Wednesday, September 29, 2021

An Eternal Perspective

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2Cor 4:17-18).

What good is it to know we’ll go to heaven “some day”? It gives us an eternal perspective which can and should transform the way we live.

Hope for hard times
Embracing the knowledge that to die is to be with Jesus and that we will once again live and walk upon the Earth can give us comfort and strength during trials. What is in store for us is far, far better than what we have now, so we can endure “light and momentary” trials. (It might be edifying to remind ourselves what Paul considers “light and momentary troubles” in 2Cor 11:23-27.) For centuries, and even today, Christians have faced suffering and even death boldly because they know “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). In the end, anything the world can inflict on us is just one more thing the Father will use to make us more like Jesus (Rom 8:28-30). And the “worst” it can do is send us to live with him forever.

Encouragement in the everyday
Sometimes life is hard; a lot of the time life is just boring. Our lives are filled with sweat and drudgery. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward” (Col 3:23). The truth that we will have physical bodies on a literal earth restores some of the lost dignity of this world. Physical things matter. And honoring God in the small things matters because he sees all. “God wants you to remember that while you are ironing clothes and scrubbing floors; Jesus Christ is coming back someday to take you to be with Him forever.”1

Encouragement to work for the Lord
Life is hard. Living for Jesus is harder. Working for Jesus can be harder still. But it’s worth it. There’s an old saying: “Come work for the Lord. The pay is low, the work is hard, and the hours are long, but the retirement benefits are out of this world.” And that’s what Paul teaches in 1Cor 15. After reminding them of the evidence that Christ rose from the dead, he tells them that Christ’s victory will not be complete until he conquers death by raising us all from the dead. Then death will be swallowed up in victory. “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1Cor 15:58). God will have ample time to reward us for our labor on Earth 2.0, so we should work faithfully.

Clarity on priorities
We all have the same 24 hours every day. The Lord may give us 80 years of those days, and he may not. Let the knowledge that what happens here will not be the end of it spur us on to good works. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t rest and relax. God has commanded that we do! But this should help us focus our efforts and how we use our time. As the saying goes, “You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.”

Randy Alcorn tells us, “Heaven should affect our activities and ambitions, our recreation and friendships, and the way we spend our money and time. ... Even if I keep my eyes off of impurities, how much time will I want to invest in what doesn’t matter? What will last forever? God’s Word. People. Spending time in God’s Word and investing in people will pay off in eternity and bring me joy and perspective now.”2 So store up treasures in Heaven (Matt 6:20). “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Col 3:1-2).

Encouragement to holiness
Finally, and most importantly, the sure hope that we have in Christ Jesus should cause us to strive to be holy. The New Testament emphasizes this over and over. “All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure” (1John 3:3). Knowing that this Earth and the things of this life will pass away, “what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. ... So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him” (2Pet 3:11-12, 14).

“If my wedding date is on the calendar, and I’m thinking of the person I’m going to marry, I shouldn’t be an easy target for seduction. Likewise, when I’ve meditated on Heaven, sin is terribly unappealing. It’s when my mind drifts from Heaven that sin seems attractive. Thinking of Heaven leads inevitably to pursuing holiness. Our high tolerance for sin testifies of our failure to prepare for Heaven.”2

Some people fear too much thinking about Heaven will make us no earthly good. I don’t think that’s a realistic danger. The people who do the most for the Lord seem to be those who are most entranced by him and the hope we have in him. This is not a call to spend all day thinking only about Heaven. It’s encouragement to develop a realistic perspective about the things of this world and what really matters in life and let that shape the way we live. Because of “the joy set before him,” Christ endured the cross (Heb 12:2). In Christ, because of the joy set before us, we can endure as well.

1 Tony Evans, Theology You Can Count On
2 Randy Alcorn, Heaven

Image via Pexels

Part of Christianity 101

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The Believer's Final Fate

mountain lake
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away ... And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’” (Rev 21:1-4).

Heaven will be on Earth.

The Great White Throne of Judgment (Rev 20:11-15) will be a terrible thing for those who have rejected Jesus. For his followers, though, it will be there that our salvation will be made complete. Those whose names are found in the Book of Life will not have to pay for their sins because Jesus has already paid. Instead our adoption will be fully realized as we reign with Christ in the new Heaven and new Earth.

We talk about going “to Heaven” when we die. And that’s where we’ll be for a while. But we were made to live on Earth, and that is where we will live after the resurrection. Heaven will be on Earth because God will be there. People debate whether the Earth will be replaced or renewed; I fall into the latter camp because “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay” (Rom 8:19-21). But whether the Earth is totally new or totally renewed, we will live on Earth.

What will that Earth be like? Earth. “If we can’t imagine our present Earth without rivers, mountains, trees, and flowers, then why would we try to imagine the New Earth without those features? ... He promises us a New Earth. If the word Earth in this phrase means anything, it means that we can expect to find earthly things there — including atmosphere, mountains, water, trees, people, houses — even cities, buildings, and streets.”1 It will be Earth, but it will be an unfallen Earth.

