The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Handling Unexpected Difficulties

1 Peter 4:7-12 – “But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers.8 And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”9 Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.10 As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.11 If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”  12 “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you;

Trials and difficulties are an inevitable part of Life. There are natural disasters like storms, hurricanes, floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, famines, and the like. They can take the form of corporate social or individual personal settings. Trials can be global or national wars, political revolutions, social chaos and rioting, or economic collapses. Or  trials can be more localized, personal, a relational conflict, family breakup, loss of personal income, a terminal illness. How can we handle such circumstances in life?

What compounds and increases the difficulty to handle such situations is that these trials usually come in unexpected ways. Unexpected disasters, both natural and human made. Unexpected losses. Unexpected illnesses. Unexpected changes for the worse. Unexpected negative actions and reactions of others. A day can start fine and suddenly turn to the worst day in your life.

Peter tells these pilgrims, "Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you." He warns these "beloved" brethren and encourages them that the "fiery trial" or incident of suffering they were experiencing should not be thought of as "strange." "Strange" (Greek xenidzo) means an unexpected house guest, to be shocked or surprised by the arrival of someone unexpected, to be surprised by an uninvited person at your door. In this fallen sinful world we should expect the uninvited intrusions of suffering. Hardship will come knocking on your door like an unwanted salesman or nuisance neighbor. Hardship comes like a home invasion. This is par for the course in this fallen world. Fiery trials will intrude into our life. You can count on it! How can we handle such unexpected visits of trial?  

The apostle Peter wrote his first epistle to pilgrims who had been displaced from their homes and jobs and communities by persecution. While Christians probably saw the writing on the wall of oncoming persecution, when it finally did hit them, there was a suddenness to the reality of it. Even though the persecuted Christians of Peter's day felt the tide turning against them, there was a certain sudden reality and finality to that persecution. Seeing something coming and then being hit by it does not discount the sudden impact of it. Like a cresting wave that suddenly smashes us down or an oncoming car coming your way, there is a sense of slow motion and then an explosion of sensory overload. How should we, how can we handle that?

Though Peter had such circumstances in mind when inspired to write his epistle, he knew that these people were not exempt from personal "normal" trials too. Personal trials don't take off and stop because of societal difficulties. Quite the contrary, the enemy likes to pile on. So, the persecuted may still experience a terminal illness. And terminal illness, even though it brings with it the awareness of an impending end to life, when that end comes, it is sudden and a shock to our system; death always is. How should we respond in such situations?

Regardless of the difficulty we encounter how should we respond? There are a number of things Peter mentions as helpful in the context of sudden suffering. These should be mentioned before we get  to the most important response to suffering. There is something that "above all" we should do when difficulties hit us. These are wise words from the inspired fisherman. And we live in times where we see the writing on the wall. The tide is turning against us in many ways. Or we may, unbeknownst to us, be about to face a sudden unexpected personal difficulty. These things will come. What is Peter inspired to instruct us in this regard?

First, remember our present state of suffering is not eternal but temporary. Peter states, "But the end of all things is at hand." God has revealed His prophetic plan in His word. There is an end to this fallen world as we know it. It will be a glorious end with a glorious transformation by God (cf. Revelation 19-22). It's easier to endure pain when you know it's not permanent. I can endure the dentist or go through surgery if I keep in mind it will all be over soon. We can persevere through suffering if we just keep in mind that "the end of all things is at hand." Jesus is coming back! Paul referred to the return of Jesus as the Christians' "blessed hope" (Titus 2:13). It's blessed because it helps us endure to the end. Jesus is coming back and He is going to bring eternal order to this temporal mess the devil and his minions of lost rebellious humanity have concocted.

Second, pray seriously and watchfully in light of the temporariness of our suffering state. Peter continues, "therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers." Prayer is a declaration of dependence on God. We can't weather the storms of trial in our own strength. We need to tap into God's power by way of prayer. Prayer brings the peace of God that surpasses understanding (Phil. 4:6-7). When we keep our mind on God in prayer it settles and strengthens us (Isaiah 26:3; Phil. 4:8-9).

The term "serious" comes from the Greek word sophreneo which means to be of sound mind, sane, be in your right mind, to exercise self control, curb your passions. An example of sophreneo might be not getting carried away with various conspiracy theories floating around the Internet. Some go so far as to claim the earth isn't round but flat. Others are related to so many topics space does not allow to list them all here. The people who hold to such theories are very passionate about them. Peter's words don't instruct us to not investigate truth. They tell us to investigate truth in a sober self controlled way. There may be an element of truth in some of the "conspiracy" theories in the world today. But not all are true. Heresy is half truths. Cults lure people in with the hook of a half truth and then carve them up with boldface lies. Some conspiracy theories are simply a means by people to manipulate and influence others in a direction they prefer. Some of these theories are meant to divert our attention from the real issues and problems. Some are disinformation. Some are genuine exposes on real clandestine cutthroat activities. As we wade through the proliferation of information we need to do so with prayer, God's word in hand, levelheadedness, and the discernment provided by the Holy Spirit.

