What Kind of God?

[original article published in Fort Bend Herald, Sunday, February 24, 2013]

An age old question has found new life in recent debate concerning the seeming incongruity of an all-loving, all-powerful God being willing to bring the harshest of judgments upon his creation.  To be exact, the debate is generally kick started by some rendition of the question, “What kind of God would send people to an eternal judgment in Hell?”  The question is of course baited and the outcome presumed self-evident.  Supposedly one should nominate only a malevolent God as capable of such judgment.  Surely a loving God couldn’t be responsible for such harsh condemnation.

The answer tends to fall in one of several templated responses.  One group, believing the sentiment of the question, would say that in fact God does not send people to Hell at all.  Either Hell is an humanly-imposed product of the misinterpretation of Jesus’ (and the Old Testament Prophets, Apostles, church fathers, etc) words or in fact it is in some way a temporary sentence by which man can be properly refined, finding ultimate escape into eternal life.  Some believe in a form of annihilationism; that unbelievers will simply die without hope for Heaven, yet without judgment in Hell or any other punitive resort.  Some contend that God doesn’t ‘send’ anyone to Hell, but that men choose to go to Hell, as if they put their name in the wrong column of a sign-in sheet.  And some still hold to the classic Christian position that – in fact – we do serve the ‘kind of God’ who would sentence people to Hell and carry out such sentence first hand.

The question is only valid, of course, if in fact the scriptures claim that Hell is real and that God sends people there.  In the short space allotted, it can be quickly noted from the words of Christ himself that such is true.  Jesus’ account of his return and judgment speaks of the fate of the sinful in these terms: “(The King) will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” (Matthew 25:40-41)  Jesus affirms this position also in Matthew 10 and 23, along with numerous other references, yet from this text alone three things can be clearly seen: First, that Jesus proclaims a literal judgment of fire, second, that this judgment is eternal and third, that the King himself issues the sentence.  Other New Testament authors concur in clear language, such as Paul’s note in 2 Thes. 1:8-9, “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will be punished with everlasting destruction….” Thus, according to the scriptures, the question is valid: Just what kind of God would sentence people to Hell?

The question is actually answered clearly in the earlier portion of the 2 Thes. text above.  Verses 6-7 note, “God considers it just to repay with affliction… those who do not do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”  Romans 3 concurs, noting that until Christ took the full weight of the guilt of sin for the believer upon himself that in God’s forbearance “he had passed over former sins.  It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (v25-26)

Rarely does one question a judge who sentences a child molester to a life sentence in prison.  We consider the penalty of such sin justly carried out by the utter segregation of the offender for the duration of his life.  What kind of judge issues such a sentence?  A just one – who upholds the law and considers the crime truly reprehensible.  No further examination need be sought out for God’s upholding of his sentence for sin.  He is just.  He hates sin.  He will satisfy its sentence.

Thanks be to God that He is in fact also a loving and forgiving God.  In Christ he has taken out his full retribution on sin for those who trust Christ alone as their sacrifice of atonement.  But he remains yet just.  Every man’s sins will be punished: either through Christ or the sinner himself.

Quick to Listen – Slow to Tweet

Relationships once developed slowly via personal encounter.  Every chance meeting and handshake provided another casual conversation that gradually vetted the acceptable parameters of agreement on issues important to the two parties of a budding friendship.  To the degree that two people found familiarity and commonality a friendship developed.  Contrarily, when dissonance in virtue and ideology was uncovered a certain calculated distance was programmed into the relationship and the two parties silently negotiated an acceptable barrier for future encounters.  At the end of such process, legitimate friendship was the result of natural commonality between two people.  “Friends” were those who were generally in agreement with one another in areas considered important or desirable.

How profoundly certain things have changed in the social networking generation we now enjoy.  Becoming “friends” is in theory as simple as clicking a button on a Facebook profile screen of someone who perhaps has been never actually seen with the human eye of the friender.  Unlike the former process of methodically screening potential relationships through calculated conversation, now a person’s life story, political and social ideologies and a full array of revealing conversation with others is instantly displayed, organized and ingested in a single sitting.  Gone completely is the discipline once required to garnish such privileged information.

