My wife, Lenya, came to know Christ through a Gospel tract. But she initially misinterpreted its meaning! She figured that by placing Jesus on the throne of her heart, as the tract illustrated, she would secure her ticket to first-class seating on the journey of life. “Just add Jesus, and all of the abundance will come,” she thought. “Peace will pour down, and life will hum along like a quiet, well-lubricated machine.”
So Lenya glibly said a prayer to include Jesus on her shelf of other important decisions and goals. There was only one problem–and it was the problem! The chasm of separation between her and God was too wide for her to simply reach over and grab everlasting life. Somehow, deep inside, guilt still plagued her.
When God made mankind, He equipped us with the powerful ability to choose, and with each choice would come a corresponding consequence. The stakes were especially high in the beginning. Adam’s choice to obey or to disobey God would produce an historical ripple effect that would cascade down through the ages. You might say that when Adam chose to sin, he acted as the representative head of the human race, sharing his own consequence with the rest of unborn humanity. Paul outlined the four stages of this problem: “Sin entered. … Death [entered]. … Death spread. … Death reigned” (Romans 5:12-14, NKJV). As soon as Adam sinned, man was separated from God and death began. It was as if a spiritual virus was placed in the DNA of humanity forever.
Although God created us in His image to have abundant life and fellowship with Him, the image was marred and the fellowship was shattered. The entire human race went from innocence to sinfulness in one fell swoop.
The problem of Adam’s sin reminds me of one of my summer vacations as a boy. My family was standing on the pristine shores of Jackson Lake, at the base of the Grand Teton Mountains in Wyoming. The reflection in the glassy calm waters of the lake perfectly mirrored the mountain range behind it. But the calm of the lake was disrupted when one of us boys took a small, flat stone and skipped it across the water’s surface. In an instant, the image of the reflected peaks was distorted. The ripples seemed to wrinkle the entire lake. The likeness of my father and brothers in the once-smooth water was ruined. Adam’s original sin in the garden was the pebble that shattered the calm with God, our Creator and Father.
So how can the problem be remedied? How can humanity’s distorted lake be restored to its original peacefulness? Separation from God is everyone’s problem, not just Adam’s. The Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NIV). Scripture plainly states, “The wages of sin is death [separation], but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23, NIV).
This is where our individual choices come into play. We can choose to go our own sinful way and stay separated from God forever. Or we can attempt to bridge the separation gap on our own through morality, religion, philosophy or good works. All of these attempts to reach God are like trying to put a stepladder on the shores of California in order to reach Hawaii. The attempt would be ludicrous since the space is far too expansive, and the bridge is too short and feeble. The gap of separation caused by sin–both Adam’s and our own–cannot be bridged, even by our noblest attempts. God declared, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2, NIV).
It’s intriguing that our modern American culture is becoming more “spiritual” while becoming less “Christian.” We sense the need to deal with the problem caused by sin, but we’re hesitant to take the solution Jesus offers. And so we borrow from everywhere. It’s as though we’re standing in line at a huge spiritual smorgasbord, making up our own religion tailored to our individual tastes.
Ours is an eclectic religious expression, made by picking and choosing parts of various spiritual traditions: “I’d like a medium–no, make that a small–order of Christianity, with a side of Eastern religion. Heavy on the reincarnation, please! Oh, and could you have a spiritual guru serve it?”
Such attempts to bridge the gap of separation between us and God will never succeed. The Bible says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12, NIV).
If we go to a psychiatrist or a therapist, we’ll become well-adjusted sinners. If we go to a doctor or a health spa, we’ll become healthy sinners. If we achieve wealth, we’ll be wealthy sinners. If we join a church and decide to turn over a new leaf, we’ll become religious sinners. But let us go in earnest repentance and faith to the foot of Calvary’s cross, and we’ll be forgiven sinners, for we will find that the cross of Jesus Christ is the only bridge that can reach God. The choice is ours. It’s either separation from God or redemption by God.
That was the decision my wife finally faced. After Lenya tried to add Jesus to her life without dealing with the separation caused by her own sin and the acquired sin of Adam, she still felt empty and alone. Something was missing, she thought; something wasn’t quite right.
One Sunday at church, she walked to the prayer room after the sermon and spoke with one of the pastors about what she was feeling. He explained the Gospel and asked her if she had ever repented. “Jesus commanded,” he explained, “‘Repent, and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:15, NKJV).
She looked at him with a stunned gaze and then asked, “Re-what? What does that mean?”
The pastor gently explained the meaning of the problem of sin, the problem the tract had outlined. “We are separated from God, and we must forsake any notion of trying to reach Him on our own,” the pastor insisted. “Rather, we must change our minds [essentially the meaning of repentance] about going our way in life, and we must go God’s way, allowing Jesus to wash away our sins.”
That day, Lenya discovered that the only bridge strong enough to take her to God was His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. When she left that prayer room, she not only understood the problem; she had discovered the solution to her guilt. As hymn writer William Cowper put it, “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.”