Theology


Why doesn’t God give people a second chance to be saved after death (Heb 9:27)? Surely those who go to hell would want to repent once they are faced with the consequences of their sin, right? Wrong. This idea underestimates these people’s disposition toward God. They know God exists (Ps 19:1-4; Rom 1:18-32; 2:12-16), but they hate Him and refuse to acknowledge Him by repenting of their sins (Ps 83:2; Jn 3:20; 7:7; 15:18,23-24; Rom 1:30; Rev 9:20; 16:9,11). They reject His moral authority over their lives. While they do not like their punishment, they don’t want the alternative either. They don’t love God, and they don’t want to be with Him for eternity. It’s not so much that God will not give them a second chance to repent as it is that they would not take Him up on His offer if He were to give it.


Many people (non-Christians and Christians alike) find it morally outrageous that God would consign people to an eternity in hell to pay for a finite number of sins committed here on Earth. As a result, some people reject Christianity, some deny that hell is eternal, and others choose to live with the theological tension. None of this is necessary, however, because this understanding of hell is based on false assumptions. It falsely assumes that the purpose of hell is only to pay for sins committed prior to death, which, in turn, falsely assumes that people stop sinning in hell. Neither is true.

Yes, hell is a place where people will be punished for their sins, but it is also a place where the sinners who are being punished for their sins will go on sinning for eternity. They sin on Earth and in heaven. Think about it. Does anyone believe that those in hell suddenly become good people? Do we really think that they undergo complete sanctification upon entering hell? Of course not. They will continue to sin against God for eternity. They will continue in their moral rebellion and rejection of God. And that is why they will continue to be punished by God for eternity.

We are saved by faith, not works, but the faith that saves is a faith that works. True saving faith will produce good works. Faith, not works, is the causal condition for salvation, but good works are the necessary effect of our saving faith. That doesn’t mean we will be perfect, but it does mean we will be moving toward perfection via the process of sanctification.

Our biggest temptation as humans is works righteousness – thinking that we can earn our salvation by own goodness. Ask the average nominal Christian in America how he knows he is saved and you’re likely to hear, “Well, I’m a pretty good person.” Even those who recognize that they are saved by grace alone often feel the temptation to believe they are “kept,” at least in part, by their good works. While we are certainly saved for good works (Eph 2:8-10; Tit 2:11-12), good works cannot save us or keep us saved. Our trust in Jesus alone saves us. Faith causes salvation – good works are the effect.

We could never do enough good works to be accepted by God because, in God’s economy, good works cannot cancel out evil works. And it’s our evil works that are the problem. They are an affront to God’s holiness. If we are to have a relationship with a holy God, our evil works have to be dealt with. The problem is that mankind has no ability to atone for his evil works. Only God can do that. And He did. He became a man and paid the penalty for our sin (death) on the cross. The sinless man died in the place of sinful man. The way we access the atonement God provided for us is by trusting in Jesus and what He did for us on the cross. Since God’s acceptance of us is based entirely on Jesus’ work rather than our own, God’s continued acceptance of us is also based on Jesus’ work rather than our own (Rom 5:8-11).

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Sometimes we portray Jesus as providing us with a ladder to bridge the chasm between our sinful selves and a holy God. Jesus made a way for us to reach God. This is inaccurate. Jesus didn’t just provide us with a ladder and tell us to climb, but Jesus provided the ladder and climbs it for us. We get to the top – not by climbing it ourselves – but by riding on the back of Jesus.

For a number of years now, churches have latched on to the “leadership training” fad. The idea is that everyone is a leader, and needs to be trained as such to be more effective in the kingdom. Really? Is everyone a chief? If so, where are the Indians? Those who claim everyone is a leader have to have a pretty thin definition of leader. Yes, everyone has influence in someone else’s life at some point, but that does not make them a leader or require that they undergo leadership training.

Despite the fact that I don’t think everyone is a leader, I wouldn’t be bothered by all of this leadership training if churches were also focused on theological training. In my experience, however, people being trained in leadership are getting virtually no theological training at all. People well-versed in leadership couldn’t exegete their way out of a paper bag or tell you the first thing about the Bible’s teaching on justification. Let’s get first things first. Theological training is a necessity for every Christian. Leadership training is a luxury.

