Heaven is not the goal.

Heaven

Are you an evangelist?  Do you feel the conviction to share the Gospel with those around you, and long to see your friends and family members “saved”?  Are you afraid of eternity – both for yourself and for your community?  Do you want to go to Heaven?

It would be a very disturbed person who truly longs in his heart to not go to Heaven.  Almost every culture and worldview has some form of paradise as a goal destination in the afterlife and they utilize this as a reward for moral or ethical living during their lifetime on Earth.  As the old bluegrass hymn states, “Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die”.

Often times when we share the Gospel and when we think of our own personal fear of eternity, we are driven to tell people how to not go to Hell, or how to get to Heaven.  God becomes merely the guard of eternal bliss and we need to do whatever it takes to make Him happy and appease Him so that we can get through the gate.  Jesus, however, teaches us that He came to the Earth so that we might know and love God and spend eternity with God.  Yes, He spoke often and terrifyingly about Hell, but when He discussed His mission and purpose, He said,

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

– John 10.10

“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

– Luke 19.10

Consider the story of Lazarus.  It might seem a strange choice in discussing this topic, but read carefully (I recommend reading the entire narrative of John 11):

“Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha…Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was…So Jesus then said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.’  So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days…When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth.’  The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go’.”

– John 11.1-45

Jesus had some friends whom He loved and who were all siblings:  Mary, Martha and Lazarus.  He received word that Lazarus was sick, but Jesus knew that it was the will and plan of God to exemplify His glory by raising him from the dead.  Thus we see in verse 6 the conjunction “so” or “therefore”.  Verse four states that the sickness is intentional for the glory of God, so when Jesus heard Lazarus was sick he remained where he was – in order that Lazarus would die.  By the time Jesus finally arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days.  There was no doubt he was dead.  But Jesus had a plan and He raised Lazarus from the dead.

Notice here that absolutely nothing is said about Heaven, Hell or the afterlife.  Not one thing.  We are infatuated with the afterlife, and anytime someone dies momentarily and is resuscitated we immediately ask them what they saw and experienced.  People have written books and made millions of dollars by declaring that they have been to Heaven and seen loved ones.  Doctors tell horror stories of people who have died and come back talking about spiders and demons and dark places.  But in the Bible, the man who was dead and buried for four days is offered no platform for testimony about his experience.

SAY WHAT?!

Are you not so curious about his experience?  I am too.  I want to know where he went, who he saw, if he interacted with God the Father, all of it.  But Jesus’ intention was to prove  His love for the family, His power to raise even the dead, and His identity as the final resurrection.  Everyone eventually will rise again at the end of the age – just like Lazarus, and therefore his resurrection was so insignificant that no mention is made of Lazarus’ experience.  Jesus wants us to look at God and His glory, not at the experience of a man.

It is extremely dangerous to build a theology on the silence of Scripture, but it is right and good to build our doctrines and beliefs on what the Scripture actually says.  Jesus did  come to save us from Hell, but He came so that we might have abundant life and a relationship with God and saving us from Hell is merely a consequence of being right with God.  You can read more about the new birth here.  He is primarily concerned that we know and love God:

“One of them, a lawyer, asked [Jesus] a question, testing Him, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’  And He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your soul’.”

– Matt 22.35-37

This is the foundation on which the Old Testament Law is written and on which the New Testament covenant of grace is established.  Loving God with everything we have.  God gives us Spiritual life through the salvation experience so that we can love Him.  Sin is the barrier between us and God, not us and Heaven.

This is why Jesus prays for the disciples and for the Church that we would be united with Him the same way that Jesus and God are united:

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.  The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.  Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.  O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”

– John 17.19-25

It has been said that we can test our hearts and our salvation by asking the simple question:  Would you want to go to Heaven if God (or Jesus) were not there?  It is, in part, a trick question because when paired up against the other option – of course no one wants to go to Hell.  However.  If your end goal is Heaven, if your desire is to see deceased relatives, if you just want to get to that place where there is no more sorrow and pain, then you have missed the boat and probably do not know God.  You desire only His benefits and not Him.  You love His blessings, but not Him.  And the greatest commandment and foundation for our salvation is loving God.

What is your end goal?  Do you love God?  Or are you just looking for a pain-free and comfortable eternity?

To forgive the inexcusable.

forgive

I was raised in a household that was relatively consistent and God-focused.  We had rules, we had expectations, we had family devotions, and doing the right thing – the God-honoring thing – was praised.  I experienced the loss of a few friends in High School, and learning how to process death and eternity only helped me to develop a more eternal focus as a young person.  The grace of God was praised and understood to be the greatest gift possible, but it was not until I was in my mid twenties that I first-hand understood the expectation, ability and grace of extending the grace that had been given me.

