Wolken received his B.A. in Mathematics from the University of Missouri and both his M.S. in Economics and Ph.D. in Econometrics from Texas A&M University. After graduation he spent four years teaching math, economics, and astronomy and coaching baseball at a high school in a suburb of Houston. After teaching economics and finance for two years at Houston Baptist University, he returned to Texas A&M University as the Associate Director of the Center for Education and Research in Free Enterprise. He currently teaches International and Corporate Finance and is also the Director of the Scholastic Assistance for Global Education program for the Center for International Business Education and Research at Texas A&M University. He has served as the assistant department head and advisor for the Master of Science in Finance program in the Department of Finance. His international experience includes teaching at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, China, and teaching at Fudan University in Shanghai, China, as a Fulbright Scholar. Dr. Wolken's high school economics text was widely used throughout the United States. In addition, he is the co-author of twenty-three other social studies texts used nationwide in grades 1 through 12. He served as the James W. Aston/Republic Bank Professor of Finance from 1991 through 1993 and received the Distinguished Teaching Award in the College of Business Administration for the 1990-91 academic year.
When I was growing up I never thought seriously about what it really means to be a Christian. Even when I was in college I never talked to anyone about these types of issues. As I look back on my life growing up in Kirkwood, Missouri, it seems strange that even the people in the church my family attended did not talk about these issues or teach us anything about them in Sunday school. Or perhaps I did not pay much attention to what was said. I didnít read the Bible much then because the only translation we had was the old King James version. Because it was full of old English terms like "thee" and "thou" it was hard to understand. It wasnít until I was older that I started reading the Bible and seriously tried to understand what God is telling us. Fortunately I have had some friends help me gain a greater understanding of the Bible. I just wish someone had helped me understand it better when I was younger. I do not know if I do not know if you have ever talked to anyone about some of these things (or even if you are interested in hearing about them) but I would like to share with you some of the things I have learned about Heaven and our relationship with God. Of course, if you are not interested, you can stop reading right here.
One of the things I have come to realize is that is that not everyone is going to spend eternity in Heaven. Have you ever thought about that? For example, if you were to die tonight, do you know for sure whether or not you will spend eternity in Heaven? If St. Peter asked you why he should allow you into Heaven, how would you respond? Is "being a good person" and/or "attending church services" enough to gain admittance into Heaven? Before discussing possible answers to these questions, let me reflect for a moment on some of the conclusions I have come to about life.
As I have looked at the world around me and tried to deal with the problems of everyday life, I have come to realize that there is more to life than what we see with our eyes and other senses and what we learn about the world through using our minds to logically and scientifically investigate our experiences. There is a God who created this world and the most basic question in life is what our relationship with Him will be. He has given each of us a clear and simple choice: to accept Him or to reject Him. We can live our lives either the way we want to live it or to live it the way He knows is best for us. How do we learn about the way He wants us to live? I believe that the Bible is inspired word of God. It is His explanation to us of who He is, who we are, and how we should live our lives.
A person who accepts Christ as the ruler of his or her life will experience a peace and joy that others do not have. This does not mean a Christian will not experience problems. But God has promised to help those who believe in Him to deal with the earthly problems that everyone faces. Sometimes He will eliminate a problem we face. At other times, He may choose to use difficulties in our lives to help us grow in our relationship with Him. God loves each and every human being and wants each of us to have a personal, loving relationship with Him through His son Jesus Christ. But He will not force any one to accept His love. He has given us the choice of accepting His love or rejecting it. The choice we make affects not only our life here on earth, but more importantly what happens to us throughout eternity. When we die, our spirit lives on, either with God or separated from Him. Whether we live with Him or not depends on the choice we make while we are alive on earth (St. Peter will not give us an "entrance exam"). Do we accept the loving relationship with Him that He offers us and try to live the way He knows is best for us? Or do we reject His love and live the way we want to? Because of the choice made by the first man and woman that God created, each of us has a natural tendency to reject Godís way of living. We want to do things our own way rather than His way. Sin is choosing to reject Godís way of living. It is rebelling from His leadership in our lives. The result of this sin or rejection of God is that we are separated from Him, our loving relationship with Him is broken. The only way our relationship with God can be restored is by Him forgiving us for our sins.
