Tag Archives: eternal life

What happens after death? (Will God be fair?)

24 Oct

Image result for what happens after we dieIs God unfair?  That’s the question I asked yesterday.  I bring it up because Solus Christus, the fourth of the Five Solas that we are studying this week, very much has a bearing on how we might view this difficult theological situation. If salvation is in Christ alone, by grace through faith, then doesn’t that mean that all those people who do not have the opportunity or capacity to confess Christ will die separated from God forever?  If so, it really seems like God is not being fair, punishing those for no fault of their own.

This doctrine is an emotional one.  It is called the destiny of the unevangelized.

Christians through the ages have come up with many options for explaining how God is fair.  Sometimes these options have led to very heated debates and accusations of heresy.

So let’s review some of the options and their difficulties.

First there is Universalism, which teaches that all go to heaven.  Hell is not real.  The Bible clearly says that God is love and he loves all, and so therefore universalists believe he will save all.  It sure would be nice to believe this, but this view has difficulties.  Simply put, the Bible, including Jesus, clearly talks about eternal punishment in the afterlife.  Also Jesus said a couple different times that the way to God is narrow and few will find it. For those of you from Faith Church reading this, we are a part of a denomination called the Evangelical Congregational Church, and our EC Articles of Faith affirm that there is a hell.  We do not hold to universalism.  But we do hold strongly to the biblical teaching that God is love.

Second there is a relatively small group of Christians who believe in Post-Mortem Evangelism.  This view suggests that after you die and see the options of heaven and hell, God gives you a second chance to choose.  Again, this promotes God’s grace and love, and it removes the unfair element for those who are unevangelized.  No matter what your situation was on earth, whether a tribal person, a Muslim in Turkey, a person with diminished mental capacity or a baby, when you die, you will have a fully capable mind and body to make an informed decision.  God will give you a second chance to choose him.  It might seem that this is basically universalism because who wouldn’t choose heaven at that point?  But in theory some would still choose hell.  This view, however, has some difficulties, the big one being that there is basically no evidence of it being taught in the Bible.  Personally, I’ll be shocked if this is what actually happens after death.  As with universalism, I don’t think it is true, but I hope it is.

Next is Purgatory, which is not just a Roman Catholic doctrine.  Purgatory is the name of a place kind of between heaven and hell. In the Old Testament, there is evidence of this when OT authors used a word called Sheol to describe a place beyond the grave, and it appears to work like purgatory.  Sheol seems to be a place of waiting.  What is unique about the Roman Catholic view of purgatory is that it is a place where people can essentially pay off the debt of their sin. It’s not fun, but after years of waiting, you’ve done your time, and you get to go to heaven.  The difficulty again is that this view is biblically sketchy.

The fourth view is Annihilationism.  This, too, is a minority Christian view that says that believers in Christ go to heaven, the rest are just destroyed.  Annihilated.  Where does it come from?  Well, Jesus one time, said this in Matthew 10:28: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  This view deals with the trouble many people have with a God who would send people to eternal conscious torment in hell.  Instead of feeling pain forever, like being burned alive but never dying, or the pain of being separated from God, annihilationism says that unrepentant sinners are destroyed.  The difficulty with this view is that we should be exceedingly cautious about making doctrine based on one verse.

Another view is called Predestination/Election. God picks or elects who will saved and who will not be.  It has nothing to do with human free will.  One aborted baby might be elected to go to heaven.  One might not be.  One Yanomami tribesman might be sent to heaven.  Another might not be.  One Turkish Muslim might go to heaven, another might not be.  It is all up to God.  This view is a very strict determinism.  Many people who believe in some form of predestination or election don’t take it that far.  But some do.  The Bible does talk about predestination and election, but most Christians do not believe it is to be understood in this strict sense.  The major difficulty of this view is that the way Jesus and the apostles talk about salvation is that it is a gift that we choose to receive or not receive.

And that leads me to bring up one more view, Free Will.  Those who choose of their own free will to be true disciples of Jesus, after they die, will go to heaven, while the others who have chosen not to believe in and follow Jesus, after they die, are separated from God for eternity in hell.  The difficulty with this view is that it requires that people hear the Gospel.  This view presumes that all have the choice to follow Jesus, but as we saw yesterday it doesn’t seem like all actually do have the choice.  What about tribal people, those is other lands with different religions, or those with a lack of mental capacity to understand the Gospel?

Do any of these views help you think about God’s fairness in salvation by Christ alone?  Which view do you hold to?  Or is there another view that you prefer?

