Archive for November, 2017

Whatever we’re thankful for is paid for by the blood of Christ

November 17, 2017

I wrote the following for my church’s weekly electronic newsletter. This insight comes from John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009), 51-54.

Paul writes the following, in Romans 2:4-5:

[D]o you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

One of the things that we’ll be celebrating on Thanksgiving next week is what Paul calls the “riches of [God’s] kindness.” But consider Paul’s words above: We are living right now in a season of mercy, the purpose of which is to lead us to repentance.

Paul’s point is something like this: God gives us one amazing gift after another–our lives, our families, our friends, our health, our possessions. And God does so in spite of the fact that we’re sinners who, according to God’s Word, deserve only death, judgment, and hell. When we consider how kind and merciful God is to us, our hearts should melt. As a result, we should repent and be saved.

But notice what happens if we don’t repent: We are “presuming on” God’s riches and “storing up wrath” for ourselves on Judgment Day.

The only thing that saves us from this wrath is the blood of God’s Son Jesus.

Therefore, those of us who are Christians ought to remind ourselves that every gift that God gives us is paid for by the precious blood of Jesus Christ on the cross.

The gift of my wife or husband is paid for by the blood of Jesus. The gift of my children is paid for by the blood of Jesus. The gift of this warm, safe home is paid for by the blood of Jesus. The gift of this delicious meal is paid for by the blood of Jesus. The gifts of love, laughter, and friendship are paid for by the blood of Jesus.

Remind yourself of this truth next Thursday. Let it melt your heart. And be thankful!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sermon 11-12-17: “Being Thankful in a World of Evil”

November 15, 2017

Last week, in the wake of the Sutherland Springs shooting, more than a few tweets called into question the effectiveness of prayer. What good is prayer when these kinds of massacres become routine? After all, the victims were already praying when they were shot. What good is faith if God doesn’t seem to intervene? This sermon is, I hope, a Christian response to these kinds of questions.

Sermon Text: Philippians 2:1-11

My sermons are now being podcast! My podcast is available in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Last Sunday, around the time that we were gathered here at 11:00 for worship, some of our brothers and sisters in Christ were gathered at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, when a gunman, armed with a Ruger military style rifle, walked into the church and fired his weapon. Within minutes, 26 of our brothers and sisters, ranging in age from 5 to 72, including eight children, were dead. Another child, by the way, named Carlin Brite Holcombe, hadn’t yet been born when he and his mother, Crystal Holcombe, were killed.

They were not so different from us… Small town, like Hampton. In church worshiping, singing hymns. Praying. The pastor of the church and some of his family happened to be out of town that day. A guest preacher was filling in. This guest preacher and his family died. But one of the poignant details that stood out to me was this: the pastor’s 14-year-old daughter—who didn’t go out of town with her father—chose to go to church. Because, after all, that’s what Christians do on Sundays; that’s what her mother and father raised her to do; that’s what she wanted to do; because she loved Jesus, and people who love Jesus go to worship on Sunday. So that’s where she was when she was killed.

A day or two after the shooting, we Americans were arguing, as we always do in the wake of these tragedies, about gun control on the one hand and second amendment rights on the other—and I promise I have no interest in discussing these questions. But it was in this political context that Michael McKean, a talented actor and comedian whom I admire, tweeted a controversial message. He was apparently disappointed that so many politicians, including President Trump, urged Americans to pray for the victims of Sutherland Springs—while taking no further action. So he tweeted, “They were in church. They had the prayers shot right out of them. Maybe try something else.”

They had the prayers shot right out of them. A lot of people found these words insensitive, to say the least. He later retracted it, saying he didn’t at all mean to attack people’s faith. Read the rest of this entry »

“If we starve, he will be our everlasting, life-giving bread”

November 14, 2017

I’ve never been tempted to believe the prosperity gospel. I suspect that if I did believe it (and to be clear: I don’t!), I would hold fast to Jesus’ promise in the Sermon on the Mount about God’s faithful provision in Matthew 6:31-33:

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Of course, the moment I write this, I’m reminded that Jesus has just said that we should not lay up for ourselves “treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (vv. 19-20).

