"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

What Sends a Person to Hell and Takes a Person to Heaven? It's Not What You Might Think

The answer most evangelicals give to the question that frames the title of this post is "Faith in Jesus Christ takes a person to heaven and a lack of faith in Jesus Christ sends a person to hell."

That answer is technically incorrect. A person is sent to hell or is taken to heaven based upon whether or not God considers them absolutely morally perfect in character and deed.

For example, listen to the Apostle Paul in Romans 2:7: "To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life." The phrase "persistence in doing good" is interesting. It's difficult to see in English the verb tenses of Greek. Paul's grammar refers to a continual, perfect conduct that includes right inner motives (i.e. "glory and honor" for God). In short, eternal life is the reward for absolute moral perfection while living on earth. The first three chapters of Romans is drilling into the minds of people that nobody, even the Jews zealous for obedience to the law, consistently, perpetually and perfectly obey God.

Be Ye Perfect!

God's demand for moral perfection is consistent with the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:48: "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." It is often said by preachers that "perfect"in this verse cannot mean "moral perfection," but rather "completeness." Not true. The demand of a holy God upon His Creation, specifically for those He created in His image, is absolute moral perfection. Without a perfect holiness and righteousness "no one will see the Lord."

Where do we find this standard of moral perfection? God stamps within the heart of each of us an understanding of morality. Theologians call this "natural law." One may go to the darkest locales in the most uncivilized parts of this world and find the most basic moral codes (i.e. "don't murder, don't steal, etc..."), but as in all societies, compliance to natural law is incomplete and corrupt.  God has written His standard in the hearts and minds of all men, but all men choose to transgress that standard (Romans 1).  It is the violation of this natural law--going contrary to conscience and the inner witness of what is right--that sends a person to hell. What's worse, because the standard of God is both inward and outward moral perfection (i.e. "motives, thoughts and deeds"), just desiring to murder someone (i.e. "hate") sends a person to eternal judgment. That corrupt desire of hate is contrary to original design of God for man.

Sin Against the Creator Sends One to Hell

Let me state the above principle as simply as possible: What sends a person to hell is NOT the rejection of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior but one's own sin against His Creator. God will send you to eternal judgment if you live a morally imperfect life, inconsistent with His character and His image which are stamped in you. But He is a also a just and equitable God. He will also give eternal life to any human who actively,  continually and perfectly lives a life consistent with the character of God (Romans 2:7).

At various times throughtout history, particularly with the nation of Israel,  the transcendent God condescended to man and codiefied His standard (i.e. "law") in order to further reveal mans' moral corruption. The ancients spoke of moral perfection as "light" and the lack of moral perfection as "darkness." The Bible is clear that the world is dark and God is "light." Jesus of Nazareth,  the incarnate God ("Emmanuel") come to earth, has "no darkness at all" (I John 1:5).  In these last days God has spoken to us through His Son, revealing the ultimate standard of moral righteousness. We see God's moral perfection in the person and conduct of Jesus Christ. Our sin, what the Bible calls "transgression against the law of God," is living a life that is inconsistent with the character, motives, and actions of Jesus Christ. The Son is the fullest revelation of God's standard of moral perfection. Christ came to "fulfill" the work of the Father on our behalf. We are imperfect people in need of a Savior. We are "transgressors" and "sinners" because our disobedience to God is real and personal. Christ's presence on earth gives greater light to the character of God and further condemns those who are not as they ought to be.

God will one day judge each and every sinner for living life short of His moral standard of perfection. Ancient theologians believed the only humans excluded from this impending "day of God's wrath" are those who die as "infants or imbeciles." The latter word is definitely not appropriate in today's world, but what the old theologians meant was "God's judgment will fall on every single sinner except those who die in a state of infancy and imbecility." The 2000 Baptist Faith and Message affirms this ancient belief by declaring: "Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation." (Article III Man).

Hell Is the End of Willing Sinners

The point seems clear. God sends people to hell because of their own volitional sin. Though creation and the universe fell into a state of imperfection because of Adam's sin, and though humans are born in a state of imperfection because of Adam's sin, and though babies who die in infancy have received the penalty of physical death because of Adam's sin, God sends to eternal judgment only those who have personally and volitionally violated His moral standard.

That's pretty doggone bad news. Why? Because there is no single human being--not the Pope, not the Virgin Mary, not Mother Teresa, not Billy Graham, not anyone--who has ever lived a continuous morally perfect life. All have sinned and fallen short of God's standard and God's glory. We are all destined for hell because of our personal sins.

God Need Save Nobody

If God never intervened to save sinners He would remain just, holy, righteous and all the other attributes that you could ever think of that speak of His moral perfection. In other words, He would remain God. Sending sinners to hell is not the devil's work. It is the work of a holy, righteous God. Pharoah will be in hell because he disobeyed God. I deserve hell because I have imperfectly kept the standard of God's morality. Hell is not Dante's inferno. It is the withdrawal of God's gracious hand. It is total and complete darkness and isolation from people and from God as a punishment for moral imperfection. Those who loved darkness will be turned over to darkness. Though God is present in hell, He is present as Judge, and the punishment and righteous vengeance toward lawbreakers will be meted out righteously. "God will give to each person according to what he has done" (Romans 2:6). There will be various degrees of punishment in hell. The child sexual abuser will be punished far greater than the person who lived his life caring for children. For this reason, the person who is morally imperfect ought to be as good of a person morally as possible, for it is a "fearful and dreadful thing to fall into the hands of a living God" (Hebrews 10:31).

