This is a letter I sent a couple of years ago in response to an email inquiry through our church’s website. I have changed the name of the person I was responding to. I did not hear back from this person, and do not know whether their questions were for research or for their own sake. But as this is a gospel message, I thought I would share it.
I received your list of questions, and I am glad to give an answer. Thank you for including me in your search. Since I don’t know you, I can only assume that you are searching for the truth by investigating the answers of different churches. If so, I understand why you would feel a little confused about the different answers you have heard. I certainly do not want to add to that confusion.
Can we know the truth? Some scientists (ironically) claim that there is no absolute truth – and they are quite absolute about that. They insist that we cannot know the truth, and are troubled by those who claim to know it. I sometimes wonder if those who insist that the truth cannot be known have ever considered the self-contradiction in that claim. If the truth cannot be known, is that the truth? And if so, how can we know that?
The truth can be known. Otherwise, meanings crumble and fail, the world is in flux and it isn’t, and what is true is also false. But how do we know the truth? That presents a thorny question for many. Some argue that there is some kind of mystical “ring of truth” – that we will know the truth when we see it. Yet on nearly every level of knowledge, we find a wide variety of disagreement – sometimes based on perception, sometimes on the subset of facts and data being used, and sometimes on the different meanings we attach to our arguments. The greatest source of disagreement comes from the assumptions we bring to the table. Unfortunately, people who find themselves in disagreements about ethical and even factual questions will rarely examine their own assumptions or the assumptions of those they disagree with. Yet we cannot deny the powerful influence those assumptions have on the conclusions we come to.
So, how do we know the truth? If you are now or ever have been a student, then you know that the answer to that question depends on the body of knowledge and truth that we are examining. For instance, the way we know the truth about a math problem is very different from the way we know the truth in history class. If I want to know the cost of a loaf of bread, I search for that answer differently than if I want to know whether the person I love loves me in return.
At this point, I have written four paragraphs without even attempting to answer your question. You might be wondering when I will get to the point. But I needed to set the table before answering your questions. You have asked me some big questions – they really do amount to the ultimate questions of life. “Where did I come from? Where am I going? How do I get there? What is my purpose?” If you asked me for my address or phone number, I could answer those questions in about two sentences. And you would have the truth – unless I lied to you. Either way, you could verify the truth very simply. But you have not asked me for my address or phone number. You have asked me for answers to questions that cannot be answered or verified so easily.
I hope you will accept that as my apology for such a lengthy answer. Your questions deserve a careful answer, and I want to give one.
The Apostle Paul once stood on Mars Hill in Athens, which at that time was the center of philosophical inquiry in the world, and answered a similar set of questions to what you have asked. In his answer (which you can read in the Bible in Acts 17:22-31), Paul set the God of the Bible in contrast with the gods of Ancient Greece – gods that were made out of wood and stone and precious metals. Paul had observed in the city an altar with this inscription, “To the Unknown God.” Paul set out to declare that God – the one Athenians called the “Unknown God” – to the philosophers of Athens. He is the Creator God – the God Who made the world. We can know Him, not by any kind of subjective authority like our feelings or our imaginings about God, but because He has revealed Himself to us.
The Bible points to two different places where God has revealed Himself to men: first in the world He created (Romans 1:20; Psalm 19:1-3), and then in His written Word, the Bible (2 Timothy 3:15-16). All that can be known and understood of God comes from these two sources. The things we see of God in the natural world alone are enough to leave us without excuse before God (Romans 1:20), but God has given us a detailed explanation of Himself in the written Word of God, which He calls the words of life (John 6:68; Acts 5:20). Jesus said in John 6:63, “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”
If we want answers to the ultimate questions, we must go to the One who has the ultimate answers, and who knows those answers absolutely, as only God can. The right way to find those answers then is to go to the Bible and see what it says. Not surprisingly, when people reject the authority of Scripture, they wind up with answers that are either arbitrary or incoherent. For each answer that I am prepared to give you, you will find a counterpoint in the world. The question that we must raise is this: by what authority? Or, more bluntly, “says who?”
With that in mind, God in His Word gives clear answers to your questions, and I am delighted to share those answers with you now. I hope you won’t mind if I change your order….
Where did I come from? God Who made the world also made mankind, and also made you. (Genesis 1, especially verses 26-27; Acts 17:24; John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Jeremiah 1:5; Psalm 71:5-6; Isaiah 49:5)
What is my purpose? God made us for two reasons: so that we could show His glory and power by bearing His image, and so that we could enjoy worshiping, praising, and making much of Him. (Romans 4:11; Colossians 1:16; Isaiah 43:6-7, 21; Romans 9:23; 2 Corinthians 4:4-7; John 17:24; Romans 5:1-2; John 1:14; 2 Corinthians 3:18) If you read these verses, it should not be hard to see that each of us falls short of that glory.