But still… Matthew 6:31-33 is the word of our Lord Jesus. It’s true. At the same time, however, we have Jesus warning his disciples that they will face persecution and even death on account of their faithfulness to him (e.g., Matthew 5:11-12; Luke 6:22; Luke 21:16-18; John 16:33, among others). We see in the Book of Acts and throughout the apostles’ letters examples of great suffering and death among the saints. Paul himself writes, in Romans 8:35, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?”

Presumably, each of these troubles will come to Christians at least sometimes. Paul himself describes ways in which he experienced nearly every one of them in 2 Corinthians 12:16-33.

So how do we reconcile Jesus’ promises in Matthew 6 about the Father always providing for us with the expectation that disciples will experience trouble—even to the point of hunger, nakedness, and death?

John Piper explains this with eloquence in his book Don’t Waste Your Life.

What, then, does Jesus mean, “All these things—all your food and clothing—will be added to you when you seek the kingdom of God first”? He means the same thing he meant when he said, “Some of you they will put to death… But not a hair of your head will perish” (Luke 16:16-18). He meant that you will have everything you need to do his will and be eternally and supremely happy in him.

How much food and clothing are necessary? Necessary for what? we must ask. Necessary to be comfortable? No, Jesus did not promise comfort. Necessary to avoid shame? No, Jesus called us to bear shame for his name with joy. Necessary to stay alive? No, he did not promise to spare us death—of any kind. Persecution and plague consume the saints. Christians die on the scaffold, and Christians die of disease. That’s why Paul wrote, “We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23).

What Jesus meant was that our Father in heaven would never let us be tested beyond what we are able (1 Corinthians 10:13). If there is one scrap of bread that you need, as God’s child, in order to keep your faith in the dungeon of starvation, you will have it. God does not promise enough food for comfort or life—he promises enough so that you can trust him and do his will.

When Paul promised, “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus,” he had just said, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13, 19).

“All things” means “I can suffer hunger through him who strengthens me. I can be destitute of food and clothing through him who strengthens me.” That is what Jesus promises. He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). If we starve, he will be our everlasting, life-giving bread. If we are shamed with nakedness, he will be our perfect, all-righteous apparel. If we are tortured and made to scream in our dying pain, he will keep us from cursing his name and will restore our beaten body to everlasting beauty.[1]

Do you see the radical God-centeredness of this perspective? I never encountered this in any seminary class or United Methodist-oriented Bible study. Why not? What’s wrong with us? Don’t we believe this is true?

Jesus’ great promise of the Father’s provision in Matthew 6:31-33 isn’t mostly about us; it’s about us in relation to our Father: our Father will give us whatever we need in order to continue to glorify him in whatever circumstance in which he places us. That’s all Jesus promises—yet that’s everything we need.

1. John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009), 94-5.

Sermon 11-05-17: “To Live Is Christ”

November 10, 2017

 

Just in time for Thanksgiving, today begins a 4-part sermon series on Paul’s letter to the Philippians—a letter bursting with joy and gratitude. Paul’s tone should surprise us: After all, he’s writing this letter from prison, facing trial and execution for his faith. Moreover, his missionary work—his vocation to reach the Gentiles with the gospel—appears to be seriously hampered. How is Paul able to be so happy?

Sermon Text: Philippians 1:12-26

My sermons are now being podcast! My podcast is available in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

It’s November, which means—as far as I’m concerned—it’s almost Christmas. I love this time of year. This year, during the Thanksgiving/Advent/Christmas season I’m planning on re-watching one of the greatest movies ever made: I’m referring, of course, to It’s a Wonderful Life. Most of you have seen this holiday classic. It is so good; it’s so deep; it’s so rich.

You remember the basics of the story: George Bailey is an ambitious young man who has dreams of leaving Bedford Falls, the small town he grew up in; seeing the world; going to college; being a world-renown architect or engineer; building things. Accomplishing things. Being successful; being rich. Living the American dream. But through a series of unfortunate events and circumstances beyond his control, he ends up stuck in Bedford Falls, running his late father’s Building and Loan, watching his friends and even his little brother achieve the kind of success that he himself always wanted to achieve—as if being married to Donna Reed wasn’t enough for him! What was his problem?

