Tag Archives: judgment

Why Do Morally Unprincipled People Prosper?

An ancient writer asked the same question:

Behold, these are the ungodly, who are always at ease; they increase in riches. Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocence. For all day long I have been plagued and chastened every morning (Psalm 73:12-14).

It’s not surprising that unprincipled people have a degree of success in this world. Jesus said, “The sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8). Because self-centered people have little concern about harming others, they have an initial advantage. Their options aren’t limited by conscience. They are single-mindedly focused on their goals. Their lack of guilt even lends them a counterfeit appearance of innocence, making them effective deceivers.

It is painful to see morally bankrupt people exploit others who tend to be gentle, honest, and meek. But their success is short-lived. The personal qualities that give them immediate success bring about their eventual destruction (Psalms 64, 73)

The inability of self-absorbed people to identify with the needs of others makes it easy for them to manipulate and deceive, but it also prevents healthy relationships and spiritual growth. Their brazen self-centeredness repels people of conscience. Unable to develop loving relationships and lacking inner moral control, they remain like emotional children, passing through life’s stages untouched by maturity and spiritual growth.

“…having eyes full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin, enticing unstable souls. They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children” (2 Peter 2:14).
“The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble” (Proverbs 4:19 NIV).
“The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast” (Proverbs 5:22 NIV).

Because of their moral blindness, the children of darkness judge others’ deeds by the same standards they judge their own (Matthew 6:22-23; Ephesians 4:17-19; 1 John 2:11). Projecting their own self-centered motivations on everyone else, they even hate those who care about them and are trying to rescue them from their moral blindness and self-destruction (Matthew 13:15; 23:37-38; John 12:40). If you tell the truth to a liar, he suspects a lie. If you offer friendship to a schemer, he questions motives. If you offer love to a betrayer, he expects a trap.

“Whoever corrects a mocker invites insult; whoever rebukes a wicked man incurs abuse. Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you” (Proverbs 9:7).
“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:6 NIV).

Worst of all, without the intervention of God, those who are committed only to themselves are unable to comprehend the message of the cross, the only message that can transform, heal, and save them.

“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:18).
“For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16 NIV).

So, while unprincipled people prosper in the short-term, in the long-term they are headed for ruin. Jesus said that those who follow Him have a cross to bear (Matthew 16:24), and His cross involves forgoing the temporary and short-lived pleasures of a self-absorbed life. Jesus gave up earthly power, wealth, and security, even to the point of directly confronting Satan’s entrenched power in the political and religious systems and authorities of His day. Although the immediate result of His self-sacrifice was persecution, torture, and death, the lasting result was His resurrection and vindication, and the fulfillment of Israel’s hope.

Those who seek eternal life will experience some short-term pain that others may avoid. But the rewards far outweigh the costs (Proverbs 3:13-24; Matthew 6:33; 11:28-30; 19:29; John 16:33; 2 Corinthians 1:5).

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Why Would a Loving God Make People Suffer in Hell?

The biblical doctrine of hell is often badly misunderstood. Certainly, if God arbitrarily and unjustly punished His creatures for eternity, He would be evil rather than good.

Luke 12:47-48 , however, shows that punishment will depend on a number of factors, including one’s knowledge of truth, one’s intent, and one’s rejection of the good news and “light” of Christ. Jesus denounced the cities in which most of His miracles were performed ( Matthew 11:20-24 ) and told them they would be judged more harshly in the day of judgment than Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom. Jesus displayed compassion toward sinners. Even when He was on the cross He said, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they do” ( Luke 23:34 ).

It is wrong to think of hell as a place where sinners will receive horribly disproportionate punishment for their sins. Certainly, there is an element of coercion. Justice and retribution are involved. But a person’s presence in hell is also the result of a long series of choices. As a person passes through life he either becomes more open to truth, love, and spiritual life or he willfully withdraws from the light that God has given him and begins a descent towards spiritual darkness and death.

