American folk music is rich with praise for the work of Jesus. Consider this:
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.
Without Jesus, is there really a dreadful curse in store for your soul and mine? There are many today, even among those who call themselves Christians, who would deny it. God is love, they say, and so surely He will accept us as we are, knowing our failures and frailties. As long as we are basically decent people, that is all He can reasonably expect. He would not curse us for what we cannot help being. That view, though superficially soothing, has big problems. It is impossible to read what Jesus actually said and conclude that he was here to affirm our decent imperfections. To the contrary, over and over he called people to repent, to turn away from their sins. He said he was here to die for our sins. Why would he have to die if sin was just a minor annoyance? He said, “Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” This means that, compared to the holy God, every sin is a grave sin.
When the Apostle Paul was addressing the Greek leaders in Athens, this is how he explained the situation:
While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. Acts 17:30-31.
Notice that Paul says “all people everywhere” must repent, not just the people we might consider “real sinners.” Every sin, every failure to meet God’s holy standard of perfection, is a grave sin.
It is reported that some of the Athenians scoffed. Our initial response to the demand to be “perfect” is rebellion: “That’s unreasonable, that’s impossible!” And of course it is impossible for any of us, no matter how decent, to be perfect. So how can God expect us to do the impossible? The answer is he doesn’t. Jesus came to us, to live and to die, to save us from the consequence of sin. And what is the consequence of sin? It is separation from God, the holy source of all true love. That is the “dreadful curse” referred to in the song. How do we escape the dreadful curse of separation from God? When Jesus was asked this question, his answer was “Follow me.” Following Jesus requires a fundamental change in our attitude from “I’m doing pretty well, I’m sure God knows that I am really a decent sort of person,” to “I have fallen short of God’s holiness, I have no ability to save myself, I rely entirely on the undeserved gift of God in Christ, help me, Lord Jesus!”
In the Anglican liturgy, we say that the burden of our sins is “intolerable.” This is very counter-cultural today. Many of us (sadly) find our sins to be perfectly tolerable. But it has nothing to do with feelings. It is as if one were to say, “That bridge won’t tolerate the weight of truck traffic.” The bridge has no feelings, but it will fail if overloaded. We are all overloaded with sin and, however we feel about it, our souls will not bear the weight when Jesus comes to judge the world. Our only hope (and it is a glorious hope!) is that on that day Jesus will stand beside us and say, “This is my servant, save him for my sake.”
So the answer to the question in the title is yes, we do need Jesus. How do we follow him? We join with other Christians and worship him with readings from the Bible, confession of sin, prayers for restoration, praise for God, and the sacramental meal of bread and wine that he commanded. That is what we do at St. Barnabas, following the Anglican tradition. Join us.