While preparing to do a little hiking (in the U.S. state of Kentucky) one day, my party encountered a sign with the following warning:
Visitors must be prepared to meet and accept nature on its own terms.
It doesn’t matter if a hiker doesn’t bring the right footwear, or if he or she encounters an unexpected animal or poisonous plant. When separated from emergency services and many of the amenities of urban life, the wild environment does not make special accommodations for the unprepared.
While on this hike, we saw a variety of wildlife as we made our way over a somewhat soggy path. It was a good experience to tell others about later, but we didn’t expect – nor did we receive – a paved hiking path, nor an enclosed plexiglass tunnel to sanitize our experience.
As the sign says, I can choose to meet nature, but I don’t get to choose whether or not it is going to be safe and tame. In the same way, each of us has the choice to meet the God of the universe, but we do not get to define the terms on which we will do so (see 1 John 4:4; God is greater than evil forces that try to make headway in this fallen world).
So, what are God’s “terms”? Peter, an apostle of Jesus and His chosen leader to establish the church, answered a wondering crowd in this way:
Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 2:38 NASB
I agree that it might be easier if we could all find God in our own way (although most beliefs created by human beings seem to be much more difficult to follow, compared to what God offers through Jesus Christ). It seems like God might seem “nicer” if He just accepted everyone’s best efforts as good enough. However, God, as He has revealed His nature to us in the Bible (and through other means, like the universe and His call on our lives), is not defined as being “nice”. He is holy, which means that He is special, and set apart from His creation. He is sovereign, meaning that He rules the universe, so we – as created beings – don’t get to tell Him how the world should work.
If God had not reached out to help us understand how we can get to know Him, and what we should do in order to re-connect with Him (after we broke that trust), we might be excused for not knowing. God did share with us the principles that He established in our world, though, and he defined the path that we must take to be reconciled with Him.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.
John 14:6 NASB
Like many who encountered Jesus in person, each of us has the choice whether or not to join Him, accept His gift of salvation (being saved from the penalty of the rebellion that we have each incurred), and follow His plan for our lives. However, we do not have the choice to decide how that relationship will be restored. No amount of good works can make up for our failures. No opinions of ours can supersede God’s. No “religion” can earn our way into Heaven. No smooth-talking can convince God to look past our offenses.
Only accepting Jesus, repenting (turning away from our selfish ways of hostility towards God), and being baptized are consistent with God’s instructions, as Jesus’ disciples taught on His behalf. We might complain that He didn’t offer us lots of different paths to Heaven. However, I think that we should thank Him that He chose to give us a path at all.
“Behold, let me tell you, you are not right in this,
For God is greater than man.
Job 33:12 NASB
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.