God's Blessing Are Reserved for Those With Absolute Moral Perfection

But what about heaven? What takes us there? Again, the only thing that takes you to heaven is complete, perfect morality and righteousness in thought, deed and character. You must be perfect. You can have no blemish on your record in regards to God's standard. There can be no sin. Your life must have been lived for the glory and honor of God. Every single thing you have done on this earth must be unselfish, peformed in love for the good of others and glory of God, and morally unblemished. What takes you to heaven is absolute perfection in compliance with God's standard of what is right (righteousness).

You don't have this perfect morality. I don't have this perfect righteousness. Nobody does. "There is no one who is righteous, no not one." Only God has perfect righteousness. Man lost his moral perfection when he rebelled against God by living contrary to His standard of moral perfection. For us to be taken to heaven, we need God. That's why the good news is so good. God came to earth (Emmanuel) and lived the perfect life required. He then promised to give all the blessings that come with perfect righteousness to anyone who will trust HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS TO TAKE THEM TO HEAVEN. When the righteousness of Christ is credited to the account of the believer through faith, God treats that believer as perfectly righteous. It's why the ancients used to say "God sees no sin in His people" judicially. It's why the Bible calls believers "saints." We have a perfect righteousness that is not our own, but comes from God, and is received by faith.

Listen to the Apostle Paul: "Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss. What is more I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness that comes from (my obedience) to the law, but a righteousness that comes from God and is found by faith in Jesus Christ" (Philippians 3:8-11).

The Great Transaction

I tell people that when one trusts the person and work of Jesus Christ, a great transaction takes place. God has given to Christ all the righteous judgment due my sin, and God has given to me all the blessings due the righteousness and obedience of Christ through His moral perfection in relation to the law of God. My faith in Christ makes me a "co-heir" of Christ. The rewards I receive for eternity, whatever they may be, are all the result of the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ on my behalf.

Heaven is different from hell in one regard. What I receive in hell I have earned. What I receive in heaven Christ has earned.

So, let's answer the question of the title of this post - "What sends a person to hell and takes a person to heaven?

Imperfect obedience to God's moral standard sends a person to hell.
Perfect obedience to God's moral standard takes person to heaven.

The Importance of a Christ-Centered Gospel

Until we Southern Baptists learn to teach people that absolute perfect righteousness takes a person to heaven, we will be prone to the error of telling people that "their decision" or "their commitment to God" or "their walk down an aisle" takes them to heaven. That kind of error is prevalent in Southern Baptist evangelism, and in my next post I will show how prevalent that has become.

What takes a person to heaven is the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. What takes a person to heaven is not election, not faith, not commitment, not anything but the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. Everything else has its place, but the perfect and absolute moral perfection of Jesus Christ is one's ticket to heaven. Reject the only Savior God gave to obtain a perfect righteousness in the place of undeserving sinners, then you will answer to God for your own moral imperfections.

That's the gospel truth.

74 comments:

Steve said...

Powerful.

Simply powerful.

Robert Swift said...

I now understand how Peter Lumpkins can call Wade Burleson "an ass" in his blog yeesterday. (See here). Peter looks to his own righteous obedience for God's favor and slams anyone who is not like him, including Danny Aiken, SEBTS, Wade Burleson and others in the SBC. I know you may consider this off subject, Wade, but I don't. Do you not think that Peter Lumpkins is preaching a false gospel?

Dr. Sears said...

Excellent words. The crediting of Christ's righteousness to my account is an act of God's pure grace.

Sometimes in our evangelism of others we short cut the truth of the gospel and jump straight to "believe" on Jesus. It's good to remind evangelicals that in our concern for the lost, we should always remind those to whom we present the gospel what it is they are to believe Jesus for!

Thanks for the fresh reminder that we believe Him for our perfect righteouesness.

Anonymous said...

Wade,

I needed this today. Particularly since I am headed off to a church that has no concept of this truth.

Sue

Thy Peace said...

I would be a complete fool if I did not believe and trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This was my motivation to become a Christian. Especially since the gift is free to me but cost my Saviour dearly.

david b mclaughlin said...

Grace.

Anonymous said...

18But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"—and he was called a friend of God. 24You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

Anonymous said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XrLzYw6ULYw

Wade Burleson said...

Robert,

I would say that any preaching of a gospel that does not focus on the righteousness of Christ and the grace of God in giving that righteousness to those who believe on Christ is a false gospel.

Wade Burleson said...

Anonymous,

The same grace that grants the the gifts of Christ's righteousness to sinners, faith to the undeserving, and and all the other gifts of grace will grant the grace needed to "love one another even as Christ has loved us" which is the commandment of God and the "works" of righteousness.

Wade

Lydia said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVZFC6rKZBw&feature=related

(Lie #1: Salvation is giving your life to Christ)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EzvvSPdXvu4&feature=related

(Lie #2: Christians are just sinners saved by grace)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PhF6rNZAJwI&feature=related

(Lie #3: When you became a Christian God changed your life)

Wade, check these out. Would love to hear your thoughts on these as it relates to your post.

Steven Stark said...

The problem is that the idea of the penal substitution violates our sense of natural law.

God punishing an innocent doesn't absolve guilt in any meaningful, moral way for violators. And it is morally wrong.

In fact, all it shows is that God requires vengeance, no matter to whom it is enacted. And it reduces love to a servant of the idea of "justice". And justice only means revenge.

I believe and hope that the opposite is true - that justice is a means to serve love. That justice is not revenge, but is a process of rehabilitation, protection and deterrence.

