A message outline on the topic of hell, which I plan to preach at the church in Cluj tomorrow.
So what is the Bible really all about? Is there a single theme—a major message—that can be worded concisely, to help someone quickly understand the point of God’s message for us?
Perhaps the point is: “Be good. God is watching.” Or maybe, “Be unselfish to please others, and you’ll be happy.” Or something like, “It will all work out in the end. Justice will prevail, with bad people punished like they deserve, and good people rewarded the same.”
Well, those are some ideas of what people might think the Bible is about, but they all miss the real point.
The good news is we don’t have to guess. Because the Bible already provides an accurate summary description of itself. Calling itself “the Scriptures,” in a passage Paul wrote, the Bible has this to say about just what God’s most important truth is: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” (1 Cor. 15:3-4)
That’s the bottom line. That Christ died for our sins, and rose from the dead. It was prophesied in the part of the Bible written before it happened, and it is the banner theme of the part of the Bible written afterward. Christ died for our sins, and rose again.
Notice that it doesn’t just say He died and arose. A lot of nice, religious people know He did that, but still don’t get the point of the Bible, and still don’t have a relationship with God. You need to understand WHY Jesus died to know what God is saying. He died “for our sins.” He didn’t die to found a religion. He didn’t die to set an example of sacrificial living that will please God. He didn’t die for “original sin” or for “the sins of Adam.” He didn’t die to show you how to live, and He didn’t die to show you how to die.
He died for your sins.
He died in your place.
Now, whether you’ve ever read the Bible or not, you already knew all about sin. It’s the reason you lock your doors before going to bed at night. And you already knew that you are a sinner. It’s the reason you wouldn’t want anyone to know about a lot of the secrets you keep.
And when you stand before God, God wants you to know that He isn’t okay with the fact that you have sinned. He isn’t willing to overlook even one of your sins, much less the whole load of them you’ve built up over a lifetime. God is holy. He is perfect. He is totally righteous in all He does. And He will not accept even a little bit of sinfulness into heaven under any circumstances.
But He loves you and me, and wants us to live with Him forever, even though we can’t if there are any sins on our record.
So He did what was necessary to satisfy both His righteous justice and His merciful love. He became a Man—the Man Christ Jesus. He lived a perfect life in our place. And then, even though there was no guilt in Him, He died on the cross. He died for our sins. The Bible had said He would hundreds of years before He came. And in accordance with the Scriptures, He did just what He had promised. He died for our sins.
That means He absorbed all of the punishment of God that we deserve for our sins. So that God could justly punish all of our wrongs, big and small, and still forgive us. Even though we can’t earn the forgiveness for ourselves. He earned it for us by not sinning and by taking the punishment in our place.
But He didn’t just die for our sins—He also came back to life. Because of that, He can be our Savior today, and give to us the eternal life in heaven that He earned in our place by living a perfect life.
You already knew you have sinned. You already knew sin deserves punishment. Now, thanks to God’s word in the Bible, you also know that you can escape the punishment you deserve because of what Christ has done for you.
That’s the message of the Bible for you, in a nutshell. And you must respond to it by personally trusting Christ as your Savior, in order to receive the benefits of Christ’s death in your place. Just knowing about it isn’t enough. You have to make the decision to trust in Christ alone to save you, and commit yourself to that belief. Those who don’t trust in Christ alone as their Savior will die with their sins unforgiven, and they will go to hell for eternal punishment.
Come to Jesus today for salvation. Tell Him you believe you have sinned and deserve punishment. Tell Him you believe that He loves you and died in your place on the cross. Tell Him you are trusting in Him alone to forgive you, cleanse you of sin, and give you eternal life in heaven, just as He promised.
Indeed He does promise that to everyone who comes to Him believing that message. The message God wrote for you in His word. “Christ died for our sins… and He was raised.”
Repentance unto salvation is a turning, but not a turning from sin per se. Repentance unto salvation is turning from your self-righteousness and self-justification to come to Christ, confessing that you are a sinner deserving judgment. It is ceasing to believe in the worth of yourself, your goodness, your good works, or your religious activities, and turning instead to trust only in what Christ has done on your behalf to save you. It is acknowledging that faith in Christ alone is really the only thing you have that you can offer to Christ, and the only thing from you He would accept.
It is not turning from sins to receive forgiveness for your past. It is admitting your utter inability to do so, and trusting God to be as merciful as He says He is, so that He will forgive you, even though in your own strength you absolutely cannot turn yourself away from your sins or your sinful nature to follow Him.
And, of course, the only basis upon which God can grant that unearned forgiveness, is that Christ actually did earn it for you, by living a perfectly sinless life in your place, and then dying in your place on the cross, absorbing the punishment you earned, and rising from the grave alive again to save you forever.
To many preachers of what is supposed to be the gospel today, repentance means a change in behavior rather than a change in beliefs that allows God to save someone and then Himself cause a change in the heart and the behavior of the redeemed one. When Paul was called upon to summarize the gospel, though, he didn’t even mention the behavior of those being saved, except to say that their behavior was inherently bad, but that Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead. He determined to focus on nothing in his preaching to us except Jesus Christ and Him crucified, because that is the source–the sole source, in fact– of our righteousness.
But when the preachers of today fundamentally misunderstand the meaning of repentance, they wind up defining the gospel’s invitation, not in terms of the cross or of responding to God’s grace in belief, but instead summarize their invitation with something like, God “loves those who turn to Him in repentance, and loves those who cleanse themselves.” Problem is, that isn’t just a random quote. It’s a quote from the muslim Koran, and devout muslims believe it and live by it. But it doesn’t save them. They deny Jesus even died on the cross, which is why they view God’s grace as unnecessary for salvation.
