THIS IS A QUESTION that is often asked as part of an argument along the lines of “You Christians are always talking about being saved and believing the Gospel, and yet the world is full of people who seem to want to argue about what the Gospel is. There are scores of different religions and sects, and they all claim to be true. Surely, if you just try to do what is right, and lead a good life, then when the rewards are given out God will see that you get your fair share.”
When you think about it, the suggestion that it does not really matter what we believe is based on the assumption that we are all acceptable to God in our natural state. This is a very attractive thought— but that of course does not make it true. The vital question is this: how does this assumption compare with what God has revealed about the relationship between us and Him? For the answer we need to turn to His Word, the Bible.
For those who live according to the ﬂesh set their minds on the things of the ﬂesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the ﬂesh cannot please God (Romans 8:5–8).
The word ‘carnal’ has to do with ﬂesh, or a body—it means what is in our physical nature, what comes naturally. Here then is the judgement of the inspired writer: the natural human mind is ‘at enmity against’ (that is, opposed to) God. In this same letter to the Romans the point is stressed: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We see then that good people and bad people (humanly speaking) are all alike in God’s sight from the point of view of salvation. We are all sinners.
We need to change if we are to become acceptable to God: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Romans 8:13–14).
It is not a palatable truth. It strikes at the very root of human pride. But the Bible is clear that we are not acceptable to God in our natural state. We have to come to Him in the way He requires. The man who comes to God with the attitude of “Now then, let’s see if we can come to terms”, is a fool.
The Way to God
Those verses from Romans we looked at place emphasis on the “things of the spirit”. Only those who are “led by the Spirit of God” are acceptable to Him. We may well ask, what is this? Here is an answer from another letter, in which the Apostle gives instructions to believers on how they are to live:
That you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22–24).
The natural, carnal man or woman cannot please God. What is required is a change of mind, a change of life, a change of spirit. In chapter 6 of Romans the Apostle explains how this begins: “Therefore we were buried with him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
A recognition that we are naturally alienated from God; belief and repentance; then baptism—as a symbol of putting to death our old way of life and being raised up to a new way of life—that is the beginning of the way to God.
And then it is a continual, daily process of putting off the ‘old man’—because he’s still there and he doesn’t want to go away— and putting on the ‘new man’, by aligning our heart and mind and life to the ways, thoughts and things of God.