Last October I received a terrible call from my uncle. He told me that my cousin, Ruth, had been murdered. I can’t even express the shock I felt. Time is suspended in moments like that; one tick of the clock takes a year, and you feel like you’re almost watching a movie of yourself experiencing this. But the shock, in my case, was quickly followed by a nauseating wave of regret.
To give you some background, my parents got divorced when I was young, and my ties with my dad’s side of the family had been pretty much cut. So I hadn’t had any relationship with Ruth, or my other cousins, for something like 30 years. But about a year-and-a-half previous to the day I received that call, Ruth and I had gotten back in touch, mostly through Facebook. We exchanged pictures of our kids, shared funny internet memes, and occasionally told each other about things going on in our lives.
However, to my deep regret, I do not believe I ever directly shared the gospel message with her. It is not that I didn’t want to share with her, it’s just that I was waiting for the “right time.” I told myself that I didn’t want to scare her away or make her think I was a religious fanatic. But as I held the phone to my ear that day, I realized I had used up all my chances. The “right time” never came. All the time had run out.
So, I now want to share with you, what I wish I had shared with Ruthie. If I could go back in time–Oh! How many times we wish that in our lives! But, if I could go back in time, this is what I would have wanted to share with her.
There is a terrible, and deadly, misconception that nice people who believe in God go to Heaven. However, if that were true, then why would Jesus have needed to come and die on a cross? Weren’t there nice people who believed in God before Jesus died? Of course there were. That would mean there would be no need for Jesus to do such a thing… therefore this is obviously not true at all.
Another misconception is that God’s eternal justice works like a set of balancing scales. Our bad deeds go on one side and our good deeds go on the other. On the day we die, if our good outweighs our bad, we will go to Heaven. This sounds reasonable until you think about it in a court of law.
Let’s say you ran a red light, and you’re standing before the judge. Would you say to him, “Your Honor, since I started driving I’ve stopped at literally thousands of red lights! I really don’t think I could have run more than 8 to 10 red lights in my entire life! Doesn’t that tilt the scale in my favor? I’ve obeyed the law much more often than I’ve broken it!” Believe me, doing “good” more frequently than “bad” is just not going to work as a defense. And the truth is that when you and I stand before God’s judgment seat, the Bible tells us, that just like in a court of law, He will judge us against the standard of His Holy Laws.
Have you ever measured yourself against God’s Ten Commandments? It’s honestly not very pleasant. Ask yourself how many lies you think you’ve told in your life. Remember back to think of the times (even when you were young) when you might have taken something that didn’t belong to you. Try to add up in your mind the number of times you’ve carelessly used the name “God” or “Jesus” as a curse? (Such as “G—d Damn!” or “Oh my G—d!” or “Je—s Ch—st!” All those are examples of blasphemy.) And this is the one that gets every one of us… Jesus said that if you’ve ever even looked at someone with lust that you’ve committed adultery in your heart, (Matthew 5:27-28). …And we’ve only looked at four of the TEN Commandments!
Measured against God’s perfect Law, we ALL come up short. As lawbreakers we stand before God as liars, thieves, blasphemers, and adulterers-at-heart. In fact, the Bible goes even farther to say that if you’ve ever felt hatred in your heart, God counts it on your record as murder! (“Whoever hates his brother is a murderer.” 1 John 3:15) As hard as it is to grasp, God sees our hearts as they really are, “desperately wicked,” (Jeremiah 17:9).
This is why Jesus came and died on the cross. Because people like us—breakers of God’s Holy Laws, deserving eternal Hell—had no way to save ourselves. We could never do enough good works to make up for our sins. We could never go to church enough, do acts of mercy enough, get baptized often enough, take communion enough… etc. Never. In fact, God says all the things we think of as our “righteous acts” amount to nothing but a pile of “filthy rags,” (Isaiah 64:6).
The only solution is that God Himself, the third person of the trinity, Jesus Christ, would suffer the punishment in our place. It is as if the Judge was about to bring the gavel down on our trial, but before doing so, He took off his robe and stepped around to our side, and paid our fine in His life’s blood. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — no one can be saved by doing good works, this is so that no one can boast,” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Anyone who will repent (feel sorrow for, and turn away from sin) and place their trust (faith) entirely in the finished work of Jesus on that cross, will have all their sins forgiven EXCLUSIVELY THOUGH THE MERIT OF CHRIST and will be re-born spiritually as one of God’s children. This video on YouTube explains it so much more thoroughly than I can. It’s only ten minutes, please watch it.
My cousin’s death renewed in me an awareness that I had first received as a teenager when I watched my little brother die… an awareness that all human beings are headed toward death. This life is almost an illusion compared to the eternal state that stretches out before us beyond our death. And there is nothing more important than where you will spend eternity.
The Bible tells us that, “It is appointed unto all men that they die once and then face God’s judgment,” (Hebrews 9:27). In other words, the Bible teaches that there is no second chance after death. The moment you close your eyes in death, you will stand before God’s judgment seat.
Every breath you breathe is a gift from God: a gift of time to change your mind, a gift of time to repent. My prayer is that you will turn to Christ Jesus in repentance and faith so that you can take receive the free gift of everlasting life that He offers you.