What really matters?

treasure

How do you make your decisions?  How do you spend your time?  We find ourselves often fretting and stressing over things that either we cannot change, or in a few moments, days, weeks, or years we will have completely forgotten.  This is one of the reasons that Jesus commands us,

“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

– Matt 6.34

Every day has its own tensions, stresses and frustrations.  Each day also has its own joys, pleasures and comforts.  But how much of what we have done yesterday will last through eternity?

“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

This is an interesting command.  Jesus wants us to build up treasures, just not ones that are earthly.  Everything that exists here on Earth, and those fleeting pleasures of affirmation, adoration and approval will pass away.  They will rust, they will break down, they will pass.  And Jesus, desiring us to have eternal joy and pleasure in God, teaches us that if we store up treasures in eternity, in Heaven, they will give true joy and never pass away.

What does that mean?  How do we store up treasures in Heaven?  Scripture teaches us that when Christians are judged at the end of time, our deeds will be weighed.  Sin and wickedness will be burned up like weeds, but those things we have done to the glory and honor of God will be purified through the fire and come out as gold and precious stones (1 Cor 3.10-15).

What is the most eternal treasure?  Other souls in Heaven.  The Great Commission was given to us as Jesus final parting words:  Go make disciples of all nations (Matt 28.18-20).  God desires to use us as a part of His plan to bring other souls to salvation.  When we get to Heaven, our works will be judged and there will be actual rewards, but no greater reward than a fellow soul in eternal joy with us.

We will also receive a variety of rewards, like the “crown of life”, the “crown of righteousness” and the “crown of glory” (Rev 2.10, 2 Tim 4.8, 1 Peter 5.4).  Some people interpret these verses to be literal crowns, like those awarded to athletes who won at the ancient olympics.  I believe the term crown to be figurative of the gift it represents:  eternal life, godly righteousness, and our final glorification.  We learn elsewhere in Scripture that these are the eternal goals of salvation, and it will be our “crowning glory” to ultimately receive them after the final judgment.

But to whom is rewarded this gifts?  Those who persevere until the end.  Those who feed the hungry and clothe the naked.  Those who make disciples.  Those who abide in Jesus.  Those who glorify God in everything that they do.  Those who are faithful.

These are the things that will matter forever.  Not the house you buy, the car you drive or the clothes you wear – unless of course all of these decisions are made with an eternal goal.  Perhaps you buy a house to house homeless or that is ready for missionaries as they come through.  Perhaps you drive an economic car in which you offer people rides and share the Gospel with them along the way.  Perhaps you wear respectable clothes that honor God in the way you present yourself.

Figure out what things will last forever.  And focus on doing them.  A lot.  Nothing else matters.

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!

There but for the grace of God go I.

stake

John Bradford was an English, Protestant reformer who was burned at the stake by command of Mary Tudor at the age of 45.  After being raised in an established family, studying and working his way up to paymaster of the English army, he entered law school and there met a Christian.  John was converted and left law school to study theology.  At the age of forty he was ordained a priest and worked as a roving chaplain, and during his service in the Church he was known for regularly affirming his dependence on the grace of God and not his own morality for salvation.  When he would see criminals being led away to their death, he would say:

“There but for the grace of God go I.”

– John Bradford

We are quite versed in the art of self-deception, believing that we are not truly wicked at the core.  We believe that our human nature is neutral and that God only needs to help us out in those areas where we struggle.  But Scripture teaches us that we are depraved, that our very nature as human beings is wicked.  We are under the curse, we are enemies of God, and apart from Him we can go nothing good, and we would never seek God.  But we are quick to observe one another’s sins, hold grudges, and walk with condemnation.  We forget that our very faith and salvation is a gift.  Paul addresses this heart sternly:

“Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.  And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.  But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself,that you will escape the judgment of God?  Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”

– Rom 2.1-4

It is the kindness of God alone that leads us to repentance.  We cannot and we never will come to repentance on our own accord.

“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.”

– John 6.44

Therefore, we must be diligent to remember that everything we have is a gift from God.  Even our faith.  Even our repentance.  And when we see someone in sin or suffering the consequences of sin, let us practice humility.  Let us preach the Gospel to such a one, let us hold a brother accountable, but let us turn back to God in praise and with guarded hearts to petition God to keep us from sin.  Because it is the grace of God alone that draws us and keeps us from sin.  But for the grace of God, there go you and I, too.

