[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.
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.
(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.
I was priviledged to have an extensive interview with Pastor David Catoe and Jeff Lege of Fresh Spring Baptist Church in Angleton, Texas concerning my upcoming book, Apostasy! on “The Storefront Saints Show.”
Apostasy!, which will be released soon, is a book concerning the turning from the true faith of the Word of Faith community. This book is aimed at people who are involved in the Word of Faith, yet know that something is wrong with what they are hearing from such pulpits. It is my hope that tonight’s interview will give a very brief introduction to the book for those who have been patiently awaiting its release.
Direct Link: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/18633140
(Video begins after about 20 seconds of opening graphic) (You must hit “play” after advertisement)
The following is a public preview of the introductory chapter to the author’s upcoming book, Apostasy! This book will be based largely on the resarch work in the Wolves in Wool series on this blog.
A cancer is spreading at an alarming rate in the modern church. It expresses a heretical doctrine which exchanges the glory of the gospel of Christ for temporal gains that were once known as the very temptations of man. Heresy has become mainstream in an enormous population of Christendom. Sadly, much of the church today is too biblical illiterate to notice. The concept of orthodoxy has been given over to a competitive attitude by which doctrine is relegated to a local flavor. While heresy has always existed in the church, never has there been a time when “exotic and unfamiliar” were considered the creative virtues of preaching that they are today. The past few hundred years have been celebrated as times when enigmatic and incomprehensible creeds have been taken to task by a doctrinally savvy congregation and errors reproved by the biblical preaching of proven men of God. The tables seem to have turned entirely. In today’s religious circles it is old-school holdouts with the audacity to cling to the scriptures who are in the minority. It is a truly remnant church today which continues to preserve sound biblical fundamentals at the persistent ridicule of a new majority of doctrinal thrill-seekers.
They scream dissent from untold thousands of books, television networks and millions of websites. Entire supposedly “Christian” publishing houses have abandoned their former scriptural faith principles in favor of new proposals which, frankly, move more books off of store shelves. Christian bookstores, devoted more to their bottom line than the Lord’s, have likewise lifted not one finger in any measurable way to dissuade them. Countless modern congregations have jumped an entire generational cog; with an old-guard too tired or unwilling to fight for doctrinal purity and a new, younger work force that will only bother to show up if things are considered hip, novel, and decidedly not-too-biblical. Bereans are sparse; having been rapidly replaced by giddy, temperamental consumer-types who crave the latest “star” pastor’s deposition over the eyewitness testimonies of the apostles. The recipe for the modern pulpiteer calls for less scriptural content and more bizarre showmanship, to the extent of being positively juvenile.
Evangelicalism is in sincere trouble. Authentic Christians are relegated to a tireless search to find a church that preaches the Bible at all, as today’s pulpits more commonly stream self-help infomercials which refuse to mention, let alone offer remedy for man’s greatest issue: sin and man’s need for redemption. Churches have redefined ministry and missions in the image of public service fraternities. The gospel being proclaimed in so many supposedly “thriving” congregations is shallow enough to disappoint a Unitarian. Reminiscent are Jesus’ words to the church in Sardis, “You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.”
Fueling these trends are a growing number of pastors who have committed themselves to unadulterated apostasy on the grounds that it produces the desired results. This new breed of pseudo-theologian teaches, through contrived and corrupt exegetical processes, things which in some cases completely reverse the truths of scripture. Man is instructed not on his depravity and need for salvation, but on his alleged posture of value before God’s grateful eye. Christ is presented not as the crucified lamb but the exemplary enabler of human potential. Scripture is not promoted as the inspired testimony of God by which men are convicted, redeemed and trained for His eternal service, but the means by which they can learn the secrets of acquiring their best life now.
While such a dire state of the church is heart breaking to those who love her, it is not something which has taken the student of God’s word by surprise. This emerging apostasy has been articulately forewarned in scripture; a word of caution to each generation that the roots of their faith will be challenged from within at a future juncture.
2 Timothy 4:3-4 (ESV)
3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
Surely such times are now at hand. Paul could not have more articulately portrayed the state of the modern church. The tested and proven methodology of starting new churches today is to send a group of surveyors into a neighborhood to determine the type of church that neighborhood would want to support. We are, in effect, asking the lost to dictate the function of the church. We may as well be determining which fast food franchise to inject into a business center. With the platform for church growth being the edification of everything people want to hear, the church has become nothing more than another consumer-oriented business. To the upwardly mobile, churches promise a leadership role in the renovation of culture. They are assured to be doing the work of Christ simply because they engage themselves in the types of things that Jesus did. To the poor and lowly is a promise of redemption; not from sin, but from the poverty which has stricken them due to their lack of “proper application” of God’s Word. To the ill is the promise of God’s full earthly reversal of their sicknesses, if only they will learn how to properly ask him. The church has become utterly user-friendly, offering carefully researched theological products which are in demand by the intended congregational target.
Numerous are the magical prayer books which give the correct formulas for invoking God’s response to one’s request, as if He were a cosmic genie who must only be suitably addressed for his magic to work. At the end of this process, man has taken the role of deity, dictating his will to an obedient subordinate; and God himself is that humble servant. With cleverly orchestrated theological arguments which attempt to make this doctrine seem biblical, these false teachers have relegated man to a place of power, success and great personal glory, while almighty God becomes nothing more than a grand enabler of man’s creative capacity. Shortly, even Shirley McClain will be pleased to join one of our mainstream mega-church congregations.