Ephesians 2:8-9 makes it clear that this forgiveness is a free gift given to us by God. "For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God: not of works lest any man should boast." In a way, Godís forgiveness of our disobedience is like the gifts parents put under the Christmas tree for their children. Parents give their children presents because they love them. They do not charge their children the price of the gift. The parent pays the price of the present and gives it freely to the child. If a child opened a present and found a bill inside charging $50 for the present, it would not be considered a gift. It would simply be something that the child had purchased for himself. If the present is truly to be a gift, all the child has to do is to accept it. Godís forgiveness is like that Christmas present. It is neither earned nor is it deserved.
The Bible also clearly states that all of us have sinned. That raises the question "What is it that we do that is considered a sin"? Many people would answer that question with examples like murder and robbery. Even people who are not Christians consider these things to be wrong. The Bible tells us that many other seemly "lesser" things we do are also sins. For example, telling a lie is a sin. But are our actions the only things that are sins? No. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5k: 21-22) Jesus said that even our thoughts can be a sin. He gives the example that when we are angry with someone else we are not living the way God wants us to live. But sin goes beyond what we do and what we think. It also includes what we do not do. When we know of something good that we should do but we do not do it, that is a sin. Anything we do that goes against the loving relationship God wants to have with us and the loving relationship He wants us to have with each other is a sin.
Sometimes when I get to thinking that I am basically a good person, I stop for a moment and do a little arithmetic. Keeping in mind the many different things that are sins, if I could go through an entire day and do only three things that are sins, I would be doing very well. Since there are 365 days in a year, that amounts to over 1,000 times I disobey God each year. With the average life span in America of 70+ years, that comes to a grand total of over 70,000 sins. What would happen if I came before a judge and I had broken the law more then 70,000 times? Could he excuse all of them and let me go free? If he did, would he be a just judge? No. Would it make any difference if I promised the judge that I would do 70,000 good deeds to make up for the bad things I had done if he would just let me go and not punish me for what I had done wrong? If he is a just judge, could he let me go without any punishment, without any consequences for my actions? No. Likewise, it is impossible for a person to do enough "good deeds" to pay for the sins he or she has committed. Disobeying God is such a serious offense that we could not do enough good deeds to make up for even one sin. Therefore, none of us can save ourselves. To keep from ever breaking our relationship with God, we would have to be perfect (without sin). None of us is capable of doing that.
In contrast to us, God is perfect and He hates sin (Proverbs 6:16 and 15:26). Most of our discussions of God focus on Him being a loving God. And that is certainly true. But we must also remember that He is a just God. From our earthly point of view, these two characteristics of God seem to create an impossible situation for us. Because of His love for us, He wants to have an eternal personal relationship with each of us. But we have sinned and we must be punished for our actions because He is a just God. As an earthly example, suppose I rob a bank of $1,000,000 in cash. A hidden camera took several unmistakable pictures of me during the robbery. To make matters worse, as I left the bank a policeman caught me carrying the bag of money. When I am brought to trial, I realize that the evidence is undeniable so I confess to the judge that I am guilty. But I also tell him that I am very sorry for what I did and I point out that now one was hurt and the bank got all of its money back. I promise never to try to rob another bank if he will let me go. Would the judge be just if he let me go? No. I would have to be punished if justice is to be served. In the same way, God must punish our sins, not because He enjoys punishing us but because it is the just consequence of our actions. God being both loving and just seems to create a problem that cannot be resolved.
What is the just consequence of disobeying God? The Bible is very clear about what the punishment for sin is. Romans 6:23 states that "the wages of sin is death". But what does that mean? It is not referring to the fact that our human bodies will die some day. It refers to what happens to our spirit after our body dies. The punishment for sin is separation from God. Sin breaks our relationship with Him. And no amount of "good deeds" that we could do will make up for these sins. Does that mean that since we have sinned we are doomed to be separated from God throughout eternity? No.
