how can you claim to have the only truth, there are many truths. And we need to respect everybodyÕs truths. There is some kernel of truth in that, in the sense that we respect others and their right to believe what they want to believe, but that doesnÕt mean that there are multiple truths. There are multiple claims to truth but there is ultimately one and only one truth. And the Bible presents that as residing in the person of God.
And so we begin our study talking about truth, and the importance of truth, and that the only way to know an overriding truth is if a representative from God comes and speaks to us, and this was the Lord Jesus Christ. But even before the Lord Jesus Christ appeared at the first advent, God the Father was revealing Himself to man through many different ways and methods through the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. And so we have knowledge of God, it is not a comprehensive knowledge of God which is impossible, but it is a true knowledge of God. And one of the things that is brought out in the Scripture as we saw in our second study in the series is that from Genesis to Revelation, truth is exclusive. There is only one truth.
Again and again and again the Scriptures present one and only one way of salvation, and that is personified in the Lord Jesus Christ. In John 14:6 Jesus said: I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me. This is a bold and profound statement that often strikes unbelievers, and sometimes many Christians, as the height of human arrogance, they find it extremely offensive that we would say that there is only one way to heaven, that if you donÕt believe in Jesus Christ you are not going to go to heaven and there is eternal condemnation as a result of that.
But one of the problems is that most people just donÕt understand the nature of salvation and the nature of the gospel. Part of that is because too often in our presentation of the gospel we start at the cross, and we start at the wrong place, we are assuming way too much. If you go back and look, and some of you have gone through this with me before, but if you look at passages such as Acts 14 and Acts 17 when Paul is taking the Gospel to unbelievers he starts with God as the creator God. He doesnÕt start with the cross. Now when he is communicating to Jews or when Peter has a Jewish audience he starts with the concept of the Messiah, because they already understand the content of the Old Testament. So when you start talking to a Jew in the first century about God and about sin and about atonement and about redemption, he has a frame of reference for understanding what you are saying. But when Paul went to Iconium and Lystra and Derbe and Ephesus and Athens he started with, I am here to tell you about the God Who made the heavens and the earth. It is not any of these other gods, it is the unique triune God who created everything and who stands over against everything in the universe. And He is unique.
You have to start there with the gospel and sometimes it takes time. Now we all know that we can witness to some folks and they understand the gospel pretty quickly, others have talked to them before, but there are many who take time. I know one young man who was in my church up in Connecticut and he started dating a young woman in the church and she said well we are not going to date until you get two things straight, one, you have got to be a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, and number two, the study and application of the word in your life has to be the highest priority in your life. If that is true then we can go out and I will spend some time with you. And he said, well wait a minute, what is all this about Jesus Christ. And it took about a year and a half and he came to church frequently and he had conversations with her parents and with me and was consistent in coming to class and it took about a year and a half and one day he said, well, I trusted Christ about three months ago, but I didnÕt want to tell anybody because I wanted to make sure that I was going to stick with it.
But some people are easy to witness to is the point I am making, and others it is more difficult. And so we have to understand how to present the gospel in different ways to different folks because of their backgrounds. But the general principles are the same for everyone. And we have to recognize that to those who resist the idea of one truth we have to present the whole picture.
When you understand the biblical issue of salvation then you can understand why there is an exclusive claim. But if your starting point is not with the creator God, the triune infinite personal God of the Bible, then you are never going to understand the importance of this exclusivity of the gospel or why there is and can only be one way. So we started with God and that is why we spent time for a couple of weeks talking about the essence of God and talking about the doctrine of the Trinity. And when we looked at the essence of God we saw that God is a personal God which means that He has the ability to have a full personal intimate relationship with each one of us. Nevertheless, He is at the same time an infinite God. He cannot be contained, He cannot be limited, and the concept of infinity is applied to His life, He is eternal, it is applied to His knowledge, He is omniscient, itÕs applied to His power, He is omnipotent, itÕs applied to His presence, He is omnipresent, and He is immutable, He never changes in any of these attributes.
But when it comes to understanding how He relates to man we begin with the fact that He is the sovereign creator. This means that God makes the rules, He designed everything to be the way it is, from the most microscopic detail to the large macro systems, everything is designed by God to work together within itÕs own system, as well as to interact with all of the other systems in the universe. This involves not only physical laws and realities, and chemical laws and realities, and biological laws and realities but also spiritual laws. And He has standards, He is a righteous God. And righteousness refers to the standard of His character, and He is absolute perfection. And it is His character that defines perfection, there is not some external standard He lives up to, He is the standard. And when that standard is applied to His creatures in terms of His justice, then He is absolutely fair and right in everything that He does because it is consistent with His righteous standard. And because He is immutable He applies that standard equally to every creature. He never changes, He is the same yesterday, today and forever. And because He is the God of truth, He is the one who defines reality and is consistent with that reality. And then in His love, He has a relationship with these creatures, mankind, the human race He created in His image and in His likeness.