I often hear people preface their wayward theological musings with, “I really prayed about this and did a lot of study.” If they are simply making the point that they did not come to their conclusions rashly, fine, but this sort of statement is often used as a justification for their theological conclusions. They are appealing to their prayer and study as reasons to accept their beliefs as true. This is mistaken. Prayer and study do not guarantee that one will come to the right conclusions. This should be evident from the fact that many people have given themselves over to much prayer and study regarding a particular issue, only to come to different conclusions. Prayer and study do not guarantee that you will come to the right conclusion, and surely they are not good reasons for others to trust your conclusions. All that matters are the reasons you offer for your conclusions. If your reasons are good, then your conclusion should be trusted. If your reasons are bad, then your conclusions should not be trusted. The same goes for your facts and presuppositions. Your conclusion will only be as good as the facts you considered and the presuppositions you bring to the question. I’m glad you prayed and studied, but I care more about your reasons than your investment and sincerity.

Many so-called prophets had prophesied that Trump would win re-election, including Kris Vallotton, Jeremiah Johnson, Pat Robertson, Curt Landry, Tomi Arayomi, Kat Kerr, Denise Goulet, Charlie Shamp, Albert Milton, Taribo West, Kevin Zadai, and many more (references are in the comments). President Trump’s legal challenges to the election results have failed and the Electoral College has voted for Joe Biden to be the next president, so it should be abundantly clear at this point that Trump is not going to serve another four years.

Will those who follow the aforementioned prophets shrug off this as just an unfortunate example of how “everyone misses it from time to time,” or will they recognize these people for what they are: false prophets?

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You can always tell when someone believes something based on their emotions/will rather than their reason: They resort to name-calling, yelling, violence, shame, intimidation. They want to silence the opposition rather than respond to them. I heard it said that you know someone doesn’t have a good argument when they resort to hitting people with blunt objects to make their case.

Many Christians would disavow such things, but they have another way of responding to challenges to their ill-founded beliefs. When they don’t have good reasons to support their claims or to challenge your arguments, they trump you with spirituality. They will say the Holy Spirit told them that X is true, or that the only reason you believe X is because you are not spiritual. Don’t fall for the bait by shifting the focus to your own spirituality. Shift the focus back to the argument by responding, “Ok, so I’m carnal. Can you tell this carnal brother of yours why I should believe you are right (or conversely, why I should believe I am wrong)?”

Certainty is a state of mind. One who is certain is one who does not doubt that some X is true. Having certainty regarding X does not guarantee that X is true, but merely that one believes X is true and has no doubts regarding its truth. Someone who seeks certainty regarding some X, then, seeks to justify belief in X to such a degree that they no longer have doubts regarding the truth of X.

Many post-modern types decry the desire for certainty as an “Enlightenment ideal,” preferring questioning and doubt instead. This is wrong. The desire for certainty is a basic human desire that has manifested itself in every generation. Humans want to know that what they believe is true. While certainty is not required to have knowledge (and philosophically speaking, not possible for most things), and while certainty is not required for everything we believe, and while an inordinate desire for certainty can be bad, the desire for certainty is natural, good, and obtainable in some matters.

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People’s perception of Christianity is often shaped more by their church experience than by Scripture. If your experience of Christianity was in a Catholic church, you may think of Christianity as solemn and reverent, but ritualistic and largely irrelevant to daily life. If your experience of Christianity was in a Baptist church, you may think of Christianity in terms of moral behavior and Bible study. If your experience of Christianity was in a Pentecostal church, you may think of Christianity as wild and crazy, where emotions and the supernatural are top priority. Whatever your experience may have been, that is what you associate with “Christianity.” For you, that IS Christianity.

So when you invite a former Christian to rekindle their former Christian faith, they will naturally think you are trying to convert them back to the same church experience they had in the past. And for many people, it was their church experience that caused them to leave the faith. Why on earth would they ever want to go back?!

That’s why it’s a good idea to ask them about their church experience. What was their church community like? What did they believe? What were their negative experiences? It’s also good to ask them what they think Christianity is all about. In my experience, most people’s understanding of Christianity is very thin, if not warped. Once you know more about their view and experience of Christianity, the better you will be able to share with them the true gospel. Once they see the difference between what they came from and what you are inviting them to, they might be willing to give Christianity – the real Christianity – another shot.

Sometimes we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Let me give you two examples where Christians cannot seem to win with non-Christians.

