Difficult times are coming

Does it feel like we’re moving closer to the times Jesus spoke of when, “Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12, NLT).

When the apostle Paul described the difficulty of the last days, it wasn’t due to economic downturn, but because of the way people will live.

“People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money … They will scoff at God,… and betray their friends, … they will love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly” (II Timothy 3:1-5). 

“When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day” (Matthew 24:37). Those were days of indulgence in pleasure and indifference to God. Are we moving closer to these days? 

Our culture has been strongly influenced by factors that encourage people to feel entitled to a good life or their terms. People are increasingly living for themselves over everything and everyone — even their own families. We no longer see as much honor given to virtues like loyalty, faithfulness and courage. Instead, everyone wants to do what is right in his own eyes and seek the good life in the here and now.  

More and more people even in the Church are viewing God as one who ought to secure the good life for them. They think that God should respond to whatever is asked of him or risk disappointment from them.

But I am encouraged to remember that the Lord “is patient… not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9).

May our hearts align with what “is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people” (I Timothy 2:3-6).

A needed word for the times 

“Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil” (Ephesians 6:10-13, NLT).

Steve Cornell

 

 

Christ appears in Heaven for us!

When the apostle encouraged us to “set our affections on the realities of heaven,” he specifically identified it as the place “where Christ sits at God’s right hand.” 

“For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands… he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence” (Hebrews 9:24).

 What makes heaven so desirable is not the absence of anguish and suffering (as great as this will be), nor the presence of angels and fellow believers. Heaven is so desirable because it is the place “where Christ sits at God’s right hand.”

The apostle Paul spoke about his death with this perspective. “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:23).

After Jesus finished His mission of bearing our sins and being raised from the dead, He returned to heaven and took the seat of highest honor to appear before God “for us.” These two words “for us” are amazing!

In the highest court, those who know Christ as their Savior are represented. Let these words settle deeply into your heart: “Christ went into heaven itself to appear in the presence of God for us.”

In Colossians 3:3-4, the apostle reinforced his call to focus on heaven by writing: “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is our life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.”

Reflection

“The Christian’s whole and only status before God is in Christ. True and wonderful though this is, however, the sphere of the Christian’s existence is still here on earth. He is still beset by temptations; he is hampered by weakness and frustrated by failings; he falls short of ‘the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph. 4:13); the perfection for which he longs is not yet. He needs a holiness not his own, made available to him by the Lamb of God who has made atonement for his sins and who now interposes himself as his representative in the heavenly sanctuary. And this is the representation which Christ fulfills as he appears in the presence of God for us” (Philip E. Hughes, Hebrews, p. 349).

For deeper meditation on Christ’s representation, see: Romans 8:33-34; Hebrews 4:14-16; 7:23-27; John 2:1-2. The apostle John said those who confess their sin (I John 1:9), have an “advocate” with the heavenly father (I John 2:2). The N.I.V. translates advocate as, “one who speaks to the Father in our defense.” It pictures a legal setting with Christ as counsel for the defense. And His position as advocate is based on His redeeming work (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5-6).

“Our advocate doesn’t plead that we are innocent…He acknowledges our guilt and presents His vicarious work as the ground for our acquittal” (John R. W. Stott, I John, TNTC, pp. 81-82).

We must guard against misguided understandings of representation. We should not picture a dualistic situation where a well-pleasing son is trying to persuade a hostile father to look on us with favor. God was the one who was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (II Corinthians 5:18-21).  God “spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32; cf. 1 John 4:9-10).

Reflection

“The intercession of the Son, then, is in no sense a pleading with the Father to change his attitude toward us. Nor does the Father have to be reminded of the full redemption that he himself has provided for us in his Son—the very thought is preposterous! The presence in heaven of the Lamb bearing the marks of his passion is itself the perpetual guarantee of our acceptance with God, who gave his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. In ourselves, however, though we have the forgiveness of our sins through the blood of Jesus Christ and though we are united to him in love and trust, we are unworthy because Christ has not yet been fully formed within us (cf. Gal. 4:19) and we still sinfully fall short of the glory of God (cf. Rom. 3:23). This consideration explains our continuing need of the advocacy and intercession of him who alone is accounted worthy before God (cf. Rev. 5:1-10). It is in his worthiness that even now we rejoice in the blessings of the divine favor, for by the grace of God his merit has been reckoned to us as our merit, his heaven has become our heaven, and his eternal glory our eternal glory” (Philip Hughes, Hebrews).

