Archive for the ‘Theologababble’ Category

[Author’s note: Any sermon manuscript found on this blog is written pre-preaching, which means that invariably the content is slightly different than what is actually heard in the sermon. If you’d like to listen to the audio of this sermon, please visit our website here.]

Well good morning! I hope you’re all well. Go ahead and turn to Mark chapter three. Mark chapter three. We have a lot of ground to cover today as we continue our journey through the Gospel according to Mark. If you’ll recall, we’re now following the ministry of Jesus as he moves throughout the Galilean area. Last week we found him solidifying his core group of twelve disciples, or followers. We know that Jesus had many followers, but these twelve men were about to spend the next couple years eating, sleeping, and living with Jesus.

We’ve also seen a series of encounters between Jesus and the Pharisees, the religious elite among the Jews. Encounter after encounter, Jesus demonstrated that grace rules, that merely following the Law- or trying to follow the Law (since no one can actually keep it perfectly), isn’t going to bring us to God. The Law was never designed to in the first place- it was to show our own insufficiency and our dire need for grace.

And grace is good, right? Being forgiven by God? I’m glad that God doesn’t hold things against us, that God saves us in spite of our actions. It’s why we exist as a church. We’re go grateful that God has forgiven us that we want to see His fame, and glory, and goodness spread into Crozet, to our neighbors and the nations.

I’m also glad that God forgives us better than we forgive each other. Too often we’re prone to hold a grudge against those who have wronged us. We know that forgiveness is rare, because when it’s extended in the wake of tragedies like Columbine, the Amish school shooting in Nickel Mines, PA, the VA Tech shooting, Newtown, CT- the media is hardly able to believe that victims can truly forgive those who wronged them. It not normative. “Do unto others,” and whatnot.

I’m glad that God forgives us better than we forgive ourselves. I think about the movie Seven Pounds, where the main character ultimately sacrifices his own life to make restitution for a car accident he caused. He’s unable to forgive himself and move on. I know it’s Hollywood, but doesn’t it strike a nerve with us? Especially as God’s children, when we of all people should rejoice in our salvation and God’s forgiveness, but for some reason we seem to be unable to forgive ourselves when we mess up.

For some of us, I think there’s a fear buried deep within that causes us to wonder if God truly can forgive us for the evil things we’ve done, the things that we’ve done when no one else was watching, or when you acted out of impulse and managed to get away with it.

And here’s what compounds the problem…not every sin is forgivable. Not every sin is forgivable. You don’t have to take my word for it- Jesus said it.

Now when we hear that, I don’t know about you but even as I say it there’s a part of me that wants to say, “Well you don’t understand grace! You don’t understand God’s love! He forgives!”

And yet while that is all true, it’s also true that there is an unpardonable sin. An unforgivable sin. A sin for which there is salvation. There is no rescue. You do this sin, and you have absolutely no hope whatsoever. You have sealed your damnation.

For some of you that’s a foreign concept. Who ever heard of a sin God won’t forgive? For some of you, fear that you’ve committed this sin has paralyzed your spiritual growth. Some of you are like, “Oh- that thing.” I know all about that, and it’s no big deal.

My hope when we leave here is that I’ll accomplish a few things- I’ll be able to assure the fearful, then I want to clear up a lot of theological confusion that may be here today.

So with that in the back of our minds, let’s look at the text. If you’ll recall, Jesus has appointed His twelve disciples, also known as apostles, those sent out by Jesus, and He returns home, where His family is.

We find that Jesus’ reputation has preceded Him, too. Upon His arrival the crowds surround Him, He misses dinner, and His own family said “this guy is out of his mind!”

Meanwhile, Jesus has also landed Himself in hot water with the Pharisees. In our Grace Rules series, at the end of this five-part series of encounters, we saw in Mark 3:6 that the Pharisees had finally had enough and were now conspiring with the Herodians as to how they could destroy Jesus.

So now as we pick it up in verse twenty two we see the plot thickening as scribes, the teachers of the Law, have come from Jerusalem. We know that Jerusalem is south of Capernaum, or Nazareth if that’s where “home” is, but due to the elevation of Jerusalem anytime you went anywhere you were going down.

As so “these scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul,’ and ‘by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.’”

Ok, so let’s just back up a bit and paint a picture of what’s going on here. For some year now Jesus has been on the scene. He was supernaturally baptized by John the Baptizer, He’s been going through Galilee teaching in the synagogues, healing people, calling disciples to follow Him, casting out demons, declaring sins to be forgiven, and most of all identifying Himself as the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of His people.

Now any lunatic can call himself God, but Jesus’ deeds backed up His words. All authority and power was His, yet even His own family, those closest to Him, was blinded to the reality that this carpenter’s son was their Messiah, their Redeemer.

And at this point in His ministry, His power and authority is undeniable, and the scribes and Pharisees could sense their power slipping. This rebel who was proclaiming a Gospel of Grace was wrecking their party, and it was time to do something about it. And if they could discredit Jesus, the people would again look to them for all matters pertaining to God and religion.

I don’t suppose the timing could have been better for them. After all, Jesus’ own supposed friends and family were against Him. And so since they couldn’t deny the power of Jesus, they could attribute it to demonic force. And they do- but here’s the irony: these scribes were so aware of the power of Jesus that they knew they couldn’t simply say that He was demon possessed. After all, demon possession wasn’t unheard of, yet no demon-possessed person had ever demonstrated a fraction of the power Jesus had.

So their strategy? Hey, we’ll just tell ‘em that he’s possessed by Satan himself, by Beelzebul, the “Lord of the House.” Yeah! That’ll show ‘em! Make them think that Jesus is possessed by Satan. That’ll ruin His credibility!

But there’s a couple fundamental flaws in their argument, and Jesus is kind enough to expose them.

Mark tells us that “Jesus called to them and spoke to them in parables.” A parable is a story that illustrates a deeper meaning. Sometimes they’re simple and easy to understand- sometimes they’re not. We’re about to see Jesus using them to expose the Scribe’s bad logic in a multitude of short parables.

He begins with this- “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.”

Now follow Jesus here, look at the point he’s making. We know that a kingdom or country that’s divided against itself cannot stand. It’s what caused our own civil war. It’s what had lead to much of the fighting in the middle-east. We’re seeing it even now in the  quasi-serious petition for Texas succession in light of the recent debate over gun rights.

On a smaller, more personal level, Jesus tells us that a divided house, or family, is doomed to failure. We see this all around us in a country with a divorce rate of some 50%. Hollywood knows that we’re drawn to this kind of drama, hence the popularity of shows like American Chopper, or reality shows like the Ultimate Fighter, or Big Brother, or the Real World, that force these groups to either band together and function well…or to be divided and let chaos ensue. Obviously the more dysfunction, the higher the rating.

Jesus’ point is simple. He’s saying “You guys are accusing me of using the power of the prince of demons to cast his own demons out. How much sense does that make? How does Satan using me to cast out his own army do anything to build His kingdom, to strengthen his rule?”

He spells it out pretty clearly to the scribes and for the benefit of His hearers: “If Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.” in other words, the last thing Satan would ever do if he wanted to remain the god of this world is defeat himself in freeing people from his control and possession. The accusation of the scribes is senseless.

Get’s a bit worse, though, for the scribes. Jesus continues, “But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.”

More simple reasoning from Jesus. “Look guys, you’ve seen my power. You’ve seen me free people from demonic possession for a year now. You know I have power over evil. And you also know that the only way I can undo the work of Satan is by being stronger than Satan.

“I mean, come on, guys! You’ve made the 100+ mile trip from Jerusalem so that you can try to salvage something of your power over these people, and the best you can do is very illogically say that the power with which I do these things is through Satan?! When what I’m doing is showing my power over Satan? You can tell- you know I’m different from any man you’ve ever seen, yet instead of rightfully worshipping God you would rather say I’m empowered by the devil himself??”

And then Jesus says it- the passage that has by and large been misunderstood, taken out of context, and generally misused.

Jesus says “Truly I say to you-” That means “Listen up! Don’t miss this!” “All sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whosoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”

Hmm. You get that? “Whosoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness.” Interestingly enough, in the Greek the phrase here for “never has forgiveness” actually means…”never has forgiveness.” And there it is- the unpardonable sin.

Lotta confusion about this thing. And I know we’re going to leave our normal pattern here to dive into some deeper theological waters, but the text definitely warrants it. So let’s begin by exploring what the unforgivable sin is not.

Firstly, it’s not suicide. There are groups and people who believe and teach that suicide is unforgivable by God, yet nowhere in scripture is that found. In fact, we find that Samson is mentioned in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews Eleven, yet Samson took his own life in the destruction of the temple where he was held. You might also recall that God was the one who empowered Samson in that final act of destruction.

The unpardonable sin isn’t murder, either. Remember Moses? Guilty of murder. David- guilty of murder. And adultery. All forgivable.

Another common one in evangelical circles is this- every sin is forgivable except for the sin of unbelief. There’s only one problem with that- we all were born in disbelief. And until our conversion, we were all unbelievers…so if unbelief is an unpardonable sin, none of us could be saved because at some point in our lives we were all guilty!

So here’s the theological problem. Jesus says that one, and only one sin will not, can not, shall never be forgiven- the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Which means, so say some theologians, that if one cannot blaspheme the Holy Spirit, than one likewise cannot be damned because all other sins are forgiven. This is what Universalists teach. Love Wins, right?

But the problem with this is that Hell is populated, that not all will be in Heaven, and so if people are bearing the wrath of God than at least one sin hasn’t been forgiven, which means that people must still be committing the unpardonable sin, which is blasphemy of the Spirit. That’s their line of reasoning, at least.

So then they modified that position to teach something like this: On the cross, Jesus bore every sin of every person who would ever live, except for the sin of final unbelief, from which the dying unbeliever could not be pardoned. After all, Jesus did say that “all sins will be forgiven the children of man.” Live in unbelief all you want- it can be forgiven. But die in unbelief and now your doom is sealed. That’s the one sin not paid for by Christ!

All this sounds good, right? Jesus’ death expunged all sins but for final unbelief, and then if we “accept” Jesus we go to Heaven, and if we “reject” Jesus, which is blaspheming the Holy Spirit, we go to Hell because that sin wasn’t paid for…

And here’s the problem with that- nothing about it is Biblical, it’s not stated anywhere in Scripture, it certainly doesn’t do justice to the context in which Jesus made the statement, and this position reveals a widespread lack of understanding of just what transpired on the Cross some 2000 years ago.

Let’s start with this truth right here- God’s wrath toward sin was not exhausted in its entirety on the Cross of Jesus Christ. It was not.

And I know that many of us recoil against a statement like this because it seems to contradict everything we learned while growing up. But if we think our way through this, we know this to be true logically and biblically. Logically, if Jesus underwent divine punishment on behalf of every man, woman, and child who ever did, ever has, or ever will live, then Hell would be empty. God would have no grounds to inflict His wrath upon rebellious sinners.

Again this is the basis for Universalism, or the belief that everyone ever born spends eternity with God in Heaven. The Universalist follows the logic that if Jesus died in the place of sinners, then the salvation of said sinners would be guaranteed. God’s wrath is averted. And while they’re wrong, I can at least appreciate their view of propitiation. They recognize that on the Cross, Jesus not only absorbed the Father’s wrath against sin, but He effectively removed the sins from those from whom He was suffering.

But their logic breaks down when we see Biblically that not all sins are indeed gone. In other words, we can look at the Biblical passages which teach the population of Hell and therefore conclude that not all of God’s wrath was placed on Christ, but we also have direct Biblical proof of this.

