Christianity 201

July 4, 2018

Follower’s Default: Blaming the Leadership

In preparing material at Thinking Out Loud, I visited the blog of Ron Jacobs, only to discover it is presently inactive. This was the last item posted, and I thought it would be a good fit here at C201.

Lessons In Followership

“And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’” Exodus 16:2-3

I feel for Moses. This situation is not his idea nor is it of his making. It is the result of following God. Much has and will be written about the leadership lessons and abilities of Moses. But I want to focus on the other half of the leadership equation. The followers.

The Israelites complain and grumble against Moses and Aaron. Why? Why do they not realize and remember that the entire vision of this exodus from slavery, from Egypt is from and directed by God? Yet they yell at Moses and Aaron and not at God.

It is human nature to complain to those we see-the leaders.
Even though God is in control and is responsible, it is our broken nature that complains and grumbles to man.

Leaving Egypt was God’s plan.
The plagues were God’s plan.
Hardening pharaohs heart was God’s plan.
Leading them to the sea was God’s plan.
Pharaohs Army pursuing them was God’s plan.

None of this was the fault of Moses or Aaron. And yet they complain to them as if it is.

The mistake of the follower is to blame those who are at the front, but not who is ultimately in control.

Leaders have a responsibility to hold the truth that they are, “Not God” in all they do. But do not followers have a responsibility to hold this same truth about their leaders?

The leader doesn’t part the sea, he or she merely holds up the staff
Bitter water is made clean by God’s hand.
Manna comes from heaven, not from man.

What is the responsibility of followers to their leaders?

The Israelites are a broken people.
They thought and acted like slaves.
They complained out of their brokenness.
They grumbled out of their hurt.

But it is not the leader’s responsibility to heal their brokenness. Followers must take responsibility for that themselves. I have often criticized leaders out of my own brokenness. Followers have just as much responsibility to work on their character as leaders do

The world suffers from the brokenness of leaders daily. It is on display in social media feeds continuously. But what is missing is an honest look at the brokenness of followers.

Broken followers must deal with their hurts, habits, and hang-ups and not project them onto their leaders. Broken followers will complain to leaders, again and again, looking for the leader to provide what only God can give.

Broken followers hunger for what the leader cannot give.
Broken followers thirst for what the leader does not possess.
They fear and seek protection that the leader cannot provide.

Followers must not look to leaders to do what only God can do.

July 3, 2018

The Sovereignty of the Lord

by Russell Young

 Christ is Lord! He is sovereign! How many times have you heard these words and how many times have they passed by without a second thought? Peter spoke of the sovereign Lord (2 Peter 2:1) and of the destructive heresies that will deny his authority in the end times. Jude wrote of the godless men “who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only sovereign and Lord.” (Jude 1:4) Paul taught that, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 6:23) If the Lord is sovereign, he must rule, and others must follow. These passages have no merit if Christ is not treated as sovereign. Grace cannot displace God’s sovereignty, it comes through the exercise of his sovereignty. Eternal life can only be achieved through the life of the sovereign Christ, our Lord.

The word “lord has been translated from the Greek kurios meaning “(supremacy); supreme in authority, i.e. (as noun) controller; by implication, Master (as a respectful title):— God, Lord, master, Sir.” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary #2962) More modern doctrinal teaching often presents the concept of the Lord’s supreme authority as assuring the security of an eternal hope for those who are willing to trust him, but not necessarily follow him. The Lord’s sovereignty is seldom presented or accepted to mean that the Lord is and must be sovereign over the lives of those who would seek his eternal kingdom. “Believers” are frequently told that God’s “sovereign grace” grounded in love has assured victory for those who would “trust” in him and that nothing can thwart their hope, not even disobedience. However, trust in Christ is revealed through obedient following whatever that might entail.

Of course, God is sovereign, and nothing can alter that reality. He cannot be defeated, and his eternal plan cannot be foiled. Great comfort should be derived for believers from this fact. The aspect of his sovereignty that needs more complete recognition and appreciation is that he is sovereign over the life and actions of believers–they must relent to his rule, not merely pretend to honor him through voicing his God-given title of “Lord.” This truth has been revealed in many places in the Scriptures. He taught, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 7:21) He admonished his listeners, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? (Lk 6:46) Failing to put his word into practice is like building a house without a foundation. The hope of a presence in the kingdom of heaven rests in the believer doing the will of God. His will must be known and followed with an obedient response. “[Christ] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:9)

Do you hear his calling or do your own wishes and desires guide you actions and claim your attention? It must not be misunderstood, there is both a life to be lived and a death to be lived. The life is the life of Christ in the believer and the death is the death of the believer to self-interest. Jesus said, “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (Jn 12:25) Those who want to cling to their own lives and remain ‘captain of their own ship’ will lose all, despite any assurances to the contrary. Those who have abandoned all ownership of self and have submitted to the will of their sovereign and master will find eternal life. Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Rom 8:14) Defiance and disobedience is sin and is rejection of Christ the Lord as Holy Spirit, and it is blasphemy. (Num 15:30)

Many have heard and have accepted that Christ is their righteousness. When he took their sin, they became righteous and avoided the death they had earned. Following confession of faith, he is the means of maintaining righteousness and of refining holiness (Rom 6:19, 22) for all who obey his commands—for believers. (Rom 8:4)

The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament. Moses reminded the Israelites, “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your hearts, whether or not you would keep his commands.” (Deut 8:2) Even today God will know what is in the hearts of humankind and of those who claim his name. Are you passing the test? There is no hope for those who deny his leadership and fail to humble themselves through denying his right to rule. He is the sovereign Lord and must be recognized to be so, both in title and in practice.


Author Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here every other Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

(All Scriptures are from the NIV unless otherwise noted.)

