Read an Excerpt
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SALVATIONIN 12 LESSONS
By MAX ANDERS
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 1997 Max Anders
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAre We Really Lost?
Imagine the scene in Tombstone, Arizona Territory, 1882. Jake Slade was in jail for stealing $10,000 worth of silver ore from the Silver Lady Mine. According to the law, Jake was guilty. But according to Jake, he was innocent. Oh, yes, he had taken the ore, but he did not consider it stealing. The man who owned the mine, Bill Mallory, had cheated Jake out of that much money and more in the past. Jake had worked for him, risked his life for him, and Bill was to have rewarded him with stock in the mine. He didn't. Now, in Jake's mind, he was only getting what belonged to him. But he got caught, and he was waiting in the jail for the territorial judge to come by next month to try the case.
In the meantime, Bill Mallory was not taking any chances. He did not want Jake's claim to stock in the silver mine to be brought up in court. There were those who had heard Bill promise Jake the silver stock. For a price, they were keeping their mouths shut for now, but Mallory didn't know what would happen if they were put under oath and threatened with perjury.
So Mallory concocted a scheme. He paid Slim Wilson, a casual friend of Jake's, to pay Jake a visit in jail and trick him into thinking that Slim would bust him out of the jail. Then he paid the sheriff to let it happen, but to be ready for Jake's escape.
"Listen," hissed Slim in Jake's ear. "I was just over to the Silver Slipper Saloon, and I heard that Bill Mallory has paid off the judge! He's going to throw the book at you. They're saying you'll go to prison for ten years for stealing that silver!"
"Why, that dirty, low-down snake in the grass!" Jake growled.
"You can say that again," sympathized Slim.
Jake stared at the floor as the news begin to sink in. Suddenly, he looked up at the messenger. "What am I going to do, Slim? I can't go to jail for ten years. I'd be an old man when I got out."
"Well, I don't know, Jake. Looks like you're in a heap a trouble. How 'bout if I get a couple of the boys to help me? I'll get your horse, and tonight after the sheriff goes to sleep, we'll tie some ropes around the bars in the window and pull the bars out. You jump out and get on your horse and ride west. Us boys can high-tail it east out of town and go on home. Our wives can say we were home all night. I think that would work."
"Okay," said Jake. "Let's do it. I'll see you tonight about midnight. And Slim—thanks. You're a real friend."
That night, Slim and the boys busted Jake out of jail. Everything went according to plan, Jake thought. Except that when he got on his horse and rounded the corner at full gallop heading west out of town, the sheriff stepped out of the shadows and shot him dead. At sunup the next morning, they put him six feet under on Boot Hill.
The very avenue that Jake thought would save him was the avenue that killed him. It was all a great deception, planned ahead of time and foisted on Jake. Essentially, Jake was dead the moment he believed the lie.
And so it is with humanity. Most people do not believe that they will die and go to hell. They think that something will save them. They think that either there is no hell, or there is no God, or that a loving God would not send them to hell, or that their good works will outweigh their bad. But those are all lies, deceptions of the devil. And in reality, we are doomed the moment we believe the lie. Like Jake, all we have to do is round the corner of life with our last heartbeat, and Satan steps out of the shadows and shoots us dead.
But since most people believe the lie that they are not in danger of going to hell, we have to start by asking the question, "Are we really lost?" The majority of people do not believe they are. But what we believe means absolutely nothing unless God believes the same thing. So, to try to gain God's perspective on the issue, we will ask several questions to see if the answers will give us insight on whether or not we are really lost and in need of salvation.
How Does History Show that We Are Lost?
The history of humanity's savagery against itself shows that humanity is lost.
We must begin by asking what we mean by "lost" and "saved." By "lost" we mean that our relationship with God is broken by our sin, and when we die, we will go to hell. By "saved," we mean that our relationship with God has been restored through faith in Jesus Christ and we will go to heaven.
Of course, that assumes that there is a God. If there is not a God, then we cannot be lost and we cannot be saved. We just live and die, and then we cease to exist. But if there is a God, then we might be lost and we might need to be saved. For the last two thousand years, one of the foundation stones of the Christian faith is that there is a God, humanity is lost, and everyone needs to be saved.
But is there any evidence outside the Bible to suggest that humanity is lost and in need of salvation? I think so. Just as you can tell something of what a tree is like by looking only at its shadow, perhaps we can tell something of what the spiritual side of humanity is like by looking at the physical side.
