Sooner or later in his life, every person faces some very important questions. By the age of seventeen or eighteen, many face the career question. What kinds of work can I do best? What sort of job would I like to have? Surely the choice of a proper vocation in life is a crucial decision. And then many face the marriage question. Is she really the girl for me? Will we be happy together? Would it be best not to marry? All of us know that many lives are either made or marred by the proper or the improper choice of a life companion. We face the success question too. God expects us to earn a reasonable living for our families. We have a right to ask the question, “Am I providing properly for the needs of my family, or is failure hounding my steps?” These are all honest questions that each of us should ask—but in comparison with life’s biggest question (What must I do to be saved?)—all such questions about vocation, marriage, and success are as trifling as a tiny speck of dust at the bottom of a deep canyon.
Many will agree that question-number-one in any person’s life is, “What must I do to be saved?” Or, “How can I get right with God?” A mother may want her newly born baby to have blue eyes ever so anxiously, but she would far rather have a gray-eyed baby than to have a child with no eyes at all! There is no comparison between those two choices and their importance. The one counts; the other doesn’t. And that’s how it is with salvation. When everything is said and done—when you come to leave this world—whether or not you are right with God is really the only thing that matters.
The facts we discuss in this message will be an attempt to make clear what God has done in order to secure our salvation, for the Bible says He is “not slack concerning his promise . . . but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). And therefore God has designed a great plan of salvation by which we can be saved and come into a right standing with the heavenly Father. There are five facts about the great plan of salvation that everyone of us should know.
1. Each Person Is a Sinner
The Scriptures are clear: “There is none that understandeth; there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way; they are together become unprofitable. There is none that doeth good, no not one” (Romans 3:11-12). One of the most deceptive lies ever to be promoted by the forces of evil—is the teaching that all men are basically good, and have a spark of divinity within their breasts which only needs to be fanned into flame. Such teaching simply is not true. The Bible teaches that all human beings are basically bad.
The third chapter of Romans continues: “Their throat is an open sepulchre; their mouth is full of cursing; the way of peace have they not known; there is no fear of God before their eyes.” Those words constitute God’s portrait of all mankind. It doesn’t make any difference if our families had been Christian for generations—still we were born with tendencies to sin. People may be cultured, refined, dignified, and educated—but still their hearts are in a horrible condition. Jeremiah the prophet says that the human heart is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9).
Two little boys picked up their older brother’s health book and turned its pages looking at the pictures. They saw the elaborate illustrations of the different organs and systems that make up the insides of the human body. And as their mother called them for lunch, they laid the book aside, and the one boy was overheard to say to the other, “It doesn’t look very nice, but I guess it’s all down inside us.” That’s the way it is with sin. It doesn’t look very nice, but it’s all down inside us. The Bible says, “There’s not a just man upon the earth that doeth good and sinneth not” (Ecclesiastes 7:20).
It is correct to conclude then that according to the Scriptures all are sinners. We are all lost sheep. We all need to be saved. Some have sinned more than average; some have sinned less than average—but everyone has sinned, and thus each human being is guilty before God. Fact number one: All have sinned and do come short of the glory of God, and that includes each one of us.
2. The Penalty For Sin Is Death
When Leonardo da Vinci was painting his masterpiece “The Lord’s Supper,” he sought long for a model whom he could use as a sort of guide for painting Jesus on the canvas. Finally, after a long search, he found a chorister in one of the churches of Rome—a man lovely in life and in features—a young man named Piedro Bandenelli. Bandenelli sat on a stool to be a sort of guide while Leonardo painted the face of Jesus on the canvas.
The man was dismissed and years later, when Leonardo was about finished with “The Lord’s Supper”—all the disciples had been portrayed but one, Judas Iscariot. Once again Leonardo began searching for a man. This time da Vinci looked for a man whose face was hardened and distorted by sin, and at last he found a beggar on the streets of Rome. He hired the man to sit for him and serve as a sort of guide while he painted the face of Judas on the canvas. His face was so revolting that Leonardo shuddered when he looked at him. When da Vinci was about to dismiss the man, Leonardo asked his name—and he responded by saying, “Don’t you know, I’m Piedro Bandenelli; I’m the same man that sat on this same stool when you painted the face of Jesus many years ago?”—and he went on to tell of a life spent in sin. The many years spent in sinful living had so disfigured the face of that once lovely young man, that now it looked as if he were the most villainous man in all of Rome.
