Category Archives: Soteriology

The Cup of Wrath

cup of wrath“Jesus drank a cup of wrath without mercy, that we might drink a cup of mercy without wrath.”
– J. Oswald Sanders


Imagine that all of your deeds have been laid bare. Every evil thought, every harsh word, every wicked deed, every selfish desire, and any other thing you have ever done that is wrong. They also list every time someone cried out in need and you ignored it, every good deed that you could have done for someone but refused to do.

As the list is read, a cup nearby fills with the wrath deserved for such crimes. A lifetime of unpunished wrongdoing fills it to the brim and it foams with pain and loss and despair. Pain you deserve for all the evil you have done and all the good you refused to do for others.

Now imagine that God takes the cup and drinks it. All of it.

There is no more evil. There is no more pain. There is no more loss or suffering.

Because he drank it all. It is all gone. He has taken the punishment reserved for you into Himself.

And He has paid it in full.

You do not have to imagine it. He already did it.

For all who believe. It. Is. Finished.

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God freely and graciously declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.

Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.”
– Saul of Tarsus to the Church at Rome, circa 57 A.D.


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Posted by on December 5, 2015 in Soteriology, Uncategorized


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Curtain Call

Hamlet Cast17231The picture you see here is of a curtain call. The curtain call is the moment at the end of a play when all the actors come out from behind the curtain to take a final bow. I chose this particular curtain call as an object lesson, because this curtain call is from the play Hamlet. Why is that significant?

Because just a moment ago, nearly all of these people were dead.

For those familiar with William Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet, the story ends with a climatic duel that ends up causing the deaths of just about every single character. The very last scene see Hamlet’s friend bursting on the scene to find a castle hall full of the dead. The story ends, everyone dies.

But lo! The curtain call! Everyone is alive again! It turns out this play was just a work of imagination, just a brief lesson in miniature, and everyone is actually OK. Death was not the end for these people.

But real life does not work that way. Or does it? What does the bard say?

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII and Macbeth Act V, Scene V

Even the bard agrees, life is a play. The only thing I would disagree with is that last bit. The tale we are a part of is significant.

The Creator God is our Playwright. He gives us all a part to play and a job to do. A man, as the Bard says, might play many parts in his life. Everyone has entrances and exits onto the stage. The entrance is birth. The exit is death.

And yet, death is not the end. There is the Curtain Call. We call it the Resurrection.

It will be a day when all who belong to Christ who have mourned the dead and felt the sting of its loss will awake to find it was all just a play and that the deaths they suffered did not last. Everyone who was dead is alive once again!

The beloved elder cut down in Act I holds hands with the young man who died in the battle of Act V. Abraham, Paul, William Wilberforce, and Billy Graham will all take a bow and toss their crowns at the feet of the Great Playwright upon the glassy sea.

Then there will be the Cast Party called the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, and nothing waiting but endless paradise.

Play your part well. The curtain soon falls.

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Posted by on November 9, 2015 in Soteriology


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The Love of Darth Vader


Darth Vader. Arch-Villain or loving father?

Darth Vader was saved through his son, Luke Skywalker.

Those of us who are Star Wars fans remember that Luke was adamant after fighting (and losing) against Darth Vader in episode 5 that his father turned sith lord still had good within him and that Luke believed he could be turned back to the Light Side. Kenobi and Yoda were unconvinced and urged Luke to kill both Vader and the Emperor as soon as possible or all would be lost.

We all remember that, at the last moment, Vader was saved. When he saw his helpless son being electrocuted by Palpatine’s force lightning, he seized the Emperor and threw him into a pit before dying himself.

None of this is news, but I have a theory that has grown within me as I’ve watched the films since I was a boy.

Darth Vader always loved his son, and he never intended to kill him.

Let’s examine the facts.