Regardless, toward the end of the movie, his incompetent uncle loses $8,000 of the Building and Loan’s money, and the police suspect that George stole it, and pretty soon he’s going to be arrested. His life is in ruins, or so he thinks. So he contemplates suicide until an angel intervenes to save his life. The angel shows George one example after another of how much better his fellow townspeople’s lives are as a result of George’s life. George sees that every unlucky break, every setback, every disappointment, every perceived failure in his life played a role in blessing the lives of others. It was almost like someone was behind the scenes of George’s life, pulling strings, coordinating events, making things work out in a particular way. And although the movie doesn’t come right out and say it, we Christians can watch this movie and know that Someone was doing these things. While things weren’t going according to George’s plans, they were going  exactly according to Someone else’s plan. This is how God works in our world, for those of us who believe in his Son Jesus.

More than anything, this is what today’s scripture is all about.

I’ve called this new, four-part sermon series on Paul’s letter to the Philippians, “Reasons to Be Thankful.” Philippians is all about gratitude and joy. Why am I offering this series? Because I want to prepare us for Thanksgiving, for one thing. I also want to prepare us for making a financial commitment on Stewardship Sunday, which Luther will tell you more about next week. More than anything, I want you and me to be as happy in the Lord as Paul himself is. And you may say, “I’m not Paul!” And that’s right. You’re not. His life was much more difficult, filled with much more suffering, much more pain, much more loss, than our lives are! And yet his life, as is clear from this letter, is characterized by great joy. That’s what I want in my life. Don’t you? Read the rest of this entry »

My recent adventure in Christian apologetics

November 9, 2017

In response to Tuesday’s blog post, which I shared on Facebook, I had an interesting exchange with Cory Markum, an atheist blogger and podcaster whom I first heard on Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable? radio show. I blogged about that episode last year, and he “friended” me on Facebook.

He began with the following reply:

That’s great, but if [God] exists, he should have stopped the shooting instead of sitting idly by. If anyone else knew that something like that was going to happen and had the capacity to stop it, but didn’t, then we would all conclude that they are culpable for failing to act. I see no good reason to give God a pass, so the fact that God didn’t do anything to stop it, in my eyes, constitutes strong evidence that such a being doesn’t exist.

To which I wrote the following:

I see no reason to give God a pass, either, Cory. But I trust that God knows better than we do the myriad consequences of his intervening to stop what one of his free creatures chooses to do. Obviously, if God were in the business of intervening every time one of his creatures chooses to do something harmful, we would no longer be free, nor would we live in a universe governed by predictable laws. And God knows it wouldn’t be good for us to never suffer consequences of free choices.

But if you read my post, you know that we Christians believe in heaven. This is not pie in the sky to us; this is an essential part of how God balances the scales of justice and redeems suffering. Whatever happens in this world is a “light momentary affliction,” as the apostle says, in comparison to eternity. I know you don’t believe that, but I wish you did.

He replied:

I wish I did too, man. I’m extremely envious of those who are able to.

I’m curious…do you believe that we (or more accurately, you) will have freedom of this sort in heaven? If so, and if heaven is a place free of evil, doesn’t this show that it is possible for there to be free creatures and yet, no evil? And if such a state of affairs is possible, doesn’t it follow that a perfectly good being would opt for that world, rather than the one we have?

Notice here that Markum raises precisely the objection that Christian apologist Clay Jones discusses in his recent book Why Does God Allow Evil?: If heaven is a world in which free will and sinless perfection coexist, why couldn’t God have created this world to begin with—and spare us the pain and suffering? Markum continued: Read the rest of this entry »

A defense of prayer in the wake of the Sutherland Springs massacre

November 7, 2017

I have exactly zero interest in wading into the politics of gun control and Second Amendment rights in America. This blog is not about politics. I recognize, however, that politics is at least the subtext of complaints on social media about the ineffectiveness of prayer in the wake of last Sunday’s massacre of 28 worshipers at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas. Many politicians, including President Trump, urged Americans to pray for victims and their families.

In response, many critics said, in so many words, “These people were already praying! They were in church, after all. Fat lot of good it did them! We don’t need more prayer. We need action“–and, of course, the nature of this action is precisely what divides people on the left and right (which, again, I’m not talking about in this post or the comments section).

Actor and comedian Michael McKean, in one typical example, tweeted the following (which he has since been deleted):

His words, “They had the prayers shot right out of them,” were perceived by many as insensitive. He later clarified:

By “hypocrisy,” he likely means politicians who fail to do anything other than pray when it comes to dealing with mass shootings in America.

