Christianity 201

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.

May 31, 2018

John 3:16: Should God Send People to Hell for Not Believing Certain Things?

Should God send people to hell for failing to believe certain things? Some will point to John 3:16,

“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 (NRSV)

Some object that God cannot be very loving if failure to believe results in punishment. Does the punishment fit the crime? However, John 3:16 will help us respond to the objection.

Before we get to 3:16, it helps to look at verses 1-15 where we are introduced to Nicodemus. Being a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus would have believed certain things about the way things are. He was no doubt well-versed in the Hebrew Bible and was looking forward to the coming Kingdom of God. He would have held onto certain beliefs about who would enter the Kingdom and how. You enter this kingdom by being born into the right family, the Jewish family, and doing the right thing, keeping the Jewish law.

Jesus challenges Nicodemus on his beliefs about these things:

Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” John 3:3 (NRSV)

Being born into the right family is not what is important for the Kingdom, but rather “being born from above”, or “born again”.  Nicodemus takes the latter meaning of the term but Jesus is referring to the same idea we were introduced to in John 1:

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.  He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.  But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,  who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. John 1:10-13 (NRSV emphasis added)

To boil this down to essentials, you will see God’s Kingdom, not because you were born into the right family, but because of God’s work in you no matter what family you were originally born into. Jesus continues:

Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’   The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:5-8 (NRSV)

Nicodemus would have known where he, as a Jewish person ,came from; Jewish parents. However, with Kingdom people, you do not know where they come from. In other words,  a Kingdom person can be from any background or nation, as long as God is working in them. Nicodemus had certain beliefs about the Kingdom, but Jesus challenged him on them.

Jesus goes on to challenge Nicodemus on his beliefs about who he, Jesus himself, really is. Nicodemus already believes certain things about Jesus:

He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” John 3:2 (NRSV)

Jesus challenges Nicodemus to go deeper than that:

No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.  And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. John 3:13-15 (NRSV)

Jesus is not just a prophet with God’s presence, but the Son of Man coming from God. Nicodemus would likely have had Daniel 7 going through his mind at this point. He also would have been thinking of the passage of Scripture from Numbers where Moses is instructed to lift up a serpent so that everyone who looked to it could be healed from the consequence of their sin. The inference here is subtle, but important; namely, that Jesus is not like Moses, but greater than Moses. While Moses lifted up the serpent, Jesus is the One lifted up, meaning that he was to be crucified as a means of healing. Jesus is the One through whom healing comes, the One through whom we receive forgiveness for our rebellion against God. Which brings us to verse 16:

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 (NRSV)

Jesus is challenging Nicodemus to move from belief that something is true, to trust in Someone. Nicodemus believed certain things, namely that you enter into the Kingdom first by being born into the right family. Jesus tells him that anyone can enter the Kingdom by trusting that God has done the best thing.

What does this have to do with our objection: “should people go to hell for not believing certain things”?

Even when I know where I am going, I like using my iPhone’s Maps voice guidance on Highway 401. It shows me the traffic and has occasionally led me off the highway in order to rescue me from an upcoming traffic mess.

Now suppose I don’t listen to the voice guidance thinking that I know better. When I slow to a stop, would I then ask my phone why it sent me into a traffic jam? I chose that route, and I chose to trust my own judgement rather than trust my phone which offered a better path.

God does not send people to hell for failing to believe certain things. People choose a path that leads to death and separation from God. When God offers forgiveness and a better path, they choose to not trust Him. Being separated from God for eternity is not punishment for disbelief. It is the natural consequence of a life of walking away from God. It is sin, not disbelief, that separates us from God. Eternal life is not about believing certain things, it is about trusting God. It is about trusting that God has dealt with our separation from Him through Jesus at the cross. It is trusting that through His grace, we are welcomed as children, born from above.


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

 

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

April 17, 2018

Seeking Jesus for What We Can Get

We’re paying a return visit to the website Catholic Daily Reflections. Readers are reminded that we include writings here from a wide variety of Christian websites, and today is an example of that. From three devotionals we considered, we selected this one. Click to read at source.

Seeking Jesus

Jesus answered them and said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” John 6:26-27

This Scripture goes straight to the heart of our priorities in life.  What are you working for?  Are you working hard for the “food that perishes” and only working slightly for the “food that endures for eternal life?”  Or vice versa?

For some reason, we can easily become obsessed with working for the “things” of this world.  In the passage above, people were looking for Jesus because He had fed them the day before and they were hungry again.  They were looking for food, literally.  Jesus gently rebukes them, taking this as an opportunity to point out the real reason they should be seeking Him.  The real reason is that He wants to provide the spiritual food of eternal life.  What is the food Jesus wants you to seek?  That’s a question you must let our Lord answer in your heart.

There are two key questions we should ponder here so as to let Him answer us.  First, “What do I want in life?”  Spend time with that.  Spend time all by yourself and try to be honest with this question.  What do you want?  What is your heart’s desire?  If you are honest and if you let yourself face your desires you will most likely find that you have some desires, or even many, that are not put in your heart by Christ.  Recognizing what these desires are is the first step to discovering what the true food is that Jesus wants to give you.

The second key question is this: “Are you seeking Jesus for the right reason?”  When we are sick we seek a doctor for a cure.  When a child is hurt, this child often runs to a parent for comfort.  This is OK.  We do the same.  When we are lost and confused we often turn to God for answers and help.  But, ideally, we will eventually seek God for more than just healing or comfort.  We will ultimately seek God for the reason of love.  We will seek Him simply because we love Him and want to love Him all the more.

Reflect, today, upon your desire to seek Jesus, or lack thereof.  When you can begin to seek out Jesus simply because you love Him and want to love Him more, you are on the right road.  And as you walk down that road, you find it is a road of the utmost delight and fulfillment.

Jesus, help me to seek You.  Help me to seek You for the help and healing I need.  But more than that, help me to seek You out of love.  My Jesus, I do love You.  Help me to love You more.  Jesus, I trust in You.

 

 

March 26, 2018

Earthly Desires vs. Abiding Forever

Today we’re introducing a new source which I’m hoping we’ll be using more frequently than some. First 15 is designed for the first 15 minutes of your day, and can be delivered direct to your phone or tablet. The devotional’s main partners are: All Shores Wesleyan Church, First Baptist Church Universal City and Mississippi College.

Each day’s devotional is divided into six parts including a worship music video. The one that follows is also part of a renewal series of articles. Today we’re featuring just the text content, so you’re strongly encouraged to click the title below for the full experience.