First, the entire story of history tells an endless succession of civilizations that rise on good principles, and then fall due to corruption. Rise and fall, rise and fall. There has never been a civilization that has risen and stayed there. Like daylilies in the July heat, civilizations bloom for a moment and then die. Why? Because of internal corruption. No great civilization ever fell because of external forces. They always fall from internal corruption.
Humanity does not seem to be able to withstand prosperity. It breeds ingratitude and laziness and corruption. Within the very flower of cultural prosperity are the seeds of its own destruction.
Chief Seattle, for whom the city of Seattle, Washington, is named, lived from 1786 to 1866. He was friendly to the white settlers of his time. Yet he saw that in the coming of the white man, the seeds of destruction were sown for his own people. In a remarkably insightful statement toward the end of his life, he lamented the passing of his people and their civilization:
A few more moons; a few more winters—and not one of the descendants of the mighty hosts that once moved over this broad land or lived in happy homes, protected by the Great Spirit, will remain to mourn over the graves of a people once more powerful and hopeful than yours (white men's). But why should I mourn at the untimely fate of my people? Tribe follows tribe, and nation follows nation, like the waves of the sea. It is the order of nature, and regret is useless. Your time of decay may be distant, but it will surely come, for even the White Man, whose God walked and talked with him as friend with friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all. We will see.
From ancient Egypt, to Israel, to Babylonia, to Persia, to Greece, to Rome, to Europe, to the United States, history is the tale of the rise of great civilizations, and their fall because of moral, social, and cultural degeneration. Does this suggest that humanity is basically good?
Then, there is also the rise of evil civilizations, always led by evil men. Nero, Genghis Khan, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Tse-tung together are responsible for killing over 150 million people and torturing and ravaging hundreds of millions more (see What If Jesus Had Never Been Born, James Kennedy, chapter 15). Do these men suggest that humanity is basically good?
In our own country today, a nation founded with many Christian principles, the problems that we face today as a nation are beyond our ability to solve. Just fifty years ago, the major problems in schools were "talking out loud," "running in the halls," and "chewing gum." Today, the major problems are physical violence, sexual promiscuity, and drugs. Who has a solution that can take us back to the days when our problems were so minor? Who knows the path to return us to the time when we all agreed on a moral code that made metal detectors, undercover police, and a call for condom distribution in high schools unnecessary? Who can solve just this one problem in education?
Unless God brings renewal, unless God brings a great awakening, unless God stirs our hearts to return to Him and to the princples in His word, those days will never be seen in America again.
Add to that the profound problems of drug and alcohol abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, physical and sexual abuse, divorce, gang violence, terrorism, corruption in business and politics, and the problems are compounded beyond comprehension. These are all problems that we cannot solve, because they are problems of the heart. Politics or armies cannot change the human heart.
What does that tell us? If there is a God, if there is a heaven, if there is a hell, what does that tell us? What does that shadow tell us about the tree? Is that the record of basic goodness? Is that the record of a people who are so good that they will automatically get into heaven?
We have had over four thousand years of recorded history, and it all suggests that while there is good in humanity, nevertheless, humanity is inherently and fatally flawed, and in need of salvation. History does not suggest that humanity is inherently good. History suggests the opposite.
How Does Our Conscience Show that We Are Lost?
Our conscience shows that we are lost since we are unable to live up to our own standards, let alone God's.
What does our own conscience tell us about our goodness? Do you sometimes do things even though you know they are wrong? Do you sometimes fail to do things, even though you know they are right? Are you a perfect human being, even by your own standards, let alone God's?
The Christian doctrine of the depravity of man (humanity) does not hold that humanity is incapable of doing good. Obviously, humanity is capable of doing great good. Look at the hospitals, look at the orphanages, look at the disaster relief that do good for humanity all around the world. Yes, humanity is capable of doing good. But at the same time, we are incapable of not doing evil. The same person who administrates an orphanage, doing good for hundreds of children, may go home and physically abuse his own child. The politician who is responsible for getting a hospital built for disadvantaged rural people may take a bribe from a construction company. Even the preacher who proclaims the gospel on Sunday morning may be hard and insensitive toward his wife.
Have you ever tried to be perfect? Have you ever tried to live up to your own standards, let alone God's standard of perfection? Have you ever said, "From this day on, I will do all the good I am able, and I will refrain from doing wrong." If you have, you know that you are incapable of doing it. If you haven't tried it, try it. It will not be long before you go down in defeat.