Sin always brings tragic results. It will never pay. It never leads to happiness. It always leads to poverty. But listen—any person who dies in his sins will discover that the penalty will be far worse than a disfigured face and a distorted body! “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). James, the Apostle, says, “Sin when it is finished bringeth forth death” (James 1:15). And “death” in the Bible speaks of a separation, not of a cessation of being. The soul that sins will be eternally separated from the presence of God and from the glory of His power. And so, when we speak an ugly word or commit a wicked deed, that sin does not end there. God demands a penalty for it. All of us are sinners, and therefore we must face the appalling penalty for sin—death everlasting, banishment from heaven, and eternal separation from God. Fact number two: The frightful consequence for sin is eternal separation from the presence of God.
We are grateful however that the total message is not all hopeless. The Word of God gloriously announces to all the world a third great fact. We look at that fact now.
3. God Loves Us Even Though We Have Sinned
The greatest statement concerning the love of God to be found anywhere in the Bible, is the statement found in John 3:16 — “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.” God loves the world of sinners lost, and ruined by the Fall; salvation full at highest cost, He offers free to all.
God doesn’t love the sin of a sinner any more than you love the disease that afflicts your child and perhaps even cripples him for life. But just as you still love your child, so God still loves you. “God commendeth his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God loves the ugliest of the ugly. No life is too sinful. No heart is too black.
A friend who fought in World War II told how scores of German soldiers came pouring out of an old building one day with their hands upraised for surrender. “But,” he said, “I and several other soldiers with me, mowed them off as fast as they came out of that building. We murdered them in cold blood. Is there any hope for me?” And the answer is — “Yes, there is hope, no matter how wicked the deed may have been.” The Bible says, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, and though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). Your heart may be dark and black with sin, but it can be made as white as a newly fallen snow. We read in Ephesians 2:4 that “God who is rich in mercy for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, and raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” That is a great and wonderful promise.
You may have profaned God’s name and violated His sabbaths, and lived in adultery and drunkenness, and trampled the atoning blood of Jesus beneath your feet—but still, God calls for you and waits for you and pleads with you. You may have used the name of Jesus in blood-curdling profanity, and sneered at His agony, and laughed at His sufferings—but in His endless compassion, God loves you still and seeks to save you from the awful penalty of sin. God’s justice demands a penalty for every sin we have committed, but God’s love has provided the remedy, His own Son to pay the penalty for us.
4. Jesus Christ Has Been Offered As Our Substitute
Abraham, in the Old Testament, obeyed the voice of God (when he was told to slay his only son, Isaac)—and went to the mountain. As he was about to strike the fatal blow, Abraham was halted by the voice of the angel of God who told him not to lay his hand on his son. Immediately Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a nearby thicket, and the Bible says that Abraham offered the ram as an offering to God “in the stead of” his son (Genesis 22:11, 13). Just so, Jesus Christ (God’s only begotten Son) was offered “instead of” us.
The word “substitution” is not in the Bible, but the concept is seen there time and time again. We read of Jesus Christ, “The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). And again we are told: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Jesus—the One who was just and did no sin—died for us, the unjust ones. When Jesus suffered on the Cross, He was not dying for His own sins. He had none of His own. He died to pay the penalty for your sins and for mine. Jesus became our Substitute when He died on the Cross.
A. C. Dixon, the Baptist preacher from West Virginia, told of a school in his boyhood days that had difficulty securing a teacher because of severe discipline problems. He tells of a teacher who appeared for duty; but already on the first day, he overheard Tom (leader of a gang of boys) boast that he could handle the new teacher himself.
When school was called that first morning, the teacher said: “Class, we’ve come to conduct school. It can’t be done without your help and cooperation. There must be rules of conduct so that conditions will be favorable for learning—and I need your help. I’m going to let you suggest the rules, and I’ll write them on the board.” One called, “No stealing.” Another said, “On time.” And so they continued until they had ten rules.
The teacher then pointed out that a rule is of no value unless there is a penalty attached to punish the person who violates it. Someone said, “Beat him across the back ten times without his coat.” The teacher responded, “That’s pretty severe, class; are you ready to stand by it?” They agreed, and the teacher said, “School comes to order.”