I can’t say that any of these views is completely satisfying to me.  As I tried to show, they all have their pros and cons.  Are there any other biblical passages that might give us some help to understand this?  Yesterday, I mentioned the apostles teaching in Acts 4:12 that “there is no other name by which we are saved.”  They were referring to salvation in Christ alone.  And Jesus himself said in John 14:6 that he alone is the way, the truth and the life, that no one comes to the father, except through him.

Today we have surveyed many options that Christians have employed to try to respond to the question of God’s fairness, but maybe you are thinking that we really haven’t made any headway.  Thankfully, there are more places in God’s word that we can explore to shed some light on this thorny issue of God’s fairness in salvation by Christ alone.

Check in tomorrow as we’ll look further at those passages.

How you can experience eternal life before you die (and why waiting till after you die is foolish)

9 May

Image result for eternal life now

Do you feel like following Jesus is difficult?  I sometimes think that I must be doing it wrong, because following Jesus seems like it should be easy, but I can struggle with it.  Is it is struggle for you too?  And what do we do when following Jesus seems too difficult?  We so often flee pain, trouble, hardship, and we pursue ease, comfort, entertainment.

In our continuing series on 1st Timothy, we have come to chapter 6, verses 11-16, and Paul talks about what it is like to follow Jesus.  As you can imagine, Paul does not tell Timothy to flee the pain and pursue ease.  In verse 12 he says this comforting phrase to Timothy: “Fight the good fight of faith.”

Fight is a brutal word.  When we hear “fight”, we think of boxing.  We think of pushing and shoving and punching and maybe even yelling and pulling hair.  Maybe we think of a sword fight or a gun fight or a bull fight.

But the word Paul uses is not necessarily that kind of fight.   It is defined as “to strive to do something with great intensity and effort—‘to make every effort, to do everything possible, to strain oneself.’”[1]

Surely that definition could relate to a fight.  But it could also be a noncombatant striving, a struggling.  And it is intense.  It involves great effort. We generally don’t like to hear that.  How would you react to the following”

“If you sign up to be a volunteer on the booster club, it is going to be really hard!  You’ll have to struggle and put in a lot of work and effort.”

Or, “Please sign up for to be one of our children’s ministry teachers, it is super hard!  It will require a lot of you. You will have to be committed in time and energy.  It will be exhausting.”

Or “follow Jesus, be his disciple, die to yourself.”

Not a very compelling marketing scheme is it?

How many advertisers do you see that market their experience or product as being a really difficult, challenging, hard experience?  Barely any.  Maybe the military.  Many an elite school.

“Buy this mattress and it will be so awful you’ll have a horrible night’s sleep!”  They don’t do that.

Instead, when marketers advertise to us, they want to make their product as accessible as possible.  So they generally tell us how incredible and helpful and easy and fun and comfortable their product is.

Jesus apparently didn’t go to marketing school.  His call to discipleship is hard.  Paul’s charge to Timothy is hard.  “Fight the Good Fight.”  It is a fight.  Fights are hard.  They hurt.

There is one word in that phrase I haven’t mentioned yet: “Good.”

Paul says “Fight”, but it is a good fight.  It is a good fight of the faith.

What you are fighting for, what you are working for, what you are striving for makes all the difference, doesn’t it?  If the cause is just and good, you are much more likely to put in the long hours, to take a pay cut, to exercise, to practice, to make sacrifices.  Though it is hard, though it can feel like a fight, and though you might be exhausted, you can continue on because you know what you are fighting for is good.

Finishing a college degree might feel that way.

Raising children might feel that way.

Following an exercise or diet plan feels that way.

Paul is talking to a pastor, so yes, ministry can feel that way.

But all these are good things!  In fact, they are very good.  While they can feel like a fight at times, while they might inflict bodily damage on you just like a fight does, they are good, and remembering that they are good is so important.

If we are honest with ourselves, though, and I will be honest about ministry, there are moments of doubt.  We start to question, is it worth it?  How many of you have been there before, when you are involved in something hard?  You start to ask “Why did I get into this?”

I’ll never forget the marathons that I have run, having those thoughts, those questions pounding in my mind.  In the picture below, see the “FULL” back plate?

Image result for baltimore marathon back bib "full"

In the Baltimore Marathon, the race organizers asked us to pin that to the back of ours shirt because we were running simultaneously with half-marathoners for the last 10+ miles of the marathon.  I’m not sure why they asked us to do this.  Maybe it was simply so that runners on the course could know and encourage one another.  And they did.  I was very encouraged when some half-marathoners told me how impressed they were with the marathoners like me.