And so when we begin to explain the gospel or to understand what happened to us when we were saved, the starting point is to understand who God is in terms of His character, because salvation foundationally has to do with a relationship with our creator. So He has the right to reveal who He is, and He has the right to determine and define the basis for that relationship. So the starting point is God and creation. Furthermore, because He is omniscient He understands every detail in the universe. He understands how all the minutia interacts together and because He knows how everything operates together and because He has this universal knowledge, He is able to reveal truth to man in a way that is comprehensive though it is not exhaustive. As a result of that He can communicate truth to man and it is not arrogant. We have to be careful because in the realm of the creature when we talk about making claims of exclusivity, you know, someone comes along and they are a know it all, we immediately think that they are arrogant and rightly so, but that is in the creaturely realm.
DonÕt make the mistake of transferring your understanding of creaturely dynamics to the Creator. For GodÕs ways are not our ways, neither are His thoughts our thoughts. He is above us, He is radically different because He is the Creator. So we look at why GodÕs way is the only way, and our starting point is to recognize that God created man and God defined manÕs nature, function and limitations. God as the creator defined our nature, who we are, what our components are, what the immaterial nature of man is, what the material nature of man is, God designed all the different elements. No one knows us better than God because He made us to be a certain way in order to fulfill certain purposes that has to do with our function. Man was created in the image and likeness of God according to Genesis 1:26 to 28 to represent God and to rule over the creation. And then we have certain limitations because we are finite creatures we canÕt know everything, we can learn some things through empiricism, we can learn some things through reason, but we cannot come up with an over arching interpretation of everything because of our limitations. We are dependent upon God because He is the one who is omniscient and created everything.
And the second point we see is that the creator God created man in His own image. So that we are to reflect God and we see this in Genesis 1:26 and 27: then God said, Let us make man, that is adam, meaning mankind, the human race, in our image, according to our likeness, this has to do with His fundamental nature, that man is in some sense a finite replica of the infinite personal God. So there are analogous elements to our personalities, to our personhood that represent God in a finite way. And the purpose was to rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created them, male and female He created them so that we are to represent God, that is the idea of image and likeness. We are sent forth as a representative of God to rule over creation.
Further, we were created to serve God in this capacity and before we were ready to serve God there was a test to see if man would be obedient and would trust God as God defined creation. And so that test was set up in the Garden and God had provided for every need of man. He had provided a variety of different kinds of fruit and vegetables for man to eat and man had everything he needed but there was one tree that was the test tree and God created the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and said you shall not eat from it for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die. The idea in the Hebrew there is that you shall certainly die, this is an emphatic statement of certainty. At that instant death will enter into this new, perfect creation. So man was created to serve God, but there was a test and of course we know the story that they failed the test.
And that is our 4th point, Eve failed the test and Adam followed right along. And we read this in Genesis 3:1. This is what informs us as to why we need this exclusive salvation. In Gen. 3:1 we read, And now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, has God indeed said, and it is by phrasing the question that way, what the serpent is getting Eve to buy into was his agenda and to judge or evaluate GodÕs statement, to put herself over God to determine if God was telling the truth. This is the same thing you find over and over again with many people, they want to determine whether God has told the truth or not. And so they want to put themselves in the place of God. If God is the creator, then He is the one who speaks the truth and defines reality. But in arrogance, man rejects that and constantly wants to configure reality to his own wishes, desires, and to his own limited knowledge.
And there is not a greater example of that than what we have seen on some of these news reports the last couple of days from these folks who are living down in New Orleans with ten feet of water in their house and people coming up in boats and saying you need to leave and they are saying, no, I am not going to leave, IÕm going to stay here, everything is going to be fine. See, they are totally divorced from reality, they have no knowledge of reality, they are interpreting the flood as if it is every other kind of flood and in a couple of days everything will be fine and back to normal. And they have no understanding of what happened or what the dimensions of this disaster are and when somebody comes from outside who knows the dimensions of the flood and has the greater information, they reject that on the basis of their own limited knowledge and that is what so many human beings do, God has spoken to man but they say, no, I want to make reality what I think it should be.