 Do we need the assistance of saints or angels to bring us to God?

“To imagine that saints or angels can be influenced to intercede for us is not only delusion; it is to cast doubt on the perfect adequacy of the intercession of Christ on our behalf and thus to deprive ourselves of the fulness of the security which is available to us only in Christ. Our Lord clearly taught that no man can come to the Father except by him (John 14:6) and that our requests to God are to be made in his name (John 14:13f.; 15:16; 16:23, 24, 26), precisely because there is no other name which avails and prevails with God (cf. Acts 4:12) (Philip E. Hughes, Hebrews, p. 353).

Christ alone is our mediator, advocate, intercessor, high priest, and way of access to the Father (Ephesians 2:18; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; John 14:6). “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He (Jesus Christ) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:1-2; cf. Hebrews 7:26-27). “And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ” (II Corinthians 5:18). 

Let your heart dwell on these great words: “Christ went into heaven to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24).

Steve Cornell 

 

Top 5 Arguments against eternal punishment

Along with great emphasis on God’s love and mercy, Scripture presents God as the Judge who sends some people into hell.

Jesus warned his followers not to “… fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Jesus referred to hell as a place where God sends people (Matthew 25:41,46).

The Bible doesn’t describe a pleasant end for those who reject God’s offer of salvation through Jesus Christ. But what type of judgment falls on them?

Is it eternal suffering or eternal annihilation? Eternal in consequence or in duration? Part of the debate centers on whether ‘eternal’ is meant as a consequence (i.e. eternal punishment– not eternal punishing; the result being eternal destruction,) or as a duration (i.e. never ending, on going punishing).

Five arguments against eternal punishing

1. The fire is metaphoric

The late John R. W. Stott (a teacher I hold in highest regard on most subjects) suggested that, “The fire itself is termed ‘eternal’ and ‘unquenchable’ but it would be very odd if what is thrown into it proves indestructible. Our expectation would be the opposite: it would be consumed forever, not tormented forever. Hence it is the smoke (evidence that the fire has done its work) which ‘rises forever and ever’ (Rev. 14:11; cf. 19:3)” (Evangelical Essentials, David Edwards, p. 316).

But how does this same approach apply to the burning bush of Exodus 3:2-3 which “burned with fire yet was not consumed”? Consistency of metaphor would lead one to think that smoke rising forever and ever indicates something is burning in the fire.

2. The matter of justice:

Sins committed in a finite realm should not suffer an eternal consequence. Justice demands punishment in proportion to the crime. This argument may sound appealing on the surface but it fails at the Cross of Christ. Why did the infinite, eternal God have to come and die for the sins of finite creatures? Sin against an infinite God is infinite in consequence. Are we implying that people can sufficiently pay the consequence of sin against God? I am sure we are incompetent judges of the penalty sin deserves.

“The Bible does not present us with a God who chances upon neutral men and women and arbitrarily consigns some to heaven and some to hell. He takes guilty men and women, all of whom deserve his wrath, and in his great mercy and love he saves vast numbers of them. Had he saved only one, it would have been an act of grace; that he saves a vast host affirms still more unmistakably the uncharted reaches of that grace. Hell stands as a horrible witness to human defiance in the face of great grace” (How Long, O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil, p. 92).

“Unless we come to grips with this terrible doctrine (of hell), we will never even begin to understand the depths of what Jesus did for us on the cross. His body was being destroyed in the worst possible way, but that was a flea bite compared to what was happening to his soul. When he cried out that his God had forsaken him, he was experiencing hell itself” (Tim Keller).

3. Conditional immortality of the soul:

This is argued by the late Philip Hughes in The Image Restored, pp. 398-407. He taught that immortality belongs to God in the purest sense and to believers only through Christ (I Tim. 6:15-17; II Tim. 1:9-10). This seems to be based on a limited understanding of death as total extinction of existence. But, if spiritual and physical death do not result in cessation of existence, why would the second death? (Eph. 2:1-3; Heb. 9:27; Rev. 20:6; 14:21:8). Scripture does not equate death with non-existence. The evidence points in the opposite direction.