Renewal of Perspective

by Craig Denison

One of the best aspects of spending time alone with God is being renewed daily by his word and presence. When we make space for God in our lives, especially at the beginning of the day, he is faithful to renew and prepare us for all we will face out in the world. Scripture says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23). Where do you need renewal? How greatly do you need God’s mercies in your life? He has a plan this week to both teach and guide you into an encounter with him that will renew you with his overwhelming goodness and love. Make space for God. Make time to encounter him. And experience the refreshing spring rain he longs to bring to heal the dry and weary places of your heart.

“And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” 1 John 2:17

This life is like a gust of wind, strong and tangible, but as fleeting as it is real. Tragically, most of us spend the majority of our lives just trying to find out why we’re here. We ask, “What’s our purpose? What’s the point of all this? What’s the meaning of life?” While Scripture is clear that this life is fleeting, God also makes it abundantly clear that what we do with our lives here is of eternal significance. We have incredibly important things to do and little time to do them. So, to truly live life to the fullest as God desires for us, to make the impact we alone can make in this life, we need a clear understanding of how fleeting and important our lives are. We need a renewal of perspective.

1 John 2:17 says, The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. God has a plan for you and a will for your life. Your abilities, mind, heart, and hands are of incredible importance to him. Ephesians 2:10 says, For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Your heavenly Father has works prepared for you that only you can accomplish. He has plans for you that he does not have for anybody else. But he has also given you the ability to lead your own life. Every day you have the choice to surrender your life to the lordship of Jesus and follow the guidance of his Spirit. Or, you can choose to go through life being your own boss, making decisions and plans on your own without his guidance. Only one choice will lead you to a life spent co-laboring with God and making an eternal impact. Only one choice will lead you to the joy and purpose you were created for. Only one choice will assure you at the end of your days that you made a deep and lasting impact with your life.

You see, there isn’t enough time to waste any part of your life pursuing the things of the world. There aren’t enough days to spend even a single one building your kingdom instead of God’s. And your life will be measured by the way in which you loved God and others, not by the weight of your possessions, accolades, or status. Jesus commands us in Matthew 6:19-21, Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Jesus illustrates an often missed point here: the value of your life is your heart. God is the Creator of all treasure, of everything beautiful, but his prized possession is your heart. His deepest longing is for your affections. He knows that when you give your heart to the world, to pursuing earthly objectives, you will miss out on the peace and purpose of living your life with a constant eternal perspective. Scripture tells us that though we are here on earth, this is not our home. We are called to live here with urgency, maintaining a renewed perspective of our time. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:15-17, Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Will you live your life in light of God’s will for you or your own? Will you surrender your heart to the Lord every day or keep one foot in the world and one foot in the kingdom of God?

The choice is entirely up to you. You have both the Holy Spirit and the world vying for your heart. But only God will reward your affections with his own. Only God gave up his life entirely out of his unending devotion and love for you. All you have to do to live fully for God is encounter the love of your heavenly Father each day and live in response to that love by loving him and others. When you are faithful to listen, God is faithful to guide you day to day and season to season. His kingship demands our obedience, and his love stirs our hearts until obedience to him is natural. Experience both the majesty and love of your King today. Let the Holy Spirit lead you to a life of radical, loving obedience. Allow the Spirit and the word to renew your perspective on the purpose of your life. And choose today to live with eternal perspective by loving your heavenly Father and others.

Prayer:

1. Meditate on both the fleeting nature and importance of this life.

Remember how short my time is! For what vanity you have created all the children of man! What man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol? Psalm 89:47-48

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10

2. Reflect on your own life. In what areas have you been pursuing the world instead of God? Where have you chosen to rule your own life? What decisions have you made apart from the leadership of God? Confess those sins to the Lord, and receive his forgiveness. He longs to restore you totally to himself. He will daily forgive your sins and lead you fully to the life he has in store for you.

3. Commit yourself to live for the kingdom of God instead of your own. Pray to the Lord, and tell him your desire to live for his kingdom. Submit your will and live for him instead of yourself. Ask for the help of the Spirit as you go through your day. Listen for his voice and follow his leading as you pray.

This life requires a daily process of confession, forgiveness, and commitment. Daily we need to gain fresh perspective on what really matters. Constantly throughout our day we need to remind ourselves of why we were created. Engage in this process, encounter the grace of God as you make mistakes, and live your life pursuing all that God has in store for you. You can never experience the same peace, purpose, and grace-filled love anywhere else as you will living fully surrendered to God. God will never forsake you or reject you. He has only love for you. Choose him over the world today and experience the life you’ve been longing for.

Extended Reading: Matthew 6

February 2, 2018

When Someone Dies Without Christ

“The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”  (Luke 12:47-48 emphasis added)

I asked my wife to copy this from a June, 2001 newsletter sent to supporters of Our Daily Bread in Canada. It was the references to Luke 12 which particularly got my attention.

A Personal Loss

by Mart De Haan

Dear Al,

The last time we talked, you asked a question I couldn’t answer.  I remember the concern in your eyes and how helpless I felt to give you any assurance when you asked, “Does the Bible offer any comfort when we’re afraid someone we love has died without Christ?”

Your heartbreak is understandable. So is your anger. I can see why you feel that your faith has turned against you. Beliefs that once gave you comfort are now robbing you of sleep.

Other questions you asked have also been hounding me. Why didn’t our Lord help us with such an important issue? Why did the apostle Paul write as if his readers are concerned only about loved ones who “die in the Lord“? (1 Thess 4:15-17).  Didn’t he realize the impact his words would have on those who, because of their faith, would agonize even more deeply because they would have no hope of ever again seeing someone they love so much?

Your questions caught me off guard. But the longer I have thought about them, the more convinced I’ve become that even in our concern for unsaved loved ones we do not grieve as those “who have no hope.”

There is a time to comfort

As there is a time to warn, so there is a time to console. That comfort goes beyond our Lord’s assurance that he will someday wipe all tears from our eyes (Revelation 21:4). We can also find consolation knowing that it is none other than Jesus who will judge all of the earth (John 5:26-27). Because of the concern He showed for people during His life on earth, we can be sure he cares more about our lost loved ones than we do.

We see a hint of that compassion when Jesus mourned the unbelief of those who rejected Him (Matthew 23:37). We hear Him teaching His disciples to love their enemies (Luke 6:35). And in the moment of His deepest suffering, we hear Him say of those who called for His death, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 3:34).

Ever since coming to know Christ, those of us who believe in him have been learning to rely on Him more than ourselves. We’ve been discovering that we can trust His goodness more than our own fears.

While believing that everything Jesus said about heaven and hell is true, we can cling to the truth that both mercy and justice have their origin in Him.  The God whom Christ personified is not cruel. He will not add unnecessary pain to the fate of those who die rejecting Him. The suffering of judgment will be neither more nor less than it needs to be.

