“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21).
IT IS OBVIOUS THAT THE CONSEQUENCES OF SIN IN THE WORLD ARE DISTRESSING TO US. There are few rational people anywhere who do not understand the difficulties of the human condition: we struggle with loneliness, depression, anxiety, fear, anger, alienation, and irrelevance (to name just a few of our challenges).
But for all those who recognize the reality of these struggles, few see clearly that they are, indeed, the consequences of sin. Not every instance of suffering is the result of some sin in the life of the sufferer, of course, but suffering in general would not be in the world if all human beings were still in a right relationship with God.
We live in the age of optimistic “self-help.” We may struggle, but we believe the answers lie within us, or at least that science and psychology will eventually find a way to alleviate our pain. So we keep searching, looking for the right technique or ideology.
But if the root of the problem is our alienation from God — and that is exactly what the gospel of Christ affirms — we will not be able to fix this problem on our own. Only God can open the door that would readmit us to His throne room. And the wondrous news is that He has done so. By giving His Son to die for us, He made an atoning sacrifice that did for us what we could never have done for ourselves. “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6 NASB).
But not only must we accept God’s solution; we must accept it on His terms. If we could never have worked our own way back to Him, neither can we refuse, or even attempt to modify, the conditions that God has attached to the granting of His salvation to us.
So the gospel requires the humbling of ourselves before God, the God against whom we have rebelled. And this makes sense, doesn’t it? If the problem of sin is the problem of self-will, we must lay aside our self-will in order to be saved. If we insist on self-help, we may become nicer people, but our sins will still be unforgiven.
“The love of God, with arms extended on a cross, bars the way to hell. But if that love is ignored, rejected, and finally refused, there comes a time when love can only weep while man pushes past into the self-chosen alienation which Christ went to the cross to avert” (Michael Green).