4. Luke 16:19-31 is a parable (and should not be considered a literal source of information)

This text is not identified as a parable, but even if it is parabolic in nature, treating it as an unreliable source ignores the one who is telling the story. Should we believe that Jesus Christ would use speculative imagery on such a serious matter? If this refers only to a temporary intermediate state ending in a judgment of annihilation, the judgment seems like it would be a welcomed end. This is clearly not the point Jesus is making.

5. The problem of eternal dualism:

Philip Hughes wrote: “With the restoration of all things in the new heaven and the new earth, which involves God’s reconciliation to himself of all things, whether on earth or in heaven (Acts 3:21; Col. 1:19-20), there will be no place for a second kingdom of darkness and death” (p. 406, The Image Restored).

The lake of fire is certainly not a Kingdom. Ongoing punishment itself would be a continuous testimony to the defeat of evil. The reality of victory over death secured by Christ is not threatened by hell (Heb. 2:14-16; I Cor. 15:54-55; Rev. 20:14; 21:4).

What does Scripture teach?

All humans will be resurrected (Jn. 5:28-29; Dan. 12:2; Acts 24:15); all will be judged by God (Heb. 9:27; Rom. 2:4-10; 14:10-12; Rev. 20:11-15), and all will be separated between two distinct eternal destinies (Mt. 25:32,41,36; Jn. 3:36; 14:1-3; Rev. 21:3-8).

Where people go after death

Theologian Millard Erickson offers a six-point answer to the question of where people go after death. His points are worthy of careful reflection.

  1. All humans are sinners, by nature and by choice; they are therefore guilty and under divine condemnation.
  2. Salvation is only through Christ and his atoning work.
  3. In order to obtain the salvation achieved by Christ, one must believe in Him; therefore Christians and the church have a responsibility to tell unbelievers the good news about Him.
  4. The adherents of other faiths, no matter how sincere their belief or how intense their religious activity, are spiritually lost apart from Christ.
  5. Physical death brings an end to the opportunity to exercise saving faith and accept Jesus Christ. The decisions made in this life are irrevocably fixed at death.
  6. At the great final judgment all humans will be separated on the basis of their relationship to Christ during this life. Those who have believed in Him will spend eternity in heaven, where they will experience everlasting joy and reward in God’s presence. Those who have not accepted Christ will experience hell, a place of unending suffering and separation from God (The Evangelical Mind and Heart).

Steve Cornell

See: Hell bound?

Longing for a better world

As we honor those who served and currently serve the armed forces of our nation, I find myself longing for a world without the need for military.

Obviously this world will never be without such a need. But have you ever given serious thought to why our world is so filled with evil and violence? Why can’t people get along and relate peacefully with one another?

No, I am not getting ready to sing what the world needs now is love, sweet love. But the endless wars that make up so much of world history are a sad reminder of our fallen condition. And most people intuitively feel that things are not the way they were meant to be.

The human story is certainly more one of war than peace. Someone cynically suggested, “Peace is that glorious moment in history when everyone stops to reload.”

Telling our story requires contrasting terms between goodness and evil; love and hate; beauty and cruelty; life and death; even war and peace. Themes of dignity and depravity are relentlessly recurrent in all cultures – at all times throughout history.

There are surprisingly few places to turn for thoughtful answers to why things are this way. Most efforts to explain good and evil are either based on scientific reductionism or naïve utopianism. I have only found one source to be wide enough to explain the complex dimensions of the human story and large enough to speak to innate longings of the human heart for a better world.

The source I have found most helpful is popular but not well understood — even among those who feel surprisingly justified in rejecting it. Mere mention of this source in academic settings typically invokes condescending reactions. Those who take the source seriously are wrongly treated as unenlightened and narrow-minded. Yet those who react this way rarely offer thoughtful alternatives for the dilemma of good and evil.

The source I look to offers truths that range from simple and accessible, to complex and mysterious. It speaks to a child and challenges a scholar. It covers the physical and the metaphysical. It reaches both time and eternity. It tells us where we came from; why we’re here and what went wrong. It addresses universal longings for peace and goodness by revealing where to find hope for a better future. It speaks deeply to universal human needs for forgiveness, freedom, and peace.

It is the most widely circulated and best-selling book of history. It’s main character came from eternity to humble earthly circumstances and died a brutal death. His death, we are repeatedly told, was a redemptive sacrifice for all people.