"Watchful" (Greek  nepho) means to abstain from wine, sober, discretion, watchfulness. The context would direct us to see this word in light of Peter's previously mentioned indulging in "lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries" (1 Peter 4:3). In light of the closeness of "the end of all things" we need to be on high alert. We can't afford to allow our senses to be diminished in any way by mood and mind altering worldly stuff like alcohol, drugs, rampant materialism, and the religion of recreation. We shouldn't allow any temporal diversion in this world to keep us from focusing in on eternal priorities related to heaven and eternity. We are in a dangerous time and need to be on the top of our game spiritually, mentally, and physically.

Third, be hospitable; use your resources (e.g. homes) to facilitate fellowship. Peter states, " Be hospitable to one another without grumbling." "Hospitable" (Greek philoxenos) means fond of guests, given to hospitality, inviting people into your home. Christians need mutual support. The Comforter comforts through other Christians. Therefore we should be open and eager to have people to our homes. We should hold our possessions and resources with open handed extensions of an open heart. Christians should facilitate spending time with each other. We should seek to build relationships with other Christians. We shouldn't settle for spending an hour in church and then run out without spending time with other Christians and getting to know them. Peter points these persecuted pilgrim Christians to friendship and relationship as a network of encouragement and resource of help and support during difficult times. The Holy Spirit comforts through others and He may just want to comfort someone through you! Christian, in light of the times in which we live we need to open our homes, open our cubboards and even bank accounts to help others. We need to spend time with one another.

And we should open our homes and be in fellowship "without grumbling" (Greek goggysmos). This means not grudging, not murmuring, not having a secret debate, or secret displeasure about interacting with people or having them in our homes. We should count it a blessed privilege to be used by God to interact with others by using our homes or getting together with them in some way. Don't grumble when people come to fellowship empty handed. Don't grumble when they track dirt into your home. Don't grumble when people are unappreciative or inconsiderate. Just cover it all with "a fervent love for one another." Be gracious. And for those who do come empty handed, or track dirt into homes, or aren't appreciative or considerate, repent! Show your love for those who host get-togethers and fellowship by being considerate of their generosity. Both hosts and guests should show their love for each other.

Fourth, use your spiritual gifts during times of suffering. Peter writes, " As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." By God's grace we have received spiritual gifts to be used corporately in the body of Christ to strengthen the church. Our spiritual gifting is aimed at uniting and strengthening the members of the church. We each have a responsibility to discover and use our spiritual gifts for the benefit of others (cf. Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12 and 14; Ephesians 4). Spiritual gifts are given for the profit of all not the preoccupation with self. This implies unity, working together, being other oriented, and leaning on each other in the church. This is essential to persevere through trials.

Fifth, rely on and share God's word. Peter says, " If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God." "Oracles" (Greek logion) means an utterance of God, a divine oracle, words from God. We need to speak as God directs us to speak. The best way to assure we speak in line with what God would have us speak is to speak words from God's word or words that can be backed up by God's word. We should speak as the Spirit leads us. But the Spirit will provide a verification of what we speak in His word. Speak God's word!

Sixth, minister in the ability God provides. Peter comments, " If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, . . ." The word "ability" (Greek ischys from is ) means force, forcefulness, ability, might, power, strength. In other words, don't live and serve in your own strength but in the strength provided by the Lord. This would encompass the empowerment of the Holy Spirit (e.g. Acts 1:8 and Acts 2ff.). Do what God enables you to do. God's callings have His enablings. If you have it in your head to do something, make sure it is God who is directing you to do it. If the ability is not there, it's not likely God has called you to do it. But if you step out in faith to do the uncomfortable, and God empowers you to do it, you will be blessed and He will be glorified.

Seventh, live to glorify God. Peter states, " that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen." In all we do we should purpose to bring God glory. We should aim at giving credit and praise to God. Our response to difficulty should point to the faithfulness of God. Complaining or grumbling accuses God of not being faithful. But God gets the glory when His fingerprints are on what is done. Something done in mere human effort only yields limited temporary benefit and diverts glory from God to people. But something done that could clearly only have been done with God's intervention, yields eternal lasting fruit and benefit, and gives glory to God.

Eighth,  the most important response to suffering is LOVE. Finally Peter states, " And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” The most important thing to do in response to suffering is “have a fervent love for one another.” The word fervent” means a love that doesn’t give up, a love that is alive with hope! (Greek ektenes  to have an intent without ceasing, fervent.) [1] This love results in prayer for others, hospitality toward others, serving others in God’s grace, being guided by God’s word and all of this aimed at bringing glory to God. When we love it will  glorify God.