July 2, 2018

The Enemy Targets Spiritual Play-Makers

The website Dust Off the Bible has been running a detailed series of posts on Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Specifically these include:

 

Acts Devotional Commentary [Acts 6:8-15] Stephen Seized

Acts 6:8-15

Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. 10 But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.

11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”

12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. 13 They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. 14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”

15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.


Reflections & Commentary


The seizing of Saint Stephen is a story that Luke tells with enough detail that one needs to read slowly through the passage, as to not miss an important facet of the story.

The first detail that Luke provides is that Stephen was not just another ordinary member of the Christian community. He was known throughout the people.

“a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people”

So, the Jewish leaders were not picking people indiscriminately to harass. They were looking to take out the play makers. Like dealing with the disciples, they assume that taking out the leaders of a movement will help dissolve it. This tactic thus far has not proven to be effective. Why they think it will work still, even after they’ve seen it fail, is difficult to know.

Luke’s second area of detail is about the people who rose up to complain about Stephen. Luke refers to them as “members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen“. Who exactly was Luke referring to? Were these Roman slaves that were now free? Were they Jews who believed in hedonism? Were they prisoners set free? Luke gives a little help to answering this question in the next sentence; “Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia“. These Freedmen were part of the North African and Western Asian Jewish diaspora. The people named by Luke are two different synagogues, as they are thousands of miles apart, yet they both contained Jewish Freedmen. The diasporic Freedmen existed in both synagogues, as they were the natural product of the diaspora.

Philo speaks of these Jews as former slaved brought into Rome who lived near the Tiber River.

How then did he look upon the great division of Rome which is on the other side of the river Tiber, which he was well aware was occupied and inhabited by the Jews? And they were mostly Roman citizens, having been emancipated; for, having been brought as captives into Italy, they were manumitted by those who had bought them for slaves, without ever having been compelled to alter any of their hereditary or national observances. (156) Therefore, he knew that they had synagogues, and that they were in the habit of visiting them, and most especially on the sacred sabbath days, when they publicly cultivate their national philosophy. He knew also that they were in the habit of contributing sacred sums of money from their first fruits and sending them to Jerusalem by the hands of those who were to conduct the sacrifices. (157) But he never removed them from Rome, nor did he ever deprive them of their rights as Roman citizens, because he had a regard for Judaea…. (Philo, Legato ad Gaium 13:155-156)

These Jews were likely part of the Jewish expulsion from Rome that took place under Tiberius, in 19 CE. Tacitus describes them as being “tainted with superstition” which was a reference to their religion. They were expelled to Sardinia.

There was a debate too about expelling the Egyptian and Jewish worship, and a resolution of the Senate was passed that four thousand of the freedmen class who were infected with those superstitions and were of military age should be transported to the island of Sardinia, to quell the brigandage of the place, a cheap sacrifice should they die from the pestilential climate. The rest were to quit Italy, unless before a certain day they repudiated their impious rites. (Tacitus 2.85)

The Island of Sardinia was west of Italy, nowhere near near Northern Africa or Western Asia. So were the Freedmen of this island the same as the Freedmen that rose up against Stephen? It’s quite possible that Luke is referring to 3 groups of people, or that the Freedmen from Sardinia migrated after being expelled to the island. Some of the Jews were also later expelled from Rome who were partly made up of Freedmen. Where they ended up in the diaspora is hard to know except that it appears that some ended up in Northern Africa and South West Asia (Turkey).

But why would these Freedmen start a quarrel with Stephen? I think the answer is more obvious than it might first appear. They were already enslaved by Rome. They wanted no beef with the leaders that had set them free. The preaching of Jesus in any location near the Jewish Freedmen would have set off alarm bells, and aroused fear that another Roman crackdown was coming. So, they did what anyone would do in that situation; they took Stephen to the Sanhedrin for court.

However, Stephen uses his platform (despite it being in captivity) to preach the gospel (yet again) to the men in the Sanhedrin council. A gospel they surely are tired of hearing about.

July 1, 2018

Thank You, Lord: A Worship Liturgy

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Ruth Wilkinson

Give thanks to the Lord – He is good and His faithful love lives forever

I say, ‘Thank you’, Lord, because though You were angry, in compassion You turned your anger away from me.

Isa 12

I say, ‘Thank you’ because You answered me and became my salvation and my cornerstone.

Psalms 118

I say, ‘Thank you’ because Christ Jesus our Lord has strengthened me, to play a part in His work in the world.

1 Timothy 1

I say, ‘Thank you’ when I remember and pray with joy for my brothers and sisters, my partners in the gospel, every day You’ve given us.

Philippians 1

I say, ‘Thank you’ for the cup of blessing – a sharing in the blood of Christ. For the bread that we break – a sharing in the body of Christ.

1 Corinthians 10

I say, ‘Thank you’ because all of us, so poor and weak, can give as generously as You have given to us. Because everything comes from Your own hand.

1 Chronicles 29

I say, ‘Thank you’ –

  • Because You’ve redeemed us from the hand of the foe.
  • Satisfied the thirsty and filled the hungry with good things.
  • Brought us out of gloom and broken our chains to pieces.
  • Broken down the bronze gates and cut through the iron bars.
  • Sent Your Word and healed us.
  • Rescued us from the Pit.
  • Turned a desert into a pool of water.
  • Given the lost a fertile home, where they can build a city.
  • And given them fields to sow and vineyards to harvest.

Psalm 107

I say, ‘Thank you’ with the trees of the forest when they shout for joy that You’re coming to judge the earth.

1 Chronicles 16

…………….
I say, ‘Thank you’ –

  • for every grace overflowing,
  • for every need provided,
  • for every good work done well,
  • for every gift shared,
  • for every obedience to the gospel of Christ,
  • for every proof of love through service,
  • for every affection received,
  • for every prayer on my behalf.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.