Consider Colossians 3:5-6, where Paul tells the Church in Colosse that God’s wrath is still coming because of sins such as sexual immorality, impurity, evil desires, and idolatrous coveting. He said as much to the church in Ephesus in Ephesians 5:6 as he talks about the wrath of God coming upon the sons of disobedience for their idolatry and sexual immorality.

Time after time in Scripture we’re given direct evidence that God’s wrath is still coming for all kinds of sin, which makes it wrong for us to say “Jesus died for every sin but unbelief”! Think about the words of Jesus Himself when He told the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida that it would be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the Day of Judgement than for them. There is ample evidence that there are varying degrees of punishment in Hell, but this could only be because, as we see in Revelation 20:13, those in Hell will be judged for all their sins…sins that remain. Sins that were not nailed to the Cross.

Punishment is still coming. God’s wrath in it’s entirely was not appeased and removed at the Cross. And we deny the effectiveness of Christ’s atonement when we cross the line and say that it doesn’t actually atone.

Now if you’re still tracking with me, this presents an interesting conundrum: If Jesus didn’t pay for all the sins of anyone, and God’s wrath is still on the way because of our rebellion against God, then no one will be in Heaven because we will all be in Hell atoning for our own sins.

After all, “the wages of sin is death.” And we’ve all sinned. If Jesus didn’t satisfy the wrath of God for all of my sins, and I’m left to satisfy even just some God’s wrath, I would still bear infinite guilt for rebelling against an infinitely holy God.

And so here we are- If Jesus died for all of the sins of every person, then everyone is free the punishment of their sins. The debt is cancelled and gone. If Jesus died for some of the sins of every person, then no one is free the punishment of their sins, which leads us to this Biblical conclusion:

Jesus died for all the sins of some people.

How else could anyone be saved? I love how Paul describes it to the Christians in Colosse. He says in Colossians 2:13 “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him (Jesus), having forgiven us ALL our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with it’s legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross.”

Done. It’s gone. The death of Christ guaranteed salvation for all those for whom he died. The only alternative is that it guaranteed no one’s salvation.

And so the million-dollar question is this- who will be saved? Who can be saved? Who did Jesus die for? Whose sins were covered at the Cross? Who can become a child of God??

Let’s let God’s Word answer that for us. John 1:12 tells us that “to all who did receive Him (talking about Jesus here), who believed in His name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

Who did Jesus die for? Everyone who believes. Whose sins are gone? Everyone who believes. So believe. Trust Christ as your Savior.

You say, Richard, I’ve done some pretty horrible things- things God can’t forgive me for. Let’s go back to the text: Jesus said “all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter.” What Jesus is saying is that with the exception of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, there is forgiveness for any imaginable sin, provided you are united to Christ by faith.

And so what is this blasphemy of the Spirit that so many have been confused on? I’m glad you asked, because Mark make it very clear why Jesus said “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit is guilty of an eternal sin,” “For they were saying, He has an unclean spirit.”

These scribes knew. They knew. They knew that Jesus was no ordinary man. They knew that His mission and His authority demanded a response, and rather than rightfully acknowledge the truth that Jesus’ power was divine, they called Him possessed. They gave credit to Satan for what the Holy Spirit had empowered Christ to do. And because of that, they had doomed themselves. Anything else, anything but that, could be forgiven.

So as our band comes forward, we need to reflect on some things- the first is this: if the only sin that cannot be forgiven is the attribution of Jesus’ miraculous power in Nazareth to the work of Satan, then for us here today there is no sin that cannot be forgiven. I don’t care how bad it is, how shamed you feel, how destructive it was. There is no sin in your life that is bigger than grace.

But here’s the thing. Unless you’re united to Christ by faith, then you will continue to be beneath the wrath of God. As Jesus is going throughout the land, his message is clear- He is saying “I am the Messiah. Believe in me.” Mark has written this account to continue to assure the Christians in ancient Rome who had trusted in Jesus as their Savior.

What will you do with Him? Will you trust Him as your savior? Will you believe His message and follow Him? In our time of reflection, Walt and I will be up here to talk with you, pray with you- whatever you need from us, that’s why we’re here.

Lastly, for those of you in here who are following Christ, how great is it that all of our sins are gone? All of them- even the ones we haven’t done yet. And so why hold them against yourself? God doesn’t. Jesus took them from you. Live in the freedom that forgiveness gives us.

We’re going to give you a few moments of reflections before we stand and continue our worship through music, but what I want you to think about is our JourneyMarker for the week: “The work of Christ on the Cross guarantees complete forgiveness for the believer.” Will you believe that?

I mean, isn’t that Good News? Are you resting in it? Are you living in it? Are you sharing it?

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Reflections on the Cross

Posted: April 6, 2012 in Theologababble

 

The sounds of shattering glass and the desperate cries of frightened people fill your ears as you struggle to think your way through this mess. People are running, falling, crying, scurrying to their hiding places. Not everyone, though. Some are still carefree, refusing to believe that the storm is coming. Idiots. It’s beyond you how they can delude themselves into thinking that life is ok, that this storm of epic proportions isn’t just over the horizon, yet they have.

You still remember watching the weather channel last month, when talks of a superstorm first hit the airwaves and television screens. From the very beginning there were doubters…but there were also believers. Who could have ever thought the those crazy environmentalists were right, that our carefree consumption of natural resources, coupled with our harmful pollution of the atmosphere, could somehow trigger a storm to end all storms?

As the month progressed, you had found yourself going from mild interest, to general belief, to firm conviction that the predictions were accurate. Not only was the storm coming- it was going to be a doozy. And now with the sky growing blacker and the winds getting stronger, many more were believing…but not enough. Too many of your friends and even family scoffed at your concern. They just didn’t get it. No time to dwell on that, though. Gotta get to the Dome.

The Dome. You’re not even sure where the thing came from, yet somehow it just appeared. Impossibly huge, the Dome supposedly offered a safe haven from the coming storm. It was kinda like that ark (who was that guy…Noah?) that saved those people and animals from drowning. Except the Dome doesn’t float. Couldn’t if it wanted to. Too big. But the Prophets kept promising that within the Dome was safety from the storm. Within it was a new life, a new community, a Kingdom of sorts. A chance to do things right. This was even harder for some to believe in than the storm itself, though oddly enough it makes sense to you. Time to go- things are getting crazy. Need the Dome. And the Door. Gotta find the door.

Making your way through the town, you get the sense that you’re not the only one headed to the Dome, and as you look around you see that there is a small handful of you on the same path, but it’s not enough. There’s just too many that are still going about their lives, it’s all business as usual. Calling loudly to them, you try to convince them of the coming storm. A few believe you and begin to come with you, but the majority scoffs at you and your stupid Dome with its stupid Door. True, you’ve never seen the Door to this thing, but the Prophets said that there was only one way into the Dome. One Door. And you believe them. And you’re trusting that you can go through it.

Passing through humanity, you offer aid where it’s needed in the chaos around you, and you’re glad to see those travelling on your path doing the same thing. Everyone is expressing love and concern to those around them, telling them of the Door to the Dome, of the storm coming, of the salvation available to everyone coming to the Dome. You have time to see lives transforming instantly, and in a few cases you see disbelief and skepticism slowly fade to puzzlement, belief, and joy as they hop on this narrow road leading to the Dome.

Then you’re there. And it’s massive. And you have no doubt that it’s big enough for everyone (and a good thing, because there seems to be people from all over the world here, too). But…there’s no Door. Were the Prophets wrong? Your bewilderment turns to slight anxiety, and you can tell by the growing murmur that no one else can see a Door, either. As the storm swirls high above the Dome, you find yourself wondering if you were really any better off than the ones back home who are blissfully and purposefully ignorant of the coming destruction…but then you see him.

Standing slightly taller than those around him, this man is the picture of serenity. Calm, a slight smile on his lips, eyes full of love, he appears to gather his thoughts as the crowd of thousands all somehow see him standing there, and a hush falls over the crowd so they can hear what he’s about to say. Looking at the multitude of us standing there, the man says four simple words that leave you reeling in surprise: “I am the Door.”

Wait- what? He’s the Door?

And then he does something that you know is beyond the realm of possibility. Reshaping the very fabric of reality, the man reaches over to the dome and creates a portal into the Dome, framed by his own body. The Door! It’s real!

But as the first excited person in the crowd passes through this Door, an anguished scream rips loose from the man’s lips. It’s a sound unlike any other that you’ve ever heard. It’s so loud that the entire crowd around you freezes as everyone searched for the source of this scream. They realize it’s coming from the Door, and they look closer. They see electricity crackling along his arms, his back, his legs. His skin appears to roll from the turmoil within his body, and they can see that he is in pure agony. Dying, in fact.

Holding wide the opening into the Dome, the man who was the Door waved in more people, and as the numbers poured through into the Dome, the suffering intensified, and it dawns on you- he was suffering the storm in your place. This storm that would have no doubt killed every one of you was somehow contained in his body, and as long as he was willing to absorb the wrath of this storm on behalf of this crowd, the Door would be open.

It hits you then that he’s going to die. No one can survive the storm, yet he’s able to bear it on your behalf. And bear it he does, screaming, writhing in agony, bursting with love, he holds the Dome open as the crowd grows smaller and smaller, and then it’s just you. And as you step into the Dome in total safety from the storm that you created for yourself, he speaks these simple words: “Paid in full.”

And the Door is gone.

Crushed. Battered. Dead.

Because of you.

For you.

Looking around, you see a world like no other. What you thought was a Dome can’t be a Dome, because there are plains, and mountains, and streams, and oceans. It’s another world with crystal clear skies. Everyone is running now, and the excitement among the people is contagious. You hear bits and pieces of conversation. “He’s here!” “He’s alive!” And there He is- the Door. Your salvation. Your Savior. The One who died in your place. Risen from the dead, and extending His arms in welcome to you.

***

I realize that I’m no storyteller. I also realize that it’s impossible to do justice to the Gospel in three pages, when God used 40+ writers in three languages over the course of 1500 years to write His Word, this incredible story of redemption.  No doubt there are many places in my story where the analogy breaks down, but that’s not the point.

Today is Good Friday, the day traditionally celebrated as the day that Jesus went to the Cross. What better day than this to write about the Cross and what happened there? What greater time than one in which the Cross’ purpose and effect is widely contested among evangelical Christians? It’s a sad reality that there are largely three camps in this battle for the Truth, and what I’d like to do is use the story above as the backdrop for these positions.

The first camp is that of Universalism. This position teaches that the entire human race was present at the Dome, and as Jesus suffered the wrath of His Father, God’s wrath against mankind was satisfied and as such they all enter the Dome and receive eternal life. They base this on passages like John 1:29, which says “The next day [John] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” They also like 1 John 2:2, which says that Jesus “is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” They like verses like Romans 6:23, where God’s gift to us is eternal life, instead of the death we deserve. They like 1 Tim 4:10, which teaches that God is the Savior of all people. They like 2 Peter 3:9, which says that God “is patient toward you,not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” I mean, it makes sense. If Jesus’ death truly paid your sin debt, and our sovereign God does not want anyone to perish, then it is reasonable to believe that God gets His will, all are saved, and all the “hell” passages need to be re-evaluated for a proper understanding.

I would be lying if I said this position wasn’t attractive. I mean, it must be, given the explosion of acceptance this sort of theology has found. I wish that everyone would be spared the wrath of God. I wish that Hell were not real, or forever. Nonetheless, the Bibical record is convincing that Hell is real, and it is forever, and it is for unforgiven sinners. There are two natural responses to this reality- we can limit what Jesus did on the Cross, or we can limit for whom Jesus suffered. Position two does the former.

