Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Tough Stuff

After a recent in-depth discussion with some fellow believers about some of the difficult questions in life, I grew burdened about the average churchgoer's level of understanding of basic doctrinal truths. The conversation spun off of the initial question: Where did evil come from? Did God create it? Did it start with Adam and Eve? Did it come into being when Lucifer fell?

These are all good questions, and I can't say that we reached a consensus answer. And it's a bit irrelevant, whatever the answer is, because it doesn't change Who God is, or who we are, or what we're called to do. So I'm gonna move on to my source of concern.

Here are a couple of the truths somewhat debated. I warn you; these are not happy topics. There will be no Joel Osteen sermon here. We're talking about sin: the reality of it, the weight of it, and how God views it.

1. Hell is real, and people apart from Christ are condemned to it.
2. God in His infinite justice punishes sin. God in His infinite love provided salvation from that punishment through Christ's death and resurrection on the cross.
3. God hates sin. Read any books start to finish from the Old Testament and read where God tells His people and prophets to completely wipe out whole people groups. I mean, have we forgotten the story of Noah? He just started all over. Sodom and Gomorrah? Need I go on?
4. Anyone who does not know Christ is dead in their sin and deserves hell. It's a tough one, but if the consequences for sin are not that dire, then why did Christ have to die? If you have trouble with this concept, I challenge you to ask God to show you the weight of sin. Let me warn you that this is not a pleasant answer, but it's one that will stay with you.

So yes, these concepts should light a fire under us as Christ's followers to go tell people about their need for Him and the free gift of salvation and eternal life offered through Him WITH THE UNDERSTANDING that He IS sovereign. He WILL accomplish His will. He desires to bring people to Him more than you do. And you are (or I am) not big enough to mess that up. It's ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit in a man's heart that brings a man to know Christ. We are simply the vessels that get to be a part of the process sometimes.

Please understand that these are not concepts that are usually appropriate in evangelistic settings, but as believers, we need to know what the Bible says about Who God is, what He does, and who we are in light of that. My concern is that the life-long church-goer can't say with confidence that they are certain about these things based on revelation from Scripture.



Katie said...

You know how I've gotten really interested in discipleship over the last couple of years. I think a lot of it comes back to helping "baby Christians" grow to maturity. It's something that wasn't modeled much to me growing up and now I see it as crucial. To really know your faith is to really know God. Most "Christians" I meet don't take the time to get in the word and so they don't know what's in it. Then they become easily swayed by others opinions.

The passage that comes to mind is Ephesians 4:11-14
11 He is the one who gave these gifts to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God's people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ, 13 until we come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God's Son that we will be mature and full grown in the Lord, measuring up to the full stature of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be like children, forever changing our minds about what we believe because someone has told us something different or because someone has cleverly lied to us and made the lie sound like the truth. NLT

I think it's up to us as older believers to help others become mature one person at a time.

Jeff Lash said...

I think we could go so many directions with this issue. I think the reason why believers have trouble articulating these biblical truths is due to the lack of Bible saturated preaching and teaching in the church. It should be a huge concern that people who have been in the church for years have trouble summarizing the Gospel. And many pastors think they are doing their congregations a favor by watering down the message instead of digging in. All they are doing is setting a poor example as to the study of Scripture and hindering the growth of believers.

I think part of the problem can also be traced back to the revisionist mentality that has emerged in the last few years (though every generation faces something similar). Everything needs reinterpreted, reimagined, and redesigned. It's like trying to recreate the wheel. And so, everything is up for grabs. And as Katie mentioned, people's lack of Scriptural knowledge leaves them open to many winds of doctrine.

Without the fundamentals that you mentioned, people are left wondering what exactly I am saved from. If there is no literal hell, no judgment or condemnation, then what's the point of Jesus?

This is why I appreciate my senior pastor. We open Scripture each time we are together and dig in. We have multiple formats but one things remains consistent...the proclamation and study of God's Word.

Daron said...

It's so hard. You see people from day to day, and you may wonder who they are devoted to. Sometimes it's easy to tell, but so many times it's not. And we don't take the time to find out. It's even harder with the people we do know, the people we are closest to. We should care enough about them to ask. We should care enough about them to find out. Do we want to get to Heaven and wonder, "Where are all those people I knew?" Do we want to responsible for NOT leading them to Christ?