2 Corinthians 9

June 30, 2018

The Temptation to Solve Everyone’s Problems

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Luke 4.6-8 And he [Satan] said to him [Jesus], “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.  If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’

Yesterday and today we returned to re|knew the blog of Woodland Hills Church pastor Greg Boyd. I am so grateful for the input Greg has had in my own life. Click the title below to read this at source.

How the Church is Tempted to “Do Good”

The previous post spoke of God’s call to the church to be resident aliens: a holy, distinct people who are set apart and peculiar when compared to the patterns of the world. The holiness of God’s kingdom is cruciform love, which constitutes our distinct witness to the world. Preserving this holiness and resisting the Devil’s temptation to do good according the patterns of the world is ongoing. When we succumb to Satan’s temptation it only reduces the kingdom of God to another version of the kingdoms of the world.

We are not to be ignorant of this temptation and how it lures us in. Therefore, it is helpful to understand how Jesus himself was tempted to do “good.” The Devil tempted Jesus by offering him all the kingdoms of the world without having to go to the cross (Luke 4:6-8). In essence, the Devil was offering him the very thing he came to get, for Jesus came for the people of the world, and people are always subjects of some kingdom or other. To rule the people, all Jesus had to do was submit to the “god of this age” and leave him in place as its ruling authority.

Without having to suffer and die, Jesus could have immediately taken a position as the functional lord of all these kingdoms. Jesus could have quickly overpowered evil in all societies. He could have immediately alleviated much, if not all, suffering and created a kingdom of the world that enacted perfect law, order, and justice. Not only this, he would have thereby fulfilled all Israel’s expectations of what a messiah was supposed to be.

The Devil’s temptation would not have been a genuine temptation for Jesus unless there was a lot of “good” wrapped up in it. The same is true for us today. However, if Jesus would have taken the course of action offered by Satan, Jesus’ rule would have been part of Satan’s system of domination, which currently runs the world.

Jesus refused this “good” approach. He did not come to make the kingdom of the world a new and improved version of itself. He came to transform “the kingdom of the world” into “the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah” and thereby establish the rule of God.

As tempting as it was, Jesus was not going to allow the radical distinctiveness of the kingdom of God to be co-opted by the demonically ruled kingdom of the world—even if the immediate results were “good.” John Howard Yoder once wrote: “The cross is not a detour or a hurdle on the way to the kingdom. It is the kingdom come.” Sacrificial love, therefore, isn’t simply an effective way to make the world a better place, it is the “set apart” kingdom of God on earth! When one obeys God and loves as Christ loves in a kingdom-of-the-world context, it always looks like this.

This is why everything hangs on not allowing it to become co-opted by immediate, obvious, and self-serving kingdom-of-the-world methods, however good the immediate consequences may appear.

—Adapted from The Myth of a Christian Nation, pages 73-75.

 

June 29, 2018

Living as an Alien in this World

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Romans 12.2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

II Timothy 2.4 No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.

I Peter 2.11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.

Philippians 3.20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Today and tomorrow we’re returning to re|knew the blog of Minneapolis pastor and author Greg Boyd. Although Greg has some views on some subjects with which others might disagree, readers shouldn’t let that invalidate his entire ministry. Click the title below to read at source.

Being a Resident Alien

In the midst of the political turmoil our country is experiencing, the church is called to play an important role. We sit between the revelation of the love of God on the cross and the full manifestation of the kingdom of God on earth. God wants to work with us and in us to grow his kingdom. He longs for a people who minister on earth in the way that Jesus ministered when he walked the earth.

The enemy that confronted Jesus in his earthly ministry continues to confront the “body of Christ” today. Though God’s archenemy was in principle defeated on the cross, this victory is not yet fully manifest.

Even after the resurrection, Satan is still the god of this age, the ruler of the power of the air, and the one who opposes the advancement of God’s kingdom. The world is still “enemy-occupied territory.” The “pattern of this world” is still demonically structured, and so we must still resist being conformed to it (Rom 12:2).

We who have Christ being formed within us are no more at home in this present world system than Jesus himself was, and so our attitude toward the present world system must be the same as his. His kingdom was not of this world, and we who are part of this kingdom must never forget that we are not of his world either (see John 17:16).

Therefore, we are not to let ourselves get overly entangled in “civilian affairs” (2 Tim 2:4). Instead we are to see ourselves as aliens and exiles in a foreign country (1 Peter 2:11). Whatever country we may naturally belong to, we are to remember always that our real citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20).

Whatever opinions we have about how to solve society’s problems—even in the midst of great turmoil about huge political questions—we are to remember always that we cannot serve two masters (Luke 16:13). Our allegiance can never be to any version of the kingdom-of-the-world. We are to see ourselves as “resident aliens.” We are in the world, but are not of the world any more than Jesus was of the world.

We must march to the beat of a different drummer. Preserving this “alien status” is not an addendum to our calling as kingdom-of-God citizens. The way we advance the kingdom of God is by being the unique kingdom of God in contrast to the kingdom of the world.

We are to be a “holy” people (2 Cor 6:17), consecrated and set apart. We trivialize this profound biblical teaching if we associate holiness with fighting political battles according to the patterns of this world. We are called to be Christlike, living in outrageous, self-sacrifical love in the midst of those who do not.

If you make this your life aspiration, you will certainly be peculiar (about as peculiar as a Messiah dying on a cursed tree!). You will be, in fact, a “resident alien.”

—Adapted from The Myth of a Christian Nation, pages 69-71

June 28, 2018

Empire, or Kingdom?

Will we ever wake up in a world with no violence or conflict? We see it on the news, we hear about it in the lives of people around us, maybe we experience it personally. Yes, there will be a day there will be no more conflict. Christ will return and there will be

a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away . . . And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’” (Revelation 21:1,5 NRSV)

But are we to just wait for that day, putting up with all this conflict until then? The prophet Nahum will help us find our way.

Nahum points us in the right direction by pointing out what happens when we get on the wrong track. Nahum is a prophecy to a people who had been on the wrong track. The Assyrians were on the track to empire. Nahum had the task of telling them that they had reached the end of the line. There are three problems with the track to empire.