People in group two are diverse in heritage and theology. Freewillers, Arminians, moderate Arminians, Amyraldians, 4-point Calvinists, moderate Calvinists, semi-Pelagians, all agree on the three things: the Cross did not save anyone in particular, we play a role in our own salvation, and God does not get His greatest desire. Their introductory story would go like this: Jesus suffered the wrath of His Father on behalf of all mankind, but this alone accomplished nothing. Jesus is now at the Dome beckoning everyone to come through. Those that do will be forgiven, those that do not will still face the storm. God doesn’t want you to perish, but at the same time He can’t bring you into the Dome. You have to do that yourself. He did His part, now you do yours and be saved.

This position is also attractive, because now you can love the verses that the Universalists love, yet still believe in Hell. Hell is now not for rebelling against God, but rather for rejecting the forgiveness of God who punished His Son for you. Hell is voluntary now, and though God wants you to be saved, He only accepts freewill love and therefore leaves the choice up to us. God is fair, we get what we want, and passages like Isaiah 53:6, John 1:29, John 3:16-17, John 4:42, John 6:51, Acts 17:30, Romans 5:18, 1 Corinthians 15:22, 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, 18-19, I Tim 2:3-6, Titus 2:11, Hebrews 2:9, 2 Peter 2:1, 2 Peter 3:9, 1 John 2:2 and 1 John 4:14 make perfect sense when read alone.

The third camp sees both of the previous camps as equally unbiblical. Known through history as Augustinians, Reformed, Calvinists, Particular Redemptionists, Monergists, or simply “Sovereign Grace”, those in this camp are unified by a common theme: Jesus redeemed sinners at the Cross who were given to Him by His Father and drawn to Him by the Spirit. In other words, the Cross wasn’t an isolated event, but one that was planned in eternity to obtain salvation for a particular group of people. They do not see the Cross as merely making men savable, but rather saving them by removing the wrath of God due them for their sins. Camp two is laden with errors, and to do justice in my own position against theirs I would need to write a book. Can’t do that at the moment, so forgive me for the following meager apologetic.

  1. My first problem with camp two is that it purports an atonement that doesn’t actually atone. It doesn’t truly remove God’s wrath from mankind, because we see in Colossians 3:6 and other passages that God’s wrath is still coming. Hell is still going to be populated by people who are suffering the wrath of God that their sins earned. If this is true, then God could not have been fully satisfied by the Cross 2000 years ago. While many in camp three agree that the atoning work of Christ is indeed sufficient to cover the sins of humanity, in actuality it does not. It covers only those for whom Christ specifically suffered, i.e, all who will repent and believe. That the Cross was actually effective in atonement is seen throughout Scripture. It was indeed the reason for the Messiah to come.
  2. My second problem is that it makes salvation synergistic, or the resulting product from God doing His part and you doing yours. While it is true that faith is required for salvation or occur, camp three recognizes that faith is a gift from God, purchased in the Cross, bestowed onto people at God’s will. In other words, camp three recognizes that faith is a grace of God that flows from regeneration- it doesn’t cause it.
  3. My third problem is that camp two’s position belittles sin’s effect on people. However, the Biblical account is clear that a lost person is (1) wicked at his very core– Gen 6:5, 8:21, Mk… 7:21-23, Ps 5:9, Jer 17:9, Titus 1:15-16, Ecc 9:3, Eph 4:17-18, (2) Enslaved by his sinful desires – Jn 8:34, Titus 3:3, 2 Tim 2:25-26, (3) Perverted in his will – Jn 8:44, Eph 2:3, Pro 21:10, Jn 3:19, Rom 7:18, (4) Unwilling and unable to change himself – Jer 13:23, Matt 7:18, Matt 12:34-35, Job 14:4, (5) Born hating God – Jn 3:20, Rom 8:7, Col 1:21 (6) Separated from God and not seeking Him Ps 58:3, Eph 2:12-13, Eph 2:3, Ps 10:4, Jn 3:20, Is 64:7, Rom 3:10-12, (7) Completely unable to please God – Pro 15:9, Pro 28:9, Is 64:6, Rom 8:7-8, (8) Uncomprehending the Gospel and thinking it foolish – 1 Cor 2:14, 2 Cor 4:3-4, 1 Cor 1:18, 21-24, Deut 29:2-4, Matt 11:27, (9) Unable to respond positively to the Gospel – Jn 3:27, Jn 14:16-17, Jn 1:12-13, John 6:44, 65, (10) Spiritually dead – Col 2:13, Eph 2:1, Jn 3:3, Jn 3:7.

 

In other words, if all God does is sit back and leave everyone alone, everyone will still continue in their rebellion against God and perish. Camp two advocates believe that God throws out a life jacket to drowning people, but the jacket won’t save you unless you grab it. Camp three advocates believe that you’ve drowned, and unless God gives you new life you will remain dead. Camp two espouses libertarian free will; camp three denies this in favor of compatiblistic free will.

 

4. My fourth issue is that camps one and two deny the fundamental purpose of the Cross, which was to truly redeem unto a God a bride for His Son, comprised of people from every tongue, tribe, and nation.

5. My fifth issue is that camp two denies the unconditionality of God’s electing grace, which is a Biblical necessity given the state of a lost person and the graciousness of repentance and faith.

So here’s how it plays out in terms of the opening story. There is a storm brewing, and that storm is the infinite wrath of God in a place called Hell, where rebels against the Creator will pay the due penalty for their crimes. This covers the entire human race (Romans 3:23, 5:12). God, though, to display His love and mercy, chose for Himself a people who He would change from the wicked sinners they are into someone who looks more like His own Son (Romans 9:24, Eph. 1:1-14). They would be Jesus’ Bride. As God cannot simply forgive their sin (Proverbs 17:15), Jesus volunteered to take their place and pay their debt, a sacrifice that we are united to by faith (Romans 3:23-26). Unable and unwilling to come to God as spiritual corpses (John 6:44), God gives new life through His Holy Spirit that brings spiritual life and faith in Christ (John 1:13, 5-8, 1 John 5:1). Justifying us by His grace through the faith He gave us (Eph. 2:8-9), He then seals us with His Spirit, a surety that we are indeed saved forever (Eph 1:13-14).

The value of Christ’s sacrifice is such that if the entire world were to come to the Cross, there is sufficient salvation for all mankind. But the reality is that the atoning work of Christ only covers those who come. This underlies the necessity to go worldwide and implore all people, everywhere, to see their sins as God does and trust Christ to be their savior. Jesus, upon the Cross, beckons for whosoever will, to come and be saved. Refuse to do this, and you will die in your sins. You will get what you want, which is that separation from the God you hate. So no one can say “salvation is impossible for some, because Jesus didn’t suffer for all.” Those in camp two who claim this lose sight of the fact that Jesus’ work saves those for whom it was intended, which are those who indeed come.

And as I’ve said before, if you have been born again, you are born again because God elected to save you before you were even born. This decision of God’s was not based upon any foreseen faith on your part, because faith itself is a gift from God, and even if it wasn’t you would never put your faith in the cross because prior to your rebirth you saw the cross as foolish and stupid. Apart from grace, you would have never seen your sin for what it was, because repentance is also a gift from God. You never would have come to Jesus had the Father not drawn you, and all who the Father draw will be saved. God formed an intimate relationship with you before you were born, and he predestined you to receive eternal life, rather than the eternity in Hell that you yourself chose apart from grace. In time, God regenerated your dead heart and drew you to Himself, giving you the faith you placed in Christ, which in turn led to your justification, ongoing sanctification, and eventual glorification. If you are saved today, you are saved because God gave you to Jesus, who died for you, appeasing God’s wrath upon your sins, and the Holy Spirit gave you new life. It was, is, and will always be about God. You are saved by grace, NOT because of anything you did apart from grace. You deserved Hell, you rejected God, you hated God, you rebelled against God, you chose Hell over God, and everything you did prior to your salvation was all for you, not for Him. And yet…God showed His love for us by saving us- not because of us, but in spite of us.

Who did Jesus die for? Everyone coming to Him for salvation.

So come.

On Hell

Posted: March 29, 2012 in Theologababble

[The following is a position paper on Hell that was written for a seminary class years ago.]

CHAPTER I

THE PROBLEM AT HAND IS INTRODUCED

 A perusal of church history over the course of the last 2000 years would show that a general belief existed in reference to idea of eternal torment in a place called hell for all lost people. According to Richard Mayhue of The Master’s Seminary, such belief “has been the almost unbroken testimony of the church.”[1] It comes somewhat as a surprise, then, to learn that more than one prominent evangelical has arisen to challenge the long-accepted doctrine of hell.[2]

 

The Factors are Presented Concerning the Doctrine of Hell

 

There are two primary issues in the debate. The first is in regards to the nature of suffering in hell; whether it is literal and physical as opposed to being metaphorical or non-physical. The second and more prominent area of debate concerns the duration of an unbeliever’s suffering in hell; whether it is eternal, temporary, or even if there is any hell at all. Because an exploration of both issues would exceed the scope of this paper, this writer will focus upon addressing the duration of hell.

The problem involved in a matter of this magnitude has many facets. Firstly, if a Christian’s perspective of hell (the “bad news”) is incorrect, this may lead to a misunderstanding and thus miscommunication of the Gospel (the “good news”). In other words, if news about hell is part of a soul-winner’s Gospel presentation, and their understanding of hell is wrong, than there is a good chance that their Gospel presentation will also be wrong. Secondly, it is impossible for all opposing viewpoints on hell to be biblically accurate. Either none are, or only one is. A determination of the biblical doctrine of hell is instrumental in having a correct doctrinal understanding of what God’s Word teaches on the issue. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to demonstrate the biblical position on hell.

This study will be beneficial to all Christians who desire better doctrinal accuracy and a better understanding of the nature of hell. If the findings of this study are shown by scripture to be correct, the reader will then be able to better understand and communicate the doctrine of hell and they will also be able to better convey the good news of God’s grace found in His son Jesus Christ. A person’s clear understanding of the biblical teachings on hell brings to light even more clearly the news of salvation from such a place, making the question of hell of high importance to answer.

This research is of high value in the discipline of ministry. As it is the teacher’s job to educate students within the context of the local church (as well as in Christian academic institutions), having a proper understanding of God’s Word is vital to accomplish this. This research is also of high importance to this writer, who is himself a youth pastor and thus desirous of the truth of God’s Word in regards to the doctrine of hell.

 

 

 

 

This Study Includes Terms, Limitations, Methodologies and Presuppositions

 

For the purpose of this paper, “hell” is synonymous with the Lake of Fire,[3] rather than Hades or Sheol, the Greek and Hebrew terms used to describe the location of lost souls prior to their ultimate placement in the lake of fire. Hell is to be understood and recognized as the final place of torment for unbelievers, rather than an intermediate stage for lost persons who are awaiting final judgment. “Lost” or “unsaved” persons are those individuals who have “not repented of their sin and embraced saving faith in the person of, the death of, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”[4]

This study comes with several limitations, the first of which is brevity of time spent on this project by the writer; namely, one semester. Furthermore, this writer does not have ready access to a seminary library, but must instead draw upon a small selection of books and online resources. Additionally, while this writer has taken courses in Greek and Hebrew, his understanding of the original languages is not sufficient to be able to draw from the wealth of knowledge written by Greek and Hebrew scholars. Furthermore, this writer has no knowledge of Latin or German, so he will not be able to read from the original writings of the early church Fathers. As a result, this writer’s research will be limited to predominately English works.

