However, I've told the people who listen to me teach that nobody should accept what I say without searching the Scriptures to see if what they've heard from me is true. In a similar manner, we ought not to assume everything a worship leader says, even in his prayers, is based on truth. Though the worship leader was sincere, the premise of his prayer, in my opinion, is not based on biblical truth.
Our worship is never for God.
Let me explain.
God is the all-sufficient, infinite and resourceful Creator of the universe. He needs nothing from me, including my worship. Doubt this is true? Listen to these verses:
"The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath." (Acts 17:24-25).Worship was never designed to give God anything. Why then does God seem to require praise and worship from us if He doesn't need it? C.S. Lewis answers this question in his amazing little book Reflections on the Psalms. Lewis confesses that he was once bothered by what he calls "God's incessant demand that we tell Him how good He is." Listen to Lewis describe how reading the Psalms caused him to view God in an unfavorable light.
"We all despise the man who demands continued assurance of his own virtue, intelligence, or delightfulness. We despise still more the crowd of people around every dictator, every millionaire, every celebrity who gratify that demand. This picture began to emerge in my mind of God that was ludicrous and horrible .... God says in the Psalms, "Whoever offers Me thanks and praise, he honors Me." It seemed to me like God was saying, "What I most want is to be told that I'm good and great." I found this extremely distressing. It made me think what I least wanted to think about God. Gratitude to God, reverence to Him, obedience to Him; I can understand that, but not this perpetually eulogy."
Lewis was bothered because it seemed that God was demanding our praise and worship because God needed it; similar to an insecure person needing compliments. However, the more Lewis studied the Bible, the more he began to understand that his view of God was wrong. Lewis came to see the biblical truth that God was in need of nothing, even our praise. Lewis then reached the understanding that worship was designed to give us what we need. Listen to Lewis:
"In worship, it is God who gives, and it is we who receive. The miserable idea that God should in any sense need or crave for our worship like a vain woman our compliments or a vain author presenting his new books to people who never met or heard of him is implicitly answered by the words from Psalm 50:12: 'If I be hungry, I won't tell you.' Even if such an absurd deity could be conceived he would hardly come to us, the lowest of rational creatures to gratify his appetite.C.S. Lewis, the incredible and talented writer of many books, then summarizes his argument that God is never in need of our worship with a vivid analogy that draws a mental picture that instantly causes me to see the silliness of saying God wants my worship because He needs my praise or that He needs my devotion.
I don't want my dog to bark approval of my books."
Bingo. Think of the implications to both your private and corporate worship if what Lewis is saying is true. If we don't come before God in worship for His sake, then for what reason do we worship? If God is self-sufficient and cannot be served by human hands, then why do we worship God at all? Lewis reasons worship was never designed to give God approval, honor, or compliments, but it is an avenue through which our full hearts can burst out in love, praise and adoration of the One who infinitely and eternally loves us and gave Himself for us. The all-sufficient God doesn't need it; those who are inwardly bursting with joy do!
"The most obvious fact about praise, whether of God or anything, strangely had escaped me. I thought of praise as compliment, or approval, or giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise, unless shyness or the fear of boring others, is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise; lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game.... except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible."
"I had not noticed either just as men praised whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join us in praise it. Isn't she lovely? Wasn't it glorious? Don't you think that magnificent? The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about."
"I think we delight to praise what we enjoy, because the praise not merely expresses, but completes the enjoyment. Praise is joy's appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are, the delight is incomplete until it is expressed."
"If it were possible for a created soul fully to appreciate, that is to love and delight in the worthiest Object of all, and simultaneously at every moment to give this delight perfect expression, that soul would be in supreme be-attitude."
"Therefore, to see what this doctrine really means, we must suppose ourselves to be in perfect love with God; drunk with, drowned in, dissolved by that delight, which far from remaining pent up within ourselves as incommunicable, flows out from us incessantly again in effortless and perfect expression. Our joy no more separable from the praise in which it liberates and utters itself than the brightness a mirror receives is separable from the brightness it sheds."The Westminster Confession says it best: "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." What too few of us realize is that these two things (i.e. "glorifying God and enjoying Him") are actually the same thing, for they are the inseparable parts of real worship. ""Only when I truly enjoy God in my life will I ever really glorify God in my worship." My enjoyment of God is never really complete unless there is an outlet through which I can praise God! Where there is no intense and personal joy from the continual discovery of God's great grace in Jesus, there will be no external and exuberant corporate expression of God's magnificent glory through worship.