First problem with the empire track; empire is temporary. Much of the history of the world is a history of the empire after empire seeking to become the biggest and best. The history of the world teaches us that they all fall in the end. Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, it doesn’t matter, empire is always temporary.

There is a better track; the track that leads to the Kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is eternal. We may struggle to understand the book of Revelation, but the main message is really quite simple; empires rise and fall, but the Kingdom of God is eternal.

So are we building towards empire, or Kingdom? Are we building for things that are temporary? Are our time, talents, and treasures going toward things that last?

Second problem with the empire track: empire destroys relationships. In empire living, there are only allies or enemies. The peoples within and around an empire are either going to help the empire get bigger, or they are going to get in the way and be a threat.

There is a better track, one that leads to the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom of God, there are only neighbours. Jesus taught us to “love thy neighbour as thyself and then went on to define our neighbour as anyone and everyone.

When we meet people, do we see them as either allies of enemies? Do we see them as either being useful to us, or in our way, and even a threat? Or do we simply see them as neighbours to be loved?

Third problem with the empire track; empires are built through brute force and brutality. Nahum tells of this, for example:

Ah! City of bloodshed,
utterly deceitful, full of booty—
no end to the plunder!
 The crack of whip and rumble of wheel,
galloping horse and bounding chariot!
 Horsemen charging,
flashing sword and glittering spear,
piles of dead,
heaps of corpses,
dead bodies without end—
they stumble over the bodies! Nahum 3:1-3 (NRSV)

Yet she became an exile,
she went into captivity;
even her infants were dashed in pieces
at the head of every street;
lots were cast for her nobles,
all her dignitaries were bound in fetters. Nahum 3:10 (NRSV)

In building empires, countless of people were killed. For those who lived, eyes were often gouged out, tongues cut off, people sold off and removed far from home. So brutal were some empires that even unborn babies were ripped from their mother’s wombs, and orphaned infants dashed to the ground. This is how empires struck fear in their enemies. Better to surrender to the power of a “better” empire, than experience it firsthand. Nahum’s prophecy is about the Assyrian empire experiencing what it dished out to others.

All who hear the news about you
clap their hands over you.
For who has ever escaped
your endless cruelty? Nahum 3:19 (NRSV)

There is, thankfully, a better track, the track that leads to the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is built with a different kind of force: “not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit” Zechariah. 4:9 (NKJV).

Jesus said “those who draw the sword, will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:62-54 NRSV). Jesus was doing two things when he refused to use violence at his arrest in Gethsemane. He was taking the Kingdom track for our sake, so that we might be forgiven rather than destroyed. But he was also giving us an example to follow, an example of Kingdom thinking, Kingdom living, Kingdom dying. Jesus call us to pick up the cross and follow, which means to trade empire for Kingdom. We are to become Kingdom people, good news people.

We are empire people when we show up with swords and guns and bombs. We are Kingdom people when we show up with the Spirit of God: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Galatians 5:22,23 (NRSV). Do we show up to our relationships with swords or the Spirit? Do we show up on Facebook, Twitter and other social media with swords or Spirit? Do we show up ready ready to fight people? Or to fight with people against the evil in their lives? Do we show up as empire people or Kingdom people?

You might perceive a problem with the Kingdom track. It does not seem to take into account your suffering at the hands of another. It is unfair. You deserve vengeance. And perhaps you are right. It is unfair. However, the prophecy of Nahum, though addressed to the Assyrians, was for the encouragement of Israel when they experienced what seemed to be very unfair treatment. Having been on the wrong track for a long time, Assyria has reached the end of the line. However, nowhere in the prophecy of Nahum is there a call for Israel to take up arms. There is no need. We can think of Paul’s word to the Christians in Rome who also knew a thing or two about being treated unfairly:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21 (NRSV)

Every day we wake up to violence and conflict. Every day is an opportunity to live as God’s good news people. Every day is an opportunity for Kingdom rather than empire. While we may not feel we have much influence in conflicts around the globe, the ones close to home are opportunities for Kingdom building.


Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (33 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 


This weekend we continue the theme of empire vs. kingdom with two posts from a well-known and often controversial writer! Stay tuned on Friday and Saturday.

June 27, 2018

Knowing in Part

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely – I Corinithians 13:12a NLT

Today we’re back at the devotional page of Susan Barnes, who most recently has been working her way through I Corinthians. Click this link, to see the full index, or click the title below to read this one at source and comment.

Devotional Thought : 1 Corinthians 13:12b

Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12b

This thought is rather like what John writes in 1 John 3:2:

“Now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.”

Living by faith requires that we acknowledge that we only know “in part”. We know we are children of God yet we won’t know “fully” until Jesus comes and “we shall see him as he is.”

I only have to look at my garden to know that God’s kingdom has not fully come. I still have weeds! And when God’s kingdom fully comes not only will I not have weeds, but, “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4).

Heaven is described in terms of a city. God isn’t taking us back to the garden but rather to a “city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10). A city with foundations speaks of permanence, of security, and of community. The garden was a graceless state – one wrong decision and Adam and Eve were out of there. Heaven, however, is a permanent destination.

God’s grace is so amazing that we gain more than we lost in the Garden. The forgiven person is better off than before they sinned because God not only forgives us but credits us with righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). We start our Christian lives with a righteousness we could never have achieved for ourselves.

However we are not, as Paul says, “already been made perfect.” We still live with the difficulties and inconveniences of a broken world with broken people and nothing works like it should. Nevertheless let’s press on to gain all Christ died to give us (Philippians 3:12).


Writing on the first part of the verse, Susan says,

God is waiting for a face to face meeting with you and me. At the moment no matter how clearly we may think we hear from God we always lose something in the communication. We only see “as in a mirror” but the day is coming when we will see face to face and then we will really know. Really know how much we are loved, how much we mean to God and how much He wants to be with us.

