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Jamie Johnson
2 June 2013

When Trying Fails

NOTE: This is a written version of the message I delivered to a group of residents at Kings Daughters Community Health & Rehabilitation Center on June 2, 2013.

I was in a store recently where I saw a game called "Heaven & Hell." I was intrigued, wondering if it was a good theological game. Then, I looked at the subtitle of the game and it said, "Get to Heaven, or go to Hell trying." I was surprised and began to think about that. The truth is that there is One Way to Heaven and that is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (John 14:6) and whoever believes in Him - the Son of God who died for your sins, was buried and rose again - shall not perish, but live with Him eternally (John 3:16). Does eternal life stop? No! Once you have eternal life in Christ, it is that... eternal! And it is a gift of God by grace, that no man may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). The truth is that you trying to get to Heaven will fail. If you are depending on your own work or effort to get to Heaven, you will fail.

In Matthew 7:21-23, NASB, Jesus says, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'" Wait a minute! Aren't those good things: prophesying in Jesus' name and casting out demons and performing miracles in His name? They are good things, but the persons Jesus mentioned were relying on their works, not the work of Jesus Christ. There is only One who has satisfied God perfectly and His Name is Jesus Christ. The Scripture says in Isaiah 64:6 that all of us have become unclean and even our good deeds are as filthy rags. Going to church is a good thing. Going to Sunday School is a good thing. Saying nice things and serving your neighbor are good things, but none of these things save you! Only the work of Jesus saves you.

Try? To quote a teacher (Yoda) in a movie (Empire Strikes Back), "No! Try not! Do or do not! There is no try." Either you do believe in Jesus or you do not believe in Jesus. In that same movie scene, the teacher tries to get the student to perform a great task (Yoda tries to get Luke to move the X-wing out of the swamp). The student tries and fails. The little teacher successfully does it and the student responds, "I don't believe it." The teacher says, "That is why you fail." You must believe in Jesus and trust in His work to be saved.

I spent some time with a man who was sharing the Gospel with college students. And he asked them questions I am going to ask you. How many of you have told a fib? If so, you are guilty of being a liar. How many of you have taken something that doesn't belong to you? If so, you are a thief. How many of you has used God's name in vain? If so, you are a blasphemer. How many of you have looked lustfully upon another? If so, according to Jesus' words in Matthew 5:28, you are an adulterer. Yes, just looking lustfully qualifies! How many of you have been unrightfully angry at another? If so, then you are a murderer according to Jesus' words in Matthew 5:21-22. I am guilty of all of those things. By my own admission, in and of myself, according to Scripture, I am a liar, thief, blasphemer, adulterer and murderer. We all are! Not a good record to have... and that only addresses half of the Ten Commandments! And then add James 2:10 to the mix, which says, "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all" (NASB). That means that if you break the law, you are guilty. Period. All the church attendance, kind acts, Sunday School classes and being nice does not change the fact that in and of yourself, you are guilty. In and of myself, I am guilty.

How many of you believe Jesus died on the cross? I do. Even a secular Jewish historian known as Josephus acknowledged this in his writings. What happened after that? He was buried and He rose again. Romans 5:8 says that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. You see, Jesus paid the penalty with His blood and God is satisfied. Our trying is futile and our work consists of filthy rags. In contrast, Jesus not only tried, but succeeded in His perfect work and God is satisfied. What we cannot do for ourselves Christ has done for us. If we trust Him, the power of sin in our lives is dealt with at the cross and He gives us His righteousness. And how much did it cost? For Him, it cost everything! For you and me, it is free. That is what grace is! The very Son of God was willing to be forsaken by God as He proclaimed from the cross, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani!" which means "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34). He took our place, the place of murderers, thieves, adulterers, liars and blasphemers. We try to think that our works justify us and Scripture is clear that they do not. Is perfect church attendance as good as Christ's death on the cross and resurrection? No! Nothing is! What are you trusting to get you into Heaven?

Let me ask some silly questions. How many of you swim? How many of you can swim across an Olympic-size pool? How about across the English Channel? How about across the Pacific Ocean ... without stopping ... with someone on your shoulders? The gap between God's Holiness and our attempts to be good is greater than the gap between you or me swimming across the Pacific Ocean without stopping with someone on our shoulders.

Imagine that you are court-ordered to pay off the debt of the United States tomorrow. Imagine that debt is like your and my sins. Jesus has paid the debt in full. We must trust the payment and not argue with the judge. Trying to make your own payment is denying the work of Christ and it is futile. You cannot pay enough. Nothing you do will satisfy God like Jesus did. And once you are His, nothing can snatch you from the Father's hands according to John 10:29.

There were two thieves hanging beside Jesus during the Crucifixion. Luke 23:39-43 (NASB) captures the account:

One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, "Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!" But the other answered, and rebuking him said, "Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." And he was saying, "Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!" And He said to him, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise."

While one criminal hurled insults at Jesus, the other spoke truth and asked Jesus to remember him. What was Jesus' response? His response was that the repentant criminal would be with Him today in Paradise. Did the repentant thief rely on his works to get to Paradise? Did he have perfect church attendance? Did he volunteer for missions trips or service projects? Did he go to Sunday School? None of that mattered for salvation (It does matter for living out faith. Refer to James 2:14-26). The repentant thief was still condemned to death for his crimes and he acknowledged that he deserved it in Luke 23:41 in contrast to Jesus who had done no wrong. He realized that it was not about himself, but about Jesus. It wasn't about his works - good or bad. It was about believing in Jesus. And believe in Jesus he did and to Paradise he went with Jesus. You see, there were two criminals: one who believed and one who didn't. We are all criminals. Which one are you? Do you believe or do you deny the truth of Christ?

So, when I ask you, why should you be allowed into Heaven, what will your answer be? More importantly, what are you trusting for the payment of your sin debt? Are you trusting in your feeble works and attempts and trying? Or are you trusting in the perfect and Holy One Jesus Christ?

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