The World’s Trouble: Chapter 8

And it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: - Hebrews 9:27

And it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
– Hebrews 9:27

Chapter 8

When I mention the way of salvation, you rightly infer a need for salvation. But, what is salvation? To answer that, we need to look back over the ground we’ve already covered. All men and women are guilty sinners before God. In chapters 2 and 3, we considered what sin is and concluded that everything we do in unbelief is sin against God.

And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
– Romans 14:23

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
– Hebrews 11:6

Sin is sin because of who God is and we, being made in his image, fail to live up to God’s standard of holiness.

For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God;
– Romans 3:23

In chapter 4 we considered the consequences of sin being condemnation before God and eternal punishment in a lake of fire. We will not fail to stand before God and be judged by him. If we stand there in our sin, we will be sentenced to eternal punishment.

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
– Romans 6:23

We need to be saved from the presence, power, and penalty of sin. Salvation in the most general sense means deliverance. Salvation is a rescue. We need to be rescued from the wrath of God and delivered to the joy of God. We need to be rescued from the sentence of death and delivered to the gift of everlasting life. The salvation we are talking about is the whole rescue and deliverance of man from sin unto life.

All human beings are born in sin (Romans 5:12), but the Bible tells of some who are saved from it. There are some who gain everlasting life in abundance (John 10:10, 27-28). Some pass from death unto life.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.
– John 5:24

How are some delivered from death? How can God avert their just condemnation and make them fit for his family? How does God put away sin? There is a problem to be overcome here that, perhaps, you don’t see the difficulty of. If God is holy, righteous, and just, how can he forgive sin?

Let me illustrate the problem to see if it becomes clearer. Imagine there is a small town. It’s the sort of small town where everyone knows everyone else and everything everyone is doing. Maybe you’re from such a place, but whether you are or not, you can imagine it. Imagine in this small town that two prominent men got into an argument and one murdered the other. This took place at noon in the town square where dozens of witnesses saw it all and beside this, security cameras captured footage of the whole thing. Furthermore, all forensic evidence and the police investigations proved the man was guilty of murdering his neighbor. The man was put on trial before the judge and a jury of his peers. The prosecuting attorney presented an air-tight case that the man was guilty. The jury needed little deliberation and returned a guilty verdict promptly. Then imagine the judge considers all these factors and pronounces the man, “Not guilty,” and tells him he may go free.

What would happen in such a case? There would be a huge public outcry. The family of the murdered man would probably seek to sue in a higher court. At the least, the people would want that judge removed from the bench. Why? Because he was an unjust judge. He failed to uphold the law. The law states that when a person is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, they are to be sentenced according to their crime.

Now think about what is at stake in God forgiving sin. We defined sin essentially as a falling short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). The concept of sin is wrapped up in the very nature of God. The magnitude of sin is determined not by the nature of the act done but rather the dignity of the one sinned against (1 John 1:5; 1 Timothy 6:16). The very nature of God is why sin is sin and is also why God cannot simply pass over sin. How can God be just and justify a sinner?

To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
– Romans 3:26

Justify means to declare just, or righteous. It is a legal term meaning to be cleared of guilt. Paul sees a problem in God justifying sinners because God is just himself. If God declares righteous one who is not righteous, then God lies. If God lies, he denies himself and would not be God (Titus 1:2; 2 Timothy 2:13). If God passes over, or overlooks sin and declares the sinner righteous, God himself is unrighteous. God cannot and will not pervert judgment (2 Chronicles 19:7; Nahum 1:3). But Paul is referring to the fact that God has made such a way of salvation that God “might be just,” and at the same time “the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”

What we have come to is that the nature of God demands that sin be dealt with. Sin cannot stand before him apart from condemnation. By law, “every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward” (Hebrews 2:2), which just recompense is the sentence of death. In order to pass from death to life, something has to happen to our sin. It must be dealt with in such a way that God remains just and also the justifier of the believer.

In the next chapter, we want to begin considering how God takes away our sin so that we bear it no more and he remains just and righteous.

This is a portion of a book that I have been writing. I have decided to post it here in serial form. It is intended to be evangelistic. If the book has merit, I may seek to publish it in some form. Please feel free to share it and I welcome any feedback.