It is also ironic that the context of Matthew 5:48 ("Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.") is a lesson in why we should forgive our enemies. According to the theology in this post, this is something that God the Father cannot actually do (He gets "paid" anyway). This would mean, if we are to be led by the Father's example, that for us to forgive others, we need to be appeased in some other way.

And this is not what forgiveness means.

Lydia said...

"The problem is that the idea of the penal substitution violates our sense of natural law.

God punishing an innocent doesn't absolve guilt in any meaningful, moral way for violators. And it is morally wrong."

Steven, Jesus IS God. Do you understand the implications of that within the context of your comment?

The "Innocent" was Himself in the form of a perfect Human. That is why the Sacrfice is so great.

(My friends, this is why ESS is so very dangerous to our Faith. Because it can only logically lead to lessening the Sacrifice, that "God with us" made.)

Steven Stark said...

Hi Lydia,

How does this change the equation? God punishing Himself still doesn't truly absolve guilt, right?

If I killed someone's family member, and he chose to punish himself instead of me, no moral system of justice would recognize that as a true payment.

Wade Burleson said...

Steven,

"If I killed someone's family member, and he chose to punish himself instead of me, no moral system of justice would recognize that as a true payment."

I think you might chalk atonement and the manner through which God punishes Himself for the sins of His people as something men would call "foolishness." I can't, however, escape the fact Steven that the Creator has revealed "without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins." In other words, it seems difficult to argue with God, particularly since the argument is against Him paying our debt.

Lydia said...

"How does this change the equation? God punishing Himself still doesn't truly absolve guilt, right?"

That is why we call it Grace. And the greatest free gift of all.

Romans 3

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Steven Stark said...

Hi Wade!

The problem is in the appeal to "natural law" to justify our knowledge of right and wrong. Then the doctrine of the penal substitution fails the test of natural law.

So if an alleged act of God violates our inner knowledge of right and wrong, is it an act of God? Or perhaps the work of finite humans?

Lydia,

If grace (God's favor) is all that was required, then the atonement was not required.

Perhaps what evangelical Christianity calls the grace of God actually sells the actual grace of God far short. Let's at least hope that this is the case - for the sake of the whole of God's creation.

Wade Burleson said...

Hi Steven,

You write: "The problem is in the appeal to "natural law" to justify our knowledge of right and wrong. Then the doctrine of the penal substitution fails the test of natural law. So if an alleged act of God violates our inner knowledge of right and wrong, is it an act of God? Or perhaps the work of finite humans?"

Good thoughts. A brief response.

"Natural law" is consistent with God's revealed law. Thou shalt not murder is law, both naturally and through revelation (God's word). If a person whose conscience is seared, or defiled, or dead murders someone, it is a violation of God's standard whether their inner conscience tells them so or not. Likewise, if someone hates someone, a sin that requires a more sensitive conscience to feel than murder, that hatred is a violation of God's standard whether they feel it or not.

Second, your argument that penal substitution "violates the inner sense of right and wrong (natural law)" and thus, is a doctrine created by finite man and not God is something I completely understand. You are saying penal substitution makes no sense to you.

It seems to me that what makes sense to you is God punishing people for their wrongs and rewarding people for their good deeds. I think God acts precisely in this manner--except that what most people consider "good" when compared to the good that is God will find that it is nothing but "filthy rags."

For this reason, even if atonement makes no sense to you, I would fall in the category of "Thy Peace" and say that of all the religions on earth, it seems to me I would be the absolute fool to reject the good news that is found in Jesus Christ because everything else points me to something I do, I say, I accomplish. The good news points me to something God has accomplished for me.

Steven Stark said...

Hi Wade!

I do not accept the premise that the whole of the Bible corresponds to our current "natural" sense of right and wrong. For instance, I do not accept that it is OK to pass a slave onto my son as property as specified in Leviticus 25:46.

Penal Substitition:

It is not my theology that says God requires appeasement (revenge) for sins. It is yours. I am just pointing out that even by your standards, penal substitution makes no sense, because those who have violated the law are not punished. So I reject retributive justice, but if I did accept it, the penal substitution would not satisfy it.

Lydia said...

"If grace (God's favor) is all that was required, then the atonement was not required."

The book of Hebrews can answer this better than I can. Look at what was required for atonement of sin in the OT then read Hebrews. For a glimpse:

Hebrews 7
26 For such a High Priest (Jesus Christ) was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; 27 who does not need daily, as those high priests (OT variety) to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever.

"Perhaps what evangelical Christianity calls the grace of God actually sells the actual grace of God far short."

In terms of God sacrifing Himself for our sins so we can have eternal life with Him, I would agree with you. It is so incredible and wonderful that no words do it justice. But there is also bad news as Wade points out in his post.

I will end with this because it is really about Faith:

20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corin 1)

Paul said in Galatians:

20I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Steven, It is not just the Cross but the Resurrection which is eternal life with our Savior.

Christiane said...

The 'justice' of God as seen in Isaiah 58:6-11


" 6 This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke;

7 Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.

8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; Your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.

9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer, you shall cry for help, and He will say:

"Here I am!
If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;
10 If you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; Then Light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday;
11 Then the LORD will guide you always and give you plenty even on the parched land. He will renew your strength, and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring whose water never fails."

Wade Burleson said...

Steven,

You write:

"I am just pointing out that even by your standards, penal substitution makes no sense, because those who have violated the law are not punished. So I reject retributive justice, but if I did accept it, the penal substitution would not satisfy it."