So as we live through our days and prepare for the inevitable often sudden difficulties let us purpose in our heart to have a loving God glorifying response ready. When there is a natural or human disaster in the public square we should pray and look for ways to minister the love of Christ to others, especially Christians. When a sudden personal trial comes our way or to a loved one close to us, we should pray and look for ways to love in Christ. When the terminal illness threatens, comfort and assure in love. When the means of income is lost, love in word and deed (cf. 1 John 3:16-18). When the fires of relational conflict rear their angry head, quench it with love. With an arm around the shoulder, hold people close in love. Love with a listening ear. Love with holy words of hope (e.g. Romans 15:13). Love with a helping hand. In whatever difficult circumstances we find ourselves, sudden or not, find a way to love in Christ. Love people into the Kingdom. Love people to Jesus. That will glorify God. That will get us through.



[1]James Strong, New Strong’s dictionary of Hebrew and Greek words [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1996.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Freedom of Speech

"That I may speak boldly as I ought to speak" - Ephesians 6:18


Should skin heads and white supremacists be allowed to voice their views in society? Should Black Lives Matter, anarchists, socialists and communists be allowed to do the same? Should Christians be allowed to freely voice and share the gospel? Should people of all faiths be allowed to freely share their beliefs? We can't justify curtailing the freedom of speech for a group because we disagree with their message. Free speech is arguably a God given right and is definitely a constitutionally protected right. I understand this doesn't cover for instance shouting "fire!" in a theatre and causing a stampede harmful to people. No, but the freedom to express ideas needs to be protected. 


Understand just what is going on in our country. Wake up. There's something demonic happening. Where you see deception, chaos, rioting and violence you can know for sure the devil is at work (e.g. Acts 19:21ff.). God works in an orderly way (1 Cor. 14:33 and 40). What we see happening is a demonically inspired and driven attack on a nation friendly to freedom and as such, a friend and help to the spread of the gospel. There is a battle for the soul of a nation God has used in the world for His purposes. Arguably no nation has been associated with God's purposes like America outside of Israel itself. America has never been perfect, but she has been greatly used by God. The enemy has been working long to stop this by bringing America down to the basest most vile levels of sinful living. Unfortunately, he has won many battles to this end. But the war is not over and there is still hope. There's always hope in the Lord. 


There is presently a very overt move by MSM to cherry pick whose speech (e.g. Liberal progressive speech versus conservative speech) is and is not acceptable effectively silencing opposition. If you've studied any history you know this is indeed a fascist/communist/totalitarian strategy. The lines of battle can be clearly seen. They are exposed. That's good because identifying the enemy and their positions is the first step in defending against them. 


Our country and freedoms are under attack. If we do nothing how long do you think it will be before sharing and proclaiming the gospel is attacked in similar free-speech-stifling ways? It's arguably already happening. Some welcome persecution for its faith purifying benefits. But let's fight for and use our freedoms for the glory of God while we still can. 


There is a concerted attack on our freedoms and our constitution. There is in fact a revolution, an insurrection underway. The "useful idiots" being used for this revolt are anarchists and a student body that have been indoctrinated and propagandized in our public education institutions for the last 50 or so years. We are reaping the consequences sown by removing God and His word and any godly influence from our educational system and replacing them with humanistic/socialistic/communistic world views. Sound extreme? Sound alarmist? Sound irrational? Wake up my friend we're in a revolt like it or not, a revolt and societal battle for the heart and soul of our nation. 


What to do? 


First pray. You saw what happens in last year’s election when people pray. Through prayer the tide of godlessness was stemmed. Keep praying! God's not finished with the United States of America. 


The great portion of scripture by the apostle Paul on spiritual weaponry and armor is punctuated with these final words: 


Ephesians 6:18-20 - "praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints— and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak."


We need to pray and then "speak as I ought to speak." The time for silence is over. It’s time to be heard. In fact, it's long overdue. It's time to put our armor on and "speak the truth in love" Ephesians 4:15). 


Second, act. Get informed with what's going on. Know your Bible and seek His truth and what is righteous action. Get involved. Serve. We are in part culpable for our state of affairs because of our self-imposed isolation from society. We have mistakenly removed ourselves from the world for fear of being influenced by it. We are guilty of misinterpreting holiness and separation from the world as isolation from it. We are guilty of cowardly retreating into our homes and churches and shutting the windows and doors and waiting for it all to end. We are guilty of selfishly living out our individual personal lives with little to no thought or care for others and especially the lost. We have been like Nero fiddling in our self-interests while America burns. 


Jesus never taught isolation from the world, He taught infiltration and influence of the world as salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). Infiltrate and influence for the glory of God. He said to be IN the world but not OF the world - John 17:14-18. He specifically prayed' "I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one." When we remove ourselves from the world therefore we put ourselves in a position contrary to what Jesus prayed for us. That's not good. 


We have used the idea of being unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14) as an excuse to neglect our responsibility as citizens of the country God has sovereignly placed us. This never meant we have no interactions with the lost. It simply means we don't partake in their sin. How will they be saved if we don't share the gospel with them in word and deed? Get in there and be a holy influence! 