He transformed countless individual lives and human history itself more than any other person who has lived. He introduced himself as the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, who is, who was and who is to come. He said, “I was dead and behold I am alive forever and ever” (Revelation 1:18). The source is the Bible and the main character is Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ remains the most amazing person who ever lived on this planet. Although born in obscurity over 2,000 years ago, the world can’t escape his legacy and global influence. No individual comes close to the impact Jesus made on humanity.

Jesus Christ is so amazing that he can only be fully explained by use of terms that defy normal categories.  We need terms that reach beyond our reality and shatter many of our common assumptions. Jesus,

  • fulfilled ancient prophecies in his birth, life and death?
  • predicted his own death and resurrection?
  • claimed to exist before Abraham was born?
  • claimed the right to forgive sins?
  • claimed that he would be the judge of all people?
  • claimed eternal duration for his words?
  • claimed equality with God?
  • claimed the ability to give eternal life to those who believe on him?

He is too much for us to fully wrap our minds around. His existence demands a God who breaks in on the natural order. Jesus Christ is so extraordinarily unprecedented that he shatters our categories and demands our worship.

Some people find the central message about Jesus a bit difficult to accept because it involves exclusive claims about the only way to God. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the father but through me” (John 14:6). “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.” (I Timothy 2:6)

The sacrificial death of Jesus is repeatedly emphasized as something offered for the sins of the world, for all men; for the whole world (see: John 3:16,17; I John 2:1-2), but this inclusive demonstration of God’s love is the only way to be forgiven and accepted by God.

There is a better world coming where there will be no more war; no more need for military.

So while I give thanks for the faithful men and women who serve our nation, I long for “a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.’ And the one sitting on the throne said, ‘Look, I am making everything new!’ And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.’ And he also said, ‘It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life.'”

Heaven is our point of reference! Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But we must not stand gazing into heaven because there is work to be done for the honor of God’s name, the advancement of God’s kingdom and the fulfillment of God’s will.

Steve Cornell

When faith causes doubts

Some struggle because they doubt; I sometimes struggle because I believe.

I believe in a God whose love is so great that He is love. I also believe in a God who is all-powerful. But sometimes my belief causes me to struggle.

When I see sad and desperate situations, compassion compels me to help and to pray. If I am completely honest, this is where faith can become a little confusing.

When I can’t do anything to alleviate the pain and suffering (especially of those whom I love), my faith is unwavering in the fact that God can do something to help. But when I pray and nothing changes to alleviate their suffering, or they become worse, I struggle to understand why God doesn’t seem to answer the cries of my heart for those in need.

I am not completely sure what role faith and prayer play in the painful and perplexing drama of human suffering.

An old tension

I realize that I am not the first to be conflicted between faith and suffering. I resonate with the psalmist,

“How long, O Lord ? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?” (Psalm 13:1-2).

“I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God. Answer me, O Lord, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me. Do not hide your face from your servant; answer me quickly, for I am in trouble. Come near and rescue me…” (Psalm 69:3, 16-18).

Like the psalmist, I have also struggled with an apparent uneven distribution of pain and suffering. This is the age-old question of why righteous people suffer and the wicked are healthy and prosperous (see: Psalm 73). But I maintain strong reservations about anyone being righteous enough to lay claim to a good life from God.

Needed perspective

I believe in the verdict “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). I also believe that, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Death is such a horrible word and an even more horrible fact. But it is a just verdict pronounced over sinners like me. I am slowly experiencing it every day of my life.

I believe that there is a dark and sad back-story to our suffering and a glorious end-story for those whom God loves. Yet pain in this life is often hard to reconcile with God’s love and power.

The agonizing question we face is why God chooses to allow pain and suffering when I am praying so much for its relief. Why doesn’t He answer my agonizing prayers for those who suffer? I cannot endure superficial answers to this real-life question.

Skeptics offer answers ranging from atheism to deism. But for honest people, these alternatives only lead to deeper levels of despair. They also force a degree of thoughtless dishonesty which I cannot permit. If I must choose between “no God” or “a God who means well but either cannot or will not do much to help” I am left with even more perplexing questions on more levels than human suffering. In addition, these conclusions profoundly compromise basic intellectual integrity.