In this setting our lives are on display to a much wider audience than many seem to realize.  Things once said between friends with a wink of the eye are now heralded well beyond the privy of those who may have understood the sentiment of an inside anecdote.  The concept of an ‘inner circle’ simply does not exist in online form.  That which is posted on a social network is literally enshrined forever for public scrutiny.

The warning of James 1:19 must be seriously calulated more today than ever before: “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.”

It seems that every week I see some exceptionally awkward situation being aired in full living color on someone’s Facebook wall.  Personal disagreements are publicly posted in shameless attempt to illicit sympathy over issues which, if only left alone, would resolve themselvesg.  Yet, “quick to anger” translates to “quick to tweet” in our current social paradigm.  The frustration of the moment coupled with instant internet access persuades people to speak before they think and lash out before they listen.  The friendships of yesterday provided a built-in buffer from such rash behavior.  We went home, had a warm evening in the safety of family, slept on it and only then was the outside world encountered once again.

I was once told after a particularly frustrating conversation to write a letter to the person who had offended me stating everything I truly wanted to say.  Then, I was instructed to fold it up and read it again in twenty four hours and send it only if I still felt the same way.  Surprisingly to me, after twenty four hours I no longer wanted to say most of what I had written.  I threw the letter away in the end, and no damage was done to an important friendship.  What I practiced that day was the art of being “quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.”

I would propose that any social networking post involving personal grievance be left alone entirely.  Yet, if you simply must write something, rather than posting it to the entire world why not email it to yourself, have dinner, hug your kids, sleep on it and then read it again tomorrow.  If it really needs to be said it will still need to be said tomorrow.  Let us practice being quick to listen and “slow to tweet” that our own sin of anger be not what is actually on display when we next click the ‘submit’ button and reveal our condition to all.

Are You Good Enough?

For as long as I can remember there has been a silent cultural message that “if you’re good enough” God will accept you as his own and secure you a permanent place at his side in eternity.  From Country and Western songs to Hallmark movie nights we are captured by the idea of a person realizing the error of their ways and making amends to a new status of a life well-lived.  This trend has been exacerbated in recent years by a multitude of teachers and preachers in the church who are attempting to remodel Christ as a life coach who desires to lead man to his true potential.  Turning from the old “you’re a sinner headed for judgment” model of reaching the masses, the new sentiment is “get on the wagon with Jesus and become something wonderful.”  I have to admit it has a nice ring.  It’s the stuff that after school specials were made for; grabbing oneself by the bootstraps and initiating the full potential of the human spirit in order to overcome the strongholds of one’s past.  Such stories are inspiring, entertaining and motivating.  After all, who among us could throw a stone at someone filled with good works, kindness and sacrificial service to others?  Indeed, these are the very characteristics that Jesus modeled and are the substance of the inner working of the Holy Spirit in the life of his chosen.

Such ideas represent the heart and soul of a moralistic gospel approach.  The model is simple: “Work hard, do better and God will accept you.”  And, the presumed merit of such good works is that they will somehow erase the stain of a former life that was decidedly “not good enough” in God’s eyes.  But will they really?

Several years ago I saw a news story on television about a woman who was discovered just miles down the road from where I lived.  The woman had been missing for many years.  She was not missing in the sense that she was lost, but in the sense that she did not want to be found.  This woman was an upstanding member of a nearby town.  She worked hard, had built a respectable life and was highly regarded by everyone who knew her.  She was active in her church and local schools and was known as a model citizen.  Yet, she had lived many years under an assumed name for fear of her past.  In fact, she had been convicted of horrible crimes at a younger age and had somehow escaped the custody of the state in order to assume a “new” life and identity as the person she wished she had been all along.  She had truly changed her ways.  Likened to the gospel of moralism, one might consider that she had erased her former sins by her current good life.