Steven, I am genuinely confused. What you call "retributive justice" I call "righteous punishment." When God punishes a lawbreaker the punishment meets the crime. It's righteous and just. The punishment for disobedience to God is eternal separation from God and His blessings of life eternal and inheriting an earth where the curse has been reversed (heaven).

Also, to argue that it is irrational, illogical and anti-common sense for God to punish the sins of His people in their Substitute is no skin off my nose.

The only other alternative is that there is no substitute or Savior, and/or there is no God that punishes sin.

It would seem to me to require greater faith to believe in the alternatives than it does in Jesus the Christ.

Wade Burleson said...

Steven,

I could not have answered objections to atonement better than Lydia does in the comments above.

Lydia said...

Lydia does sin the comments above.

Sun Oct 17, 05:21:00 PM 2010

oops,

What a perfect typo!
(wink)

Good thing I have a Savior who took away the punishment I deserve for my sin.

Wade Burleson said...

Corrected the typo.

Thanks!

:)

Aussie John said...

Wade,

Thank you for preaching Biblical truth.

natamllc said...

Grace, as defined is What God Gives us that we don’t deserve.
Mercy, as defined is What God does not give us that we do deserve.
Peace is the outcome of both Grace and Mercy from God in our daily lives.

What about Jesus, what did He get and did not get??

Jesus did not deserve what He got from God and was given, so hence, He was shown no Grace.
Jesus did not deserve what He got from God and was not given, so hence, He was shown no Mercy.
Therefore Jesus was deprived of Peace from God.

One of the great passages of Scripture that has helped me enter into this Sabbath Rest that remains and obtained by the Gift of Faith are these:

Psa 143:7 Answer me quickly, O LORD! My spirit fails! Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit.
Psa 143:8 Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.
Psa 143:9 Deliver me from my enemies, O LORD! I have fled to you for refuge!
Psa 143:10 Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground!
Psa 143:11 For your name's sake, O LORD, preserve my life! In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble!
Psa 143:12 And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies, and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul, for I am your servant.


And, by the way, if Peter Lumpkins wants to attribute Wade Burleson as an ass for such teachings as this one, then, well, gladly, this is what a God ordained ass teaches when teaching such powerful truth as this one! :)

Christiane said...

A very wise saying by one of the 'Desert Fathers':

Abba Sisoes said:
" Seek God, and not where God lives."

Steven Stark said...

Hi Wade and Lydia,

Retributive Justice is the idea that punishment is deserved for no greater purpose than to create an "evening out" of things. It's the idea that punishment is revenge and nothing more.

When I punish my child, I (hope I!) do so because it satisfies one or more of 3 conditions:

1. It educates and rehabilitates
2. It creates a deterrent against future wrong doing
3. It protects him and others around him

The problem with Hell is that it does none of these things. So it is revenge pure and simple.

Why is revenge righteous? Especially when God calls us to forgive our enemies? Assuming forgiveness means actual forgiveness and not simply achieving appeasement from another source.

Steven Stark said...

And once again, even if required revenge is in the nature of God - how does the penal substitution satisfy it? The guilty party goes free. No just punishment has been enacted, but rather a revenge killing for its own sake.

If the answer is mystery, or "yes it seems immoral but we have to trust that it's not" then the whole business of doing theology is irrelevant.

(I am enjoying this conversation, I always enjoy reading both of your points of view.)

Dave Miller said...

Amen!

Wade Burleson said...

Steven,

You write:

"The problem with Hell is that it does none of these things. So it is revenge pure and simple."

Revenge? How about punishment.

You are suggesting that murderers, people full of hate, the sexually immoral, child abusers, the proud, the selfish, those who denigrate others, and those with no respect for life are not to be judged by God?

Try arguing before a judge that he is not to punish lawbreakers but simply to pardon them.

It won't work. Righteous and just judges punish lawbreakers.

I'm not sure what your concept of hell is, but it sounds like something from Dante's Inferno rather than Scripture. God righteously, judicially, and personally punishes sinners for their sin. There will be no complaint of "I don't deserve this."

But the good news is God pays our debt and credits us with His righteousness when we trust His Son.

John Wylie said...

Outstanding article.

Anonymous said...

Romans 10:8-10 says, "8) But what does it say? "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart," that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: 9) That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10) For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved."

Yes, it comes down to faith in Jesus Christ and nothing else. There is no need to make the idea of salvation difficult. Believe in Jesus and what he did for you. That's what it boils down to.

Thy Peace said...

A fitting sermon for this post:

Emmanuel - Enid > Series on "The Seven Last Sayings of Christ on the Cross" > The Word of Anguish (Matthew 27:45- 46)

Christiane said...

Hi STEVEN,

I am wondering if you have ever seen the Mel Gibson film 'The Passion of the Christ' ? No English is spoken in that film. It's not needed.

You know, sometimes in attempting to understand and explain that which cannot be understood easily, our 'words' fail to portray a holy event in all of its mystery and majesty.

The crucifixion is only a part of the great Mystery of Christ, which includes His Incarnation, His Passion, and yes, Wade is correct in including Christ's Resurrection.

Some describe the Crucifixion by saying that it was done out of wrath against sin, and some by saying that it was done out of love for us.
How difficult it is for us to express clearly in words that which may not be fully understood.
I think you have seen into our human inadequacy to describe that which is sacred.
We try to explain 'the fullness of truth' with 'OUR words'. . but it isn't enough. And realizing this, we then do what we should have done all along:
we point towards Christ.

Inkling said...