Other questions 

Let’s not ignore other questions equally worthy of reflection. Why does God choose to love and to forgive rebellious creatures? The back-story of human sin explains the source of human suffering better than any other explanation (and there are not many others). So why would I think we deserve to have it better?

Why do I feel that God should intervene? And what would intervention look like on a world scale?

If want God’s love and power to converge to rescue us from our misery, isn’t this exactly what happened when God entered our world of suffering in the person of Christ and suffered for us ? (see: II Corinthians 5:17-21).

Finally, why does God even provide such a glorious end-story for forgiven sinners?

Cultural conditioning

On a cultural level, I admit that I have become accustom to (and even impatient for) solutions to pain and suffering. Advancements in science and medicine have strengthened my expectations. Is it possible that I am conditioned to hold unrealistic expectation for health and gregariousness? Do I have a place for sadness and suffering in normal life?

These are not theoretical questions for me. They have been real for most of my life. When my father came down with a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis in his mid-thirties, I learned what it was like to carry a prayerful burden for a suffering loved one. It profoundly shaped my life and, gratefully, did not lead to bitterness. I learned so much about God’s sustaining grace and His redeeming power to bring good out of pain and suffering.

I continued to learn when I entered pastoral ministry and chose to care about many others. Some key scriptures that carry me to better places include: II Corinthians 1:3-11; 4:16-18;12:1-10; James 1:2-9; Psalm 62:8; Proverbs 3:5-6.

I will continue to pray and trust that suffering has a purpose even when I cannot see it. I will pray with one eye on the back-story and a hope-filled focus on the end-story (see: Colossians 3:1-4).

When God’s loved ones enter the place He has prepared for them, ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (see: Revelation 21:1-6; John 14:1-3). I find myself longing more and more for this day; for this place.

Reflect on these words:

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (II Corinthians 12:9-10).

Steve Cornell

Secrets revealed

Luke 12:2-3

“Everything that is secret will be brought out into the open. Everything that is hidden will be uncovered. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight. What you have whispered to someone behind closed doors will be shouted from the rooftops.”

Romans 2:16

This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ”

I Corinthians 4:5

“….wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.”

I Corinthians 14:23-25

“So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’”

 

 

A Closer look at Hope

shining_hope

The Nature of Christian Hope

1. Hope is a response — of those who have experienced the mercy of God’s loving intervention and by faith embraced the certainty of God’s promises for the future.
-
  • I Peter 1:3-4 –

“In His great mercy God has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you.”

  • Hebrews 6:18-19

“So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.”

2. Hope is a choice — to focus on the certainty of God’s promised future
_
  • I Peter 1:13

“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.”

  • Colossians 3:1-2

“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.”

  • Philippians 3:19-21

In contrast with those “who set their minds on earthly things…. our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”

3. Hope is a calling 

  • Romans 12:12

  “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

  • Psalm 42:5, 11

  “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God,”

4. The prayers for hope

  • Romans 15:13

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

  • Ephesians 1:16-19

“I do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” 

5. The certainty of hope

  • The hope of the believer is not wishful thinking but confident expectation; not based on probability, but on certainty. Not only a blessing in this life, but assurance of greater life in eternity (Romans 8:18). 
  • Hope flourishes where there is belief in the living God who acts and intervenes in human life and who can be trusted to keep his promises.

6. The reach of hope

  • I Corinthians 15:19

“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

This life? Is there another one? Yes, resurrected life! If you just know Jesus so that you can have a better day or week or earthly life, pity you! The focus of hope is so much more!

  • Colossians 1:4-5

“because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel”

  • Colossians 1:27

“Christ in you, the hope of glory.

  • Titus 2:13-14

“….waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us…” 

7. The development of hope

  • Romans 5:2-5

“Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

  • Romans 8:24-25

“For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. 

8. The purifying effect of hope

  • I John 3:2-3

“we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”

9. The witness of hope

  • I Peter 3:14-15

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect”

10. A loss of hope

  • Loss of hope involves a loss of perspective resulting from a loss of focus.
  • When we disconnect our ambitions, values and priorities from eternity, we lose focus and perspective. Hope (of the kind found in Scripture) traces a clear line from your life to:
    • the fame of God’s Name,
    • the coming of God’s Kingdom and
    • the doing of God’s Will — on earth as it is in heaven?
  • Hope is typically transferred to another source when no longer focused on eternity
    • Jeremiah 17:5-8

“This is what the Lord says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the Lord. They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water.”