While the topic of hell touches upon many other areas of theological banter, this project will limit itself to the one area: the duration of hell. While debate rages concerning the properties and occupants of Hades, as well as the relationship between hell and the Gospel, an exploration and explanation of those sub-topics would far exceed the scope and limitations of this project. Additionally, as time is of the essence in this project, this writer will be forced to work towards a deadline, which may restrict the quantity of data that would eventually come to light. Lastly, this writer will be restricting himself to the use of audio files or written documents, rather than including interviews with leading scholars in the evangelical tradition.

This study will begin by demonstrating the historicity of the doctrine of eternal punishment in hell. The next step will be to document the objections that are coming to the forefront of evangelicalism in light of the topic of hell, be they philosophical or theological. Each point will in turn be addressed by the writer.

This paper rests upon several presuppositions. Firstly, the writer assumes that the reader will share his passion in the area of doctrinal purity. A second assumption about the reader would be their ability to find this writer’s writing easily readable and understandable. Thirdly, this writer assumes that the material will be presented clearly, correctly, and defensibly. This paper will be building an argument, so naturally this writer believes that his position will be the correct one. Lastly, this writer believes that he is able to adequately resolve the difficulties surrounding this doctrine. Failure to do this would, of course, result in a somewhat worthless paper.

As mentioned previously, this writer believes that a real need exists in establishing a solid, accurate biblical understanding of the biblical position on hell. Proper understanding in this area will strengthen one’s own understanding of God’s word, and it may also lead to a better, more effective communication of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This study will show that the Bible does indeed clearly teach an eternal suffering in hell for unsaved persons, rather than a non-eternal suffering.

 

CHAPTER II

HOW IMPORTANT IS THE DOCTRINE OF HELL?

 

In studying the nature of hell, the question may be raised as to how important this particular doctrine is. Some doctrines such as the doctrine of a pre-tribulation rapture and the doctrine of a post-tribulation clash with one another and result in disagreement among its adherents. Most often, whenever two or more interpretations of scripture exist, it is impossible for them to all be correct. Either one is correct, or they are all wrong. Concerning the doctrine of the Rapture, several viewpoints abound within evangelicalism, but they all share one commonality- a presupposition that the rapture will indeed occur. Non-Christians deny the entirety of the rapture doctrine, but Christians are capable of teaching contradictory positions concerning just how and when the Church will be removed from this world.

Other doctrines offer no leeway for disagreement. The Apostle Paul offers a clear and concise summation of the Gospel- the doctrines that must be believed for one to become a Christian. Those doctrines include the life of Jesus, the death of Jesus, the burial of Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus.[5] A rejection or disagreement with any of these doctrines is impossible by a true Christian.

The question then, concerning the doctrine of Hell, is just how important it is. Does it little bearing on present reality, such as the differing theories concerning the details of the rapture, or could confusion on this issue be considered a damnable heresy? It is this writer’s contention that though it may be possible for genuine believers to be mistaken about the duration of hell, the doctrine of hell is indeed of fundamental importance to evangelicalism, for two reasons. Orthodoxy in this area leads to a better understanding of God, as well as a better understanding of the gospel.

 

Biblical Knowledge of Hell Leads to a Better Understanding of God

            As God has revealed Himself in the Christian scriptures, there is great importance in learning as much possible about who He is. As there are no other source documents authored by God, the only knowledge we have about Him concerning the nature of Hell is found within the Holy Bible. Thus, a proper understanding of the doctrine of Hell is vital to knowing God better.

 

Accurate Knowledge of Hell Teaches About the Character of God

            One of the more notable attributes of God is that of love. Indeed, scripture teaches that God is love.[6] However, God is also holy[7], just[8], and righteous.[9] All three of these attributes, along with many others, are evidenced in the way that God views sinners. A proper understanding in the way that God punishes those whom sin against Him reveals much of His character. Thus, anyone having a lack of understanding about the true nature of hell is also lacking in their understanding of God.

 

A Correct Doctrine on Hell Helps Readers Know More about God’s Word in General

            As mentioned, the only written book about God that has been authored by God is the Holy Bible.[10] As such, the Bible is an invaluable book that contains the mind of God, particularly concerning His dealings with mankind. It is only by a person’s proper application of God’s Word that orthopraxy, or right practice, is even possible. Therefore, knowledge of God’s Word is instrumental to living in the manner that God has called his people to. Since the doctrine of hell is encapsulated within God’s Word, coming to a proper understanding of hell will overall benefit the reader by letting him or her learn more about the Bible as a whole.

 

Biblical Knowledge of Hell Leads to a Better Understanding of the Gospel and Evangelism

 

            The word “gospel” means “good news”. Evangelically speaking, the term “gospel” is used in reference to the good news that God saves sinners. Scripture teaches that all of mankind is condemned by their sins[11], but God sent His own son as a means of reconciling sinners to Himself.[12] The manner of condemnation into which men fall is intrinsically related to our message of God’s salvation.

 

 

 

The “Bad News” Must be Correct in Order for the “Good News” to be Correct

 

To deny the existence of Hell is to insist that there is no “bad” news, thus negating the need for any “good” news. If there is no eternal punishment for violating God’s laws and refusing to trust upon Christ as one’s Savior, than evangelism may be perceived as a waste of time, as would be any proclamation of the gospel or call to repentance.

 

If There is No Need to Fear Damnation, Perhaps There is No Need to Seek Salvation

 

If there is no hell, there is no need for anyone to want to be saved, since there is nothing to be saved from. To be fair, though, not all theologians who deny an eternal hell endorse Universalism, the doctrine that God will ultimately save all of mankind. Therefore, there are still evangelistic Christians who deny an eternal hell, though their gospel differs from hell-affirmers in that according to them, hell is nothing to be feared as eternal, but rather temporary. Still, as reconciliation to God is preferable to not existing at all, proponents of annihilationism still have reason to evangelize the lost.

 

 

 

CHAPTER III

IS THE DOCTRINE OF ETERNAL HELL A NEW CONCEPT?

Doctrinal purity has always been the desire of the New Testament church, and it is even a precedent observed in the scriptures themselves.[13] Regarding the concept of eternal punishment in hell, the question must be asked as to the doctrine’s origins. Have believers throughout history affirmed this doctrine, or is it of recent appearance, such as the prosperity or charismatic movements? That is not to say that a new doctrine is automatically suspect, but rather that 2000 years of church history has been enough time to gain a firm grasp on the key tenets of scripture. Indeed, research shows that belief in an eternal hell has been largely normative among the Christian church.

 

Belief in Eternal Hell Existed Two Millenniums Ago

 

When trying to reach an understanding of God’s Word, one must always check their interpretation and weigh it against the consensus of church history. If said person’s interpretation of a passage is radically different from the interpretation held by the majority of believers over the past 2000 years, there is a good chance that said interpretation is faulty. Thus it is important to see if the church, by and large, has historically believed in the existence of an eternal hell.

 

Biblical Authors Taught the Existence of Hell

 

Perhaps the most important and weightiest evidence in the historical belief in hell is the scriptures themselves. As scripture is inspired by God, the words of the biblical writers reflect God’s own words and are therefore true. The question, then, is whether or not the biblical writers themselves taught about an eternal hell. The answer to this question is a resounding “yes.”

Several authors of the scriptures endorsed an eternal hell as they recorded the words of Jesus as he spoke on the subject. Matthew shares with us how Jesus spoke of being cast into “everlasting fire”.[14] Mark quotes Jesus as he spoke of “eternal damnation”.[15] Luke shares with us the words of Christ when Jesus taught on a rich man in hell being “tormented in flames”.[16] John also quoted Jesus as referring to a “resurrection of damnation”, in opposition to a resurrection of life.[17]

In addition to many of the biblical authors sharing Jesus’ views on eternal hell, many of them also espoused the same view themselves. The writer John, in reference to those in hell, speaks of “the smoke of their torment ascending up for ever and ever”[18], clearly indicating an eternal punishment of the lost. Paul speaks in Romans 9:22-23 of the “destruction” of vessels of wrath, an analogy he draws for lost persons. Though the term “destruction” seems to contradict the idea of eternal punishment, arguments have been made from the original Greek that indicates the endlessness of the term.[19]

 

Many Church Fathers Also Taught Eternal Hell

Not only is there clear evidence that the writers of the scriptures believed in an eternal hell, historical documents also demonstrate the prevalence of this belief among many of the ancient church Fathers. Pertaining to the early Fathers, J. Kelly says that “As regards to the fate of the wicked…the general view was that their punishment would be eternal, without the possibility of remission.”[20] The most notable exception to this general consensus was Origen, and perhaps also Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa.[21] According to Richard Mayhue of The Master’s Seminary, “by the fifth century, the doctrine of everlasting punishment in hell was not seriously challenged.”[22]

 

Belief in Eternal Hell Still Exists Today

 

Over the centuries, various heretical ideas within Christendom have come and gone. The doctrine of hell is not such a doctrine. Finding its roots in the clear teachings of the Bible and becoming anchored by the ancient church Fathers, the doctrine of an eternal hell is still widely believed and taught.

 

Many Denominations Believe in an Eternal Hell

One need not look far to realize that the doctrine of an eternal hell is not merely a doctrine espoused by a smattering of individuals. Entire denominations have included within their doctrinal statement an affirmation of an eternal punishment in Hell for the lost. The Westminster Confession of Faith, the foundational doctrinal statement affirmed by most Presbyterian denominations, clearly states that “the wicked who know not God, and obey not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.”[23]

Baptists have also historically affirmed the doctrine of an eternal hell. The Southern Baptist Convention, the world’s largest Baptist denomination, affirms that “the unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment.”[24]

Many Academic Institutions Believe in an Eternal Hell

In addition to individuals and denominations, a belief in an eternal hell is prevalent among many of the leading seminaries in the country. Dallas Theological Seminary’s doctrinal statement says, “the spirits and souls of the unbelieving remain after death conscious of condemnation and in misery until the final judgment of the great white throne at the close of the millennium, when soul and body reunited shall be cast into the lake of fire, not to be annihilated, but to be punished with everlasting destruction.”[25]

All of the seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention, espousing the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, naturally teach the historic doctrine of Hell, as does Westminster Theological Seminary and many smaller schools and seminaries.

 

Many Scholars and Theologians Today Believe in an Eternal Hell

As academic institutions and denominations teach students and congregants the biblical position on hell, it naturally follows that today scholars and theologians alike are still defending the doctrine. This is further proof that this doctrine did not arise within a vacuum, nor does it live there now, as is demonstrable in the academic field of theological research.

Not only are conservative seminaries dedicated to teaching the doctrine of eternal hell, but many of their faculty members also contribute to the field of knowledge on the subject. The Master’s Seminary, for example, published within their journal an entire series of articles on the nature and duration of Hell. Compelling arguments were made by their scholars concerning the theology of hell[26]  as well as the duration of hell.[27] Similarly, other scholars have made valuable contributions to the debate concerning the properties and duration of hell such as Roy Zuck[28] and J.I. Packer.[29] Given the historicity, tenacity, and publicity of the doctrine of an eternal hell, it comes as no surprise that many ordinary pastors today still preach the existence of an eternal hell, to include this writer.

 

 

 

CHAPTER IV

THE DOCTRINE OF AN ETERNAL HELL IS NOW QUESTIONED

A perusal of Christian literature would show that in recent history, the doctrine of hell as recognized throughout church history is now under attack. This is not surprising in itself, as all of the major tenets of Christianity have always been attacked, scoffed at, or simply disbelieved. What is surprising, though, is that these recent attacks upon the doctrine of hell have come from within the church. As Wilko van Holten surmises, the doctrine of hell “does not seem to enjoy much popularity among believers.”[30] Perhaps the two most noted theories in antithesis to an eternal hell are the ideas of universalism and annihilationism.