“Pray, then, in this way:
‘Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’”

– Matt 6.9-13

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.

Is God Always Kind?

kindness

People nowadays think that they have the ability and freedom to make God be who we want Him to be.  We think our freedom of religion means that we can choose and say with authority how God acts, who He is, what He thinks and feels.  Fortunately for us, Scripture tells us everything that we need to know about God.  Perhaps the most glorious truth about God is that He is love.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

– 1 John 4.7-8

But we have culturally defined love in a way that does not apply to God.  We value tolerance, independence and freedom more than truth, and we have bought into the deception that we can define truth by our experience and opinion.  Thus, we have taught ourselves (and deceived ourselves) that love means tolerance, affirmation, and unconditional approval.  We know that God is love, and therefore everything that He does is loving.  But is everything that He does kind?

Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.

– Rom 11.22

No.  Everything that God does is not kind.  He regretted that He had made mankind just a few generations into the existence of the world, and He killed everyone who was alive by a flood – except Noah and his family.  He destroyed cities and nations to establish His authority and punish sin.  And even Jesus went into the temple and out of anger threw over tables and chased people out of the temple with a whip.  If someone came into your office with a whip and overturned your desk and chased you out of the building, would you think that a kind action?  I am confident that would not strike me as kind.  We can be confident that Jesus is love and that He was driven by a zeal for God and for the temple, and thus acted towards those who were defiling the temple.

Therefore, we understand Romans more fully.  It is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance (Rom 2.4).  And it is His mercy that continually works in us maturity and becoming more like Christ (Phil 2.13).  Therefore, if we remain in God and obey His commandments, we remain in His kindness.  But His severity is the opposite of his kindness and is the consequence of disobedience and not walking with Him.

Consider Ananias and his wife Sapphira.  They were a part of the Church, they were involved, and they sold their property and gave a portion of the revenue to the Church but lied and said that they had given the entire profit to the church.  God struck them both dead on the spot.  This is not an act of kindness, this is severity.

God is love.  And when we know God, when we make him the Lord of our lives, keeps us in His kindness and mercy.  If He is not our Lord, Scripture defines Him as jealous, a consuming fire, almighty and righteous judge who will not let one sin go unpunished.

It is sort of like expectations when you enter into a romantic relationship.  When you get married and move in together with your spouse, everyone realizes that they had expectations that were not met.  Perhaps your father always took out the trash or filled up the gas tank on the car for your mom.  Your husband might not have been taught that that was his responsibility, and this will cause tension between a couple.  Perhaps your mom cooked three hot meals a day and did your laundry, but your wife cannot cook or has no interest in doing the laundry.  This will cause tensions in your relationship.  You have to get to know who your spouse is, what they value, what they enjoy, what they expect and what they want to do.  Before we come to God for salvation, we [can] have a warm fuzzy expectation of who God is and how He acts.  We can expect Him to do certain things and to not do others.  But when we make Him the Lord of our lives, we are going to realize that our expectations might have been wrong.  The difference here is that between a husband and wife we should find a compromise.  With God, we submit.

So, instead of pouting and starting segregate groups with people who just agree with us, let us turn to Scripture and let us allow God to say who He is, to express how He thinks, and submit to that.  We do not want to be shocked on judgment day that we never truly knew Him!  And let us evaluate our lives, and recognize that God is kind to His children, and severe to those who never repent from their sins.  And let that drive us to urgently share the Gospel and hope of salvation with those who do not yet have it!

The law is good.

law

Do you go to church?  Do you believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  Are you living a life of salvation under grace?  Do you consequently think that the Law of the Old Testament and Old Covenant are bad?  Does your skin crawl when people try to tell you what to do or how to act?

Sometimes we paint the picture that the Old Testament was bad and the New Testament is good.  The Law was bad, but grace is good.  That is, after all, where we get legalism, right?

But Jesus is love, He taught love, it’s all warm, fuzzy, feel good, non judgmental mushy gushy stuff.

Right?

“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.  Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.  For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.  Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.

– Matt 5.16-22

Jesus unashamedly taught that He did not come to abolish the Law, and that the Law will stand until the end of time – until there is a new Heaven and a new Earth.  And not only that, but anyone who annuls the Law will not make it into Heaven.  In short, you cannot love Jesus and hate the Law.