To be "subject to the governing authorities" (Rom. 13) doesn't mean to relinquish responsibility to government, it means live in line with the system of government God has placed you. We are in a democracy, we need to know and use this system to promote holiness and righteousness. Read about the Wesleys, Whitefield, Wilberforce and the Abolitionists, read about those used by God to influence this world in godly ways. 


We have been silenced by the siren of recreation and self-concerns. We have taken ourselves out of the game. We have been willfully disengaged. Shame on us. We need to repent of this, pray, and be revived by our Lord. We need to be informed with what is going on around us. We need to be engaged and involved in working to influence the world toward godliness in godly ways. Yes, this means we should be politically involved. We are blessed to live in a democracy where we have a say. We need to exert and fulfill our responsibility to voice our concerns and vote for those who will stand up for them as our representatives. 


Lastly, hope in the Lord. We need to hope in Jesus and let that hope purify us (1 John 3:3). What does this mean? It means to live in a state of readiness for the return of Jesus. Look around you. Look up to the sky. Look at the natural upheaval in the world, the wars and rumors of wars, the globalism, the evil and immorality, look at Israel, look at prophecy. Does anyone doubt the Last Days are fast approaching? Therefore, live with eternal priorities. Live to facilitate and promote justice, righteousness and holiness. Live to save souls. Live in a way that if Jesus were to return, you wouldn't be ashamed at how He found you living. Live as though He were returning today. He just may well be.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

A Rushing Mighty Wind

“And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting” - Acts 2:2
Wind is a powerful force in nature. If you’ve ever seen or experienced a hurricane, tornado or cyclone, you know this all too well. Jesus instructed the disciples to wait for an empowerment promised by the Father (Acts 1:4-5, 8). This power would come in connection with the Holy Spirit. The word “Spirit” is translated from the Greek term pneuma which literally means breath, a current of air, or breeze. Therefore it’s appropriate the power of the Holy Spirit is inaugurated by the coming of a mighty rushing wind from heaven. This isn’t the first time we see wind used in scripture. God uses wind to convey various aspects of His powerful influence. An examination of the use of wind in scripture sheds light on the power of the Spirit received at Pentecost and available to us today.

First, wind is used by God to bring His judgment. God blew in a plague of locusts upon the Egyptians (Exodus 10:13). God comes to discipline the unfaithful “on the wings of the wind” (2 Samuel 22:11).  The prophet Nahum illustrated God coming in judgment in a “whirlwind” against His enemies (Nahum 1:3). The Holy Spirit blows into the lives of sinners seeking to convict them of their sin (John 16:8-11).  

Second, wind is used by God to end God’s judgment. The Lord sent wind to dry up the waters of the Flood of judgment (Genesis 8:1). He used wind to blow locusts in as well as blow them out during His plagues on Egypt (Exodus 10:13 and 19).  Like a great vacuum the Spirit draws people toward Jesus where they can find salvation from the judgment of sin.

Third, God uses the wind to bring a blessing. God used the wind to part the Red Sea so the Israelites could escape from the pursuing enemy Egyptians (Exodus 14:21). In the wilderness God used the wind to bring the blessing of a harvest of quail for His hungering people (Numbers 11:31). God heard the prayer of Elijah and blew in rain to refresh the droughted land (1 Kings 18:44-45). Like the wind, the Holy Spirit brings tremendous blessing to the believer. The Spirit brings the blessing of the presence of God.

Fourth, the wind of God is powerful. Elijah was God’s instrument to defeat the prophets of Baal. But after the victory Elijah ran in fear from Jezebel and grew depressed. The Lord got his attention by sending a mighty wind that tore into the mountain where he was standing (1 Kings 19:11). The Lord got Elijah’s attention with a mighty wind. Then He spoke to him with a still small voice.

The power of wind can come in a sudden gust. Wind can begin in a small funnel that builds in strength. There were only about 120 disciples gathered in the Upper Room. They were obediently praying for the Promise of the Father. God habitually uses small things, small groups to manifest His might and power. His does this to make clear the Source of His power.

The power bestowed at Pentecost has had worldwide influence. There have been miraculous healings and prophetic fulfillments. Societal wrongs righted and darkness dispelled by the light of the Lord. The power of the Spirit has moved on people to build hospitals, schools, and bring societal order. But the most significant impact has been the piercing of the heart of sinful humanity with the truth of the Gospel. Millions of souls saved. Myriad disciples made. The Spirit breathed God’s revelation truth in an eternally relevant Book, the Bible. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Mat. 24:35). Such power is a category infinity in wind strength!

Fifth, wind is invisible but real. Jesus used the wind to illustrate the Holy Spirit cannot be seen (John 3:8). To this day with all our scientific advances meteorologists still have difficulty calculating the wind. You don’t see the wind coming. You don’t know it’s there until it touches you. You may not see the Spirit, but He is always there.