Wade,

You said, "Pharoah will be in hell because he disobeyed God." I'm curious about this; what do you make of Acts 17:30, in terms of the eternal destination of those who died in ignorance before Christ?

Here's the context:

29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."

Mark

Steven Stark said...

Wade,

"Revenge? How about punishment."

I have said that the version of punishment you present is no different than revenge. If I am wrong, then please explain how.

"You are suggesting that murderers, people full of hate, the sexually immoral, child abusers, the proud, the selfish, those who denigrate others, and those with no respect for life are not to be judged by God?"

That would be actual forgiveness, and I am just thinking of Jesus' statement to "forgive your enemies".

But I am not suggesting that law-breakers should go unpunished. I am suggesting that just punishment is always an act towards the greater good. Hell does nothing to further the greater good. It accomplishes nothing tangible. It is an act of God towards His creation that is not in their best interest.

"Try arguing before a judge that he is not to punish lawbreakers but simply to pardon them. It won't work. Righteous and just judges punish lawbreakers."

But for what purpose? To further the greater good or to preserve their own power and honor?

1. How is punishment as presented here different than revenge?

2. What does Jesus mean when He says "forgive your enemies" in the context of "be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect."? Does He mean we should still insist on punishment from someone, but take it from someone else? Surely not?

3. Your language is more of judges and convicts. Mine is more of parents and children. While these can certainly overlap, do you think this difference is indicative of our difference in point of view?


Christiane,

I like your approach. I don't have a problem with mystery at all! Surely most of our existence is mysterious. I just have a problem with the idea that we can appeal to mystery when our ideas don't seem to work, but then call out other ideas when they don't work.

best to all - I always try to see us as partners, rough stones rubbing together to create more fineness.

Wade Burleson said...

Steven,

You write to me: "Your language is more of judges and convicts. Mine is more of parents and children. While these can certainly overlap, do you think this difference is indicative of our difference in point of view?"

Good point. I believe there is a HUGE difference.

God is Judge of the Universe, Father to those who trust Him.

Blessings,

Wade

Steven Stark said...

I will be a Father to my child regardless of whether he trusts me or not. That is what the "natural law" inside me, my moral intuition, tells me is right.

I would never close the door eternally on my child.

Should I expect less of God?

Rex Ray said...

Question:

Before the ‘fall’ did Adam and Eve have “perfect morality and righteousness in thought, deed and character”?

Or were they like us today in having a desire to be lazy, tell lies, and steal?

I believe the only change was their eyes were ‘opened’ knowing “good and evil” or right from wrong, and for that punishment (not revenge) they died a spiritual death THAT day which was atoned by Calvary for the whole world – past-present-and future.

John 3:16 tells it like it is.

Kristen said...

I completely agree with Christine:

"I think you have seen into our human inadequacy to describe that which is sacred."

The Bible describes the perfect holiness of God and the sinfulness of humanity. Sinfulness cannot dwell in the presence of holiness-- it must be cast out. God the Son came to fix the separation caused by sin. There are many metaphors in the Scriptures that describe what the Atonement accomplished, but all human language that describes such things is and must be partial, limited in understanding, and bound by our own human preconceptions.

The main thing that happened, as far as I can tell, was a Substitution. Christ's life for our death. Christ's sinlessness for our sin. The very being of God poured into the separation between us, in a way that will eventually destroy the death we were born into.

The Bible does speak of it in legal terms of judgment and punishment, but that is only one of the ways in which it is spoken of. It is indeed also spoken of in relational terms of Father and child, of the prodigal who comes home to find the Father running down the road to greet him. . .

The truth is above all the pictures, hidden in the nature of God, and as far above us as His thoughts are above our thoughts. If a particular concept does not seem to one of us here to make us mindful enough of the holy beauty of the God who is Love, then another concept of the Atonement from the same Scriptures can help. Our faith is not in "penal substitution." It is in the Christ who atoned for us.

Rex Ray said...

Kristen,
I like the way you explained what God has done for us, as well as Stephen in comparing God as being a parent. Much has been said that is good including our SISTER Christine.

The first of Wade’s post started off ‘bad’ for me as I thought it was leading to ‘salvation by works’.

That was brought out by anonymous (Sun Oct 17, 11:49 AM) quoting “24You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

But after a while Wade’s post got around to connecting the dots to Jesus.

I believe the ‘discussion’ boils down to which came first the chicken or the egg?

For me, I’d pick the chicken (Jesus) which produces the egg (perfect man).

In other words, I’d rather crow about Jesus than crow about what he’s done for me.

Gene Scarborough said...

Wade--

I think this entire concept hinges around the translation of "perfect" (telios).

It is my understanding that this word best translates as "doing that for which you were created" as opposed to "never making a mistake."

My image would be that of a beat up old piano which can never be restored to its new factory condition on the outside. Its strings are out of tune. The owner is not very proud of it and wants to sell it.

He cleans it up and polishes it as best he can do---then calls in a turner. That master craftsman gets the first string perfectly in harmony with his tuning fork and proceeds to go from there through every note.

When it is demonstrated for sale, it produces the magnificent sound of a Grand Piano. It brings tears to the eyes of those listening to the master musician/tuner.

The instrument, itself, is not without blemish, but it achieves perfection by totally fulfilling the purpose for which it was created = to play beautiful music.

That makes sense to me when it comes to perfection. We all should know by now we don't live in a perfect world and never will. God's grace and Jesus' atoning sacrifice is enough to make up for our dents and bangs which can never be completely erased.

Lydia said...

