A Man and His God by Dr. James Dobson
One of my colleagues died during my last year at Children's Hospital, having served on our university medical faculty for more than twenty-five years. During his tenure as a professor, he had earned the respect and admiration of both professionals and patients, especially for his research findings and contribution to medical knowledge. This doctor had reached the pinnacle of success in his chosen field, and enjoyed the status and financial rewards that accompany such accomplishment. He had tasted every good thing, by the standards of the world.
At the next staff meeting following his death, a five-minute eulogy was read by a member of his department. Then the chairman invited the entire staff to stand, as is our custom in situations of this nature, for one minute of silence in memory of the fallen colleague. I have no idea what the other members of the staff contemplated during that sixty-second pause, but I can tell you what was going through my mind.
I was thinking, "Lord, is this what it all comes down to? We sweat and worry and labor to achieve a place in life, to impress our fellow men with our competence. We take ourselves so seriously, overreacting to the insignificant events of each passing day. Then finally, even for the brightest among us, all these experiences fade into history and our lives are summarized with a five-minute eulogy and sixty seconds of silence. It hardly seems worth the effort, Lord."
But I was also struck by the collective inadequacy of that faculty to deal with the questions raised by our friend's death. Where had he gone? Would he live again? Will we see him on the other side? Why was he born? Were his deeds observed and recorded by a loving God? Is that God interested in me? Is there meaning to life beyond investigative research and professorships and expensive automobiles? The silent response by two hundred and fifty learned men and women seemed to symbolize our inability to cope with these issues.
Then a wave of relief spread over me as I thought about the message of Christianity and the meaning of the cross. This Good News provides the only satisfactory explanation for why we're here and where we're going. The final heartbeat for the Christian is not the mysterious conclusion to a meaningless existence. It is, rather, the grand beginning to a life that will never end. That's why we can proclaim, even at the graveside of a loved one, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" (1 Cor. 15:55, KJV).
How extremely important it is for the man of the home to know the answers to these perplexing questions, and be able to lead his family in the paths of righteousness. When he accepts that spiritual responsibility as God intends, the entire family is likely to follow his example. "And they said, Believe on the Lord, Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house" (Acts 16:31, KJV, emphasis added). This issue is of such significance that I feel compelled to devote the balance of this chapter to the basic plan of salvation. Perhaps someone will comprehend the Christian message for the first time through reading these pages, which is my prayer.
I used to ponder a difficult theological question that appeared unanswerable at the time. It seemed strange that God would send His only Son, Jesus, to die in agony on the cross at Mount Calvary. I reasoned that God, as Creator of the universe, was in charge of everything. That entitled Him to make His own rules and establish His own boundaries. Therefore, it seemed to me that God could have provided any plan of salvation He chose—anything that suited His fancy.
It was illogical that God would create a system that would ultimately require the suffering and death of His own Son on the cross. I could not comprehend why He would put Himself through such grief and sorrows on our behalf when He could have offered a less costly plan of salvation. I struggled with this issue as a young Christian and was perplexed by the questions it raised. I knew all the pat answers given to me in Sunday school, and I could quote the Scriptures. But none of the interpretations satisfied me.
It is interesting to look back on the things that troubled us in earlier days. I now have a better understanding of God's plan of salvation and what motivated it. And the explanation is of great significance for me, because it deals with the very essence of Christianity.
Before reading my conclusion about God's plan, you should know that I am neither a minister nor a pastor nor a theologian. I can make no claims to theological expertise. I do, however, know a little Greek and a little Hebrew. The Greek owns a gas station in Los Angeles, and the Hebrew runs a delicatessen in San Diego. That's a very bad joke, but it illustrates the fact that I am admittedly unqualified to speak as a Biblical authority. However, this lack of theological training may help me communicate with other non-theologians in everyday language. If my explanation becomes a gross oversimplification for some people, I hope they'll forgive me.
Here, then, is my concept of the plan of salvation and why Jesus' death was necessary: It begins, as it should, with an understanding of God's nature. Throughout Scripture, the Almighty is represented by two uncompromising characteristics: his love and His justice. Both of these aspects are reflected in everything God does, and none of His actions will ever contradict either component.