All was well for a few days, but on the third day, Tom discovered that his lunch had been stolen. The thief was located and the next morning the teacher announced: “We have found the thief and he must be punished according to your rule. Jimmy, come on up here!”
A. C. Dixon says that Jimmy was a tiny, bony, hungry, undernourished lad about ten years old. The little fellow trembled as he began to walk toward the front of the room. He said to the teacher, “You may whip me as hard as you want, but please don’t make me take my coat off.” The teacher said: “Take that coat off; you helped to make the rules.” When the boy unbuttoned the teacher was astonished to see the skinny, bony body—no shirt—and only strings for suspenders. The teacher thought to himself: “How can I whip this poor child? But I must do something if I am going to keep order around here.” Everything was very quiet. “How come you are without a shirt, Jim?” The little fellow explained: “My father died when I was smaller; my mother is very poor; I only have one shirt and mother is washing that today, and so I wore my older brother’s coat to keep covered.”
The teacher had the rod in his hand ready to deliver the first strike. But he was halted by a yell from the back of the room. It was the voice of Tom. Tom had felt a burden of pity for the lad, and rose to his feet, and said: “Teacher, may I take his whipping for him?” The teacher said, “There is a statute law that allows one to substitute for another. Are you all agreed?” The class agreed; Tom walked to the front of the room and bent his big, husky body over the front seat. After five hard strokes, the rod broke. But the teacher noticed that the whole class was sobbing with tears. Jimmy had run up to Tom, embraced him, and said, “Tom, I’m sorry I stole your lunch; I’ll never do it again; I’ll love you until I die because you took my whipping for me.”
Friend—that is exactly what the Bible says that Jesus Christ did for us. We deserved to be whipped for our sins, but Jesus took our punishment for us. He “bore our sins in his own body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24).
5. Appropriating His Blood Is Our Only Hope
The Scriptures clearly state that “without the shedding of blood there is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22). And in Leviticus 17:11, we read, “It is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” The word “atonement” means “to satisfy for a wrong”—and by “the atonement of Jesus’ blood” we mean that the shedding of the blood of Jesus satisfies God for my wrong. We don’t know how the blood of Jesus cleanses from sin, but we know that it does, for in 1 John 1:7 we read, “the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin.”
At a gathering of notable people many years ago, there was a well-known preacher, Caesar Milan. A young opera singer played and sang charmingly during the evening event, and everyone was delighted. Caesar Milan was a tactful witness for Christ, and after dismissal, he talked with the opera singer about her spiritual needs. He said, “I was thinking as I listened tonight, how tremendously you could benefit the cause of Christ, if only your talents were dedicated to Him.” “But,” he said, “You are a sinner in the sight of God just as the harlot on the street corner; but I’m glad I can tell you tonight that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin.”
The opera singer snapped back a sharp rebuke at his presumption to call her a sinner, but he kindly replied: “I mean no offense. I only pray God’s Spirit will convict you.”
That night the singer could not sleep. The face of the preacher appeared before her and his words kept ringing through her mind—The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin. At two o’clock in the morning the young opera singer sprang from her bed, took a pencil and paper, and with tears streaming down her face—Charlotte Elliot wrote the words of the well-known hymn: “Just as I am, without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me; and that Thou bidst me come to Thee; O Lamb of God I come! I come!”
The five facts cited in the message today point out for us God’s part in providing for our salvation. Each of us deserves a whipping because we have sinned and offended God—but today Jesus offers to take that whipping for us. Here is the crucial question: “Will you let Jesus take the whipping for you, or do you insist on taking the whipping yourself?” God justly demands a penalty for our sins. We can either pay it ourselves, or we can let Jesus pay it for us.
Your part in getting right with God is to appropriate and make real for you what Jesus has done to secure a right standing with God for us. Your part is to believe the Good News about Jesus (Acts 16:31), to repent of your sinful living (Acts 2:38), and to follow Jesus in Christian baptism (Acts 22:16). One who meets these conditions, receives a new life (Acts 2:38; Titus 3:5). The five facts outlined in this message are acts of God’s grace. Faith, repentance, and baptism are obedient responses on our part. Won’t you consider seriously each of these factors which in the New Testament are part of the total process of salvation?