But at about mile 21 or 22, my body experienced a deep kind of exhaustion that I had never felt before.  In training, the most I ran at one time was 20 miles.  Now I was beyond that.  And I still had 4-5 miles to go.  I was cramping, scared something was wrong and this 18 week process was falling apart.  I entertained the possibility of quitting, of not finishing.  Worse yet, I still had hills to climb.  I started thinking to myself “Why in the world did I ever do this?  This was so foolish!  I’ll never do it again.”

The “full” sign really ought to say this: 

Have you ever doubted your abilities?  Have you felt foolish?

Maybe you have doubted our parenting abilities.  Maybe you wonder if you are smart enough to finish school.  We can doubt ourselves in the middle of the fight.

Have you ever doubted whether you can make it as a disciple of Jesus?  Do you ever feel like Christianity, discipleship to Jesus, feels like a fight?  Why does it feel like a fight?  What are you fighting against?  I think we followers of Jesus fight against at least three things.

First, we fight against ourselves.  We have free will.  When it comes to following Jesus, we freely chose to follow him.  Free will, though, means that we can freely choose the right thing, just as much as we can freely choose the wrong thing.  We have a tendency to make bad choices, think bad thoughts, and harbor bad attitudes don’t we?  Following the way of Jesus can feel like a fight because we ourselves have a free will struggle with our lack of self-control.

 

The second thing that can make discipleship to Jesus difficult is culture.  It is not like our culture has a goal of promoting discipleship to Jesus.  I think it is absolutely possible to live as gracious, compelling disciples of Jesus in our culture.  But it can be hard.  Are there elements of our culture that you find make it hard for you to follow Jesus?

The third thing that can make the good fight feel like a fight is opposition.  There is a very real enemy force in the world that would love to see us fail.  Satan.

Even though these three things work against, remember that it is a good fight!

What is your personal fight?  Here are some personal struggles that people often talk about:

Fear of what other people will say or do to you.  Mine is speaking the truth in love. Specifically the truth part.  I will often skip the truth part because I am afraid of offending. Perhaps the fight is the busyness in life.  Or is it that you feel loneliness, without much support? Our world certainly seems to pressure us to have material comforts. Are you hoping to climb the corporate ladder to the extent you are tempted to let other things go? Why?  To get more money, more prestige at work, or to get Power.  You can perhaps get all these things, but what will it cost you to get them ?  You’ll have to work long hours, and the resultant stress and anxiety will come at the cost of your personal time, sanity, and maybe your family or ministry time.

So Paul says to Timothy, “Fight the good fight of the faith.”  If we are to pursue righteousness and godliness, know that it could be hard.  But it is good!

In fact, Paul says next in verse 12 that it is not just a mediocre good.  Paul says it is a fight to take hold of eternal life.  It is that good!

He says that Timothy should, “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.”

Wait a minute! Eternal life?  Is Paul talking about getting saved?  Isn’t Timothy already saved and going to heaven when he dies?   That’s how we talk about eternal life, right?  You have your present life now, then you die, and after you die, you will go on to eternal life in heaven.

But think about this passage with me a minute.  It would be very strange if Paul thought Timothy wasn’t yet saved, considering that Paul already installed him as pastor of the church at Ephesus.  It would be very strange if Paul thought Timothy was not going to have eternal life in heaven, as if Timothy had to now accept Jesus as his savior and become a follower of Jesus.  Paul would never have allowed Timothy pastor this church that Paul loved if he, Paul, wasn’t certain that Timothy was a true follower of Jesus who was going to have eternal life in heaven.

You what that means?  Whatever Paul is saying here, this cannot be a statement about eternal life in heaven after you die.

Paul is saying that Timothy should take hold of eternal life now.  One of my favorite writers on the Christian life, Dallas Willard, says this:

What Willard says fits perfectly with this passage.  How do we know this?  See the phrase in verse 12: “Take hold”?  It is an imperative tense, which means that Paul is commanding Timothy to do this right now.

Later on in verse 14 he even calls it a command.  What that means is that this command, “Take hold of eternal life”, is really important.  Paul is serious about this.  He is saying, “Make no mistake about it, you have to do this, Timothy.”

Live an eternal life right now.  Or as Willard put it, learn how to live in the Kingdom of Heaven now.

This is another passage to ask ourselves, “How am I doing in my life? What is important to me?  Am I fighting the good fight of the faith to take hold of eternal life now?”

We recently had the season of Lent.  Lent is the 7 weeks prior to Easter, and it is a season where people spiritually prepare themselves for Easter.  The spiritual preparation in Lent features fasting.  The question “what are you giving up for Lent?” refers to this.

