Summary: Who really is God, and how do we really get to heaven? Questions answered by the Bible.
It was January 1st, and I was on the edge of my seat. I was watching what was happening, and I was cheering loudly. Well, not out loud - I’m not a yelling kind of a guy, if you know me. But in my mind, I was cheering loudly, and I was on the edge of my seat. It was New Year's Day. Do you know what I’m talking about?
You probably think that I'm talking about football, watching the Badgers in the Rose Bowl. But that's not what I'm talking about. You see, on New Year's Day we went to visit my wife's grandmother in her apartment. She's over 90 years old, and based on the things she has said so far, we don't think she's a Christian. She's a life-long Catholic, but she's never read the Bible in her life, and she always talks about earning heaven by being a good person. Do you know anyone like that? We've been trying to witness to her for a long time - not in a pushy way. But every time we bring up the subject of Jesus, she changes the subject, shuts us down.
But this New Year's Day was a little different. We went there just to talk, and she brought up the subject of life and death and heaven. And that's when it got interesting. She said something to the effect of "God will bring me into heaven because I have been a good person," and that's when my wife went after her. I've never seen my wife be more aggressive: "That's not how it works, Grandma!" And I was sitting across the living room, and that's when I started cheering.
"But I've been a good person," Grandma said. "No Grandma," my wife said, "you are sinful." (Can you imagine saying that to your Grandma?) "We've all been sinful. We've all made mistakes. None of us are good enough to earn heaven. God loves you because of his mercy, Grandma. God lets you into heaven because of Jesus." It was great to watch, for me, much more exciting than a football game. The stakes couldn't be higher - either Grandma believes in Jesus and goes to heaven, or Grandma rejects Jesus and goes to hell. What will happen next?
The reason I bring this story up is because so many people think this way - if you walk up to anyone on the street, most people will say, "you gotta be a good person and if you're good enough God will let you into heaven. Do you believe that? Listen again to our Scripture lesson for this morning, the second lesson from Titus, which says that God "saved us, not because of righteous thing we had done, but because of his mercy." Isn't this exactly what the argument was about, between my wife and here grandmother on New Year's Day? Why does God save people? It's not because of righteous things we had done. No. It's because of his mercy. It's because of Jesus Christ, our Savior, as verse 6 says.
Do you know why so many people are confused about this issue? It's because so many people don't know the answer to the 2 most important questions of life. If you know the answers to these questions, then everything else in your life makes sense, and you have hope beyond this life. The 2 most important questions in life are these - 1) Who am I? 2) Who is God? Do you know the answers to these all-important questions? Let's talk about them this morning.
Let's start with the question who am I? Most of the world, including my elderly relative, believes this - I am basically good. All people are basically good. Do you believe that? All people are basically good? If a person believes that, then how do you explain why people do bad things? Why do good people do bad things? What is the explanation for all the evil that takes place in the world? All people are basically good? Let's see what the Bible says. The Bible is the only book that will be totally honest with you, not afraid to hurt your feelings. Listen to this, verse 3: "At one time, we were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kind of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another." That's brutal honesty. You are not basically good. You and I are basically sinful.
In England many years ago, a newspaper posed the question to the public - "What is wrong with the world?" People were supposed to write in with their answers, and the best answer would win. A religious writer named GK Chesterton wrote in to the newspaper, and he had the briefest answer of all the answers submitted. What is wrong with the world? GK Chesterton wrote "Dear Sirs. I am. Sincerely, GK Chesterton." We are sinful. He understood that he was not basically good, he was basically sinful.