The Case for Christ is a movie based on the spiritual journey of a young atheist and investigative reporter, Lee Strobel, who sets out to disprove Christianity. Instead, the evidence he discovered led him to a life-changing encounter with Jesus—and that was only the beginning! Strobel’s journey led him to all kinds of interesting people, with his most fascinating interview being conducted with a man named Charles Templeton.
Strobel was surprised to find out that Templeton had been an evangelist and best friend of Billy Graham in the 1940s and 1950s. But for some reason Templeton lost his faith. He even tried to talk Billy Graham out of trusting in the Bible. While Billy Graham became one of history’s greatest evangelists, Charles Templeton became Canada’s most notorious critic of Christianity.
In the interview, Lee Strobel asked the eighty-three-year-old Templeton why he no longer believed in God, and Templeton raised questions that still bother many people.
A couple of hours into the interview, Strobel asked Templeton what he thought of Jesus, and his tone changed dramatically.
He said “Jesus was the greatest human being who has ever lived. He was a moral genius. He was intrinsically the wisest person I’ve ever encountered in my readings.”
A shocked Lee Strobel said, “It sounds like you really care about him.” Templeton replied, “Well, yes, he was the most important thing in my life. I know it may sound strange, but I have to say I miss him!” And he broke down weeping.
Charles Templeton had walked away from his faith, but something was calling him to return Home.
Have you ever walked away from God? I remember a time in my early adult life that described me. Throughout that same time I also felt an urgency—a need—to get back to God, and not sure how.
In John 14, Jesus was talking to his disciples about his true home. In verses 4-6 we read, “You know the way to the place where I am going. Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Some of us feel like Thomas; we don’t know the way. For others, it’s hard to put into words how you feel. There’s a spiritual emptiness – confusion. Your soul is unsettled, and you’re drifting and searching for an anchor. You feel like something’s missing, you’re searching for satisfaction, for peace of mind, for security, for meaning, for hope.
I would love to tell you that the way home to Jesus is a freeway—a wide-open road with no tollbooths demanding payment along the way. But the truth is, it’s not a freeway. The way home is actually a toll road. A toll had to be paid. There is a cost—and it’s a steep one.
But here’s the good news: Jesus has already paid the price for you. He has cleared the path back to him. The theological term for this is “substitutionary atonement”, which simply means: the perfect Son of God paid the penalty we deserved for our wrong doing so that we can go free. All we have to do is receive this free gift of his grace, and we’re invited into His Home forever.
You see, you cannot pay for something that has already been paid for. And the price Jesus paid cost him his life so we can live on with him forever in his Home.
Gratitude. That’s what God wants from us when we receive his gift of forgiveness and eternal life. We don’t have to earn it, or try to prove ourselves worthy once we received his gift.
I would encourage you to embrace the truth that Jesus does want you to “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)
So, during this week of Thanksgiving, let me urge you to really be honest with yourself. Maybe you are someone who does not know the way home. Take heart. The Bible clearly lays out the route. Some call it the “Romans Road,” because it is drawn from three verses in the Book of Romans. And if you follow the path these verses spell out, it will take you Home.
Step One is Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We are all sinners, and when we are honest, we don’t have to dig very deep to find flaws and shortcomings.
Step Two is found in Romans 6:23: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In other words, the penalty we’ve earned for our wrongdoing is spiritual death, or eternal separation from God. But the good news is that God is offering us a free gift of forgiveness and eternal life, and Jesus paid the price by his atoning death on the cross. On the Romans Road, Jesus has already paid our toll.
Step Three is found in Romans 10:13: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Like any gift, this gift of God’s grace isn’t ours until we receive it. To “call on the name of the Lord” is to admit we’ve sinned and fallen short of his standards; to repent, or turn from that sin; and to gratefully receive Christ’s payment for our sins. That’s how we enter into a relationship with God and the door to his eternal Home is opened for us.
Oh yes, I need to finish the story: Charles Templeton’s wife, Madeleine, told a newspaper columnist that right before her husband died, he said excitedly, “Can you see them? Can you see them? Angels are coming to take me Home.”
Rev Dan Loomis
Carrollton First United Methodist Church