A Perfect Life Does Not Guarantee a Positive Response

AriI love my puppy dog.  My Havanese is actually four years old, but she acts like a puppy and I think of her that way.  She has a special place in my heart and I find myself singing to her, giving her special treats, and acting like a kid when I’m around her.  I guess I’m like a lot of dog owners.  As God’s creature, she is magnificent to me.  She glorifies Him in all she does, and I stand amazed to watch her from day to day.  I’m saddened at the thought, but I know a day will come when she will die.  But unlike people, I know that when she dies, her life is over, and there is nothing eternal waiting for her.  There is no doggy heaven, nor doggy hell.  This life is all she gets, so I try to make it good for her and me (I’m sure some will protest my doggy-theology).

     The afterlife of heaven and hell are choices for humans alone.  Jesus referred to heaven as a real place and mentioned it to His disciples when He told them, “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3).  However, Jesus also spoke of hell and referred to it as “eternal fire” (Matt. 25:41), and warned others of its torment (Matt. 5:22; 29-30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Luke 16:22-31). 

The word translated hell is “Gehenna” (γέεννα, geenna), a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew words ge hinnom (“Valley of Hinnom”). This was the valley along the south side of Jerusalem. In OT times it was used for human sacrifices to the pagan god Molech (cf. Jer 7:31; 19:5–6; 32:35), and it came to be used as a place where human excrement and rubbish were disposed of and burned. In the intertestamental period, it came to be used symbolically as the place of divine punishment (cf. 1 En. 27:2, 90:26; 4 Ezra 7:36).[1]

     Because people are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27), they have the intellectual capacity to think about Jesus and the gospel message.  People choose heaven when they trust Christ as their Savior (John 3:16; 1 Cor. 15:3-4), and they choose hell when they reject Him (John 3:18).  Sadly, the record of Scripture is that most people will spend eternity in the lake of fire because they love this world and their own sin more than they love Christ and the offer of eternal life.  Jesus said:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matt. 7:13-14)[2]

     According to Jesus, the majority of humanity will not be saved, for “many” enter the wide gate to the broad path that leads to destruction, but “few” enter through the narrow gate to the narrow path of life.  Jesus is the “narrow gate” and the “narrow way”.  In another place Jesus said, “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved” (John 10:9), and later He declared, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).  There is no way to be saved but through Christ, for “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Act 4:12).  Salvation is exclusively through Christ, and few will come to Him as Savior. 

     I learned some time ago that a perfect message and perfect life does not guarantee a positive response among the lost.  Jesus’ life on earth was a perfect display of righteousness, truth and love.  The Son of God in flesh lived in perfect righteousness, without sin (Heb. 4:15), and was always pleasing to the Father.  Every word He spoke was truth, and when He spoke, His words were perfectly suited to each person for their specific occasion.  Every action of love was perfect.  When He healed the sick, or fed the masses, or raised the dead, it was all done in love to demonstrate that He is the Savior.  Yet, in the Gospel of John we read, “But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him” (John 12:37).  Why did they not believe in Him?  They did not believe in Christ because they loved the world more than they loved the Son of God.  Earlier John had written, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).  Men are always drawn to the thing that their heart values most, and they are repulsed by the thing that threatens what they love.  Those who love the darkness of this world are never drawn to Christ or those who follow Him.  There is no affinity between them.  In fact, they turn from Christ and avoid Him, for He exposes their evil hearts and actions, “For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (John 3:20).  Jesus’ perfect words and life, no matter how lovingly or consistently presented, were not enough to persuade the majority of those who were negative toward Him.  One might even argue that His words and life had a hardening effect, and produced hostility from those who walked in darkness.

Jesus is the light who came into the world. He was the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. He died for the sins of all the world. But do men love Him for this? No—they resent Him. They prefer their sins to having Jesus as Savior, and so they reject Him. Just as some creeping things scurry away from the light, so wicked men flee from the presence of Christ. Those who love sin hate the light, because the light exposes their sinfulness.[3]

