The first point of the Christian message is that God is in charge of the world. He is the ruler, the supreme president, the king. Unlike human rulers, however, God always does what is best for his subjects. He is the kind of king you’d like to be ruled by.
God rules the world because he made the world. Like a potter with his clay, God fashioned the world into just the shape he wished, with all its amazing details. He made it, and he owns it.
He also made us. God created people who were something like himself, and put them in charge of the world—to rule it, to care for it, to be responsible for it, and to enjoy all its beauty and goodness. He appointed humanity to supervise and look after the world, but always under his own authority, honouring him and obeying his directions.
You can see this represented in the illustration above: God is the ruler (the crown) and humanity is created to live in and rule God’s world under God’s loving authority.
It all sounds rather ideal—God in heaven, people ruling the world according to his directions, and everything right with the world. But everything is very obviously not right—with us or the world.
The sad truth is that, from the very beginning, men and women everywhere have rejected God by doing things their own way. We all do this. We don’t like someone telling us what to do or how to live—least of all God—and so we rebel against him in lots of different ways. We ignore him and just get on with our own lives; or we disobey his instructions for living in his world; or we shake our puny fists in his face and tell him to get lost.
How ever we do it, we are all rebels, because we don’t live God’s way. We prefer to follow our own desires, and to run things our own way, without God. This rebellious, self-sufficient attitude is what the Bible calls ‘sin’.
The trouble is, in rejecting God we make a mess not only of our own lives, but of our society and the world. The whole world is full of people bent on doing what suits them, and not following God’s ways. We all act like little gods, with our own crowns, competing with one another. The result is misery. The suffering and injustice that we see around us all go back to our basic rebellion against God.
By rebelling against God, we’ve made a terrible mess of things. The question is: what will God do about it?
God cares enough about humanity to take our rebellion seriously. He calls us to account for our actions, because it matters to him that we treat him, and other people, so poorly. In other words, he won’t let the rebellion go on forever.
The sentence God passes against us is entirely just, because he gives us exactly what we ask for. In rebelling against God, we are saying to him, “Go away. I don’t want you telling me what to do. Leave me alone.” And this is precisely what God does. His judgement on rebels is to withdraw from them, to cut them off from himself—permanently. But since God is the source of life and all good things, being cut off from him means death and hell. God’s judgement against rebels is an everlasting, God-less death.
This is a terrible thing, to fall under the sentence of God’s judgement. It is a prospect we all face, since we are all guilty of rebelling against God.
Is that it then? Are we all destined for death and everlasting ruin? If not for God’s own miraculous intervention, we would be.
Because of his great love and generosity, God did not leave us to suffer the consequences of our foolish rebellion. He did something to save us. He sent his own divine son into our world to become a man—Jesus of Nazareth.
Unlike us, Jesus didn’t rebel against God. He always lived under God’s rule. He always did what God said, and so did not deserve death or punishment. Yet Jesus did die. Although he had the power of God to heal the sick, walk on water and even raise the dead, Jesus allowed himself to be executed on a cross. Why?
The Bible rings with the incredible news that Jesus died as a substitute for rebels like us. The debt that we owed God, Jesus paid by dying in our place. He took the full force of God’s justice on himself, so that forgiveness and pardon might be available to us.
All this is quite undeserved by us. It is a generous gift, from start to finish.
God accepted Jesus’ death as payment in full for our sins, and raised him from the dead. The risen Jesus is now what humanity was always meant to be: God’s ruler of the world.
As God’s ruler, Jesus has also been appointed God’s judge of the world. The Bible promises that one day, he will return to call all of us to account for our actions.
In the meantime, Jesus offers us new life, both now and eternally. Now, our sins can be forgiven through Jesus’ death, and we can make a fresh start with God, no longer as rebels but as friends. In this new life, God himself comes to live within us by his Spirit. We can experience the joy of a new relationship with God.
What’s more, when we are pardoned through Jesus’ death, we can be quite sure that when Jesus does return to judge, we will be acceptable to him. The risen Jesus will give us eternal life, not because we have earned it, but because he has died in our place.
We can continue in our rebellion against God, and try to run our lives our own way without him. Sadly, this is the option that many people persist in.
The end result is that God gives us what we ask for and deserve. He condemns us for our rejection of his rightful rule over our lives. We not only have to put up with the messy consequences of rejecting God here and now, but we face the dreadful prospect of an eternity of separation from him, without life or love or relationship.
For those of us who have realised that our situation is hopeless, there is a lifeline. If we turn back to God and appeal for mercy, trusting in Jesus’ death and resurrection, then everything changes.
For a start, God wipes our slate clean. He accepts Jesus’ death as payment for our sins, and freely and completely forgives us. He pours his own Spirit into our hearts and grants us a new life that stretches past death and into forever. We are no longer rebels, but part of God’s own family as his adopted sons and daughters. We now live with Jesus as our ruler.
The two ways to live could not be more different, and they present you, the reader, with some choices.