Hell is necessary in a universe where genuine free will exists. C.S. Lewis has written a remarkable little book on the subject of hell called The Great Divorce. While we do not endorse all of Lewis’ imaginative descriptions of what hell might be like, the value of his work is in his explanation of the need for hell and eternal punishment. It can be purchased at most bookstores.

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How Could Normal People Deserve Eternal Punishment?

There are no “normal people.” Everyone deserves judgment. We are fallen creatures under a spiritual curse in a fallen world (Romans 8:18-23). Apart from God’s grace, hell is our natural state of being. Apart from God’s grace, this world would be a place of unmitigated horror and suffering.

In the natural world, a desperate struggle for survival defines existence. The strong survive by dominating or devouring the weak. Apart from God’s love, humans would never rise above the level of the law of fang and claw. An idealistic person might reject the natural order and try to establish a higher definition for good and evil than mere survival, but the weight of fallen reality would crush him. The meaninglessness of his efforts would be a vivid example of hell’s power.

Many people consider the ideas of heaven and hell too abstract to make a difference in their lives. They think it is hard to even conceive of hell and heaven, much less to be influenced by the fear of future punishment or desire for future reward. But before they dismiss the reality of heaven and hell, they should think a little more carefully. Heaven and hell are confirmed by daily experience.

Human experience affirms that virtue, honesty, and discipline are usually rewarded, while laziness, carelessness, and dishonesty bring trouble. Young children have a limited attention span with little capacity to be drawn to anything not of immediate interest. But when children become teens and adults, they are more aware of the future. The realities of life show them that the accomplishment of anything that matters requires faith, self-discipline, and work. An adult who lacks the imagination to be motivated by a vision of what he would like to do is likely to be stuck in a job he hates. Self-discipline in present time is necessary for future gains.

All human abilities, whether traits like intelligence and courage or skills like musical performance, carpentry, or golf, can be developed only through practice, and practice isn’t likely to occur without a vision of future reward. A person who behaves courageously and faithfully is rewarded with personal qualities of courage and faithfulness. Musical, athletic, mechanical, and other skills are rewarded to those who invest effort.

God created a world that rewards effort, faith, and self-discipline. But if God is concerned about the meaningfulness of life at the level of work and survival, is He less concerned about the meaningfulness of our lives in their entirety? Would He be likely to allow someone who has nothing but contempt for fellow human beings to escape the consequences of a long, vicious life? Wouldn’t He be concerned that the efforts of a person who has “by persistence in doing good sought glory, honor and immortality” be rewarded?

Jesus declared:

To everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25:29-30).

Nothing about the likelihood of future rewards and punishments is inconsistent with our daily experience. Even so, why do normal people deserve hell?

Normal people deserve hell because they are willing participants in the events of a fallen, cruel world.

No one consciously intends all of the evil that results from their actions. The evil that each of us contributes to the natural and spiritual worlds would horrify us if we were capable of or willing to see it. Because we are fallen, we overlook our own sins and focus on the injustices we’ve suffered. We devise a rationale to claim we are “righteous.” We willfully ignore evidence that would shatter cherished illusions about our own goodness, along with the goodness of our family, social class, ethnic group, church, and nation (Jeremiah 17:9).

The Old Testament prophets brought awareness of this self-deception to the people of Israel (Exodus 22:21-23; Psalm 12; Ecclesiastes 5:8-11; Isaiah 1:11-16; Jeremiah 7:4-11; Ezekiel 22:5-12; Amos 5:18-24). The New Testament describes the nature of the evil world system to which we all contribute (Luke 4:5-7; Ephesians 6:12).

We are much worse than we think we are. We have a remarkable determination to deceive ourselves into thinking that the web of social and economic relationships to which we belong is positive or benign. In spite of millions of horrific deaths, we assume our wars are just. We think that we have no responsibility for the violence in the Mideast or for the sweatshops and squalid living conditions of workers in the “developing” third world. This determination to deceive ourselves and cloak ourselves in righteousness and spiritual pride is evil. This aspect of our sin, in fact, is like the sin of the self-righteous Pharisees (Matthew 23:7-15).