  • The remedy for a loss or transfer of hope is found in these verses:
    • II Corinthians 4:16-18

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Steve Cornell

Appearing before God

 

Two passages: (90 sec on Audio clip)

1. II Corinthians 5:9-10

“So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

Second Corinthians five not only establishes the fact of future accountability before God, it also sheds light on the nature of that accountability. In these verses, we learn of a future evaluation of our present lives will focus on “the deeds of the body.” These deeds will prove to be either “good” or “bad” (bad means “worthless” or “of no enduring value”). This will happen at our “appearing” or “being made manifest” before Christ’s judgment seat. But what does this involve?

“To be made manifest means not just to appear, but to be laid bare, stripped of every outward façade of respectability, and openly revealed in the full and true reality of one’s character. All our hypocrisies and concealments, all our secret, intimate sins of thought and deed, will be open to the scrutiny of Christ…for it is only the divine gaze which penetrates to the very essence of our personality: ‘man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7). The conduct of our lives should constantly be influenced by the solemn remembrance that ‘there is no creature that is not manifest in God’s sight, but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do’ (Hebrews 4:13; cf. 1 Corinthians 4:5). In that day of manifestation both the hypocritical and the hypercritical will be shown for what they really are.”

“’Because much is required of those to whom much has been given,’ comments Tasker, ‘the thought of the judgment seat of Christ has for the Christian a peculiar solemnity. It is not meant to cloud his prospect of future blessedness, but to act as a stimulus.’ The incentive is to Christian living that is marked throughout by complete integrity, both in what is apparent and in what is not apparent to one’s fellow-men, so that the outward, instead of concealing the inward person, corresponds to it. It is only in Christ, through the gracious operation of the Holy Spirit, that this wholeness of being, free from division and dissimulation, can be realized. ‘Let us then imagine Christ’s judgment-seat to be present now,’ urges Chrysostom, ‘and reckon each one of us with his own conscience, and account the Judge to be already present, and everything to be revealed and brought forth. For we must not merely stand, but also be manifested. Do you not blush? Are you not dismayed?’”  

“In the light of the ultimate realities of which he has been speaking every genuine follower of Christ should apply himself earnestly to ‘the perfecting of holiness in the fear of God’ (7:1). By ‘the fear of the Lord,’ then, the Apostle does not mean that terror (A. V., Ambrose, Herveius, Beza) which the ungodly will experience when they stand before God’s judgment throne (cf. Rev. 6:15ff), but that reverential awe which the Christian should feel towards the Master whom he loves and serves and at whose hands he will receive ‘the things done in the body’”  (cf. 1 Peter 1:17-19) (Philipp Hughes,, Second Corinthians, NICNT).

Relate this emphasis to Matthew 6:19-20: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

In Matthew 6:1-18 (giving – vv. 2-4; praying – vv. 5-6; fasting – vv. 16-18), Jesus contrasted those who prostituted sacred acts of righteousness to promote themselves with those who did things in secret as being seen and rewarded by the Father.  Motives of the heart appear to be the criteria for judgment. This aligns with I Corinthians 4:5- “…wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.” The One who knows the motives of men’s hearts will expose them, and it will be very personal—“at that time each will receive his praise from God.”  Yet some also will “suffer loss” as their works prove to be “worthless” (i.e. of no enduring value).  (cf. Hebrews 4:12)  Perhaps 1 John 2:28 relates to this category. This might also help to explain the difference between categories of “gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw” (I Corinthians 3:10-15).

So in heaven, there will evidently be reward and loss of reward in relation to our earthly lives (i.e. “our acts of righteousness” or “deeds done in the body”). Some of what we’ve done will be of the quality that endures (done for the Lord in secret); some will disappear like fire consuming wood, hay or straw.

2. I Corinthians 3:10-15

“By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.”