Regardless, one message from tweets such as this is, “Prayer doesn’t work. God’s not going to do anything. Let’s do something constructive instead.” Even an otherwise well-written, and heartbreaking, article in the New York Times on victims of the shooting included this headline:

Do you hear the message? “Even for people who were in church praying last Sunday, prayer doesn’t work.” Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 10-29-17: “Christ Alone, Part 2”

November 2, 2017

This is the second of two sermons on this passage from Hebrews 2, and the final sermon in my “Reformation 500” series. Among other things the author of Hebrews says that on the cross, Jesus “destroye[d] the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” How is this true, especially since Satan remains alive and active in our world? How did Christ win a victory for us?

Sermon Text: Hebrews 2:5-18

My sermons are now being podcast! My podcast is available in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Think back with me to the Exodus, when God delivered his people Israel out of bondage in Egypt. If you’ll recall, he sent a series of ten plagues as punishment against Egypt, until finally the Pharaoh relented and let Israel go free. And then the Pharaoh changed his mind and sent his armies after the Israelites, before being drowned in the Red Sea. But the climactic and most destructive plague—you may remember—was the Passover. Remember? The Lord told the Israelites in Exodus 12 to take the blood of a lamb, without blemish, and sprinkle the blood on their doorposts. An angel would then pass through the land and kill the firstborn son of every household that didn’t have blood on the doorposts—which would mean many, many Egyptians would die. And of course, this final plague was so effective that the Pharaoh let them go… at least at first.

When we read or hear about this event, we think of God’s anger toward and judgment against Egypt. Right? “The Egyptians are getting what they deserve for their sins! God is punishing them!” But not so fast… If the Passover were all about God’s anger toward and judgment on Egypt—if it were all about punishing Egypt for their sins—why would God bother having the Israelites sprinkle this blood? Couldn’t he just have sent the angel through the land and killed all the firstborn Egyptian sons? Why did the Israelites have to do anything? They were the good guys, right? They were the heroes! They were the innocent victims!

Right?

Wrong… It’s clear that if the Israelites hadn’t obeyed God and sprinkled the blood on the doorposts, they would have fallen under the same judgment as Egypt. Their firstborn children would have died as well. To be sure, God was incredibly merciful and gracious to give Israel the opportunity to be spared this judgment. But in sparing them God was not giving them what they deserved. Like the Egyptians, they too deserved death because of their sins. And their lives were only spared by the blood of the lamb. Their deliverance from slavery and death was made possible through an act of God’s grace by the blood of the lamb.

And it should be clear to us Christians why God did it this way: to point to that future sacrifice, when God himself, in the person of his Son Jesus, would shed his own blood to spare us from God’s judgment. The prophet Isaiah, in Isaiah 53, looks forward to Jesus’ sacrifice when he says that Christ was “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter.”[1] John the Baptist looks forward to Jesus’ sacrifice when he sees Jesus coming in John chapter 1 and says to his own disciples, “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus looks forward to this sacrifice when he has the Last Supper with his disciples—which was a Passover meal—and he says, “This is my body and this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”[2] Jesus is telling the disciples that he will be the Passover lamb.

The Bible’s message is crystal clear: If God is going to forgive us, justify us, save us, deliver us, liberate us, give us eternal life, give us abundant life—however you want to phrase it—he is first going to have to deal with our sins by offering the bloody sacrifice of the lamb of God, Jesus Christ. On the cross, Christ absorbed God’s wrath—God’s justifiable anger—toward sin.

I talked about God’s wrath two weeks ago in my sermon two weeks ago, but I realize that some of us don’t even want to consider the idea that God has wrath toward humanity because of our sins. But what’s the alternative? Some will say, “God is love. So why would he be angry at us because of our sin?” But of course, he wouldn’t be loving if he weren’t angry. N.T. Wright makes this point in the following way:

The biblical doctrine of God’s wrath is rooted in the doctrine of God as the good, wise and loving creator, who hates—yes, hates, and hates implacably—anything that spoils, defaces, distorts or damages his beautiful creation, and in particular anything that does that to his image-bearing creatures. If God does not hate racial prejudice, he is neither good nor loving. If God is not wrathful at child abuse, he is neither good nor loving. If God is not utterly determined to root out from his creation… the arrogance that allows people to exploit, bomb, bully and enslave one another, he is neither loving, nor good, nor wise.[3]

But… if God is going to “root out” all this evil, well… he’s going to have root us out as well! What does the psalmist say? “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?”[4] And the answer? None of us!