In the charismatic world, the “Word of Faith” movement represents the largest organized purveyor of these types of consumer-oriented doctrines. This work will focus specific attention to this movement in the hopes of illuminating the truths of scripture as a warning to the millions who are being systematically indoctrinated by this group. Through religious television networks and an increasing number of local congregations buying into the sheer hype, the Word of Faith movement has generated non-stop sensationalistic and un-verifiable claims that challenge everything the world has ever identified as orthodox faith. This work is not an attempt to engage heresy in debate, but to reveal it to individual readers for what it is. The true church must understand the nature of what she will battle in the coming days and years. These groups are steadily permeating the wheat field with tares while a lost and dying world is being cross-evangelized by false apostles utterly incapable of presenting the true gospel; for they do not know it themselves.
The end result of this counterfeit ministry will be an ever increasing wake of souls who are either happily deceived and relegated to an eternity of death, or are so damaged from their failed foray into “religion” that they write off Christ entirely as a charlatan who must be of the same essence as his phony ministers. Too often the deceived think they have experienced the fullness of Christ’s grace and find it lacking. Sadly, many walk away from anything with the Name of Christ attached to it from that point forward.
To that end, the responsibility of identifying and preaching against false doctrines is of major importance to those who live to affirm and defend the teachings of scripture. While scripture clearly indicates that an apostasy waits the latter days, it nevertheless demands the faithful of Christ to contend earnestly for the truth which transcends all times and cultures.
As Jude warns,
Jude 1:3-4 (ESV)
3 Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. 4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
(This is the conclusion 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.)
This week we conclude the whole of the “Gospel Truth” video series. This concluding message is an overview of numerous historical views concerning atonement theories.
As part of this message, special notes are made to a few modern groups who are insistent upon maligning the proper biblical understanding of the atonement in lieu of their own re-packaged agenda-driven models.
(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.)
Many theological debates concerning the nature of salvation can actually be solved by a simple acknowledgement that the scriptures depict “salvation” as more than a singular moment in time. In fact, the scriptures teach salvation as something which is (or can be) past tense, present ongoing tense and yet future tense – all-the-while affirming earlier tenses.
How can such be? Simply put, salvation is presented in scripture as three related but distinct transformational progressions:
- Justification is the salvation from the penalty of sin; the act of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ into the account of the sinner. This is what many would refer to as “the moment of” salvation.
- Sanctification is an ongoing work of redemption which renders the sinner (on an expanding basis) free from the power of sin. This “continuing work” of salvation in the earthly realm is generally known as “discipleship,” or the process of being transformed into the likeness of Christ.
- Glorification is the final work of redemption which propels the sinner into an eternally glorified (physical and spiritual) state which is free from the presence of sin forever. This is best understood as “the finished work” of salvation; the full restoration of body and soul, preserved eternally in an incorruptible state.
While the term “salvation” applies to each of these realities, the understanding of a procedural salvation – in terms of its unfolding fruition in the life of the sinner – helps to explain many heartily argued points of contention in soteriology.
Today’s video blog examines the process of salvation through these three distinct but related transformations and explains how one may be considered “saved” today, “being saved” today and yet “to be saved” fully at a later time.
(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.)
A great storm is stirred up each time the terms “Lordship” and “gospel” are uttered in the same sentence; let alone the same title of a message. This debate involves what is described as “Lordship Salvation;” a theological debate with substantially sound doctrinal minds on both sides.
This post is, of course, not about Lordship Salvation as a subject; but a continuation of this series on the gospel at the point in which the issue is raised that “Lordship” of Christ is in fact at issue in the very subject matter of repentance.
As has been observed the past few weeks: faith is demonstrated in scripture to be an active response to belief rather than just an academic acknowlegement of certain facts. That response is repentance. Repentance is defined as a turning “from” one’s former understanding and allegiances “to” the trust in Christ.
This act of turning, it will be demonstrated today, is consistently decribed in scripture as an acquiescence to the Lordship of Christ: a confession to his deity and belief that He is the Son of God; and is God incarnate as he said. Such acknowledgment is not synonymous with stating that a new convert “must give every aspect of their lives to Christ” at the moment of salvation – for no sinner even knows “every aspect” of their lives which Christ will demand. Yet, such an acknowledgment is an affirmation to the person of Christ as God himself. As such, a person necessarily at least begins the process of acquiescence – which will be described next week as the process of “sanctification” – by the very turning in faith to Christ as God.
Thus, the idea of “confessing with your mouth that Jesus is Lord” is not a preconditioned “work” which mandates certain identifyable steps. It is rather the very element of faith expressed in repentance: the knowlege – by faith – of who Christ is. He is Lord.
I do not remember the exact context, but several weeks ago one of the airy-voiced DJ’s on our local Christian radio station was speaking about a difficult week that she had recently experienced. She spoke of what I consider to be very standard worries involving widely normal life scenarios; akin to perhaps a broken washing machine. Let’s make sure we understand each other: no one was being martyred for the cause of Christ. No one was under intense persecution out of retribution for the preaching of the gospel. No one had been accosted, jailed, stoned, or hanged. It was just a “hard week” in the typical, American, “I was actually inconvenienced” sort of way. Continue reading