3 : 4 April 2004

Who is Jesus?
Can He help me?
Can I trust Him?
George Foster



HAVE YOU EVER TRIED TO COUNT the world's religions? What an exercise in futility it would be! Why so many? Why so different? Why so opposed to each other?

We humans are religious by nature. God made us that way. There is a spiritual side to us and we seek to develop it, but we don't all go to the same source. We pray, we practice rituals, we go to church, mosque, shrine, synagogue-we even look inside ourselves to find spiritual reality.


But does our religion makes us better, happier, kinder, truer persons? Are we more loving, thoughtful, generous, pure, peaceful, and even-tempered? We expect religious people to be less prone to anxiety, deceit, greed, and war. We should have a true hope of life after death. But do we? The answer is often no.

We can't help wondering why hatred, war, violence, crime, divorce, child-molestation, and genocide exist among religious people as well as non-religious.

The Bible asks:

What causes fights and quarrels among you?" And answers, "Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God (James 4:1-2).

That does not surprise us. We have this innate sense that people who disbelieve in God cannot satisfy the longings of their souls. Conflict is inevitable. What does surprise us is the verse that follows:

When you ask, you do not receive because the reason you ask is wrong. You want things only so you can use them for your own pleasures (James 4:3).


That shows us that both the irreligious and the religious are frustrated: the first because they do not believe, do not ask, and do not receive; the second because they do believe, but ask for selfish reasons. Their belief makes no difference. They are like other people James described in his book:

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless (James 1:26).


The Bible reveals the source of our problem:

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9).

Jesus added,

For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean' (Mark 7:21-23).


Religion fails because it primarily seeks to change our beliefs and our behavior. We need a relationship with God that will change our heart. Unless we have our heart changed, our condition can be described in just a few words:

We are sinners. "There is no one without sin. None! All people have sinned and are not good enough for God's glory" (Romans 3:10,23).

We are spiritually dead. "When someone sins, he earns what sin pays----death" (Romans 6:23).

We are misled by Satan. "You followed the ruler of the evil powers that are above the earth. That same spirit is now working in those who refuse to obey God" (Ephesians 2:2).

We are separated from God. "It is your evil that has separated you from your God" (Isaiah 59:2).


The Bible declares that God is righteous: "He is the Rock, His works are perfect, and all His ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He." (Deuteronomy 32:4).

We are not righteous like God is, so we practice religion to become acceptable to Him. We hope to atone for past, present, and future sins. Is sacrifice involved? No problem. We expect to suffer for our errors and often feel better once we do. When our religious practice is not to find favor with God it is to gain advantages or escape sinister forces that threaten us.


Religions can usually be divided into two classes: organized and personal. Whether it is of the folk variety or the highly liturgical kind, organized religion is usually prescribed to us and imposed upon us from childhood. It's like buying clothes and being required to reshape our bodies to fit them. Personal religion is the belief system we design to meet our own needs. It's like taking the measurements of our body and designing the clothes to fit.

Most of us have both types of religion. We ascribe to the tenets of an organized faith, but adapt it to our own liking-whether we actually practice that faith or not. Even the atheist, who claims not to believe in God or religion, devises his antireligious religion as a personal support system.


Having a religion is both good and bad for us. Let's think about...


Although most religions have their good points, all of them have the potential of not only failing to take us to God, but actually obstructing the way to Him. Similar to the layers of an onion that keep us from its core, religion-with its many symbols, traditions, variations, and prescriptions-may keep us from the essential relationship that God wants to have with us. Religion may give us a sense of false comfort that prevents us from finding a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

A young man from Switzerland read the title: Religion or Jesus Christ. He pointed to the word religion and said, "Europe doesn't need any more of that." Then he pointed to the words "Jesus Christ" and said, "I think that's what Europe needs."


Jesus has not always been well served by those make up the Christian religion. The greatest opposition that Jesus faced on earth came from the leaders of organized religion. Because they were religious but not righteous, Jesus corrected them and revealed to the common people what they were like. Here are just a few words Jesus directed to the religious leaders of His day:

You set aside the commandments of God in order to observe your own traditions (Mark 7:9).
You give God a tithe... But you neglect justice and the love of God (Luke 11:42).
You load people down with burdens... And you will not lift a finger to help them (Luke 11:46).
On the outside you appear righteous... But you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness (Matthew 23:28).