But please, please, please don’t miss this: While it’s absolutely true that every one of us who’ve ever lived—with one exception—deserve God’s judgment and God’s wrath because we’re sinners, in the same breath we also say that God so loved the world—including us—that he planned before the foundation of the world to save us from God’s judgment and God’s wrath. We know just how loving God is by his willingness to come to us, in the flesh, and absorb his Father’s wrath, suffer the penalty for our sin, and suffer hell on the cross! For us! As the Bible says, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”[5]

Now I want to look at two things that the author of Hebrews says Christ accomplished for us on the cross: First, verses 14 and 15, through his death he destroyed “the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver[ed] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” And in verse 17, he became our “faithful high priest” who made “propitiation for the sins of the people.” I talked about “propitiation” in Part 1 of this sermon: this is what Christ did to turn away God’s wrath from us—sprinkling the blood of the lamb on the doorposts during Passover, for example, was propitiation.

But the author of Hebrews wants us to know that these two events—the defeat of Satan and the turning away of God’s wrath—are related. How?

For one thing, as we look around the world and scan the news headlines, it seems clear that Satan is alive and active in the world. And, as I’ve preached before, the Bible is clear that the devil has real power in the world. God’s Word says that in the beginning, Satan was an angel, created by God with free will, who chose to use his freedom to rebel against God—along with other angels. And like us, Satan can use this freedom to work great harm in the world. He has a limited power, to be sure—Satan can’t do anything in the world that God doesn’t permit him to do. And whatever Satan does, God can transform it into something good. But he does have real power to affect our world and our lives within it.

I was listening to an interview recently with Alvin Plantinga. He’s a world-renown philosopher who’s argued persuasively for God’s existence and the truth of Christianity. Plantinga has taught at Notre Dame and Calvin College. He also happens to be an evangelical Christian. And just this year, he won the Templeton Prize, which is awarded to the person who’s made the greatest contribution in the area of religion and spirituality—Mother Teresa, for example, was a previous winner of the Templeton Prize. The award is presented by Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace. And the cash award is over $1.5 million. It’s a big deal!

But I was listening recently to an interview with Dr. Plantinga. And he was talking about the “problem of evil,” and how a good and loving God could allow it. And he talked about how important it was for God to give us free will, which helps explain human evil. But then the interviewer asked about so-called “natural evil”—hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, and the like. Or what about diseases like cancer. Why would a good and loving God allow those things? And Dr. Plantinga said, “I know this isn’t a popular answer today, but I believe those kinds of events happen in part through the power and influence of Satan.”[6]

That blew me away! But then I looked back at Job chapters 1 and 2: Satan literally has the power to affect the weather and cause all kinds of disease and pestilence. It’s right there in the Bible!

But as bad as these things are, they’re not nearly the most harmful weapon in Satan’s arsenal. What does Jesus say? “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”[7] No disease, no pestilence, no natural disaster has the power to cause any of us ultimate harm: Because none of these things—even if they kill us—has the power to send us to hell. Only one thing can do that: our sin. And Satan is at work in the world right now doing everything he can to keep us enslaved to sin; keep us from repenting of sin; keep us from trusting in Christ and being saved. Or, if we’ve possessed saving faith in the past, he’s tempting us right now to abandon our faith.

Satan’s power to tempt us is the most destructive weapon in his arsenal. And he’s still wielding that weapon. So how is that Christ’s death has destroyed “the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,” as verse 14 says?

Because of what the author of Hebrews says in verse 17: Christ became our “merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” Through Christ’s sacrifice—offered once for all time—all of our sins, past, present, and future, have been taken away.

At Bible study last Wednesday, we were talking about the pervasiveness of sin in our lives—even after we’ve become Christians. We talked about the importance of repenting of our sins as we become aware of them. As the apostle John says, “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”[8] And someone asked, “What if, despite our best efforts to confess our sins and repent, we die with unconfessed sin? Will we still be forgiven? Will we still be saved?”

What do you think? How would you answer that question?