That's why worship in many churches is either on life support or dead. It has nothing to do with Saint guitars versus Steinway pianos, videos versus violins, or any other differences in style. Though many call the disagreements over 'contemporary' and 'traditional' styles of worship 'wars,' in reality, the real war in worship is the internal battle in me. God calls me to rest in Him, to enjoy Him, to be so captivated and enraptured by His love and grace for me, that I will burst unless I actively worship God and give expression to what's happening in my soul.
Worship is inner health made audible. If there is no soul-tingling, mind-bending, emotion-touching, will-transforming enjoyment of God, then there is no soul-tingling, mind-bending, emotion-touching, will-transforming worship of God! Worship of God is non-existent when enjoyment of God is non-existent. Sure, I can sing songs, play music, and 'do church,' but if there is no understanding of what it means to be fully satisfied in God, then there will be no desiring to publicly express my praise and gratitude in real worship of God.
When I was discussing this issue with Rachelle she asked me about Matt Redman's popular song entitled We Are Here for You. The title seems to indicate the song is built on the false premise that God needs our worship. However, when you read the words of the song, you realize Matt Redman is saying "We Are Here for God," like one would say "I'm going to Braum's for ice cream," or "I'm going to the store for milk." There is something in worship that I need. I'm going to worship because I must express how great God or my heart will burst! I am so captivated by who He is to me, that I must tell others about Him and encourage others to rest in Him and worship Him. If I can't worship, then I'm not happy! I must worship! I need worship!
Worship is for me!
The real worship war taking place every Sunday morning is the same battle that takes place within you every day. It is the fight to learn what it means to enjoy God and His love and grace for you, and rest in Him and not your own performance or lack of it. Worship is designed to be the consummate expression of those who are bursting with love for God!
It's okay for people not to sing in corporate worship. There are times I don't feel like worshipping. That doesn't affect God. It just shows me I'm losing the internal battle. My soul isn't healthy.
So, back to where we started this post. When a worship leader says, "These praises are for you, God" as if God needs my worship, I cringe. I am the one who needs worship and praise, or if I'm not into worship and praise, my thoughts should be on what's going on inside of me! Why am I not delighting in God and His love for me? For a better understanding of this profound principle, I would encourage you to watch my friend Sam Storms as he beautifully and verbally articulates this doctrine via video.
It will change the way you worship.
Addendum: In the comment stream of this post, an excellent question is asked that serves as a great illustration of this principle.
Question: - "But isn't it possible to say "These praises are for You, God," and mean something other than "You need our praises?" If we look at the praises as gifts of love, then "These praises are for You, God," is like saying, "These flowers are for you, honey." The point is not so much what is given, as the fact that something is given. Even if she doesn't like those kind of flowers, a wife will appreciate the love that prompted them. Even so, I think, does God.
My Response: - "I understand what you are saying, but it is precisely the opposite of what I am proposing as truth. God appreciates, loves, cares, guides, protects, embraces, delights in, and sings over His people whether we give him beautiful flowers, ugly flowers, or NO FLOWERS at all. He doesn't need our worship to feel loved or to respond to us in appreciation. God's love is not drawn out by our loveliness, but eternally flows from within Himself like an artesian spring. Therefore, my worship is but an expression of my understanding of His unknowable and unconditional love for me (see Ephesians 3:14-21). Worship bursts forth from me as my consummate delight of God! He loves me whether I worship or not. :) When I don't worship, I'm losing the battle of enjoying God and His love! This will take a while to digest. If you ever see it and believe it you will be genuinely set free, for the truth always sets one free."
|St. Asaph's Workhouse, Wales, United Kingdom|
John Rowlands was the boy's name. Nobody knew the name of the boy's father. His mother refused to give her last name to her illegitimate son. The boy's maternal grandfather, Moses Parry, took care of John as best he could, but when the boy was just five and a half years old, grandpa Moses fell over dead in his potato field. He was seventy-five.
There was nobody left who wanted to care for the bastard child.
The boy's missing mother had a couple of well-to-do brothers who took John in for a few days after their father's funeral, but they soon shipped the little boy to a neighbor family and promised "to pay for his keep." After six months, the money stopped coming. The uncles refused to take the boy back, so the neighbor family asked their oldest son, a twenty-seven-year old named Richard, to get the six-year-old John Rowlands ready for a journey.