In Episode 3, Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader. When he awakens in his metal body, Palpatine lies to him and tells Vader he murdered Padme in his anger (and thus any children she was carrying). Vader is now under the assumption he has nothing good to live for and wholeheartedly devotes himself to the Dark Side.

In Episode 4, many things happen concerning the Death Star we will discuss later. What is important to focus on is that he does not know Luke (or Leia for that matter) are his children. He’s so filled with hate and they are so weak in the force he can’t feel them even though he’s very close to Leia for long periods of time. It’s only when Luke finally opens himself to the Force to put a proton torpedo right in the pickle barrel that Vader suddenly senses, “the Force is strong with this one…” Still, he’s unaware this boy is his son and in fact does try to legitimately kill him.

However in Episode 5 the opening crawl explains that some time has passed and Vader is now obsessively searching the galaxy for….what? The Rebels? No, for Luke Skywalker himself. He’s scattered probe droids all across the cosmos looking for Luke, but why?

It can’t be revenge. Vader didn’t really think the Death Star would work, as indicated in this scene. It seems that Palpatine, dark lord of the Sith that he was, didn’t see the Force like Vader did. This was probably due to Vader’s extensive Jedi training. Vader understood the Force wasn’t just a neat tool in his bag of tricks. The Force was everything. The Death Star was impressive, but it wasn’t anything compared to the Force. Palpatine put his trust in giant weapons of terror and pride, much like Hitler did. Vader knew that if the rebels had anyone who could communicate with the Force, this ridiculous plan would be undone. And he was right. One teenage boy with the Force on his side in an X-wing brought the entire thing down. Vader clearly felt this was a waste of time and that attitude can be felt throughout the film. He clearly didn’t have a lot of emotional ties to the project, and while he would have been miffed when it got destroyed, I don’t think it would have driven him to some kind of manhunt to find the single man responsible.

So why Luke? Well it’s clear that by this time, Imperial spies have found out the name of the rebel who fired the winning shot, and for all of Kenobi’s efforts to hide Luke, he didn’t bother changing his name. When Vader heard his name was Skywalker, and knew his rough age, the fact he was a crack-shot pilot and strong with the Force….well lets just say Vader isn’t an idiot. This had to be his son, or at least it could be.

When the Imperial army lands on Hoth, Vader ignores the battle and aggressively searches for Luke within. Now, you may say, this doesn’t prove Vader loved him. In fact, its more likely he was obsessed with finding this young Force user to put him down so that he has no chance to become a Jedi. That is a valid point, considering how Vader knows how dangerous a single Force user can be if he’s trained up. But there’s more.

In the asteroid scene, Palpatine contacts Vader directly with an urgent message. In this message Palpatine reveals to Vader that the young rebel who took down the Death Star is none other than Luke Skywalker, son of Annakin. This conversation is crucial for a number of reasons. 1. Palpatine reveals this information slowly to Vader. He clearly believes Vader does not know this information yet and is approaching him carefully with it. After all he’d told Vader his kid had died. 2. Vader acts surprised, letting us know he’s keeping the emperor in the dark. Vader has known for some time that it was Luke and that Luke is his son. For all his so-called loyalty, he’s kept this fact from Palpatine for as long as he could. 3. Vader’s tone. Vader says, “How can that be possible?” in a tone that surely makes me think he’s grinding his teeth. The unsaid second phrase is, “You told me my child died.” Vader is angry at Palpatine, but he holds back, because he’s got a plan. 4. Vader asks that Luke be spared. Palpatine doesn’t say it, but he doesn’t have to. Luke must die, lest he become a real Jedi Knight. Vader proactively asks that Luke be spared on the condition he be turned to the Dark Side. He masks this with, “He could become a powerful ally.” Now they both know the Sith rules: two there are, no more, no less, a master and an apprentice. Palpatine agrees, because Palpatine believes Luke will be a stronger apprentice than Vader, who is growing old and weak. (This is proven in Episode 6). Palpatine probably knows Vader wants to use Luke to assassinate himself, for this is the Sith way also. Nevertheless, Palpatine decides to take the risk.