Before we answer that question, consider this: we can’t begin to know all the sins we’ve committed in this life—even the sins we’ve committed this morning! Even in church! We’re not just talking about the things we do. We sin with every judgmental thought; we sin with every lustful thought; we sin with every prideful thought. We sin when we lose our temper. We sin when we lose our patience. We sin every time we fail to trust in the Lord with all our heart and lean not on our own understanding. We sin when our love for God and neighbor isn’t one-hundred percent pure! How often do we manage to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and our neighbor as ourself? Not often.

So… will we die with unconfessed sin? Of course we will. Will we still be forgiven?

The answer is a resounding yes! We will be forgiven, so long as we continue to trust in Christ!

How do I know? Because Christ our high priest has made propitiation for the sins of his people—all of our sins—past, present, and future! The Old Testament has a sacrificial system in which priests offered the blood of bulls and goats, but the author of Hebrews tells us that these sacrifices were just a “shadow of the good things to come… For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”[9] But Christ’s sacrifice was different: as the author says in chapter 10, verse 10, “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”[10]

Once for all! Did you hear that?

I’ve told you before that I was adopted. I always knew, from my earliest memory, that I was adopted. So I never thought much about it. Until around fourth grade when some of my classmates found out. And let’s just say back then schools were not a “Bully Free Zone.” As far as we knew, when you were bullied, you fought back. And so I did. I got in a fistfight. I got sent to the principal. And my parents got involved, and suddenly the fact that I was adopted became a very big deal!

And my parents wanted me to know that I was one-hundred percent a full-fledged member of their family. In fact, they said I was extra special because, after all, unlike a natural born baby, I was chosen. They “chose” me. I’ll be honest: even as a ten-year-old I didn’t quite believe I was chosen: I didn’t imagine that they rolled out a bunch of basinets in the maternity ward at the hospital and told my parents, “Take your pick.” I figured my parents would have been happy with any baby they got. But still… I got their point.

I was a one-hundred percent, full-fledged member of the family. In a sense, I was chosen. And everything that belonged to my parents and my older sister Susan, who wasn’t adopted, now belonged to me: including their name and everything else. And one thing is for sure: my adoptive parents would have sacrificed their lives for me if they had to—just as I would for my own children.

The same is true of the One who adopted us and made us part of his family. Look at verse 11 of today’s scripture: “For he who sanctifies”—that is, Jesus—“and those who are sanctified”—that is, those of us who’ve accepted Christ as our Savior and Lord—“all have one source”—or as the NIV and other translations put it, we all have the same Father. Now listen to this: “That is why he”—Jesus—“is not ashamed to call them brothers” and sisters.

Everything that belongs to our big brother Jesus now belongs to us—including his very righteousness. It’s not that we Christians don’t sin, but from God’s perspective, we are as holy as his Son Jesus.

So… what can Satan do to us now? He can accuse us. His name means “Accuser,” after all. He can say, “When you die, God’s not going to save you. Look at all these sins you’ve committed!” He can remind you, again and again, of your past sins and try to make you afraid of meeting God in Final Judgment after death. But if you’re in Christ, you’re in his family now. And your adoption papers are signed in the blood of the Lamb.

So Satan’s power over you is destroyed. Amen?

How do we not sin in heaven?

November 1, 2017

In Christian apologetics, one pressing question is theodicy: How do we reconcile God’s love and goodness with the existence of evil? One important part of the answer to this question, for most apologists, is free will: just as Adam and Eve were free to break God’s law and eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, so we are free to choose evil over good. And we do. Often.

Who could argue that the vast majority of evil in the world isn’t man-made?

But “free will” isn’t close to telling the whole story of evil in the world. For one thing, our free will is itself so corrupted by sin—into which and with which we’re born—that choosing not to sin is impossible. Left to our own devices, apart from grace, our will is in bondage. This is why, for example, we Wesleyan-Arminians speak of God’s “prevenient” grace: we need the work of the Holy Spirit to enable us to make a free choice to accept Christ as Savior and Lord. This choice, we believe, isn’t determined by God but is made possible by God. Before we can be saved, in other words, our will has to be set free.

Despite how some Calvinist opponents of Arminianism frame it, we don’t advocate for “free will” so much as freed will. There’s a world of difference between the two.