Sixth, wind can be used by God to shake us up.  A hurricane can be a frightening experience. On the ocean wind can make waves that change a comfortable voyage into a perilous ocean venture.  It was a mighty wind sent by God that shook the ship Jonah was in and stopped him from his rebellious retreat (cf. also Psalm 107:25-30). Jesus can calm the storms in our lives (Matthew 8:26). Storms caused by the winds of God are meant to lead us to Him. The Holy Spirit can use windstorms in life to wake us from spiritual lethargy.

But Satan can kick up storms too. He is limited by God. But he can wreak havoc nonetheless. It was a mighty wind in the book of Job that destroyed the house where Job’s children were dining and killed them all (Job 1:18-19). Where the wind is from is important for us to discern. The powerful wind in Job brought a severe trial. The powerful wind of the Spirit brings power to serve and witness for the glory of God. God can use all things for good (Rom. 8:28). That is a powerful statement when you think it through.

Seventh, wind moves things. It is the wind that blows into the sails of a ship and moves it (Acts 27:7, 13-18). Even though people can be big and sluggish like ships the wind of the Spirit can move them. A sailing ship without wind is dead in the water. Without the Spirit we can’t move. The Holy Spirit is able to move the unmovable. The Holy Spirit is able to drive us to our destination.

Eight, wind blows away the chaff. Chaff is the discarded outer portion of wheat. Those who harvested wheat took the cut stalks to a threshing floor where they beat them until the kernels of wheat separated from the outer skin. The threshed wheat was then tossed into the air so the wind would blow away the chaff. Chaff symbolically is a type of sin. It represents that which is unwanted, superficial, lightweight, spiritually.  The Spirit blows away ungodly refuse in our lives (cf. Psalm 1).

Ninth, wind is a sign of the Spirit bringing life. In the book of Ezekiel, the prophet Ezekiel is brought “in the Spirit” to a place where he sees a vision of a valley of dry bones. God directs Ezekiel to prophesy over the dry bones. When Ezekiel obeys a wind comes from God and breathes life into the dead bones (Ezek. 37:1-14). Just as this prophetic vision pictures God sending a wind to bring life to dead Israel in captivity, so too does the Holy Spirit come as a wind upon Christians who have been trying to minister and serve in their own strength. The wind of the Spirit is a symbol of bringing life to that which was dead or dying. When the wind of the Spirit blows He brings new life to the unsaved and refreshing to those out of breath.

R.A. Torrey said, “A real revival is a time of quickening or impartation of life. . . . Only God can impart life, therefore, a revival is a time when God visits His people, and by the power of His Holy Spirit, imparts new life to them, then through them imparts life to sinners dead in trespasses and sins.” [1] Revival is the Spirit blowing and bringing life to that which is out of breath or dead. We need a breath of fresh air from the Spirit. We need a holy breeze from the Holy Spirit. We need the mighty rushing wind of the Spirit to blow again.  Join me in making that our prayer.

[1] R.A. Torrey, The Power of Prayer and the Prayer of Power, (Alachua, FL: Bridge –Logos, 2009) p. 218.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Does the Punishment Fit the Crime?

“Against You, You only, have I sinned” - Psalm 51:4

Does the punishment fit the crime? As a society, we frequently ask that very question about criminal cases in the news. We are appalled at the light sentences given to abusers, pedophiles, drunk drivers, rapists, murderers, and the like. We are aggravated and disgusted when victims are treated like criminals and criminals appear to have more rights than their victims. We sense there is something inherently wrong, unjust, when we see such things. When the sentence doesn’t fit the crime, it has a destabilizing effect on society. But I would like to apply this question to an even more important area, eternity. Will God actually sentence people to hell? Does His eternal punishment fit the crime of our sin? Are we guilty of crimes of sin deserving of a sentence of hell?

At present atheism seems to be going through a cycle of popularity in society. But those who do accept the existence of God, (and statistically they still remain in the majority) frequently doubt that God would send anyone to hell. They may accept that God would send those to hell who are guilty of the most heinous crimes, but they don’t see themselves as that bad. In general people feel they will be good enough to get into heaven and avoid hell.

While statistics show a trend away from orthodoxy, studies continue to show that a majority of people believe in a heaven and a hell. A significant portion of the populace still accept the gospel, i.e. “confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior” as means of going to heaven. But there is a growing majority of people who are unclear about what determines their destiny. Those who choose to reject the gospel say their eternal destination is based on one of three things: keeping the Law of the Ten Commandments; their basic goodness; or a view of God that disallows a sentence to a place called hell. What does God say about this? What does He tell us in His word?


The first thing we need to consider is what has God revealed about Himself in His word? God is holy and He commands His followers to be holy (Lev. 11:44-45; 1 Peter 1:15-16). God’s revelation of Himself says He has an aversion, a revulsion to sin:

·         Habakkuk 1:13a - You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness.

God states that sin separates us from Him (Isaiah 59:1-2). The Bible says if we allow sin to reside in our hearts God will not hear our prayers (Psalm 66:18). The Bible says God is light and in Him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). God and sin do not mix.