The evidence really starts to mount at Cloud City. First, Vader tests the Carbon Freezing Unit on Solo first because he doesn’t want, “the Emperor’s prize damaged.” Now I believe part of Vader’s plan was to turn Luke into a Sith and overthrow Palpatine. At this point Vader is nowhere near what we’d call “good.” He’s still very much evil, and he is totally plotting to make Luke his apprentice and overthrow Palpatine, but underneath it all there is a dormant love for his son that even he doesn’t realize yet.

Vader pleads with his son.

Vader pleads with his son.

When Luke confronts Vader, Vader doesn’t really put his best foot forward. He could have crushed Luke easily, but doesn’t. This is not surprising given his goals of overthrowing the Emperor. However at the edge of the bridge overlooking the chasm in that famous scene we all know and love, something happens I find illogical. Luke is defeated and disarmed (literally). Yet he is nowhere near being defeated spiritually. He is not giving in, and its pretty darn clear. Vader, however, doesn’t kill Luke. He didn’t hesitate 20 years earlier with any other Jedi, even the children adawans. There was no mercy,no parley. Yet he pleads with Luke to surrender. Pleads. You can hear it in his voice, he really, really doesn’t want to kill Luke. This whole fight he’s risked everything just to get Luke to this point where he’d have no choice, and yet Luke chooses death rather than join him. Still Vader relents. Finally Vader tells Luke that he is his father, at which point Luke understandably loses it. His last words to Luke are not harsh, but almost tender, “Join me. It is the only way.” You can almost hear behind it, “Please son.” Luke lets go.

Vader wastes no time. He knows Luke doesn’t die down there (he can fully sense his presence now at all times) and heads for his ship. As the Falcon makes its dramatic escape, Vader continues to plead with his son via the Force.

Now at this point, we still really don’t have anything really conclusive. But it is worth noting that Luke himself is convinced. He will insist to both Yoda and Kenobi when he meets them that he felt good in Vader at Bespin. He felt his father’s love.

Alright, on to Episode 6 and the good stuff. In the scene where the Emperor arrives on the Death Star II, he tells Vader he senses that Vader wants to continue searching for Luke. Vader seems almost annoyed at this, and I believe he was trying to keep Palpatine from knowing this. A little later, Palpatine tells Vader to wait on the command ship for further instructions.

Here’s the big one. When Luke flies in with the rebels on the Tyderion, he senses Vader on the command ship and Vader senses him. Luke knows they are hosed already. “I shouldn’t have come.” he says. Vader immediately goes to Palpatine, who is annoyed Vader has disobeyed orders. Vader explains that the rebels have landed on Endor. Palpatine waives this off, “Yes I know.” It is all according to plan. “Skywalker is with them.” Vader continues. Palpatine looks visibly worried, “Are you sure?” he asks. “I have felt him.” Vader replies. “Strange that I have not,” Palpatine responds “I trust that your feelings on this matter are clear Lord Vader?” “They are clear.” Vader assures him.

OK! So this is really important. Vader can sense Luke whereas Palpatine cannot. We know that Palpatine is by and large the stronger in the Dark Side of the two, so it’s not possible Vader was doing something with the Dark Side that Palpatine could not. So how did Vader sense his son? Through the Light Side. Vader, for a moment concerning his son, was channeling the Light Side of the Force again. Palpatine confirms this through his question, “Are your feelings clear?” He knows Vader channeled the Light Side, which could only have been done through some sort of goodness or affection towards Luke. In other words, love. Palpatine is concerned Vader actually loves his son. If that’s true it could undo everything (and as we’ll see, it does.)