Still, I recognize that “free will” arguments would not be persuasive to any Calvinist who holds his convictions with perfect consistency. This post isn’t for them, unless they believe, as I do, that we will possess free will in heaven.

But how could we, since heaven is a place without sin? If we can’t be free on earth without sinning, how can we be free in heaven without sinning? In this world, after all, sin seems unavoidable. How will it not be in the next? If we sin in heaven, how can we remain in heaven? On the other hand, if God prevents sin in heaven by overriding our free will, why didn’t he do this on earth—and spare us all the pain and suffering?

Do you see the problem? Many skeptics do.

Clay Jones answers these questions in his book Why Does God Allow Evil? In fact, Dr. Jones argues that one important reason for evil in this world is to teach us the folly of sin. Every time we sin—and suffer its consequences—we are learning how stupid sin is. (“Stupid” is his word.) I can gladly testify that this experience is an effective teacher!

But there are many other reasons that we won’t sin. First, our bodies will be perfect, and we’ll all—equally—have everything we need. How much of our greed, lust, anger, and envy come from a sense that we don’t possess what we need—and that someone else does? Imagine perfect satisfaction and perfect contentment in Christ for all eternity. As Jones writes,

In Kingdom Come, there won’t be any forbidden fruit. Presumably we will be able to eat as much as we desire—we won’t get fat as we’ll have spiritual bodies like Jesus had—and there will be no lack so there won’t be a fight over the last chunk of chocolate cake. In Kingdom Come the lust of the eyes won’t be an issue either, because we are all inheriting the kingdom. As Jesus said in Luke 12:32, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” He’s not just letting us visit the kingdom—which would be awesome in itself—He’s giving the kingdom to us. It’s not like some of us will have beachfront property while others are stuck in a slum. Mark Twain’s advice, “Buy land, they’re not making it anymore,” will be irrelevant. All of us will be coheirs in the kingdom.[1]

We’ll also be free from the destructive influence of Satan and rebellious humans. It’s hard to underrate how important their influence is in our choosing to sin:

Consider that many, if not most, of the temptations to sin come from sinful humans acting out their sinfulness. Adultery and fornication take at least two people, after all. Also, someone has to pose for porn, someone else takes the pictures, someone else distributes them, and so on. People produce media that makes us lust after people, positions, possessions, and pleasures, and they cause us to have wrong views about that which really matters. In the kingdom, we won’t have to respond to lies or to gossip or to the seducer. They will be no more.[2]

Jones even argues that the ongoing existence of hell will be a sober reminder of the “folly of rebellion.”

There’s more: just as our experience with evil in this world teaches us not to sin, our experience in Final Judgment will do the same:

What we didn’t learn about the horror of sin in this life will be declared to everyone at the judgment. Every evil intent and rank rebellion, even those cloaked with goodness will be exposed for exactly what it is to all the redeemed and angels. They will be unmistakable because the judgment will reveal them for what they really are.

But this education isn’t limited to God’s judgment of us, but our judgment of others. As Jones explains,

In 1 Corinthians 6:2-3, we learn that Christians will judge men and angels, so it isn’t as if we won’t have to attend the judgment of other beings, whether angelic or human. We’ll not only be attending, we’ll be participating in the entire judgment. And what information will come out at the judgment? Everything. Jesus said in Matthew 12:36 that “on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” Not only will intentionally hurtful words be judged, but even careless words.[3]

Of course, from scripture such as Romans 2:16, 1 Corinthians 4:5, Hebrews 4:13, and Revelation 20:11-15, secret and hidden sins will also be disclosed and judged. Jones even estimates that the judgment of everyone who ever lived will take hundreds of thousands of years—so there’s a lot of time for education! While estimating time in this manner seems highly speculative, his point is a good one: We will have ample opportunities to learn about the folly of sin.

Finally, what Jones refers to as “epistemic distance between us and God” will be eliminated.[4] Faith will become sight. “We will know fully, even as we are fully known.”

With all of this in mind, Jones argues, the temptation to sin in heaven will seem as appealing as stabbing a pen in your eye. There is no scenario I can imagine in which I would ever be tempted to do that. Can you imagine temptation to sin being as resistible as that? We can look forward to that day!

1. Clay Jones, Why Does God Allow Evil (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2017), 147-8.

2. Ibid., 149

3. Ibid., 153.

4. Ibid., 155-6.