In order to become a Christian, in order to “be saved” or to “be born again”, we must first understand that we are sinners and the eternal consequence of our sin is death and damnation.  That is the very reason that we need a savior.  We will understand that fact on various levels when we come to faith.  A child might understand that disobeying his mother and lying to his friends is sinful and that God is angry about that sin.  An eighty year old man might carry the weight of a lifetime of one particular sin or set of various sins ranging from pride to theft, adultery or even murder.  Regardless of our life experience or age, we must understand the simple fact that we are hopelessly separated from God because of our sin.  This is why Jesus said,

“I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

– Luke 5.32

Jesus is not stating here that there are righteous out there, He is making the point that there are none who are are righteous on their own and His purpose is to draw sinners to repentance.  No matter what sin, no matter what age.  If you feel the conviction of the Spirit in your life pointing out sins and drawing you to change, then you are a child of God.  Jesus’ death and substitution in our place is adequate to cover any and all sins, we need only confess them and repent from them.

As we grow in our faith and get to know God more intimately, we will realize progressively the depth of our sins.  Even the eighty year old man who understands a lifetime of sin will walk through a process of maturation and understanding with God after he repents of his sins and begins walking in faith.  And the more we understand our guilt, the more we will understand God’s grace and the depth of His forgiveness.  To this experience, Jesus states:

“For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

– Luke 7.47

If you do not understand your sin, your sinful state, and the punishment you deserve, then the grace of God is of little or no consequence to you.  It is no big thing for God to welcome you into Heaven eternally because you think you deserve it, or you only committed small offenses which God could overlook or forgive easily.  The one who is forgiven little loves little.  This means he cannot love God, and he cannot love others.  He will be unwilling to forgive others who offend him, he will be unwilling and unable to offer grace, because he himself has not received it.

The one who has been forgiven much, conversely, loves much!  This person recognizes his sin guilt, is amazed at the grace offered, and responds in gratefulness and love.  This person, in return, can turn to others and graciously love and forgive others who offend him, because he understands the grace that has been given.  And the more deeply we understand the weight of the cross, the depth of our sin, and the measure by which we have been forgiven, the more deeply we will love and forgive others.

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

-C.S. Lewis

It is not every day that someone sins against us in what we would naturally consider an “inexcusable” way.  Different cultures respond to offense differently, and while there are some who tend to harbor grudges and allow feuds and multi-generational hatred develop, every culture and every person has forgiven someone something on some level.  Perhaps someone stepped on his foot, told him a white lie, ate his left overs or borrowed his car and did not fill up the gas tank.  These are easily forgivable offenses for most people.

But consider that God calls our focus and service to self adultery.  He has forgiven us the sin of adultery.  How many people would forgive their spouses the sin of adultery?  And not just a one-time offense, but serial adultery?

God, being holy in nature, cannot overlook any sin, and all sin is punishable by death and damnation.  Adam and Eve brought the curse upon all of creation by eating a piece of fruit that God had forbidden.  Have you ever eaten a forbidden cookie?  God’s holiness will not excuse that, it will only punish it.  If you have confessed your sins and asked Jesus to place that sin under the fountain of His blood, then that sin has already been punished and you are considered redeemed.  All sin will be punished.  Either in eternity through damnation, or in the death of Jesus Christ.  We cannot and should not seek to add to God’s wrath.  Rather, we are commanded to love as He loved us.

Thus, C. S. Lewis states that it is not an option for us to love and forgive, but it is the very mark of a Christian.  If you have been forgiven, Jesus says, you will forgive and love in like manner.

So how is your grudge level today?  How is your forgiveness level?  Are you resting in and praising Jesus for His grace and forgiveness?  Are you pouring out grace and forgiveness in the same manner you are receiving it?  Let us learn to love like Jesus, so much so that we will be known by our love and forgiveness.

Can People Be Saved After Death?

heaven and hell

I had a conversation with a friend recently regarding the nature of death and whether or not people will have a chance to be saved after they die.  This is a relatively new belief that was made widely popular by Rob Bell and his book “Love Wins”, and it is defined by theologians as “postmortem evangelism” (PME).  It is certainly a warm fuzzy thought and comfort: that people can get through life and either never hear of Jesus or deny His salvation, but then be given one last chance as they stand at the brink of eternity to choose between Heaven over Hell.

The good thing, and the truth found within this belief, is that Jesus is the only way to find eternal salvation.  It is still exclusive and right in this claim.

But the problem is that Scripture clearly teaches that this is an impossibility.  The author of Hebrews makes a clear assertion that upon our moment of death we will be taken to judgment.

“And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment…”

Heb 9:27

This is a difficult concept to understand.  We know that God, being Spirit (John 4.24) and being the creator (Col 1, Gen 1-3), exists outside of time.  He is not governed by the physical laws that uphold the world (Is 57.15), and the passing of time to God is irrelevant (Ps 90.5, 2 Peter 3.8, Ps 102.12, 24-27).  So it is not only possible but likely that when we leave our physical bodies we will enter into that state of existence where time does not constrain us.  In short, we can go straight from death to judgment – with everyone (even those who are still alive when we die) – at the end of time.