When Luke surrenders to Vader, Luke is now the one pleading. He believes there is good left in Annakin yet, but he overestimates this. He believes Vader loves him too much to expose him to Palpatine, but he underestimates Palpatine’s hold over Vader, and is taken to the Throne Room. Some important things are revealed, however. One, Vader is impressed with Luke’s lightsaber. One can almost sense pride in his voice. In addition, when Vader rejects Luke’s pleas to turn away from evil, he says, “It is….too late for me, son.” Vader wants to run away with Luke, but he believes that the Dark Side is an inevitable force he cannot escape nor be redeemed from. Palpatine’s lies, like the lies of an abusive parent or spouse, have sunk deep within him. Vader can forsee a future with his son, but only one that lies in the Dark Side. Now that he’s going to the Emperor, Vader believes this dream lost. “He is your master now.” Vader doesn’t believe he can best Palpatine.

When Vader and Luke finally cross blades, we see Luke is much improved, but Vader is still clearly better. Anyone can see Vader is holding back, taunting Luke in an attempt to arouse his anger so that Luke will channel the Dark Side. At first, Luke does the Jedi proud, and refuses to even meaningfully engage Vader. Then Vader searches Luke and discovers Leia. His taunts about turning Leia are too much for Luke, and he flies into a rage.

At this point, Luke is channeling Dark Side. He aggressively attacks Vader with hatred. He feels betrayed. Luke now believes what Yoda and Kenobi said. Vader is irredeemable, and in his foolish quest to save him, Luke has now betrayed everyone. Luke strikes out again and again until at last he throws Vader down in ruin and chops off his hand. Luke is about to land the death blow when he sees the cyborg stump that was his father’s hand. He looks down at his own cyborg hand. Suddenly he realizes he is becoming just like Vader. Bit by bit, he’s becoming a Sith. He sheathes his weapon and turns to the Emperor. “Never.” he throws the saber away, “I’ll never turn to the Dark Side. You’ve failed your highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” That bit about him throwing his saber away always bothered me as a kid. Why throw away your weapon? Because Luke finally realizes what the real battle is. It’s not the battle for physical survival, but spiritual survival. If he kept his weapon, perhaps he could have defeated Palpatine. But even if he had, he would have smoothly taken his place as Lord of the Sith. By throwing the weapon down, he threw aside temptation to do more harm and rejected the Dark Side (unlike in the cave in episode 5, where he chose to fight). He was now a Jedi.

"So be it. Jedi."

“So be it. Jedi.”

The Emperor now realizes this brat has cost him everything. Vader is useless now and probably not going to survive and his chosen successor is now a stinking Jedi. He raises his hands, and pure hate turns to kinetic energy made for killing. Force Lightning. Luke is quickly overcome and falls to the ground writhing in pain. Vader gets up after a fashion to watch this unfold. I believe he was expecting the torture to provoke Luke to surrender and turn at last. I think Vader knew his time was up, but maybe his son could live on as Palpatine’s new apprentice. But Luke holds on, and on, and on. Soon, the pain does get to Luke, but not at all in the way Vader expects. He begins to plead, like a child, “Father, please! Help me!” Vader hears his son’s pleas and looks at Palpatine. All he sees there is pure hatred. At some point, Vader snaps. He grabs Palpatine while he’s still channeling, and you can see that the lightning is hitting Vader all the way to the pit, causing severe pain and damage, but Vader makes it and throws him in. Heck yeah!

I think in those last moments, Vader came to accept two realizations. One, that Palpatine was never the good guy, despite the lies fed to him in Episodes 2 and 3. His way was not the right way, and all Palpatine had ever done for him was take away everything he loved and enslaved him. The spell Palpatine had put on Annakin had broken. Two, Annakin realized that his pretensions about training Luke to overthrow Palpatine to become the new Sith lords was just a cover for his true love that he held for his only son. Third, that whether he could be redeemed or not, there were things worse than death, and seeing your boy tortured to death by a madman while he pleas for your help is definitely one of them.