What won’t be on the new Earth?
“No death, no suffering. No funeral homes, abortion clinics, or psychiatric wards. No rape, missing children, or drug rehabilitation centers. No bigotry, no muggings or killings. No worry or depression or economic downturns. No wars, no unemployment. No anguish over failure and miscommunication. No con men. No locks. No death. No mourning. No pain. No boredom.”2

No boredom? Won’t sitting around playing a harp all day be boring? We have to separate popular culture from the scriptures. There will be worship. And there will be work, responsibility. Believers will judge angels (1Cor 6:3). Jesus’ words about his followers being responsible for things in the Kingdom of God (eg, Matt 25:14-30) should be taken literally. There will be work to be done, but it will be good work, fulfilling work, work without the frustrations created by living in a fallen world.

The new Earth will be Eden restored. The mission of Adam was to enlarge the garden until it filled the whole world. The new Earth will be as if that had been fulfilled. That doesn’t mean we’ll live a primitive existence, though. What would the world be like if we had filled the earth and subdued it (Gen 1:218) without the fall? There still would have been technological advancements. There would still have been cultures. But no pain, no weeds, no wars, no disease. That is the world we will live in. The good things about this Earth will be better, and the bad things will be gone. 

And the best part is God will be there. There will be no temple “because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev 21:22). The new Jerusalem will be the holy of holies, and we will all have free access to it and to him. We will no longer be separated from God by sin. We will see his face and live with him and he with us.

Life in this fallen world is hard. Either you die young or you live long enough for your body to fail you. We earn a living by fighting with thorns and thistles and fallen people. Every beautiful thing decays or erodes or otherwise passes away. And God is hidden from us, separated from us by our sin.

Life on the new Earth will be unfallen bodies that never grow old or experience pain. It will be work that is meaningful and fulfilling, never frustrating or boring. It will be gardens without weeds, beauty without decay. It will be getting to know the saints that came before us. And it will be ever growing knowledge of the infinite God who called us in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world.

Come, Lord Jesus!

I highly recommend Randy Alcorn’s Heaven or at least the abbreviated Q&A version (a mere 60 pages).

1 Randy Alcorn, Heaven, emphasis in original
2 Randy Alcorn, Heaven: Biblical Answers to Common Questions

Image via Pixabay 

Part of Christianity 101

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The Return of Christ to Judge the Quick and the Dead

A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28-29).

Jesus is coming back. That is good news for some, bad news for others.

“According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1Thes 4:15-17).

This return will be quite literal, physical, and unmistakable (Luke 17:24). When will it happen? No one knows. Life will be carrying on just as it always has, and then it’ll happen (Matt 24:36-39). It’ll be unexpected, coming “like a thief” (Matt 24:42-44, 1Thes 5:2-3, 2Pet 3:10).

What comes next is greatly debated, but at some point after that, whether it’s immediately, seven years, or a thousand years, everyone else will be raised to life also, and Christ will judge everyone.

“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:11-15).

This is what we call Hell. Heaven was created for us (cf, John 14:2-3); Hell was not. It was created for the devil and his angels (Matt 25:41). But humans who have persisted in sharing their rebellion will share their fate.

Jesus taught about this a lot, sometimes speaking of fire (eg, Matt 13:42), sometimes darkness (eg, Matt 22:13) but both including “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The phrase “gnashing of teeth” has come to refer to deep sorrow in our culture, but in the OT, it is always a show of anger (eg, Psalm 37:12), therefore it probably is in the NT, too. So even in Hell, the wicked will still be in rebellion against God.

That answers one of the common objections to the idea of Hell: “What is fair about eternal punishment for finite sin?” But that objection assumes people stop sinning in Hell. “A filthy, vile person on earth will exist eternally as a filthy, vile person.”1 In the end, God will let people be who they are, who they have wanted to be. As Lewis says:

“In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell, is itself a question: ‘What are you asking God to do?’ To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But He has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They [do not want to be] forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that is what He does.”2

Is all the talk about fire, darkness, and worms metaphorical? Probably. If so, they’re metaphors for things that are worse, simply bringing it down to language we can understand. Whatever Hell will really be like, it is something so terrible that Christ died to keep people from going there.

Will Hell be the same for everyone? No. Despite popular misconception, Jesus actually taught that some sins are worse than others (eg, John 19:11), and Jesus made it clear that the day of judgment would be worse for some than for others (eg, Matt 11:21-24). We do not need to fear that God will treat everyone like a mass murderer. Everyone will receive a just sentence.

Can we really be happy knowing some people are being punished? We can, and we must. Some people simply do not want God, not on his terms. God must deal with sin. “Either the day must come when joy prevails and all the makers of misery are no longer able to infect it: or else for ever and ever the makers of misery can destroy in others the happiness they reject for themselves. I know it has a grand sound to say ye’ll accept no salvation which leaves even one creature in the dark outside. But watch that sophistry or ye’ll make a Dog in a Manger the tyrant of the universe.”3

Will Hell really last forever? There are an increasing number of evangelicals, even some surprising ones, who believe Hell will be finite. I would love to believe that, but I can’t find that in the scriptures. But infinite or finite, it is something to be avoided at any cost (Matt 5:29-30), and we should do all we can to help as many as we can avoid it.

