All people have a sense of ethics, a sense of right and fairness, regardless of the place a person was born on earth, regardless of access to books.
The Stoics valued virtue, virtue hammered out with self-control and achieved through self-will. The Epicureans valued happiness, and they determined that happiness was found in virtue. Others have championed virtue couched in different terms. Aboriginal people also have codes of conduct. By their philosophies and their conduct, people demonstrated knowledge of the nature of God, which is knowable and, indeed, known by people everywhere. God’s invisible attributes are known and understood. Jews or Christians do not have a corner on the trusth. When people do what is right, they demonstrate that the law is known to them; it is in their conscience. (Rom. 2:14-15)
Do we not clamor for justice when a wrong is committed? We are even more concerned about justice when a wrong is committed against us! The fact that we have such a sense of justice is a testament to God’s justice that is evident to each one of us, whether we believe or not. That sense of right and wrong is written on our hearts; it is in our consciences. (Rom. 2:14) God is just.
At the same time, we tend to excuse our shortcomings, usually by comparing themselves to others. Who has not thought, “At least I am not like s/he is!” No doubt, some people are more virtuous than others. God, however, can not be anything other than what He is: just and right. Justice and righteousness (rightness) is the nature of God. While we seek to justify ourselves in comparison to other people, God’s nature is utterly just and virtuous. He can not and will not be anything other than what He is.
All people, on the other hand, are imperfect. Who has not lied, been selfish, been lazy, etc? Every single person on the face of this earth has fallen short of the standard of virtue, regardless how it is measured. After all, “to err is human”. (Alexander Pope)
If God is utterly virtuous, His nature is nothing but virtuous, how can a person remain in His presence? Like one pole of a magnet repels the other pole, how can we stand in God’s presence with our sinful selves?
If heaven were the distance of Japan from California, and we had to swim the ocean to reach it, the distance would not be greater than the distance between a righteous and holy God and ourselves. Thinking that any one of us could swim the ocean is foolishness. Some people are better swimmers than others, to be sure; but none of us, not the very best of us, could make the swim to the other shore. So it is with God and ourselves. We would be repelled like the wrong end of a magnet in the presence of an utterly virtuous, righteous, holy God.
We who have sinned, and sinned against God, are deserving of that justice. That means all of us. Who among us in perfect? We are, therefore, alienated from God, repelled from Him.
The Good News, the Gospel, is that God made a way for us! He provided a remedy for the problem of our sin. Through Jesus, and his sacrificial death on the cross, we are reconciled to God. (Col. 1:20)
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21) Jesus paid the price that justice demands! We are utterly unable to stand before God in our own flesh because of sin; but God the Son, who became man, and who was blameless, stood in our place to fulfill the requirement of justice.
We accept that sacrifice and the mercy of God shown to us in that act by simple faith. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation [atoning sacrifice] by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Rom. 3:23-25 ) “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)
Now is the time for repentance. There is no excuse. Right and wrong is known to all of us. (Rom. 1:20). If we confess our sinfulness, he is faithful to forgive us! (John 1:9) He forgives us not because we deserve it, but because He desires it. God became man, fulfilling the prophesies given to the Jews; He proclaimed the message, performed miracles, healed the sick; and commanded the attention of the World. Then He died for our sins; and He was raised from the dead to reconcile us to Himself.
Jesus is/was the “image of the invisible God….” (Col. 1:15) He is the “firstborn from among the dead.” (Col. 1:18) As sin came into the world through the first man, Adam, and along with it, death, so that all became sinners; so righteousness has been introduced through Christ, and along with it life, so that all who believe shall be deemed righteous and shall have eternal life. (Rom. 5:12-19) “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God who through Christ reconciled us to himself.” (2 Cor. 5:17-18)
The bad news is that we are imperfect beings separated from a perfect God by the very fact of our imperfection, like the opposite poles of a magnet. The good news is that God has provided a way for us to be reconciled, to flip our magnetic pole. And once we have been reconciled, nothing can separate us from God! (Rom. 8:38-39)
’Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.’
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:7-9) The time has come, and the time is now for us to turn from sin and turn to God. We have all sinned. We have all fallen short. His mercy is great towards us nevertheless! Even while we are sinners, and dead in our sin, Jesus died for us. We certainly did not and do not deserve such mercy, but He is faithful to forgive our sins. Indeed, that is God’s intention. He created us in His image and desires for us to have fellowship with and partake in God. In order to accomplish that, we had to have a choice, a real choice, to choose harmony with God or to choose our own selfish way. Sin, death, all of it is a necessary consequence of God creating us in His image. If we could not choose to sin, we could not really choose to love Him. We could not choose God and his righteous without knowing unrighteousness. In the end, we cannot accomplish any of God’s plan without God giving us what we need, accept for the faith and heart to accept it. We can not make ourselves right; we can only receive the salvation that God freely provides to us to bring us in right relationship with God; but we must choose to receive it. To receive it we must come to the end of ourselves, and there, utterly helpless, reach out to God like a child reaching out to its parent. In that moment, God’s perfect plan is accomplished. We are welcomed into His kingdom as sons of God, having freely chosen God, and we become partakers of His nature! We are born again, not of this world, which is sinful and dead, but of the spirit. We become partakers of His eternal life with the assurance that, just as Jesus was raised from the dead, so shall we be raised to eternal life with Christ who was the firstborn from among the dead.