When we go to the judgment, we will go through two phases.  The first is the Great White Throne Judgment where the believers will be separated from the non believers (Rev 20.11-15).  The non believers, at judgment will be sent immediately to Hell.  Then the believers will give an account for the deeds that they did while in the body, the Bema Seat judgment (1 Cor 3.12-15).  This is the time where all of our deeds that were preformed to the glory of God will be refined from our sinful and wicked ones through fire and rewarded to us as Heavenly, eternal treasures:  treasures that we can present to Jesus as gifts.

Not only does Scripture teach that judgment is what awaits us at death, Jesus also taught in a parable of the impassable chasm between Heaven and Hell in his story of Lazarus and the Rich Man.  The story teaches us that after death the two were taken immediately to their eternity (through judgment):  Lazarus to Abraham’s bosom (Heaven/the New Earth), and the rich man to Hell (Luke 16.22).  The rich man could see Lazarus and in his torment begged Abraham to let Lazarus give him a drink of water, but he was denied (Luke 16.23-26).  Abraham told him that the chasm between Heaven and Hell was impassable (Luke 16.26).  No one can go from Heaven to Hell, and no one can go from Hell to Heaven.  Abraham also condemned the rich man for his actions while he was alive and asserted that he was receiving the reward for his wickedness in life (Luke 16.25).

Scripture regularly teaches that our eternal destiny is based on our actions in life, whether to eternal blessing or damnation:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

– 2 Cor 5.10

 Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.

– 1 Cor 3.8

“Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.”

– Rev 22.12

“I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.”

– Rev 2.23

“Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.”

– John 5.28-29

The deeds we preform and the salvation we receive or reject while alive will determine our eternity after death.

We also need to consider the sovereignty of God over salvation.  Paul teaches us that everyone who will come to God for salvation was predestined to be saved before the foundation of the world:

“…just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”

– Eph 1.4-6

Those who have been predestined have their names written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev 21.27), and they have been there since before time began.  This is why Jesus so boldly taught the disciples that God has given some people on Earth to Him, and everyone that God has given to Jesus will come to Him:

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.”

– John 6.37

The sheep analogy is continued and completed in this, as well.  Jesus says that we are His sheep, and His sheep know His voice and come when He calls (John 10.27-28).  Those who are not Jesus’ sheep are goats.  We are fundamentally, by nature, different creatures.  And that is why the first judgment will be the separation of the sheep and goats (Matt 25.31-46).

The last point we need to consider is the command and urgency of the Great Commission and missions.  Jesus came to bring salvation to the world, and the last thing He said as He was leaving the world was “Go and make disciples” of the whole world (Matt 28.18-20).  Paul said that He was obligated to the lost to preach the gospel (Rom 1.14-17).  And we are commanded to be disciples, and part of being a disciple is to make disciples.  If people had a chance to be saved after they left this Earth, then there is no urgency to go and tell.  Why?  Because anyone standing in front of two destinies, a fiery prison of suffering in Hell or eternal blessing in Heaven, will choose Heaven.  If everyone will get to see those options and choose, then there is no point to struggle to take the Gospel to the world.

Ultimately, Jesus taught us that belief in Him, through the Gospel, means that one has already begun their eternal life while alive on Earth.  Whoever does not believe still has the wrath of God abiding on him.

“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

– John 3.36

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”

– John 5.24

And ultimately Jesus taught that those eternal destinies are already determined before life, those who are damned are already judged and condemned even though they might still be physically alive:

“He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

– John 3.18

In summary, God has chosen us for salvation from the moment that He created the world.  His plan cannot be thwarted.  When we die, we go immediately to judgment – judgment for our deeds in the flesh and our belief in Jesus – and after judgment we will enter eternity in either Heaven or Hell, and the chasm between the two cannot be passed, in either direction.  This is why evangelism is so necessary and urgent, because we only have a limited time on Earth and then we will spend an eternity in reward for our faith or our lack of faith.  No, people cannot be saved after they die.  So let’s get our own salvation established and then let us be obedient to the ultimate call of Jesus to go out and make disciples of the world, so that we can be obedient and we can spend eternity with our brothers and sisters from all nations!

Is there a false prophet in your church?

preach (1)

Yesterday my husband and I were discussing the various ways that a demon might act in order to lead people astray.  We see in Scripture that there are demons who cause people to act irrationally and cause others to be mute, suffer from seizures, or roam around without cause.  We also see that there are demons who enable people to see supernaturally and thus work as diviners and fortune tellers.  I think, however, that one of Satan’s greatest tactics in hurting the Church and leading people astray is through false prophets and religious teaching that is so close but just not the complete Gospel:  assuring someone of a false salvation so that they never encounter Jesus is the greatest deception.

The fourth Church that Jesus addressed in His revelation to John was the Church at Thyatira.  In this warning, Jesus defined Himself as the one “who has eyes like a flame of fire” and “feet like burnished bronze”.  Jesus not only sees everything, but He is jealous for His glory and will ultimately and eternally cast into judgment (the lake of fire) anyone who does not repent of their sins and come to Him for salvation.  His feet are burnished bronze:  they will trample all of His enemies.  This self-description explains the wickedness that has infiltrated the Church:

“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this:  ‘I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.  I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality.  Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds.  And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.  But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them—I place no other burden on you.  Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come.  He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, TO HIM I WILL GIVE AUTHORITY OVER THE NATIONSAND HE SHALL RULE THEM WITH A ROD OF IRON, AS THE VESSELS OF THE POTTER ARE BROKEN TO PIECES, as I also have received authority from My Father; and I will give him the morning star.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’.”

– Rev 2.18-29

The Church at Thyatira had excelled in acts of service.  They met Jesus, they were transformed by His gospel, and they were growing in faith, love and persevering through life’s trials.  And they were continually adding to their faith by greater deeds of service.  In their determination to serve and in their hearts of love they chose, however, to tolerate a false prophet and not remove her from their midst.  Church discipline and inter-personal accountability is extremely difficult and many who have the Spiritual gift of service and compassion struggle with the confrontation that is required to remove someone who is walking in sin or teaching a false truth.  This is exactly what we see happening at Thyatira.

Jesus had no more patience for this false prophet.  He says that He has given her time to repent – whenever we encounter someone in sin, we should be patient with them as we attempt to hold them accountable – but there will come a point when a person either chooses obedience or chooses sin.  And once that decision is made, Jesus promises to destroy such a one.  This false prophet had led many in the Church to immorality and to idol worship.  While this might mean actually participating in worship of a foreign god or creating images of Jesus and offering sinful sacrifices to it, they had been led astray.  Jesus promises to destroy her while she is alive and all of those whom she has led astray will suffer severe tribulation with her.

Jesus then says that others will see the judgment that has come upon this church and know that He sees the hearts and minds of people and judged accordingly:  rendering to each one according to his deeds.  They will be an example.

Jesus then proclaims to the rest, who have not bought into this false teaching, to keep on keeping on.  He praises their perseverance and conviction and promises that if they continue until the end, they will be placed in a position of authority and saved on the day of judgment.  Romans 9 teaches us that God has created some people as “vessels of wrath”, who were created for destruction.  He uses the imagery of a potter creating some beautiful pots for honor and some worthless pots for destruction (picture a chamber pot), and the imagery is continued in this prophecy given to Thyatira,

“To him I will give authority over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces.”

Those who persevere will be welcomed into eternal rest, will rule (over the angels, Paul teaches us, 1 Cor 6.3), and will watch as God destroys and sends into an eternity separated from Him in Hell.

False prophets are wicked and have already infiltrated the Church, John says (1 John 4.1).  That is why we must be a wise as serpents but as innocent as doves (Matt 10.16).  We must hear teaching and immediately evaluate it against Scripture and test it to see if it is from God (Acts 17.11, 1 John 4.1).  We must intentionally protect our churches, our families and our own hearts from false prophets who would lead us astray and into destruction by God’s righteous judgment.  We should never be a passive listener.  When you go to church, when you listen to podcasts, when you read devotional material, test it.  No one is infallible and no one is guaranteed to always teach the truth.  That is why we have the Holy Spirit residing in us to help us discern sin and righteousness (John 16.8).

We must be on guard because the devil is prowling around looking for those whom he can devour (1 Peter 5.8).  He is actively against us, and he has sent out false prophets who will entice us and lead us astray with the smallest untruth which can lead to our destruction.  Stand firm in the faith.  Know the Word and know God, and rest in His perfect Truth.

Life is but a vapor

This week my small group was studying the end of James 4,

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.”  Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.  Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”  But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.  Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.

– James 4.13-17

And while the instruction is a reprimand towards the arrogant who seek to make their success and livelihood here on Earth without considering God and eternity, there is a very real application to all of us in our daily lifestyles and choices.  Less than twenty four hours later an accident was reported of a couple with whom I went to seminary.  They were on furlough and preparing to go back to Rome for their third term, and a semi truck hit them and killed the wife and mother of three.  She was thirty one years old.

Our life is but a vapor.  

Whenever someone passes away, it is natural for the community to consider the realities of life and death.  And when someone so young is taken, many are left asking the question that we all need to ask before we die:  “Why”?  What is the meaning of life?   What happens next?

Kyra knew the Lord.  She understood her sin, she confessed her sin and asked Jesus for forgiveness and found refuge in His righteousness that He provided by living a perfect life on Earth, dying in our place and raising again to conquer death.  She and her husband gave their lives in order to go and share this Gospel with the people of Italy.  And now she is resting in the presence of Jesus Christ, having begun the rest of eternity which we all aim to find.

While this feels like a tragedy, having been taken at such a young age and leaving her husband and three young children behind, we can take comfort and peace in the fact that she is now with the Lord and that she gave her life to things that will matter in eternity.  She invested in the treasures that moth and rust will not destroy.

James teaches us that God is in sovereign control over our lives.  He teaches us that every plan we make should be established with the mindset,

“If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”

If the Lord wills, we will live.  Jesus reprimanded the Hebrew people for the same attitude and used this statement to declare the brevity of life:

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’”

– Luke 12.20

He was using the illustration of a wealthy man who was building barns and storing up treasures for himself.  Yet God says, “This very night your soul is required of you”.  God allows us to live and takes us when it is His sovereign plan for us to enter into eternity.  Some will go when they are four, some when they are twenty four and some when they are ninety four.  God is in control of it all.