Missionary work is not just done overseas (as I know you know). If anything, I personally think it's more difficult to reach out to people here. It's so easy to assume they've heard the whole spiel already, and we are reluctant to try. It's easier to start fresh than have to argue against other beliefs, change their opinion.

Veronica said...

I'm pretty sad I missed this discussion. It would've made for an interesting one. :)

Anonymous said...

"Anyone who does not know Christ is dead in their sin and deserves hell."

I'm ashamed and angry that a fellow Christian would make such a judgmental statement. You act like you are God himself. I know what you're thinking, God teaches that in the Bible. Hold up!! He says that only if you make it say that. How do you expect to reach people when you have such hatred (whether you call it that or not) towards non-christians. If someone attacked who you presently are ("you deserve hell"), would you want to change or would you react by defending yourself? And why is salvation always about going to heaven? If fear of hell is the driving force for someone to become a Christian, then that's pretty selfish and they will definitely be starting out on the wrong foot. Hell shouldn't be a reason to become a Christian. People should desire salvation so they can use the teachings of Christ to show love to others and themselves. No matter what you think, we don't serve a selfish God.

LEW said...

Wow, interesting points. Let me start by saying that I don't hate non-Christians. I'm sorry if it seemed as if that were my motive for that statement. Let me go further as to say that I, myself, deserve Hell. Because I have sinned. (Romans 3:23). God, in His infinite grace, love, (and not selfishness, I'm confused where you drew that one from) chose to send His Son as the ultimate sacrifice to the end result of not just eternal life (Heaven) for those that would accept Him, but the end result of Him being known through relationship with man. Christ died so that we might be reconciled to a Holy God who loves us and desires our freedom from sin...which comes only through a relationship with Christ. When I witness to people I come into contact with, it's way more about Truth vs. Deception, Light vs. Darkness for that individual soul here and now than about Heaven and Hell in the afterlife. I think you're mistaken. And you obviously don't know me that well.

If sin doesn't deserve the consequence of Hell, then why does Hell exist? And why did Christ have to die? I leave you with those questions.

Anonymous said...

Let me start by saying that my interpretation of the Bible has recenlty evolved to a more metorphorical interpretation. I question whether or not hell really exists. Does that make me not a Christian? I don't think so. I don't need the threat of hell to want to do God's will. And why did Jesus die? Because we killed him. Jesus life, not his death, demonstrated that we can have a relationship with God.

LEW said...

This couldn't prove the cause for my concern any more. This is exactly what burdens me...we as Christians don't know Scripture.

Anonymous said...

I do know scripture, I just know it differently than you. I am interepreting the Bible metaphorically and you are interpretting it literally. Both of us are interpreting it. The Bible was written by men who were inspired by God. That doesn't mean it was not influenced by their culture. I think before you can truly know what the Bible is saying, you have to go back to the era it was written and understand their culture and the genre in which they wrote back then. I don't have a problem with you interpretting the Bible literally, I just despise the closemindedness and judgement call that you made regarding hell. Only God can decide that. No one has it all figured out.

LEW said...

Most of that I agree with, especially the part about looking back at their culture to understand the intended meaning of the author. It's called the grammatical-historical method of interpreting Scripture. But I will challenge you on this. Read any of the Old Testament, and you tell me how God feels about sin. It's pretty clear. Jesus talked more about Hell in His ministry than He did about Heaven. It's real. And I don't know about the burning and fire and such, but what will constitute Hell is eternal separation from God. I'm not the one deciding that sin deserves punishment. I'm pretty sure God made that clear in the Garden of Eden. And you saying that people DON'T deserve Hell is still passing a judgment...which would still be presuming upon God's role as the Ultimate Judge. I'm just explaining what I see to be true of God's character based on the Book (the Word) He gave us so that we can know Who He is and what He's about. I would also challenge you to read anything by John Piper, or listen to a couple sermons of Paul Washer. Or read Romans. I just think you're making light of His holiness and perfect justice and focusing on His love alone. Somehow they all coexist within His being. And I'll be the FIRST to tell you there are worlds of things I don't have figured out. But the things He's shown me I'm gonna cling to.