What is hell? Hell is a place created by God for the devil and demons (Mat. 25:41). It is a real place. The Bible also says the person who sins, “is of the devil” (1 John 3:8; cf. also Eph. 2:1-3). The wicked or sinners will be turned into hell (Psalm 9:17). God will cast the sinner into hell and therefore we ought to revere Him (Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5). Hell is a place of everlasting fire, punishment and torment where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mat. 25:41, 46; Rev. 19:20). Though not created by God for people, those who sin will be cast there to join the devil and his demons (Rev. 21:8).


What is sin? God has given us a Book called the Bible which is a manual for life. This Book explains the problem of sin and its solution. This Book explains God has given us laws that explain how we can experience prosperity, blessing, fullness of life (Joshua 1:8; 1 Chron. 22:13). God’s law consists of rules, principles, statutes, and God’s judgments. God’s laws tell us the parameters of what He says right and wrong is. Living within the parameters of His word and law is righteousness. Living righteously (i.e. keeping the law) assures we will experience life as He created us to live it. It will also assure that we don’t harm others. Sin is breaking God’s law in word, deed or thought. John put it this way, “All unrighteousness is sin” (1 John 5:17a). Sin beaks our relationship with God. Sin causes pain in our relationship with others, including God.


What does sin look like? In Exodus 20 God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. These ten laws of God given to His people serve as the summation of His Law. There were 613 lesser laws given but the Ten Commandments serve as the bedrock of the Law of God. These Ten can be described as:


1.      Not having any other God’s except Almighty God.

2.      Do not make any images or idols of God or any other gods.

3.      Respect God’s name; don’t use it in vain.

4.      Keep the Sabbath.

5.      Honor your parents.

6.      Don’t murder anyone.

7.      Don’t commit adultery; stay true to your marriage covenant.

8.      Don’t steal anything.

9.      Don’t lie or bear false witness against anyone.

10.  Don’t covet.


Sin is when we break such laws. All sin is against God and His Law (Psalm 51:4). The first four are vertical and directly against God while the last six are horizontal and indirectly against God but directly against other people.


What is the penalty for breaking these laws? The penalty for breaking God’s laws is death. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23a). God says, “Behold. All souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4). It’s at this point that some might respond, “Isn’t that harsh? Does the punishment fit the crime? Isn’t God loving?” Yes, God is loving, but God is also holy, just and righteous. God is of purer eyes than to look on wickedness. Breaking or disregarding His law is rooted in pride, rebellion and is wickedness. “Wickedness” as spoken of by prophet Habakkuk means acts of deceit, treachery, faithlessness (Habakkuk 1:13). God will not even look at such things; He will put them out of His presence.


Does the punishment of God fit the crime of sin? Let me share a personal story from my youth. When I was a kid during the summer time we’d play outside from morning to night. We’d get on our bicycles and ride all over the place. We’d play sports. We’d chase each other all around. And sometimes, when we were going through a particularly long dry spell that made the dirt crusty we’d have “dirt bomb” fights. That’s when you collect clumps of dry stony dirt and throw it at each other. It was kind of like a summer version of snow ball fighting. Well, one time we were having a monumental dirt bomb battle and had all suffered some direct hits. We accepted that as part of the game. You hit and got hit, no problem. We got to the point where we called a mutually agreed upon cease fire. But now what? What would we do for the rest of the day. I don’t know who it was but one of our crew got the brilliant idea to hide in a tree line adjacent to a busy road and start throwing dirt bombs as passing cars. We collected our ammunition and snuck up to the tree line. We lay in wait, waiting for the call to let her rip at some unsuspecting motorist. (Yes, it was dangerous and not the brightest idea. We could have caused an accident. But we were kids and out for fun at others expense. We didn’t really give it a lot of thought.) Waiting, waiting, hold, get ready, and in the distance we saw the perfect target, A CONVERTIBLE! And the top was down. As soon as that bright shinny top down beauty passed by we let her rip. Bang, bang, bang, clunk, screech! That screech indicated we had made direct hits. But what we didn’t figure is that “screech” part of the motorist pulling over to the side of the road, GETTING OUT OF HIS CAR, AND COMING AFTER US!


Needless to say, the fun in that game blew out as fast as air out of a popped balloon. We did what any other kid our age would do, have an instant moment of regret and then run like the blazes on an escape route. We thought we could run pretty fast but this guy proved to be an Olympian-like sprinter. We split up and kept running. I stayed with a friend of mine who lived in an apartment nearby. We glanced back only to have our terror heightened when we saw that the just pursuer had sovereignly chosen us to chase. We ran down a hill, through a parking lot, up some rear stairs, and into the apartment. We ran as fast as we could but that guy wasn’t giving up. Then we did what any other kid of that day would do in such a situation, we ran to the nearest mother for protection. We ran to my friend’s apartment as our “city of refuge” and once inside one glance of his mother at our fear laden faces told her she needed to go in protection mode. We ran to my friend’s room and literally hid and listened.  Almost instantly we heard loud banging on the metal apartment door. My friend’s mother spoke through the door in an effort to calm down our pursuer. He must have cooled down a bit. Then she opened the door and reasoned with him. We heard some raised voices and shouting and then a calm. Moms can be pretty diplomatic you know. He left and we soon felt the consequences when news of our exploits traveled over the Mom’s phone network. Believe me there were consequences of varying degrees and I can’t remember ever having another dirt bomb fight after that.