And that is essentially what Eve did. Satan suckered her into following his agenda and says, did God really say this? He is questioning GodÕs revelation. And the woman said to the serpent, well, we may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden, but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, you shall not eat it nor shall you touch it. See, she is adding to what God said, so she is already shaping truth in terms of her own creaturely frame of reference. You shall not eat it nor touch it lest you die. And the serpent said to the woman, you are not going to die. So he sets up a contrast, you either believe God who says you will die or you believe me who says you wonÕt.
Now that puts her in a position of saying, who is right? And so she is going to rely upon her own finite knowledge to determine what truth is and it is in that that she failed. And that led her instantly to decide that the only way to answer that is to have a little experiment and to eat of the fruit. And the instant she did there was spiritual death. And then she involved her husband, and because Adam was the head of the family and the designated head of the race, when Adam sinned there was a complete devastating fall that affected the human race, and this is why there is a need for salvation, because spiritual death enters into the entire human race and beyond the human race to all of creation.
See, too often people want to limit sin to some peccadillo or maybe on the other extreme it is related just to gross perverted heinous acts, but they donÕt understand that what sin really is, is a violation of the character of God and an act of the creature where he wants to act independently of the creator. And the result of that is that it affects the entire fabric of the universe, that there is a direct penalty to the sin which is spiritual death, but then there are consequences that reverberate through all of creation. It affects the relationship of the husband and wife, it affects childbirth, it affects the biology of the woman, it affects the biology of animal life on the planet, it affects botany because now there will be thorns and thistles that come forth from the ground, it affected meteorology, it affected everything. It just ripped the fabric of physical laws.
But God, in His wisdom, had created everything in such a way that He had built in enough flexibility into the creation to handle the chaos that came from sin. When spiritual death entered into the human race and this is what the New Testament refers to in Ephesians 2:1 and following, And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, ever since Adam every human being has been born spiritually dead. We are separated from God, we do not have a relationship with God and the Scripture says that we do not know God. And this concept of being dead in trespasses and sins is further defined in verses 2 and 3 of Ephesians 2, that in this state of spiritual death: 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, that is Satan, that is sinwhich is consistent with SatanÕs original sin, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath.
And that is all I want to emphasize from this tonight is that we are by nature children, that is, the descendants of wrath, it relates to a corruption at the very nature of humanity that affects everyone. And it is such a drastic nature that it prevents anyone from having a relationship with God. We are rendered spiritually dead so that a component of our immaterial nature that allows us to have a relationship with God which weÕll call the human spirit is no longer operational. In fact with Adam it was no longer operational, but with us, we are not born with it. And that is why there has to be a solution that comes from God.
The solution cannot come from the human race. The problem with sin is not something that is simple, in fact there are six different elements to the sin problem. The first is sin itself. It is a violation of the standard of God. And because of that there is a penalty that must be resolved. That is our second element, the penalty of sin must be paid. Third, there is a problem with the character of God. The character of God is such that He is righteous and just and His standard must be met so that in His justice He can bless man. Man cannot have a relationship with God until His righteousness has been satisfied. Fourth we have a problem that man is born spiritually dead. We have a penalty in the second point but this is the personal individual application each of us is born spiritually dead and that problem has to be resolved. Fifth, we have the problem of a lack of righteousness, and a righteous God can only have fellowship with righteous creatures since we donÕt meet His standard, there has to be a solution to that problem. And sixth, we have a lack of eternal life. So how is God going to resolve all this? This is the complexity of salvation. This is why there can be one and only one way to have salvation.
So letÕs understand what happened. God is both righteous and just. And He created man in His image and likeness so that man was also righteous and just and there could be perfect harmony and perfect rapport between God and the man and his wife in the garden. But at the instant of mans disobedience that harmony, that rapport was broken, God came walking in the garden and the man and the woman hid themselves, they realized that they were naked and they clothed themselves with fig leaves in order to somehow disguise the fact that there had been this change and God came and offered a solution.
So what we see is that the relationship between man and God has a barrier, what we call the sin barrier that is now erected between man on the one hand and God on the other and until this barrier is removed, man cannot have a relationship with God. This sin barrier itself is comprised of several different elements, those six different problems I mentioned earlier. Tonight we will only make a start at one of them, maybe possibly two of them. But the first three I want to focus on have to do with sin and then penalty of sin and then the character of God.