It's best to let Richard's own words describe what happened next:
"My parents and I told John he was going on a trip to see his relatives. I requested mother to dress the little boy....Then taking his little hands over my shoulders, I carried him down through the town passing the houses of his well-to-do relatives... The boy was anxious and often asked "Where are we going, Dick? Where are we going?" I told him we were going to see his aunt Mary. We walked eight miles to the St. Asaph Workhouse. When we arrived, I set the little boy on the porch and rang the bell. I told John to stay there and I turned to leave. He asked me "Where are you going, Dick?" I told him, "I'm going to buy cakes for you." I left John at St. Asaph's and never returned." ((South Wales Daily News, 14 May, 1904: Interview with Richard Price):Six-year-old John Rowlands would spend the next ten years in the St. Asaph's Workhouse for the poor and abandoned. He would later write, "the false cajolings and treacherous endearments on that eight mile journey to St. Asaph's will live forever in my memory. It would have been far better for me if Dick, being stronger than I, had employed compulsion, instead of shattering my confidence and planting seeds of distrust in a child's heart."
Nobody is quite sure if the cruelty at St. Asaph's was as bad as John would later recount in his autobiography. All new arrivals, whether abandoned children or pauper adults, were stripped, shaved of all hair, and given drab, uniform clothing to wear. John claimed he was often beaten, and he dreamed every night of running away. Four years after arriving at St. Asaph's, the warden pointed out a woman and asked John if he knew her. "No sir," John replied. "What? Do you not know your own mother?"
John's mother and her next two illegitimate children had been sent to St. Asaph's Workhouse due to their abject poverty. Though she'd been told by the warden John was her son, she never made any attempt to speak to her boy. "I expected to feel tenderness towards her, but her expression was so chilling that the valves of my heart closed as with a snap." (Source: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer, Tim Jeal).
Escape from St. Asaphs
|Liverpool Shipyards (1860's)|
The trans-Atlantic trip to New Orleans took two months, and upon arriving in New Orleans, John 'jumped ship,' having experienced what other 'cabin boys' had endured in similar circumstances.
What happened next is nothing short of amazing.
An American family took the boy John Rowlands into their home. He met this foster family the first day he jumped ship, while walking the docks of New Orleans. This American family owned a business that traded in goods shipped up and down Mississippi and its tributaries. John saw a sign in the shop window that said, "Need a boy" and he went in and applied to be a shop hand. The family took John in as one of their own, not only giving this teenager a place to live, but showing him with affection that he'd been lacking his entire life. John, for the first time , experienced 'familial love.'
This family was the equivalent of a modern foster family.
John Rowlands Makes a Name for Himself
According to John, his new American 'father' would eventually get him established in a trading business of his own on the Little Red River, a tributary of the White River and Mississippi River, about 50 miles north of Little Rock. John took the skills he learned in New Orleans with his foster family and put them into effect as a young adult in Arkansas. It was during this time that, according to John Rowlands, he changed his name to honor his American 'foster father" - Henry Stanley.
|John Rowlands - a.k.a. Henry Stanley|
While in the navy, Henry used his skills at reading and writing, honed as a boy at St. Asaph's Workhouse, to record the ship's logs. After the war, Henry Stanley traveled to St. Louis, Missouri and applied for a job as a 'reporter' with the St. Louis Democrat Daily, using his experience in the navy as a reference. He was hired, and it was on a special assignment with the St. Louis Democrat in Indian Territory, that Henry Stanley began making a name for himself. He was the only reporter at the infamous Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867 in Indian Territory, the first treaty between the United States government and Plainsmen Indians.
Newspapers from all over the country reported on the astonishing treaty signed by the government with the Plainsmen Indians, a treaty that confined the roaming Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Comanche, Kiowa, and Apache Indians to reservations in "Indian Territory" (Oklahoma). This infamous treaty ensured Manifest Destiny - the ability of the United States to link both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts via railroad without threat of Indian attacks. Henry Morton Stanley's colorful reporting of the Medicine Lodge Treaty led the owners of the largest newspaper in America, the New York Herald, to offer H.M. Stanley a job.