Remember that God loves us and wants to spend eternity with Him. God solved our problem through Jesus Christ. Who is Jesus, anyway? He is God in human form. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Ö And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us Ö" (John 1:1, 14). In these passages the Bible uses the phrase "the Word" to refer to Jesus because while He was on earth He told us about God and His plans for how we can be forgiven for our sins. What did Jesus do for us? He paid the price (the punishment) for our sins by dying on the cross for us. While Jesus was alive here on earth, He was God in human form. As a result, He did not do even one thing that is a sin. He did not deserve to be killed. But He knew that the only way we humans could be forgiven for our sins was for Him to die for us. He loved us so much that He sacrificed His life on earth for us. He took the punishment of our sins upon Himself. This makes it possible for us to be forgiven for our sins. Jesus also rose from the dead and went up to Heaven to prepare a place in Heaven for everyone who believes in Him. He offers this to us as a free gift because He paid the price for our being forgiven by God for our sins. Recall my bank robbery story. Suppose the judge offers me a choice of life in prison or a $12,000,000 fine for robbing the bank. Of course I do not have $12,000,000 so I would have to go to jail. But just before the judge sentences me to life in prison someone else in the courtroom steps forward and offers to pay the $12,000,000 for me so that I can go free. That is exactly what Jesus did for each of us.
So what is the key to this free gift of eternal life with God? Faith. But what is faith? There are several things that it is not. It is not merely intellectually recognizing Jesus is the Son of God. Even the devil and demons believe that Jesus was God in human form, but they certainly will not spend eternity with God. Faith is not believing that Jesus actually lived in the same way that a person might believe that Napoleon or George Washington lived. Faith is not trusting in God to help us with financial difficulties, health problems, or the other worldly problems that everyone experiences. People from every religion pray to god for help in times of trouble. While God wants to help us with our earthly problems (and He will help us with them), trusting Him in times of trouble is not the key to restoring our relationship with God. Faith is simply this Ė trusting Jesus Christ alone for the gift of being forgiven for our sins and for the restoration of our loving relationship with God. It is trusting not in anything that we have done but in what God has done for us. This is the answer to St. Peterís question about why he should let you into Heaven.
God loves us regardless of what we do. Nothing we can do is so bad that He will love us less or that He will not forgive us for doing it. And nothing we do is so good that He will love us more. The Bible make this clear in John 3:16 "For God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son so that anyone who believes in Him shall not perish but will have eternal life."
God will not force anyone to accept His free gift of spending eternity with Him. A parent does not force a child to accept a Christmas gift. In stead, the child must walk over and pick up the gift and open it in order to have it. In similar fashion, we must trust in Jesus if we are to receive the free gift of restoring our relationship with God. While God has made it possible for each of us to be forgiven for our sins and for our love relationship with Him to be restored, it is not something that happens automatically to everyone just because Jesus died for us. We must consciously make the choice to accept Godís forgiveness. In Revelation 3:20 of the Bible, Jesus says "Look! I have been standing at the door, and I am constantly knocking. If anyone hears me calling him and opens the door, I will come in and fellowship with him and he with me".
We, therefore, must transfer our trust from ourselves and from doing good deeds to Jesus alone. We must receive into our lives the resurrected and living Christ as our Lord and Savior. And we must repent (turn away from) our old sinful ways. Accepting Christ as the ruler of our lives does not mean that we will never sin again or that we will never have earthly problems any more. What it does mean is that we will have the free gift of a restored loving relationship with God and we will spend eternity with God rather than being separated from Him for eternity.
To receive this free gift, a person only needs to ask God for it in a simple prayer. While there is nothing special about the exact words of the following prayer, it is an example of what needs to be prayed by anyone who wants to receive eternal life with God:
"Lord Jesus Christ, I know that I am a sinner and do not deserve eternal life. But, I believe that You died and rose from the grave so that I could be forgiven for my sins. Lord Jesus, come into my life; take control of my life. I want to turn away from my old sinful ways and now place my trust in You for my salvation. I accept the free gift of eternal life."
In 1 John 5:13 of the Bible, God tells us that this is true. "These things are written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life." Earlier I asked you if you were sure that you will spend eternity in Heaven. If you believe in Jesus and have accepted Him as the ruler of your life, then you know why God will forgive you for your sins and restore the loving relationship He wants to have with you. If you have done this, then you know for sure that you will spend eternity in Heaven with God.
I hope that you will consider what Christís life and what His death mean for you. If you have read this far, then you are at least interested in learning more about God and His relationship with mankind. I realize that you may not agree with or fully understand some of the things I have said here. It has taken me many years and many experiences to learn this. And I want you to know that I know that I do not "have all the answers". I am still learning about God and growing in my relationship with Him, and hope to continue to do so until the day I die. I hope that if you have any questions about what I have said you will not hesitate to ask me, or talk about it with some of your friends who have an understanding of the Bible. I will try to answer as best I can and I imagine that we can learn from each other.