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What About the Heathen?

August 26th, 2015

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment

Hebrews 9:27

One of the most common complaints or questions about the final judgement of God is whether it is fair, or not. Someone who never heard the gospel goes to hell. Someone who does hear the gospel and believes goes to heaven. It seems unfair.

Granted, this poor caricature of the gospel makes many of us ask questions, but it is just that - a caricature, a poor cartoonish representation of salvation. For anyone to be saved is a miracle of God, an awesome work of sacrifice, conviction, and conversion. We are saved by repenting from our sins and trusting in Christ. So God is intensely involved in the entire process. Many who hear do not believe, and if they think that any limp, flippant, careless expression of positive feelings toward the gospel warrants salvation, they have misunderstood the matter entirely. Those who are saved are drawn by God (John 6:44), convicted by the Spirit (John 16:8-11), converted by and born again through the Holy Spirit (John 3:6), they have repented of their sins (Acts 11:18), they have declared “Jesus is Lord” by the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3), they have placed their faith in Jesus Christ. All of this is by the hand of God, and whatever role we may have - repenting and believing - is utterly impossible without the work of the Spirit.

But let’s examine this complaint.

Several things come to mind. First, God’s fairness is clearly established in Scripture. Abraham asked, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25) Though it is a question, it is a rhetorical question, that affirms the righteousness of God. In fact, God judges anyone because He is righteous. The righteousness of God is the first concept necessary to begin to understand the judgment of humanity. Numerous Scriptures proclaim His righteousness - too many to print here. But, for example, “Righteous are You, O LORD, and upright are Your judgments” (Psalm 119:137).

Second, because He is righteous, His judgment is righteous. The Bible says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). In chapters 2 and 3 of Romans Paul stressed the point that the Jews and the Gentiles were alike sinful. “What then? Are we better than they?” (that is, are we Jews better than those Gentiles?) “Not at all. for we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks [Gentiles] that they are all under sin” (Rom. 3:9)

Third, though I get ahead of the argument with placing this point here, Jesus said that it will be “more tolerable” for some in the day of judgment than others (Matthew 11:22-23). This means that there will be degrees of suffering and judgment in hell. Dante, in his allegorical fiction “Inferno,” described heaven and hell in varying degrees. This is fiction, of course, but it is an attempt to make sense of this concept. God’s judgment is utterly and completely fair.

Fourth,  Those who lived in the earliest days of human life on earth were given a simple means to express their faith in the atonement - the worship through the blood sacrifice (see Genesis 4:3-4; 8:20). They lived in the days of human conscience, but God had instilled within them the awareness that a penalty had to be paid for sin. Most of humanity has continued to live under this condition until the coming of the gospel, God using whatever means were at His disposal to bring people to an awareness of sin and salvation. Paul said on Mars Hill in Athens as he preached about the idolatry of that city and their altar to the Unknown God, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness …” (Acts 17:30-31)

As I understand this, God judges people based on the information they had at their disposal. This does not mean that there are two or more ways of salvation. Only the blood of Christ has paid for the sins of humanity, only has made the sacrifice possible that we might be forgiven. (See Hebrews 9-10, especially 9:28 and 10:12). But the blood of Christ was applied retroactively to those who approached God in contrition of sin and through the means available to them in their age.

Fifth, the preaching of the gospel is still good news to all. Though the Bible presents the possibility of someone, like Abraham, responding to the call of God before they could hear the gospel of Christ, it seems to be extremely rare. I have never met such a person. for everyone that I know the gospel is good news to them, showing how they can be saved.

Sixth, as stated above, the preaching of the gospel is done by the leadership of God’s Spirit.  It is not merely hearing the gospel, it is also the drawing of God, the conviction of the Spirit, and the repentance and faith of the hearer.

So in conclusion: the only thing that any of us can do is to repent and believe in Christ. We can utterly trust the fairness and righteousness of God in these matters. He is righteous and we are unrighteous. Those who have had every break in the book will be judged by God like that. Those who have had multiple experiences of hardship and injustice and cruelty done to them by humanity will be judged accordingly. God is utterly fair and just.

All of God’s work is fulfilled through Christ and through Him alone. No one who truly believes in God will reject Christ. “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23).

apologetics , ,

On Homosexuality and Marriage

June 27th, 2013

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Romans 1:18-32

This week the Supreme Court of the United States of America in a 5-4 split decision stated a new legal position in America. In striking down the “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA), on the argument that it unfairly discriminated against homosexual couples, the court took a major step in the move to legalize and legitimize homosexual marriages. As the ramifications of their decision are explained in the next few days and weeks and even years, we will understand more what this means legally for America.

But spiritually and morally there is little debate about the significance: America has joined the ranks of the most liberal elements of world societies in the attitudes of its people - including populace, politicians, and judges. This is a move consistent with what has gone before, a move away from the biblical moral code and a move toward elevating the individual human being over God.

This is a departure from the traditional long held belief, that the bedrock of any society is the family, defined as man and wife and their children. It is also, I believe, a failure of the conservative evangelical community who, for whatever reasons, failed to connect with the majority of Americans on the importance of this issue. Content to take a hard stance, that set up straw men and women and ridiculed them, rather than to engage with compassion and concern the issues of homosexuality, our church leaders, both Catholic and Evangelical, failed. The ancient approach to homosexuality for its opponents has normally been to mock and threaten and shame, making it a stigma, probably out of some fear on the leaders’ part of its appeal to them. This bullying technique to discourage the practice has backfired, and made the public sympathetic to the plight of those with a homosexual orientation.

