Josh McDowell had zero interest in Jesus Christ. Having been a victim of sexual abuse during his childhood, Josh began partying when he entered college, living for emotional highs and social status.
Then one day at a lunch table in the student union, Josh sat next to a young green-eyed coed with a radiant, infectious smile. Wanting to know why she and her friends were smiling, Josh asked, “Why are your lives so different from the other students on campus?” The attractive coed immediately blurted out two words that stunned him: “Jesus Christ!”1
Josh shot back, “Jesus Christ? Oh, for God’s sake, don’t give me that garbage. I’m fed up with religion; I’m fed up with the church; I’m fed up with the Bible. Don’t give me that garbage about religion.”
Unfazed, the young coed calmly replied,
“Mister, I didn’t say religion, I said Jesus Christ.”
Josh was speechless. He didn’t understand how a man who lived 2,000 years ago could bring meaning to anyone’s life today. Yet, here was this joyful Christian woman talking about Jesus as someone who had brought meaning and happiness to her life.
Can Jesus Bring Purpose?
Josh faked happiness, but he “was like a boat out in the ocean being tossed back and forth by the waves, the circumstances.”2 Yet, his friends at the lunch table seemed to have genuine happiness and purpose that wasn’t dependent on their circumstances.
At one time or another, most of us question what life is all about. Have you ever gazed up at diamond-like stars on a pitch-black evening and wondered who put them there? Or have you ever gazed at a spectacular sunset and thought about life’s biggest questions? In Josh’s desire for meaning, three questions kept whirling around in his mind:
“Who am I?”
“Why am I here?”
“Where am I going after I die?”
The radiant coed’s remark made Josh wonder if what they said about Jesus was true. But he was skeptical, recalling, “I thought most Christians were walking idiots. But these people challenged me over and over. Finally, I accepted their challenge, but I did it out of pride, to refute them.”3
Josh began reading Jesus’ radical claims in the New Testament. For example, Jesus claimed to be the visible expression of God (John 14:9). He also said he was the only way to God (John 14:6).
Josh wondered how a mere man could make such claims. But if Jesus was merely a man, how could he live a sinless life, control nature, and have the unconditional love he demonstrated to people?
But how was Josh to know if these accounts of Jesus were really true? He admits, “I didn’t know there was evidence that a person could evaluate.”
Josh began searching for evidence to either refute or support Jesus’ outlandish claim that he would rise from the dead. He reasoned that if Jesus really defeated death, the rest of his claims must also be true.
So, Josh spent over 700 hours investigating the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. Josh explains why evidence for the resurrection was so vital to his search for truth. “I have come to the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted upon the minds of men, OR it is the most fantastic fact of history.”4
After his investigation, Josh concluded that Jesus’ bodily resurrection was indeed the most fantastic fact of history (see what Josh discovered at Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?). He writes, “Finally, my mind came to the conclusion that Jesus Christ must have been who he claimed to be.”
But Josh still wondered if Jesus could bring meaning to his own troubled life.
Josh’s desire for meaning and happiness is something we all look for in one way or another. Most people try to find meaning in life through popularity, success, or material things. Madonna, the best-selling female recording artist of all time, discovered that fame couldn’t make her happy. She confessed,
“There were many years when I thought fame, fortune, and public approval would bring me happiness. But one day you wake up and realize they don’t…I still felt something was missing…I wanted to know the meaning of true and lasting happiness and how I could go about finding it.”5
The great scientist, Blaise Pascal, observed that our desire for meaning is universal, and it can only be filled by God. He states, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which only Jesus Christ can fill.”6
Like Madonna, we all look for ways to fill that vacuum. Some think sex is the answer. Others make education their total focus in life. Still, others look to material things. Madonna used to think fame, fortune, and public approval were the answers. But none of that satisfied her.
Many think God is like the impersonal Force in Star Wars; They reason, “He’s up there somewhere, but doesn’t care about us personally.” Yet, since God created us as relational beings, He could only satisfy our emptiness if He is relational like us. An impersonal God could never meet our relational needs.
Josh began reading what Jesus said about God. Jesus told us that God is relational but infinitely more so than we are. He thinks. He hears. He speaks to us. In Jesus’ prayer to his Father in John 17, he reminds us that God knows each of us intimately, and thinks about us continually.
God Is Loving
Have you ever wondered what God thinks of you? Is He a tyrant waiting for you to fail so He can punish you? Or is He apathetic, not caring about you at all? Jesus told us that God loves each of us regardless of our looks, our intelligence, our popularity, our race, our wealth, or how successful we are.