So we will start with the first problem which is sin itself. What exactly is sin? A lot of folks have a shallow view of what sin is. They think it is just some sort of overt action, they think about murder, mass murder, genocide, or they may think of racism, they may think of any number of different overt activities which they define as sin, and because they havenÕt committed any of those acts, they are basically a good person. If you miss-define sin, you are going to miss-define salvation or the need for salvation. So we have to understand what the Bible says sin is and what God says sin is. Isaiah 64:6 tells us that all our righteousnessess are like filthy rags. So at the very get go we have nothing to offer God, He thinks that our very best is nothing more than a pile of filthy rags. The best illustration I have come up with for this to illustrate the root concept is letÕs say you were to go down to a medical center and go through their trash pile for all of the discarded bandages and bio hazardous waste that would probably be better than this. So thatÔs exactly what God thinks of your righteousness, not your unrighteousness, remember that, it is all those good things that you think is somehow going to cut some ice with God.
God says the best you have to offer is just filthy, moldy, rotten bloody bandages and garments. It has no value whatsoever. And Romans 3:23 says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Therefore none of us has any standing before God. We donÕt have anything we can bring to Him or offer to Him that would somehow ameliorate our guilt. So that tells us that if we are going to have salvation God is the one who is going to have to provide the solution. We get a little clearer idea of what sin means when we look at the original language, the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament. The key word in the Old Testament for sin is the word chattaah. It means simply to miss a mark, to fall short of a standard, to miss an absolute standard. And of course, the very idea of sin implies that there is an absolute standard and that there is a knowable absolute standard that has been violated.
So the very idea of sin indicates a universal truth or standard that man falls short of. This word is used in a number of passages that gives us some idea of itÕs importance. It is used in Genesis 4:7 where God is confronting Cain as he is angry with his brother and thinking all sorts of mental attitude sins and wants to kill him. God says: If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin, that is this desire to violate the standard ofrighteousness, is crouching at the door; and its desire is to control you, literally, but you must master it.Ó So there is this desire that we have as part of that sin nature to violate the standard of GodÕs righteousness. And it is always GodÕs standard, not human standards. When you sin it is not against people. Now you may commit any number of sins that hurt people, but sin by definition is a violation of the absolute standard, not your husbands or your wives or your friends or some other human standard. We see this in passages Genesis 13:13: Now the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the LORD. Sin is against God by definition. Genesis 20:6: Then God said to him in the dream, ÒYes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. So sin is always against God.
No matter what you do, no matter what acts you commit, though you may break human law, you may offend your neighbor, you may hurt and harm others, sin is a violation of GodÕs standard. Therefore, sin is always against God and the solution therefore can only be provided by God. This is why David prays a prayer of confession in Psalm 51:4: Against You and You only have I sinned. Now he had committed adultery, he had conspired to commit murder, he had covered up his complicity in these sins, and yet it was only against God that he had committed those sins, but he hurt many other people in the process. But sin is by definition only against God. So the basic idea of chattaah is to miss a mark, to violate a standard, and when it relates to God it always implies that absolute standard or law. So there is an absolute truth that is violated. Another word that is used is the word pesha, transgression, and just as chattaah means to miss the mark, to fall short of the standard, pesha means to revolt against that standard, to rebel against that standard, that is the idea of transgression. That man doesnÕt simply miss the mark, it is a revolt against the standard. We are setting up an alternative set of standards instead of GodÕs.
Another word used in the Old Testament for sin is the word aven, which means iniquity or guilt. And it has the root idea of something that is bent or twisted or distorted. Man wants to redo GodÕs standard, we are going to twist the standard, we are going to recast it according to our own desires. Then we come over to the New Testament and the Greek words of the New Testament communicate the same ideas. Hamartia, which is the Greek word, the primary word for sin in the New Testament, means to depart from standards of righteousness, it has the idea of wrong doing, lawlessness, violation of absolute standards. 1John 3:4 says that everyone who practices sin, hamartia, also practices lawlessness, anomia, and sin is lawlessness. Not human law, but GodÕs law, GodÕs absolute standard. 1John 5:17 says all unrighteousness is sin and there is a sin leading to death. Once again, you have the first phrase, all unrighteousness is sin. So sin is a violation of the righteous standard of God. So everywhere we look in the New Testament and in the Old Testament we realize that the very concept of sin is a violation of the standard of God. Therefore, since it is a violation of GodÕs standard, God must provide the solution.