Therefore, we should be diligent to live unto God and prepare for eternity.  Jesus says,

And He said to His disciples, “For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.”

– Luke 12.22-23

He also instructs us,

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

– Matt 6.19-21

The meaning of life, the “chief end of man” as catechisms phrase it, is to know God and to enjoy Him forever.  Kyra was a beautiful example of this.  She knew God, she enjoyed Him, and now she is enjoying Him face to face.  She invested in the treasures of eternity and is receiving her reward as we speak.  And Jesus taught His disciples,

“Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds!  And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span?  If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters?  Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you? You men of little faith!  And do not seek what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not keep worrying.  For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things.  But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.”

– Luke 12.25-31

We will probably never know why Kyra’s life was so short here on Earth, but we can be confident that God will take care of Reid, her husband and her children.  He has promised to.  And He is grieving with them.  God is our comforter, and he takes every tear and keeps them.

“You have taken account of my wanderings;
Put my tears in Your bottle.
Are they not in Your book?”

– Ps 56.8

Perhaps you have recently lost a loved one, and are considering the meaning of life.  Perhaps you are exhausted of living for the world and are looking for an eternal purpose.  Perhaps you simply are considering what happens after death.  God has offered us a hope and a provision for our eternity.  Because all of us have sinned, we all deserve an eternity separated from God in Hell.  The punishment for any and all sin is eternal death.  But God loved us so much that He offered His son as the perfect sacrifice to take our place.  Jesus died so that we might be forgiven.  He took our punishment, and after three days in the grave He rose to conquer death.  If we confess our sins, and proclaim Jesus as Lord over our lives, we can be forgiven and spend eternity with Him.

Meet Jesus today.  Live for the things that will matter in eternity.  Store up treasures in Heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy.  Because life is a vapor, and we might not be here tomorrow.

kyra

Why does Jesus have to intercede for us?

justice

God is love.  Love is the greatest thing.  All we need is love, right?  We could solve all of the world’s problems if we just had love.

“The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

– 1 John 4.8

“We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”

– 1 John 4.16

“But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

– 1 Cor 13.13

Love is indeed great.  But what is love, exactly?  We, as Christians, often invite people to know God, because God is love, and we tell them that He can save us, but we rarely answer the question, “from what do we need to be saved?”.  We preach so freely that we need to be in relationship with God, that if we know Him and love Him that we can go to Heaven when we die.  This, unfortunately, is only half of the story.  And not only that, it leaves out the most important part of the story:  we need an intercessor.

We have a problem, and the problem is guilt.  We are sinners, and because of our sin we deserve to spend eternity in Hell.

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”

– Rom 3.23

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

– Rom 6.23

God has always, however, offered us forgiveness for our sins, if we repent, confess and make amends for our sin.  In the Old Covenant (the time before Jesus), people would have to kill an animal and make a blood sacrifice because the punishment for sin is death.  Something must die.

“And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”

– Heb 9.22

But why?  Are we trying to appease some equal and opposite force of God?  Because if God is love, all warm and fuzzy, surely He wouldn’t require blood.

On the contrary.  God’s love is perfect and holy and will never overlook sin.  He will never pardon the guilty.

The LORD is slow to anger and great in power,
And the LORD will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.
In whirlwind and storm is His way,
And clouds are the dust beneath His feet.

– Nahum 1.3

And He is, in fact, the punisher.  Jesus warns us to fear God because He is the only one who has authority to cast people into Hell!

“I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do.  But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!

– Luke 12.4-5

So before Jesus, there were priests who would make sacrifices for people.  They were appointed as the ones who served God in the temple, who appeased the wrath of God against the sins of all of the people.  But then Jesus came, as fully man and fully God, and He became the perfect priest by never sinning and offering Himself as the final and perfect sacrifice.  Jesus paid the penalty for our sins by shedding His own blood.

The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently.  Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

– Heb 7.23-25

So what does it mean that Jesus is making intercession for us?  Jesus stands before God as our advocate and intercessor when we sin, after coming to faith (1 John 2.1).  God hates sin and He judges it and condemns it.  Without faith, without being hidden in Jesus, we are left on our own before the judge.  We have no representation before God.  But when we believe and repent, we gain representation:  Jesus.  Every time we sin, Jesus stands before God and intercedes saying, “that sin is paid for” – “time served”, if you will.

Sin is the problem.  It is what separates us from God.  You cannot come to know God and to have a relationship with Him – you cannot “be saved” – until you deal with the sin problem.  And the glory, as well as the terror, is the fact that we cannot deal with the sin problem on our own.  Only Jesus can.  So we turn to Him and confess and repent.  Then Jesus, as our High Priest and intercessor, steps in and takes care of it.

Have you dealt with your debt of sin to God?  Do you have representation in the Heavenly court?  Have you confessed and repented of your sins and turned to God for forgiveness?  If not, do so today.  Jesus lives to make intercession for His followers.  And He will forgive you.