“Every believer is building upon the one foundation that has been laid, namely, Jesus Christ; upon this foundation he is secure for all eternity; but he is to take heed how he builds on this foundation, that is, the day of Christ’s tribunal. The picture used is that of a trial by fire, and the materials envisaged are such as are either destroyed by fire (wood, hay, stubble) or resistant to and indeed purified by fire (gold, silver, precious stones).  The Christian whose work abides after the test will receive a reward, whereas he whose work is consumed will suffer loss—‘but he himself shall be saved’ (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).”   (cf. Revelation 1:14-17a)

“The declaration of Christ’s judgment-seat is not the ultimate of salvation or damnation; for it is the redeemed alone who stand before it, and their doing so results either, on the one hand, in their hearing the Lord’s ‘well done’ and the receiving of a reward, or, on the other hand, in their suffering loss, that is, through failing to receive a reward.  The rewards themselves vary in proportion to the faithfulness and diligence of each individual (cf. Luke 19:16ff)”  (Phillip Hughes).

Life and service for the Lord is an accountable stewardship of various talents, gifts, opportunities, and abilities. The Lord’s parables stress this truth. Reward and loss are a certainty but their exact nature is not as clear.  Evidently, the quality of each person’s work is either temporal or enduring.  Acts of devotion done for temporal glory will have no eternal significance. But there will be awareness of loss.  I Corinthians 3:10-15 is most likely a reference to efforts at building Christ’s Church. Do we build based on worldly wisdom or Christ and His teaching? In verse 15, it’s the man’s work (evidently in building the church) that could be burned up, while the man himself is spared.

This is “one of the most significant passages in the New Testament that warn—and encourage—those responsible for “building” the church of Christ.  In the final analysis, of course, this includes all believers, but it has particular relevance, following so closely as it does vv. 5-9, to those with teaching/leadership responsibilities.  Paul’s point is unquestionably warning.  It is unfortunately possible for people to attempt to build the church out of every imaginable human system predicated on merely worldly wisdom, be it philosophy, ‘pop’ psychology, managerial techniques, relational ‘good feelings,’ or what have you.  But at the final judgment, all such building (and perhaps countless other forms, where systems have become more important than the gospel itself) will be shown for what it is: something merely human, with no character of Christ or his gospel in it. Often, of course, the test may come this side of the final one, and in such an hour of stress that which has been built of modern forms of sophia usually comes tumbling down.”  (Gordon Fee, First Corinthians, NICNT,)  (cf. the seven churches in Revelation 2/3)

Prayerfully reflect on these Scriptures:

  • Colossians 3:23-24- “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,  since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
  • Psalm 19:14  “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight.”

Those who think heaven is gained by good deeds on earth

If you’ve been expecting to be received into heaven based on human effort you have been mistaken—seriously mistaken!  Such a thought must be seen as an offense against Jesus Christ.  He came and gave His life for our salvation precisely because we were helpless sinners who are unable to rescue ourselves! What have I said?  Good works, the deeds done in this life could never be adequate to purchase our eternal salvation—only the blood of Christ accomplished this for us.

So if you thought it was possible for you to make yourself acceptable before God, confess to Him your sin of thinking more highly of yourself than you ought.  Confess your need of Christ alone to save you from your sins and the eternal judgment your sins deserve.  Don’t be blinded by pride and religion!  Flee to Christ for salvation!

Connecting earth and heaven

We Christians, who know very well that good works do not accomplish our salvation, must take the connection between this life and heaven seriously.

  • Do you see the importance of 2 Corinthians 5:9-10?
  • Memorize these verses along with Hebrews 6:10; 10:24-25.
  • Do you anticipate God saying to you: “Well done, good and faithful servant?”
  • The great puritan Richard Baxter wrote, “Live now as you would wish you had done at death and judgment.”

Steve Cornell

Hellbound?

I have become increasingly uncomfortable answering difficult questions isolated from the necessary context surrounding them. Consider, for example, the questions being asked about the nature of hell in an upcoming documentary “Hellbound?

Without revealing his personal views, Kevin Miller explores different beliefs people hold about hell. But before talking about final judgment, much larger questions are in order, questions about the nature of God and evil; about human culpability and justice must be understood. If sin is no big deal and God is a loving being without judgment, it’s not surprising that people reject the idea of hell.

The four quotes below (from four men who have taught me a lot about Scripture and life) provide indispensable contextual considerations for discussing final judgment. The variety of theological themes that converge in these quotes about final judgment provide excellent material for small group discussion or even a theology class assignment. Ask participants to attach Scripture to each conclusion.