There was a very real change that happened when Jesus died and rose from the dead.  When the Old Covenant was fulfilled in the New Covenant, and the Law was fulfilled in Jesus, the sacrificial system was completed.  We do not have to make sacrifices to atone for our sins any longer because Jesus was the final and the perfect sacrifice.  The Old Covenant sacrifices were shadows looking forward to the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus would make (Heb 10.1-18).  Thus, some of the traditions and practices were done away with by the completing work of Jesus on the cross.  But the theme of the Old Covenant Law is summed up in this:

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

– Deut 6.4

This is the very heart of the Law, and the single command that Jesus said is the greatest.  The rest of the Law is how people were instructed to actually live out that love.  You cannot obey the Law unless love is your driving force.  And through love, the goal of life is to follow this overarching command:

You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

– Lev 19.2

And both of these commands reign true today.  Jesus taught us to Love the Lord with all of our heart, soul and might (Matt 22.37) and Peter continues the command to be holy (1 Peter 1.15, 16).

Consider this,

“THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THEM
AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD:
I WILL PUT MY LAWS UPON THEIR HEART,
AND ON THEIR MIND I WILL WRITE THEM,”
He then says,
AND THEIR SINS AND THEIR LAWLESS DEEDS
I WILL REMEMBER NO MORE.”

– Heb 10.16-17

God, when He made the New Covenant with believers, with us, promised to take out our hearts of stone and give us a new heart, and on that heart He would actually write His Law.  In the Old Covenant, they were instructed to write the Law “on their foreheads” and on the doorposts of the house:

“You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

– Deut 6.8-9

But now, Hebrews says, we have no need of an instructor because the Holy Spirit is teaching us from within (Heb 8.11).  That does not mean that we do not need to read the Bible, but it means that the Spirit will convict us when we are tempted to sin or start to make the wrong decision.  His Spirit will guide our spirits, when we are willing and listening, in the path of obedience.

Jesus came to fulfill the Law.  The Law is now written on our hearts, and we are commanded to be holy – because of and through the love for God.

Without faith, hope and love in and for God, it is all worthless.  That is why Jesus called the Pharisees white-washed tombs:  They were following the law in their actions but not in their hearts.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.  So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

– Matt 23.27-28

The problem was not the Law, the problem was the heart of the Pharisees.

If you try to obey Jesus without knowing and loving Him, you will be just like the Pharisees.  But if you want to know and love Jesus, you have to obey, and you will be compelled to obey because God has written the Law on your heart.

“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

So let us focus on the greatest commandment:  Love God with everything you have.  Trust the Spirit convicting your heart of righteousness, and read the Scriptures to find out what God has to say about sin and righteousness.  Obey.  But obey out of love, not out of obligation or trying to prove yourself.  Prove yourself to be a believer by your actions, not a bag of dry bones.

I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife

church-model

I heard a song the other day that caught my ear.  It is musically catchy and the first line of the chorus is “Take me to church”, so naturally it caught my attention.  The third line of the chorus, however, is what broke my heart: “I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife”.

Take me to church
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life

Curious, of course, I googled the author’s meaning in the song.  These are the two direct quotes I could find from the him:

“I found the experience of falling in love or being in love was a death, a death of everything. You kind of watch yourself die in a wonderful way, and you experience for the briefest moment–if you see yourself for a moment through their eyes–everything you believed about yourself gone.  In a death-and-rebirth sense.”

“Sexuality, and sexual orientation – regardless of orientation – is just natural.  An act of sex is one of the most human things.  But an organization like the church, say, through its doctrine, would undermine humanity by successfully teaching shame about sexual orientation – that it is sinful, or that it offends God.  The song is about asserting yourself and reclaiming your humanity through an act of love.”

– Andrew Hozier-Byrne

He writes metaphorically; comparing his lover to religion.

The music video is about a male homosexual relationship and the backlash the couple receives from the community when they are found out.  Hozier made this statement in regards to the video:

“The song was always about humanity at its most natural, and how that is undermined ceaselessly by religious [organizations] and those who would have us believe they act in its interests. What has been seen growing in Russia is no less than nightmarish, I proposed bringing these themes into the story and Brendan liked the idea.”

As the lie continues to evolve that we have the freedom to determine right and wrong for ourselves, and that there ultimately are no moral, ethical or eternal absolutes, people will misunderstand the intentions of Jesus and Christianity and will consider themselves the victim for any public declaration of a “different truth” than what they are choosing to believe.