 

June 26, 2018

Explaining the Phrase, “Spirit of Antichrist”

Today we’re paying a return visit to GotQuestions.org. This is a great site to know about if you’ve… got questions. (Didn’t see that one coming, did you?) Here’s a link to their archive page which categorizes their different topics covered. Today a much-discussed but often mis-used term, the idea of the “spirit of (the) antichrist.”

What is the spirit of the antichrist?

The phrase spirit of the antichrist is found in 1 John 4:2–3:This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

It’s vital to understand the context of John’s statements. A predominant worldview when he wrote this letter suggested that diverse spirits were at work in the world. Many false teachings, mystery religions, spiritual experiences, and variations of Christianity were emerging at the time. The spiritual atmosphere was not unlike the one present in our world today. People entertained countless views regarding truth.

John presented a definitive solution for wading through this variety of beliefs and teachings. He instructed his readers to pay attention and test the spirits: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

But how do we test the spirits? How can we discern which teachers are imparting truth? How do we recognize the spirit of the antichrist?

These “spirits” John spoke of were not merely disembodied, supernatural beings. John taught that a prophet or teacher was the actual mouthpiece for a spirit. Spiritual doctrines are promulgated through human spokespersons. Teachers of truth are filled with the Spirit of God and thus are agents who speak for God. Teachers of falsehood are spreading the “doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1, NASB).

So, the first test relates to theology or doctrine: “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (1 John 2). We can ask, does the content of the person’s teaching acknowledge that Jesus Christ—fully God and fully human—has come in the flesh? If the answer is yes, then we know the Spirit of God inspires that person. If not, his entire teaching ought to be rejected. This particular test was especially apropos in John’s day, as the heresy of Gnosticism was becoming prevalent; Gnosticism taught that Jesus only appeared to have a human body but was not actually a flesh-and-blood person.

Next, John says, “But every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist” (1 John 4:3). Anyone who does not acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Bible presents Him is inspired by the spirit of the antichrist.

The word antichrist means “against Christ.” People who say that Jesus is not from God are controlled by the spirit of the antichrist. Satan opposes Christ, and he desires to deceive people into a false view of who Jesus is. The spirit of the antichrist teaches against Christ. To twist the truth about Jesus Christ is to pervert the gospel. Satan works to spread lies about Christ and keep people in the dark: “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 1:7).

The spirit of the antichrist is the birds that eat the seeds along the path in Jesus’ parable (Mark 4:4, 15). It is “the god of this age” who blinds the minds of unbelievers, keeping them from seeing “the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). It is “the father of lies(John 8:44). The spirit of the antichrist is “the great dragon . . . who leads the whole world astray” (Revelation 12:9).

The Bible teaches that the world will eventually produce a world ruler, called “the beast” in Revelation, who will wield great power and demand worship of himself. He will have “a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies” (Revelation 13:5) and is empowered by Satan (verse 2). He is called “the man of lawlessness . . . the man doomed to destruction” in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. This final Antichrist will be the culmination of the evil workings of Satan throughout the centuries. The Antichrist of the end times will embody all the deception and perversion of truth that the spirit of the antichrist has always promoted. Today, “the secret power of lawlessness is already at work” (verse 7). The same spirit that will empower the Antichrist of the last days is currently operating in the world to bring confusion and deception to the issue of Jesus Christ’s person and work. “This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world” (1 John 4:3).

Even given the pervasive influence of the spirit of the antichrist, there is no need to fear. As John reminds us, the Spirit of truth indwells all believers and provides protection from the spirit of the antichrist: “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

We have some practical ways to distinguish the false spirit of the antichrist from the true Spirit of God: “[False prophets] are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood” (1 John 4:5–6). Those who are influenced by the spirit of the antichrist are of the world. They have the same values as the world; therefore, the world listens to them. Those who acknowledge Christ have His Spirit of truth, and they embrace the apostles’ message. The gospel the apostles preached is never popular in the world, but it is that very gospel that holds the power to save, through God’s Spirit of truth (Romans 1:16).

The believer’s job is to test the spirits carefully (1 John 4:1). We must be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16, ESV). We should not automatically embrace the message of any preacher or teacher simply because of his or her reputation or credentials; rather, we must listen cautiously to their Christology. What they say about Jesus is of utmost importance.

June 25, 2018

Compelling People to Become Christians: Can a Parable Contain a Commandment?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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NIV Luke 14:12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

The Parable of the Great Banquet

15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses…

…21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

If today’s title seems long, it’s because, in a very, very short comment on a Religion Forum, a writer opened not one, but two different cans of worms. First let’s read what they wrote:

Luke 14:23 says: The master said: “go out to the highways and country lanes and force people to come in, to make sure my house is full”. This verse is not a command of Jesus, but, rather is at the end of the parable

“A man once gave a feast”. In the parable a man gave a feast and invited many guests. At the time for the feast he sent the servants out to tell those he had invited to come because everything was ready. None of those people came, they all had other things to do. The man sent the servants to bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. Then the servants came to him and said there is still some room left in the banquet room. The man said go out and find people and force them to come so my house will be full.

This verse was used centuries ago by Catholics and Protestants in Europe to support forcing people to go to the one officially approved church in a nation. Today Christians generally don’t favor forcing people to go to church, so what do Christians do with this verse now? I can’t think of any way to get around it except to ignore it. How do Christians soft pedal this verse today?

Parables exist to compare and contrast. When “foolish virgins” run out of oil for their midnight lamps, the message is a warning to be prepared. In other words, don’t do what you see happening in the story.

In this story, there’s room at the table. There are still empty seats. The host of the party desires a full house. In other words, you’re supposed to do what you see playing out in the story.