What we don’t know

We don’t know how our Lord will give “many stripes” (lashes of judgment) to some and “few stripes” to others (Luke 12:47-48), except that the punishment of some will be as severe as the punishment of others will be light. We don’t know the full meaning of the fire and darkness of judgment, except that the Hebrew prophet Isaiah first used the language of everlasting fire and smoke as a way of describing a battlefield defeat that is final and irreversible (Isaiah 34:9-10, 66:24).

What we do know

What we do know is that God will be fair, and good, and right in judgment. We know that not all will experience the same degree of pain and regret. All will be judged according to their works, which is one reason my grandfather Dr. M. R. De Haan said repeatedly, “To some, hell will be a little heaven compared to what it will be for others.”

The Scriptures show that those who suffer the severest judgment will be the devil, the Antichrist, the False Prophet, and those who accept the mark of the beast in the last days (Revelation 14:11; 20:10). In a similar way, Jesus reserved His strongest warnings for those religious leaders who used their influence to turn the crowds against Him.

There is a time to grieve

The apostle Paul grieved for lost loved ones without losing his mind or faith. He cared so much for Jewish family members that he would have taken their place in judgment if he could have. He said, “I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:2-3). Yet Paul’s concern for others didn’t rob him of his affection for heaven or his confidence in Christ (Philippians 1:23-24).

There is time to rest

We cannot afford to let fear of what we don’t know about the future rob us of what we do know about our Saviour and Lord. There is no better person to trust with the souls of our lost loved ones. He alone is their judge. He alone understands all of the factors that make faith and character more difficult for some than for others.

Most of our fears for those who have died lie not in what Jesus said, but in what we add by our own imagination. This is where we need to doubt ourselves and trust that even as He judges our lost loved ones the Lord will give us reason to worship and love Him forever.

Al, with you in mind, I bow my knees and pray, “Father, in heaven, at the end of our own fears, and at the end of our own wits, we cast ourselves upon You. We take comfort in the fact that You take no joy in the death of lost people. We cling to the assurance that You, our Father, the Judge of all the earth, will do right.”

December 19, 2017

The Nature of “Gift” Concerning Eternal Salvation

by Russell Young

Communication between people in any language is difficult. Everyone interprets the written and spoken word according to his or her understanding and experiences. It is even more difficult to translate from one language to another. Many words have more than one meaning so the nuance of the original intention must be as carefully preserved as possible. Unfortunately, many translators have become interpreters. That is, they apply their understanding as ideas are processed from one language to the next. In the procedure many concepts may not maintain the thought that the original speaker had intended.

Consider the Greek word “charisma.” It was in common Greek usage before being adopted and understood in the English language. It is a noun having the idea of “personal charm or magnetism,” “the ability to influence without the use of logic,” or in Christian context alone, “extraordinary power granted by the Holy Spirit.” (English-Ancient Greek (to 1453) Dictionary) It is worth noting that “charisma” referred to an ability that a person had to influence another without logic but according to his or her personal charm or magnetism. Of course, common usage of charisma has the same meaning today.  Not all people have the same ability of persuasion; hence, it might be accepted that a person has been gifted with the ability to persuade others.

Biblical writers have also used “charisma” to convey understanding. Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift (charisma) of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” (Rom 6:23 KJV) Translators have used “gift” for charisma to convey an idea. In staying with the Greek understanding the passage might have been written, ‘the influence of God without logic but according to his persuasion or personal attributes is eternal life through Jesus Christ, Our Lord.’ Or, ‘through the extraordinary power granted by the Holy Spirit is eternal life through Jesus, our Lord.” That is, it is through the attributes of God, his ability to attract and persuade that through using his Son he provides eternal life.  The “persuasion” and “influence” of God comes through the Holy Spirit. ‘Charisma’ does not possess the idea of a gift or something that was handed over to be received other than the Holy Spirit. The word “charisma” is used today. We do not say that we give ‘charisma’ at Christmas.

When the wise men visited Christ at his birth, they brought “gifts.” The Greek for “gifts,” used in this case, was doron, which according to Strong’s Greek Dictionary means “a present; specially a sacrifice: –gift or offering.” (#1435) When Christ spoke of the fact that fathers give good gifts to their children, the Greek word doma was used, meaning gift or present. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.” (1 Cor 12:1 NIV) The Greek does not include the word “gifts” but reads, “about [the] spiritual, I do not want you to be ignorant.” Young’s literal translation reads, “about spiritual things.” A few verses later he presents, “There are different kinds of gifts” In this case he uses charisma, but it can be translated as endowments or qualifications again referring to attributes.

Regardless of how “charisma” is represented, eternal life comes through Jesus Christ, our Lord; he is the source. The writer might have omitted “our Lord” in his writing but its presence is significant.  “Lord” means “supreme authority” or “master.” Although some might restrict “Lord” merely to a title of respect, it is more significant in its proclamation. The persuasive power of Christ as lord, master, and supreme authority is the means of eternal life. Such thinking contrasts with the idea that the ’package’ of eternal life has been handed over as in the presentation of a gift. The writer of Hebrews has confirmed that Christ is “the source of eternal salvation” for all who obey him. (Heb 5:9). The writer does not allow that the Lord’s crucifixion provided eternal salvation but that it comes through his life –Christ as Spirit, (2 Cor 3:17, 18; Col 1:27; Rom 5:9─10) — lived obediently through the believer. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians “[F]rom the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (2 Thess 2:13 NIV)

Paul wrote, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship (masterpiece NLT)…” (Eph 2:8─10 NIV) In this case “gift” is translated from the Greek doron  meaning a gift or present. This might be considered a summative statement. Since the ministry of Christ is the “source” of salvation, and because his incarnation, sacrifice and life were through provision by God alone, eternal salvation can be considered a gift, but this is so because the believer has become God’s masterpiece, conformed to the likeness of his Son. (Rom 8:29) People cannot achieve their salvation by their own works or practices due to their evil natures; they cannot overcome their death sentence, nor can they transform themselves into becoming an acceptable offering. (Rom 15:16) The intervention of God through his provision is required. “Everything we need for life and godliness” has been provided (2 Pet 1:3), but not life and godliness. A proper response to God’s charisma is needed for the person who seeks God’s kingdom.


Author Russell Young’s column appears on alternate Tuesdays. His book Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo. 9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

April 27, 2016

Resurrection: The Big Picture

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Clarke Dixon continues his Resurrection Facts series. To read them all, go to April 2016 entries at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, or for this post at source, click here.