Universalism teaches, in one form or another, that all souls will go “into a life of eternal bliss in the hereafter”[31]. Some proponents of this idea believe that this may occur immediately upon death,[32] while others maintain that only after the resurrection will all souls receive eternal life.[33] The end result is that no one will ever be damned, but that all will be saved.

Annihilationism, on the other hand, does not teach that all will be saved, but nor does it adhere to an idea of eternal punishment for the lost. Simple annihilationism, a view espoused by the famous atheist Bertrand Russell, teaches that a human being ceases to exist at the moment of death.[34] Other views of annihilation teach that unsaved people cease to exist at the resurrection. This position is the more common one in annihilationist circles, and it is also affirmed by Jehovah’s Witnesses and a few other groups.[35] While a response to each of these positions would far exceed the scope of this paper, the aforementioned examples show the plethora of ideas that are abounding in opposition to the idea of an eternal hell.

 

Some Objections to an Eternal Hell are Grounded in Philosophy

 

Naturally, for a supposed Christian to find fault with a given doctrine that has been historically accepted, they must themselves find grievance with said doctrine. One of the more common objections to an eternal hell is found in the philosophy underlying the concept. More specifically, the love of God and the nature of eternal punishment are questioned.

 

Some Say that God’s Love is Contrary to an Eternal Hell

One of the leading arguments against an eternal hell is that the concept is contradictory to the nature of God’s love. According to Clark Pinnock and Robert Brow, “love is what characterizes God essentially”[36] The key component in this argument is that God’s love for all men is at complete odds with God condemning a person to a burning hell for all eternity. As Larry Pettegrew words it, “God’s love [apparently] serves as an immovable roadblock to such a doctrine.”[37] Pinnock’s opinion reflects this philosophy as he wonders, “How can we think for a minute that torturing people without end is the sort of thing that the God and father of Jesus would do?”[38] He has also said, “Christian theology simply cannot depict God acting like a bloodthirsty monster who maintains an everlasting Auschwitz for his enemies whom he will not even allow to die.”[39]

 

Some Say That Eternal Hell is Too Harsh a Punishment

While some theologians would argue that an eternal hell contradicts God’s love, still others maintain that an eternal Hell is simply too harsh a punishment for a human being. Pinnock says, “The fact that we have sinned against an infinite God does not justify an infinite penalty.”[40] Indeed, some have even said that God’s meting out an eternal punishment would make him “less than perfect.”[41]

 

Some Objections to an Eternal Hell are Grounded in Theology

 

Objections to an eternal hell are not made solely upon the basis of philosophy. Some arguments find their basis in scripture- or at least, within one’s interpretation of scripture. As mentioned previously, many theologians object to the idea of hell, yet still adhere to the Bible as being God’s word. Thus, they must reach an understanding of what the Bible teaches concerning hell. As a result, arguments have been formed that impose a new meaning not only on biblical terms, but also upon entire passages.

 

Debate Has Arisen Concerning the Meaning of Key Terms

Words have meaning, and if the meaning is misunderstood than confusion ensues. Concerning the matter of hell, biblical words long understood as meaning one thing are now being argued as meaning another. Such words would include “death”, “destruction”, “fire”, and “eternity”.[42] If the true meanings of these words are revealed to differ from the historically accepted definitions, than entire doctrines would be erred, to include the doctrine of hell.

 

Debate Has Arisen Concerning the Meanings of Entire Passages

There are several key passages in which the biblical author alludes to an eternal damnation in hell. There are certain passages in the book of Revelation, for example, that “unmistakably attest[s] to the reality of the irreversible consequences of divine judgment.”[43] However, if those passages are misinterpreted in the first place, as some surmise, than the resulting doctrines are simply incorrect.

 

CHAPTER V

THE DOCTRINE OF AN ETERNAL HELL STILL STANDS

Despite recent attempts to dismantle the historically accepted doctrine of an eternal hell, the validity of an eternal hell is far too well established to crumble. As S. Lewis Johnson puts it, “It is doubtful that there is a doctrine in the Bible easier to prove than that of eternal punishment.”[44] Though numerous objections have arisen concerning the nature of God, the nature of the punishment of hell, definitions of biblical words, and the meanings of certain key passages, arguments also abound that support the authority of the doctrine.

 

The Bible Demonstrates the Existence of Hell

 

The most important testament to any given belief, be it held by an individual, denomination, or Christendom as a whole, is the testimony of God’s Word. Naturally, if the Bible does not teach eternal damnation, there is no need for a person to believe or endorse the idea. However, the Bible does have much to say about the nature of punishment that God inflicts upon impenitent sinners. Careful examination of God’s Word shows that hell is indeed eternal.

 

 

 

Key Biblical Passages Demonstrate the Existence of Hell

 

Though critics of an eternal hell have a wide variety of passage to debate, such as 2 Thessalonians 1:9,[45] Matthew 25:46, Mark 9:43, John 3:36, and Revelation 14:10-11, this writer has found little effort put forth on behalf of those who would disagree with the historical understanding of said passages. Rather, the bulk of the opposing sides’ arguments is an appeal to logic and philosophy. This is not surprising, given the strength of the biblical text and the tenacity of biblical scholars. Various works abound that exposit key Old Testament and New Testament passages, bringing to light a picture of hell that remains unchanged through time. Exegetical treatises by scholars such as Robert Peterson,[46] Harry Buis,[47] and many others show from God’s word the reality of hell. Trevor Craigen of The Master’s Seminary presents a compelling argument from the book of Revelation that “rules out…any attempt to determine punishment as temporary.”[48]

 

Key Biblical Terms Demonstrate the Existence of Hell

Though critics of an eternal hell have tried to redefine key terms in the biblical record, they have been unsuccessful in their endeavors. Concerning the word “everlasting”, Robert Thomas demonstrates how “efforts to tone down the force of [everlasting] cannot sidestep the absolute idea of eternity in connection with Jesus’ teachings of eternal punishment.”[49] “Fire” and “punishment” have also withstood tests against their historical meaning,[50] as have the words “destruction”[51] and “eternal”.[52] There is a plethora of research supporting these findings.

 

Reason Supports the Existence of Hell

 

Contrary to claims that one cannot both affirm God’s love as well as the existence of an eternal hell,[53] there is no logical reason to deny the existence of hell. Many of the objections to hell are based upon faulty reason. To demand that a God of love cannot also be a God of justice is to “reduce God’s nature to love.”[54] Not only is it difficult to accurately elevate any one particular attribute of God over another,[55] but doing so forces a set of “control beliefs” upon the individual doing so. Says  Pettegrew, “Such arguments …clearly demonstrate that evangelical annihilationists cannot take the Scripture passages on hell at face value.”[56] In other words, non-proponents of an eternal hell first form their presuppositions and then guide their understanding of scripture upon said presuppositions. Naturally this would lead to difficulties in interpreting scriptures that seemingly contradict one’s understanding of God and how he has chosen to address sin and punishment. Careful observation of the Bible, though, reveals pure consistency between God’s attributes and eternal punishment.

 

An Eternal Hell is Consistent with the Character of God

As God is omniscient[57], omnipotent[58], and the sovereign ruler of the universe,[59] rules are certainly His to make. Scripture teaches that the penalty of sin is separation from God,[60] and also that God provided a means of forgiveness through faith in the work and person of his son.[61] Scripture also tells us that because God is just, he cannot merely excuse a sinner for their transgressions.[62] Therefore, God’s justice and holiness is perfectly satisfied in the damnation of impenitent sinners as they receive the due punishment for their crimes against him. The existence of an eternal hell in no way compromises any of the attributes of God.

 

An Eternal Hell is Consistent with the Nature of Sin

One of God’s attributes also clearly seen in his interactions with sinful men is his holiness.[63] The very nature of God’s perfection demands that he separate himself from sin. Though some theologians declare that human sin isn’t worthy of eternal damnation, this writer would argue that it is not mankind’s place to determine the gravity of its disobedience to God, but rather to let God determine the consequences, as he has.

Furthermore the issue is raised that “ongoing rebellion against God deserves ongoing punishment.”[64] As Pettegrew points out, there is no biblical evidence that anyone in hell ever stops rebelling against God, therefore their punishment would also never end, nor would their guilt.[65] Despite the arguments against infinitely punishing sin, there is no compelling evidence that doing so would be wrong or over-reactive on God’s part. As Todd Mangum puts it, “it is never cruel for God to enforce penalties appropriate to crimes committed.”[66]

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER VI

CONCLUSION

Though certainly not one of the most beloved doctrines in scripture, the evidence reveals that the church has been correct in its adherence to the existence of an eternal hell. This belief is not due to a sadistic desire to see sinners punished for all eternity, but rather is the somber truth as revealed by God in scripture.

 

The Doctrine of Hell Greatly Impacts Evangelicalism

 

Daunting though the task may be of establishing the validity of an eternal hell, it is only by living in the reality of this doctrine that a Christian is able to have a better knowledge of God and his character, as well as a better knowledge of God’s word in general. If there is an eternal punishment in hell for sinners refusing to trust in Christ as their savior, a greater urgency arises in the church’s evangelistic efforts.

 

The Doctrine of Hell Has Always Been Normative

 

As this study has demonstrated, belief in an eternal punishment in hell has existed for thousands of years. Ample evidence of this abounds within the pages of the Bible, as well as in the writings of the earliest church Fathers. The belief in an eternal hell has withstood the tests of time and remains in place even today within whole denominations, institutions of higher learning, and churches all across the world.

 

Attacks Against the Doctrine of Hell Are Without Merit

 

Though recently history shows an increasing trend in the rejection of an eternal hell, there is no strong evidence that such a move should be made. Though the love of God and the nature of an eternal punishment have been called into question, the truth remains that God’s attributes are not invalidated with the idea of hell, nor is it wrong of him to infinitely punish those who are infinitely guilty.

Attempts have been made by skeptics to argue certain passages and key terms in the debate, but scholastic rebuttals have shown that God’s Word is clear in its teachings. Hell is real, and it is eternal. There is no valid reason to believe otherwise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

 

Badham, Paul. “Reflections on the Craig-Flew Debate.” Modern Believing 49, no. 3 (July 2008): 25-36.

 

Bligh, Philip H. “Eternal Fire, Eternal Punishment, Eternal Life.” Expository Times 83 (January 1971): 9-11.

 

Brow, Robert C. and Pinnock, Clark. Unbounded Love. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1994.

 

Buchanan, James M. “Cheerful News About Hell.” Christian Century 125, no. 11 (June 2008): 3.

 

Buis, Harry. The Doctrine of Eternal Punishment. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1957.

 

Cheetham, David. “Hell as Potentially Temporal.” Expository Times 108 (January 1997): 260-263.

 

Clayton, James W. “Hell and the Victorians: A Study of the 19th Century Theological Controversies Concerning Eternal Punishment and the Future Life.” Church History 44, no. 2 (June 1975): 265.

 

Craigen, Trevor P. “Eternal Punishment in John’s Revelation.” The Master’s Seminary Journal 9, no. 2 (Fall 1998): 191-201.

 

Crockett, William ed., Four Views on Hell. Grand Rapids: Intervarsity, 1992.

 

Dulles, Avery R. “The Population of Hell.” First Things 133 (May 2003): 36-41.

 

Eno, Robert B. “The Fathers and the Cleansing Fire.” Irish Theological Quarterly 53 (January 1987): 184-202.

 

Erickson, Millard J. Where is Theology Going? Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994.

 

Frantz, Ira H. “Life.” Brethren Life and Thought 20, no. 2 (Spring 1975): 69-74.