Jesus was the exact opposite of the judgmental religious leaders. Whereas they condemned sinners, Jesus demonstrated God’s love by reaching out to them, healing the sick, and ministering to those considered unworthy.
Jesus taught us that God is our heavenly Father who loves us unconditionally. In a world of broken homes and absentee fathers, it’s difficult for many to relate to the unconditional love of a parent. This was true for Josh, who grew up with a father known as the “town drunk.”
In contrast, Jesus compared God’s love with the love of a perfect father. A good father wants the best for his children, sacrifices, and provides for them. But in their best interests, he also disciplines them as he deems necessary.
Jesus illustrates God’s heart of love with a story about a rebellious son who rejected his father’s advice about life and what is important (Luke 15;11-32). Arrogant and self-willed, the son wanted to quit working and “live it up.” Rather than waiting until his father was ready to give him his inheritance, the son began insisting that his father give it to him early.
In Jesus’ story, the father granted his son’s request. But things went bad for the son. After squandering his money on self-indulgence, the rebellious son had to go to work on a pig farm. Soon he was so hungry even the pig food looked good to him. Despondent and not sure his father would accept him back, he packed his bag and headed home.
Jesus tells us that not only did his father welcome him home, but he actually ran out to meet his son. He then embraced his wayward son and welcomed him back without any condemnation. And then the father went totally radical with his love and threw a huge party celebrating his son’s return.
It is interesting that even though the father greatly loved his son, he didn’t chase after him. He let the son he loved feel pain and suffer the consequences of his rebellious choice. In a similar way, the Scriptures teach that God’s love will never compromise what is best for us. He allows us to suffer the consequences of our own wrong choices.
Some teach that God’s love is so great that we can ignore or reject Him in this life and not suffer the consequences of our decisions. But Jesus also taught that although God loves us unconditionally, He will never compromise His moral character. Character is who we are down deep. And according to Jesus, God’s character is absolutely holy.
God Is Holy
Nearly 600 times in the Bible God is referred to as “holy.” Holy means that God’s character is morally pure and perfect in every way. Unblemished. God never entertains a thought that is impure or inconsistent with His moral excellence. God will never compromise His holy character.
God’s holiness means that He cannot allow evil to exist in His personal presence. We might think of God’s holiness as a clear mountain stream of pure water, and our sin as a polluted stream of water. Since evil is the opposite of His nature, God hates it. It’s like pollution to Him.
But if God is holy and abhors evil, why did He create us, and how can we know His plan for us?
What is God’s Plan for Us?
According to the Bible, you and I are part of something infinitely greater than anything we can imagine. According to His Word, God has a plan for us that staggers the imagination.
“Before the foundation of the world he chose us to become, in Christ, his holy and blameless children living within his constant care. He planned, in his purpose of love, that we should be adopted as his own children through Jesus Christ….” (Ephesians 1:4-5, J. B. Phillips)
Imagine being the adopted child of the Creator of the universe who knows every star, gives us spectacular sunsets, majestic mountains, expansive oceans, and beautiful music to enjoy. Yet, what He has in store for His children will be far more wonderful than anything experienced on earth!
Freedom to Choose
Like a parent wanting to give good gifts to his children at Christmas, God has planned a wonderful future for us. However, just as the father in Jesus’ story allowed his son to rebel, God won’t force His love and blessing on us.
In the movie, The Stepford Wives, weak, lying, greedy and murderous men have engineered submissive, obedient robots to replace their liberated wives whom they considered threats. Although the men supposedly loved their wives, they replaced them with toys in order to force their obedience.
God could have made us like that — robotic people (iPeople) hardwired to love and obey Him, programming worship into us like a screensaver. But then our compulsory love and obedience would be meaningless. So God gave us the ability to freely choose whether to love and obey Him.
C. S. Lewis explains why free choice is an essential part of God’s plan.
“If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.7
Rebellion Against God’s Plan
We live in a world of physical laws that govern our universe. On 9/11, USA Today estimates that 200 people on the 101st to the 107th floors of the north tower of the World Trade Center jumped due to the intense smoke and heat. Within 10 seconds, the law of gravity took them to their deaths.
Just as God created physical laws like gravity, so He has given us moral laws that govern our relationship with Him and with others. God gave His people the Ten Commandments and told them through Moses that they were to live in full accordance with His law.
In the Ten Commandments, we are told to love God above everything, not lie, steal, have sexual relations outside of marriage, or covet the possessions of others. Jesus summed up all the commandments by saying that we should love God with all our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves.
