The destination does matter.
Imagine you’re flying from Detroit Metro to Paris to meet up with some friends and family for a week’s vacation. Much to your delight, you find yourself upgraded free of charge to first class. Suddenly, instead of screaming toddlers, cramped legs, and a three-day-old ham sandwich, you’re experiencing incredible comfort and luxury. It’s all-inclusive: the hot towel, the champagne, the veal dinner. And on top of that, you’re meeting a lot of incredible, interesting people. Then you find out that this airline is piloting a new program where they offer an extensive collection of reading materials and software packages so that you can educate yourself during your trip, and they even assign each passenger a personal counselor/life coach, so that you can work through some of your issues and land a better person. This is one incredible journey!
But what if you find yourself nine hours later—that much smarter, better adjusted, and well-rested—landing in Baltimore? Or Baghdad? Or Cairo? Or anywhere but Paris, where your friends and family are waiting? Or what if the plane takes an emergency dip into the Atlantic Ocean or crashes and burns on the coast of France? As important as the journey might be, the destination is even more so.
The Apostle Paul knew this, which is why he said what he did to the philosophers of Athens, to the citizens of Rome, to kings and governors, and to the leaders of temples and synagogues. And to us.
In the pages of the New Testament, the Apostle Paul (inspired and guided by God’s Spirit) tells us that we cannot find the answer to our problem inside of ourselves. All of this self-seeking that our culture celebrates will end the same way: with self-worship. God’s Word reminds us that, from the very beginning, we have looked into ourselves for truth, for answers, for meaning, and even for God. Instead of worshiping our Creator, we’ve worshiped created things, whether little stone men, stock portfolios, or smart phones. God calls this rebellion sin and every one of us stands guilty before him. And we know it. This is why, even though we were created with a hard-wired desire to know and love our Creator, we just keep on seeking ourselves, chasing our tails, and gazing at our navels—because we know we’ve broken his laws and, deep down, we don’t want to stop. We like being our own gods. We like it so much that we “suppress and distort the knowledge of God that we have been given.”
We ignore God’s signature in nature and we pervert the law that he has written on our hearts because we have an agenda to be our own gods, make our own way, call our own shots. Scripture warned that a time would come when people would not listen to the truth, but instead would surround themselves with teachers and gurus who would tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. These people would be, in the words of the apostle, “always learning, but never coming to a knowledge of the Truth.” The Law that God has written on the heart of each person is shattered within us, and so we ignore the Truth and chase after whatever we think will temporarily soothe our souls.
This is why most religions seem to teach basically the same thing. If we define a religion by how it tells us to live, then we should not be surprised to discover very similar sets of commands in different religions. After all, God has written the same law on everyone’s heart. At our best, we wish we could force ourselves to obey that law. At our worst, we revel in breaking it. Either way, endlessly looking into ourselves—into our hearts—will only amount to us continually looking at a broken law, an aimless journey, and a hopeless situation.
In the end, then, we keep seeking and seeking, but never finding, because we’re not really seeking God. Quoting the Hebrew Scriptures, Paul tells us that “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” We’re all filled with sin and under the wrath of a Holy, perfect God who cannot bear sin in his presence. If left to ourselves, our journey—however enjoyable, thrilling, or mind-opening—will end with a crash and burn.
If this is true, you might ask, then what hope do we have? If we’re not even seeking God, how can we hope to find him?
Well, amazingly, he is seeking you.
Your rescue from sin, death, and the wrath of God comes, not from inside of you, but from outside. Nothing that happens inside of you—no breakthrough, no epiphany, no resolution—can save you from your current situation. For that, you need something that happened outside of yourself, on a hill outside Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, when God himself came in the flesh and dwelt amongst us. He actually kept the law perfectly, never sinning in thought, word, or deed, never failing to do the right thing. He gave his life in our place, having never sinned, he allowed himself to be killed on a cross, bearing the weight of our sins on his shoulders. And then he rose from the dead, having defeated sin and death.
When it comes to keeping the law, Romans 3 tells us that there is none that is righteous. But it goes on to tell us that there is a righteousness apart from the law that God has revealed for us. This righteousness comes by God’s grace (read: we don’t deserve it), through our faith in Jesus Christ. It’s what we call the Great Exchange. Christ takes from us our sin, guilt, and shame, and in exchange gives us his righteousness, so that when God looks at us, he doesn’t see our sin (which has already been paid for), but rather sees the perfection of Christ.
Mankind’s problem has always been sin and rebellion against our God. The solution cannot be found inside of our hearts (or our navels). It must be proclaimed from outside. Faith comes from hearing the Word of God. We call this message of deliverance the Gospel, which means “good news.” And truly there is no better news for the one who believes and is being saved.
I encourage you to put your faith in Jesus Christ today, to repent of your sins and receive forgiveness in Jesus’ name. And I encourage you to become a member of a church that focuses on the Gospel above all else—a church that is not just about the journey and the conversation, but where you can seek and continue to find grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. He is our all and all, our journey and our destination.
If you live in the Lansing area, I would like to invite you to worship with us at Judson Baptist Church. We don’t claim to have all the answers and we certainly don’t know everything about God. We do, however, know what he has revealed to us in his Word, in the tradition handed down once for all to the saints. And that is our focus.
We won’t hit you with some Papyrus font slogan, promising professional fulfillment, better sex, debt-free finances, and 2.6 perfect children. What we will do is worship the God who offers the Great Exchange, pray together, hold each other up, and receive God’s revelation of himself in his written word and in Holy Communion, week after week. We will seek and we will find—because he has been seeking us.
Soli Deo Gloria,
Rev. Zachary Bartels
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