Or, another approach, is to completely give into the practice and consider it anywhere from okay to a matter of personal choice or to even a preferable orientation and practice. And this seems to be where we are headed.

But the concern I have as a Christian relates not only to America but to all of the West, that we have now enshrined above all other interests and values the right of the individual to pursue whatever he or she desires to pursue. The words of Thomas Jefferson, “pursuit of happiness,” seem to be the only moral consideration that anyone has any longer. Now the credo is “I have the right to do whatever I want to do regardless of how it might affect anyone or everyone else.” There is also the very strong hint of the state using its role to control, not to influence, but to control moral matters.

Within some limits we would all agree on the freedom of some personal choices, but to entirely dismiss the individual’s obligation to society as a whole, to exalt individual liberty over all other values is an absolute moral degradation of the highest degree. Within some limits, we would also agree with the government’s role to lead, but in this situation, as Justice Scalia in the minority and opposing position described, this is tantamount to declaring heterosexuals “enemies of the human race.” Now any moral and religious conviction, even those that our nation was founded upon and whose values serve as our heritage, if they stand in the way of the individual to do whatever he wants to do, if they call to a higher moral code that the “I-want-what-I-want-right-now” motivation of a newborn baby, is seen as cruel and mean-spirited.

But any moral code, any religious conviction that does not raise us up to consider the will of God and the benefit to others is an empty profession. In my generation we have taken what was assumed to be the bedrock of all societies - marriage and family - and now made it superfluous, and almost declared it as evil. Perhaps in a round about way, this type of thinking is simply just payment on the past sins of slavery and Amerindian genocide, and who knows what inherited common guilt was brought over centuries ago from the Continent, that gross immorality has so imbedded itself in our natures and cultures that we are simply reaping the results of our plantings. Certainly this is true to some degree, as the text above from Romans indicates. At least this is due to the long legacy of high divorce and the so-called Sexual Revolution that has poisoned so many of our values.

If we dismissed God from the picture entirely and had a discussion on the basis of Systems Theory alone, we would have to come to the point that it is dangerous to change so much in one generation, without considering what effects this will have on our society. One change affects other elements and we are going down a road that we are not sure where it leads. Even the most base atheist could or should be able to understand that. But they don’t, which leads me to the same conclusion as the Apostle Paul, that in some way or another all rebellion against moral standards is rebellion against God. There is a deep resentment against traditional morality and a significant line has been crossed legally in this instance.

We already condone the killing of the unborn, and now we re-constituted what marriage is. What is next? What is the next step? We removed sexual intimacy from the marriage relationship, monogamous heterosexual parents from the family, so what is next? These things appear superfluous to many, that sex is like drinking a glass of water, but I believe it is more than that. Sexual intimacy between man and woman is not just some thrill that God gave to the human race, rather it is a gift to the marriage relationship that builds intimacy, love, affection, sensitivity, and trust between husband and wife, that in turn blesses the family and the children of the family. What will we lose, what have we already lost as a society, by separating sex from marriage?

There will be a result. Look into the statistics of crime and the backgrounds of criminals. You will see their pasts awash with divorced parents, sexual addictions, pornography, and cruelty. It is no accident that these things are connected to one another, as the passage above indicates. When people stubbornly insist on going their own way, God allows them to do so - He has created us with a limited freedom of will and desires us to willfully come to Him. When we stubbornly refuse, he “gives us over” to our lusts so that we might learn the results of our rebellion and the depth of His wisdom. So America is now the prodigal making its way to the pig pen. The party will end one day when compassion runs out, and we will find our society groveling in the mud pits of immorality, wistfully hoping for a way out. We can relate to the lament of the Prophet Isaiah who wrote of the moral conditions of his own day: “We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows … justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter” (Isaiah 59:9-14).

Is there hope? As long as there is someone willing to share the love of God, there is hope. As long as there are people who are seeking to win others to Christ and people who are taking the high ground of moral behavior, there is hope. As long as the Word of God is allowed to be proclaimed, as long as Christians are committed to loving and caring for others, there is hope. So long as the government does not take our children away from us and educate them against the will of the parents there is hope. The striking down of the DOMA is just a legal matter and live is lived, at least at present, in families and homes, not in the courts. Homosexuals do not reproduce and if we can build strong, good families, strengthen marriages, we will find the tide turning.

And we should pray, for this battle must be fought first and foremost by God Himself. In the Isaiah 59 passage we learn that God was appalled at that time that there was no one who intervened for the moral condition of society, no one who prayed for His will to be done. So, we should make prayer an integral part to this our response to this issue, and intervene for the problems of our societies. We will not live long enough to see all problems eradicated in society, so it must be God who leads, and He is doing so. We should follow Him in love, in compassion, and in the solutions He gives in His Word to this world’s problems. We must show compassion to all people, for it is compassion that is most appealing. They tactics of hate and anger do not work for they are not of God. Love is of God. Taking clear moral stances is of God. As we follow our convictions that arise from God’s Word, we will find that He will give us the grace to make a difference here for His name and for His sake.

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