So in conclusion, I believe that Vader loved his son Luke from the moment he knew he existed. I think all of his actions and efforts in Episodes 5 and 6 were to save his son from death and to be with him, albeit for most of that time that relationship was to be one of Sith Lord and Apprentice. (The Dark Side twisted his love.)

Why is this on my blog? I am too tired now to make spiritual allegorical connections, so I’ll let you do that work yourself. 🙂


Posted by on January 24, 2015 in Soteriology


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The Sandheap and Sin

Pictured: A heap of sand. Maybe.

Let us begin with a famous paradox (The Sorites’ Paradox). One has a heap of sand made up of 1,000,000 grains of sand.

We assume;
1,000,000 grains of sand is a heap of sand. (Premise 1)
A heap of sand minus one grain is still a heap. (Premise 2)

Repeated applications of Premise 2 (each time starting with one less grain), eventually forces one to accept the conclusion that a heap may be composed of just one grain of sand.

What does this have to do with sin? Everything.

Reformed theology affirms that the Bible teaches that it is sinfulness, and not individual sins, which condemn a person to Hell. Reformed theology affirms that any person not living in the grace of Jesus Christ is sinful and condemned, regardless of how many (or how few) sins he may have. It also affirms that anyone who is in Christ is totally saved and secure no matter how many (or few) sins he may commit.

To many this doctrine is offensive and unfair. Many believe that a person with few sins may enter Heaven without Christ, and others believe that those with many sins may not enter even with Christ. To these people I say this: answer the paradox. How many grains of sand constitute a heap?

Either one grain of sand constitutes a heap, or there is no such thing as a heap, or there is a specified number of grains which constitute a heap.

Therefore when applied to the question of sin we find one of these must be true;
(Truth 1) One sin is sufficient for condemnation.
(Truth 2) No amount of sins are sufficient for condemnation.
(Truth 3) A specified number of sins are required for condemnation.

If #1 is true, then Reformed theology is correct in this matter, and all sinners are equally condemned without Christ, and all saved persons are equally secure in Christ.
If #2 is true, then all of Christianity is bunk because there was/is no sin debt with God and therefore no reason to send Christ to die for us.
If #3 is true, then there should be a specific number of sins laid out clearly in Scripture, underneath which there is no condemnation (Christ or not) and above which there is no salvation (Christ or not).

What does Scripture say?

Galatians 2
We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

First, Paul makes it clear that a person cannot be made right with God through his own effort (works of the law). This is critical, for many believe the sand heap can be thus altered in size by one’s good works. It cannot. We cannot reduce its number. Just as a thousand good deeds done by a murderer cannot bring the victim back to life, so we cannot undo our own sins.
Second, Paul also makes it plain that if it were possible to attain righteousness on one’s own, Christ’s death would be meaningless. Therefore if one ascribes to the idea of Christianity, truth #2 must be discarded. The sand heap is very real. The only question is, how many grains of sand constitute a heap?

James 2
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James makes it clear that there is no partiality among sins. Anyone who breaks God’s law in just one place becomes guilty for breaking all of it. QED, one grain of sand constitutes a heap.

John’s Gospel 3
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

1st John 5
This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

God used John the Elder to make it plain to us. If you are in Christ Jesus, then you will not be condemned. If you are not, you are already condemned. That is, the number or severity of your sins is really irrelevant. If you have ever sinned (and all humans have) then you are a sinner and sinful. Either you will believe in Jesus, trust in Jesus and repent and therefore find full grace and forgiveness in Him, or you will refuse Him and be condemned to an eternity separated from the Father of Joy in eternal torment.

Romans 1
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

2nd Corinthians 3
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Galatians 6
For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.

1st Corinthians 4
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.

No matter how few sins you have committed, or how many good works you have done, you cannot be saved apart from Jesus Christ. Likewise, the man in Christ is not judged on the quantity of his sins after repentance nor is he judged on the number of good works he has done in Christ. What counts, as Paul says in Galatians 6:15, is a new creation. The new man in Christ is a changing man who is changing from faith to faith and glory to glory. He is being sanctified out of sin but is so long as he breathes a work in progress, which should not be judged on some arbitrary system of men, including his own.