The extremely difficult calling for the Church, for us, for you and for me, is to learn how to walk in obedience to Scripture, to encourage others to walk in obedience to Scripture, and yet to show them love at the same time.  We are all sinners, we all were born in darkness and wickedness and we all were enemies of Christ until God breathes Spiritual life into us.  And yet we all continue to fight our sin daily, failing at times.  Are you afraid that if you confess your sins to another at church that they will “sharpen their knives” and prepare to crucify you for them?  I have seen it firsthand.  I have experienced it firsthand, and that over a non-sin issue!

The opposite extreme is just as dangerous.  Jesus always commanded the sinner who came to Him,

“From now on sin no more.”

– John 8.11

Jesus does not accept or condone our sin.  The Bible tells us clearly what God considers right and wrong, and He – as the creator – gets to decide.  Not me.  Not you.  Not the culture at large.  Only God.  He knows that we are sinners and Scripture tells us that the glory of grace is that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5.8).  Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, and He wants us to knock it out!  He most certainly did not pay the punishment so that we could keep doing those things that He hates!  He gives us the Holy Spirit to empower us and He desires that we would live according to His code of conduct, if you will.  But He does not sharpen His knife when we stumble and repent.  He forgives us – when we confess and turn away from that sin.

There in lies the problem.  What is our attitude about sin?  Hozier makes this alarming and enlightening statement in the very same song:

I was born sick,
But I love it
Command me to be well
Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen.

This is actually a quote from Christopher Hitchens, a New Atheist, with the phrase “but I love it” inserted in the middle.  Hitchens rightly observes that he was born sick.  But he is only half right.  We are all born “dead in our trespasses” (Eph 2.1).  We love sin and darkness and we choose it.  So why would someone “command me to be well”, when I am completely incapable of being well?  Hozier adds the sentiment “but I love it”.  We do love our sin.  It is a miracle of God that we are convicted of it and drawn to repentance.

“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.  For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.  But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”

 – John 3.19-21

Hozier’s sentiment is Biblical.  Everyone who does evil hates the Light – and the Light is Jesus and His Truth.  The world lives in darkness and the darkness sins boldly because they receive affirmation from one another.  Being in the darkness does not mean that it is in secret.  It means that it is not in Christ: the Light.  And we are all born in darkness, in sin, in spiritual deadness.  We hate the Light, in-and-of ourselves.  We need Jesus to breathe life, to convict us of sin, to save us.

So, Church, when should we sharpen our knives?  If someone comes into our lives who was “born sick” and still loving it, then our concern is not their sin (or sins) of choice.  Our concern is their salvation.  Until the sinner realizes the truth of the Gospel and comes to Jesus for salvation, their actions simply do not matter.  It makes no eternal difference if they happen to abstain from one or more particular sins.  Apart from Jesus, that is as “filthy rags” and worthless (Is 64.6).  If you are in Christian community and someone confesses a sin of habit or temptation, if they are clinging to Jesus and trying to die to that sin, there is no place for knife sharpening either.  In fact, this is one of the most beautiful callings of the Church community:  to hold one another accountable and push one another on to righteousness.

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

 – James 5.16

The only time we are commanded to take strong action against sin is when someone among us who claims Jesus gives in to sin and its temptation and will not turn from it.  An unrepentant Christian – one who knows the Truth, has claimed Jesus’ salvation for His sins, yet disgraces Jesus and God by choosing sin instead of obeying God.  Jesus gives us very clear instructions for how to handle such a situation, and it is bathed in love, giving the person multiple opportunities to obey (Matt 18).  We are never commanded to go on a witch hunt, or to crucify someone, but to remove them from our midst with the hopes that they will repent later.  Our primary concern, however, is the holiness of the community at large, and if one will not submit to God, he should be removed for the sake of the Church.

Dear Church, put down your knives.  Love the non believer as one who needs Jesus.  Love the repentant believing sinner (the vast majority of us within the Church) as one who is struggling, just like you, and push them on to righteousness and to obedience.  And love the unrepentant believer by pointing out his sin, naming it for it’s eternal danger, and removing him from the church – to the end that he would repent.

Unconditional Love does not mean Unconditional Approval

approval

As we Americans continue full steam ahead down the path of tolerance and acceptance, denying the existence of absolute truth and empowering everyone to be god and authoritative in his own eyes, we are losing all sense of accountability.  While one can still go to jail for murder or grand larceny, the pool of excuses is broadening.  Mental illness, duress, self defense and situational considerations allow the guilty to walk freely.  We have philosophized ourselves into a corner where everyone has their freedom to choose every aspect of their lives, and no one has the right to judge, or even look funny at another because of his choices.