It was not the secular Romans of Jesus' day that wanted His death. It was the religious leaders who incited the people to cry, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" Even today we are like those leaders. We join Christ's church and then reduce it to just another religion. Through religion we attempt to build a ladder to God. Up and down we go, trying to negotiate with God so He will relate to us on our terms and according to our beliefs. We take the initiative so we can gain control. We give the orders for God to carry out. We try to make use of God without humbling ourselves. We don't want to admit we are wrong, and we don't want to submit to His authority.


Religion becomes a system that rejects a relationship with God in favor of rituals, rules, or a combination of the two. Since neither ritual nor rule satisfies our inner needs, we eventually construct a personal god in our own image or in an image we prefer. We call it religion. God calls it idolatry.

A well-known example of idolatry occurred in the time of Moses in the Old Testament: While Moses had an intimate relationship with God on the mountain, the people that he led practiced religion in the valley, until they felt the need of a visible idol. In their case, it took the form of a golden calf before which they frolicked and fornicated. (Exodus 32:1-6).

What is an idol? An object of worship. An idol today may take the shape of a person we cling to, a possession we cherish, a position we aspire to, an athletic team or political party we support, a tradition we honor, or an image of ourselves we attempt to transmit to others. It's anything that substitutes for full allegiance to the one true God. It might even be a church or a religious faith.

Religious idolatry produces self-righteousness, pride, prejudice-even violence. All of us have observed that religious wars are the most brutal, merciless, and stupid of all.


True Christian experience is just the opposite of religion. It's not us reaching up to God; it's God reaching down to us in the person of Christ. The Bible says:
For God loved the world so much that He gave his only Son. God gave his Son so that whoever believes in Him may not be lost, but have eternal life (John 3:16).
I [Jesus] am the way and the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father, but by me (John 14:5).
Jesus is the only one who can save people. And we must be saved by him (Acts 4:12).

What wonderful news! God is reaching to us in mercy through Christ. It's not our effort to find Him. It's His untiring love reaching to us! Yet, how tragic it is that we fail to see God reaching to us through Christ, because we're too busy trying to reach up to Him through religion. We lose the blessing of salvation in the formulas of religious tradition.


Nicodemos was a religious leader who was steeped in tradition, respected by his colleagues, but uncertain and dissatisfied in his soul. One night he had an interview with Jesus.

"Teacher," he said, "we know that you are a teacher sent from God. No one can do the miracles you do, unless God is with him."

Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth. Unless one is born again, he cannot be in God's kingdom" (John 3:2,3).

Nicodemos was likely seeking something to add to his religious practices in order to guarantee his acceptance before God. Jesus told him that his works of religion were of no avail. He needed to have God work a transformation in his life. He needed to be born of God's Spirit. How desperately we need an experience that will bring us into a true relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ.


The Apostle Paul, an effective communicator of the Gospel, said, "I am proud of the Good News. It is the power God uses to save everyone who believes..." (Romans 1:16). He summed up what he meant by "Good News" in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5:

Now, brothers, I want you to remember the Good News I brought to you. You received this Good News, and you continue strong in it. And you are saved by this Good News. I passed on to you what I received. And this was the most important: that Christ died for our sins, as the Scriptures say; and that He was buried and was raised to life on the third day as the Scriptures say; and that He showed himself to Peter and then to the twelve apostles.

Here is the heart of the message he preached-the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ on our behalf. This teaching, considered by some to be unbelievable or unimportant, is what the Good News is all about! It's the indispensable power of God for salvation.


Let's consider that question in two parts. First-why must we believe? Scripture declares that salvation is obtained by faith, not (as so many people think) by works or religious practice.

The Good News shows how God makes people right with himself---that it begins and ends with faith. As the Scripture says, "But those who are right with God will live by trusting in him" (Romans 1:17).

He who believes in God's Son is not judged guilty. He who does not believe has already been judged guilty, because he has not believed in God's only Son (John 3:17).
You have been saved by grace because you believe. You did not save yourselves. It was a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8,9).
Without faith no one can please God. Anyone who comes to God must believe that he is real and that he rewards those who truly want to find him (Hebrews 11:6).

From these texts we see that God has chosen to bless those who put their faith in Him. So we must believe to be saved. But why must we believe specifically in the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ?


Death is the great equalizer of the human race. It's what we all have to look forward to. Scripture says, "Everyone must die once. After a person dies he is judged" (Hebrews 9:27).

Since Jesus took upon himself human flesh, He, too, had to face death. But His death was different than any other death in history. He died a cruel and merciless death on Calvary's cross, for you and me. Jesus said, "No one takes it [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord" (John 10:18).

