What’s in YOUR Eternity?

In a recent Sunday School lesson in 1 Peter, the question was asked “When you hear someone say “The end of the world is near” how do you respond, and why?”

I could say, “Why do you ask?” Knowing why the comment was made just might help guide the conversation along it’s path, especially if your desire is to steer it toward the message of the gospel.

Given that the topic is the end of the world, I could get straight to the point and ask, “What’s in YOUR eternity?”

First, phrasing it more like a credit card commercial might elicit a more positive response than just asking “Where’s your soul going when you die?” like the sidewalk Christian evangelist downtown handing out tracts to young soldiers out for a good time in Junction City, Kansas, outside of Fort Riley Kansas  (deja vu). I could claim just about any religion and ask my question. Without being overly blunt, my question assumes that, like a credit card, everyone has an ‘eternity’. Every major religion believes we will eventually spend eternity somewhere. You can check it out. We have the technology.

My goal is to present the Christian view of eternity in a loving manner, using the Bible as my source document.

The Bible tells us that there is something about ‘eternity’ in each and every one of us:

He (God) has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) (Emphasis mine)

John MacArthur says of this passage:

“God. put eternity into man’s heart. God made men for his eternal purpose, and nothing in post-fall time can bring them complete satisfaction.”

Our innate sense of eternity comes from knowing something of God, the eternal creator. Concerning this knowledge of God, there is perhaps no clearer verse in all of scripture than Romans 1:19, in which the Apostle Paul tells us:

“For what can be known about God is plain to them (men), because God has shown it to them.”

We all know something about God and eternity, although what we know is limited. I believe this knowledge is part of the ‘imago dei’, the image of God, in which we were created. God IS eternal, and although our bodies will one day die, we have an innate interest in life after death.

Here’s where the conversation can get a bit more challenging. You see, along with being told that we all know that God IS, we are also told something about those who try and deny the existence of God. Immediately before Romans 1:19 we are told:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18)

So what’s this about “The wrath of God”? We can turn to Matthew, Chapter 25 and Jesus’ teaching about His second coming and the final judgment of all men.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.

Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

. . . .

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,

I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’

Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

(Matthew 25:31-34 & 41-46)

In the above verses, there are two groups of people, the ones on Jesus’ right, and the ones on Jesus’ left. The ones on Jesus’ right represent those who knew and loved Him in this life and those on Jesus’ left represent those who denied Him in this life. Those on the right will inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the world’s beginning. Those on the left will experience eternal fire reserved for the devil and his angels.

SO WHAT?

1. There are two groups of people inhabiting this world; those who have received the truth of God and the ones who suppress the truth of God; the ones who have repented of their sin and believed the gospel and the ones who have rejected Christ.

2. There is an eternal destiny for every human being who ever lived or is living today; eternal life or eternal death.

3. What’s in YOUR eternity, my friend?

Bad News and Good News

The bad news:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,  nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you.” – 1 Cor 6:9-11a

The good news:

“But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” – 1 Cor 6:11b

Those were the words of the Apostle Paul to believers in the church in Corinth. The ‘bad news’ list of certain kinds of people probably could have been much longer, but Paul was making it very personal (“and such were some of you’) and setting the scene for the ‘good news’:

“But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” – 1 Cor 6:11b

Paul also told a ‘bad news’ ‘good news’ story to the believers in Ephesus, and even kicked it up a notch:

The bad news:

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. – Eph 2:1-3

Our Corinthians passage speaks of unrighteousness in terms of specific sinful behavior patterns, but our Ephesians passage talks about our very nature as mortal, fallen human beings!

The good news:

 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—“ Eph 2:4-5

The message of the gospel doesn’t start with John 3:16, it ends with it.

Think about it………..especially if you have not received and believed the GOOD NEWS!

Jesus came to earth so we could have a relationship with him?

That was the reason given in a book that was really popular (and still might be) when it was published a couple of years ago. I came across it because a small group of folks where I work who have a mid-week Bible study over lunch decided to read it and talk about it.