     If Jesus had stood in front of His negative countrymen for a thousand years and spoken perfect truth and performed miracles day after day and demonstrated acts of love, in the end, they would still have rejected Him and His message and demanded that He be crucified.  We should not think this negative reaction was particular to Jesus’ day.  No.  This is all of humanity, throughout all of history.  What Jesus experienced was also true in Noah’s day, and in Abraham’s day, and in Moses’ day, and in the days of the Judges, and in the days of the kings of Israel, and in our day.  The majority of humans in every generation reject the Son of God.  From Genesis to Revelation, God’s Word reveals that men are depraved and their natural propensity is turn away from God, not toward Him.  Concerning the fallen nature of man, Moses states, “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).  David writes, “The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Ps. 14:2-3).  Isaiah, declares, “Their feet run to evil, and they hasten to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity, devastation and destruction are in their highways” (Isa 59:7).  Jeremiah reveals, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).  And Paul adds, “the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:7-8).  The human heart is sinful and its natural propensity is to turn away from God and embrace darkness.  It is only a humble few who accept God’s grace and are saved (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5), and once saved, regularly approach His “throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16). 

     The teaching of Scripture is that the majority of those in the world will never turn to Christ for salvation.  As Christians, we pursue righteousness, grace and love in all we do.  We strive to grow spiritually and to please the Father and serve others more than ourselves (2 Cor. 5:9; Phil. 2:3-4).  However, if we were to live as righteously as Jesus, and speak perfect truth and show great love, we would get no better results than what our Lord observed when He was on the earth.  It is a myth among many Christians that if we unite our efforts and show love and speak truth that the world will respond positively and turn to Christ and be saved.  The unbelieving world saw Christ in perfection when He was on the earth, and they rejected Him.  They’ll do the same to us if given the opportunity. 

If the world [Grk. κόσμος kosmos] hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.  (John 15:18-19)

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.  (John 16:33)

I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.  (John 17:14-17)

Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you.  (1 John 3:13)

     The Apostle John uses the Greek word κόσμος kosmos 105 times in his writings (his Gospel, three Epistles, and Revelation).  He warns us that the world is a hostile place (John 15:18), where unbelievers are friendly toward their own (John 15:19), and where those governed by their sin natures love the darkness because it covers their sin (John 3:19).  Christians are called to “walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light” (1 John 1:7).  By choosing to walk in the Light of God’s truth rather than the darkness of this world, we automatically become enemies of the world because we stand for truth and holiness, and the world does not want either.  John tells us, “Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you” (1 John 3:13).

John depicts the world in darkness and in opposition to Christ; the world is hostile to Christ and all that He stands for, but this is because the world is blind. The world did not recognize Messiah when He came into the world. John describes two classes of people: those who come to the light and those who hate the light (John 1:12; 3:19–21). Persons of the world hate the light because the light exposes their sin; Jesus said that this was the reason the world hated Him (John 7:7). The world system leads people to sin even as Eve was first tempted in the garden: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life (1 John 2:16). The basic issue of sin is the refusal to believe that Jesus is the light (John 3:19–20); the Holy Spirit continues to convict men concerning the same sin—refusal to believe in Christ (John 16:8–9). The tragic end result of sin is death (John 8:21, 24).[4]

     As Christians we must always live in the reality of God’s Word.  Some people in this world will respond positively to God’s gospel of grace and turn to Christ for salvation and be saved.  But the reality, according to Scripture, is that the majority of men will reject Christ.  The majority will spurn the gospel of grace and either deny God, or rely on themselves and religions of works to be saved.  How shall we respond?  We should always walk in the light of God’s truth, live righteously, and manifest love and grace.  We should always be kind and courteous to others, and never argumentative to those who may disagree.  Paul states:

The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Tim. 2:24-26)

     This is a challenge for the growing believer, for the sin nature is often the first responder when faced with a challenge.  We must keep our focus on God and His Word, trusting the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts of others to convince them of Christ after we’ve shared the gospel of grace.  Our job is to preach the Word clearly, but only God saves those who positively turn to Christ and believe in Him. 

Dr. Steven R. Cook

[1] Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes (Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Mt 5:22.

[2] All Scripture quotes are from the New American Standard Bible, 1995.

[3] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1480.

[4] Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989), 137.

3 thoughts on “A Perfect Life Does Not Guarantee a Positive Response

  1. This is a much needed article in these days. Although I am not as certain as he is about our knowledge of the afterlife of dogs, Stephen Cook strikes a clear note of theological relevance. This is not the first time Stephen has struck my heart with his writing. This article, though much more positive, expresses some of what I wrote about resigning the church growth movement, http://voices.yahoo.com/resigning-movement-3158997.html?cat=9, and about marketing the church, http://voices.yahoo.com/marketing-church-3516255.html.

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