We’re expected to go out

  • i.e. “Go into all the world”
  • i.e. “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria;” etc.
  • i.e. Search for the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son; etc.

and invite people to the great banquet God is preparing.

In a devotional we posted in March 2017, we noted:

C. S. Lewis wrote, “The symbols under which heaven is presented to us are (a) a dinner party, (b) a wedding, (c) a city, and (d) a concert.”

The banquet in Luke 23 could be either the dinner party or the wedding reception. It’s pointing us to something for which God is preparing us.

But the writer of our opening comment correctly notes that this verse has been used to create forced conversions. Even J. B. Phillips, in his translation, says, “make them come.” The Message says, “drag them in.” “Compel” and “Constrain” are frequently used.

Other translations however offer, “Urge them,” “Persuade them,” etc. (This is considered more consistent with the original Greek, as a later response in the same article points out.)  A respondent to the comment says, “This in Luke is, to me, the same as the wedding story in Matthew 22. There it states to “bid” them to come which is no more than to ask or invite them.”

So: Which is it?

The comment writer is correct in noting that this is a parable, and some aspects of the story may be very similar while the story is slightly different. Not everything in a parable has a perfect 1:1 mapping.  This is because the major point is that God’s desire is for the banquet to be filled. “God is not willing that any should perish.” (John 3:17a.)  In some schools of doctrine, this may grate a little since those who are chosen shouldn’t need to be ‘dragged in’ because of the irresistible grace presenting itself. (This is part of the larger question, ‘If unconditional election is a given, why evangelize?’)

I think the other can of worms is where the comment writer misses out.

The end of the parable is indeed a commandment; one that is consistent with the Great Commission, and all of (a), (b), and (c) above.

The parable represents the heart of God.

It’s a call to “come to the table” that in its broader context is being said in the home of a Pharisee and not strictly about who gets in but who is honored and given a place of prominence.

Make it your goal to invite others to the table.

PW

Come to the table
Come join the sinners
You have been redeemed
Take your place beside the Savior
Sit down and be set free
Come to the table.


Bonus content:

…There are so many people in this world who are lost and lonely and hurting, people who have nowhere to turn and no idea how to escape Satan’s evil grip. Jesus is the only one who can help them. All they need is someone to point them toward the Cross, someone to care enough to take them by the hand and lead them into the arms of their Creator, someone to hold them and love them into the kingdom…

…There is something about staring into the eyes of hopelessness, despair, and absolute grief that brings the gospel message home to you in a way that nothing else can. Your life takes on a renewed sense of purpose and urgency and you want to spend every waking moment of your life sharing your faith and setting captive souls free.

Reaching people for Jesus is what my life is about. “Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled’” (Luke 14:23). I challenge you to join me and ask yourself this question: If I don’t help them, who will?

~Nicky Cruz, sourced at World Challenge.

 

June 24, 2018

The Fullness of Christ is a Clean Heart

God’s Spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful,
gentle, and self-controlled. There is no law against behaving in any of these ways.

-Galatians 5:22-23 CEV

Purge me with hyssop,
    and I will be clean.
Wash me,
    and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me know  joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your countenance from my sins
    and erase the record of my iniquities.

10 God, create a pure heart in me,
    and renew a right attitude within me.

– Psalm 51 ISV

Graham and Amaryllis are a retired couple living in Trimsaran, West Wales, UK who have worked in Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East. This is the first time we’ve featured Graham’s writing here at C201. Click the title below to read this at source.

Create in me a clean heart

We surely recognize these words from David’s repentance after ‘Bathshebagate’ in Psalm 51, a truly special psalm. We probably also recognize these words from our own experience, even though we have not sinned like David did; but these words always come from the deep longings of the soul who seeks after God, who desires earnestly to enjoy all the promises of God.

As we seek after God, we soon recognize His absolute holiness and as we draw nearer to Him, that has the effect of highlighting our sinfulness and we see the need to have a clean heart so that our quest to know God and His promises can be fulfilled, the blessedness of the worshipper, that attaining to the – fullness of God and Christ – that I have recently blogged about from Ephesians.

On the 6th blog, I realized that this ‘fullness’ was the restoration of the beauty of the human nature, back to what God originally created in Adam; this equates to it, in its fullest sense – a clean heart!

It just sounds great, doesn’t it? – a clean heart – it suggests to our minds something very beautiful, something extremely effective, a clean physical heart means the blood goes around the body perfectly. I suggest that all this equates to a consistent demonstration of the fruit of the Spirit, Gal 5:22,23. That presents a beautiful picture, but there is one thing to add to that ‘fruit’ that we see in the disciples in Acts, so I have suggested before that this is the 10th fruit of the Spirit because it is always the consequence of the ‘filling of the Spirit’; it is power! Power to be the people God wants us to be, often in difficult circumstances.

We see that Paul prays for two things for the Ephesian church – love and power – so we see that effectiveness of a clean heart, achieving what it was designed for.

From John 15, the True Vine discourse that those who – abide in Him – will bear fruit and that is obviously the idea of self-propagation, and so in Acts, we see tens of thousands of people being saved as the gospel is seen in all its love and power. Therefore, this clean heart surely is the 10-fold fruit of the Spirit, the fullness of Christ, Eph 1:23 & 4:13 – love, joy, peace, gentleness, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, patience, self-control and power! – these are the sons of God, full of the Spirit, walking by faith and living in love!

Doesn’t that just sound great? Oh yes! But how does it happen, how do we get there? Well, David asks God to create that clean heart in him, so yes, we can’t do it! God must do it, surely this is the gift of faith! As we thought before, this is the product of real, deep communion with God; this is knowing [ginosko] God, that intimacy that is so transformative that it produces the abundant life that Jesus came to bring, Jn 10:10 – living in love – presents the most beautiful of pictures!

It is David who shows how this works, it was his often-repeated desire to be a worshipper in the Tabernacle courts. Psalm after psalm presents this passionate desire to know God so that he can be the man God wanted him to be – the man after God own heart! – what an accolade!