What does that mean? That His death is an example of dedication to a worthy humanitarian cause? That He died as a result of His opposition to evil? That He got more involved than He intended and couldn't think of any other honorable way out? No, His death was to make atonement for our sins. The judgment He faced was for your sins and mine. He died to pay the penalty for the moral, ethical, and spiritual failure of our lives.


The unpopular little three-letter word spelled s-i-n is the most destructive force in the world. It not only affects the whole human race and the world we live in, it affects God and the way He relates to us. Sin grieves God's loving heart, affronts God's holy character, rejects God's offer of friendship, contaminates God's creation, frustrates God's purposes, exalts God's enemies, and destroys God's people.

For all these reasons and many more, God hates sin and must punish all those who insist on practicing it.

It is the person who sins that will die (Ezekiel 18:4).
When someone sins, he earns what sin pays, death (Romans 6:23).

It is our sin that makes us lost, condemned, and separated from God. It is sin that allows Satan to get a foothold into our life and family. We keep going our own way, living for our own ends, trying to satisfy our own desires, running our own lives, doing our own will instead of God's will, and trapping ourselves in evil destructive habits. We lose control of our life and fail to discover the wonderful fellowship that God wants us to enjoy with Him. Then, when life is over, separation from God becomes eternal. It's what the Bible calls "hell"-eternal separation from God, emptiness, hopelessness, and suffering.

It all seems so horrible. We've made it horrible for ourselves. But that's before Jesus comes into our life. That's the future of those who die without Christ, without repentance and without faith. That's the eternal destiny of those who die in the practice of religion without a relationship with God. That's the bad news of condemnation for sin, but here's the good news of salvation from sin.


We all have sinned, and that presents a problem to God. To maintain any order on this planet and in heaven and to be true to His own nature, God must maintain His high standards of holiness and justice. To do that He must condemn sin and carry out the punishment He determined against it. But, because God's heart is broken over our sin and the consequences it produces in our lives, He longs to be merciful to sinners like you and me and save us from our sin.

So God came himself, in the person of His Son Jesus Christ to live a perfectly sinless life, and then become our substitute, taking upon Himself the punishment for our sins. Jesus felt our pain, knew our anguish, and then died in our place. When we accept His sacrifice for our sins we can be fully forgiven for every evil thought, word, and deed. Look how the Bible puts it:

Very few people will die to save the life of someone else. Although perhaps for a good man someone might possibly die. But Christ died for us while we were still sinners. In this way God shows his great love for us (Romans 5:8).


The sustainer of life is the blood that flows in our veins, carrying the oxygen and nutrients our bodies need. "The life of the body is in the blood" (Leviticus 17:11).

The blood that flowed through Jesus' veins sustained His life----until He offered it as a sacrifice for you and me. Then He sweats drops of blood as He prayed for us. Blood ran down His back as He was whipped and streaked His face as thorns were pressed into His head. From His nail-pierced hands and feet and from His side flowed the blood that He offered for our redemption.

The fact that our salvation depends upon the broken body and poured out blood of the Lord Jesus Christ is made strikingly clear when Christians gather for "The Lord's Supper." When Jesus instituted that memorial He said, "This is my body... This is my blood... Do this in remembrance of me" (1 Corinthians 11:24,25). Jesus wants to remind us that He paid the debt of our sin, so that we will never take sin lightly and so that we will never attempt to pay that debt ourselves by the practice of religion.

The sin debt was paid by the shedding of Christ's blood on the cross of Calvary, as the Bible declares:

Sins cannot be forgiven without blood to show death (Hebrews 9:22).
God gave Jesus as a way to forgive sin through faith. And all of this is because of the blood of Jesus' death (Romans 5:25).
You were bought, but not with something that ruins like gold or silver. You were bought with the precious blood of the death of Christ (1 Peter 1:19).
God presented him [Jesus] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished-he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith (Romans 3:25- 27).


One of the main differences between religion and salvation through Christ is that religion tends to make us proud and independent, while salvation through Christ humbles us. How can we be proud or arrogant when we do nothing to earn salvation for ourselves? Without Jesus we are lost. Without His merits we are condemned. Without His blood we are forever damned. Without His grace we are without hope.

If we could save ourselves through religion or self-effort we would boast about our exemplary lives that earned us such distinction. But God the Father would have to apologize to His Son: "I'm terribly sorry," He would have to say, "You wouldn't have had to die at Calvary. You wouldn't have had to sweat drops of blood, or bear the pain of that crown of thorns, or be whipped, or have those nails driven into Your hands and feet, or have that spear puncture Your side, or hang in naked shame on the cross. It was all a big mistake, my Son. I'm sorry to tell you that your death has no particular meaning."