Jesus takes away the sins of the world.

world

Sin.  It is our human condition and it is our universal problem.  We are separated from God because He is perfect and He wrote the moral Law and the Biblical Law that defines right and wrong, and He established that the penalty for sin is physical and spiritual eternal death (Rom 6.23).  But God loves us and offers us a path to redemption.

“The next day [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming to him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!'”

– John 1.29

Jesus takes away the sin of the world.  He takes away our sin by his perfect life on the Earth, which did not merit death because He never sinned, but He died physically and suffered Hell Spiritually and conquered death by raising back to life and returning to Heaven.  He took the punishment that we deserve and offers us the legal verdict, “time served”.  He does not take away our sin in such a way as to pretend it never happened.  He takes away the guilt and punishment it deserves by paying it for us.

So.  When Jesus died on the cross, did He “take away” the sin of the entire world?  This is one of the most confusing concepts in Scripture, in my opinion.

“and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

– 1 John 2.2

John, the apostle, the disciple whom Jesus loved, used this phrase twice in two different letters that He wrote.  Jesus “takes away the sins of the world”, and He is the propitiation for the sins “of the whole world”.  Does John believe in universalism?  Will everyone ultimately be saved?  Does the phrase, “The whole world” mean every single person who has ever been born?  Obviously the world does not mean the dirt and trees, but people…

If we keep reading after that most famous of verses, we see a bit more of John’s understanding:

“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.  He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

– John 3.17-18

And even more clearly a few verses later:

“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

– John 3.36

John states clearly that the one who does not believe in Jesus is already judged.  Past tense.  And the one who does not believe or obey lives with the wrath of God abiding on him.  The only reason the wrath of God is poured out on someone is because of sin:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.”

– Rom 1.18-19

If God takes away the sin of everyone, then there is no place or reason for His wrath.  Because we know that the wrath of God was satisfied in the death of Jesus for the sins of those who would be forgiven.  But John tells us that some people still remain under the wrath of God, and it is those who do not believe.

All sins will be punished:  either they were punished definitively in Jesus 2000 years ago, or they will be sentenced upon the offender in eternity.

So what does it mean that Jesus “takes away the sins of the world”?  If He paid for everyone’s sin, then there should be no one going to Hell – there should be no one on whom the wrath of God still abides.  Either He paid for your sins or He didn’t.  But John says some people are still under the wrath.  Jesus did not pay for them for you to have to turn around and pay for them too!

Think of it like an antibiotic.  When a researcher finds the cure for a disease or infection, he could say, “This will cure the whole world”.  What he means is that anyone who has the disease and takes the medicine will be made healthy.  The simple fact of the existence of the cure does not mean that everyone who has the illness will be healed, the medicine must be ingested into the system to work.  But it has the capability to heal everyone who takes it.  Now, this analogy breaks down (as all analogies do) because sin is not a disease.  It is not an outside force acting on an otherwise healthy creature.  Sin is who we are.  It is our nature.  So Jesus’ forgiveness is not an antibiotic that kills a bacteria infesting our cells, but He is a transforming power that changes the very nature of our cells.  More accurately, He is life to dead cells.

Where it gets a little tricky is God’s role in administering this cure.  John says that Jesus died and whoever believes in Him will be saved.  But then he says in the next breath that those who do not believe have already been judged.  Jesus is not only the one who paid our debt, but He chose whose debt to pay and effectively instills faith in those whose debt He paid.  Those who do not believe were judged before He even came into the world, according to John.

Jesus is infinite and He is God.  His death is not lacking in ability to atone for the sins of everyone, but God used it purposefully and intentionally.  He is not in the business of double punishing sins.  Either Jesus paid for your sins, or you will.

So how do you know if Jesus paid for your sins?  What is the application here?  It is simple.  Do you want His punishment to count for you?  Then believe!  If you are capable of believing, desire to be saved and repent then He has paid for you!  There is no extra revelation.  There is no added spirituality.  There is no requirement other than belief and repentance.  If you want it, it is yours, because God has put it in your heart to want it.  Otherwise, it sounds like foolishness:

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

– 1 Cor 1.18

If the word of the cross to you is hope, then He paid your debt.  If it is foolishness, then it matters not to you anyway.

Do people go to Hell because of sin or because of who we are?

lava

Hell.  It’s a scary topic.  We do not like to talk about it much because it is unpleasant and focuses on the wrath of God instead of the love of God.  We like warm fuzzy things, we like forgiveness, acceptance, tolerance and love.  But Jesus talked about Hell and destruction regularly, and that more often than Heaven.

But I want to pose a simple question for us to ponder:  do people go to Hell because of sin or because of who we are?  While this may seem a theological acrobatic at first, how you answer this question will establish the foundation of your belief system about man, God, sin and salvation.

Why?