Tragically, none of us have lived up to God’s standard. We’ve all violated God’s moral laws in one way or another. We’ve broken God’s laws either by active rebellion or passive indifference. The Bible calls this disobedience “sin,” which means “missing the mark,” like an archer missing his intended target. Thus, our sins have broken God’s intended relationship with us.
Using the archer’s example, we have missed the mark when it comes to the purpose for which we were created. According to the Bible, all of us have sinned and are separated from God (Romans 3:23).
Regardless of what some irreverent TV and stand-up comedians say, God doesn’t wink at our sins. In fact, His character and perfect justice demand they be judged. And the penalty for our sins is death. The Bible declares us all guilty of breaking God’s laws.
“Someone is Coming”
So, is there a solution to our sin problem? If not, it appears we are doomed to eternal separation from the love of God. Yet, with God there is hope.
“From the very beginning of the Old Testament, there is a sense of hope and expectation, like the sound of approaching footsteps: Someone is coming! … That hope increases throughout the prophetic record as prophet after prophet declares yet another tantalizing hint: Someone is coming!”8
So, who is this mystery “Someone?” More than 700 years before Christ, God revealed through the prophet Isaiah that He would be our Savior. God was going to visit planet earth in the form of a child. Isaiah writes,
“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called…Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6, NASB)
The Jewish religious leaders knew this prophecy written seven centuries before Christ, but couldn’t fathom how God would become a man.
However, later in Isaiah, we read that this one called “Mighty God” will suffer and be pierced for our sins.
“He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins….All of us…have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.” (Isaiah 53:5-6, NLT)
Seven centuries after Isaiah wrote his prophecies, Jesus Christ was born. Jesus stunned the Jewish religious leaders by claiming to be the Messiah spoken of by Isaiah, who would die for our sins and bring us to God. His claim to be God infuriated the Jewish religious leaders, resulting in Jesus being pierced and executed on a cross. But he did it all for us.
God’s Justice Satisfied
The apostle Paul, originally an enemy of Christians, reveals the incredible mystery of who it really was on the cross, and why he was willing to die.
“For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God’s equal, but stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And, having become man, he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death he died was the death of a common criminal.” (Philippians 2:5-8, J. B. Phillips)
As God, Jesus lived a sinless life, qualifying him to die for us. However, since only a perfect man could be our substitute, God had to become a man. The mystery of Jesus is that he is both fully God and fully man. As a man, he felt pain, experienced hunger, and eventually died on a Roman cross.
Author and Bible scholar, A.W. Tozer, explains,
“He [Jesus] is as certainly a man as was Moses or Paul…who as God and man, fought our fight and won it, accepted our debt as his own and paid it, took our sins and died under them and rose again to set us free. This is the true Christ, and nothing less will do.”9
It’s difficult to understand how Jesus’ death paid for our sins. Perhaps a judicial analogy might clarify how Jesus solves the dilemma of God’s perfect love and justice.
Imagine entering a courtroom, guilty of murder (you have some serious issues). As you approach the bench, you realize that the judge is your father. Knowing that he loves you, you immediately begin to plead, “Dad, just let me go!” To which he responds, “I love you, son, but I’m a judge. I can’t simply let you go.”
He is torn. Eventually, he bangs the gavel down and declares you guilty. Justice cannot be compromised, at least not by a judge. But because he loves you, he steps down from the bench, takes off the robe, and offers to pay the penalty for you. And in fact, he takes your place in the electric chair.
This is the picture painted by the New Testament. God stepped down into human history, in the person of Jesus Christ, and went to the electric chair (read: cross) instead of us, for us.
As the one who created everything (see John 1:1-14), Jesus is not a third-party whipping boy, taking our sins, but rather he is God Himself. Put more bluntly, God had two choices: to judge sin in us or to assume the punishment Himself. In Christ, He chose the latter.
The biblical term to describe God’s free forgiveness through Christ’s sacrificial death is grace. Whereas mercy saves us from what we deserve, the grace of God gives us what we don’t deserve. The apostle Paul explains,
“When we were unable to help ourselves, at the right time, Christ died for us, although we were living against God. Very few people will die to save the life of someone else. Although perhaps for a good person someone might possibly die. But God shows his great love for us in this way: Christ died for us while we were still sinners.” (Romans 5:6-8, NCV)
But there is still one missing ingredient. Each of us individually must respond to the free gift Jesus offers us. He won’t force us to take it.