No meaning? The death of Jesus means everything to us when we understand that,

Christ had no sin. But God made him become sin. God did this for us so that in Christ we could become right with God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Jesus is the only one who can save people. His name is the only power in the world that has been given to save people. And we must be saved through him Acts 4:12)

There is no other name. There is no other way. Only Christ can save us from our sins. It can only happen in us when we humbly accept His suffering as the full and perfect payment for our sins.


One of the most important things that set Jesus apart from all other religious leaders is the fact that He rose from the dead and is alive forever. The Bible makes the fantastic but well-substantiated claim that Jesus not only died, but that His dead body was wrapped in linen burial clothes, and laid in a tomb. The tomb was sealed by a large stone at its opening and Roman soldiers were posted to guard it. After three days, God brought life into Jesus' body and raised Him from the dead.

Although Jesus had announced many times that He would die and rise again, His followers were too sad and discouraged to believe it would really happen. But when Mary Magdalene and the other disciples went to visit the tomb, they discovered the tomb was empty, and they soon knew that Jesus was alive!

Those who knew Jesus in life and saw Him die, were convinced that He was alive again and would be forever. They were so convinced, that many of them gave their lives to spread His teachings and build His church.

Only God has the power to give life. Only God can make a dead man live again. Jesus said,

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will have life. And he who lives and believes in me will never die" (John 11:25). Later, Paul confidently declared, "Jesus was given to die for our sins, and He was raised from the dead to make us right with God (Romans 4:25).


Is that important? Listen to the words of an African. Some of his friends asked why he had become a Christian. He answered, "Well, it's like this. Suppose you were going down the road, and suddenly the road forked in two directions, and you didn't know which way to go; and there at the fork in the road were two men-one dead and one alive-which one would you ask?"*

The living Savior awaits you now - not only to give you directions, but also to lead you along the path. He knows all about you, loves you, and wants to give you life.


Not everyone identified with Christianity is a true believer. Some go through the motions, but never discover what it's all about. So, again I ask, what is a Christian?

Some think that a Christian is one who...

Goes to church.
Has been baptized.
Takes communion.
Believes in God.
Reads the Bible.
Prays to God.
Observes the commandments.

Nice responses, but they don't answer the question. Though Christians may do these things, I'm not asking what a Christian does; I'm asking, "What is a Christian?" Don't confuse doing with being. Don't equate being a Christian to doing certain things.

In contrast, others think that a Christian is one who ...

Doesn't drink alcoholic beverages.
Doesn't smoke.
Doesn't do drugs.
Doesn't cheat in school or in business.
Doesn't have sex outside of marriage.
Doesn't know what he's missing.

The list may vary from person to person, but the bottom line to these folks is: To be a Christian is to refrain from doing certain things or to pass-up certain pleasures. The truth is-whether it's by do's or by don'ts or by a combination of the two-most of us decide who is or isn't a Christian by a person's behavior.

Is it fair? Perhaps not, but it's inevitable. Jesus himself said, "By their fruits [behavior] you shall know them" (Matthew 7:16).

Does behavior make one a Christian? No. "He saved us because of His mercy, not because of good deeds we did to be right with God" (Titus 3:5).

Does being a Christian affect behavior? Totally! "If anyone belongs to Christ, then he is made new. The old things have gone; everything is made new " (2 Corinthians 5:17). "Whoever says that God lives in him must live as Jesus lived" (1 John 2:6).


According to the Bible, a change in conduct results from being a Christian, but does not make one a Christian. Here's a simple biblical definition of what a Christian is:

A Christian is a person in
Whose heart Jesus Christ lives.

What a fantastic thought! And what a tremendous privilege! The Lord Jesus took our sins upon Him and died on the cross in our place. His body was then wrapped and buried in a tomb, where it lay for three days. Then He rose triumphantly from the dead. Now the living Christ comes to us and offers to live at the very center of our personality by placing His Spirit within us.

"Here I am," He says, "I stand at the door and knock... If anyone hears my voice and opens the door [to his heart], I will come in and eat with him. And he will eat with me" (Revelation 3:20).

The Apostle Paul wrote about Christ living in us:

This truth is Christ Himself who is in you. He is our only hope for glory (Colossians 1:27).

The Apostle John concluded:

God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son [living in his heart] has life. But the person who does not have the Son of God does not have life (1 John 5:11-12).