•••by Clarke Dixon

When we are being honest, we may be more easily identified as Canadians than Christians. The passion of the typical Christian in Canada just does not seem to be of the same caliber as that of the apostles we meet in the pages of the New Testament. And if the Christians in Corinth in New Testament times were being honest, they would seem to be more easily identified as being Greek than Christian. As we learn in 1st Corinthians 15 their theology was influenced by Greek thinking, especially with regards to the afterlife. Their lacking theology could and would cause a lack in living for Christ:

Do not be deceived:
“Bad company ruins good morals.”
Come to a sober and right mind, and sin no more; for some people have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame. (1 Corinthians 15:33-34)

In contrast, there is no doubt about Paul’s allegiance, passion, and priority: “And why are we putting ourselves in danger every hour? I die every day!” (1 Corinthians 15:30-31a) How is it Paul is so recognizably representing Christ than his birthplace,Tarsus, his religion, Jewish, or his citizenship, Roman, while the Christians at Corinth seem more Greek than anything? How is it Paul is passionate and we are often not? One reason is that he, and others like him, have a bigger and better picture of reality. They have a solid knowledge that Jesus is risen from the dead and that there will be a resurrection to life of anyone who is in Christ. That hope drives Paul to choose the dangerous and difficult path rather than an easier one:

If with merely human hopes I fought with wild animals at Ephesus, what would I have gained by it? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32)

Paul, the other apostles, and many, many Christians down through the centuries have risked their lives, given their lives, lived their lives for Jesus, and shared the Gospel everywhere they went because they had a bigger and better picture of the reality of God’s love and eternal life. Paul in 1st Corinthians 15 was encouraging the Christians at Corinth to see this bigger picture and if we feel more Canadian than Christian, perhaps we ought to see it also. Here are a few things to think about:

Our vision of the afterlife may not be clear enough, we may need a bigger and better picture of eternal life. Paul’s vision of eternal life put his experiences of life in perspective: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18) The notion of glory here is not to be missed. Paul speaks of this glory in what he says immediately before:

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:15-17)

Some people think the afterlife of the Christian consists of being a disembodied immortal soul sitting in clouds playing a harp, which of course sounds kind of boring and lacking in glory. That concept is not Biblical. The Bible points us to relationship. We are children of God, and remarkably co-heirs with Christ. We deserve to be neither. All attempts to describe what God has prepared for His children invariably fall short. We simply do not have the language yet to describe glory. Sadly most attempts to describe eternal life are missing God Himself, as if being home for Christmas is more about enjoying the view from the front porch than in enjoying the presence of loved ones.

Our vision of God with respect to the afterlife may not be clear enough, we may need a bigger and better picture of God Himself. The picture of disembodied souls flying around captures neither the capability nor desire of God. Indeed such a picture does not even require thinking of God’s presence, many people believing in their souls flying away to some sort of afterlife at death with no idea of God being a part of it. And it does not capture the grand span of Biblical theology. We can make it sound like God is on some sort of plan B, disembodied souls in eternity, because He could not pull off plan A spoken of in the first two chapters of Genesis. He is still on plan A and we look forward to bodily existence in the presence of God following our resurrection.

There is a wonderful thought of being reunited with loved ones in the afterlife. I once heard a pastor powerfully give an illustration of the death of a loved one being like a person taking a journey across a river. We are sad as we say our goodbyes, but upon arriving on the other shore, there is joy as loved ones are reunited. A beautiful illustration but with one problem. God was missing! And at funerals, even Christian ones, God is often is left out of the picture. We need a bigger and better picture of God Himself. To be in His presence will be astounding, more astounding, in fact, than being reunited with loved ones.

Our vision of Jesus with respect to the afterlife may not be clear enough, we may need a bigger and better picture of who Jesus is. Some who would call themselves Christian would qualify that by saying that Jesus was a great teacher, but just that, and being a Christian means being inspired by his great example and teaching. Jesus therefore has nothing to do with any kind of afterlife we might experience. The New Testament points to a far more divine picture of who Jesus is and what he accomplished. However, skeptics say this results from an evolving picture in the minds of Christians between the events of Easter and the writing of the New Testament documents. People’s memories would have changed they say. Indeed I recently heard a podcast where this was claimed along with appeals to an experiment where people had poor memories of the speeches of American Presidents. I was surprised at the comparison. There is no comparison! Jesus was unforgettable. His teaching astonished. His miracles astounded. His death and resurrection caused people, sinners and skeptics alike, to pick up their crosses and follow. He was unforgettable. The apostles were not changing their stories about Jesus, they were changing their lives for Jesus. They were willing to die, having a bigger and better picture of eternal life, having a bigger and better picture of Jesus and his role in the hope of eternal life.

Our vision of salvation may not be clear enough, we may need a bigger and better picture of God’s grace. Some think there will be no salvation. Some think that salvation can be earned, as if it is an easy thing for us to span the gulf that exists between a sinful creature and Holy Creator. Some think salvation is a right: “You created me, you owe eternal life to me.” Because of our sin, God does not owe us another minute of life either now or in the future. Salvation is God doing something for us we could never do for ourselves, something we do not deserve. There is far more to say about it, but when we truly understand God’s amazing grace, we sing the hymns of the faith with far more passion than than we can muster for our national anthem. When we grasp the depth of His grace, we will want to be known first as Christians, second as Canadians.

If we are lacking passion, it may be because we do not have a clear enough picture of eternal life, God, Jesus, and salvation. Like the Christians of Corinth we may want to trade in a theology shaped by society for the bigger and better picture we get in the Bible.

 

 

March 11, 2016

The Wonderful Part About Death

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Today we pay another return visit to the blog of Gordon Rumford, one of the most faithful devotional writers online, and someone whom I had the opportunity to hear in person many years ago. Click the title below to read at source.

Can Death Be Wonderful?

“Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of His saints.”
Psalm 116:15

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As I prepared for a funeral, and in studying the Scriptures concerning this matter of dying, it has occurred to me that we are usually too much caught up in the tragic aspects of death, such as suffering and loss.

We find it difficult to look at the other side of the matter.

In 1 Corinthians 15:26 (KJV) we read, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” 

So the Bible clearly tells us that death is an enemy. We are also taught in Scripture that humanity was originally made for the presence of God. So why is this thing called death the common lot of us all?

In Romans 5:12 we read that the experience of death came about as the result of the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The verse also explains that death happens to all of us because we personally commit sin. When the Bible states that all of us have sinned, it does not mean that all of us are as actively evil as we can possibly be.

Because all of us have the sentence of physical death on us, we need to accept the biblical teaching that our relationship with our Creator is broken. This brings us to the matter of why Jesus came into the world. If you read Romans 5 you will see that Jesus is described as the One Who came to restore what was lost by Adam and Eve.