I gave up phone games for Lent.  I can’t tell you the amount of time I wasted playing games on my phone.

How about you?  How are you wasting time?  Is what you are doing necessary?

It is good to first ask these questions between you and Lord.  Ask him to evaluate you.  Ask the Holy Spirit to evaluate you.  David in Psalm 139 says:

 

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. 

But you can compound the effectiveness of the evaluation by asking godly, wise people to evaluate you, to speak the truth to you.  One of one or in a small group, ask for accountability.

You know what the result of all this fighting the good fight, and taking hold of eternal life, will be?

We can live eternal life now!  That is so amazing to consider.

We so often feel desperation and frustration in life, and we think “I can’t wait for heaven and eternal life when all this pain will be gone.”  But in so doing, are we enabling ourselves to continue living in the muck of life?  Are we allowing ourselves to stay stuck in our bad habits, stuck in sin, feeling distant from God, feeling powerless to change?

Remember that Paul says “you can experience eternal life now!”  And actually he goes farther than that.  He commands it.  He is saying you must live eternal life now!  Take hold of it!

What an awesome privilege we have.  Following the way of Jesus might feel like a fight, but remember it is a good fight, because it means that we can take hold of eternal life right now.

I love the illustration at the top of the article because it shows how physical life and eternal life overlap.  We can and should experience eternal life now.  In fact, that is what God wants.  He wants the eternal life of his Kingdom to radically impact our lives, our world now, so that we and our world are being transformed now.

Paul is right, that might feel like a fight sometimes.  Anytime we go through transformation, it is usually hard.  But consider what transformation means: it is a good fight that means we are being changed to look and act more like Jesus.  It means that the list in verse 11, all those qualities of eternal life, are more and more are part of our lives.

So Paul finishes with a wonderful benediction in verse 13-16, charging Timothy to keep this command, and thus it is a charge to us as well, to flee evil, pursue Jesus, fight the good fight, take hold of eternal life now, until such time as Jesus returns or God takes us to be with him.

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 662. Print.

90 days to a new you! – 1st Corinthians 15:35-50

1 Oct

90 days

Wish you could change your life? Get a new body?  Fix a relationship?  Stabilize your finances?  Quit smoking?  I found the banner above claiming that it takes 30 days to change a habit, and 60 more to change your life.  I also saw lots of pictures for workout programs, classes, diets, and the like.  A number of friends have tried P90X, and I hear it is very good.  I would actually like to try it sometime!  I am convinced a lot can happen in 90 days.  This banner raises a question I had as I studied for the sermon this past week.  As I have been preaching through the book of 1st Corinthians, we came to chapter 15:35-50, which is all about new bodies.

If we want to be in the eternal Kingdom of God, Paul says, we have to have a new body!  I agree with the author of the article I mentioned last week, that this one earthly body is all we get…here! But to experience the eternal Kingdom of God, Paul says we absolutely need a new spiritual body: “flesh and blood (natural body) cannot inherit kingdom of God, the perishable cannot inherit imperishable.” (1 Cor. 15:50)

That’s great, but it led to the question I had: What does that mean for our current bodies?

Do we just hang on trying to stave off aging, watching our bodies slowly deteriorate for 80-90 years, dealing with the aches and pains and sickness and sagging?  Then we die and get the new body?

Is Paul basically saying that heaven is when it gets good?

NO, we have hope, and that hope begins now, because the Lord tells us that he is making all things new.

When we start a relationship with Jesus, there is a real sense in which eternity starts now. We can experience a taste, and definitely a growing taste, of the new life of Christ now.

I’m not saying that we will get those new spiritual bodies now. As Paul said, that only comes after death to those who are in Christ. What I am saying is that Jesus does want to change us now. With our new bodies we will experience eternal life, but right now we can experience what he called abundant life.

The problem is that many of us have actually become pretty comfortable with our junk, not just the physical aches and pains, but also the emotional, relational junk.  What we fear is that actually dealing with it, opening up about it, putting it out there, or maybe even going to counseling might not feel like abundant life. In fact dealing with our junk make life more uncomfortable, not less.

You may be wondering how this kind of life is more abundant.  Isn’t it easier to just avoid it?  Act like everything is fine?  Hope the pain will go away?  I would argue, no.  Though it may be initially difficult, receiving the abundant life of Christ now, is the best way to live.

One of the major roadblocks, though, is that people have to want to be changed. They have to desire the abundant life, or they likely aren’t going to choose it. If you are scared or hesitant to step toward the abundant life of Christ, pray for God to open your eyes to see the hope and power of his abundant life. It is a prayer that could be something like: “Lord, I don’t know if I even want to be changed, so help me want to be changed”.

