Pastor Chris Baker, Centralia First Baptist Church
I have a confession to make. I’m selfish. While we’re at it, I might as well go ahead and add conceited, short-tempered, rude, cynical, and judgmental. I know, not what you expected in the pastor’s column. But it’s true. You can ask my wife or even my kids. I want my life to be all about me. I was born this way. There’s nothing I can do about it. Honestly, it really wouldn’t be an awful way to live, at least for a little while. I could do what I want, go where I want, and (thanks to living in the land of freedom) be what I want.
But there’s a problem with the way I was born. Sure, I can be what I want to be. But I could live my life a hundred times over, do something different every time, but I would arrive at ultimately the same destination. Hell.
Yup, on my own that’s the best I can do. That’s true of you as well. You’re maybe a lot less selfish than I am. You might not even be conceited, short-tempered, rude, or any of those other things. But there’s some bad news you need to be aware of. No matter how ‘good’ you and I are, the best we can do on our own is eternal separation from everyone and everything we love in a place called Hell. A lot of people—both inside and outside the world of church—have tried to explain Hell away. Society is quick to embrace the teachings of the Bible when they make us feel all warm and fuzzy. The golden rule, loving your neighbor, caring for widows, I’ve never met anyone who objects to those ideas. We want to believe in a God who is good and loving and kind. We’re less comfortable with the idea of Hell but if we throw it out then we have to throw out all the other things the Bible teaches, too.
Fortunately, God isn’t selfish. He isn’t conceited, short-tempered, rude, cynical, or judgmental either. He knew the best I could do on my own was ruinous. So—before the foundation of the world according to Ephesians 1:4—He made a plan to redeem my shortcomings. Adam and Eve sinned and the rest of humanity has followed suit. Except for one man, that is. That man was different. He was a man, but He was (and is) God. Jesus Christ was God made flesh. He retained all his God-ness while taking on humanity. His life was everything that mine could never be. He never sinned, yet He sacrificed Himself in my place—dying the death that I deserved so that Hell would no longer be the end result of my life.
But changing my eternal address from Hell to Heaven isn’t even the best part of what Jesus has done for me. I’m still all those things I mentioned in the first few sentences. . . but I’m becoming less of those things every day. I’m gradually dying. Dying to my selfishness and becoming alive to selflessness. Dying to judgment and becoming alive to grace. You get the picture. The best part of my salvation isn’t that I’m going to Heaven. It’s that God is personally making me a little more like him and a little less like my old self everyday. It’s an exponentially better life than I could ever choose on my own. God gets all the credit, because I was blind on my own. But now I’ve seen His grace and it has changed everything. It has changed the way I wake up, the way I interact with people, and the way I’ll spend my eternity. God is still in the business of rescuing us from ourselves. It’s my prayer that we see that rescue taking place here in Centralia, not just at First Baptist, but at churches all over town.