I will be a Father to my child regardless of whether he trusts me or not. That is what the "natural law" inside me, my moral intuition, tells me is right.

I would never close the door eternally on my child.

Should I expect less of God?

Mon Oct 18, 01:08:00 AM 2010

Hi Steven,

What I am going to say is not popular and many Christians disagree with it. But a picture of God's attributes is never complete without including His Wrath. Many tend to skip over those parts of the Word because they are uncomfortable.

When Jesus Christ comes back, He is coming like this:

11 Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. 12 His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. 13 He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean,[f] followed Him on white horses. 15 Now out of His mouth goes a sharp[g] sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. 16 And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written:

KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

Rev 19

Here is a snippet of what happens in Rev 21:

5 Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”
6 And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. 7 He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. 8 But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

If you read the OT to the NT, you can see where God gives multiple warnings to people and proof of His Sovereignty in not only caring for them but saving them from total destruction. But so many times they turned their backs on Him. Even to the point of demanding a king like the pagans when God told them He was their King.

And then He, totally innocent, becomes Sin for us so that we might have His righteousness and eternal life.

The question for me becomes not why would God close the door eternally upon someone, BUT, why have people ignored all the warnings and the truth of the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ and His resurrection?

Wade Burleson said...

Gene,

I would agree.

It seems that Christ alone can claim to be the Man God created man to be.

Good word.

Wade Burleson said...

Lydia,

I may have you come preach for us at Emmanuel.

:)

Wade Burleson said...

Steven,

It seems to me that you believe in the "universal Fatherhood of God" but as I read Scripture I hear Jesus say to the Pharisees "You are of your father the devil," and passages where God "adopts" believers into His family, and because of these and other Bible passages I must reject your notion that God is the Father of all human beings and accept the truth of Scripture that He is the Father of those who are "born again" by the grace of God and have been "given the right to be called the sons of God" due to their faith in Jesus Christ.

My understanding of God is not threatened one iota by your belief in the Fatherhood of God for all human beings. Were I a universalist and believed that Christ paid the ransom for every sinner and the Holy Spirit regenerates in time every sinner, I, too, would believe in the universal Fatherhood of God. But I am not a universalist because I don't see the Word of God teaching universalism.

But your desire for a loving, gracous, merciful, pardoning, Heavenly Father is not only GOOD, it is a legitimate understnding of WHO GOD IS -- to those who receive His Son.

"Kiss the Son, Lest He be angry."

Thanks! Enjoyed the conversation.

Wade

Steven Stark said...

Lydia,

"The question for me becomes not why would God close the door eternally upon someone, BUT, why have people ignored all the warnings and the truth of the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ and His resurrection?"

These are not mutually exclusive questions. The latter is something that many people just do not believe is literally true. People whom God has created.

If God knew they would never accept Him, why would He create them? If He doesn't have sure knowledge, why would He forever shut the door, for there is still a chance?

Wade,

Fair enough, we have our disagreement. I think God, as you describe Him, is more powerful than good.

Of course, I see the Bible as an amazing, yet man-made, attempt to understand God, rather than a perfect, or even sufficient, revelation. So there's another disagreement.

But the penal substitution idea doesn't make sense and implies an immoral premise at the heart of conservative Christian doctrine.

Of course I disagree with many people whom I love and respect on this. Best wishes to us all as we search for what is truly right! :)

Steven Stark said...

Kristen,

Thanks for your words, I enjoyed reading them.

Lydia,

One more thought:

"But a picture of God's attributes is never complete without including His Wrath. Many tend to skip over those parts of the Word because they are uncomfortable. "

I have specified what is required for a just punishment, and eternal hell does not meet this criteria. It's also possible that many who are uncomfortable with the "wrath" of God, as presented here (hell), are uncomfortable because they know it's wrong.

Of course God can send people to Hell. He is powerful. But it makes no sense to call it good, unless we change the definition of good itself.

BeamStalk said...

I think Steven is holding his own, but Wade you brought up something:

It won't work. Righteous and just judges punish lawbreakers.

Do they punish all lawbreakers equally? Is every punishment the death penalty? With the concept of Hell, it is. Every punishment from the slightest infraction to Genocide is punished by something worse or equal to (depending on your stance of Hell) the death penalty.

Now you say that is what we deserve. Why do we deserve it? Because we and that means everyone created by God cannot live up to the standard God has set. Is this an intentional set up, because it certainly seems that way.

If I write a program and it fails to live up to the standards I have set for it, am I to blame the program?

Josh from FL said...

:)

Steve Young said...

Wade,
I do not share your exact view of the Doctrines of Grace, but I do share your viewpoint in this post. One of our difficulties is that we often focus on one side or the other of God's qualities. Yes, He is loving, good, gracious - He is also Just, Holy, Righteous. Thanks for today's discussion.
Steve in Montana

Lydia said...

"If God knew they would never accept Him, why would He create them? If He doesn't have sure knowledge, why would He forever shut the door, for there is still a chance?"

2000 years, so far, is not enough time? My question is why didn't He shut the door long ago? We did not deserve Jesus Christ's sacrfice. It is the most loving and merciful gift in the world. You cannot earn it. It is FREE. Why aren't more people receiving that gift of eternal life?

He does have sure knowledge. Scripture tells us that Jesus knew what people were thinking when they had not spoken.

Why did He "choose" the Jews to show His Sovereignty through? Why did He prosper pagan kings to punish Israel? Why did He allow innocent babies to drown in the flood?

I would recommend all of Romans but here is a clue to the above from Romans 9:

18 Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.
19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” 20 But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?
22 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

Lydia said...