Where am I going? I can’t answer that question directly, Gregory. I know that you will be going to one of two places: either to heaven to enjoy God for all eternity, or else to hell, the “lake that burneth with fire and brimstone” (Revelation 21:8) to suffer the consequences of your sins. I don’t know which of those two will be your eternal home because I do not know you. You have not told me whether you have repented and believed the gospel. I do not know whether you have received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and are resting on Him alone to redeem you, to reconcile you to God, to save you from your sins, and to give you eternal life. If you have not repented and believed the gospel, then I know that you will be in hell unless you do (Luke 13:3, 5). I understand that this does not seem like a kind thing to say. But it is the truth. Jesus said, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” (John 3:36; see also John 3:18) On the surface, warning someone about hell might seem unkind, but I would argue that it is similar to the kindness of someone who pulls a fire alarm because there really is a fire, or who comes into your burning house, shakes you awake, and pulls you out of the house. It is an uncomfortable truth, but uncomfortable truths are still the truth. If you have cancer, it would be unkind for the doctor to overlook that fact and tell you that you are just fine. The fact that you were blissfully unaware of your cancer doesn’t change the fact that the doctor who knows has an important duty to warn you and offer help.
I am not a doctor or a firefighter, but the Bible does call me an “ambassador” – one who speaks officially on God’s behalf, both to warn you to flee from wrath to come and to offer you peace and reconciliation with Him.
Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20)
How do I get there? To get to hell, one doesn’t really need to do anything differently from what they have already been doing. The sheer weight of our sins alone is enough to take us straight to hell, and there is no sin so small that it won’t drag us down there. Consider Romans 5:12; Romans 6:23; Ezekiel 18:4, 20; I Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 3:10; James 1:15; and James 2:10 on this point.
On the other hand, the Bible has much to say about how we can get to heaven. In fact, some would argue that the entire purpose of the Bible is to show us the way God has graciously provided for us so that we could be saved. I agree with that. The story of mankind’s redemption is slowly unfolded in the pages of Scripture, beginning with the Fall of mankind in Genesis, pointed to and prophesied of throughout the Old Testament, completed at the cross of Jesus Christ, related to us in the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and then explained in wonderful detail throughout the remainder of the New Testament. There are so many verses that tell what Christ has done for us in order to save us that I could not begin to give them all here. I will highlight just a few for right now, and then you can write me if you want more. If you want to read more on your own, look at John 3 and Romans 5.
But the passage I want to focus on right now is found in 2 Corinthians. I gave you the middle verse of 2 Corinthians 5:19-21 earlier. Now I want to give you the verse before and after.
To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:19-21)
We can learn two things from this passage: first, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself. The verse speaks specifically of Jesus Christ’s work on the cross and makes the point that God and Jesus Christ suffered together on the cross so that you and I could be reconciled to God. God did not send Jesus to the cross to die alone; He did not sacrifice Jesus Christ: He made Himself the sacrifice – God was in Christ sacrificing Himself, suffering for the sins that we committed, so that we could be saved from those sins.
The second thing I want you to notice is what the last sentence says: “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin….” The Bible speaks over and over of the righteousness, the holiness, the intrinsic goodness, and the glory of Jesus Christ. And yet, we learn in the Bible that His sole purpose in laying aside His glory as God and becoming a man was in order to save us from our sins (John 3:16-17; Philippians 2:6-11; Romans 5:8-10). Jesus went about the work of saving us from our sins by becoming the sinner – even though He had never sinned – suffering the penalty of our sin on the cross, in our place as our substitute. This is the beauty of God’s plan for our salvation, and the miracle of God’s forgiveness. God accepts the sacrifice Jesus Christ made in our place and for our sins. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ satisfies the demands of justice so that God can be just in punishing sin and at the same time the One Who justifies the ungodly (Romans 3:26; 4:5). In forgiving our sins, God did not lay aside justice: our sins were punished on the cross. But God is gracious to forgive us of our sins.
So that leaves the question: what must I do to be saved? The Apostle Paul gave a very simple answer to that question in Acts 16:31 – “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” Trust the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made in your place and on your behalf. Rest on Jesus Christ alone to be your Savior. Turn from what you have believed, from what you have done, from what you have wanted in life. Repent of your sin and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ.
How do you get to heaven? Those who have Christ in them are themselves also in Christ (Galatians 2:20; Romans 8:1). And those who are in Christ will be carried to heaven by God (Job 19:25-26; I Corinthians 15:51-57; Philippians 3:21; I John 3:2).
Now I have a question for you, Gregory. Have you received Jesus Christ, and are you resting on Him alone as He is presented in the gospels? I hope you will answer that question.
If you would like to know more, please don’t hesitate to write me again. If you would prefer to talk in person, you can stop by my office in Ogden (if you live nearby). Or you can call me during the week on my office phone. I am available most days.