I have heard it said that God made man in His image, and now we are returning the favor.  We value tolerance, acceptance and self determination so highly that we attempt to force these attributes onto God.  We read books like “Redeeming Love” and we listen to our best friends who say, “I will support whatever decision you make” and think that we are eternally in the clear.  Because God serves us.  Right?  This is how we end up with situations like the coming out of Vicky Beeching and her self justification, “God loves me just the way I am”.

Is God’s love truly unconditional?  We need to consider carefully what we mean by the notion and what Scripture has to say about it.  When it comes to the offer of salvation, yes, that love is unconditional.  I cannot merit God’s salvation by doing something, and I cannot be so wicked that He would withhold it from me.  The act of justification is God paying the penalty for my sin, apart from anything good within me.  It is by faith, through grace, and not of works so that no man may boast (Eph 2.8-9).  But His saving grace does require obedience.

“Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

– Luke 6.46

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”

– John 14.15

“He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him…If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.  He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.”

– John 14.21-24

The mark of the one who has been saved, the mark of the one who loves Jesus is the one who obeys Him.  If we do not obey Him, them we prove ourselves to not love Him, to not be saved.  God’s saving grace is unconditional to earn, but conditional to maintain.  He will not smile on or approve of the one who continues in sin after hearing of grace:

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

So how does that work?  We like to talk about the love, grace and mercy of God, but it is less fun to talk about His righteousness, wrath and judgment.  A.W. Tozer makes this very clear observation:

All of God’s acts are consistent with all of His attributes.  No attribute contradicts any other, but all harmonize and blend into each other in the infinite abyss of the Godhead.

– A.W. Tozer

God’s wrath, grace, judgment, mercy, love and anger are all perfectly working together to create the infinite, perfect sovereign over the universe.  His grace freely forgives all who ask, and His wrath fully punishes all who do not.  We are all guilty before Him, as He is the perfect, all knowing judge who can see not only our actions but our hearts, and He Himself wrote the book on sin.  If it were not for the Law of God, we would not know sin (Rom 3.20).

God does not accept our ongoing actions unconditionally.  He hates sin.  He will not tolerate it.

I listened to a beautiful testimony yesterday, I highly recommend it to you:

Christopher says, “God did not call me to be heterosexual because He is heterosexual.  He called me to be holy because He is holy”.  God does not come to us in the filth and mire, save us and then leave us there.  He comes to us in the filth and mire and rescues us.  He pull us out of the mud, He washes us clean, He set our feet on solid ground and gives us a new heart and a new mind and the ability to obey and love Him.  His grace and love cause us to be a new creation, set on His ways and intentions.  He expects love, obedience, faithfulness and holiness from us in return.  Yes, He forgives us when we mess up, but He empowers us to change and expects us to put to death the deeds of the flesh.

We are not earning your salvation by obeying.  We are proving ourselves to be saved by obeying.  Be holy, for He is holy.

Do I have to forgive [him]?

Christians today glorify those humble people who have been sinned against in exceptionally heinous ways and offer forgiveness to the offender.  We have all heard stories of parents forgiving the rapist/murderer who took their daughter, of car accident victims forgiving the drunk driver, and countless other offendees offering public forgiveness to their offenders.  Does the Bible say that we have to do that?  Do we have to forgive everyone?

Let me ask you a very simple question:  Does God forgive everyone?

No.  God does not forgive everyone.  If God did forgive everyone, no one would go to Hell.

What does that mean?  How does that apply to my life?  There are some terrifying verses in Scripture that relate to forgiveness:

“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.  But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.”

– Mark 11.25-26

If I am unwilling to forgive anyone for any transgression, the promise is that I will not be forgiven by God.  So.  How can that be that God does not forgive everyone, yet if I do not forgive everyone, I am damned to Hell?

First we must understand what forgiveness is.  Forgiveness is the reconciliation of a relationship that has been broken because of a particular (or many) sins.  Forgiveness requires the confession of a sin by the offender:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

– 1 John 1.9

“Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away…”

– Acts 3.19

God does not forgive us until we confess and repent.

Forgiveness also requires the promise of the offendee to put away the offense, to not bring it up, dwell on it, or hold the forgiven accountable.

“Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”

 – Heb 10.17

“…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

 – Ps 103.12

 Unless the offense presents itself as a habit that must be addressed later, it is to be removed from conversation, remembrance and the relationship.  Forgiveness is the fullness of the restoration of the broken relationship, through the mutual submission to the Word and will of God by both (or all) parties involved.

When Jesus taught on Church discipline, he instructed that the one who would not repent was to be removed from the church (Matt 18.15-18).  Paul says that we are to turn such a one over to Satan and not even eat with him (1 Cor 5.5, 11).  Someone who is in sin is to not be forgiven if he will not repent, he is to be kicked out of the church and left for God to convict.

If a man (who claims to be a Christian) abandons his family, the church should not embrace him and coddle him hoping to love him to repentance.  Jesus said to kick him out.  If a woman in the Church is caught stealing from her employer and she justifies herself saying that she needs and deserves the extra income, Paul says do not even eat with her.

Until they repent.

When the wayward man or stealing woman understand their sin against God, their families and all affected and they confess their sins, we then must forgive and restore that relationship.  If such a man or woman confesses their sin and seeks to reconcile, if the offended refuses, the offended will not be forgiven by God (Mark 11.26).

So what about the parents whose child was killed by a drunk driver, or whose daughter was raped and murdered?  What is it that they are truly saying when they proclaim forgiveness for the culprit?

There is a very real distinction between a transaction of true forgiveness and a heart that is humble and ready to forgive.  We can only be reconciled with those who repent.  But the offended must deal with the offense before God and be ready and willing to forgive the offender at any time.  God does not allow for His children to harbor bitterness in their hearts:

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”

 – Eph 4.31

We also do not discipline one in the church who is in unrepentant sin out of sinful anger or bitterness, but out of love.  It is with the hope of their repentance that we remove someone from the Church.  But it is because of their unrepentance that we must remove them from the Church, lest they justify their sin and draw others into it.

“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

When we fully grasp the depth of our own sin and the forgiveness that has been granted to us, there is no offense that we cannot forgive.  The depth of my wickedness and the grace poured out over my life prohibits me from holding a grudge and offense against my brother or sister.  Not only that, but if I believe Scripture to be true, I understand that God has punished that particular sin.

“Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, 
In due time their foot will slip; 
For the day of their calamity is near, 
And the impending things are hastening upon them.”

 – Deut 32.35

God is the only one who can and will righteously exact vengeance.  The sin of rape and murder, drunk driving, theft and abandonment of family were either decisively punished in the person of Jesus on the cross or they will vindicated on the head of the offender in eternity.  In Hell.  I cannot and ought not seek to add to the judgment of God, as I will either diminish the cross or I will diminish God’s righteousness in eternal judgment by declaring it wanting.  God forbid I would say, “Jesus’ death for that sin was not enough, I will hate you too.”  Or, “Eternity in Hell is not yet upon you, so I will begrudge you and despise you until your destruction”.

Our hearts, in becoming God’s, must become like God’s.  God is ready and willing to forgive all who repent.  Jesus’ blood is big enough to cover everyone, but it only covers those who repent:

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

 – Matt 26.28

Therefore, these well meaning parents have the right heart and intention.  They are ready and willing to forgive.  Their hearts are humble before God and they would reconcile at the repentance of the offender.  The person who approaches his father who abandoned him in childhood to say, “I forgive you” is truly offering an olive branch to restore the broken relationship.  It requires the father’s confession of sin and repentance to restore the relationship.

It is important to note that forgiveness does not trivialize the sin.  Often the exchange is, “I’m sorry” and “It’s OK”.  Murder, rape, theft and abandonment are never OK.  Forgiveness does not mean that the offended surrenders the offense and declares it “all right”.  The proper exchange should be, “I have sinned, please forgive me” and “I forgive you”.  We should not and may not diminish the weight and burden of sin, but when we practice Biblical forgiveness, we understand that the sin was covered by the blood of Jesus and we promise to let it go.

However if the sin is not confessed, it is not yet covered by the blood of Jesus.

Therefore the struggle of the offended believer is to put away bitterness, prepare the heart to forgive if the opportunity arises, and to trust God that His vengeance is just and satisfying.  To the extent we have been forgiven we must be ready and willing to forgive.

forgiveness1

And while we are on the topic; there is a trend in Christian circles where we counsel one another that at time we must forgive God.  It is blasphemous to propose that God has sinned against us and that we should ever need to forgive Him.