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3:7-11).

The willful blindness of the Pharisees to their sin made them incapable of seeking mercy from God or granting mercy to others. Blindness fueled complacency towards, and support of, evil.

Our Creator designed the universe as a cradle for self-awareness and freedom. If we use self-awareness and freedom for evil purposes, we will reap the consequences. We are free creatures in a finite world where the effects of our conscious sins are endlessly multiplied by the laws of cause and effect. If God ignored the consequences of our deliberate decisions, it would violate justice and our integrity.  We are all “war criminals,” worthy of the hell we have created.

Israel was our example. The prophets and the Messiah foretold the consequences of Israel’s determination to protect itself through worldly power rather than justice (Psalm 33:16; Isaiah 30:1-3; 31:1; Jeremiah 17:5; Matthew 5:39-47; Matthew 23:34-36; Matthew 26:51-52; Luke 21:20-24).

If we won’t acknowledge our sinfulness and the fact that we deserve punishment, we will rationalize our sins and harden our hearts against truth, grace, and spiritual rebirth. If we won’t repent, we choose to be hell’s citizens.

Hell is the natural destination for every normal person who sees no need for repentance and is unwilling to acknowledge his helplessness apart from God’s grace.

But repentance isn’t enough. No one is strong or pure enough to stand effectively against a fallen world order in the power of the evil one (Luke 4:5-6; John 12:31-32; Ephesians 2:1-2; Ephesians 6:12). Mere repentance can’t purify us or undo the evil we have done and continue to do.

How can we face the reality of such harsh facts?

How can we be delivered from hell?

Only by basing our righteousness on the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who alone can bear our sins and cure our spiritual disease.

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Are All Who Haven’t Heard of Christ Damned?

In John 14:6 Jesus declared, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Jesus’ words make it clear that He alone has brought God’s gift of salvation to the world. But do His words also mean that everyone who hasn’t heard of Him will be condemned to hell?

Abraham lived long before Christ. When he told Isaac that God would provide a sacrifice, his words were strikingly prophetic, but he didn’t understand their true significance. He knew nothing about the Lamb of God who would die on a cross nearly 2,000 years later. People like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Job, Melchizedek, Abraham, Sarah, and Jacob never heard the gospel, yet Hebrews 11:13 leaves no doubt that they will be in heaven.

No one in Old Testament times had a clear understanding of the role that Jesus Christ would someday play in atoning for sin. But centuries before the gospel was revealed, the faith of Old Testament believers was already “credited to them as righteousness” ( Genesis 15:6; Psalm 106:31; Galatians 3:6 ).

One of the most remarkable missionary stories of this century was the martyrdom of five young missionaries in Ecuador and the conversion of the Auca Indians. The first convert from the Auca tribe was a young woman named Dayuma. Remarkably, Dayuma was predisposed to accept the gospel because of her father’s influence. Although he had never heard the name of Jesus, he spoke out against the blood feuds and murder that were an Auca way of life. Unlike the others of his tribe, he was deeply conscious of his sinfulness and knew that he and his people needed forgiveness. He told Dayuma that some day God would send a messenger to the Aucas to tell them the way of salvation. Like Old Testament believers, Dayuma’s father was still living by faith when he died ( Hebrews 11:13 ). The witness of his life implies that he would have been overjoyed to hear the gospel, but he died before missionaries came.

Does Scripture give us grounds for insisting that Dayuma’s father is any different in God’s eyes than the believers of the Old Testament? Clearly, Dayuma’s father, like Abraham, would face eternal damnation apart from Christ’s shed blood. Apparent, too, is the desperate spiritual need of those, like the Auca people, who live in fear and spiritual darkness. The fact that Christ is the only way to God places on us the responsibility to make Him known to all.

Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles asked:

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? (Romans 10:13-14).

But there isn’t a passage of Scripture that definitively proves that God looks upon Dayuma’s father differently than He looked upon Old Testament believers who had only a faint idea of the nature of coming redemption. (See the ATQ article, How Could Old Testament People Be Saved?) The apostle Paul may have had this issue in mind when he wrote the first chapters of Romans, declaring that God has revealed Himself in creation ( Romans 1:18-20 ) and in human conscience ( Romans 2:12-16 ). Paul said that each individual will be judged according to his response to these two revelations of God. To those who respond positively, God gives more knowledge—as He did to the Ethiopian eunuch and the Roman centurion, Cornelius (see Acts 8,10 ). Those who are lost will be judged according to their response to the spiritual light they have received ( Hebrews 4:12-13 ). 1

It may be that God will extend His grace to Dayuma’s father on the basis of Christ’s shed blood, just as He did to Enoch, Melchizedek, Job, Abraham, and Sarah—people who had only the faintest intimation of the means by which God would provide for their redemption. In the final analysis, we must leave this matter in God’s keeping. He is both just and loving. We can be assured that the Judge of all the earth will do right ( Genesis 18:25 ).

(See the ATQ article, How Can Christianity Claim To Be the Only Way to God?)

  1. Jesus made it clear that those who had little light will be punished lightly:
    That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked ( Luke 12:47-48 ). Back To Article
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What Did Jesus Mean When He Gave Peter the “Keys of the Kingdom”?

After Jesus had declared that He would build His church on the truth of Peter’s noble confession, He went on to say, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” ( Matthew 16:19 ). Later, addressing all the disciples, our Lord repeated the words, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” ( Matthew 18:18 ).

Jesus gave Peter “the keys of the kingdom of heaven,” not the keys to heaven.1 A key was a badge of authority ( Luke 11:52 ), and then as now was used to open doors. Peter used the keys Christ gave him to open the door to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost ( Acts 2 ), to the Samaritans after the preaching of Philip ( Acts 8:14-17 ), and to the Gentiles after the Lord had sent him a vision and an appeal from Cornelius ( Acts 10 ).

The concept of “binding and loosing” found in Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18 was commonly used among the Jewish people in relation to the authority of the rabbis to forbid and permit certain practices. Jesus gave Peter and the apostles authority over both the doctrine and practices of the first-century church. Through the leading of the Holy Spirit, they would be given wisdom to know what to forbid and what to permit.

This authority, not on exactly the same level as during the apostolic era, still resides in the leaders of the local church. They may not receive the same kind of supernatural guidance as the apostles did,but they possess the entire New Testament along with the direction of the Holy Spirit. 2 Therefore, when church leaders discipline a church member who promotes incorrect doctrine or is involved in evil behavior, they act with divine approval. They are carrying out God’s will, and what they do is ratified in heaven. Since their authority is not ultimately derived from their personal qualities or their office but from Scripture and the instruction of the Holy Spirit, they should exercise it humbly and prayerfully.

  1. The two expressions “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” actually have the same basic meaning. They should be understood within the context of the passages in which they are found. They can be used in a number of ways. They can refer to the universal sense of the entire creation, which is ultimately under the control of God. They can refer the mediatorial kingdom of Jesus Christ, which will come into being when Jesus returns triumphantly to reign directly over the earth. And, finally, they can refer to the kingdom of God, which is already present in the hearts of believers who have yielded themselves to Jesus Christ as Lord. Hebrews 12:22-24 expresses the reality of God’s present kingdom:
    “You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” Back To Article
  2. The authority of the apostles and their chosen successors was basic to the survival of the early church. However, after centuries passed and the canon of Scripture along with the doctrinal foundation of the church had become firmly established, it was necessary to return to the Scriptures themselves as the primary source of authority. Back To Article
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