What’s the point? The point is that when you’re throwing dirt bombs at your buddies there’s little fear of offense but when your target becomes an adult the offense will be noted and punished. We often minimize our sins because we limit their definition to our horizontal plane. But when we see our sins on the vertical plane of God, that our sins are against an Almighty All-Powerful Adult God, our sins take on much more severity. Throw something at an equal and offense is minimal. Throw something at an Authority and there are consequences. Throw a dirt bomb at a friend and it’s no big deal. Throw a dirt bomb at and adult, or an elderly person, a police officer or president, and you’re in deep trouble. Sin’s severity is measured by who it offends. All sin is ultimately against God and severely offensive. The Bible states, “Against You, You only, have I sinned” (Psalm 51:4). Think about that. When we see sin as against God Almighty, no sin is a “small” sin.


Let’s pretend we are in a secular worldly court. The judge is just a regular human being in a position of authority. Before him is brought a man who has disrespected, rebelled against and murdered his parents, has murdered numerous other people, has committed adultery on numerous occasions, has stolen repeatedly, has lived the life of deception and is a compulsive liar, and is driven by a lust for more of what he already has enough of. In addition to that this criminal is disrespectful and disobedient toward the judge. He curses the name of the judge and won’t rest and calm down when the judge orders him to. What would you say about such a man? What would a just sentence for him be? He’s a parenticidal, homicidal, sex crazed, thieving, lying, lustful man. If anyone was due the death sentence certainly he would be!


But you say, “That’s not me! I’m not that bad.” The Bible warns us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought (Rom. 12:3). The Bible says we should examine and test ourselves to see where we stand with God (2 Cor. 13:5). Let’s do that.


Have you always honored your parents? We may respond that there have been times when we’ve dishonored or rebelled against our parents but not always. Maybe you are in rebellion against your parents now. Maybe you’ve rebelled against them in the past. How much rebellion against your parents can be equated with dishonoring them? Any amount! But what about parenticide? You say, “I haven’t killed my parents. I’m not that bad.” Jesus said that if you’re angry with someone or call them a fool or something equivalent to that it’s as though you’ve killed them in your heart (Mat. 5:21-26). That’s His standard of judgment. Have you ever been angry with your parents? Parenticide!


Ever murdered someone? Here we are not talking about killing of a human being in the line of duty such as with a policeman or military person. Here we are talking about murder. And again, Jesus’ standard equates anger with murder. Ever get angry with someone? Murderer! Probably a mass murderer!


How about adultery? Ever commit adultery. “Oh no, I’ve always been faithful to my spouse” you say. But Jesus’ standard here is higher than mere actions too. He said if we even have a lustful thought about someone we are guilty of committing adultery in our hearts (Mat. 5:27-30). Even have a lustful thought, a fantasy, anything about anyone anytime other than the one you are married to? This includes those who are single. Ever have a lustful thought? Adulterer!


Ever stolen anything, anything, anytime? How much do you have to steal to be considered a thief? Anything, even a paper clip that makes you a thief. How about lying; ever spoken a non-truth? Ever lied about your age, your weight, your income, your past, your present, ever lied at all? Liar! Ever wanted something someone else has? Ever wanted more of what you already have enough of? Ever yearned for something, lusted after it? Coveter!


So far we’re finding we’re not as different from our imaginary criminal as we thought ourselves to be. We’re finding we’re parenticidal, homicidal, sex crazed, thieving, lying, lustful just like that man. We haven’t even considered our relation to a Judge who is God Almighty, All Holy, perfectly just and righteous. Has He always been first and foremost in our lives; our thoughts and actions; our priorities? If not that’s blasphemy. Have we idolized God? Have we defined Him as we see Him or want to see Him rather than how He has revealed Himself to be in truth? Your God is your master passion. If anything takes priority in our lives besides God we’ve broken the second commandment. That’s idolatry. How about the way we have referred to God? Ever used His name as a four letter curse word? Ever referred to Him and used His name in a profane way, even a common or irreverent way? If so that’s taking the Lord’s name in vain; that’s disrespecting the God of glory! How about observing His Sabbath? Some will say, “Oh, that’s just for Jewish people.” But wait, the Sabbath of God is holy and there is a principle here. To rest on the Sabbath is a demonstration of faith and trust in God to provide for you. We rest trusting that God will supply our needs. The Bible says whatever is not done in faith is sin (Rom. 14:23). God has done so much for you, He has been so faithful and true, and will you distrust Him? That’s offensive to God.