When a person confesses Jesus as Lord, they are put into a different relationship with death. For believers, death can only give them infinitely more of Jesus than can be acquired in this life. Paul said in Philippians 1:21 (KJV),

“For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

So, while death is unnatural for anyone, it becomes a friend to Christians. We, who believe in Jesus as the Son of God, ought to view death then as a defeated enemy. 1 Corinthians 5:8 (KJV) says,

“We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” 

What makes the death of believers “precious”, in the eyes of the Lord, is the fact they come into His immediate presence at death. Jesus prayed in John 17:24,

“Father, I want those whom you have given Me to be with Me
where I am so that they may see My glory…”

The heart’s desire of God is for His people to be with Him to enjoy His presence and be liberated from this world of sorrow and sin. Hence, it is a great time for the Lord when one of His people goes through the doorway of death and enters heaven.

Many times I spoke to the particular person whose funeral I conducted we shared in the Scriptures quoted above. He was excited about going to see Jesus, just as the disciples were in the resurrection appearances of our Lord. Yes, for the Christian, death is wonderful. Not the experience of leaving our earthly body behind, but in seeing Jesus.

The King there in His beauty, Without a veil, is seen:
It were a well-spent journey, Though seven deaths lay between.
The Lamb, with His fair army, Doth on Mount Zion stand,
And glory—glory dwelleth In Immanuel’s land.  

– Anne Cousins

March 6, 2016

A Source of Confusion: Saved/Salvation and “Eternal Salvation”

•••by Russell Young

There are several misrepresentations currently being propagated in the teaching of God’s Word. The issue of this writing concerns the meaning of “saved” or “salvation.” Unless there is clarification made on this issue, there will be many who will not enjoy the hope that they had been promised throughout their spiritual lives.

There is a distinction between being “saved” and being “eternally saved” and it is essential that this difference is fully appreciated. The Greek representation of “saved” is sozo and Strong’s Greek Dictionary presents it as meaning: to save, i.e. deliver or protect (literally or figuratively):—heal, preserve, save (self), do well, be (make) whole. Sozo is not a word confined to Biblical use but was of the common vernacular of the day. Paul used the word sozo when he told his Roman guard to throw everything overboard in order to be saved (avoid drowning). Luke also used sozo when he spoke of the man who was healed of the many demons that had possessed him and had been cast into the herd of pigs. The point is that when saved or salvation are used, they must be carefully considered in context. What one is being saved from needs to be appreciated.

It is common in the spiritual sense to accept “saved” as meaning “eternal salvation” when it often does not. It might be helpful to exchange “saved” with ‘delivered’ and then to consider what one was delivered from. For instance, the sacrifice of Christ on the cross delivered the believer from the consequences of his “past sins” (2 Peter 1:9) and from the jurisdiction of the Old Covenant. “For this reason [to cleanse our consciences] Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance-now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (Hebrews 9:15, NIV) It did not provide “eternal salvation.”

The blood of Christ is often presented as “redeeming” the believer. One’s redemption should not be taken as meaning eternal salvation either. It redeemed the believer from “the curse of the law…in order that… we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” (Galatians 3:13…14) It also means “being bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20), “being reconciled”(Romans 5:10), “brought near” to Him (Ephesians 2:13), etc. One’s redemption frees him from the law and brings him near to God so that he might be given the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that brings about one’s “eternal salvation.” Redemption is a form of being “saved” but it does not amount to one’s eternal salvation.

There is only one passage in the whole of God’s Word that uses the wording “eternal salvation” and that salvation is accomplished through obedience. “He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Hebrews 5:9, NIV) The need for obedience is consistent with many other passages that require the believer to be led by the Spirit. “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) Those who are led are not under the law (Galatians 5:18), those who are led by the Spirit are sons of God (Romans 8:14), those who are NOT led by the Spirit will not find eternal life. (Galatians 5:8; Romans 8:13) The point is that “eternal” salvation is different from other salvations or deliverances.

The distinction between ‘salvation’ and ‘eternal salvation’ needs to be made clear because the differences effect many of the teachings that impact understanding of “eternal security” and even of one’s eternal hope. “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Matthew 13:41, NIV) One’s hope is not “secured” until the end (Matthew 10:22) and until one’s life testimony has been completed. (Revelation 12:11)

In Matthew 7:21 we read: “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.” That is, it’s not one’s pronouncements that allow him entrance into the kingdom of heaven, but his “doing.” The Lord also revealed this, “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” (Revelation 22:14, KJV) The NIV and other versions have changed “do his commandment” to “wash their robes” in order to fit more conveniently with the distorted understanding of salvation that is being propagated.

While “salvation” or “saved” may refer to various deliverances, “eternal salvation” addresses deliverance into God’s eternal Kingdom and into the Lord’s presence. Eternal salvation is ONLY presented as being accomplished through “obedience.”

January 21, 2016

Is God Schizophrenic?

Today we welcome a new writer to C201 and one of a very limited number of people here who I have been privileged to meet face-to-face. Russ Young’s writing focuses on ways in which the church has compromised Biblical teachings on grace and salvation and eternal life, and our one hour discussion challenged me personally in areas where my standards with respect to holiness have the propensity to become lax.

•••by Russell Young

Is God Schizophrenic? The answer is, of course not. The problem is that at least western Christianity is treating Him as if He was. That is, He is viewed as being bi-polar. In the Old Testament He is seen as being a wrathful God, bringing His anger upon the Jews for their disobedience and rebellion. In the New Testament, He is viewed as the all-forgiving, all-loving, and all-tolerant God. In the Old Testament He might be viewed as being depressive; while, in the New He is viewed as being manic. Of course, God does not change and has not changed. He is pure in all His ways and His expectations have not changed.

The issue that has distorted understanding of God and which has distorted the gospel is that of teachings concerning “grace.” The believer is saved by grace, but his eternal salvation is not unilaterally gifted as is often presented; nor does God’s grace cover sin deliberately committed following confession of faith. The Jews lived under the Covenant of the Law. Obedience to its governance was required in order to avoid God’s wrath. This was and remains so because He is supreme and He is holy. The LORD had presented the laws concerning His righteous government to Moses in stone. Defying them is defying Him…His sovereignty. He will not give His glory to another. Through them He also revealed the nature that He wanted to have established for His kingdom. To contravene His Law is to blemish the holy nature of His kingdom.

The LORD knew the heart of man and knew its inclination to evil (Genesis 6:5); consequently, He had addressed the solution to the heart problem through the presence of His Son living in the heart of man. The Law was put in charge to lead us to Christ. But now that faith has come we are no longer under the supervision of the law. (Gal. 4:24-25, NIV) The law “supervised” so that the righteous requirements of God as revealed through the law could be maintained and His wrath avoided.

