The Biblical Diagnosis
Firstly, as we read what the Bible says about these matters, we discover that the diagnosis that is given resonates with what we see in the world around us, and within our own hearts. In the Gospel of Mark, the religious leaders criticised Jesus’ disciples for eating bread with unwashed hands. They condemned this as both unhygienic and morally defiling. Jesus responded by explaining that man’s moral failure is caused not by external factors but by the corruption of the heart. He says, ‘There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man.’ (Mark 7:15) When the disciples later questioned Him, He replied, ‘What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man’ (Mark 7:20-23). The Pharisees sought to uphold moral standards through stringent hygienic practice, whereas Jesus pointed to the root of sin in man’s wayward heart. We might not make a connection between ritualistic washing and morality today, but the general principle is still very pertinent. Sinful behaviour originates in a sinful heart. We need look no further than our own hearts to discover where our problem lies.
This is one way in which we see the continuing relevancy of the Bible. It identifies the deepest, unchanging need of mankind, describing it in language that resonates with what we see in the world around and what we find within.
Is There an Answer?
Does the Bible offer a cure as well as diagnosing the problem?
The Pharisees believed they had the answer. They clung tightly to their religious practices as a means of showing themselves to be good, moral people, and found fault with any who did not follow their ways. The Lord Jesus, however, saw straight through this superficiality, describing them as hypocrites: they honoured God with their lips but were far from Him in their hearts. They replaced His commandments with manmade traditions. Jesus’s criticism of their procedure condemns purely outward religion, because the Pharisees tried to cure an internal problem using external means. This error persists today. Millions around the world are under the illusion that religious behaviour and adherence to rules earns them favour in the sight of God. This, however, is not the biblical answer to sin. As Christ saw through the play acting of the Pharisees, so He sees past our outward appearance and looks on the heart.
If we believe sin can be dealt with by religion, we underestimate the scale of the problem and overestimate the power of man’s will.
The Christian faith, however, is distinct from the world’s religions and philosophies, which teach that a man can be saved by his works and efforts. The Bible reveals that, because people in their natural state are hopeless, salvation is available only as God's free gift. It tells us how our sins can be forgiven, how we can be freed from sin’s power, how we can enjoy peace with God, and how we can have eternal life rather than the judgment we deserve.
The Lord Jesus taught that,for people to be made right in the sight of God, something far more fundamental than the adoption of more rules for living had to take place. He spoke about rebirth. In John chapter 3, we read of an encounter between a Pharisee named Nicodemus and the Lord Jesus. Jesus told him, ‘You must be born again’ (John 3:7). This kind of language must have shocked one who believed himself close to God. What Nicodemus needed is what we all need: not just a little adjustment here and there but a completely new nature.
As the conversation continues, Jesus explains the basis on which a man can be saved; ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16). The good news message of the Bible has not changed. The words of that verse are as relevant as ever. This is why they are so important:
Salvation is through the Son
God sent His Son into the world. John the Baptist described him as ‘The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). No scientific development, philosophy or religion throughout history has been able to ‘take away’ sin. John recognised the uniqueness of Christ. He was no ordinary man but the Son of God who lived a life without sin. Through His death on the cross and His resurrection He offers us forgiveness of sins and peace with God.
Salvation is through faith
‘Whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life’. Salvation does not rest upon the works of man, but faith in Christ alone. He completed the only work that can take away sin. This means we are not called to improve ourselves but simply to come to Christ in all our need and receive salvation as a gift.
Salvation is eternal
What the Lord Jesus provided through His sacrificial death was not a temporary fix. Rather, it holds eternal value in God’s sight. We can therefore be assured that those who trust in Him are eternally right with God.
We mustn’t assume that, because it was written long ago, the Bible is irrelevant. When we read it, we discover it accurately describes the sinful state of humanity in terms that resonate with the reality we see around and within us. It does not blame religions or philosophies for being the root cause of the world's problems, as many modern critics do, but it takes us straight to the timeless, fundamental issue. We are all sinners by nature, powerless to save ourselves.
But Scripture also reveals that God Himself has provided a way of salvation. Not by our works, morality or will, but through faith in His own Son, Jesus Christ. He died and rose again, not merely to fix the problems that sin has caused, but to deal with the issue of sin itself. Salvation from sin is offered freely to all that have faith in Him.
Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).