D. A. Carson:

“The Bible does not present us with a God who chances upon neutral men and women and arbitrarily consigns some to heaven and some to hell. He takes guilty men and women, all of whom deserve his wrath, and in his great mercy and love he saves vast numbers of them. Had he saved only one, it would have been an act of grace; that he saves a vast host affirms still more unmistakably the uncharted reaches of that grace. Hell stands as a horrible witness to human defiance in the face of great grace” (How Long, O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil, p. 92).

R.C. Sproul:

“All things being equal, God does desire that no one perishes, but all things are not equal. Sin is real. Sin violates God’s holiness and righteousness. God also is not willing that sin go unpunished. He desires as well that His holiness be vindicated. When the preceptive will is violated, things are no longer equal. Now God requires punishment while not particularly enjoying the personal application of it” (Following Christ, pp. 217-18).

J. I. Packer:

“The unbeliever has preferred to be by himself, without God, defying God, having God against him, and he shall have his preference. Nobody stands under the wrath of God save those who have chosen to do so. The essence of God’s action in wrath is to give men what they choose, in all its implications: nothing more, and equally nothing less. God’s readiness to respect human choice to this extent may appear disconcerting and even terrifying, but it is plain that His attitude here is supremely just, and poles apart from the wanton and irresponsible inflicting of pain which is what we mean by cruelty . . . what God is hereby doing is no more than to ratify and confirm judgments which those whom He visits have already passed on themselves by the course they have chosen to follow” (Knowing God, p. 139).

John R. W. Stott:

“Why is it that people do not come to Christ? Is it that they cannot, or is it that they will not? Jesus taught both. And in this “cannot” and “will not” lies the ultimate antimony between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. But however we state it, we must not eliminate either part. Our responsibility before God is an inalienable aspect of our human dignity. Its final expression will be on the Day of judgment. Nobody will be sentenced without trial. All people, great and small, irrespective of their social class, will stand before God’s throne, not crushed or browbeaten, but given this final token of respect for human responsibility, as each gives an account of what he or she has done” (The Cross of Christ, pp. 95-96).

Steve Cornell

See also: Hell– eternal in consequence or duration? 

Do you expect to live after your earthly life ends?

There appears to be among all people throughout history a very strong intuition that physical death does not permanently terminate human existence. Most people are also inclined to believe in the possibility of some kind of postmortem accountability to a deity. We know that we are living souls — whose lives are more than our bodies and that the death of the body is not the end of our story. 

Consider a transparent example from the Scottish agnostic, Richard Holloway, 

“This is my dilemma. I am dust and ashes, frail and wayward, a set of predetermined behavioral responses, … riddled with fear, beset with needs…the quintessence of dust and unto dust I shall return…. But there is something else in me. Dust I may be, but troubled dust, dust that dreams, dust that has strong premonitions of transfiguration, of a glory in store, a destiny prepared, an inheritance that will one day be my own…so my life is spread out in a painful dialectic between ashes and glory, between weakness and transfiguration. I am a riddle to myself, an exasperating enigma…the strange duality of dust and glory.”

Churches all over the world celebrate the fact that the story of Jesus did not end with death. “God raised him up putting an end to the agony of death since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power” (Acts 2:24).

And because Jesus broke the power of death, those who trust him as their Savior rest confidently in his great promise, “my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:39-40).

Based on this promise, I expect to be resurrected one day. But when I say I expect to be resurrected, I am not merely saying I expect to live after the death of my physical body. Resurrection is more than life after death. Resurrection is life after life after death. Yes, you read that correctly. Resurrection is bodily life after life after death. It’s postmortem existence stage two. I expect to return to identifiable bodily existence just as Jesus returned.

Six major points of biblical history support the importance of the body.

  1. Creation:  God fashions the body from the dust of the earth
  2. Incarnation:  God became man
  3. Resurrection  (Christ’s and ours)
  4. Ascension:  Jesus retained bodily existence at the Father’s right hand  
  5. Salvation:  The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit
  6. Glorification: Final redemption of the body (Romans  8 )

If we take Jesus Christ at his word, everyone who has lived on earth should expect to be resurrected. Jesus said, “a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28-29).

Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave” (Revelation 1:17-18).

Reflect on this truth:

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21).

Steve Cornell

See also: