Skip to content

salvation

Just Deserts

Share

Among atheists, Christians have a reputation for consigning people to heaven or hell based on the orthodoxy of their beliefs. You can be a sexual predator who preys on children, but if you confess your sins and accept Jesus as your savior, you have a guaranteed spot in heaven. On the other hand you can be a world-class humanitarian, but if you deny the basic tenets of the Christian faith, you are doomed to hell. To be sure, this is something of a caricature of Christian beliefs, but I think it describes fairly accurately what many Christians believe to be true. However, there is no foundation for this view in the Bible. The Biblical view of judgment in the afterlife is that it is based on deeds. Again and again, both Old and New Testaments stress that all people will be judged according to what they have done, whether it is good or bad. This includes Christians. Nowhere in the Bible is there any mention of people being judged according to their beliefs. Everyone is judged according to their deeds.

Suppose a man believes—as some Muslims reportedly believe—that he will go to heaven if he kills an infidel. Will he be sentenced to jail for such a belief? Will our courts fine him or exact some other punishment for this belief? No. He will go to jail only if he is found guilty of actually killing someone. Are human courts more righteous than God’s? Of course not. Then how can we think that God will condemn people or reward them for what they believe?

Someone may object at this point that there are many Bible verses that also tell us we are saved by faith, that God rewards believers with eternal life in heaven, and that these rewards are not promised to unbelievers. To answer this objection, I need to introduce a distinction in different kinds of believing.

I believe that the earth is round, that the sun is a nearby star, that all life on earth has a common ancestor, that Abraham Lincoln was our 16th President, and that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Will any of these beliefs save me? No. They will not. Most of them have little or no impact on how I live my life. Even the last one cannot save me if I do nothing about it. It is perfectly possible for me to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and not follow him or do anything that he commands. These are what I think of as propositional beliefs. They are beliefs in certain propositions, statements of fact or opinion. This kind of belief is almost never meant when the Bible talks about faith. James is a notable exception, and if you want to see what the Bible has to say about whether faith or deeds are more important, read James 2:14-26. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

See? James points out that demons believe in God’s existence. Merely believing that there is a God gets you no brownie points with him.

I believe in my children. I believe in my wife. I believe in myself. I believe in Jesus. This is a different kind of belief. This is not an academic assent to certain propositions. This is relational trust. I have confidence in my kids. I have watched them grow into adulthood and take responsibility for themselves. I know they have learned good principles, and I have done my best to set them a good example. I believe in them. Likewise I believe in my wife. She is talented and smart and strong, and she can do what she sets out to do. I trust her. And, yes, I trust Jesus. He has proven himself loving and good in everything I know of him. He encouraged me when I struggled with depression, and he has given me a family to love, enriching me beyond anything I could have hoped for or imagined. This is the belief the Bible talks about, confidence in God’s goodness and love as a father to us all. It is this faith that saves us because we fully entrust ourselves to him, fearlessly doing what we know is right because our souls are at rest in him. By this faith we share with others when we have barely enough for ourselves. By this faith we speak out against injustice. By this faith we continue to proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus even when we are ridiculed for believing impossible stories.

What we believe matters far less than what we do, but what we do depends a lot on whom we trust.

Share

Peter’s Reinstatement

Share

Peter was downcast after the initial joy of Jesus’ resurrection. He couldn’t forget that he had denied Jesus after boasting of his loyalty. Even though Jesus had anticipated his desertion, Peter knew he could no longer expect to be part of the new kingdom Jesus told them about. Like the other disciples, he still expected Jesus to seize power, oust the Romans, and make Israel great again. But for Peter there would no longer be a place at court on Jesus’ right or left hand. He had failed in the time of trial. He had proved disloyal and untrustworthy.

Peter still knew how to fish. So he returned to what he knew, and some of the other disciples went with him. Though not plagued with the same sense of failure, they did not know what was going to happen, and they needed to work to occupy their hands and thoughts. They spent the night fishing but caught nothing. In the morning, they saw Jesus standing on the shore of the lake, but they did not realize it was him.

Friends,” he called to them. “Don’t you have any fish.”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because there were so many fish.

Then John said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were only about 100 yards from shore. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish already on it, and some bread.

Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.

After they ate, Jesus took Peter aside and asked him, “Peter, do you love me more than these?”

Yes, of course, Lord,” said Peter. “You know that I love you.”

Feed my lambs,” said Jesus. Then he asked again, “Peter, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord. You know that I love you,” Peter replied.

“Take care of my sheep,” said Jesus. Then he asked yet again, “Peter, do you like me?”

Peter was hurt that the Lord had asked the third time, “Do you like me?” He thought back on the years they had spent together, the wonders he had seen this man do, the conviction that had inexorably stolen over his heart that this man was somehow God. He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I like you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old, you will feel your way, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Then he said to him in that no-nonsense tone Peter knew so well, “Follow me!”

Could it be true? Was Jesus really telling him that he still had a place for him? Wasn’t there someone else better suited to the task Jesus had in mind. He could see John obviously eavesdropping nearby. “What about him?” he asked Jesus.

If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Jesus replied.

Then Peter knew. He knew beyond doubt. Jesus had urged all the disciples to believe in him, and Peter had. His faith in Jesus had saved him, but what transformed him was Jesus’ faith in him.

Share

Does God Love Everyone?

Share

Read and comment on my blog.

I watched a clever music video today for a song by Michael Gungor Band called “God is not a White Man.” The chorus of the song repeatedly affirms that God loves everyone. Most Christians would find this claim unexceptionable, but does it accord with what the Bible says about God? Does God really love everyone? If so, what does such universal love mean? If not, whom then does he love?

Let’s start by defining love. I may use the same word to describe my feelings for ice cream and my feelings for my wife, so we need something a bit more precise. To love is to act from sincere affection in ways that will secure the good of the one loved. For example, I love my children. My love sometimes impels me to punish them, never because I take pleasure in hurting them, but only because the punishment will help them grow and develop into mature adults. So now let’s ask our question this way: Does God act from sincere affection in ways that will secure of good of everyone?

The consistent witness of Scripture is that he does not. God condemns some people and saves others. He pours out destruction on some while rescuing others. In the end, he accepts some people into heaven and condemns others to hell. Can we say that God loves those he condemns? Here is what the Psalmist says:

The LORD examines the righteous,
but the wicked, those who love violence,
he hates with a passion.
On the wicked he will rain
fiery coals and burning sulfur;
a scorching wind will be their lot. (Psalm 11:5-6)

So according to Psalm 11, God hates the wicked. If we were to combine this verse with verses quoted by Paul in Romans 3:10-18, we might justly conclude that far from loving everyone, God hates everyone. No one is righteous; everyone is wicked; no one fears God or seeks to know him, or knows the way of peace. Instead everyone is deceitful and destructive and violent. God hates everyone, and everyone is destined for destruction. The great wonder is that he hasn’t pronounced his judgment already and condemned us all.

The Bible no where says that God loves everyone. It says that he loves the righteous (Psalm 146:8). And it says that his nature is love (I John 4:8, 16). When God appeared to Moses he told him that he was “compassionate and gracious…, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” God’s own revelation of himself is as a God of love.

Here is a contradiction. God’s nature is love, but he still hates the wicked, and everyone is wicked. His love prompts him to forgive, but his justice demands that he condemn. So God provided a means by which people could be forgiven and made righteous. He sent his own son to take the place of sinful people and endure his wrath on their behalf so that they could take his son’s place and be accounted God’s children. He has made this salvation available to everyone who puts their trust in his son, Jesus Christ.

The expression, therefore, of God’s love to everyone is in Jesus Christ. Anyone who rejects Jesus, rejects God’s love. For such a person there is no love left “but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (Heb 10:27). So now God loves everyone who loves his son and hates everyone who hates his son. He knows those who belong to him.

But what about you. Yes, you. Does God love you? If you have put your trust in Jesus Christ, then you know that he does, and nothing—not even death itself—can separate you from his love (Rom 8:38-39). If you have not put your trust in Jesus, then he still loves you enough to make you this offer: you give up your life and everything you call your own to him, and he gives to you eternal life and freedom from your guilt and sin. That’s the deal: all or nothing, life or death. There is no middle ground. Which do you choose?

Share