For more on Hell, I highly recommend The Great Divorce by CS Lewis.

1 Tony Evans, Theology You Can Count On
2 CS Lewis, The Problem of Evil
3 CS Lewis, The Great Divorce

Part of Christianity 101

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

What Happens When We Die?

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1Thes 4:13).

Death is not the end. When our bodies cease to function, the immaterial part of us — let’s call it our spirit — continues to exist. A day will come when all spirits will have bodies again (more on that later). Death is temporary; that’s why the New Testament frequently refers to it as “falling asleep.” One of two things will happen to our spirits while they wait for bodies.

One of the thieves crucified with Jesus came to trust in him. Jesus told him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:43). And it’s the same for all believers: To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (cf, 2Cor 5:6-9). When our bodies fall asleep, our spirits will “depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Phil 1:23). Sproul says, “There is joy in living, so we hold on to life with a passion. Yet for Christians, death is even better, because we go immediately to be with Christ, a hope verified by Christ’s resurrection.”1 Death has been called the last enemy, but in some ways it’s more of a frenemy because, in wounding us, it takes us to be with our Lord and those who have gone on before us.

This “intermediate Heaven” is not our final destination, however. Our spirits will wait there for the day when they will have new bodies like Christ’s resurrected body. Randy Alcorn uses the analogy of someone flying to their new home but having a layover in another city. While there they spend the afternoon enjoying the company of relatives who meet them there, family they haven’t seen in years. But as wonderful as that visit is, they’re not home yet.2 The intermediate Heaven will be a temporary stop, a layover on the way to our true home (again, more later).

But what about unbelievers? If the intermediate state of believers is just a foretaste of the ultimate fate that awaits us, the same is true for the intermediate state of unbelievers. Jesus said they go to “Hades”, a place of torment (Luke 16:23) where they will await their final fate (Rev 20:11-14) the “lake of fire” we call Hell. Does this make you uncomfortable? Good. It should. It is a terrible thing, but it is necessary.

If a game is played, it must be possible to lose it. If the happiness of a creature lies in self-surrender, no one can make that surrender but himself (though many can help him to make it) and he may refuse. I would pay any price to be able to say truthfully ‘All will be saved.’ But my reason retorts ‘Without their will, or with it?’ If I say ‘Without their will’ I at once perceive a contradiction; how can the supreme voluntary act of self-surrender be involuntary? ... I said glibly a moment ago that I would pay ‘any price’ to remove this doctrine. I lied. I could not pay one-thousandth part of the price that God has already paid to remove the fact.3

God sacrificed a great deal to rescue people from Hell. But not everyone wants to be rescued, not if the requirement is to bend the knee to their maker. I have wept, ugly cried, over good people I know who refuse that “self-surrender”, but the distastefulness of the doctrine does not make it untrue.

But what makes it true? How do we know any of this is true? Maybe when we die, we really do just turn off like a light.

There are an increasing number of books out there that explore near-death out-of-body experiences as proof that humans have an immaterial component.4 But for proof of Heaven and Hell, we’re really just going to have to take the word of the Man from Heaven, the one who lived and died and rose again. He is the one who promised us Heaven; he is the one who warned about Hell. Will we call him a liar?

So what do we do with this? We need to live like it’s true.

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.5

So let’s live in a way that makes the gospel attractive. And don’t forget to actually share the gospel with those who need to hear it.

For more on death, I recommend “The Authority of Christ Over Death” in Theology You Can Count On by Tony Evans. For more on Hell, see the chapter of the same name in CS Lewis’ The Problem of Pain.

1 RC Sproul, Everyone's a Theologian
2 Randy Alcorn, Heaven
3 CS Lewis, “Hell” in The Problem of Pain
4 For example, Gary Habermas and JP Moreland, Beyond Death: Exploring the Evidence for Immortality
5 CS Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”

Image via Pixabay

Part of Christianity 101

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Introduction to Eschatology

Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?” (Rom 8:23-24).

The basis for our hope in Christ is his death and resurrection. The content of our hope is that we, too, will conquer death in Christ Jesus, and then our justification and adoption will be fully realized. That is what the Doctrine of Eschatology (or “Last Things”) is ultimately about.

Theologies usually cover Last Things last. In terms of the Apostles’ Creed, we’ll be looking at how Jesus “shall come to judge the quick and the dead” leading to “the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting” and all that will transpire.

There really isn’t much to a “mere evangelical” eschatology. Committed Christians disagree about most of the details beyond the very fact of it. Will the Millennium be literal or figurative? Will it come before or after Christ’s return? Will the Rapture come before or after the Great Tribulation — if there is one? There are lots of interpretations of the biblical data. And that’s OK. So I’m not going to go into any one theory of how the end times will shake out. It doesn’t matter how we believe events will unfold.

What matters is that we believe Christ will return, that evil will be conquered, and that he will live with his people forever and that we live our lives in light of that.

Part of Christianity 101