When this woman was discovered by authorities the television news became hyperactive about her story.  Some argued that she had lived a good and respectable life in the time since her heinous crimes and should be allowed to continue her new-found “good life.”  Others argued that this woman could not possibly have been guilty of the crimes that she had been convicted of, for she had proven her mettle publicly for so many years.  But, at the end of all such sentiment there was one thing that stood resolutely in the way of her freedom: the law.

The issue this woman had was not her inability to do well by her community.  Her issue was not that she was unfit to exist among the other humans in harmony.  It was not that she lacked the potential to fit in, be nice, get along with others or that she had failed to do any sufficient good works as deemed proper by the community.  Her issue was that she had resolutely broken the law in a major way and had been sentenced to punitive discipline by the law.  It frankly did not matter how good of a life she had lived the past number of years or how many people she had helped.  Her punishment was indifferent to her good works.  This woman had been formerly convicted of murder.  She owed a debt to society that could not be paid by simply “doing better from now on.”

This story illustrates perfectly the issue of a moralistic gospel.  The scripture says in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  You’ll notice the accusation clearly: “all have sinned.” The problem man has with God is not that “you have not been good enough.”  The issue is that “you have sinned.”

Sin is a specific crime with a prescribed penalty announced from the very beginning of time: “the day you eat of it you will surely die.”  The penalty for sin is reaffirmed throughout the scriptures, being clearly shown again in Romans 6:23, “for the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In short, our crime of sin is so substantial to God that we have been prescribed the death penalty for it.  We can attempt to hide, rebrand our life and/or gain the sentimental approval of everyone around us, but we will never get away from the perfect law that condemns us as sinners. Our penalty will be paid– either by us or by a gracious intercessor.

Friends, the gospel message has never been that God loved you so much he sent Jesus to earth to show you how to live better.  The gospel message is- and always has been- that God loved you so much he sent his innocent Son to earth to die for your sins and pay the sentence that you owe.

Because it is our sin – our offense of the law – that condemns us before God, there is simply no manner of good works that we can live up to that will ever save us.  There is no statute of limitations on sin.  It is a crime punishable by an eternal sentence that must – and will – be paid.

The good works performed by we who are in Christ are symptomatic of our salvation, but can never be the substance of it.  Our issue before God is not a lack of good works.  It is our offense of sin.  For that reason alone, you will never be good enough.  Rather, trust Christ’s provision of atonement on your behalf to save you from the wages of your sin and you will be transformed to the worthy and “good enough” creation you need to be.

Right Questions Wrongly Answered

(Editorial Note:  This article was written prior to Sunday’s shooting in Wisconsin.  Originally published in the Fort Bend Herald, July 29, 2012.  Minor edits have been inserted for this venue and date)

While the escalation of mass homicide in recent years is truly disturbing, perhaps equally ominous is our nation’s continued denial concerning the origination of such evil.  Reminiscent of Fort Hood, Columbine and Virginia Tech, the recent shootings in Aurora have once again stirred the country to evaluation regarding the cause of such seemingly disconnected and horrific acts.  Within hours of the incident commentators were politicizing the situation with appeals for better mental health care, gun control or public education.  One analyst confidently prophesied that, “our country has failed James Holmes” (the shooter) in some unexplained manner.

While a number of theoretical culprits may have been contributing factors to Holmes’ rampage, what is troubling about such responses is that they are built upon two false assumptions.  Foremost is the notion that such raw degeneracy is impossible in rational man except for some external influence.  Related and secondary is the presumption that proper human initiative can cure such deviation.  Mankind is deemed too equitable for such a heinous deed, thus something else must be ultimately liable.  Thus, Adam blames Eve while she points at a snake.  Responsibility is imagined outside of the offender’s control.

