Your God Won’t Save You, But Jesus…

“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” (Romans 1:24–25 ESV)

Embrace the Lie: Something Other Than God Will Satisfy/Bring Meaning to Life

“Because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie.” (Romans 1:25)

 When God created us, he wired our souls to live for something greater than ourselves. We all do. We are all living for something or someone. The Bible calls this worship. Whoever or whatever we look to for ultimate significance, comfort, and hope is our god. What is that for you?

In case you are confused or uncertain, Paul says that no matter what our god, there are two things that mark our relationship with our god. We worship our god and we serve our god. “Because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” (Romans 1:25, emphasis added)

What is the lie? Life has more meaning and happiness with a different god. Believing this lie not only dethrones God in our hearts, it replaces him. We trade gods. The actual God is out and the replacement god is in. The Bible calls these idols. These are the things or aspirations to which we attach our true affections, hopes, and desires. We venerate them by constantly thinking about them, talking about them, dreaming about them. Our time and money flow effortlessly to them.

You may say, I don’t have a god like that. But then I go to your house to watch the ball game and we go down to your man cave and here’s this massive tribute to your favorite team, your favorite NASCAR driver, or the deer you shot when you were 12. It’s that thing that makes you feel like you’re something, that your life matters; everybody has them. It could be your family, your job, a relationship, or something you hope could be true in your life that you’re still seeking after. Whatever that thing is, that is your god. We have elevated it to a place of importance. You may not view it as a god, but God views it as a god if you have replaced him with it. You may not call it your god, but all the signs of religious worship are there. If they were taken from us, our lives would struggle to have any meaning. Our fears are often connected to the loss of them. Trace your time, trace your money, trace your thoughts, trace your fears and they will lead you to the real god of your heart.

Is not our world a global testimony to how disappointing man-made gods turn out to be? It turns out that when God gives us over to our demand for independence, we sure make a mess of the place. Can anyone doubt that?

As a pastor for 25 years I have seen behind the picture-perfect Christmas cards and Facebook posts to the real lives people are living. These gods we hope will save us turn out to be incredibly disappointing. Live for money and the richest people in the world will tell you, you never have enough. Live for the perfect family and your family will be incredibly disappointing. Live for approval of others and you will quickly be shocked at how little time people spend thinking about you. Live for beauty or the perfect body and you will be enslaved to the gym, eating disorders, or Botox. Live for career advancement and it will likely cost you your family. Live for possessions and you will never have enough of them. Live for sex and no partner or porn will ever be enough. Live for politics and your political heroes will disappoint you. Live for admiration of your religious spirituality and you and your kids will be crushed by attempts at self-righteousness. Live for anything other than the one true God and in the end we despair because ultimately we die and none of the replacement gods have anything to offer in the next life. They ruin us in this life and they damn us in the next. Like drinking saltwater to satisfy our thirst, we only end up thirstier. The more we drink the thirstier we are.

“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.[1] (C.S. Lewis)

I live this now as a dad. My oldest (4) is a thrill seeker. My youngest (2) is more hesitant. Her first inclination is to hug our legs. So a month ago we took them sledding. It was the first time for Madeline. She watched the kids going down and she didn’t want to do it. We encouraged her. Begged her. Finally, Mommy had to basically force her on the sled and go down with her. You know what she said when she got to the bottom? Can I do that again? She thought she was happier NOT sledding. But then she discovered she was missing out.

Like Lewis says, We are making mud pies in a slum. We were born in this sin slum of a world. It is all we have known. We appropriate the values of the slum. We think the mud pies are awesome and try to construct our whole life’s purposes on them. Why? That’s all we’ve known and everybody else we know lives for these things and acts as if they are really important. The mud pies. The gods of our culture.

What is Easter About?

This Easter I want you to consider that Jesus’ resurrection was God’s personal invitation through his Son Jesus to leave the slum and to go to the beach. To sled down the hill. To leave the emptiness of the fake god and to live for the real one. Not that your family or career or health or whatever are no longer important. God created these things and they have their place. Rather it is dethroning them from being gods in our lives and detaching our ultimate significance from them.

Why should we do that? Christ was raised from the dead. It means many things, but one thing it surely means is that the one true God is inviting us to leave a life of mud pies and counterfeit gods to be restored to a life lived in a joyful relationship with Him. Jesus described that restoration as like being born again.

The apostle John tells of Jesus’ resurrection. He was there. He describes hearing the women tell him and Peter that the tomb was empty. Peter and John ran to the tomb and looked in. This was John’s moment, “Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed.” (John 20:8) The empty tomb was enough for John to place his personal faith in Jesus as Savior and resurrected Lord. After telling all that happened on that Easter Sunday, John summarizes his whole gospel with this:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30–31)

This is not a message of proofs that Jesus was resurrected. We have done those. There are shelves of books available dealing with the believability of the resurrection. Might you be one of those insightful people who secretly hope that this world and all its mess isn’t all there is? Doesn’t our despair at our lives, society, government, and people whisper to our soul that we were made for something more? Something better?

What if Jesus was resurrected as so many eyewitnesses attest? What if that resurrection is God’s invitation to you personally to live for something that would satisfy those longings of your soul?

John says that by believing in Jesus as the Christ and the Son of God we may have life in his name. Life? What does that mean? It certainly means eternal life which is a wonderful part of God’s salvation. While we die physically, Jesus promised those who believe in him will experience an eternal existence of life with God forever. Eternal life is a glorious promise and hope within the Christian message.

But that is not what John says here. By believing you may have life someday? No. you may have life now. What life? A life freed from the emptiness of living for created things. For stuff. For self. A life freed to live from enslavement to our gods. A life lived for God our creator in a relationship of forgiveness, mercy, grace, and love.

Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) Jesus offers that. No fake god in this world can deliver on it. They enslave, corrode, and degrade us.

This brings me to Steve Kellemen. He was a normal Region-type guy. Living his life. Doing his thing. But slowly something became too important. Alcohol quit being an occasional pleasure drink and became an escape for him. Then it became a dependency. Eventually it became a bondage. Like all fake gods, it slowly demanded his total allegiance and it slowly devastated him. His family loved him and I was privy to some of the incredible love expressions given to Steve over the years. They are to be commended for their sacrificial care. But alcohol—like money or video games or sex can—slowly took over his life. No amount of family love or pleasing or distractions could free him from it. Nothing except what happened just days before he died.

It took his niece Marie who came to our church on Easter Sunday two years ago. She heard a message about the emptiness of life apart from God. Marie had been living away from God for some years. God used that Easter message and she renewed her commitment to Christ.

That led to a moment when she shared faith in Jesus with her uncle Steve. By then alcohol and cancer had decayed his body and no treatment could save him. Marie loved him and wanted him to know the freedom she had found in Christ.

She shared her story of returning to Jesus as her first love and God used it in Steve’s heart. He realized that while he wanted another drink, what he really needed was to restore God to the first place in his heart. He did that by believing Jesus was the Son of God and Savior who died on the cross for his sins. He believed Jesus is the resurrected Savior. The freedom he felt after a prayer of faith commitment is seen on his face in this selfie taken just after he confessed Christ.

Like the famous thief on the cross, Steve was saved in the last days of his life. Look at that picture. The look on his face (second from left). Joy. Freedom. Real life. No drink or fake god could ever deliver that.

Alcohol may not be your god, but what is? Who is? Who are you serving? Who are you really living for? Jesus’ cross and resurrection are God’s invitation to leave the slum and the mud pies to experience real life lived with the real God enthroned in your heart.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2018 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

[1] C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, p. 26.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

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