It has to do with the nature of man.  Do you believe that mankind is inherently good and we have a sin problem?  Or do you believe that mankind is inherently wicked and incapable of doing good?  If you believe that mankind is good then Jesus is supplemental.  If you believe that mankind is wicked then Jesus is everything.  If you believe that mankind is good then we deserved Christ’s atonement.  If you believe that mankind is wicked then Christ’s death on the cross was completely unmerited and an act of grace.  If you believe that mankind is good then we all get a shot at Heaven.  If you believe that mankind is wicked then we all deserve Hell and Heaven is a gift.

Let’s consider the first sin.  It is unique in that before Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, there was no precedence for sin, and they were designed to live forever; death had not yet entered the world.  Adam and Ever were placed in the garden of Eden with a single rule:  Do not eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Were Adam and Eve perfect?  No, they were not – in that they had the ability to sin.  They were innocent; the only true, genuinely innocent human being to ever walk the face of this Earth.  But they still had a sinful nature that chose to rebel and disobey.  We also see that Eve lied to the serpent before lying was defined as a sin…our natures are deceptive.

Through that one sin, death entered the world.  We know that the punishment for sin is death (Rom 6.23), and we know that all have sinned (Rom 3.23).  But we also see that,

“For in Adam, all die…”

– 1 Cor 15.22

We are all in Adam in the sense that we are human beings.  We have a human nature, which is a sinful nature, which is undeniable.  Paul explains a bit further in this passage:

“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…”

– Rom 5.12

We have indeed all sinned.  But we have all sinned because it is our nature to sin.  There is no person who has ever walked the face of this earth without sin – aside from Jesus Christ.  And it was Adam’s falling from innocence to the temptation of sin that solidified that we are now all under the burden of enslavement to sin.  We all carry the burden of original sin:  we are not born innocent and given the same opportunity to live in freedom that Adam was given.  It is now, “appointed unto man to die” because of Adam’s sin (Heb 9.27).  No baby can live forever if he is able to not sin.

What else does Scripture have to say about who we are?

“For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

– Rom 8.6-8

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

– Rom 5.10

“And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds…”

– Col 1.21

“…for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light.”

– Eph 5.8

We are born hostile towards God, unable to please Him, enemies of God, alienated from Him and darkness.  Scripture says that we ourselves are darkness without Jesus.  But the most ominous of descriptions is this:

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

– Eph 2.1-3

We are born Spiritually dead, enslaved to sin (Rom 6.20).  We are incapable of any righteousness (Rom 3.10).  We are unable to please God.  We are wicked.  We are born separated from God – because of the judgment that came upon the world when Adam sinned, and the whole world is groaning under the judgment (Rom 8.22-24).

Hell is a place of judgment and retribution.  The punishment (or wages) of sin is death.  Eternal death.  We are already dead, spiritually when we are born, and we are destined for an eternity of death unless Jesus intervenes.  We are born guilty and we continue to add to our sentence with every sin that we commit.  God is holy and righteous and would not send anyone to Hell who had not sinned and did not deserve it, but because we are in Adam, we are all born deserving it.

We sin because we are sinners.  We are spiritually dead.  We are aliens from God, enemies of God even, and incapable of doing anything good.  So, does God send people to Hell because of sin, or because of who we are?  Both.  They are one in the same.  Even the smallest sin would condemn us as guilty, but all of us have enacted an abundance of sins that makes the judgment “guilty” easy.  And we are incapable of doing anything good or pleasing to God until we come to faith.  Our very nature is sinning, and therefore damnable.

But God.

My two favorite words in all of Scripture.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

 – Rom 5.8

God is ready and willing to consider your sentence served, if you confess your sins and hide yourself in Jesus Christ.  He paid your penalty so that you might live.  He will reconcile you to God, He will give you His Spirit and make you no longer a child of sin and wrath, but a child of grace.  He will give you life and destine you for an eternity with Him.  In the same way that we are born in Adam, we can be reborn in Christ.

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.

 – 1 Cor 15.22

Trust Him today.

If we don’t fight sin, we are going to Hell.

Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.  For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them.

– Col 3.5-7

All good Baptists will tell you quickly that we are saved by faith, not by works (Eph 2.8-9).  There is nothing we can do to earn God’s merit or favor and there is nothing we can do to make Him love us less.  We cannot lose our salvation.  Once saved always saved.  We are the frozen chosen, for my more reformed friends.

The evangelical world is split on the topic, however, as more liturgical based denominations will consider the back-slidden, the worldly believer and the apostate as unsaved – though having once been saved (Heb 6.4, 10.26-27, Matt 6.15).

Both trains of thought have made a serious error, and that in dealing with the very nature of salvation.  The faith of salvation has been divorced, in concept, from the faith that produces righteousness.  The faith that gets you into Heaven has been voided of the holiness which earns us eternal rewards.  To view salvation as a one-time experience that was secured by walking an aisle, raising a hand, or saying a prayer is simplistic at best and damnable at worst.

Jesus said,

“But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.”