We Have the Choice
We continually make choices—what to wear, what to eat, our career, marriage partner, etc. It is the same when it comes to a relationship with God. Author Ravi Zacharias writes:
“Jesus’ message reveals that every individual…comes to know God not by virtue of birth, but by a conscious choice to let Him have His rule in his or her individual life.”10
In the history of man, Jesus is the only one who defeated death. Therefore, he is the only one worthy of our trust. Jesus said eternal life was a free gift through him alone.
However, like any gift, God’s free gift of eternal life doesn’t become ours unless we receive it. It all comes down to our choice. Eternity is at stake. We can choose one of three different responses:
- we can ignore him,
- we can reject him, OR
- we can accept him.
The reason many people go through life ignoring God is that they are too busy pushing their own agenda. Chuck Colson was like that. At age 39, Colson occupied the office next to the president of the United States. He was the “tough guy” of the Nixon White House who could make the hard decisions. Yet, in 1972, the Watergate scandal ruined his reputation and his world became unglued.
Later he writes:
“I had been concerned with myself. I had…succeeded and I had given God none of the credit, never once thanking Him for any of His gifts to me. I had never thought of anything being ‘immeasurably superior’ to myself, or if I had in fleeting moments thought about the infinite power of God, I had not related Him to my life.”11
Many can identify with Colson. It’s easy to get caught in the fast pace of life and have little or no time for God. Yet ignoring God’s gracious offer of forgiveness has the same dire consequences as outright rejection. Our sin debt would still remain unpaid. Are you willing to take that risk?
When it comes to rejecting Christ’s full pardon, people give many reasons.
However, Ravi Zacharias, who has debated with intellectuals on hundreds of college campuses, believes that the fundamental reason most people reject God is moral. They don’t want anyone, including God, interfering with their lives. He writes:
“A man rejects God neither because of intellectual demands nor because of the scarcity of evidence. A man rejects God because of moral resistance that refuses to admit his need for God.”12
Jesus won’t force you to accept him. However, rejecting him will ultimately lead you to an eternity apart from his wonderful grace and forgiveness. C. S. Lewis is one skeptic who decided that was too great a cost.
His desire for moral freedom kept the brilliant Oxford scholar, Lewis, from God for most of his college years. After his quest for truth led him to God, Lewis explains how acceptance of Christ involves more than just intellectual agreement with the facts. He writes:
“Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry,…is what Christians call repentance.”13
Repentance is what happened to Colson. After the Watergate conspiracy was exposed, Colson began reading Lewis’s Mere Christianity, given to him by a friend. Trained as a lawyer, he took out a yellow legal pad and began writing down Lewis’s arguments. Colson recalled:
“I knew the time had come for me…Was I to accept without reservations Jesus Christ as Lord of my life? It was like a gate before me. There was no way to walk around it. I would step through, or I would remain outside. A ‘maybe’ or ‘I need more time’ was kidding myself.
“And so early Friday morning, while I sat alone staring at the sea I love, words I had not been certain I could understand or say fell naturally from my lips: ‘Lord Jesus, I believe You. I accept You. Please come into my life. I commit it to You.’”14
Colson discovered that his questions, “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” and “Where am I going?” are all answered by Jesus Christ.
God’s friendship and gift of eternal life are absolutely free—and it is for the taking because He paid our sin debt in full. But we must accept His offer.
Are you at the point in your life where you would like to accept God’s free offer? Perhaps like Josh McDowell, Chuck Colson, and so many others, your life has also been empty. God can fill that void and change you in a moment. He created you to have life that is flooded with meaning and purpose. Jesus said, “My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.” (John 10:10b)
When you put your trust in Jesus Christ, God will forgive you of all your sins—past, present, and future—and make you His child. And as His loving child, He gives you purpose and meaning in life on earth and the promise of eternal life with Him. God’s Word says, “to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)
You can invite Jesus into your life right now by confessing your sins to him and asking him to be your Savior and Lord. In Revelation 3:20, Jesus says,
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Revelation 3:20, NIV)
God will hear you. He knows your heart and is not as concerned with your words as He is with the attitude of your heart. The following is a suggested prayer:
“Dear God, I want to know You personally and live eternally with You. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive you as my Savior and Lord. Take control of my life and change me and make me the kind of person you want me to be.”
Do these words express the desire of your heart? If so, simply tell God, praying the above-suggested words in your own native language.