This post is not a critique of the book so it will go unnamed. This post is about the primary reason given for Christ’s coming – ‘so we could have a relationship with him’. It’s a wildly popular notion and if you presented it to the vast majority of today’s evangelical Christians you would get a hearty “Amen!’

But IS it the reason Christ came to earth? What does the Bible have to say about it?

First of all we can ask Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father. When he was probably undergoing some angst over marrying a woman already pregnant with a child not his, an angel appeared to him and told him that Mary’s pregnancy was a ‘God thing’ and that the child was to be named ‘Jesus’ because “he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21). No ‘relationship’ talk there.

Then we have the account of the first sermon preached when the church was birthed at Pentecost and an emboldened Peter preaching to a large crowd of Jews gathered in Jerusalem, telling them that the very Jesus they (the Jews) delivered up to be crucified was their long awaited Messiah, their savior! In face, we are told that although they had him crucified, it was God’s preordained plan that it would happen. (See Acts 2) No ‘relationship’ talk there either.

In fact, after more than a few readings through the Bible, I have yet to find any specific ‘relationship’ text given as a reason for Jesus’ coming to earth in the first place. While you can certainly assert that our relationship with God, and His Son, was a matter at stake in Christ’s coming (we are adopted into God’s family), the Bible tells us that everyone ever born has an ongoing relationship with Jesus from the moment of birth!

From the lips of Jesus:

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:18, emphasis mine)

Tough words. ‘All those who are in a state of unbelief in Jesus would have to include everyone who has not yet come to a point of belief. They are condemned already.’

From the lips of the Apostle Paul to believers in Ephesus:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience–among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Eph 2:1-3 emphasis mine)

More tough words!

Dear friends, we all have a relationship with Jesus. He is either our savior or our judge, right here, right now! If Jesus’ coming was about relationships, it was to change ours from condemnation to eternal life, from bound by the chains of sin to freedom in Christ!

What a tremendous thought for the 4th of July!

The author of the book would have been closer to the reason for Christ’s coming if he had stated it was about condemnation v. eternal life, or bondage v. freedom, but in my opinion he would have still missed the mark a bit.

Jesus came to pay the ‘death penalty’ required by a just God, His own Father, for our sin – for our freedom. Jesus drank the cup of His own Father’s holy wrath against our sin (Luke 22:42).

So yes, Jesus’ coming had a lot to do with our relationship with Him, but it wasn’t the primary reason he came to us. He came to bear the penalty for our sin, the guiltless One on behalf of the guilty, by the express predetermined will of His own Father!

And because Christ paid our penalty, if we believe in the name of the Son (John 3:18) we now have eternal life instead of condemnation, and instead of slavery and bondage to sin, freedom from its penalty and power while we yet life and one day from it’s very presence!

What a reason for celebration!

_________________

Food for thought on this 4th of July.

WHY WOULD A LOVING GOD SEND ANYONE TO HELL?

That was a question we had the opportunity to share on an online Christian radio program; This is how we answered it.

WHY WOULD A LOVING GOD SEND ANYONE TO HELL?

The question assumes that Hell exists, so we must start there with our answer. It’s important to note that the question is asked with the issue of ‘fairness’ according to our human standards of fairness. We will speak to both. To adequately address the question, we must begin with God.

Why did God create anything and everything?

We can answer that question by glimpsing into a portion of John’s vision of the throne room of God, around which are four and twenty elders exclaiming in the words of a well known chorus:

“Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. – Rev 4:11

What about Hell?

Although I know of no specific passages of scripture that tell us that the existence of Hell brings pleasure to God as part of ‘all things’, we do know that God created Hell for a specific purpose:

“Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” – Matt 25:41

These are the words of Jesus concerning Hell, with a view of judgment day when there will be those who are sent there, what it will be like and WHY Hell was created in the first place. We are prone to think of Hell in milder terms like ‘eternal’ separation from God. Now that’s true, and probably fine with unbelievers because they don’t want anything to do with God anyway. That brings us to the next question:

How DID Hell end up a place for humans, created to ‘glorify God and enjoy Him forever’?