Romans 5

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, andso death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

One grain of sand is a heap. One sin results in total condemnation. One act of true righteousness (the Cross) is sufficient to pay for all.

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Posted by on September 22, 2014 in Soteriology


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Total Depravity


This used to be legitimate entertainment. We aren’t far from the same today.

Total depravity.

It’s the doctrine that says that because of our father Adam’s sin, we are all sinful beings from birth. Every human sins and is totally affected by sin. This is how the Bible explains it in Romans 3:10-19,

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good,
not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.  There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.

It’s not a popular teaching. Most humans like to believe they are basically good with some character flaws, if that. There are even some inside the Church who fall prey to this kind of thinking and begin to question the goodness of a God who would send people who are “basically good” to an eternal Hell.

What I find most baffling about this is that outside of a religious context, humans freely condemn themselves when they are honest. Take this article from the secular site Listverse,

“Have you noticed that most history books divide eras among major social, political, or disastrous events and that the lion’s share of these are wars? In 200,000 years of the modern human species’ history (our personal history), the only thing we’ve been able to do consistently well is kill each other. All animals fight, but only humans wage war. We are the only species that has ever existed on Earth to have attempted the elimination of entire species. And we are always getting better at it, always pushing scientific knowledge, and almost always one of the first things for which science is put to use is the invention of new methods of murder.

We do it so well that we cannot even face ourselves when we consider it. We devise euphemisms, especially in time of war: it’s not murder – it’s combat, or “defending our freedom,” “target neutralization,” “justifiable homicide,” “soldiery,” “just following orders.”

The human is the only animal ever known to be capable of revenge, hatred, or sadism, and we are intimate with all three. We kill for every reason.

Black powder was originally invented by Chinese alchemists looking for the elixir of life, then used as a means to set off fireworks for amusement. That didn’t last long. Now it is more commonly called gunpowder.

The Wright Brothers pioneered human aviation for the purpose of enabling aerial warfare, because in their opinion this would make national invasions impossible, and would thus negate all warfare in the first place. Wishful thinking. Tesla envisioned his “death beam” for the same purpose. Einstein had no idea his Special Theory of Relativity could be used to split atoms for the purpose of killing people. When Robert Oppenheimer and Enrico Fermi explained to him what was being done at The Manhattan Project, he burst into tears.

Consider all the kindhearted, nonviolent people through the ages, Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King. What do we do to them? Hate them, harm them, kill them out of spite.

The human is an unnatural animal because of all this. It does not fit into any environment, except perhaps the urban environment. We think of ourselves as predators, usually with a sense of pride. Nevertheless, on even terms, the human would not stand half a chance in a fight to the death with most of the other entries on this list. But that only incites us to pick the fight, and we do so by the one method in which we have no equals: thinking. Given the proper preparation (typically guns), we are more than a match for any other organism on this list. And that fills us with malicious and/or “sporting” glee.”
Listverse, 10 Deadliest Animals by Flamehorse

Romans 2:14-15 says

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

We are all rebels against God. Our rebellion against all that is good and right is before our very eyes on the news every day. We make excuses and attempt to justify our own evils, but our recognition of others only serves to prove we are, as a race, evil to the core. The only hope we have is found in Jesus Christ. He paid the price on the Cross for all rebels and God proved it by raising Him from the dead. Anyone who has the Son has life, anyone who does not have the Son of God does not have life.

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Posted by on September 20, 2014 in Soteriology


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The Special Tree

One-Tree-Hill-D-green-19839104-1280-1024Once upon a time there stood a tree planted in a great forest.
Day by day the tree stood in its place among its kin, its great boughs reaching for the heavens, its leaves swaying to the breeze.
“Perhaps I will stay here forever,” thought the tree, “swaying forever with my kin in this beautiful forest?”
And the tree was happy.