The scriptures are far less diplomatic of human propensity; asserting that all men possess a congenital sin disorder for which they are held responsible.  No one has to teach a two year old how to hit a friend in defiance.  Every toddler instinctively knows to lie about the half-eaten cookie.  Sin is innate from birth; albeit in ways that seem innocuous when displayed from the least defiled among us.  While even minor sin condemns us as guilty before a righteous judge, sin has a tendency to grow and mature into something far less cute than an unruly toddler’s tantrum.  Romans 1 teaches that men who reject and suppress God’s truths are given over by God to a continued descent into unquenchable depravity.  Verse 28 notes, “since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” Verse 30 affirms a further deterioration in that they become “haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil…faithless, heartless, ruthless.”

To those who affirm the trustworthiness of scripture, actions such as those taken by James Holmes are not enigmatic.  While surely he is troubled and debased beyond the normative societal rule, his issue remains the same as is common to all.  He is guilty of living out the fruition of an uncontrolled sin nature; the epitome of which is self-servitude to the exclusion of God’s supreme rule of law.  Our most obvious examples of the destruction of sin are played out in the lives of those likened to Holmes.

More appropriate than a clamor to lawmakers in light of this sort of wickedness is a resolute commitment to the restoration of sinners through the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The law of both God and man quite staunchly condemned the behavior of last Friday’s murderous rage before it ever happened.  At issue is not the lack of a clear legal standard, but a rebellious soul that considered himself exclusive to it.

Christ was crucified for such sin.  He paid sin’s eternal penalty for those who trust Him alone as their reparation before God.  Those who reject His provision will continue their slide toward obstinacy to unknown depths of depravity.  Those who trust in Christ’s provision receive capacity to overcome sin in their lives, along with its eternal consequences.

Pray, therefore, for the propagation of the gospel in our increasingly wicked world.  Therein lies hope for depravity.

The Gospel Truth Pt. 6 (vlog) – Jesus: the Fulfillment of the Law

This entry is part 6 of 12 in the series The Gospel Truth (Vlog)

(This is a continuation of The Gospel Truth video blog series.  This post assumes the prerequisite watching of earlier videos in the series.  Click the link above to watch the entire series up to this week’s installment.)

I’ve often said that “the gospel is simple enough for a five year old to receive but complex enough for a lifetime of study.”  For many, the simplicity of the gospel message – that Christ died for the remission of sins – leaves them with probing questions as to the why and how of it all.  Why did Jesus have to die?  How was it exactly that his death satisfied God’s wrath and brought justification to sinful man?

The past few weeks of this series have sought to lay the groundwork for this answer by examining the unfolding of redemptive history; a roadmap of atonement that God developed from the Garden of Eden to the coming of the Christ.  The redemptive picture fleshed out in the Law of Moses, however, was only a foreshadowing of what was to come.  For, in Christ’s own words, he “did not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them.”  (Mat 5:17)  What the law and the prophets had written as a promissory note, Christ paid in full – with blood.

The Gospel Truth Pt. 6 – Jesus: the Fulfillment of the Law from Jeff Kluttz on Vimeo.

The Gospel Truth: Atonement in the Old Testament Pt. 2

This entry is part 5 of 12 in the series The Gospel Truth (Vlog)

(This is a continuation of The Gospel Truth video blog series.  This post assumes the prerequisite watching of earlier videos in the series.  Click the link above to watch the entire series up to this week’s installment.)

Last week’s post examined the general nature of the Old Testament sacrificial system.  Yet, the heart and soul of the application of blood atonement rested in a very specific Holy observance: Yom Kippur, “The Day of Atonement.”

It was on this day, and only this day, that the high priest entered the Holy of Holies and made application of blood in the God’s own presence.  And, it is the understanding of this observance, which Hebrews will demonstrate in next week’s post, that best reveals how Christ’s actions both fulfilled the law and provided vicarious atonement – once and for all – to vindicate God’s wrath and uphold his just cause to punish sin.

The Gospel Truth: Pt. 5 – Atonement Pt. 2 from Jeff Kluttz on Vimeo.

The Gospel Truth (Vlog): Atonement Pt. 1

This entry is part 4 of 12 in the series The Gospel Truth (Vlog)

(This is a continuation of The Gospel Truth video blog series.  This post assumes the prerequisite watching of earlier videos in the series.  Click the link above to watch the entire series up to this week’s installment.)