The love and justice of God were especially evident when He created Adam and Eve. Obviously, He could have "programmed" them to love Him and obey His laws. This could have been accomplished by creating them as highly sophisticated robots or puppets. He did, in fact, program the brains of lower animals, causing birds to build a certain kind of nest and wolves to kill wounded elk. They have no choice in the matter.
Shirley and I used to have a wonderful little Dachshund named Siggie, who displayed an assortment of wired-in behavior about which neither of us had a choice. For example, he couldn't help barking when the front doorbell rang, even if I threaten to kill him for waking the baby. Nor could he keep from gobbling his food as though he would never get another meal. God has imposed instinctual behavior in Siggie (some of which I wanted to eliminate) which operated automatically and without learning.
But the Lord elected to put no instinctual behavior in mankind, leaving us free to learn. This explains the utter helplessness of human infants, who are the most dependent of all creatures at birth. They lack the initial advantages of unlearned responses but will later run circles around the brightest animals with "locked-in" reactions. Such is the nature of our humanness.
By granting us freedom of choice, therefore, God gave meaning to our love. He sought our devotion but refused to demand it. However, the moment He created this choice, it became inevitable that He would eventually be faced with man's sin. I've heard Christians speculate on what might have happened if Adam and Eve hadn't disobeyed God. The answer seems obvious. If they had not sinned, a subsequent generation would have. After all, if no one ever made the wrong choice, then there was no true choice to be made.
But Adam and Eve did sin, as we know, and thereby confronted God with the most serious dilemma of all time.
His love for the human race was unlimited, which required that He forgive His disobedient children. The Bible says, "As a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him" (Ps. 103:13, KJV). That is an analogy I can comprehend. I know how I pity my children when they've done wrong. My inclination is to forgive them.
But in spite of God's great love, His justice required complete obedience. It demanded repentance and punishment for disobedience. So herein was a serious conflict with God's nature. If He destroyed the human race, as His justice would require in response to our sinful disobedience, His love would have been violated: but if He ignored our sins, His justice would have been sacrificed. Yet neither aspect of His nature could be compromised.
But God, in His marvelous wisdom, proposed a solution to that awful dilemma. If he could find one human being who wasn't worthy of damnation--just one individual in the history of mankind who had never sinned, a man or a woman who was not guilty--then the sin of every other person on earth could be laid upon that one and He could suffer for all of us. So God, being timeless, looked across the ages of man from Adam to Armageddon, but He could not find anyone who was innocent. "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23, KJV) it would later be written. There wasn't a person who was worthy of assuming the guilt, blame, and punishment for the rest of us. Therefore, the only alternative was for God to send His own Son to bear the sins of the entire human family. And herein we see the beauty of God's plan and the reason Jesus had to die. When He was crucified here on earth, Jesus harmonized the conflict between God's love and justice and provided a remedy for fallen mankind.
Thus, Jesus said as He was dying, "It is finished!" meaning, "I have carried out the plan of salvation that God designed for sinful man." And that's why God turned His back on Jesus when He was on the cross, prompting Him to cry in anguish, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46, KJV). In that moment, Jesus was bearing the punishment for all human sins down through the ages, including yours and mine.
This understanding of the plan of salvation is not based on guesses and suppositions, of course. It is drawn from the literal interpretation of God's Word. This message is, in fact, the primary theme of all Scripture. The Old Testament says, "Jesus is coming!" and the New Testament says, "Jesus is here!" But if I had to select one passage to represent the concept I've presented, it would be the 53rd chapter of Isaiah (my favorite chapter in the Bible). It was written seven hundred years before the birth of Christ and provides an incredible prophecy of His mission. The summary of God's entire plan is presented in this one chapter. Let me quote it from "The Living Bible":
But oh, how few will believe it! Who will listen? To whom will God reveal his saving power? In God's eyes he was like a tender green shoot, sprouting from a root in dry and sterile ground. But in our eyes there was no attractiveness at all, nothing to make us want him. We despised him and rejected him—a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by. He was despised and we didn't care.
Yet it was our grief he bore, our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, for his own sins! But he was wounded and bruised for our sins. He was chastised that we might have peace; he was lashed--and we were healed! We are the ones who strayed away like sheep! We, who left God's paths to follow our own. Yet God laid on him the guilt and sins of every one of us!