Once you receive him into your life, Jesus forgives your sins, becomes your best friend, and brings you into the very presence of God. Paul explains,
“You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions, yet now he has brought you back as his friends. He has done this through his death on the cross in his own human body. As a result, he has brought you into the very presence of God, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.” (Colossians 1:21b-22a, NLT)
He Changes Lives
After Josh made his commitment to Christ, he explains how Jesus helped take away his restlessness and lack of peace. His life was changed.
“A few months after I made that decision for Christ, a kind of mental peace developed. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not talking about the absence of conflict. What I found in this relationship with Jesus wasn’t so much the absence of conflict but the ability to cope with it. I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world.”15
Josh discovered that Jesus Christ answers all of life’s biggest questions: “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” And, “Where am I going after I die?”
As God’s child, you are a new person in Christ, and nothing you do or think will take your eternal inheritance away. However, there will be times of temptation, doubt, and even failure. We all fail God at different times, but He promises to completely forgive and cleanse us. (1 John 1:9)
Jesus will never give up on you, and as you include him in your life, you will experience his pardon, his peace, his purpose, and his power.
- Pardon: Jesus gives you pardon for all your sins (1 John 1:9).
- Peace: Jesus gives you his peace (John 14:27).
- Purpose: Jesus gives you purpose to live (Jeremiah 29:11).
- Power: Jesus gives you power through the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).
It’s important to remember that Jesus’ love for you is not based on how good you are or on your feelings. The emotional high you might experience when you invite Jesus into your life won’t always be there—but he will be.
Youth leader Samantha Tidball tells how, when she was a teenager, she dated a number of guys and repeatedly found herself bored after a few weeks of dating. She realized that she got an emotional high from the chase — one that wasn’t sustainable. And she says it was sort of the same thing when she first began a relationship with God.
When the initial emotional rush was over, Samantha felt empty inside and continued looking for attention elsewhere. She knew God loved her, but she didn’t always feel His love. She wrote in a blog,
“I have learned that I can’t force a feeling. But I can reflect on what I know and trust that God truly does love me. I have to trust Jesus meant what He said in 1 John 4:9-10, ‘God showed how much He loved us by sending His one and only Son into the World so that we might have eternal life through Him. This is real love – not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.’
If Jesus died for you and me, then what does that say about our self-worth? Jesus says, ‘There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ (John 15:13). Apparently, God loves us enough to die for us; there is no greater act of love.”
A New Motivation
The apostle Paul explains how Jesus’ love should motivate us to live completely for him. “Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15, NIV)
Living for Jesus is more like a marathon than a sprint. It’s a life-long journey that, over time, will make you more like him. The best way to grow in Christ and please your Lord is to establish the following habits in your daily life. If you are ready to begin this new life with Christ, we encourage you to read, review, and memorize his wonderful promises, which are given in his Word, the Bible.
- Spend time with Jesus in his Word daily.
- Spend time talking with him in prayer throughout the day.
- Learn to trust and obey him on a daily basis.
- Worship him with others in a Christ-centered, Bible-believing church.
- Share his love and grace with others by word and deed.
May God bless you in your journey!
“Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2, NLT)
If you’ve begun a relationship with Jesus Christ, we encourage you to learn your next steps by reading What Does Jesus Do for You?. If you have questions about Jesus Christ, and why skeptics such as Josh McDowell and C. S. Lewis came to believe in him, visit our website, Y-Jesus.com.
For an online version of this material, visit Is Jesus Relevant Today? at Y-Jesus.com where you can download this article and/or email to others.
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- Quoted in Josh McDowell, More Than A Carpenter (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1977), 121.
- Ibid., 119.
- Ibid., 122.
- Quoted in Josh McDowell, The Resurrection Factor (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publ., 1981), 1.
- O: The Oprah Magazine, “Oprah talks to Madonna”, (January 2004), 120.
- Quoted in William R. Bright, “Jesus and the Intellectual” (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publ., 1968), 33.
- C. S. Lewis, The Case for Christianity, cited in Goodreads, “The Case for Christianity Quotes,” http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/404221-the-case-for-christianity
- Ray C. Stedman, God’s Loving Word (Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House, 1993), 50.
- A. W. Tozer, Gems from Tozer (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc, 1979), 24.
- Ravi Zacharias, Jesus among Other Gods (Nashville: Word, 2000), 158.
- Charles W. Colson, Born Again (Old Tappan, NJ: Chosen, 1976), 114.
- C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: Harper, 2001), 56.
- Ravi Zacharias, A Shattered Visage: The Real Face of Atheism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), 155.
- Colson, 129.
- McDowell, 125.