Understanding fully that man is sinful, God is just, and that God’s righteous penalty for sin is death leads one to the logical next question: is there any hope for me?

There is a quick answer.  “Yes, there is hope provided in the person of Jesus Christ.”  He did what was necessary to secure atonement for man’s sins by accepting God’s wrath upon himself.   But, to truly understand the depths of the work Christ performed on the cross one needs to venture back through redemptive history and examine God’s “promissory note” which was provided in the Law of Moses.

Today’s installment introduces the sacrificial system of the Old Testament.  Day after day, night after night, the sins of Israel were on public display through a bloody and endless assembly of sacrificial animals.  These bloody sacrificial acts provided temporary vicarious recipients for God’s wrath to be expiated upon until the promised Christ came to fulfill these legal requirements in permanence.

The Gospel Truth: Pt. 4 – Atonement Pt. 1 from Jeff Kluttz on Vimeo.

The Gospel Truth (Vlog): The Wages of Sin

This entry is part 3 of 12 in the series The Gospel Truth (Vlog)

There is possibly no less popular message in modern culture than that one should expect to actually be held accountable for one’s actions. Teachers, doctors, politicians and most recently, pseudo-theologians are more than willing to create excuses, conditions and ailments to explain away the wrong doing of any and all that come to them for assistance. Among modern liberal theological minds, Jesus’ death on the cross was a universal saving act by which all are saved – regardless of one’s position in Christ – or even one’s belief in Christ. Former (reasonably) “good-guy” Christian teacher Tony Campolo goes so far as to say that Muslims will enter Heaven before Christians, because they “do” the right things; all-the-while not believing in Christ what-so-ever.

The crux of these theological laterals, it seems, stems from an all-out averseness to the doctrines of Hell. Eternal judgment, naturally, is not a crowd-pleaser doctrine.  But what exactly does the scripture teach that the wages of sin are?

This week’s Gospel Truth Vlog Series post seeks to answer that question biblically, with no sensibilities offered for the Oprah-friendly or scriptural deconstructionists.

The Gospel Truth: Pt. 3 – The Wages of Sin from Jeff Kluttz on Vimeo.

Gospel Truth: The Wrath of God Toward Sin (Vlog Series)

This entry is part 2 of 12 in the series The Gospel Truth (Vlog)

A popular message today attempts to discredit the notion that God has wrath toward sin.  The proponents of this message claim that because God is love, and everything God does is motivated by love, that God cannot have wrath. 

Today’s post in the Vlog series “Gospel Truth” will examine a host of scriptures which clearly and articulately demonstrate that God’s wrath not only exists toward sin, but that such wrath is the epitome of God’s justice and love.

The Gospel Truth: Pt. 2 – God’s Wrath Towards Sin from Jeff Kluttz on Vimeo.

The Gospel Truth: Man is Sinful (Vlog Series)

This entry is part 1 of 12 in the series The Gospel Truth (Vlog)

New Vlog Series, Updating Weekly:  The Gospel Truth

See the entire series as it is added at our Video Teaching Series page.

The gospel message is a unique one in scripture.  Never is it open to individual interpretation or denominational packaging.  The message of the gospel is so important and well defined, in fact, that Paul noted 

Galatians 1:8 (ESV)
8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

Ironically, we live in a day when the “gospel-lite” message frequently preached is one which is devoid of its substance.  In particular, sin is now off the menu. 

The liberal emergent types do not discuss sin.  The gospel to them is about what we are going to do – not what we’ve done.  Many Word of Faith types eliminate sin from their estranged gospel as well.  Joel Osteen proudly exclaims “we don’t talk about sin at our church” while Robert Schuller notes that one of “the biggest mistakes” churches make today is insisting on pointing out everyone’s sin.

So, today the question is asked – and answered: is there a gospel message at all without the mention of sin?  Or is the fact that man is sinful the very issue of the gospel message?

The Gospel Truth: Pt. 1 – Man is Sinful from Jeff Kluttz on Vimeo.

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