And so the solution to the sin problem is what is called unlimited atonement, the doctrine of unlimited atonement. And actually it should be understood as a substitutionary unlimited atonement. Now that is a lot of big words, but we will break it down a little bit. The idea of atonement is related to reconciliation. Atonement is the idea of bringing opposing parties together. It is an English word that is literally broken to mean at-one-ment, that is its derivation, two things that are brought together to be one, at-one-ment. The word atonement is not used anywhere in the New Testament to describe the work of Christ, it is used in the Old Testament and the English word atonement was coined in order to express this work that is done on the cross where man is brought back together to God.
The background for the concept of atonement in the Old Testament comes from the day of atonement in the ritual calendar of the nation Israel. The day of atonement occurs once a year, usually in late September, early October, according to our calendar, and it is a day when the high priest is to go into the Holy of Holies in the temple and to present a blood sacrifice that is put on the ark of the covenant which was at the center of the holy place, in the inner sanctum called the Holy of Holies. The ark was a box made of acacia wood that was covered over in gold. And in that box was a picture, a shadow image of the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. The wood represented His humanity and the gold represented His deity. Now inside the box were place symbols of IsraelÕs disobedience to God. Symbols of IsraelÕs sin, the broken ten commandments, Aarons rod that budded and the manna that they rebelled against and griped about. And so there was a lid that was placed over the box and that lid was called the mercy seat. And the word for mercy seat is a word that is related a doctrine we will look at later called propitiation. And on top of this lid were placed images of two cherubs. Cherubs are a type of angel that are associated with the justice of God. And so on the day of atonement the priest would come in with a basin of blood from a lamb that had been sacrificed, the lamb without spot or blemish, and he would place that on the ark of the covenant, and the picture here is that as these angels who represent the righteousness and justice of God look down upon that blood that covered the sin, that they were satisfied. It is a picture of atonement and as a result, God is atoned. But the focus is on the blood.
So we see in a couple of passages such as Exodus 12:3 where God says, Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, ÔOn the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathersÕ households, a lamb for each household.
Now this refers to an earlier event in IsraelÕs history basically at the same time just before they were given the instructions for the day of atonement, and this refers to the Passover and what was required, the same imagery holds true for the Passover. You have a lamb that is without spot or blemish, it is a lamb without spot or blemish that is offered on the day of atonement. At Passover they were to take this lamb that was without spot or blemish and they would sacrifice the lamb and spread the blood on the doorposts of the house. And in the original historical event it was the tenth plague as God was trying to release Israel, redeem Israel from slavery in Egypt and He was sending the angel of death so the first born in every household would be taken in death if the blood was not applied. So it is a perfect picture of atonement again, that blood had to be applied. So as the blood of the lamb that was without spot or blemish was applied to the doorposts of the house when the angel of death came he would pass over.
Exodus 12:5 goes on to describe the lamb, Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. And this is the background to understand the statement made by John the Baptist in John 1:29 when he first saw Jesus. He said, Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
The Old Testament imagery of the lamb at Passover and the sacrifice on the day of atonement anticipated and foreshadowed the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. And the purpose was to take away the sin of the world, to pay the penalty for the sins of the world. And this atonement is called substitutionary in scripture, in passages such as Romans 5:6, While we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for, and the Greek word there is huper plus the genitive, that huper preposition which we translated ÔforÕ really means as a substitute for, that Christ died as a substitute for the ungodly. Romans 5:7, For one will hardly die as a substitute for a righteous man, though perhaps for a good man someone would dare even to die, but God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died as a substitute for us. Not only did He die for us, He died for all mankind.
Romans 8:32 says, He who did not spare His own Son but delivered Him up for us all. It is an unlimited atonement, it is to cover the sins of the entire world, so that the sins of every human being, whether you believe in Christ or not, every sin is paid for by Christ on the cross. We will see more of this next time when we study the doctrine of redemption.
1Corinthians 15:3, For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and then 2 Corinthians 5:14 For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died. In other words, Jesus Christ actually paid the penalty for the sins of every single human being. That is why there can be a free offer of the gospel. That is why sin is no longer the issue. The issue is that you put your faith alone in Christ alone. The issue isnÕt what sins did you commit, the issue is what do you think about Jesus Christ. Have you put your faith alone in Christ alone? Only then can we have salvation, because man is incapable of saving himself.
Now this resolves just the first part of the sin problem. It is resolved by the doctrine of unlimited atonement. Next time we will come back and go through the other elements of this sin barrier in order to gain a greater understanding of all the dynamics of what Christ did. This is why there can be one and only one way to salvation, because the problem is so complex and so universal that only the God man who was sinless could pay the price for the sins of the world.