If you wish to read all the chapters in order you may do so here.

The World’s Trouble: Chapter 7

And it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: - Hebrews 9:27

And it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
– Hebrews 9:27

Chapter 7

Have you ever wondered why there are so many ways, so many religions, and even so many denominations claiming to be Christian? Many claim to be the one and only way while others merely claim to be a way. I have heard some say all religions are equally valid or invalid. Some take the proliferation of religions and denominations to be a sure sign that God doesn’t exist. That would be like going to an open-air market in Mexico and seeing many different vendors selling Louis Vuitton knock-offs for cheap and concluding that Louis Vuitton doesn’t exist or there is no such thing as a genuine handbag.

Famous designers of jewelry, bags, clothes, and shoes have their products counterfeited all the time. The existence and availability of these counterfeits in no way disproves the existence or value of the genuine. Why do people counterfeit Saddleback leather bags yet no one counterfeits brown plastic Kroger grocery bags? I have yet to see someone selling knock-off plastic grocery bags out of the trunk of their car. You have to have three basic realities for counterfeits to exist.

  1. The genuine original has to exist to be copied.
  2. The genuine original has to have value.
  3. There has to be a market. In other words, people have to want or need it.

While Kroger bags satisfy the first, they fail miserably on the latter two. From this we can supply a couple of answers to the question of why so many religions/denominations exist. First, God exists and there is a true way to Him but many find something objectionable so they seek counterfeits. Why do people buy knock-off Rolex watches? Because they want the look, feel, and brand recognition but they don’t want to pay the cost for the genuine. Of course, they ultimately find out they get what they pay for when the fake doesn’t work as well or last as long.

Second, the proliferation of religions illustrate that people want something more. People find that earthly things don’t provide lasting satisfaction and they want something more. People want some way to assuage their guilt and have peace of mind. People have some sense of eternity or their soul and are concerned about the afterlife. Thus, there is an abundant market for false religions and denominations. Rather than disproving the existence of the genuine, they point to the fact there really is a way but people find something about God or His way objectionable. We need a test. We need a method for finding the true way.

When agents are trained to detect counterfeit currency, they spend time studying the counterfeits, but they spend more time studying the genuine. They are always comparing against the genuine to see if they have a false bill. They do spend time with counterfeits, learning to recognize common faults in them. No one agent is ever going to encounter every possible counterfeit bill, but he doesn’t have to because he always has the genuine to compare against.

Likewise, we can’t examine every possible false way. I have tried to acquaint you with some common ones but we are far from looking at all of them. It’s more important for us to have the true way as a standard of measure for all ways we encounter. In Chapter 5, I brought up Colossians 2:8

Beware, lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
– Colossians 2:8

Paul warned about false philosophies they would encounter and gave “after Christ” as the standard of measure. So all ways should be tested against the way Christ taught. If they do not align, then they are to be rejected. Christ is the genuine. He must be the center and ground of the way or it is false. The problem with all other ways is that they are Christless. They may present a false christ but a false christ is no christ at all. Any message, philosophy, or way that claims salvation without Jesus Christ alone is false. Do not be deceived by it. Do not follow it. Do not be taken away by it. That is what Paul was saying.

The Bible is plain: “Without shedding of blood is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22). Shedding of blood means the death of Jesus Christ on the cross in the place of sinners. It’s simple, but it’s foolishness to some and offensive to others (1 Corinthians 1:23). It’s easy to see then how there would be counterfeits made. People want to go to Heaven but they don’t want to humble themselves, repent of their sins, and leave off everything to trust completely in Christ alone to save them (Acts 4:10-12).

Naaman the Syrian was a leper, and there was no cure for leprosy. He came to Samaria to see Elisha, the prophet of God. Elisha told him to wash seven times in the Jordan River and he would be cleansed of his leprosy (2 Kings 5:10). Naaman was furious with Elisha’s message. He thought it too simple, too mundane. He expected some great happenings and showings. Finally, his servant persuaded him that if he was willing to do some great thing had Elisha requested it, why should he not rather be willing to do so simple a thing as washing in the Jordan. Naaman listened and was healed of his leprosy (2 Kings 5:11-15).