"I have specified what is required for a just punishment, and eternal hell does not meet this criteria. It's also possible that many who are uncomfortable with the "wrath" of God, as presented here (hell), are uncomfortable because they know it's wrong."

You are not alone. Thomas Jefferson cut out all the passages he did not like to produce a more comfortable bible for himself.

But think about this:

Because God loves, He also hates. There can be no love unless there is the antithesis of love, which is hate. Those two emotions are inseparable.

If you love babies you will hate abortion. If you love good, you hate evil. If you love God you hate Satan.

Proverbs 6 lists all the things God hates. Romans and Malachi both mention that God hated Esau!

But contrast that with His great love to die on a Cross for your sins even though He was totally innocent.

Steven Stark said...

Lydia,

You do well to show the immoral ideas in conservative Christian thinking.

I have never argued that God is not powerful. He CAN do whatever He wants to us. But this doesn't make it GOOD.

A friend of mine likes to say that Calvinists make the mistake of mixing up God and the devil. Sorry if that is offensive, but it seems relevant. I am poking a bit, but I hope it's for light, not just heat.

If you keep reading Romans into chapter 11, remember what Paul says about God accepting the Jews anyway. Perhaps verses 28-32 or thereabouts shows God's ultimate purpose in creating vessels of grace and vessels of wrath.

Perhaps creating vessels for the sake of punishing them forever is not an idea worthy of God. Let's hope that God is actually good.

Lydia said...

"If God knew they would never accept Him, why would He create them? If He doesn't have sure knowledge, why would He forever shut the door, for there is still a chance?"

Steven, I want to add something here. When my child was 6 she asked me if Satan apologized, could he be saved? I answered, "Go ask your dad". :o)

So my question to you is, why did God allow Satan?

Steven Stark said...

Remember how Jacob greeted Esau? Their reconciliation was moving:

Jacob said, "To see your face is like seeing the face of God, since you have received me with such favor." Gen. 33:4

So Jacob saw the face of God in one whom God created for the purpose of eternal destruction?

I think there is a deeper meaning here.

Lydia said...

Perhaps creating vessels for the sake of punishing them forever is not an idea worthy of God. Let's hope that God is actually good.

Mon Oct 18, 03:01:00 PM 2010

Who am I to judge God who created me before the foundation of the world? That is what Romans is communicating.

If God is not good then He would not have allowed Himself to be mocked, beat and nailed to a tree for us undeserving humans. Do you not see the great love in that?

I just do not understand why that isn't enough?

ml said...

http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/jesusourdefense.html

Wade, Steven here is an excellent sermon that describes from a Greek/Roman category how Jesus as a substitute/propitiation makes sense from a legal standpoint. In our judicial world it doesnt have the same referent as the champion referent in Greek and Roman culture--think David and Goliath. Nonetheless, both the love of God and the justice of God appear from our vantage point to be at odds this link touches on this "dilemma." The link above is a short read but an excellent description of our situation in heaven and the mystery of our hearts right now.

ml said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ml said...

http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/jesusourdefense.html

Paula said...

Steven Stark,

The question of how love and holiness can coexist in God without contradiction is a deep one. But before I give my opinion, let me preface it with an analogy.

One job I had was to troubleshoot and repair 8mm tape drives. The literature on the technology had an interesting debate over whether the read/write head actually touched the media or was just very, very, very, close to it. At a molecular or atomic level, that question could not be answered to anyone's satisfaction: what exactly does it mean to say one object touches another? When the orbits of the outermost valence electrons of the objects interesect, or when several orbits do, or when they're just an orbit-distance apart? And how would you measure it without affecting it?

In the same way, there will always be a certain point on any discussion of the attributes of God where we simply cannot demand precise definitions. Now this is not to excuse the habit of some where whenever they cannot back up their argument, they brush it all off as mystery. But it is to say that we're not going for mathematical precision here, but a reasonably satisfactory scenario. Much of the discussion depends upon interpretation of texts, such that I can only answer from my own perspective and not everyone else's.

The purpose for death of Christ involves more than penal-substitution. I wrote about this here. Basically, we have to consider what really happened with Adam, Eve, and the serpent, what the purpose was of separating the Jewish people from the rest of mankind, and what it means that the "church" is a new, third entity-- a "new creation". If you would, please look over that chapter I linked to and we can take it from there.

K?

Muff Potter said...

RE: Wade @ Sun Oct 17, 04:51:00 PM 2010
“… It seems to me that what makes sense to you is God punishing people for their wrongs and rewarding people for their good deeds. I think God acts precisely in this manner--except that what most people consider "good" when compared to the good that is God will find that it is nothing but "filthy rags…”

I do not believe that any act of human kindness, mercy, and compassion is a filthy rag in the sight of God. In context, the verse (Isaiah 64:6) is an indictment of the religious system of Judah and its complicity with those who had amassed wealth at the expense of the most vulnerable; the poor, the needy, the widow and the orphan.

Christiane said...

Hi STEVEN,

You wrote this:
"Surely most of our existence is mysterious."

Yes. It is.
It was also for St. Augustine, until he realized something important:


"People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering."
Saint Augustine



"Too late have I loved You, O Lord; and behold,
You were within,
and I without,
and there I sought You.

You were with me when I was not with You.
You called, and cried out, and burst my deafness.
You gleamed and glowed, dispelling my blindness.
You touched me, and I burned for Your peace.

For you have made us for Yourself,
And our hearts are restless until they rest in You.

