The Christian message starts with the Bible’s opening words: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). This simple statement makes a stunning claim: that everything starts with God. As Creator, God is in charge of the whole universe. Everything owes its existence to Him, and He rightfully commands the obedience and loyalty of all His creatures. This is what the Bible means when it says that God created all things “for His glory” (Revelation 4:11) and when it describes God as “Lord” and “King” over all that He has made.
God’s authority as Creator encompasses the whole universe, but it has special significance for human beings. When God made Adam and Eve, the first humans, the Bible says that He made them “in His own image” (Genesis 1:27). This means that Adam and Eve, and all of humanity after them, were more like God than anything else He created.
Like God, we humans are personal beings: we think, talk, promise, study, invent, laugh, and endure sorrow and loneliness.
Like God, we are also moral beings. Right and wrong are part of our lives. We refer to murder, lies, arrogance, greed, and cruelty as “wrong” or even “evil,” and their opposite virtues as “good.”
Like God, we have a capacity for spiritual life. The Bible says that, when God made Adam and Eve, He made them with “a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). We are not just bodies; we all have a body and a soul. Therefore, we are capable of knowing God, even though He is a spirit, who has no body. In fact, we were made to know Him. God made Adam and Eve without any flaw, so that they were perfectly ready for a harmonious relationship with him.
Adam and Eve’s life in the beginning was perfect, beautiful, fulfilling, and satisfying. They enjoyed the blessing of personal fellowship with the Creator who made them to enjoy life with Himself. Their life was free from physical harm or stress. Their thoughts were untroubled by fear, discontent, envy, greed, or boredom. Their relationship with one another was one of perfect transparency and freedom. Their spiritual needs were perfectly met in their untroubled relationship with their Creator.
This vision of life sounds impossibly wonderful, even fanciful. If this was how it began, why is life so different today? We all wrestle with pain, sickness, disease death. We all live with fear, anxiety, stress, and conflict. Our work is drudgery, and our play is dull and hollow. Our relationships are distorted by manipulation and competition. Our inner lives are tortured by envy, greed, bitterness, and anger. If everything started so well, why the mess?
The Bible says the problem is “sin.” This is a simple, but profound word. Basically, sin is a breach of God’s command (1 John 3:4). Perhaps you know the story about how Adam and Eve were warned by God not to eat the fruit from the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17). They committed the first sin when they broke God’s command and took the fruit. This was not just a technicality, either. It reflected a deep problem of their heart: they wanted to become “as gods” (Genesis 3:5), pretending to be judges of right and wrong for themselves. Their sin destroyed their relationship with God. The next time God came to talk with them (which had apparently been a joyful habit) Adam and Eve went running, knowing that they were guilty (Genesis 3:8).
God had told Adam and Eve that the punishment for sin is death (Genesis 2:17, see alsoRomans 6:23). This was precisely the effect that followed their first sin. The degeneration with which we are so familiar today began immediately: disease, exhaustion, arthritis, myopia, amnesia. The environment was affected too (Genesis 3:17-19). No longer hospitable to Adam and Eve, it became a place of predators, infertile land, weeds, invasive species, and toxins. Along with these effects came the mental and emotional trauma that are so wrapped up with the tragedy of death: fear, anxiety, stress, loneliness, and grief.
Nor is this all. All these effects of sin culminate in the final judgement that the Bible calls “the second death” (Revelation 2:11) or “hell” (Mark 9:47). Hell is the biggest and worst kind of death included in God’s judgement on sin. When our life ends in the experience of physical death, we guilty sinners must face the reality of God’s continued punishment for sin in the eternal death of hell. This eternal death gathers up all the kinds of death we experience here and amplifies the punishment to an infinite degree, for an infinite length of time. The death that we have begun to experience as God’s punishment for sin (experienced in physical degeneration, social disintegration, mental affliction, and moral emptiness) is really just the beginning of God’s punishment. We are separated from him in this life to some degree. In hell we will be separated from him to an infinite degree.
This is not just sensationalism. This is justice. God made us perfectly, and gave us a wide array of good and perfect blessings, especially the blessing of knowing and loving Him. We decided that it would be better to become rebels against God’s authority. Though it is difficult for us to see the point, such an act of war against a perfect, holy, loving God is worthy of infinite punishment. This is right. And God always does right, because He is the righteous judge of the world that He has made (see Genesis 18:25).
What solution could there possibly be to a problem of this magnitude? The whole Bible is really an answer to that question. The Bible tells the story of how, from the immediate aftermath of Adam’s first sin, God promised a solution (Christians use the Biblical word “redemption”) for all the problems sin brought into the world and into the lives of the humans God had made in His own image. This solution centres on Jesus Christ, which is why the people who believe the Bible’s message about redemption are called “Christians.”
Jesus was not just an ordinary man. The Bible says that He is Himself God, and that He took on a human soul and a human body. This is the story behind Christmas. If you’re familiar with the details, you’ll remember that Jesus’ birth was miraculous: He had no human father (the full story is in the first chapters of Matthew and of Luke). This is the greatest miracle that ever happened. The infinite Creator-God was “joined up” to an ordinary human nature. Small wonder, then, that the Bible says that the events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are very significant.