Satan doesn’t want that to happen so he will try every trick in his book to stop that desire from coming about, he knows that his kingdom will take a beating if it does! Yes, with a clean heart we’re in the centre of the will of God and immortal until our work is done!
Another aspect of this pursuit of God is our willingness to listen to God, to listen for God! We get so set in our ways, so entrenched in our church culture that we fail to see anything is wrong, even when there is a perpetual lack of the fruit of the Spirit and ‘church’, that is mere religion is characterized by barrenness. We must prayerfully and carefully read the Word, ask for the Spirit to teach us His way, ask God to speak to us through it. We need to listen for God, for the Spirit to speak in the everyday things of life for communion with God is a 24/7 activity.

A W Tozer wrote the ‘Pursuit of God and had much to say on this, here’s his ‘Pathways into Revival’ –

1. Get thoroughly dissatisfied with yourself.
2. Set your face like a flint toward a sweeping transformation of your life
3. Put yourself in the way of the blessing – obey the Word.
4. Do a thorough job of repenting.
5. Make restitution wherever possible.

Sanctification and consecration are not taught much in our churches but if they are going to make a difference to our sick society, it is the starting point, we must be right with God. We cannot go lightly into this pursuit of God for He looks for serious people to do His will. But wow, the blessedness of attaining to the prize, that high calling, the sons of God! There is one more factor that we’ve not thought about although it is inherent within the fruit of the Spirit, it’s – humility – it is impossible to consistently display the Fruit of the Spirit without humility, it can’t be done; but of course, it fully characterized Jesus.

So too, is the beauty of the human nature seen in humility, that’s where it originally came from and if we’re to display it, it must develop from our communion with the Man who is the Image of God, Jesus, what a Saviour!

June 23, 2018

When the Thief’s Heart Begins to Melt

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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We had a much longer post yesterday, so today, something shorter…

We’re paying a return visit to Patrick Hawthorne who writes at Serving Grace Ministries. This is an article that he’s used more than once, and we hope you’ll enjoy it here.

The Thief

The pain was excruciating! Like bolts of lightning, nerve endings screamed in a rhythmic tone as one wave of pain followed another.  Still, the thief pushed through the pain as he forced his body upright.  The need to breath was greater than the agony of the steel spike that had been thrust through his feet.  Pulling against the two other spikes, one through each wrist, he was able to fill his lungs with a fresh supply of air.

The sky was becoming darker, the wind picking up.  Although the steady gusts should have brought a modicum of relief, the air itself seemed to add more weight to his already weary body.  It felt as if heaven itself was crying.

“If you are the Christ, why don’t you come down off the cross and save us,” spat his companion mockingly.  Like the thief, he too was nailed to a wooden cross.  They both were paying for their crimes.  Thieves with no regard for human lives, taking and killing…leaches on society.  Now they were being crucified.  One to the left and one to the right of this man named Jesus.

Shut up!” The thief spat back at his companion.  “Do you not fear God?  We are getting what we deserve, but not Him.  He did nothing wrong!”  Looking to Jesus, their eyes met.

The thief’s mantra had always been, “An eye for an eye.” Not so with this man named Jesus.  Jesus was showing love where there should have been hate; forgiveness where there should have been cursing.  Surely his ears must have deceived him.  Was Jesus really asking God to forgive those who had beat Him beyond all recognition?  Yes!  He was.

Somehow, someway, the hardness of the thief’s heart had begun to melt.  He did not deserve forgiveness, nor was he asking for it.  Yet, each time he looked into the eyes of Jesus, he felt an inward calling…an unction that Jesus could grant him a future beyond the confines of this miserable life he had made for himself.

Jesus, my Lord, remember me when You enter into Your Kingdom.” At his words, the Roman soldiers laughed.  The thief did not care.  He felt a sudden release as the cords that once bound his cold heart were cut loose.  Eternal life had just flooded his spirit.

Through blood stained lips, Jesus smiled a weak smile.  “Verily I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.

Be Blessed.


 

June 22, 2018

Fire & Brimstone – Part 2

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

We have already seen the reality of the judgement of God, that separation from God and His goodness is real and therefore hell is real. But what does it mean to “go to hell”?

There are three possible views on hell which could be summarized by the words fire, torment, and destruction.

Fire: The first takes the language used in the Bible about hell most literally and those who hold this view think those in hell will literally experience everlasting fire along with everything else mentioned.

Torment: The second view holds the language around hell to be metaphorical, but still very descriptive of experience. Those who hold this view don’t think those in hell will experience literal everlasting fire, but will experience everlasting something, and that something will be bad.

Destruction: The two former views reflect what we call ‘eternal conscious torment’ and are considered to be the more tractional views. The third view is different. Let us look at this third view more closely since many of us already know the traditional views.

Remember that time Luther posted his 95 theses which helped spark the move from what tradition taught to what the Bible taught? John Stott called for a similar move in the last century:

As a committed Evangelical, my question must be—and it—not what does my heart tell me, but what does God’s word say? And in order to answer this question, we need to survey the biblical material afresh and to open our minds (not just our hearts) to the possibility that Scripture points in the direction of annihilation, and that ‘eternal conscious torment’ is a tradition which has to yield to the supreme authority of Scripture.  – John Stott.

You can read that passage in its context here.

Is it possible that hell, the experience of separation from God and his goodness, could be summed up by ‘destruction’ rather than ‘everlasting conscious torment’? Does the Bible teach that? Let us consider the same passages we looked at in the last post when we asked if God’s judgement was real:

. . . then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. Genesis 2:7

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden;  but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Genesis 2:16-17

Adam is given the gift of life and is warned that the consequence of rebellion against God is death. Nothing is said about eternal eternal conscious torment at this point.

Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— 23 therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life. Genesis 3:22-24 (emphasis added)

Adam and Eve did rebel against God and the consequences started to fall into place. Here, at the very first sin, the consequence of rebellion is framed as death, not everlasting conscious torment. This death and life theme is reflected when Paul brings up Adam’s sin and the resurrection of Jesus:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 (emphasis added)

In that same chapter on the resurrection, Paul does not speak of going to heaven rather than hell as we might think he would. He speaks of eternal life made possible through the putting on of immortality:

What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed,  in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.
When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
  “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:50-57

The focus here is on life versus death, rather than heaven verses hell. The Bible does speak elsewhere of the unrepentant also being raised for judgement. But from this passage in Corinthians we can infer that the unrepentant will not receive the wonderful gift being celebrated by Paul here, namely the gift of being clothed in imperishability and immortality. We should note here that the concept of the immortality of the soul is a Greek concept that has more to do with Platonic philosophy than Biblical teaching. Our souls have not been around for eternity, they were created. Adam and Eve could have enjoyed everlasting life in the Garden, but sin messed that up. Our default without Christ is mortality. God, however, graciously offers the gift of eternal life in Christ.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

This last verse reminds us of the doctrine known as the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus. That is a fancy way of saying that Jesus paid the wages of sin on our behalf. No one believes that Jesus is experiencing eternal conscious torment on our behalf.  He experienced death, and in a mysterious but real way, separation from the Father and His goodness.

Consider, finally, these verses that speak in a matter of fact manner of everlasting life versus destruction.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. John 3:16

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18

But what about those passages that speak of everlasting torment? When Biblical teaching which has the sound of metaphor is placed next to Biblical teaching which sounds quite matter of fact, perhaps we should consider the matter of fact statements to be pointing to facts, and the metaphor to be poetic. “The wages of sin is death” is a matter of fact statement and so, in fact, sin without the atoning work of Jesus will lead to death, separation from the presence and goodness of God. That “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12) is a poetic way of saying that to experience separation from God and his goodness, to experience death, is utterly regrettable. That too, is a fact! But to take the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” as a factual description of the experience of separation from God may not be what is intended.

Likewise, when Jesus speaks of hell he often is being poetic by using the word “Gehenna”. Gehenna was locatable on a map and was a place of idol worship, including the incredibly evil practice of sacrificing children. The people of Jerusalem ended up burning their garbage there. When Jesus speaks of people going to Gehenna, in the Sermon on the Mount for example, the idea is that if you want to appeal to your own righteousness, then you will end up being taken out with the trash. Perhaps what we learn through the poetry of Jesus’ words on hell should not be lost by forcing them to become a scientific description.

Which view of hell is correct? I’ll leave that up to you to research further and decide (A good start is to read both John Stott and J.I. Packer on the topic). Whichever view is correct, we agonize over our loved ones who do not know Christ. Whichever view is correct, we agonize over anyone who would choose to be separated from God and His goodness. Whichever view is correct, we thank God for His wonderful love and grace.

Is it time to bring back fire and brimstone? Whichever view on hell we think is correct, are we witnesses that hell is eternal conscious torment, or that Jesus rose from the dead and is Lord, even over death? Keep in mind that our unbelieving friends do not yet believe in hell. They already believe in death. The Good News is that though “the wages of sin is death”, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is the Good News we share. We don’t need to be angry fire and brimstone preachers to do that.


Clarke Dixon is the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Listen to a 31-minute sermon of this topic.

June 21, 2018

Fire and Brimstone – Part One

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Part two will run tomorrow, or you can read ahead by clicking the link at the bottom of this page to see it on Clarke’s blog.

by Clarke Dixon

Do we need to bring back hell-fire and brimstone? Preachers don’t seem to preach on hell as often these days, and for that some people are very grateful. Others think that something important has been lost. The good folk at Calvary may or may not have noticed I rarely use the word “hell”, preferring to refer to “separation from God”. But is there even such a thing as being cast out from the presence of God? There are those who would say that God is so loving, that everyone will be saved in the end. That might be what we would like the Bible to teach. But is it?

A brief overview of the Bible will help clarify our thoughts on God’s judgement. Let us begin at Genesis:

. . . then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. Genesis 2:7

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Genesis 2:16-17

Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life. Genesis 3:22-24

The Bible is clear from the get-go that separation from God and His goodness is a consequence of rebellion against Him. Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden, the place where they could fully experience the presence of God, plus the way to the tree of life was guarded. Death became a reality, a sure thing. The gift of life was taken back.

This is reflected in the New Testament:

For the wages of sin is death . . . Romans 6:23

That is the bad news. Now for the good news:

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. John 10:10

While it is clear that judgement against sin results in death, it is also clear that Jesus came to give us life. But perhaps Jesus came to give everyone life?

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. John 3:16

John 3:16 is a favourite verse for many, but implicit there is the fact that eternal life can be refused. Further Scriptures confirm that there are those who refuse and so are perishing:

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18

The Bible is clear that though Jesus came to give us life, people can say “no thanks”.

The Bible is also clear that God is a good father:

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:11-13

Would we as imperfect Dads go and force an adult child to return home, locking them up in our living room? God invites people to call him Father, but he gives people the freedom to people to say “no, I’m not coming home”.

There is such a thing as being cut off from God and his goodness. Hell is therefore a reality. So, time to bring back fire and brimstone, right?

We will consider that in Part 2.


Clarke Dixon is the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Listen to a 31-minute sermon of this topic.

June 20, 2018

Overrealized Eschatology

Ephesians 3:14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family[a] in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

This is our very first time with Ted Gosard who blogs at Jesus Community. Like our sister blog, Thinking Out Loud, Ted has an extensive blogroll of interesting websites and writers which I encourage you to be aware of. Given the wide mix of authors we introduce here, we thought this article provided balance on what can be a sensitive, personal subject for some. Click the title below to read this at source.

The Deeper Life Mystique and Mistake

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