Too late have I loved You, Beauty ever ancient, ever new.
You have burst my bonds asunder;
I will offer up to You an offering of praise."

-- St. Augustine of Hippo

Christiane said...

Hi MUFF POTTER,

you wrote
"I do not believe that any act of human kindness, mercy, and compassion is a filthy rag in the sight of God."

I agree.
Every act of human kindness, mercy, and compassion finds its origin in God, who the Infinite Source of ALL loving-kindness.

Christiane said...

Hi WADE,

Regarding 'the Virgin Mary' and 'immorality', this is all I could find in the Scriptures that could possibly refer to it:

"When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly."


I suppose Joseph also thought of 'immorality' when he first learned of Mary's 'condition'.
It is also noted in Scripture about Joseph, that he was 'unwilling to expose her to shame'.

Then the angel came to Joseph and told him not to be afraid.

Mary was cared for a lot by the angels, wasn't she? In the Scriptures?

Kristen said...

Lydia said:

"Romans and Malachi both mention that God hated Esau!"

Some cultural/language context is appropriate to mention here, I think. The "love/hate" dichotomy was used in the ancient Jewish culture to indicate a choice being made. It doesn't mean literal love and hate. Jesus used the same terminology when He said we could not follow Him without "hating" our mother and father and even our own life. Obviously, if He had meant real hate, He would have been directly contradicting the "honor your father and mother" commandment, as well as the "love your neighbor" commandment. "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" simply means, "I chose Jacob and passed over Esau."

As for Romans 9, it seems fairly clear to me (my pastor also preaches this) that the context is not eternal salvation, but the choice of God for what part one is to play in His plan. It's about earthly calling/destiny, not eternity. Israel was chosen, but is now temporarily rejected so that the Gentiles can come in. This does not mean than an individual Israelite is prevented from coming to salvation even if they wanted to. Romans 11 makes that clear.

Beamstalk said:

"Because we and that means everyone created by God cannot live up to the standard God has set. Is this an intentional set up, because it certainly seems that way."

Yes, I think it's an intentional setup. Romans 11:32 says God shut everyone up under sin so that He might have mercy upon all. That's just a few chapters later than Romans 9, so I think it needs to inform our reading of Romans 9.

However. I'm really not sure it's appropriate to argue Calvinism vs. Armenianism on this blog post. I think Wade is quite right to say that God's judgment is for sin, and that it's belief in Christ that saves us from our sin.

I would also like to say that I don't think love and holiness are meant to be opposed. God is Love; therefore love must be holy. God loves us all but also hates everything we do that hurts ourselves or others-- because He loves. Something has to be done about this; hence the Atonement and our resulting sanctification, so that one day He can have a Kingdom where no one does any harm to another, ever again.

Anonymous said...

"Just as pride is the greatest of all evils, since it succeeded in casting the angels from heaven to the abyss, so humility is the greatest of all virtues. It had the power to raise the sinner from the abyss up to heaven. For this reason, the Lord blesses, before all others, the poor in spirit."

a teaching from The Desert Fathers

Steven Stark said...

Lydia,

The problem of Satan (or evil) is difficult within a theistic framework. Perhaps evil was allowed so that we could make a choice. However everlasting damnation stops any possibility of choice. And I am unconvinced of any theodicy that requires the purposeful creation of people to suffer. By what standard is this good?

I am perplexed that you are OK with a God that created many of your neighbors for the purpose of everlasting damnation.

You are right. I do not see the salvation of some as enough.

But thanks for your opinion, it is interesting to me for sure.

Christiane,

Good stuff. I think the world is mysterious, including myself, for sure! ;)

Paula,

I love the story! This world is remarkable and mysterious.

Kristen,

I think your take on Romans 9-11 is more consistent with a loving God. The vessels of wrath and grace both serve the purpose of revealing God's all-encompassing love. Perhaps we would not know what it was if we could not see life without it.

But Paul's reference to the ultimate fate of the Jews and his statements about the mystery of God and His mercy towards all reveal that the vessels of grace and wrath are temporal means, not everlasting ends. What is the end, the final purpose of all things?

I hope that it is God for all. Romans 11:36. 1 Corinthians 15:28.

Best to all! Thanks for a delightful conversation. And I truly mean that.

Lydia said...

Kristen, I agree with what you wrote concerning Esau. Thanks for clarifying.

Lydia said...

"I am perplexed that you are OK with a God that created many of your neighbors for the purpose of everlasting damnation. "

He created me to tell them about Jesus and plonked me down right next to them.

younglandmarker said...

Wade,

It's obvious from your post that you are a Calvinistic SB. It's amazing to me how one like yourself can look at explicit Scriptures like 1 John 2:2 and say that you don't believe it: "And he is the propitiation for our sins (elect): and not for ours only, but ALSO FOR THE SINS OF THE WHOLE WORLD."

Anonymous said...

Its unrealistic for God to expect moral perfection from each human being to make us fit for heaven. How can He expect perfection and sinlessness from naturally imperfect, sinful creatures? No one has total free will to do either evil or good. Nature, nurture, genes, brain chemistry, body chemistry, and environmental conditions also dictates and determines human behavior whether bad or good. If Adam and Eve's sin corrupted all future unborn humans(which is unfair) then how could we be expected to be morally perfect? If Satan and demons corrupt human beings then how could we be expected to be morally perfect? If God wanted us to be perfect then why didnt He create us that way? Its unrealistic to expect moral perfection from the vast majority of people and its unfair and cruel to throw them in hell for failing to be morally perfect.