 

Fudge, Edward. “The Final End of the Wicked.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 27, no. 3 (Summer 1984): 325-334.

 

Grenholm, Cristina. “The One Purpose of God: An Answer to the Doctrine of Eternal Punishment.” Interpretation 53, no. 3 (July 1999)” 322.

 

Grounds, Vernon C. “The Final State of the Wicked.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 24, no. 3 (Spring 1981): 211-220.

 

Holmes, Stephen R. “The Justice of Hell and the Display of God’s Glory in the Thought of Jonathan Edwards.” Pro Ecclesia 9, no. 4 (Fall 2000): 389-403.

 

Holten, Wilko van. “Can the Traditional View of Hell be Defended? An Evaluation of Some Arguments for Eternal Punishment.” Anglican Theological Review 85, no. 3 (Summer 2003): 457-476.

 

Johnson, S. Lewis. “God Gave Them Up.” Bibliotheca Sacra 129 (April-June 1972): 124-133.

 

Kelly, J.N.D. Early Christian Doctrines. San Francisco: Harper, 1976.

 

Linfield, Alan M. “Sheep and Goats: Current Evangelical Thought on the Nature of Hell and the Scope of Salvation.” Evangelical Review of Theology 21, no. 1 (January 1997): 51-62.

 

Macouarrie, John. “Death and Eternal Life.” Expository Times 89 (January 1977): 46-48.

 

Madsen, Catherine. “Notes on God’s Violence.” Cross Currents 51, no. 2 (Summer 2001): 229-256.

 

Mangum, R. T. “Three Models of Hell.” Christianity Today 51, no. 2 (Fall 2007): 118.

 

Marshall, Howard I. “Uncomfortable Words: ‘Fear Him who can Destroy Both Soul and Body in Hell’.” Expository Times 81 (January 1970): 276-280.

 

Mayhue, Richard. “Hell: Never, Forever, or Just for Awhile?” The Master’s Seminary Journal 9, no. 2 (Fall 1998): 129-145.

 

Moltmann, Jurgen. “The End of Everything is God: Has Belief in Hell Had Its Day?” Expository Times 108 (January 1997): 263-264.

 

Moody, Raymond A. Life After Death. Carmel, NY: Guideposts, 1975.

 

Morey, Robert A. Death and the Afterlife. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany, 1984.

 

Morgan, Christopher W. “Two Views of Hell: A Biblical and Theological Dialogue.” Journal of the Evangelical Society 45, no. 4 (December 2002): 727-730.

 

Murray, J. “The Doctrine of Eternal Punishment.” Westminster Theological Journal 21, no. 1 (November 1958): 98-99.

 

O’Conner, Feargus. “The Nature of Hell.” Faith and Freedom 54, no. 2 (Autumn-Winter 2001): 171-174.

 

Packer, J.I. “Hell’s Final Enigma: Won’t Heaven’s Joy be Spoiled by our Awareness of Unsaved Loved Ones in Hell?” Christianity Today 46, no. 5 (April 2002): 84.

 

Parker, David. “The Nature of Hell.” Evangelical Review of Theology 27, no. 3 (July 2003): 275-276.

 

Peoples, Glenn. “Fallacies in the Annihilationism Debate: A Critique of Robert Peterson and Other Traditionalist Scholarship.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 50, no. 2 (June 2007): 329-347.

 

Percy, Martyn. “Go to Hell.” Modern Believing 44, no. 3 (July 2003): 2-5.

 

Peterson, Robert. Hell on Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1995.

 

Pettegrew, Larry D. “A Kinder, Gentler Theology of Hell?” The Master’s Seminary Journal 9, no. 2 (Fall 1998): 203-217.

 

Pilkington, John. “After the Crematorium: What?” Expository Times 107 (January 1996): 367-370.

 

Pinnock, Clark H. “The Nature of Hell.” Ex Auditu 20 (2004): 47-59.

 

Purcell, Boyd C. “Spiritual Terrorism.” American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine 15 (May 1998): 167-173.

 

Pyne, Robert A. “Hell on Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment.” Presbyterian 25, no. 1 (Spring 1999): 63-64.

 

Quarles, Charles L. “The ‘APO of 2 Thessalonians 1:9 and the Nature of Eternal Punishment.” Westminster Theological Journal 59, no. 2 (Fall 1997): 201-211.

 

Ramirez. Frank. “What Does the Bible really Say About Hell? Wrestling with the Traditional View.” Brethren Life and Thought 48, no. 1-2 (Winter-Spring 2003): 110-112.

 

Robinson, John A.T. In the End God. London: James Clarke, 1950.

 

Rosscup, James E. “Paul’s Concept of Eternal Punishment.” The Master’s Seminary Journal 9, no. 2 (Fall 1998): 169-189.

 

The Baptist Faith and Message 2000. http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfm2000.asp [accessed April 30, 2010].

 

Thomas, Robert L. “Jesus’ View of Eternal Punishment.” The Master’s Seminary Journal 9, no. 2 (Fall 1998): 147-267.

 

Toner, Patrick. “Divine Judgment and the Nature of Time.” Faith and Philosophy 22, no. 3 (July 2005): 316-329.

 

Van Horn, Michael A. “Response to Pinnock.” Ex Auditu 20 ( 2004): 60-64.

 

Ward, Julian. “The Nature of Hell.” Journal of the European Pentecostal Theological Association 20 (2000): 138-141.

 

Wenham, John W. The Case for Conditional Immorality. Edited by Nigel M. de S. Cameron. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992.

 

Westminster Confession of Faith. http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/ [accessed April 30, 2010].

 

White, Thomas Joseph. “On the Universal Possibility of Salvation.”  Pro Ecclesia 17, no. 3 (Summer 2008): 269-280.

 

Williams, Stephen N. “The Question of Hell and Salvation: Is There a Forth View?” Tyndale Bulletin 57, no. 2 (2006): 263-283.

 

Woodcock, Eldon. “Images of Hell in the Tours of Hell: Are They True?” Criswell Theological Review 3, no. 1 (Fall 2005): 11-42.

 

Zuck, Roy B. “Hell Under Fire.” Bibliotheca Sacra 162, no. 648 (October-December 2005): 11-42.


     1. Richard L. Mayhue, “Hell: Never, Forever, or Just for Awhile?” The Master’s Seminary Journal 9 (Fall 1998): 132.

 

     2. Ibid., 129.

     3. Rev. 20:11-15 KJV

 

     4.  Richard L. Mayhue, “Hell: Never, Forever, or Just for Awhile?” The Master’s Seminary Journal 9 (Fall 1998): 130.

 

     5. 1 Cor. 15:1-4

     6. 1 John 4:8

 

     7. Isaiah 6:3

 

     8. Romans 6:23

 

     9. Daniel 9:14

      10. 2 Tim. 3:16

 

      11. Romans 5:12

 

      12. 2 Cor. 5:18

     13. Acts 17:11

     14. Matt. 18:8

 

     15. Mark  3:29

 

     16. Luke 16:24

 

     17. John 5:29

 

     18. Revelation 14:11

     19. James E. Rosscup, “Paul’s Concept of Eternal Punishment,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 9 (Fall 1998): 179.

 

     20. J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines [San Francisco: Harper, 1976], 483.

 

     21. Richard L. Mayhue, “Hell: Never, Forever, or Just for Awhile?” The Master’s Seminary Journal 9 (Fall 1998): 132.

 

     22. Ibid., 132.

     23. WCF, 33.2

 

     24. BFM 2000, X

     25. DTS Doctrinal Statement, XX

 

      26. Larry D. Pettegrew, “A Kinder, Gentler Theology of Hell?” The Master’s Seminary Journal 9 (Fall 1998): 203-217.

      27. Richard L. Mayhue, “Hell: Never, Forever, or Just for Awhile?” The Master’s Seminary Journal 9 (Fall 1998): 129-145.

     28. Roy B. Zuck, “Hell Under Fire.” Bibliotheca Sacra 162, no. 648 (October-December 2005): 11-42.

 

     29. J.I. Packer, “Hell’s Final Enigma: Won’t Heaven’s Joy be Spoiled by our Awareness of Unsaved Loved Ones in Hell?” Christianity Today 46, no. 5 (April 2002): 84.

     30. Wilko von Holten, “Can the Traditional View of Hell be Defended? An Evaluation of Some Arguments for Eternal Punishment,” Anglican Theological Review 85 (3): 457.

 

     31. Richard L. Mayhue, “Hell: Never, Forever, or Just for Awhile?” The Master’s Seminary Journal 9 (Fall 1998): 135.

 

     32. Raymond A. Moody, Life After Death [Carmel, New York: Guideposts, 1975].

 

     33. John A.T. Robinson, In the End God [London: James Clarke, 1950].

     34. Richard L. Mayhue, “Hell: Never, Forever, or Just for Awhile?” The Master’s Seminary Journal 9 (Fall 1998): 135.

 

     35. Ibid.

 

     36. Clark Pinnock and Robert C. Brow, Unbounded Love [Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1994], 45.

     37. Larry D. Pettegrew, “A Kinder, Gentler Theology of Hell?” The Master’s Seminary Journal 9 (Fall 1998): 208.

 

     38. Clark Pinnock, “The Nature of Hell,” Ex Auditu 20 (2004): 55.

 

     39. Ibid.

 

     40. Clark Pinnock, “The Conditional View,” in Four Views on Hell, ed. By William Crockett [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992], 152.

 

     41. Catherine Madsen, “Notes on God’s Violence,” Cross Currents 51, no. 2 (Summer 2001): 229-256.

     42. Richard L. Mayhue, “Hell: Never, Forever, or Just for Awhile?” The Master’s Seminary Journal 9 (Fall 1998): 141.

 

     43. Trevor P. Craigen, “Eternal Punishment in John’s Revelation,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 9 (Fall 1998): 203.

     44. S. Lewis Johnson, “God Gave Them Up,” Bibliotheca Sacra (April-June 1972): 131.

     45. Edward Fudge, The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of Final Punishment [Houston: Providential, 1982].

 

     46. Robert Peterson, Hell on Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment [Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1995].

 

     47. Harry Buis, The Doctrine of Eternal Punishment [Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1957].

 

     48. Trevor P. Craigen, “Eternal Punishment in John’s Revelation,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 9 (Fall 1998): 194.

     49. Robert Thomas, “Jesus’ View of Eternal Punishment,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 9 (Fall 1998): 165.

 

     50. Ibid.

 

     51. James E. Rosscup, “Paul’s Concept of Eternal Punishment,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 9 (Fall 1998): 178.

 

     52. Ibid., 186.

 

     53. Paul Badham, “Reflections on the Craig-Flew Debate,” Modern Believing 49, no. 3 (July 2008): 33.

 

     54. Larry D. Pettegrew, “A Kinder, Gentler Theology of Hell?” The Master’s Seminary Journal 9 (Fall 1998): 208.

 

55. Ibid., 210.

 

     56. Ibid., 209.

     57. Ps. 147:5

 

58. Job 42:2

 

     59. Ps. 50:12

 

     60. Rom. 6:23

 

     61. John 3:16-18

 

     62. Pro. 17:15

 

     63. Isaiah 6:3

 

64. Larry D. Pettegrew, “A Kinder, Gentler Theology of Hell?” The Master’s Seminary Journal 9 (Fall 1998): 217.

 

     65. Larry D. Pettegrew, “A Kinder, Gentler Theology of Hell?” The Master’s Seminary Journal 9 (Fall 1998): 217.

 

66. Todd Mangum, “Three Models of Hell,” Christianity Today 51, no. 2 (Fall 2007): 118.

 

The
Necessity of Evangelism

“If
God’s election is all of sovereign grace, why should I bother witnessing to my
friends?”  There is a logical validity to
this question. After all, if God is indeed more powerful than I am, then it
would stand to reason that my inaction will not foil God’s ultimate plans to
save someone. If God elected to save Joe back in eternity, then it will come to
pass whether I do anything or not. Right?