– Matt 24.13

Salvation is an ongoing process.  We do not earn it by obedience, but it is exemplified by obedience.  If we are not being empowered by and convicted by the Holy Spirit to live lives that honor and glorify God, we did not have a true conversion experience and we are not on the road to eternal salvation.  Remember the sower and the seeds?  The Gospel can look appealing to people.  They can even start out down the apparent road of obedience.  But when it is of the flesh, the burdens of the world and persecution will cause them to fall away (Luke 8).

This is precisely why Paul encouraged the Philippian  church to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2.12).  Why?  Because eternity is at stake.  If you are obeying in your own strength, you are seeking to earn God’s salvation by your works.  There is no faith and consequently no salvation.  If you are refusing to obey, then there is no fruit to prove that the Spirit is working out your sanctification no proof of your salvation.  And it is for sin that God’s wrath comes upon people in eternal judgment:  Hell.

When we come to a fork in the road between living a lifestyle prohibited by God and living a lifestyle of obedience, if we choose sin, we can rightly fear that the Spirit is not at work within us, and that we are not saved.

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

– Matt 10.28

Terrorists can kill our bodies.  Disease, car crashes, old age, something will kill our bodies.  But Jesus tells us to not fear those things, but to fear God who, after we are dead, can destroy us in Hell in punishment for our sins.

“If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.”

– Matt 5.29-30

Jesus considered our personal war against sin so serious that He painted the picture of gouging out our own eyes which cause us to lust, and cutting off our hands that cause us to sin.  The consequence of lusting after a woman, according to Jesus, is eternal damnation.

Does keeping ourselves from lusting earn us salvation?  No, it most certainly does not.  Faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and the power to die to sin and hope of eternal salvation alone saves us.  But if we continue in sin, we prove that the Spirit is not saving us.

The one who perseveres to the end will be saved.

So let us confess to God that we cannot obey on our own.  We are unable to persevere through trials and persecutions.  We give in to our flesh and fall to the wiles of the world.  Let us trust in His sacrifice of His life on the cross and resurrection to conquer death and sin.  And let us stand in the victory of the cross, by the power of the Spirit, so that the Scripture can be true about us that sin will not be master over us (Rom 6.14).

Work it out.  Eternity is at stake.

kill sin

Man up already.

“You cannot use words like ‘sin’ when speaking to someone.  It only pushes him away.”

After chewing on the authority of the Bible for our understanding of right and wrong yesterday, a conversation came to mind which I had a year and a half ago in which the statement above was said to me, with surprising authority and sternness, by someone with Biblical and counseling training.

I also heard it preached recently, from a pulpit, that it is not primarily our sin that will send us to Hell.

This is a lie.  A trick of the enemy, seeking to keep lost people on the path to damnation and believers complacent in their sinfulness and worldliness.  Jesus died on the cross to pay the punishment for our sins.  Hell is an eternal judgment for sin.  God destroys both body and soul in Hell, after convicting the world of sin (Matt 10.28, John 16.8)!

“Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’”

– Rev 6.15-17

Jesus Christ is the Lamb.  He is the final judge and He will return to the Earth in wrath, to deal with sin.  Sin, people!  The wages of sin is death (Rom 6.23)!

“There is none righteous, not even one.  There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God.  All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good…”

– Rom 3.10-12

Telling ourselves that we are OK, that we are generally good people serves no one.  In reality we all know that we are not good enough, and we are all striving for success, popularity and something to ease the condemnation of our conscience.  We know, because it is written on our hearts, that we are sinful and deserve wrath (Rom 1).

And Christians need the Spirit, the church, our friends and family to continually convict us of our sin.

“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”

– John 16.8

If we do not allow Him to convict us and change us, we run the risk of making peace with sin and proving ourselves to not be of Him:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”

– Heb 10.26-27

We are talking about eternity here.  If we spend our time on Earth appeasing our guilty consciences through lies or neglect, we will continue on the path to our just reward: an eternity in Hell.  If we choose to accept our sinful state, tell ourselves that “I’m not that bad”, and go on our merry way, we offend an almighty God and there is no salvation.  The standard is not other sinners.  The standard is God’s perfect Law.  Unless one keeps the entirety of the Law perfectly, eternal damnation is the due punishment.  But Jesus died on the cross for sin.

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

– 2 Cor 5.21

“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.”

– 1 Peter 3.18

I am a sinner.  You are a sinner.  There are specific sins in your life right now that the Spirit would desire to help you overcome.  There are sins in my life that I need the Spirit to help me overcome.  Own it.  Man up.  Confess it.  And let God transform you from the inside out.

When we come to God for salvation, we come as we are.  We have nothing to offer, we cannot make ourselves more acceptable to God.  Coming to God, in fact, is that complete realization that I can do nothing on my own, I am sinful, I deserve Hell and punishment and I am lost.  But after you come to God for salvation, we do not settle into worldly, sinful lifestyles.  The Spirit is daily transforming us and we are to die to sin.  Purposefully seek it out and kill it.  Through the power of the Spirit to the glory and honor of God.  God is primarily concerned with your holiness, not your happiness.  He will step on your toes.  Let Him.  Just man up already, and let God define sin.  Own it.  Confess it.  And be changed.