For that we return to the Garden of Eden, the place created by God for mankind to ‘glorify God and enjoy Him forever’

We are loathe to think that God created robots, and He didn’t. He gave Adam and Eve a limited free will, restricted by the command NOT to eat of the fruit of a certain tree and the ability to choose between good and evil. We know the story. There was only one rule:

“And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.“ – Gen 2:16-17

With all the ‘good stuff’ God had given them, Adam and Eve sinned and suffered the consequences –death, physical and spiritual. Not only did Adam and Eve’s disobedience affect them, it affected the entire human race to follow them; it’s called ‘imputation.’. Every person born after the fall has been born tragically flawed by sin, just as Christ’s righteousness is ‘imputed’ to those who believe in Him. We seem to have issues with the former, but not with the latter (a bit more about that later).

What do we mean by sin?

Here we need to define two aspects of sin. The first aspect about sin that comes immediately to mind are the sins we commit connected to God’s law – that we are unable to keep in their entirety and reach God’s standard of perfection (clearly demonstrated in the OT by the giving of the law and Israel’s inability to keep it). That fact alone tells us that we deserve hell.

There is also an aspect of sin not spoken of much these days, and that is the indwelling sin nature of fallen men, hinted at earlier. That sin is expressed in stark terms:

“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” – Romans 8:7-8

“as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. – Romans 3:10-11

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” – 1 Cor. 2:14

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” – Jeremiah 17:9

If that isn’t bad enough, we are told

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience–among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” – Eph 2:1-3

How can we be held accountable for all that sin, if Adam’s disobedience caused it? “Not fair!” we scream. I offer that in the same spirit of ‘fairness’, it wasn’t ‘fair’ of God to send his sinless Son to die for human sin! Hold that thought. And if God was really fair, he would leave us all to our ‘just’ fate – death and hell . We know the passage well:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Rom 6:23

Both types of sin are deserving of death, by God’s own decree. In fact you could say that we are all ‘born on death row’:

“ Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” – John 3:18

In other words, what we are often told about “how worthy we are of heaven just because we have been born into this world” is not true. That teaching is, however, the picture of God’s love that is painted for us these days by many false teachers and so-called leaders in churches – a picture void of God’s hatred of sin, of His pouring out of wrath against it, of His judgment of it, and of His punishment for it. I heard one executive pastor’s wife tell an auditorium full of people that “God can’t imagine heaven without you in it! If this were true, from where does the concepts of sin, death, and hell originate?

It’s no wonder we ask the question this paper is discussing!

Having said all that, there is a remedy for sin!

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience–among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, (Eph 2:1-6)”

The “us” are those who have repented of sin and believed in Christ as God’s remedy for that sin. When God could have left us all to the eternity we deserve, He sent his Son to die for those who believe. The result:

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” – John 3:18

In other words, those who are eternally condemned to Hell are there because they refused to believe – they refused God’s offer of salvation through the shed blood of Christ

Perhaps we should be asking “How could such a loving God sentence His own Son to dies for OUR sin?”

OR

Would it be ‘fair’ of God to ‘set the rules’ and grant eternal life to those who refuse the free gift of salvation by rejecting the Son?

The reality of a final judgment is clearly taught in Scripture. But the Bible also indicates that the people who go to hell do so because they have rejected God’s provision for salvation. The Bible says that God does not want anyone to go to hell:

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

Thus we conclude by saying:

1. The Bible teaches the reality of a final place of judgment for the wicked.

2. Those who spend eternity in hell, do so because they rejected God’s love and His provision for salvation.

3. It is God’s desire for everyone to come to Him by faith and receive the salvation that He offers.

C.S. Lewis, in this book, The Problem of Pain, notes that hell is the most loving thing God can do for those who would accept nothing better. It’s been said that the one who spends eternity in Heaven has only God to thank, and the one who spends eternity in Hell has only himself to blame.