Published September 23, 2010
Is. 5:20-23; 6:1-5 Rom. 3:21-26
Family Bible Study, Oct 10
Just be good
When sharing my faith, I often ask the question, “What do you think it takes to get to heaven?” Invariably the individual responds, “Just be a good person.” I reply, “The Bible says, ‘not a single person on earth is always good’ (Eccl. 7:20) and ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’”(Rom. 3:23). Nevertheless, most of them still don’t understand why being relatively “good isn’t good enough.” That’s when I expound upon the holiness of God.
According to Isaiah 6:1-5, God is not merely holy – He is “holy, holy, holy”(Is. 6:3). God is not the holiest being which happens to exist. Rather, He is the holiest possible being. In other words, God is infinitely holy. Yet, most of us misconstrue God’s infinite holiness.
For instance, even I struggle with the question, “How could an all-loving, all-merciful God allow people to go to hell for all eternity?” Why does perfect justice demand an everlasting punishment? If a person sinned every day, all day long, for 99 years, an eternity of punishment seems to be a little harsh. Why is not one thousand, or one million years in hell sufficient?
I think the answer to these questions requires an acute understanding of God’s infinite holiness and the nature of sins committed against him.
Moral crimes, you see, vary in their severity depending on the sort of being upon which they are committed. For instance, it is morally wrong to torture an animal, even a cockroach, for no good reason. If you need to kill a cockroach, kill it mercifully.
However, although torturing a cockroach is morally depraved, it’s not nearly as wrong as doing the same thing to, say, a puppy. The reason is that a puppy is a greater being than a cockroach. Likewise, torturing a human baby is a greater crime than torturing a dog. Therefore, the same offence, committed against a greater being, is a greater offence.
There are, however, degrees of offence even among humans. For example, suppose this article offends you – inciting you to slap me in the face. Such a crime would invoke, at most, an insignificant fine. However, if you committed the same offence against, say, the president of the United States, then the consequences would be significantly higher.
Correspondingly, if you performed the same offense against a king – say the king of Saudi Arabia – while sitting on his royal throne, the punishment would be even greater. Most likely, you would be executed –probably without a trial.
Now, here is the catch. All sin is ultimately a crime against God. For instance, when Nathan confronted King David’s adultery and murder, David rightly confessed to God, “Against you, and you alone, have I sinned”(Ps. 51:4).
When we sin, it’s like slapping God in the face. However, the difference between slapping an earthly king in the face and the infinitely holy king of kings is infinite. Assaulting the infinitely holy king of the universe is not merely sinful – it’s infinitely sinful. Such a crime makes the offender infinitely guilty, and requires an infinite punishment.
Jonathan Edwards seems to have embraced this idea for he wrote, “If there be any such thing as a fault infinitely heinous, it will follow that it is just to inflict a punishment for it that is infinitely dreadful. Nothing is more agreeable to the common sense of mankind than that sins committed against any one must be proportionally heinous to the dignity of the being offended and abused.”
Since God is infinitely just, He cannot merely forgive us infinitely-guilty rebels. Instead, He is obligated (by His own nature) to dispense perfect justice. Perfect justice for an infinitely wrong offense is, unfortunately, an infinite punishment.
That’s why God must punish guilty sinners for all eternity – it will take an infinite amount of time for finite beings to atone for even one of our infinitely vile offenses. Hence, those who make the objection that God is unjust for allowing sinners to go to hell for all eternity do not seem to understand the infinitely vile nature of sins against an infinitely holy God.
By the way
Incidentally, this line of reasoning also demonstrates – without the Bible – that Jesus is the only possible way to heaven. Here’s why: Only an infinite, uncreated being could suffer for a finite amount of time for an infinite amount of sin. If Jesus were a finite created being, then He would have had to suffer for an infinite amount of time to pay the penalty for even one sin of one sinner.
However, since Jesus is God (an infinitely holy, uncreated being), He could suffer for a finite amount of time (several hours on the cross) and pay an infinite penalty. Thus, the created (finite) Jesus of Islam, of Mormonism, and of the Jehovah’s Witnesses can’t pay for even one sin of one sinner. The Jesus of the Bible is the only possible way to heaven.
Since God is infinitely holy, He must punish all rebellion. Consequently, being relatively good is not good enough. Fortunately, in addition to being infinitely holy and just, God is also loving and merciful. Although He would have been entirely justified in sending every sinner to eternal punishment, He has provided an alternative – a way to satisfy holy justice.
His solution was to punish Himself in our place. Accordingly, God appeared in human flesh as Jesus of Nazareth. He suffered and died on a cross, paying the penalty for all who will receive Him. If you have not received Him, then please “call upon the name of the Lord” today.
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