He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he never said a word. He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he stood silent before the ones condemning him. From prison and trial they led him away to his death. But who among the people of that day realized it was their sins that he was dying for--that he was suffering their punishment? He was buried like a criminal in a rich man's grave; but he had done no wrong, and had never spoken an evil word.
Yet it was the Lord's good plan to bruise him and fill him with grief. But when his soul has been made an offering for sin, then he shall have a multitude of children, many heirs. He shall live again and God's program shall prosper in his hands. And when he sees all that is accomplished by the anguish of his soul, he shall be satisfied; and because of what he has experienced, my righteous Servant shall make many to be counted righteous before God, for he shall bear all their sins. Therefore I will give him the honors of one who is mighty and great, because he has poured out his soul unto death. He was counted as a sinner, and he bore the sins of many, and he pled with God for sinners (Isa. 53, TLB).
Isn't that a beautiful explanation of Jesus' purpose here on earth? It makes clear why God's plan necessarily involved His own Son--His grief and sorrow and death. Only by paying this incredible price could He harmonize the potential contradiction between love and justice, and provide a "way of escape" for mankind. It also explains why there is no other name by which we are saved and why we cannot escape if we neglect so great a salvation (Heb. 2:3).
One important question remains to be answered: Just how does a person proceed, now, to accept this plan and follow the risen Lord? I believe there are two basic steps in that process (although some churches emphasize only one). The first is to believe in the name of Jesus Christ. John 3:16 (KJV) says, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Romans 10:13 (TLB) says it another way: "Anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved." So the first obligation for anyone is to accept what Christ did as being for him, personally.
But as I understand the Scripture, and from my own theological perspective, there's a second responsibility which is often underemphasized. James expressed it like this: "Are there still some among you who hold that 'only believing' is enough? Believing in one God? Well, remember that the demons believe this too--so strongly that they tremble in terror!
When will you ever learn that 'believing' is useless without doing what God wants you to do? Faith that does not result in good deeds is not real faith" (2:19, TLB). So something else is required. While it's true that you can't "work" your way into salvation--you cannot do enough good deeds to earn it--repentance is still an important part of the process.
"Repentance" is a word that's often misunderstood. What does it really mean? Billy Graham defined repentance as having three parts to it. The first is conviction. You have to know what is right before you can do what is right; and you have to know what is wrong in order to avoid those misbehaviors. Repentance also involves a deep awareness that you stand guilty before the Lord. I've seen people who call themselves Christians and say, "Yes, I believe in Jesus," but they seem to have no real comprehension or awareness of their own sin and guilt. They have no "contriteness" of heart. From the Scripture in James we see that even demons "believe and tremble"; yet many individuals believe and do not tremble.
But where does this spirit of repentance originate? It must come through the teaching of the Holy Spirit. Deuteronomy 4:29 says, "But if from thence [from this point forward] thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul" (KJV). So you must want this relationship with God. He must be so important that you will allow Him to turn your life around and change your behavior. In summary, then, repentance includes conviction, knowing right from wrong; then contrition, being aware of your guilt and sin; and finally, a resulting change of mind and heart and behavior.
Time and space limitations make it impossible to discuss other important theological issues of relevance to salvation, including confession (Rom. 10:9–10) and baptism (Acts 22:16 and 2:38). Entire volumes have been written on a topic I have attempted to address in a single chapter. Perhaps I have, at least, provided a foundation from which the new believer can launch his own study of the Bible.
I think it would be helpful, in conclusion, to give an example of the kind of prayer that a person might pray if he understands what I've been writing and wants to accept Jesus Christ as his own Lord and Savior. Let me express it in this way:
"Lord, I bring you my sinful nature as you've revealed it to me. I know I don't have anything valuable to offer except myself and my love. I can't earn your forgiveness but you've offered it as a free gift from your Son, Jesus Christ. I accept your control of my life, and intend to serve You, obey You and follow You from this moment forward. You have my past, my present, my future, my family, my money and my time. Nothing will I withhold. Thank you for loving me and forgiving me and making me your own. Amen."
From Straight Talk to Men by Dr. James C. Dobson
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