There is a math test that I took in eighth grade that I’ve never forgotten. My teacher handed out this particular exam with verbal instructions to carefully read the directions at the top of the page before beginning. I paid as much attention to this suggestion as I usually did. I ignored it.
When my copy of the test was in my hands, I immediately put my pencil to question number one. I hurried through question one and two and three and four and then I began to get nervous. People who normally did poorly in the class were already handing in their papers. I wasn’t even half way through! The problems were hard. Some of work was new stuff, stuff I wasn’t sure we’d covered in class. Still they kept getting up and turning in their papers. Something wasn’t right!
I kept working, but I became more and more distracted as every student around me finished and walked to the teacher’s desk. I was so confused. This made no sense. I was the best student in the class. (I was an arrogant young man.) What was going on?
As I was sweating it out on a particularly difficult problem, I suddenly remembered the teacher’s pre-exam directives. He’d said plainly enough: “Read the directions at the top of the page before beginning.”
I stopped what I was doing and read. “This is a test of your ability to follow instructions as given by the teacher. You do not need to complete any of the problems on this exam. Write your name at the top of the page and turn it in immediately.”
I was so embarrassed. I wrote “Mike Neifert” on the line provided and walked to the front of the room. I vaguely remember a Cheshire cat grin on my instructor’s face as I sheepishly handed him my paper.
I paid a lot closer attention to his words at the beginning of assignments in the days that followed. His aim I’m sure.
Any of you ever have a teacher pull a dirty trick like that on you? Surely mine wasn’t the only devious trickster in the world. What class were you in when you learned to pay attention to the teacher’s words? Kindergarten? Fourth grade? Tenth?
Whether you figured it out early or late, you learned a valuable lesson. Listening to those over you, those who are in charge, is important. They set the rules. Your obedience to their guidelines sets you on the path to success. Refusing to follow their instructions almost always leads to failure. Sometimes the results are disastrous.
So who’s in charge of this universe? Who sets the rules for how we live? It has to be God, doesn’t it? If Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” – is true, then God is over all. He who made us is the rule maker. No one can override his instructions. What he says about how we’re to live or how we’re to speak or how we’re to approach him matters more than what anyone else says about any of these things. He knows more than anyone else about all things.
So God, in the Old Testament, laid down the law. After man rebelled against him in the Garden of Eden, he had to define evil in more specific ways. He defined evil so that man might know two things. Man needed to know just how holy God was and he needed to know, by comparison, just how unholy he was. The law with all of its “dos and don’ts” points out both things pretty well. Read through Leviticus or even just the ten and you’ll see that God expects a lot, his standards are high. But remember: he’s the Creator. His instructions matter. You can’t ignore what he says.
Keep reading long enough and you’ll eventually have to admit, if your honest, that you don’t measure up. God is holy. I am not. I cannot follow his instructions. I am powerless to do so. His standards are too high. My sinful nature causes me to rebel.
And you’re no better. We’re all in the same boat. We are unholy and, on our own, we can do nothing to escape God’s wrath against our sin.
“‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.’
“‘Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.’
“‘The poison of vipers is on their lips.’
“‘Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.’
“‘Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.’
“‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.’
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.” (Romans 3:10-19, NIV)
You are accountable to God and you do not follow his instructions. Why should you escape his wrath? Why should you be allowed into Heaven? You don’t deserve salvation. You are a rebel. God has passed sentence on you. You are condemned.
But you are not without hope. God has made a way for you to gain salvation. He made that way because he loves you. It is through faith in Jesus, His Son, whom he sent to die in your place.
God is holy, but He is love too.
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