Non-Christians will often complain that Christians are hypocrites, by which they mean we do not live up to our own moral codes. While we say people should do X, we ourselves fail to do X. And yet, these same people will complain when one Christian calls out another Christian for their immoral behavior. Now the complaint is “you shouldn’t judge” (not recognizing that they themselves are making a judgement when they say “you should not judge” – and thus being hypocritical themselves – and that they make a judgment when they say Christians are hypocrites). So let me get this straight. Christians are damned if they fail to live up to their own moral standards, and they are damned if they try to encourage each other to live up to their own moral standards. Can we win?

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Psalm 130:3-4 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.

Our eternal destination is not determined by our sin, but by our Savior. If no good work can earn salvation, then no evil work can forfeit our salvation. All Christians commit sin. We are saved, not because we stop sinning, but because we trust in the One who never sinned.

Many people, both Christian and non-Christian alike, define God in terms of just one attribute – love – to the neglect of all other attributes. And even then, they misunderstand love to mean unqualified acceptance and approval of our behaviors rather than God’s unqualified desire for our good as a person. As a result of this misunderstanding of God’s nature and His love, people question the existence of hell, the legitimacy of moral judgments, etc. Yes, God is love, but He is so much more. He is also just and holy.

A hypocrite is not one who fails to live up to his own ideals, but one who falsely proclaims to have such ideals in the first place.

 

See also “I’m not a Christian because there are too many hypocrites in the church

As Christians, we want to know and do God’s will, but many Christians struggle to hear God’s voice and know His will. They find the whole process frustrating and vague, and they are left feeling spiritually paralyzed. Could it be that the problem does not lie with God’s silence nor our inability to hear what God is saying, but with our conception of God’s will and the particular methods we use for discerning it? Could it be that our conception of God’s will and hearing His voice is not taught in the Bible? Perhaps we have over-complicated and over-spiritualized the will of God.

Many Christians think God’s will for their life is both extensive and detailed. In addition to God’s general will that we develop our moral character, He also has a more specific will for us concerning our education, our vocation, our residency, our spouse, where we congregate, and other matters big and small. Our job is to (1) discern God’s will in these matters using various methods such as a peace in our heart, open and closed doors, unbidden thoughts, impressions, signs, and fleeces, and then (2) make choices that match God’s will. The process is similar to navigating: God chooses our destination and the route we should take to get there, and our job is merely to discover the map and follow it turn-by-turn.

This sounds reasonable and perhaps even comforting, but is it Biblical? I assumed so, until I was forced to look at Scripture more carefully. Now, I’m convinced that this understanding of the will of God – while well-intentioned – errs in its assumptions about (1) the extent of God’s will and (2) the methods for discerning it. (more…)

Evangelism is one of the most important missions of the church. In evangelism, we are making an appeal to non-Christians to both believe and do something. What we ask them to believe and do ought to pattern what the first disciples asked non-Christians to believe and do. Does it? To answer that question, I recently examined what the early church preached to unbelievers, chronicling every detail of every message found in Acts (2:14-40; 3:12-26; 4:8-12,33;  5:29-32,42; 7:2-53; 8:5,12,35; 10:34-43; 11:20; 13:16-41; 14:15-17; 16:30-31; 17:2-3,6-7,18,22-31; 18:5,28; 19:2-4,8; 20:21,25; 22:1-21; 23:6,11; 24:10-21,24-25; 25:19; 26:1-23; 28:17-20,23,30).[1] What follows are my findings and analysis. (more…)

Would you still be a Christian if there was a heaven, but no hell?

Imagine for a moment that God set up reality differently, such that people could be as bad as they wanted without any risk of eternal punishment.  When you die, you simply cease to exist.  However, if you follow Jesus, heaven still awaits you.  Would you still follow Jesus?  Be honest.  I encourage you to take five minutes to reflect on this question before reading on below.

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Evangelism is scary for many people, including myself.  Many Christians find it difficult to start a discussion on spiritual things.  Others fear that they’ll be pummeled with objections to the faith that they don’t know how to answer.  Many fear rejection.  As a result, we’ve invented new methods of “evangelism” that don’t require us to actually talk to anyone.  I’m thinking of “friendship evangelism” and “love evangelism” in particular.

The premise of friendship evangelism (also known as relationship evangelism or lifestyle evangelism) is that people will be attracted to your way of living (your holy behavior, your happiness, how you treat others, etc.), prompting them to ask you what your secret is, and predisposing them to become a Christian.  At that point, you share the gospel with them.

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We tend to define backsliding as a believer reverting to a life dominated by sin, but I think a better definition of backsliding is simply when we lose spiritual ground that we had achieved previously.

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