The celebration of Resurrection Day is right around the corner. Every year we have a powerful reminder of the difference between Christianity and every other world religion. Christianity is centered around certain distinctive truths that make it fundamentally different than any other approach to "finding God." A Grand Canyon-sized difference exists between Christianity and every other religion.
If I were asked to boil the differences down to one main distinction, it would be that the message of the Gospel has the power to bring dead people back to life, whereas other religions can only put make-up on a dead person.
Ephesians gives us a clear picture of our condition apart from God: "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked." (Ephesians 2:1-2) Jeremiah adds to our understanding of the condition of our hearts before new birth: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9) These are just two passages among many in scripture that paint a bleak picture of men's hearts before salvation.
This view of humanity’s inherent sinfulness does not sit well with the majority of people caught up in the cycle of comparison. Our natural tendency is to believe that we are basically good. We compare ourselves to really bad people, people like Hitler, Charles Manson and our neighbor who cheated on his wife. The typical thought process goes like this: "I'm not that bad. I've never killed anyone. I've never cheated on my spouse. I only lie every now then ... and it's only a little white lie. I'm really not that bad."
The big problem with this type of thinking is that we are judging ourselves by the wrong standard. Our standard of comparison is not our next door neighbor. The standard of comparison that we all fall short of meeting is the perfect righteousness of Jesus.
We can never meet God’s perfect standard of holiness by our own efforts. Yet this is what so many of us try to do. We try to become better people by thinking positively, eliminating negativity, giving to charity, going to church or giving up bad habits. Countless books have been written and millions of dollars made by people who tell us how we can become better people.
Unfortunately, the books and the people writing them never tell us the whole truth. The truth is no amount of positive thinking and behavior modification can change the real problem.
The real reason people find themselves with no peace, no joy and no way out from under the guilt caused by sinful choices is that they have never come to terms with the reality of their true condition. The Bible says that everyone apart from relationship with Jesus is dead in his trespasses and sins, spiritually dead on the inside.
We are all born with a sinful propensity. No one has to teach how to sin; we naturally learn on our own. And we are incapable on our own of fixing this problem. We can't climb our way out of this mess. After all, how can a dead man do anything?
In the gospel of John, we find the answer that all the self-help gurus never tell anyone. This answer comes through a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, a prominent Jewish religious leader, otherwise known as a pharisee. Pharisees were known for their strict adherence to the law of Moses and were experts in the practice of putting make-up on dead people.
In the conversation, Nicodemus questions Jesus about the source of his power to perform miracles. Jesus responds by getting to the heart of what Nicodemus was really asking. Jesus tells him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3)
In one statement Jesus gives the answer that the Oprah Winfreys of our day miss completely. You can prop up, fix up, change up, put make-up on a dead man, but you still have a dead man. Just like Lazarus, who was dead for four days, needed Jesus to call him out of the grave, so it is with everyone who has not been born again.
The power of the resurrection is most clearly seen in the lives of those who have put their faith in Jesus. A believer in Jesus has been given a brand new heart, with new desires, with desires that are set toward honoring God. Just as Jesus was raised from the dead, the believer in Christ has been raised to a brand new life. Those who are in Christ are new creations, the old is gone, and everything is brand new.
Contrary to what Oprah might tell you, putting make-up on a dead man is pointless.
The Rev. Ben Bufkin is pastor of Living Word Church in Schriever.