Today, though, there are too many Christian preachers who are truly saved, but who for others change the rules on how to be saved, because of their unwillingness to understand what it means to repent, making it mean something that they can evaluate about the person’s behavior, instead of just a change of heart and belief and trust in Christ.
Perhaps what we need is to hear the words of someone who came out of that “turn away from sin and be good and God will accept you” mentality, into true saving faith in the true and living God.
Ergun Mehmet Caner is such a man. Born and raised a Sunni Muslim in the middle east, he was a believer in that religion not just by birth, but by choice, and he firmly believed in it, even willingly coming to America with his family in the hopes of turning it into a muslim nation submitted to Allah. But after years of trying to persuade him, a Christian friend finally convinced him that Jesus is the true Son of God and the true road to salvation. Caner describes the night of his salvation in a way that will help those who think repentance means “turn from your sins and God will forgive” to understand what it really means. Here are his words:
“For the first time in my life, I came to God with nothing in my hands to try to please Him. I brought nothing but my own repentance and my faith in Christ. Repentance itself is not a ‘good work’ that earns God’s approval. It is surrender–throwing oneself on the mercy of the court. Repentance for me was the end of works. It was an admission that everything I’d ever attempted in an effort to please God had failed. I finally saw that all my works, my best days, my righteousness, were as filthy rags. I threw myself on the mercy of the court. And Jesus declared me righteous, He declared me justified, and He saved me forever.”
A 16-year-old girl who has been coming to our church services and outreaches for about 8 months now responded to an invitation at the close of the service today wanting to be saved. Lili and I explained to her how she could be saved and she prayed with us, making a profession of faith that seemed to be quite authentic.
It was after a message I preached from Luke 19, which I had preached in America at the beginning of March on the parable of the minas. If you’d like to hear it, you can scroll back to the first Sunday in March and listen to the recording. The message was recorded today in Cluj, too, but most of the readers of this blog are English-speaking, so this time I am only posting today’s recording on my Romanian ministry site. If you would like to hear it and need the link, let me know and I’ll supply it.
When I was in 1st grade, I used to like watching cartoons after school. One day I saw one with a highly accident-prone cat who got himself into the strangest mishaps by chasing a clever mouse, who kept himself just out of reach. Each time the cat was taunted into chasing the mouse, he was led into dangerous territory and violently killed, at least temporarily. When he died, two elevators appeared side by side. One went up to heaven with an angel, the other down with the devil to the fiery dungeon. As the cat arrived at the elevators, he was informed that since he’d been bad in mistreating the mouse, the DOWN elevator was the one for him. He pleaded for another chance to go back and try again to be good enough for heaven, and his request was granted.
I’d been taught the truth in church and at home by my parents, so I said to my mom, who was watching with me, “That’s not right, is it? You can’t be good enough to get to heaven, right?” That night my parents fully explained to me how Jesus had come to die on the cross to pay the full price for what I owed God. A few days or so later, I trusted Jesus Christ as my Saviour, and He forgave all my sins so that I could go to heaven when I die. Since then, I’ve found that God loves me more than I can understand. He has been a wise Guide, a reliable Source of strength, and a faithful Provider of unlimited comfort in every situation I’ve ever faced.
Jesus will do the same for you!
All you have to do is admit to Him that you have done bad things that anger God and that you can’t earn heaven. Then you ask for His forgiveness because of your belief that His death on the cross was for you. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” the Bible says. (1 John 1:9)
We can’t rely on ourselves or on trying to be “good enough” to get to heaven. We must just put our faith in Him that He was punished in our place so the bad things we’ve done will be erased by God.
If you do that, believing that Jesus rose again from the dead, you can be absolutely sure that Jesus will take you, just as you are, and take away the bad things you’ve done that anger God and save you from God’s anger when you die. The Bible in Romans 5:9 gives you that guarantee: “Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him!”
Will you let Jesus save you now?
Will you accept Jesus’ free gift of eternal life and reward in heaven?
Heaven is a place I want you to go to with me! It’s a place where you’ll never be lonely again. You’ll never be angry again. You’ll never be bored again. You’ll never be hurting or feel left out again.
And you can get your ticket there from Jesus right now, because God will hear you pray asking Him to save you. “For everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved,” says Romans 10:13.
Here’s what you need to say to the Lord in prayer right now to be saved (the prayer itself doesn’t make you right with God, but believing in your heart what the prayer below says DOES):
“God, I admit I have done bad things that you didn’t want me to do, and I understand that Your word in the Bible says because of this, I don’t deserve to go to heaven when I die. Nothing I could ever do or give could erase my sins and get me to heaven. But Your word promises that if I believe Jesus died to be punished instead of me for what I’ve done wrong, and rose from the dead, I will become Your child and be loved by You forever. I ask You now to forgive what I’ve done because of the innocent blood Jesus shed on the cross. Please save me by erasing the bad things I’ve done from Your record of my life. Right now, I accept Jesus as my own personal Saviour. Thank You for Your guarantee that because I am now Your child, I will live in heaven with You forever!”
Friday afternoon in Iasi, Romania, a train smashed into a microbus that was being unwisely driven across the track in front of it, killing 13 people. The tragic event very much related to the passage we were already going to study at church this morning, in a gospel message.
Praise be to God there were some new professions of faith in Christ at the church this morning, after this message from Luke 13. Jesus gets VERY direct in that passage in His warnings to us to come to repentance and faith for salvation before it is too late. The message is in English and Romanian. I hope that it ministers to you and to anyone you share it with.