 

  1. One solid reason for evangelism is
    because that is what Jesus commands of His followers.

    1. “And he said to them, ‘Go into all the
      world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.’” – Mark 16:15

 

b.    While it is true that God commands our
obedience to Him, we ought not view evangelism as a task to be dutifully
carried out, much like cleaning our rooms or taking out the trash. Here are
several practical reasons for why we should share our faith with our friends.

2. The reality has not changed
that salvation cannot occur in a vacuum. People will not call upon a God they
do not believe in, and they will not believe in a God who they have no
knowledge of. Therefore, evangelism is vital as it provides the opportunity for
your friend to either believe the gospel and be saved, or to reject it and
continue in their disbelief.

3. Evangelism gives us the
opportunity to see God at work in the conversion of a sinner. Since we have no
idea who God’s elect are, we should strive in every Gospel presentation to be
clear in our teaching and authoritative in our echo of Jesus’ command to
“repent and believe the Gospel.” It’s not a game of “duck-duck-damned” we are
playing. We are begging for our friends to quit their rebellion and come to
Christ.

4. We need to evangelize our
friends because the Gospel invitation is a true offer. While it is true that
Jesus’ death covers only the sins of those who come to the Cross, the
invitation to come is worldwide and the efficiency of the Cross is also
world-wide.

5. Evangelism is awesome
because it works, and we know it works because evangelism is the means by which
God has chosen to gather His elect. It’s not about whether or not we can “do it
right” and get people saved, but it’s about being the messengers and watching
God work through the message (and, indirectly, us…which is awesome when you
think about it). Since God tells us that He has redeemed for Himself persons
from every “tribe, tongue, people, and nation,” we can, and should, excitedly
share the Good News with everyone.

6. We should evangelize
because God, in eternity past, may have chosen to glorify Himself in the
salvation of those we work with. However, we also need to realize that our
efforts are a work of God in the first place, which may actually indicate that
the harder we work, the more successful we will be…which is one crazy circle
that blows mental fuses!

What is the Gospel?

  1. The word “gospel” (εὐαγγέλιον/euaggelion) literally means “good tidings,” or “good news.” More specifically, it is a reference to the Good News of God’s Kingdom, which was first alluded to in Genesis 3:15 in what is known as the “protoevangelium,” or “first gospel.”

–          “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

  1. Though the entirety of the Good News was progressively revealed over thousands of years, there was always a promise of a Redeemer who would break the curse for God’s people.
  2. Salvation has always been through faith in God’s revealed promise of a Messiah, the “anointed one” who would deliverIsraelfrom the bondage of sin.
  3. Though initially given toIsrael(God’s chosen people), we know from New Testament revelation that God’s promise of salvation was to “True Israel,” not simply those born of Abraham. We as the church are viewed as “grafted” intoIsrael. At the culmination of history, the ethnic people ofIsrael, now under a partial hardening, will at that time be given repentance from sin and faith in their Messiah. For a Biblical understanding of this, see Romans 7-11.
  4. The preaching of the Gospel is vital for the conversion of sinners.
    1. Romans 10:13-15 “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’”
    2. Romans 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
    3. The preaching of the Gospel works in harmony with the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit so that the awakened sinner will see what to grasp in hopes of salvation from the wrath of God, namely Christ. A good analogy would be awakening a man falling from a plane. Merely awakening him to his plight does no good if you do not also direct him to pull the ripcord to his parachute. The connection between hearing the Gospel and being regenerated can occur either close or far away. Consider the Ethiopian Eunuch vs. Paul.
  5. Though the Gospel unfolds over thousands of years and across sixty-six books of Scripture, we can proclaim the Good News directly from as little as two verses, as with 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, where Paul explains that the Gospel is “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
    1. However, even this simplistic version of the Gospel presupposes a level of knowledge held by the reader. Terms like “died for”, “sins”, and “in accordance with the Scripture” are unfamiliar to many of those we witness to.
    2. That being said, the Gospel presentation does not necessarily have to begin back in Genesis, either.
  6. My personal preference has been to share Romans 3:23-26, or its contents, in my witnessing endeavors.
    1. Romans 3:23-26 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine 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.”

 

The Breakdown

  1. All have sinned.
    1. Sin means “missing the mark”. It is everything we do that falls short of God’s standard of perfection. I like to reference  few of the ten commandments here, just so the person that I’m talking to winds up in agreement that they, as well as I, are indeed sinners. If they will not even agree to this fact, further conversation is almost guaranteed to be fruitless.

                                                               i.      Some commandments include (1) putting anything in your life in a place of greater importance than God, (2) taking something that did not belong to you, even as little as a piece of candy, (3) lying about someone, (4) disrespecting or disobeying your parents, or (5) being jealous over someone else’s possessions.

                                                             ii.      The New Testament commands us to love everyone around us with every fiber of our being, so we are in sin every time we are rude, disrespectful, or uncaring. Jesus also equated lust with adultery and hatred with murder.

                                                            iii.      According to James 2:10, if we sin even once in our life, we are as guilty as if we had broken every law.

                                                           iv.      At this point in the conversation, your friend will either agree that they’re less than perfect, or they will stubbornly cling to their delusion of being perfect.

  1. Sin has consequences.
    1. The problem with our sin is that it separates us from a holy and righteous God. You can quote Romans 6:23a here if you wish (“For the wages of sin is death…”), or you can simply explain this truth. Our willful choice to rebel against God has placed us at odds with God. May also help to know Romans 5:12, in case you are asked for Biblical support for these assertions.
    2. There is nothing we can do that will put us back on good terms with God. By ourselves, we cannot be good enough to regain that fellowship with God. As stained creatures, we cannot, in and of ourselves, become perfect. If God was to stand back and watch the human race continue in its sin, all the way to Hell, He could do that because that’s exactly what we deserve for breaking God’s Law.
  2. God cannot forgive our sin.
    1. This is the foundational problem for mankind. Just like a judge would be unjust for letting convicted rapists and murderers walk free, God too would be unjust for ignoring our law-breaking and simply forgive it. Sins are crimes against God, and as such they come with punishment.
    2. Proverbs 17:15 spells this out explicitly: “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD.”
  3. Though we know that God cannot justify a wicked sinner, we see in Romans 3:24 that God graciously justifies wicked people. However, if sin must be punished, the only way God can justify a sinner is by a non-sinner bearing some else’s punishment upon themselves.
    1. Another person cannot be punished in our place, for they are already just as guilty.
    2. Only God can satisfy His own requirements for righteousness, so…
    3. The solution was for God to send His own Son Jesus, who was both God and man, to live a life of perfection and then bare the sins of His own people.
  4. Paul teaches us that we are “justified as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
    1. Remember, Paul keeps stressing the fact that we cannot work our way to salvation, but that God saves sinners as a gift to us, though it dearly cost Jesus.
    2. Redemption means to pay the purchase price, meaning that Jesus himself was willing to pay the price on our heads because of our sin. We deserved death and separation from God, and Jesus was willing to do this.
  5. How? By being “put forward as a propitiation by his blood.” Or in other words, through his propitiating death.
    1. What this means is that while Jesus was being crucified on the Cross around the year 33 AD, He was not only removing our own sins from us, but He was also bearing the punishment that we deserved for those sins.

–          2 Corinthians 5:21 “For our sake, [God] made [Jesus] to be sin, who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

  1. While on the Cross, Jesus perfectly satisfied God’s wrath on behalf of a particular group of people. This group of people can now be justified because their sins have been paid for. Those not in this group will not be justified, because they remain in their sins.

VII. It is clear from Scripture that the wrath of God was not satisfied on behalf of the human race, for if it were there would be no wrath left from God. Though Universalists believe that Jesus’ death saves all people, verses like the following show that God is still with-holding wrath:

  1. Ephesians 5:5-6, “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”
  2. Colossians 3:5-6, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.”
  3. So then who can be saved from God’s wrath? Whose sins did Jesus’ death atone for?
    1. As Paul tells us, because of the death of Christ, God can now be just in justifying “one who has faith in Jesus.”
    2. Though Jesus’ sacrifice was of sufficient value so as to cover the sins of the human race, it is efficient only for those who by faith trust in Jesus Christ to be their Savior.
    3. All of this is summarized by John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

                                                               i.      John 3:16 is not to be taught as a conditional, “If you do this, then God will do this…” It is instead a promise of assurance to all those who are believing, that they will indeed not perish in Hell, but have eternal life with God.

  1. Having got this far, your friend is entitled to an opportunity to respond to the Gospel. I bring this about by referencing Romans 10:13, which is an assurance that for all who call upon the Lord in belief of the Gospel, will most assuredly be saved. Typically I say something like this, “If you believe that God is changing things inside you, and you now see your sin as an offense to God, and you believe that Jesus died on the Cross for you and rose again the third day, and now for the first time in your life you’re ready to surrender to Him, then you need to have a heartfelt conversation with God where you just pour your heart out to Him. Is that something that you’re ready to do, or do you want to think about it for a while?”
    1. We must remember in our evangelism that we cannot make someone believe in Jesus. All we can do is share the truth with them and point them towards God.
    2. Those I am dealing with respond in one of two ways- they either stumble through a prayer where they tell God they need Him in their life, they need forgiveness, they’re sorry, etc. etc….or they kindly decline and say they need more time to think.
    3. Regardless of the choice they make, which is a reflection of what is going on inside their hearts/heads, it’s important to ask them if they have any questions about your faith, or the Cross, or Jesus, or anything like that.
  2. At the forefront of our evangelistic efforts should be the prayerful acknowledgment that only God can give spiritual life to dead hearts. We are called to share the Gospel, for it is through this that God will work, if He has chosen to work. We may go our entire lives without seeing converts, or we may see God at work among everyone we encounter. Let us remember Paul’s reminder that although some plant seeds, and some water planted seeds, God is the one who will determine whether or not the seeds lead to salvation.

 

The Tests of Our Salvation

Posted: July 29, 2011 in Theologababble

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son
of God that you may know that you have eternal life….”

John, AD 90  

The Tests of Our Salvation

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness,
we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in
the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son
cleanses us from all sin.    
1 John 1:6-7

1. Test One: On a scale of one to ten, evaluate how much you think your lifestyle
reflects the light (God) instead of the darkness (Satan). Be sure to consider
what you do, watch, listen to, think, say, desire, etc.

(Sinfulness) 1        2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10   (Godliness)

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is
not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our
sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned,
we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.    
1 John 1:8-10

2. Test Two: On the scale below, evaluate your relationship with sin. Consider if
you think that sin is bad, and also examine whether or not you consistently
feel compelled to confess your sin to God. Lastly, consider whether or not you
feel that you are a sinner.

(Not a sinner)  1         2         3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10 (Remorseful sinner)

 

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep
his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him:   
1 John 2:3-5

3. Test Three: On the scale below, consider how hard you attempt to obey the Bible. This includes the commandments to not lust, to obey our parents, to love
others, to follow Christ, to not lie, to not steal, and to not have anything in
your life that’s more important than God.

(Could care less)  1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10 (Try my best)

Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in
which he walked.    
1 John 2:6

4. Test Four: On the scale below, compare your life to Jesus’. Remember, His life was consumed with 1) showing compassion on others, 2) loving others, 3)
sacrificing for others, 4) being friendly to others, 5) serving others, 6) obeying
God…how do you compare to this?