If Naaman had found a false prophet, he would have been told to participate in some elaborate ritual or ceremony. Naaman would have been very glad with such a word and would have followed it straightaway. But what would have been the problem with this? It would not have healed his leprosy. In the end, the only effectual cure was the way God spoke through His prophet. Likewise, the only way of salvation is what God has provided through His Son (John 3:16-21; Acts 4:12).

From this perspective, it’s easy to see how false ways proliferate. In the rest of this book though, I want to focus on that one, true way, Jesus Christ. Why did Jesus have to die? How does His death do anything to affect our standing before God?

This is a portion of a book that I have been writing. I have decided to post it here in serial form. It is intended to be evangelistic. If the book has merit, I may seek to publish it in some form. Please feel free to share it and I welcome any feedback.

Through the Glass

Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire: ~ Ecclesiastes 6:9

Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire:
~ Ecclesiastes 6:9

Sometimes we need a shift in perspective.

Every preacher worth his salt, and probably many who aren’t, get asked questions frequently. One common question is in the form: Is it wrong to do X? People are not usually asking this in contemplation of murdering their neighbor or stealing his car. They ask, Is it wrong to play the lottery? Is it wrong to watch that movie? Is it wrong to listen to this music?

The questions are seldom of some theological import or about some passage they have been wrestling with to understand. They are usually not all that serious. The older I get, the more I esteem the wisdom of George Washington. He was not highly educated and had a keen sense of it. However, he was continually sought after for advice. Though he wrote some seventeen thousand letters in his lifetime, he seldom gave advice. He said that he had come to see that those who most sought advice least wanted it. Insightful.

I have found that many who ask the is-it-wrong questions are those who are going to do or continue to do what they’re doing regardless of anything you might have to say or show them from God’s Word. They just want a quick justification or affirmation. At best, they wait for your mouth to stop moving so they can say, “Yeah, but…”

A Better Question

Perhaps there is a better approach when dealing with more difficult questions. There is something to be said about circumstances. There is something to be said about strong and weak consciences. There is certainly something to be said about moderation, but maybe we should consider something else first.

One of the results of maturing in Christ is growing in discernment between things that are good and things that are evil (Hebrews 5:13-14). If you want to ask if something is wrong to do, let me first ask you some questions about your growth in wisdom.

  1. How committed are you to the regular reading and studying of God’s Word (Psalm 1:2; 119:9; Acts 17:11)?
  2. Are you in a sound church under the sound preaching and teaching of God’s Word (1 Thessalonians 5:20-22; Hebrews 10:25)?
  3. Are you praying regularly for wisdom and seeking it tenaciously (James 1:5; Proverbs 2:1-5)?
  4. Do you have wise, godly companions who edify and encourage you in a good way (Hebrews 10:25; Proverbs 13:20)?
  5. Do you receive correction and instruction when it is given (Proverbs 1:5; 9:9)?

If you answer, No, to any of those questions, then asking if it’s wrong to wear a certain article of clothing or go to some event is the wrong question. You’re starting at the wrong place. If you’re not using any of the means of growing in wisdom that God has instructed and provided for us, then you’re probably not going to receive good counsel when it is given. You’re also ill-equipped to discern between good and bad counsel.

A better question to ask in this regard is the question of expediency. Paul wrote, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not” (1 Corinthians 10:23). Expedient means helpful or beneficial. He wrote this in the context of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. As he reasons through it, you can see it’s more complicated than yes or no. If you are interested in this verse in more depth, you can go to a past article I wrote about it here.

Rather than asking if something is wrong, you should ask if it’s expedient. Is it helpful, beneficial? How is doing this going to affect my closeness to God? There are things that stir our thoughts and affections for God and there are things that stunt them or kill them cold. How something affects you is a question that others can’t really answer for you, unless you’re walking with wise friends who know you and see you over time. Then they can help, but they still don’t know fully what is going on within.

Solomon taught that the relentless pursuit of entertainment is folly (Ecclesiastes 7:2-6). Everything in life doesn’t have to be a sermon to be beneficial but you do have to have wisdom to have the good kind of enjoyment of the things of earth (Ecclesiastes 2:24; 3:12-13, 22; 5:18-20; 8:15; 9:7; Proverbs 5:15-19).

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