Flowing from that prayer, get ready for the Lord to answer it!  And as he works in you, also embrace the part you have to do as well. We should be choosing and experiencing the abundant life of Christ now.

I think Paul describes it best in Ephesians 1:17ff “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead.”

Do you realize that God wants to change you? Yes you can have a new powerful body that will not age or hurt or get sick or die when he rises you to new life after death.

But he also wants to change you now, so that more and more of his life is flowing through yours. Would you make it a matter of serious prayer: “Lord, change me!”

Would you consider professional counseling if you know there is an area of persistent struggle you are not overcoming? Habits, vices, bad priorities, unhealthy relationships, etc. I don’t want you to tune out thinking “Well, yeah, I’m sure I need to change something but I don’t even know where to begin…”

Where it begins is talking about it with people. Admitting it. We call that confession. Four simple words can open a door to new life, and those four simple words are “I have a problem.” But so many of us rarely open up enough to talk about our problems.

Would you consider having people hold you accountable?

God wants more of the fruit of the Spirit to flow out of you, and it could be that the people has placed in your life are a means grace to help the fruit of the Spirit grow in you.

Start with prayer. Then enter into a total life audit. Many of you are already doing this in an ongoing way, as you have a teachable humble approach to life. But some of you are not doing this. You need to sit down perhaps with a spiritual advisor and say “I have a problem. I don’t believe I am experiencing the abundant life of Jesus, I need help. What do you want me to do?” Be willing to do things that feel like they are out of your comfort zone.

Too often we get stuck in a rut, never experiencing the new life of Christ, because we don’t ever live in such a way that we need his new life! But when we step out of our comfort zone, perhaps going on a mission trip, perhaps serving in a new way in the church, perhaps turning off our devices and inviting a neighbor over for a cookout, perhaps talking to a friend about what Jesus is doing in your life, you’ll see how you need to depend on him for strength, for the words to say, and you will be amazed at how he gives you his new life flowing through you.

As we hope for the new life of resurrected bodies after death, let us live the new abundant life of Christ now!

Feel free to listen to the whole sermon here.

Pie in the Sky…and other half-baked resurrection ideas

19 Apr

pie in the sky

“Pie in the sky…in the great by and by.”

“Eternal life.”

“Pearly gates and streets of gold.”

What does resurrection bring to your mind?

Here’s another phrase to consider: “You’re so heavenly-minded, you’re of no earthly good.”  Are you? Could your understanding of the resurrection have misled you to be so heavenly-minded, you’re of no earthly good?

Normally when we think of Easter, we’re in Springtime-mode, and we think of new life.  As I type, the grass is growing (and needs to be mowed!), and the tulips are in bloom.  Spring is abundant with new life.  We are right to connect resurrection with new life!  Resurrection is the idea of that which is dead coming to life .  At least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, we are blessed with the natural symbolism of Easter coinciding with Spring.  New life is all around us.

But what concerns me is that when we think of this new life, we’re so heavenly-minded that we’re of no earthly good.  What I mean by that is that resurrection causes us to think about pie in the sky, eternal life in heaven on those streets of gold.  We are joyously grateful that Jesus died for our sins and rose again, because that means we, too, will rise again in new life and be with him in paradise, kinda like he said to the thief on the cross.  Resurrection is for us the hope of eternal life, new life in heaven!  We are right to praise the Lord about that.

So why would that concern me?  Well, is that all resurrection was intended to mean?  New life after death.  Is that all?

Some might respond and say “Isn’t that enough?”

Good question: Isn’t it enough that we should have the hope of eternal life, of heaven, of being resurrected and with Jesus?

If that was all that Jesus said should be enough, I’d say “Yeah, that’s enough.”  If all he taught was that he would die and rise again so that we could have new life after we die and be with him in heaven, then I’d say the discussion is over.  I’d say that pie in the sky in the great by and by is all we need to concern ourselves about!

But Jesus didn’t stop there.  Neither did the other writers of the New Testament.  While they were very excited about new life in heaven made possible by salvation, by Jesus’ death and resurrection, they also talk about the amazing fact that resurrection begins now!

Think about that…you can be resurrected before you die.

In fact, let me go so far to say that unless you are resurrected before you die, you haven’t understood what Jesus was all about.  The resurrection matters now.  The resurrection is vital now.

Sound impossible?  That is what we explore tomorrow during our Easter Celebration at Faith Church.  Join us!