It was James Gordon Bennett, Jr. owner of the New York Herald, who sent his young reporter in early 1871 to Africa to find the long-lost missionary Dr. David Livingstone. On November 10, 1871, after an excruciating difficult journey into the heartland of Africa, New York Herald reporter Henry Morton Stanley met the oft-presumed dead, but still living Livingstone, and greeted him with the famous words:
"Dr. Livingstone, I presume."Henry Morton Stanley would go on to become the greatest explorer the continent of Africa has ever seen. His discoveries and explorations of the Dark Continent are legendary. The Queen of England knighted him. He became a member of British Parliament. He became the recipient of the Royal Geographical Society's gold medal. His life is a long legacy of exploration, discovery and ultimate recognition.
A great deal of credit to the man H. M. Stanley became goes to the love of an American foster family.
My son and his wife took into their home this week a little girl, a foster child whom they believe God's given them to love. I write this post to encourage them and thousands of other foster families that take in children, both young and old, who for circumstances beyond their control no longer experience the love of a family. A foster parent's love can heal a broken heart and set a child on a future course that could change the world.
By the way, the building where John Rowlands stayed for ten years as a destitute orphan, known as St. Asaph's Workhouse in St. Asaph, Wales, United Kingdom, still exists.
It's now the H.M. Stanley General Hospital.
The love of a foster family can make a difference.
This morning I found myself reflecting on W.H. Auden's famous couplet "If equal affection cannot be, let the more loving one be me." I am in the unfortunate position of seeing many marriages, friendships and relationships break apart because of unequal affection. As I reflected on how to be the one loving more in the face of unrequited affection, I felt inspired to add two additional verses to Auden's famous stanza from The More Loving One. I trust you will be encouraged through these words to rest in the incredible depths of God's love for you, and to realize that knowing His great love is the only way to persevere in unrequited love (Ephesians 3:14-21).
No Greater Love
How should we like it were the stars to burn
With a passion for us, we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.
If I think this only brings pain,
I’ve yet to learn love’s true gain.
For when I give without any pull,
It’s a sign my heart is already full.
This is the reason I bow my knee
And ask to know God’s love for me.
If your affection ever turns cold,
My love for you will never grow old.
W.H. Auden and W.W. Burleson (2014)
-- "You will never be able to love somebody into the Kingdom until you feel the King's love personally." --
In my opinion, the greatest prayer in the Bible is the one Paul prayed for the Ephesian Christians (emphasis mine):
For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20 Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, 21 to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21)If we, God's people, lack power today, Paul says it's due to our lack of knowing, understanding, and experientially feeling the love of God in Christ.
Evangelical pastors tend to motivate Christians to live right and do good works through threats of appearing before Christ on judgment day to give an account of our lives. This modern motivational tool is very similar to the Roman Catholic practice of indulgences that lasted seven centuries prior to the Reformation. This type of motivation is the very reason the church lacks supernatural power.
The Bible is clear that every person apart from union with Jesus will give an account for how he or she lived their lives. This accountability to God is understood by all, even the irreligious. The Bible is clear regarding what happens on Judgment Day.
"You are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will repay each person according to what they have done." (Romans 2:6)
"For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done." (Matthew 16:27)
"He repays everyone for what they have done; he brings on them what their conduct deserves." (Job 34:11)
"According to what they have done, so will he repay wrath to his enemies and retribution to his foes; he will repay the islands their due." (Isaiah 59:18).
"But those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction; he will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate him." (Deuteronomy 7:10)
"Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord." (Romans 12:19).
"We make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment of Christ, that each may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." (II Corinthians 5:9-10).
Good News! Those In Jesus Escape this Judgment
This is truly Good News!
(1). If you've come to faith in Jesus, you are free to live your life without fear that God is measuring your performance. The only perfect performance in terms of how to live is the life Jesus lived, and the full approval He earned from God is yours by faith! This is God's love for you in Jesus
(2). If you've come to faith in Jesus, you never have to worry whether or not God is punishing you for your sins, because the full and complete punishment for every failure and shortcoming in your life (past, present and future failures included) have been completely punished by God in Jesus. This is God's love for you in Jesus.
(3). If you've come to faith in Jesus, you are assured of God's complete and fully devoted attention as 'the apple of His eye,' that your name is written 'in the palm of His hand,' and that your entire life is guaranteed to have all things "work for good." This is God's incredible love for you in Jesus!
So what does it look like to be so strengthened in your inner person by experiencing the fullness of God through coming to know His love for you in Jesus? What does it feel like to never have to perform for God, and to rest in the performance of Jesus? I think Jesus describes it very well in Matthew 6.
"Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—‘playactors’ I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.
And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat? Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace." (Matthew 6:1-6 -The Message)
Passages that Seem to Teach Future Judgment for Those in Christ
Some Christians who have never been freed from the fear of God judging their performance in this life will point to several passages of Scripture that seem to teach Christians will be 'judged' by God for their actions in this life. I would like to address all these passages in future posts, but I'll close today's writing by examining just one such passage:
"But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the (judgment) seat of God. 11 For it is written,“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praise to God.” So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God." (Romans 14:10-12)This passage at first glances seems to indicate that every Christian will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ. In reality, it teaches just the opposite.
- This text (Romans 14:10-12) starts with a question: "Why do you judge your brother?"
This is an appropriate question for every one of us who follow Jesus. Let me ask myself that question in various ways: "Why do I judge any brother in Christ?" Why do I make any assessment that a Christian is lazy, unspiritual, or weak? Why do I "regard my brothers with contempt"? Why do I count them as nothing? Am I judging the way they live? Am I judging their actions? Am I judging the fact they live differently than I? Again, "Why am I judging my brother?"
Why should I not judge a brother in Jesus?
1). I should not judge my brother because God has accepted my brother.
"For God has received my brother" (14:3). "God is able to make my brother stand" (14:4). My brother, just like I, has been justified before God by faith. My brother is made right with God by the righteousness of Christ, just like I! He and I are "reckoned," "accounted," and "credited" as righteous by God in Jesus! This righteousness of God is "imputed" to me and my brother by faith. Why do I judge my brother when God accepts my brother and makes my brother stand before Him perfectly righteous, just as God does me?
"If the best of men had his faults written on his forehead he would pull his cap down to his eyebrows in shame." (an old Irish Proverb)
(2). I should not judge my brother because God makes us both stand before Christ.
"We (I and all my brothers) shall all stand before the bema of Christ" (Romans 14:10). The word "bema" is translated "judgment seat" in our English versions, but the word judgment is an interpretation, not a translation. Bema literally means "podium" or "throne." It is translated this way in Nehemiah 8:4 (Septuagint) where Nehemiah "stood on a pulpit of wood (bema)" to read the Word of God to the people of Israel. A bema is an elevated position of authority. We "Christians" all stand with Christ. However the ungodly shall not stand before the throne of Christ (Psalm 1:5).
"The arrogant cannot stand in your presence. You hate all who do wrong" (Psalm 5:5).
-This text (Romans 14:10-12) continues with an Old Testament quotation... "For it is written 'As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praise to God.' (v.12).
Verse 12 is a direct quotation from Isaiah 45:22-25.
Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other. “I have sworn by Myself, The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.
They will say of Me, ‘Only in the LORD are righteousness and strength.’ Men will come to Him, And all who were angry at Him will be put to shame.
“In the LORD all the offspring of Israel will be justified and will glory.”
In this text God swears an oath. "As I live..." (v.12) "I have sworn by myself" (Isaiah 45:22). What does God swear? "That every tongue shall swear" (Isaiah 45:23) this word "swear" is also "confess."
What will men confess?
"Only in the Lord there is righteousness and strength."
In other words, when we stand before God on that day to come, those who swear, "I have no righteousness but Christ" shall stand beside Christ. All those incensed with Jesus shall be "ashamed" (Isaiah 45:25) and shall be judged by Christ for their actions on earth!
-This text (Romans 14:10-12) concludes with personal confession... "Every one of us shall give account..." (v.12).
The person who has been angry with Christ on earth shall find Christ angry with him in heaven (Psalm 2:12). The only sinner who will ever be judged by Christ for his thoughts, deeds, and actions on earth is that sinner who dies without the righteousness of Christ credited to him.
The word translated "account" (i.e. "Every one of us shall give account") is the Greek word logos which means 'to say, or to speak." It is the same word used by John to describe the coming of Christ to earth, "In the beginning was the Word (logos), and the Word (logos) was with God, and the Word (logos) was God" (John 1:1). It is also used 11 times in its verb form in Romans 4 to describe the action of God reckoning or crediting righteousness to the believing sinner. When God says or declares I am righteous in Christ, then indeed I am righteous in Christ.