God Has Not ChangedGod has not changed. He still has the same righteous requirements and will continue to visit His wrath upon the disobedient and the rebellious. His “grace” does not cover these challenges to His authority and holiness. Paul writes, Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him. (Romans 5:9-10, NIV) We ought not be confused concerning this matter. His wrath is avoided through Him…the exercise of His life in the believer.

The avoidance of His wrath is NOT through His death but through His life. Paul wrote that the mystery of God which had been kept hidden for ages and generations is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col. 1: 27) The wrath of God is avoided through the life of Christ within the believer…by the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18) It is the Spirit who will lead in the pursuit of, and if obeyed, the achievement of righteousness leading to holiness. And so God condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Ro. 8:3-4, NIV) And Peter wrote:His divine power [the Holy Spirit] has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” (2 Peter 1:3, NIV)

According to Peter we have all that we need in order to avoid God’s wrath and that comes through obedience to the Spirit (Heb. 5:9) Paul told the Corinthians: He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant-not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:6, NIV) God’s grace does not give anyone eternal life. It removes his “past sins” and upon confession of Christ’s lordship allows him the enjoyment of the covenant of the Spirit. (Heb. 9:15)

Those who accept that they have been freed from God’s wrath while sin is being practiced will have a surprise one day. They will come under judgment for their rebellion and disobedience. Paul taught, For we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one might receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10, NIV) the Lord revealed, The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Matthew 13:41, NIV) One’s separation from Christ is dependent upon one’s actions. The things he does and the unlawful things that he causes to happen.

God’s kingdom will be righteous and will contain those who are righteous. His righteous expectations have not changed. His grace does NOT unilaterally allow one escape from His wrath. He is not schizophrenic but is constant in His being and in His expectations. The manner in which righteousness is achieved has changed but not its need. God’s grace, allowed for the incarnation of His Son. It allowed for His Son to bring the word of truth. It provided Christ, an unblemished lamb, as a sacrifice for sin. His grace allows for the gifting of the Spirit to enlighten, lead, and empower the believer in a righteous walk. It provides Christ as high priest to mediate for sins committed in ignorance and for confessed sin. The grace of God does not gift eternal salvation but provides all that is necessary for it. Eternal salvation comes through “obedience” (Heb. 5:9) which produces holiness. (Romans 6:22)

March 18, 2015

The Exclusive Claim of Christianity

Clarke Dixon returns with part four of our midweek series in John 14 (and its relationship to Revelation.)
one-way-jesus

Why is Jesus the Only Way?

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 NRSV

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12 NRSV

Why is Jesus the only way? Jesus himself taught this, as did the first Christians. To believe otherwise is to depart from a Biblical Christianity. But why did it have to be this way? Why can’t God just make it such that all sincere believers of anything, or something, or nothing in the case of a sincerely good atheist, are all on a path to God?

Revelation chapters six and seven are helpful in understanding this. In Revelation chapter six we have a vision of the opening of six seals. With the opening of each of these seals terrible things take place. This is symbolic of the judgement of God against sin, and let’s just say that it does not go well for the sinner. It culminates in a desire to escape the judgement of God:

15 Then the kings of the earth and the magnates and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand? Revelation 6:15-17 NRSV emphasis mine

We should take a moment here to recognize that many people, Christians included, do not like to hear about the “wrath” of God. It makes God sound like he is terribly, well . . . judgmental. But let us consider that the wrath of God is the expression of the justice of God. While we don’t like hearing about wrath we recognize that justice is good. When justice is missing in the world, we long for it, we work for it, we pray for it. If justice were missing in God, we very soon find ourselves longing for it. The wrath of God, the expression of God’s justice is part of the glory of God. To ask God to express no wrath would be to ask God to have less glory. Wrath is part of the goodness of God. God is perfectly just. God cannot be perfectly just and turn a blind eye to sin no more than a judge can be perfectly just and pay no attention to the evidence just because he or she happens to like the defendant.

Revelation six therefore speaks to us about the justice of God, that yes, sin carries consequence. The chapter finishes with a question: when God’s justice is expressed, “who is able to stand?”

Now let’s move to chapter seven where we find there is a

great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” Revelation 7:9-12 NRSV

This sounds more positive! And did you notice something about these people? They are “standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” They are standing! On the day of God’s wrath, on the day God’s justice is expressed, who is able to stand before the throne? These people are. Who are these people? Good question, in fact it is asked:

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” Revelation 7:13 NRSV

If we were John how might we have answered that question? Many might say things like “these are good people, nice people who are good to others, they are able to stand on the day of justice,” or “these are people who were sincere in their religion, no matter what religion it was.” John, however, does not attempt an answer, he asks the one who knows the answer:

14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Revelation 7:14 NRSV

Here we have the reason that Jesus is the only way. In Jesus the perfect justice of God meets the perfect love of God. No one comes to God the Father except through God the Son, because He is the only One through Whom the perfect justice of God could be expressed in a way that saves sinful people. This justice and love comes together at the cross. No one else could pay the penalty of sin for us, because everyone else has their own sin on their heads. Except Jesus, He is the only One who could stand in our place while the perfect justice of God is expressed. And He is the only One to ever have claimed to do such.

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12 NRSV

Because of Jesus, people are able to stand on the day of God’s wrath, the day His perfect justice is expressed.

But this still sounds very exclusive to some people. However, notice how wonderfully inclusive this vision is. It is a “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” No one is excluded on the basis of race, gender, status, or nationality. God’s love knows no boundaries. You can be included in that multitude through repentance and trust. But perhaps it is your love that has boundaries? Perhaps it is not God’s love for you that is in question, but your love for God? If this is the case, I hope you will dig deep and consider your response to God’s offer of salvation through Jesus. I hope you will be found standing.

Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:14-17 NRSV

 


Today’s graphic is obviously a book cover, but now I can’t track down the source.