Many years it stood, until men had need of its lumber.
With axes they came and felled the tree to the ground.
“Men have come to shape and make me to their will!” thought the tree.
“I wonder what I will be made into?” pondered the tree.
“A great ship tall and proud, bearing men across the sea?”
“A strong house secure and warm, sheltering generations of families?”
“The throne of a mighty king, supporting him in great matters?”
So the tree sat as lumber, dreaming of what it might become one day.
And the tree was happy.

But one day men came for the tree’s lumber.
“We will make a device of cruelty and suffering from you,” they said, “Criminals will be put to death on you.”
How could this be?
All those years in the forest, growing tall and strong to end this way?
An instrument of cruelty and shame.
An instrument of death.
And the tree was very sad.

The tree was carried out to the man who would die on him.
“Do not be sad,” He said, “for you are My most special tree.”
“I am special? What will I do?” asked the tree.
“You will lift me high on your branches, and I will show God’s love to all the world.” He said, “And when they remember you, they will remember Me.”
So the two walked up the hill, and the tree held its Maker while He gave His life to save the world.
And the tree was happy.

– Jason Cohoon
(Inspired by The Dream of the Rood and The Giving Tree)

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Posted by on March 16, 2013 in Christology, Soteriology


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The Good, the Bad, and the Rewards

justice-scalesThe Church I grew up in taught me this axiom: People who do bad things are punished, people who do good things are not punished.

From what I hear, they are still teaching that.

This was hard on me as a young Christian. If I screw up, I’ll go to hell. If I work hard and do what’s right, I won’t go to hell. Basically, it framed God in my mind as a vengeful deity who was so angry at us miserable ****roaches that the slightest misstep would invoke His wrath. If we watched our step and minded our manners, He might let us in. Maybe.

It also implied that there were no rewards with God. The “reward” was that you would not be sent to hell for all eternity and go to Heaven instead. Well that sounds great, but there is a catch there. While people didn’t (and don’t) like to admit it, some Christians are working harder and doing better than others. Some in our church avoided known sins and were somewhat charitable. But others gave up their careers and dreams and whole lives for God. Are they all equal in Heaven? If so, why not just obey the commandments and “skim” by with the rest?

The answer I always recieved for such questions was that all such thinking was evil and that I was being selfish and should get my act together.

But I thought “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6


Not only is not foolish to talk about rewards, the Bible says that if we don’t believe God will reward us then we have no faith, and if we have no faith we cannot please Him. To understand what the Bible really teaches about rewards, punishment and the escape thereof, we must first define some terms: There are good people and bad people, and good works and bad works. One does not necessarily always go with the other.

Scripture teaches that God desires all things He created to be good: Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31

Scripture teaches us that all humans are bad people:  Romans 3:9-18

Scripture teaches us that all bad people are dead spiritually and that these spiritually dead are punished in Hell forever: Ephesians 2:1, John 8:24,  Revelation 20:11-15

Scripture teaches us that God has provided an escape from this punishment in Jesus Christ and Him alone: John 3:16-18Acts 4:8-12, John 14:6, 1st John 5:11-12

Scripture teaches that through the atonement of Jesus Christ, we cease to be bad people and become good people: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, 2 Corinthians 5:21

Scripture teaches us that this atonement is a gift of God that cannot be earned through good works: Romans 3:19-20Ephesians 2:8-9

Scripture teaches that bad people sometimes perform good works: Luke 6:32

Scripture teaches that good people sometimes perform bad works: Romans 7:18-251 John 1:8-10

Scripture teaches that a bad person, whether he does any good works or not, will still be punished: Isaiah 64:6Psalm 49:7-9

Scripture teaches that a good person, even if he sometimes does bad works, will still be spared punishment: 1st John 2:1-2, 1st John 5:18