God swears that He is honored and praised by the sinner who says or declares there is no true righteousness but that which is in Christ. Paul says it or declares it like this:
"But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from (my obedience) to the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and]the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead." (Philippians 3:7-11)
That's my confession. It's my confession today. It will be my confession on that Day. I will never be judged for anything in my life - what I do, what I didn't do, how sincere I was, how insincere I was, how well I performed, how poorly I performed, etc... - because Jesus is my righteousness, and God's love for me is so incredibly deep, wide, broad and long that ...
(1). I am free in Jesus to live and love others fully, because ...
(2). I am so full of God and His love for me I need nothing else personally, and
(3). I am without fear and can live my life boldly, courageously and incredibly joyfully!
That's what happens when the fear of any future judgment is removed. He's removed it from me; I hope He removes it from you as well.
Every theological writer knows seminal writing is rare. From the Latin word serere, which means "to sow,' writing that is seminal represents only the seed (semen) for a future and greater harvest of truth. For example, Luther's Ninety-Five Theses (1517) declared it is "faith that justifies," not the sacrament. Luther's writings, though thoroughly biblical, were deemed heretical by the Roman Catholic Church. Five centuries later Luther's heresy has become evangelical orthodoxy, widely accepted by Christians around the world.
Seminal theological writing is rare because as Solomon declared:
"Is there anything of which one might say, "See this, it is new"? Already it has existed for ages which were before us" (Ecclesiastes 1:10).
Truth exists independent of its discovery. The only thing ever lost is our understanding of it. "God's word is truth" (John 17:17), so rare is the individual who uncovers truth long lost by God's people. God's word never changes; but our comprehension of it does. The Dark Ages brought about a great loss of human understanding of what it means to be made right with God through faith in Jesus alone. Luther's writing was seminal in that it only uncovered pre-existent and eternal truth. The greatest opposition to Luther's writing on justification by faith came from church leaders who adhered to centuries of church dogma on the subject. Though Luther's teaching seemed new to the church, it was in reality quite old because it was found in Scripture. Accepted church dogma can sometimes be the greatest hindrance to uncovering eternal truth via sola Scriptura (Scripture alone).
It is possible that some seminal theological writing has taken place in the late 20th century and early portions of this century. New Testament scholars such as F.F. Bruce, Edward Fudge, John R.W. Stott, Richard Bauckham, John W. Wenham, and others have written on the subject of death, resurrection, the judgment, and after life, rejecting Plato's separation of soul and body and holding to what they call the biblical truth of indivisible unity between body and soul.
To these writers, the Hebrew word nephesh describes the life of man as soul and body united, with the consequence of sin being death to the whole person, both body and soul. The Bible portrays all men as mortal. The belief that there is an independent, immaterial soul that lives apart from the body is from Plato, and not the Bible, say these New Testament scholars. They point out that the unique and profound teaching of both the Old and New Testaments is the resurrection of dead persons to face either judgment and eventual eternal death (i.e. 'the second death'), or to escape the coming judgment and be granted the gift of everlasting life through Jesus Christ.
In summary, the potential seminal theological writing of these modern scholars revolves around the following biblical truths:
(1). God alone possesses immortality (I Timothy 6:16), and the gift of God is eternal life to only those whose names are "written in the book of life" via their union with Jesus Christ (see John 3:16 and Revelation 20:12).
(2). Death destroys every mortal human being and is called "the last enemy" of those who die in Christ (I Cor. 15:26), but "there is coming a day when all those who are in the tombs will hear His voice" (John 5:29) and be resurrected to life (nephesh) by God's power.
(3). Everyone resurrected from the dead will be either judged and punished for their actions on earth (John 5:29), or will be credited with the righteousness of Christ via their faith in Him and will escape the 'day of wrath' (Proverbs 11:4), being given eternal life which Jesus earned by His actions when He came to earth (Revelation 20:12).
(4). Since the punishment of the wicked by God is always just and equitable, the Day of Judgment will reveal various sentences of length and intensity, some punishments being more severe than others (Matt. 10:15).
(5). Hell is a holy prison where God's wrath is measured out in direct portion and relation to the sins and crimes committed by each creature judged, with the final end of the unrighteous being their utter destruction, called "the second death" (Revelation 20:14).Ironically, Martin Luther had a hand in these modern seminal writings. Both Luther and William Tyndale believed that "the dead are asleep, and feel nothing at all." Time is inconsequential during death, taught Luther, so regardless of the passage of time on earth, the next conscious thought after closing one's eyes in death is the awareness of hearing Christ's voice and feeling the power of the Creator in being raised from the dead. So when Jesus says, "Today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43) to the dying thief who believed in Him, it was indeed that day from the thief's perspective that he was with Christ in heaven. It's a little like going to sleep through anesthesia prior to surgery, only to wake up seemingly an instant later only to discover the long surgery is over. Time as measured on earth is irrelevant in the resurrection.