March 11, 2015

When You Need to Know He’s Preparing a Place

Today Clarke Dixon returns to the key passage he introduced last week…

A Messy Story with a Good Ending (or Rather a Great New Beginning)

Watching the news we quickly get the sense that the world is in a mess. Pick up the phone and you can quickly find out that a loved one’s life is in a mess. Get out of bed and you can quickly realize that your own life is in a mess. And people can point and ask how you can believe in God from within such a mess? First, we want to recognize His presence through the Holy Spirit. God is in the mess with us. But we also want to remember a promise:

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:3 NRSV)

Here is a promise the disciples would need at the crucifixion of Jesus as they pondered their own failings, and wondered if perhaps Jesus had failed too. And here is a promise they would need to remember once Jesus has risen and ascended to the Father. Troubles plagued the early believers, just as they do believers today. And yes, the early believers and every Christian since has had their share of failures. In the midst of our mess of trouble and failure we remember a promise:

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:3 NRSV)

In other words, this is not the end to this story, there is much to come yet! As the first Christian martyr, Stephen, is killed some could have mockingly asked “where is your God to save you?” But Stephen’s story is not finished yet. The thief crucified along with Jesus was in a real mess, and was a real mess-maker himself. Mighty Rome thought it was putting an end to him and his mess. His story is not finished yet though the mess is now behind him. And your story is not finished, no matter how much of a mess you are in, or how much of a mess you are responsible for, your story does not end here. Even when your loved ones place your remains in their final resting place, there is nothing final about it. For the repentant follower the best is yet to come:

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:3 NRSV)

While the story is not over, your story of experiencing God’s grace is not one you will want to fast forward through. Yes, the best is yet to come, but we want to savor, value, and be good stewards of each moment between now and then.

I have met Christians who seem to be solely and wholly devoted to the end-times and escape from the mess of current times. Their studies are devoted to the end, as are their prayers. In fact their very lives seem devoted to the next life. They have a finger on the fast-forward button with an attitude summed up by my one of my brother’s favorite sayings: “beam me up Scotty. This planet sucks!” That cannot be our prayer, for Jesus teaches us to pray:

  • “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” – our lives are to lead to the honor of his name, right here, right now.
  • “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” – while God has an amazing kingdom future for us, we are to start living those realities right here, right now.
  • “Give us this day our daily bread” – this speaks to desire and contentment for today.
  • “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” – this is something we are to do in the here and now
  • “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” – a prayer appropriate for today and every day.

In addition to paying attention to our Lord’s teaching on prayer, living out the Great Commandment, the Great Commission, and the Golden Rule also requires a focus on living in, rather than escaping from, today. This planet may well be in a mess, but that is part of why we are called. We are to be peace makers rather than mess makers. It is not wrong to long for Christ’s Kingdom coming, but we are also to long for God’s Kingdom to be expressed in the here and now.

Then there are others who only value Christianity for how it impacts their future. It is only useful as an assurance of heaven, and is of no earthly relevance to their lives or the messes they live in or create. While Jesus’ promise of eternal life is assuring, your story of experiencing God’s grace is not one you will want to put on hold. You will also want to pay attention to what God can and will do in and through you in the here and now.

It would be interesting to know how many Christians would call themselves Christians if Jesus’ promise, and all other references to heaven and eternal life were not in the Bible. Would people still be Jesus followers? What if the cross was just an example of a Godly life and not a means to an eternal life with God? What if the cross merely pointed us to how to forgive and express grace and love, yet we could expect to die never to live again? Would you still follow Jesus? I hope so, for we do not follow Jesus for reward, but because He is Lord. And when our Lord teaches us how to live in the here and now, full of grace and truth, we should listen. Thankfully, while being an example to follow, Jesus’ death is also an expression and working out of God’s covenant promises to save. Jesus makes the promise, and does what is needed to make it possible:

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:3 NRSV)

The promise is made because this is a love story. The language Jesus uses is reminiscent of a wedding. The groom goes away to prepare the home for the couple to enjoy once they are married. Then he comes back to take his bride to be with him in their home together. This is the kind of love God has for His Church. It goes far beyond that of one person rescuing another from a mess. Heroes are typically strangers. This is love that is focused on relationship. It is a commitment to love in a covenant of love. It is the love of the One who is love. It is love from the One who will keep His promise:

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Revelation 21:2 NRSV)

July 2, 2014

About That Mansion Over the Hilltop

John 14:3 (Phillips) It is true that I am going away to prepare a place for you, but it is just as true that I am coming again to welcome you into my own home, so that you may be where I am.

John 14:3 (The Voice) I will be there to greet you personally and welcome you home, where we will be together.

John 14:3 (NASB) If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.

Today’s thoughts are from Matt Appling at the always interesting blog, The Church of No People where it appeared under the title Heaven is not a Timeshare: How a Generation of Christians Have Been Tricked About Heaven.

What is the point of being a Christian anyway?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately because it seems like we need a sales pitch to get people in the door. What will I get if I agree to this thing called Christianity?

Will Jesus make my life better?

Will I be a better person?

Will I get to go to heaven?

There are a myriad of promises that were made to us when we first accepted Jesus as our “personal” savior, a bunch of guarantees that we could be certain of. I don’t usually do this, but I love Micah Murray’s blog so much, if you haven’t read his Four Reasons I’m Not Going to Heavenyou should (right after you’re done here.) He’s done a great job and I’m not going to retread his points.

There are a lot of bait-and-switch jobs we do to get people to accept Jesus. They are the little Easter Eggs that we scatter around in the hopes of making Jesus more appealing. But I’ve got to think that the greatest trick that we have perpetrated, the biggest bait-and-switch of all time has got to be the certainty that if you accept Jesus, you get to go to heaven when you die.

Here’s what I mean.

 

The Sales Pitch for Christianity

I have never heard a sales pitch for heaven that was not absolutely glowing. I mean, come on, it’s heaven.

The streets are lined with gold and the seas are crystal clear. It’s a beautiful place.

We get to be reunited with all of our lost loved ones.

What do we do in heaven? There’s always something about whatever we like to do, we get to do it all the time. We get to eat constantly and never gain weight. We get to party all day. Heaven is a super duper fun place. I think the heaven sales pitch has been revamped over the years. These days, we want people to know that they will not be spending eternity floating on a boring old cloud playing a harp. 

Oh and church, that place that we endure our entire lives in order to get to heaven? Yeah don’t worry, heaven won’t be like that either. Heaven will be flipping sweet. All your best buddies will be there and none of the bad people. That girl who insulted you in high school? Yeah, you’ll be able to gloat as she burns in hell, which will also be flipping sweet.

Oh and we’ll probably get to fly too. And we’re going to have totally ripped abs.

You know, stuff like that.

The Money Back Guarantee

Of course, none of that sales pitch comes from the Bible. We just made them up, because that’s what we do when God is silent about stuff like this.

If you press people, they have to say that we really don’t know what heaven is like. But they counter with “But whatever you can think of, it’s BETTER than that!” It’s like a money-back guarantee.

Tricky, tricky. You know, this is starting to sound like a timeshare presentation. It doesn’t make things any better that there are now scores of books, full of testimonies from people who “visited” heaven. They can tell us just how amazing the place is! Now who wants to make a commitment right now?