I came to the conclusion, early in my Christian experience, as I tried to be perfect, that I could make myself do almost anything I wanted to except desire to do only good all the time. My "wanter" is basically flawed. And even if it weren't, I still don't believe I could perform perfectly. It just isn't in me. It isn't in anyone.
Do you think heaven is a perfect place? If you do, and if you are not perfect, how will you get there? How can the imperfect be joined to the perfect? Either the imperfect cannot be joined to the perfect, or else the perfect becomes corrupted by being joined with the imperfect. Neither one can be true if heaven is to be a perfect place where we can live with God forever.
So what is the solution? There is only one. We must become perfect. We must admit that we are lost and in need of the salvation God offers, and ask Him to forgive our sins and makes us spiritually perfect.
How Does Our Experience Show that We Are Lost?
The inability of humanity to experience the fullness of its aspirations indicates its lostness.
Most people are working on a game plan for meaning and purpose in life. It may be on a vast scale or on a simple and personal level, but most of us are looking to this world to give us a sense of purpose and meaning. We may be working up the career ladder or amassing a formidable education we believe will deliver professional success, or a love relationship we hope will make life complete or a new home or third car or sailboat or other "toy" that we think will make us happy and fulfilled. But many people discover that if they get what they want from this world, it doesn't satisfy. An emptiness seeps up from somewhere deep within, and a muffled alarm sounds that will not go away. The phrase, "Is this really all there is?" chimes on the hour and grows into a relentless reminder of the futility of life. Lee Iaccoca, the wildly successful former head of both Ford and Chrysler Motors, said, "Fame and fortune is for the birds."
But there are others who don't succeed in life. They don't come close to their aspirations. They compare their life twenty years after graduation and see that life has not at all turned out the way they thought or hoped it would. A pervasive and inescapable sense of futility, of powerlessness, of victimization assaults them, convincing them that the world is truly a fallen place, and humanity truly a fallen race, both in need of deliverance and unable to deliver themselves.
Oscar Wilde once said, "In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it." Either way, people discover somehow that things aren't right. They might not describe themselves as "lost," but they would agree that they need an answer from outside themselves, a power greater than themselves. If someone is looking for such an answer, he is lost and in need of the answer salvation through Christ brings.
How Does the Death of Christ Show that We Are Lost?
Christ would not have endured the cross if humanity were not lost and in need of salvation.
History, conscience, and personal experience show that humanity has critical needs that it is unable to meet, dilemmas from which it needs to be saved. Christians believe that the salvation that perfectly fits humanity's deepest needs and most difficult dilemmas is given through Jesus Christ and especially through His unique, powerful death.
The death that Jesus died on the cross was a truly horrible death. First, there was the physical agony. Can you imagine having been beaten until His face was so swollen and disfigured that He was not readily recognizable? They pulled out His beard and spit on Him. They jammed a crown of thorns into His skull, which would have been like having a bunch of small, sharp nails driven through your skin and lodged into the bone in your skull. They whipped Him until His back bled. Then, they made Him carry His own cross until He was so exhausted He could not carry it anymore.
When He arrived at the place of crucifixion, they drove nails through His hands and feet. But this is worse than we think at first. These nails were not the smooth construction nails that we know today. They were more like small railroad spikes, squared off instead of round, and ragged on the edges. And they nailed them, not through His hands and feet, which would have been bad enough, but through His wrist and ankles, ripping and tearing the flesh and cartillage, and dislodging the small bones in those areas.
The only way He could breathe was to push up on His feet, which had the nails driven through them. It was one agony if He did, and another agony if He didn't. He hung there for hours, until, mercifully, He died.
And this He did voluntarily. It would have been gruesome under any circumstances. But He did not have to go through the crucifixion. He could have saved Himself. Others who were crucified endured it because they had to. He endured it because He wanted to, for our sake. What would have motivated Him to go through that?
Second, there is the spiritual agony. That which is holy (Jesus) must be horrified with that which is unholy (sin). Yet, on the cross, Jesus had the sin of the world placed on Him. What must that have been like? What kind of agony might that have created?
It must have offended and horrified Him, just as we are offended and horrified by things that violate our sensibility. Let me try to walk on a very razor edge of reality to get a glimpse of what Jesus suffered, I hope, without offending you.
Excerpted from WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SALVATION by MAX ANDERS Copyright © 1997 by Max Anders. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.