So, there is technically nothing wrong with a believer in Christ saying at his mother's funeral, "Mom is smiling in heaven today," even though the reality is his mom arrives in heaven the same day as he does. The general resurrection for all mankind occurs on that coming day when the voice of Christ will raise the dead (John 5:28). For those who wonder at the power of God to raise the dead after millenniums of corruption and cellular dissolution, one only has to look at the universe to see the majesty and power of the Creator to call into existence by fiat things that are. On that great day of resurrection, which is the central theme of New Testament Christianity, God's people will experience the perishable being clothed:
"...with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory" (I Corinthians 15:54 NIV).John Calvin opposed Luther's views on the death of both body and soul, and at the young age of twenty-five he published Psychopannchia, a refutation of Luther's conditional immortality. Calvin took the position that the soul is innately immortal, and most post-reformation evangelicals have followed Calvin's views since. Unlike 'justification by faith,' Luther's teaching on the conditional immortality of the soul never blossomed into evangelical orthodoxy, even though Luther's writings on this subject were comparable to his writings on justification by faith in both breadth and depth.
What if we are living in a new day of fresh discovery of the eternal truth that God alone has immortality and that the gift of God is eternal life to only those who trust Jesus? What changes? Answer: Our understanding of heaven and hell.
The Bible's use of the word "reward" for believers is always singular in the New Testament. Contrary to modern church dogma that various 'rewards' are given to Christians for the way they lived their lives on earth, the New Testament speaks of a singular reward given to all believers in union with Jesus Christ. This reward is eternal life. Jesus earned this reward for us by His perfect obedience as Man. Though He is God, He became Man for us. Eternal life is granted to only those who trust Him:
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).Notice, the wicked who die apart from Christ perish. If what these modern biblical scholars are saying is true, those who reject the only Savior given to mankind (Acts 4:12) will be raised from the dead to face the righteous condemnation of God for their sins against mankind and their Creator (Psalm 2:12), will serve penal sentences for their actions, and will then perish. Without question, the Bible teaches that hell is real and not imaginary, penal (punitive) and not corrective, and is eternal not temporal in terms of the end result of all punishments meted out by God.
The Bible's hell is the prison created by God where various sentences of divine punishment are served by those raised to judgment in order to die a second time as a consequence of their sins. However, it is in hell that God recognizes good things done in this life by giving a lighter sentence of punishment (Matthew 10:15). Degrees of punishment in hell is not mercy; it is justice. Righteous judges on earth never give the same sentence for different crimes. The punishment must always match the crime to be considered true justice.
So it is with the most righteous Judge of all. A person who dies without union to Christ, but has lived a moral, ethical, and selfless life as measured by the natural law in the heart of every man (see Romans 1:20), will receive a far less severe punishment from God than the rapists, serial murderers, and child abusers who also die without Christ. Therefore, the eternal part of hell is the end result of punishment (i.e. 'the second death') and not the process of punishing. The teaching of Jesus shows that the eternality of hell is not the torment, but the final punishment of destruction:
"Do not 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).My friend, Kyle Williams, told me he was in a bookstore and saw a book cover with a picture of a man holding a beer in his hand with the title being I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. Christ isn't sitting behind that kind of bar when He judges man. It will be a solemn experience for those without a Savior, and the severity and intensity of divine punishment will be in direct proportion to the wickedness of the thoughts, actions, character, and life choices of the one judged by Christ (see Romans 2). The good news of the gospel is that all those in Christ escape this day of wrath (see Romans 8:1).
As a branch eventually dies after being separated from the tree, so too, every unredeemed sinner raised to life to face judgment before the Creator will be "cast out" from God's presence to eventually die again (Matthew 13:41-43). The process of dying the second death while in hell will vary in degree, intensity and time -- according to the sins and crimes committed on earth; but the final end will be the second death for all the wicked (Revelation 20:14). Let me make it simple and clear. According to the Bible, the wicked will be destroyed (Psalm 37:38).