Ok, so we’ve cleared the air about many things already. To recap, here’s the deal: Everyone starts out as a bad person. At their core, they are sinful and have no relationship with God. They may occasionally do good works, but always for the wrong reasons, and anyway no amount of them can atone for their sins. The only way to escape hell and go to heaven is through Jesus Christ, who can take the sinful core out of a bad person, nail it to the cross, and then insert his righteousness which then turns them into good people. That is, good at their core. A good person has Christ living within them. Good people, however, still mess up and do bad works, because their flesh is still sinful, but this doesn’t change their core being. So, that being true, why strive (as Paul said to do 1 Corinthians 9:24) to perform good works?

Scripture teaches that good people who do good works are not only spared punishment, but rewarded: Matt 16:27, Revelation 22:12

*Note that Christ in both passages says “according to their works,” this is not a state of being a Christian or not, but according to one’s deeds and works. It cannot refer to salvation, because it is a reward according to works, and salvation is not by works, but by faith through grace – Ephesians 2:8-9.

Scripture teaches that good people who waste their life and fail to do good works are still spared punishment, but lose rewards: 1 Corinthians 3:10-15

Again Paul paints an illustration of building a house, strangely similar to the fable about the Three Pigs, where the house is tested; not by a wolf’s howl, but by the fiery Judgement of God. If it is made of good and proper materials, it will stand the test and the builder will be rewarded. If it is consumed, the foolish builder will still be saved, but it will be like a man escaping from a burning building: singed, half naked, and nothing to his name but his life.

Of course, escaping Hell into Heaven with nothing but your shirt is still a huge blessing, but wouldn’t we rather please God and receive the great rewards He has for us? Pastor Johnny Hunt of Woodstock Baptist once said “If you want to hear ‘Well done faithful servant’ you will have to do well.”

Of course now the question is: what are the rewards? The answer is we do not know, and all the better, for it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” 1st Corinthians 2:9

I can, however, tell you what the reward is not. It is not a really big house in Heaven. There’s been a lot of misguided interpretation regarding the word “mansion” in many older translations, namely the KJV. The word “mansion” back in those days did not mean what it means today. As you should be aware, the English language of today is highly saturated with French loanwords. This is because way back in the Middle Ages, the French Normans invaded and conquered England and ruled it for a considerable period of time. During this time, English picked up lots of French words, such as le maison, which means “home” or “dwelling place.” The word “mansion” in John 14:12 simply means there is plenty of living space in Heaven for all who would accept the Gospel of Christ. Think about it logically. Jesus says “In my father’s house are many mansions.” How could a mansion be inside of a house? Modern translations choose the word “rooms” or “dwelling spaces” which is far more accurate today than “mansion” (and yet another reason it’s not a good idea to read the Bible in a language that hasn’t been used in four centuries without proper education).

Here’s the conclusion of the matter: We all start off with a sinful nature, bad to the core, headed for Hell. Nothing we can do can save us or change our destiny. Only by coming to Christ through faith in Him are we graciously saved from sin and death by God. When this happens, Jesus comes to live within us and make us into “good” people at our core, children of God, citizens of Heaven. From then on, our destiny is to become more and more good, or like Christ, until we are caught up with Him at the Resurrection and made perfect. Along the way, our sinful outer flesh can screw us up and lead us to make “bad” choices to do “bad” works. These things cannot steal our salvation but can cost us valuable rewards from God. Instead we should strive as a runner racing for the prize, in prayer and in the Word to become more like Christ and do the things He did, that is, “good” things. If we run well and do well, we have a promise from God that rewards await us in Heaven unlike anything we’ve ever seen, heard of, or even imagined in our wildest dreams. We have no clue what they are, but they are not big houses or material possessions; stuff like that is what got us in this mess in the first place. The last thing we need is more of it.

Be blessed, run well!

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Posted by on December 3, 2011 in Soteriology


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