Jesus Christ solved the problem of sin by working to undo the effects of Adam’s sin, and the sin of all his sons and daughters. Adam sinned by breaking God’s commandment, thereby expressing the “sin-full” condition of his heart in an attitude of rebellion against God—an attitude which all of Adam’s descendants have persisted in ever since. Jesus Christ came into the world to live the perfect life that Adam failed to live. He obeyed God’s commandments perfectly. His relationship to God was one of unbroken fellowship and love. His attitude to God was one of perfect submission, love, and trust. For this reason, Jesus is the only person who ever lived that never deserved any of God’s punishment for sin. (You can read a brief biography of His perfect life by picking up Mark’s Gospel)
Jesus also worked to reverse the effects of Adam’s sin was by taking Himself the punishment that Adam deserved. That punishment was death—not just physical death, but also the mental, emotional, relational, and ultimately spiritual and eternal death of hell. You are probably familiar with the story of Jesus dying on a cross. If you remember some of the details, you will know that His disciple Judas betrayed Him out of greed for money. The religious leaders in Jerusalem sought to have Jesus killed because they envied His popularity with the people, His spiritual authority and His insight. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, sentenced Jesus to death because He did not have the courage to resist the demand for Jesus’ death. But this is not the whole story. The real reason that underlies all these other explanations of why Jesus died, is that Jesus went to the cross in obedience to His Father’s will that He would offer Himself in the place of sinners. On the cross, Jesus did not just die an ordinary human death. He died the death that Adam and every one of Adam’s descendants deserves as God’s righteous judgement on sin (the story of His death is in the last several chapters of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).
This is how Jesus solved the problem of human sin. He lived the perfect life God demanded of us. He died the awful death that God righteously pronounced as our punishment (see 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Peter 3:18).
The supernatural significance of Jesus’ death is proven by the fact that He rose again from the grave a few days later. This, the Bible says, is proof that Jesus did not die for the same reason you and I have to die (because we deserve it), but rather because His death was the way of solving the problem of our sin.
After His resurrection, Jesus spent a month and a half speaking to His disciples and others in the regions where He had spent His life. Then one day, He ascended up into heaven to sit on the throne God had prepared for Him (read about this in Acts 1). That’s where He is now. The Bible promises that He is going to come back one day and bring His solution for sin to perfect completion. He will judge all humanity, both those who are alive on that day and those who have died. His judgement will be perfectly righteous and fair: everyone who has sinned will die. (Romans 2, Hebrews 9:27-28)
Since everyone is a sinner, all deserve to die. But remember that Jesus provided a solution for this great problem. God’s promise is that all who trust Jesus’ solution for sin will be saved from the death they deserve. He will judge them as if they had Jesus’ perfect record. He will count their sins to have been dealt with on the cross. more on this in a moment.
With the completion of this judgement, God will usher in a “new heavens and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1) where the effects of sin are banished and the joy of a life in perfect and unbroken fellowship with the Creator can be enjoyed once again.
What it Means for You
A significant question remains for those who have read carefully. You recognize by now that you are a sinner—you have not perfectly kept God’s law in your outward actions, your relationships, or your inward thoughts and attitudes. You understand that it is right for God to enforce His punishment on your sin, both the effects of sin that we experience now, and the final judgement that will come one day. You understand too that Jesus lived the perfect life God asks of you, and He died the horrible, infinite death that is God’s punishment for sin such as yours. What are you to do?
The first thing you must do, the Bible says, is believe on Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31). This means that you must accept as true the Bible’s description of His perfect life and death as the only solution God has provided for sin. It means, further, that you must trust Him personally to save you. As you would “believe” in a firefighter offering to carry you out of a burning building, you must believe in Jesus Christ, trusting Him to be your saviour.
The second thing that is required of you, the Bible says, is to repent of your sin (Acts 2:38). To repent means to change your mind, to adopt a new perspective, to turn to a new course of life. It means that you must forsake the sin you currently love, you must see it in a new light as something that is hateful to our righteous God, and you must pursue a new life of obedience to God. This repentance, the Bible says, will be the abiding proof that you are really trusting Jesus Christ to be your Saviour.
The Bible says that if you believe in Jesus Christ, and repent of your sin, you will be saved from God’s judgement on your sin. When Jesus returns to judge the world, you will not be judged on the basis of your own actions, but on the basis of His actions. You will be accepted as perfectly righteous, because you have trusted Jesus, and He lived with perfect righteousness. There will be no more judgement for your sins, because Jesus’ death will be considered your death. Thus the solution for sin will be complete, and you will be ready to live with God for all eternity.
You have a choice, then. You can either persist in your rebellion against God, continuing to reject His rightful authority by sinning against Him. If you do, you will certainly bear God’s righteous punishment yourself. This is not your only option, though. The good news of the Gospel (which is the name Christians give to the Bible’s message of hope for guilty sinners) is that you can also choose to repent of your sin, leave it behind you, and trust in Jesus Christ to save you. If you do, you will once again have a joyful relationship with God your creator, a relationship that will sustain you in a life that is moving, not towards the death of hell, but towards endless life in the presence of God.