Those evangelicals who have believed in the eternal torment of the wicked may find it rather shocking to consider that the 'gift of God," which is called eternal life in Scripture (John 3:16), is only given to believers in Jesus and never to those who die apart from Christ. Jesus says those without Christ will perish (see again John 3:16). There are numerous other biblical passages where the end of wicked is made just as clear.
A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look for them, they will not be found.
But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity.
(Psalm 37: 10-11)
though you look for them, they will not be found.
But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity.
(Psalm 37: 10-11)
The wicked are like chaff that blows away.
The wicked will be punished with everlasting destruction
and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.
For those Christians who object by saying, "But Jesus said in the parable of the sheep and the goats that These (the goats) will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into life eternal' (Matthew 25:46). Doesn't eternal punishment mean eternal punishment?"
Great question. Yes it does. But the correct answer to your question revolves around what the adjective 'eternal' modifies. Let me explain.
We read in the Bible of "eternal salvation" (Hebrews 5:9), "eternal redemption" (Hebrews 9:12), "eternal judgment" (Hebrews 6:2), "eternal punishment" (Matthew 25:46), and "eternal destruction" (II Thessalonians 1:9). These activities of God represent both His love and grace as well as His righteousness and justice. These five works of God will not be fully known or experienced by us until the age to come.
But there is something very interesting about these eternal activities of God.
(1). Eternal salvation is the result of saving
(2). Eternal redemption is the result of redeeming.
(3). Eternal judgment is the result of judging.
(4). Eternal punishment is the result of punishing.
(5). Eternal destruction is the result of destroying.
Why is it we Christians correctly point out that the Bible teaches the process of God saving us is not eternal, but the results of salvation are eternal; while at the same time we seem to contradict Scripture and logic itself by proclaiming the process of punishing is eternal, and refuse to see the that it is the end result of punishment (death) which is eternal?
In short, that which is eternal is always the result of the action of God not the action itself.
Eternal salvation results from saving that stops. Eternal redemption results from redeeming that stops. So too, eternal punishment results from punishing that stops. Eternal destruction results from destroying that stops.
The reward of every believer in Jesus Christ is eternal life, a reward won by the perfect obedience of Christ on behalf of His people. The notion that there will be different degrees of enjoyment in heaven based upon one's meritorious works on earth is both contrary to the teaching of Scripture and the principles of grace.
But on the other hand...
The degrees of punishment, retribution and vengeance in hell vary according to the actions of a person in this life. The moral, good and selfless person who rejects Christ will find the process of punishing and the progress toward his ultimate destruction (the second death) less painful, more tolerable, and ultimately unequal to that of a rapist, serial murderer, and other vile criminals. All the wicked will end up like ‘chaff blown away’ (Psalm 1:4), but the process of dying the second death will vary according to ‘the deeds done in the body.”
The Bible declares that this process of dying the second death in the prison of hell will include distress (Romans 2:9), fury (Romans 2:8), tribulation (Romans 2:9) and resentment (Luke 13:28). God’s wrath will be judicially measured and meted out according to the individual's crimes committed on earth (Romans 2:8; I Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9), but in the end, the Lord will remove the wicked."
"The face of the LORD is set against those who do what
is evil, to erase all memory of them" (Psalm 34:16).
After proofreading this article for me, my wife said, "Wade, it gives me a great deal of comfort knowing that Adolph Hitler, Osama bin Laden, and others who lived such wicked lives on earth will be destroyed by God and not live for eternity." I told her it also could bring great comfort to those who see the inherent beauty of justice, for God will not punish all the wicked the same. Of course, the ultimate plumb-line for truth is not our comfort. Truth will set people free. The truth of Scripture regarding death, resurrection, judgment and eternal life will free people to see the depth and beauty of both God's love and His justice.
Truth is eternal. It is yet to be seen if the writings of these evangelical, Bible-believing, Christ-exalting New Testament scholars is seminal theological writing. Ultimately, the answer to that question will be found in people who are unafraid to question the traditions of men (or the church) and accept sola Scriptura.
I am teaching a series of lessons next spring entitled Eternal Reward and Punishments: Where the Love and Justice of God Meet. It will be my intent to show that the Bible teaches various degrees of eternal punishments (hell) for sinners apart from Christ, and an eternal inheritance or reward (singular) for those who are in Christ. Heaven is equal ground; hell is unequal ground. Though this is opposite of what most evangelicals teach today, just as it was in Luther's day, church dogma may not accurately reflect biblical truth.
More to come....