(Nothing like Jesus)  1           2            3            4              5              6
7             8               9              10   (Just like Jesus)

 

 

Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in himb there is no cause for
stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the
darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.    
1 John 2:10-11

5. Test Five: On the scale below, evaluate how much your life is marked by a love for others, which means you care about their well-being and you treat them with kindness and respect. Love is a choice- the alternative is to not give a rip
about others and you could care less about them.

(No love at all)  1         2            3            4            5            6
7             8               9            10 (Nothing but love)

 

 

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.     1 John 2:15-16

6. Test Six: On the scale below, consider the things you love. Are they Godly things or worldly things? Be sure to consider your music, reading material, tv shows, movies, magazines, websites, books, jokes, habits, extracurricular activities, goals, and desires.

(Worldly)         1         2          3              4              5              6              7            8              9              10         (Godly)

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had
been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might
become plain that they all are not of us.    
1 John 2:19

7. Test Seven: On the scale below, examine your relationship with your church. Is it a social club for you, just something to do in your free time, a place to
hang out with your buddies? Or does it hold great importance for you because while there you are able to worship with other Christians and get closer to God? Do you hate when you miss church, or could you care less about being there?

(Not important)         1         2            3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10         (Important)

 

 

Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This
is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the
Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.  
1 John 2:22

8. Test Eight: On the scale below, indicate how strongly you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah that came to bear the sins of His people and
restore them to God.

(Doubt it)         1         2         3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10         (Believe it)

If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone
who practices righteousness has been born of him.    
1 John 2:29

9. Test Nine: On the scale below, indicate how much your life is marked by righteous acts. Examples of this would include spending time with God in prayer, reading our Bibles, worshipping God, obeying God’s commandments, loving other people, helping others for their own benefit and not ours.

(Unrighteous)     1            2               3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10         (Righteous)

Synergism vs. Monergism

  1. Synergism (working together) is the idea that people must cooperate with God before they can be born again, or regenerated. God makes His world-wide offer of salvation, and those who choose to respond properly through faith and repentance will be regenerated and justified.
    1. Synergists who acknowledge the depravity of man teach a concept known as “prevenient grace.” According to Wesley’s Order of Salvation, “Human beings are totally incapable of responding to God without God first empowering them to have faith. This empowerment is known as “Prevenient Grace.” Prevenient Grace doesn’t save us but, rather, comes before anything that we do, drawing us to God, making us WANT to come to God, and enabling us to have faith in God. Prevenient Grace is Universal, in as much as all humans receive it, regardless of their having heard of Jesus. It is manifested in the deep-seated desire of most humans to know God.”

                                                               i.      This grace allows men to freely choose to believe the Gospel or to reject it.

                                                             ii.      This allows total fairness on God’s part.

  1. There are a few problems with this idea:

                                                               i.      There is zero direct Biblical support for this, but rather is drawn inferentially (and errantly) from passages like John 3:16, 36 and Revelation 3:20.  

                                                             ii.      It only moves the problem back one step, and not even a good step back at that. If unregenerate men are made morally neutral and God gives equal grace, why do some men choose Jesus while the majority of them reject Jesus?

                                                            iii.      P.G. admits compatibilism, yet then seeks to endorse libertarianism.

                                                           iv.      What good is prevenient grace to a dead sinner?

                                                             v.      Every biblical reference to an unregenerate person seems to contradict the idea of prevenient grace.

                                                           vi.      Though doing His best, God is ultimately unable to save everyone, even though He really, really wants to.

  1. The idea of God desiring the salvation of the human race is faulty.
    1. Since not all are saved, God is either unable or unwilling to do it.
    2. If God is unable to save people, than God is not omnipotent.
    3. If Jesus came to save all men, than Jesus failed miserable.
    4. If the Spirit cannot draw successfully, than we are stronger than God.
    5. If God is able, it stands to reason that God is not willing (cf. 2 Peter 3:9).
    6. Matthew 11 and Mark 4 refute prevenient grace (see verse list).
    7. Though perhaps well intentioned, prevenient grace is a concept foreign to Scripture, and even if it were true it leaves salvation ultimately in the hands of man, since if God graces all men equally, the determining factor for who responds positively is left in the hands of a sinner.

                                                               i.      If John and Joe are both given prevenient grace, why do they not respond the same? The only possible answer is that they are not the same, meaning their natures are not identical, and since God is the one who formed their natures (or allowed sin to form it), we cannot escape the conclusion that God is directly responsible for the salvation of men, and that if God’s greatest desire was for the salvation of all men, than surely He would have given large enough doses of prevenient grace so as to secure an acceptance of His Son.

 

R.C. Sproul says it this way:

As the name suggests, prevenient grace is grace that “comes before” something. It is normally defined as a work that God does for everybody. He gives all people enough grace to respond to Jesus. That is, it is enough grace to make it possible for people to choose Christ. Those who cooperate with and assent to this grace are “elect.” Those who refuse to cooperate with this grace are lost. The strength of this view is that it recognizes that fallen man’s spiritual condition is severe enough that it requires God’s grace to save him. The weakness of the position may be seen in two ways. If this prevenient grace is merely external to man, then it fails in the same manner that the medicine and the life preserver analogies fail. What good is prevenient grace if offered outwardly to spiritually dead creatures?

On the other hand, if prevenient grace refers to something that God does within the heart of fallen man, then we must ask why it is not always effectual. Why is it that some fallen creatures choose to cooperate with prevenient grace and others choose not to? Doesn’t everyone get the same amount?

Think of it this way, in personal terms. If you are a Christian you are surely aware of other people who are not Christians. Why is it that you have chosen Christ and they have not? Why did you say yes to prevenient grace while they said no? Was it because you were more righteous than they were? If so, then indeed you have something in which to boast. Was that greater righteousness something you achieved on your own or was it the gift of God? If it was something you achieved, then at the bottom line your salvation depends on your own righteousness. If the righteousness was a gift, then why didn’t God give the same gift to everybody?

Perhaps it wasn’t because you were more righteous. Perhaps it was because you are more intelligent. Why are you more intelligent? Because you study more (which really means you are more righteous)? Or are you more intelligent because God gave you a gift of intelligence he withheld from others?

To be sure, most Christians who hold to the prevenient grace view would shrink from such answers. They see the implied arrogance in them. Rather they are more likely to say, “No, I chose Christ because I recognized my desperate need for him.” That certainly sounds more humble. But I must press the question. Why did you recognize your desperate need for Christ while your neighbor didn’t? Was it because you were more righteous than your neighbor, or more intelligent?

The question for advocates of prevenient grace is why some people cooperate with it and others don’t. How we answer that will reveal how gracious we believe our salvation really is. The $64,000 question is, “Does the Bible teach such a doctrine of prevenient grace? If so, where?”

We conclude that our salvation is of the Lord. He is the One who regenerates us. Those whom he regenerates come to Christ. Without regeneration no one will ever come to Christ. With regeneration no one will ever reject him. God’s saving grace effects what he intends to effect by it.

–          Sproul, “Chosen by God”

  1. If synergism is to be rejected Biblically and logically, we must now determine is there is merit to the concept of monergism.
    1. Monergism (working alone) is defined by Century Dictionary this way: “In theology, [monergism is] the doctrine that the Holy Spirit is the only efficient agent in regeneration [the new birth] – that the human will possesses no inclination to holiness until regenerated [born again], and therefore cannot cooperate in regeneration.”

                                                               i.      Unlike synergism, which teaches that man’s faith/repentance, in conjunction with God’s grace, results in regeneration and then justification, monergism teaches that God’s grace in regeneration results in man’s faith/repentance and subsequent justification.

  1. Logic favors monergism.

                                                               i.      The decision to believe and be saved is either

  1. Caused
  2. Uncaused.

                                                             ii.      The decision cannot be uncaused, because a self-created effect violates the laws of non-contradiction, for the effect would have to exist apart from itself. Therefore the decision to believe in Jesus is a caused decision. But caused by what?

  1. Something within the individual
  2. Something from inside working with something from outside the individual
  3. something from outside the individual.
    1. If the decision to believe in Christ comes from within (option 1), than it was caused by either the body, mind, and spirit. This decision did not come from the body, for the body is not involved in conscious thought. If it is caused by the mind, than all minds making the better decision to receive Christ are superior to other minds which rejected Jesus, thus making salvation available only to those who have superior reasoning skills- this certainly is not the case. If it is caused by the spirit, this means that some person’s spirit is more righteous than another’s, another Biblical absurdity, given that men reject God, hate God, do not seek God, etc.
    2. If the decision to believe in Jesus comes by way of cooperation within and without the individual, than really this option gets defaulted back to option (1) because even if God did His part, man would still have to do his part, which of course is caused by the body, mind, or soul, and we can conclude that this is not the case.
    3. Therefore, one can logically conclude that the decision to believe in Jesus ultimately comes from an outside source- namely, God. God does not believe for us, but is rather the source of our faith. It is a gift. It is grace.
    4. More importantly, the Bible clearly supports monergism (See session one).

                                                               i.      Unregenerate men would never come to Jesus, because they:

  1. Cannot accept the Cross and think it’s foolish. 1 Cor. 2:14, 2 Cor. 4:3-4, 1 Cor. 1:18, 21-24.
  2. Cannot respond positively to the Gospel. John 3:27, 14:16-17.
  3. Are not sheep. John 10:26
  4. Miscellaneous Biblical truths:

                                                               i.      Salvation by grace alone is designed to give God all the credit, so that we cannot boast. Eph. 2:8-9. Ez. 36:26-27, 1 Cor. 1:30-31, 1 John 5:1

                                                             ii.      Faith is a sovereignly given gift from God. It does not come from within an individual. Eph. 2:8, Acts 16:14, Heb. 12:2

                                                            iii.      Repentance is a gift as well. 2 Tim. 2:25

                                                           iv.      Apart from God, we would never do good. Phil 1:6, 2:13

                                                             v.      God’s choice of whom to save was based on His own purposes- not as a response to our foreseen faith. Eph. 1:4-5, Romans 8:29-30

                                                           vi.      Salvation is an act of God’s mercy to undeserving sinners. Romans 9:16, Phil 1:29

                                                          vii.      The new birth is at God’s discretion- not man’s. John 1:12-13, 3:8

                                                        viii.      Jesus reveals the Father to whom He wants to. Matt 11:27 

Conclusion: If you have been born again, you are born again because God elected to save you before you were even born. This decision of God’s was not based upon any foreseen faith on your part, because faith itself is a gift from God, and even if it wasn’t you would never put your faith in the cross because prior to your rebirth you saw the cross as foolish and stupid. Apart from grace, you would have never seen your sin for what it was, because repentance is also a gift from God. You never would have come to Jesus had the Father not drawn you, and all who the Father draw will be saved. God formed an intimate relationship with you before you were born, and he predestined you to receive eternal life, rather than the eternity in Hell that you yourself chose apart from grace. In time, God regenerated your dead heart and drew you to Himself, giving you the faith you placed in Christ, which in turn led to your justification, ongoing sanctification, and eventual glorification. If you are saved today, you are saved because God gave you to Jesus, who died for you, appeasing God’s wrath upon your sins, and the Holy Spirit gave you new life. It was, is, and will always be about God. You are saved by grace, NOT because of anything you did apart from grace. You deserved Hell, you rejected God, you hated God, you rebelled against God, you chose Hell over God, and everything you did prior to your salvation was all for you, not for Him. And yet…God showed His love for us by saving us- not because of us, but in spite of us. That is grace.