Being a Christian, then, is not just keeping rules, practicing religion, or abstaining from certain pleasures. A Christian is nothing more and nothing less than a person in whom Jesus Christ lives.


If a Christian is a person in whose heart Jesus Christ lives, then each of us must ask two questions: 1) What do we mean by the word heart? and 2) How can Christ enter my heart?

Here are two definitions for the word heart:

  1. A muscular organ that by rhythmic contractions and relaxations keeps blood in circulation throughout the body;
  2. The center of the total personality, especially with reference to intuition, feeling or emotion.

We're talking about the second meaning. Sometimes it's called our spirit. It's the part of us that can relate to God and will live forever-either united to God through Christ, or separated from God by our neglect or rejection of Christ.

Blaise Pascal is credited with calling our heart a "God-shaped vacuum." It was made by God and for God, and only God can fill it. Although we try to fill that space, it remains empty until Christ comes in. We don't need to persuade Christ to come in; He so strongly desires to fill our heart, that a simple invitation will do. Let me repeat the words of Jesus, "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat (have friendship) with him. And he will eat with me" (Revelations 3:20).

Let's think about that.
Jesus is knocking.

"Here I am." We may feel far from God, but He is close to us. He is seeking us. He wants to reveal Himself to us. He takes the initiative to save us. He is ready to meet us and accept us as the moment we respond to His love by accepting Him.

"I stand at the door and knock." Jesus doesn't kick doors down. Patiently, gently, courteously, He calls us. A famous painting depicts Jesus at the door. There is no latch, it must be opened from inside. Jesus knocks and awaits a response.

"If anyone hears my voice..." He speaks to us by many means- people, writings, circumstances, dreams, visions, our conscience, and the gentle persuasion of the Holy Spirit. All of these are methods He uses to get our attention. Maybe you sense that He is speaking to you as you read these words.

"And opens the door..." We must stop resisting the Spirit's call, and invite Jesus into our heart. By opening the door to Jesus, we are closing the door to other religious spirits, idols, entities, faiths, spiritual allegiances, or practices.

"I will come in." That's His promise to us. It's as simple as that. We open the door; He comes in.

"And eat with him..." It's a sign of friendship when we invite people to our home for a meal. Jesus becomes the friend who shares our joys, sorrows, and needs, and never leaves us alone. He becomes actively involved in our lives and we in His.


But there is an obstacle to overcome.

The Bible shows us that our heart is wicked. "From the heart of man come the evil things that defile him" (Mark 7:21). Our heart is hardly a worthy place for Jesus to live. How can we ask Jesus to come into a defiled and rebellious heart?

We repent of our sins. Repentance is changing our mind about the way we live. It's turning from the selfish, independent attitudes that have caused us to do wrong things. It's recognizing that our acts and attitudes have grieved Jesus and brought about His death on the cross to save us. Its' giving up control of our lives and inviting Jesus to control it. When we have a choice between right and wrong, it's choosing to do right. When we have a choice between Jesus and something else, it's choosing Jesus.

We believe the gospel. Only Jesus can forgive our sins and release us from sin's powerful grip. He does this as we place our faith in him. Faith is knowing that we cannot atone for our sin and trusting in the atonement that Christ has made for us. Faith is giving up religion as our means of obtaining salvation and taking the death of Jesus as the only way to eternal life. Faith is accepting, yielding, clinging, believing, depending, and trustfully giving our lives to Jesus Christ.

We receive Jesus as Savior and Lord. "Jesus came to the world that was his own. But his own people did not accept him. But some people did accept him. They believed in him. To them he gave the right to become the children of God" (John 1:12). We receive Jesus by asking Him into our heart, by embracing His teaching, and allowing Him to govern our life.

We confess Him publicly. "If you use your mouth to say, 'Jesus is Lord,' and if you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved" (Romans 10:9). Tell your friends what happened to you. Show them by the example of your life and by your words what Christ means to you.

Why not does it now? It's humbling to know that we cannot save ourselves, and that the only way we can be forgiven is to trust in the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross to atone for our sins, but there is no other way and there is no better time.


Dear Lord God, please help me. My religion has not saved me. Only you can. I now decide to put my trust in you. Come into my life and forgive my sins. I cannot change myself, so please change me. I choose to stop pleasing myself and start pleasing you. I receive You, Jesus, into my heart and confess you as my Lord and Savior. Thank you for dying in my place. I accept your sacrifice for my sins and thank You from the depths of my heart for saving me from sin, self, and the devil. I thank you in Jesus' Name, Amen.