So to the charges of parenticidal, homicidal, sex crazed, thieving, lying, and lust we can add the highly offensive to God charges of blasphemy, idolatry, profane use of God’s name and distrust of God to our ledger. Now, do you see a bit more how the death penalty for sin is appropriate? The wages of sin is death. The soul that sins is deserving of death. And death here is not annihilation. The death sentence here is an eternal sentence of existence in a place called hell; a place of darkness, loneliness, regret and torment. That is a just sentence for the sinner.


If you were to stand before God charged with such offenses would He pronounce you guilty or innocent? Does that matter to you? If it doesn’t matter to you I would like to give you further warning. In the gospels Jesus performed countless miracles and taught powerful truth. The religious of His day refused to heed His words or acknowledge His work. There came a point where they could not believe (John 12:35-41). Refusing to respond to God leads to hardening of your heart. The more you refuse to turn to God from your sin the harder your heart becomes and the harder it is for you to do so. Only God knows when a person reaches this point of no return. But why risk getting to that point?


What can we do about our sinful state? The Bible says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). The Bible states:


·         Acts 17:30-31 - Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”

There is a Judgment Day coming. You may have been ignorant of your sin predicament before but you aren’t now. Where do you stand with God?

Let me say first that salvation from sin is not a matter of keeping the laws of God. God’s law exposes our sinfulness and shows us the futility of trying to keep them in our own strength (Rom. 7:7). The law shows us we are sinful (1 Tim. 1:8-11). And the law in pointing out our sin also leads us to the solution for our sin problem, Jesus (Gal. 3:24).

God calls everyone to repent of their sin. To repent means to respond to God, to turn to Him. To repent means to have a change of heart that leads to a change in life action. No one can come to God unless God draws them to Himself (John 6:44). God has been reaching out to you. The Holy Spirit has been convicting you of your sin (John 16:8-11).  “All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth” (Psalm 25:10). The truth is you are guilty as sin before a Holy God. But God is merciful. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. He has made a way for you to be justly forgiven. He has made a way for you to have your sins wiped away so that it will be just as if you’ve never sinned (e.g. Rom. 5:1). He has made a way for you to replace death with spiritual eternal life. He has done all of this through Jesus Christ.

The Man ordained or anointed and chosen by God to make the way for salvation from sin is Jesus Christ. Jesus went to the cross for you and for me; for sinners. Jesus lived a life of perfect and without sin (1 Pet 1:18-19). He died on the cross, the just for the unjust, to pay our death penalty for us (1 Pet 3:18). “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).  That can happen when we put our faith in Him. It isn’t a matter of us doing some good works or religious activity (Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5). Jesus has done the work for us; the work of salvation is compete; “It is finished!” (John 19:30). We need to receive by faith what God has provided for us in Christ.

God who is Holy is also gracious and loving. Humanity has a humanly insurmountable debt of sin. But God has made a divine way for lost humanity to be redeemed from that debt of sin. He has made a way for humanity to be saved from their sin by sending His One and only Son Jesus to die on the cross in our place. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). This work of Jesus has been shown to be valid and completely satisfactory to God by His resurrection from the dead. Therefore this work of Jesus for salvation can be put to our account; we can be forgiven all our sin (past, present, even future sin) when we put our faith in Jesus as our Savior. The Bible says, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:9-10). The saving transaction is put to our account by faith. It is offered by God freely to us by His grace and appropriated to our account by faith. God’s grace is God’s Redemption at Christ’s Expense. The faith that saves us is Forsaking All (other alternatives) I Trust Him. Salvation is not about something we do, it is all about accepting by faith something Jesus has done for us.

Salvation is freely provided by God but it wasn’t cheap; it cost Christ His life. We justly deserve the death penalty. In His mercy God makes a way so that we can avoid the death sentence we deserve. But God goes beyond that and gives us what we don’t deserve, His precious promises of a personal eternal relationship with Him. Jesus said eternal life was knowing Him and the Father (John 17:3).  The Bible says:

·         Philippians 4:19 - And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

God promises to meet all our needs.

·         2 Peter 1:3-4 - 3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

God promises to change us and make us like Jesus (cf. also Rom. 8:29; 1 Pet. 2:21; 1 John 2:6). And you know what else? When we accept Jesus as Savior by faith, God forgive our sin, but He also gives us spiritual life by indwelling us with the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9-11). When the Holy Spirit indwells us He pours His love into our hearts (Rom. 5:5). And this love, lived out in and through us, fulfills God’s law! (Rom. 13:10). Those are incredible truths. Jesus promises us abundant life (John 10:10). The appropriate response to God’s grace is to receive it and love God for it (Jon 1:12; 2 Cor. 5:1-16).

Think of it, justice is getting what you deserve. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve. Does the punishment fit the crime? Is God fair with us? What do you think now? God is incredibly loving and giving. In light of Holy God the more important question is do we deserve God’s grace? The answer is no we do not. But thank God that He gives it to us anyway. Thank God our salvation is contingent on Him and not us. Now, what will you do? I hope you will turn to God in Christ and be saved.