Yes, heaven is a magical place where we become angels (we don’t) and fly around and look down on the people of Earth (we won’t do that either, the rich man and Lazarus was a parable).

The Fine Print of Heaven

Okay, so what’s the harm of everyone believing all the heaven hocus-pocus?

Because it takes away the reason Jesus died for us. Jesus did not die so that we could go live in a gold mansion. He died so that we could be with God.

Jesus did not promise heaven. He promised himself. He promised to be present with us, Immanuel.

The point of heaven is not all of the stuff we get to do and have. The point of heaven (whatever it is) is that we will be with God. God is what makes heaven heaven. And the point of being with God is that we have to want God more than we want everything else. We have to despise our lives. We have to despise our stuff. We have to despise even our families. We have to even despise whatever idea we have about what heaven is and just want God for who He is. 

Otherwise, heaven is just another idol, another shiny thing that we want.

And God is just a means for us to get that idol. We turn into the whiny toddler at the store, manipulating mom into buying us that new toy.

It’s almost like we opened the biggest present on Christmas morning, and it turned out to be a big box of underwear. Someone found out that the whole point of this Christianity thing is God himself. And that was a huge disappointment. How could we have gone through all this believing and all this worship and all we get is God?

I know, it’s a scam isn’t it? You sit through the whole presentation, the whole sales pitch, and this is what we get?

God almighty.

What say you? Have we tricked a generation of Christians?

August 26, 2013

Thoughts on “Once Saved, Always Saved”

This is from Jeremy Myers at the blog Till He Comes; you’re encouraged to read at source.

Eternal Security

I sometimes get asked if I believe in “Once Saved, Always Saved.” One reader recently sent in this question:

Can a Christian lose their salvation?

The old saying is once saved, always saved.

I have two ways of answering this question, both of which are stated below.

1. Why I do NOT Believe “Once Saved, Always Saved”

The reason there is so much debate over this statement is because of the word “saved.” As I have written about on numerous times previously, the word “saved” (and other related words such as “save” and “salvation”) are used in a variety of ways in the Bible. When you do a study of the ways these words are used, it quickly becomes obvious that the vast majority of them have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with anything related to gaining or keeping eternal life.

So, for example, the word “saved” might refer to being delivered from one’s enemies, or getting healed from a sickness, or being rescued from drowning at sea. Obviously, these words are not related to gaining or keeping eternal life. I would guess that the majority of times the word “saved” (or save, salvation, etc), are used in Scripture, they are used in this way (e.g., Matt 8:25; Acts 27:31).

Another percentage of words refers to various ideas that are related to eternal life, but are not eternal life themselves. Often, the words in these contexts refer to some aspect of sanctification, or maybe getting rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ, or some other related idea (cf. 1 Cor 3:15).

Finally, there is a tiny fraction (I would say less than 1%) of uses where the term probably does refer to receiving eternal life, though even in these contexts, the actual meaning of the word is debatable.

In Acts 16:30-31, for example, the Philippian jailer asks Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” On the one hand, it seems that the jailer might have been asking about how to receive eternal life. But frankly, at this time, that may not have been the primary question on his mind. At that time, if a jailer let prisoners escape, the jailer would be tortured and killed. Maybe the jailer was not asking how to get eternal life, but how to be delivered (saved) from being killed by the authorities. This reading is possible. I am not sure how the jailer meant his question, and so don’t mind reading it either way. Besides, whatever he meant by it, Paul and Silas answer the most important question, which is how to receive eternal life: believe in Jesus for it.

There are a few other examples of places where the word “saved” could be understood as eternal life, or could be understood as referring to something else (Eph 2:1-10 is one), but these examples are less than 1% of the uses in the Bible.

But here is what happens. Most church-going people assume that the word “saved” almost always means “get forgiveness of sins so you can go to heaven when you die” even though it rarely means that. So when they come across a passage like 1 Corinthians 15:2 where Paul says the Corinthians will be saved only if they hold fast to the word that was preached to them. And people say, “See? If you don’t hold fast, then you aren’t saved? See? Once saved, always saved is false!”

Right. But what does the word “saved” mean in this context? Is Paul really talking about the concept of “forgiveness of sins, escaping hell, going to heaven when you die?” No, he is not. Paul is using the word “saved” in the same way he uses it in 1 Corinthians 3:15. The word “saved” in 1 Corinthians refers to reward and honor at the Judgment Seat of Christ. This is something Christians can lose.

So the question, “Do you believe in ‘Once Saved, Always Saved?’ is a trick question. There are numerous verses in the Bible which indicate that there is some things in our Christian life which can be lost, and these texts use the word “saved” to talk about how to be saved from losing these things.

So do I believe in “Once Saved, Always Saved?” No. I do not. This slogan is unclear, imprecise, and does not fit with many Scriptures which indicate that there are many spiritual blessings in the Christian life that can be lost.

2. Why I believe “Once Saved, Always Saved”

Of course, after saying what I have said above about “Once Saved, Always Saved” I always try to then answer the question that people are really asking. When people ask if I believe in “Once Saved, Always Saved” what they are really asking is if I believe that eternal life can be lost. That is, do I believe in eternal security?

And the answer to that is a resounding Yes!

Once you see the difference in Scripture between the word “saved” and the terms “eternal life” or “everlasting life” or even something like “justification” you being to see that while there are numerous verses which talk about saving something that can  be lost, there is not a single verse in the Bible which talks about losing eternal life, losing everlasting life, or losing our justification. All of these gifts of God, once given, are never revoked or taken back.

There is no place in the Bible that talks about getting unjustified, unsealed, unregenerated, unindwelled, unbaptized by the Spirit, or any such thing.

If everlasting life can be lost, it has the wrong name.

Yes, I know there are difficult verses in the Bible, and troubling passages (Hebrews 6 and Hebrews 10 for example), but with a basic framework understanding of what Jesus teaches about eternal life being given freely to everyone and anyone who believes in Him for it, and that since Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners there is no sin that can take away the benefits of His death from us, and dozens of other Scriptures which talk about God’s infinite, unmerited, outrageous, scandalous grace, the clear teaching of Scripture seems to be that once God gives eternal life to someone, they have it eternally.

Yes, yes, there are people who might abuse this idea. Yes, there are people who think they have eternal life, but don’t. Yes, there are lots of false ideas out there about what eternal life is and how to get it. I am not talking about any of that. All I am saying is that according to Scripture, if a person has eternal life, then they have eternal life eternally. They shall never perish!

So do I believe in Once Saved, Always Saved? You tell me! What are your thoughts about the saying, “Once Saved, Always Saved”?

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