Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Heaven and Hell

Philippians 3

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.

Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Pressing on Toward the Goal
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

A clear destiny awaits every one of us--there is no escaping it; heaven or hell is the goal of every human life. Both are places the imagination cannot fully conceive, nor understand. We cannot know what either place is really like until we are there, and then, there is no going back. But the world we live in gives us a foretaste of both heaven and hell, glimpses of their reality.

Jesus Himself was most explicit when it came to warning mankind about the reality of Hell:

"I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! ...

"And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God (Luke 12:4-5, 8)"

Jesus also said, "And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 'where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.' For everyone will be salted with fire (Mark 9:47-48)"

Jesus taught that bodily death is not the thing we should fear most, but rather, we should fear God, who has authority to cast us into that awful place called Hell. Therefore we should make ourselves right with God, while we have the chance. How do we do so?

We do so by acknowledging that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who came to this world as a Man and walked among us, to show us the way to salvation. Salvation from what? Salvation from sin, for Jesus is the Savior from sins [see Matthew 16:16, John 1, Matthew 1:21].

Earth Reflects both Heaven and Hell
We live in a sin-streaked world, a world touched by hell, yet one retaining fragments of its original beauty, a beauty that reflects the Creator. Nothing exists that is not marred by the stain of sin. The world is under the power of the Evil one, because deception caused us to fall under Satan's spell. The evidence of the ravages of sin (the bad news of daily existence) are broadcast daily by the media: we see war, murder, crime, accidents, disaster, corruption, hurts, pains and worldwide sufferings constantly before us.

On the other hand, God has preserved goodness and beauty and blessing as well. Whenever and wherever people are good to one another, there we witness the divine mercy expressed. And everyday the sun rises and shines on every one, and people are given another day of life, and today many live lives of comfort and material blessing far beyond anything ever known in ages past. For those who know God through Jesus, there are spiritual riches, often in addition to material ones, especially for Western Christians. As a result, many of us live complacently, happy with our lot, but losing sight of the purposes that God has called us to: making disciples, preaching the Word, working for the saving of souls. We forget that heaven or hell awaits us all.

The Coming Restoration
But God the Father can never be satisfied with a world under the power of sin, ruled over by the invisible enemy of our souls, who is luring us, through complacency, deception and distraction, to our eternal doom. So God has spoken, most of all, through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone has the words of eternal life (John 6:68, Hebrews 1: 1-3). Jesus calls us to "Repent and to believe the Good News that, 'the kingdom of God is near'"(Matthew 17:4). You may enter that kingdom, only by receiving its King, Jesus Christ, and by acknowledging Him alone as ruler in your heart. In the kingdom of heaven, King Jesus the Creator rules with justice and righteousness; He gives all good things in abundance. There is no presence of sin there to stop the flow of God's goodness, no rebellion to thwart God's good plans, no decay to mar the beauty of His creation. Someday God will restore all things, and His glory will be known and acknowledged by all.

But hell? Hell is the place where those who do not acknowledge Jesus are sent. And we have tasted hell, for Evil had corrupted the world; it had even overtaken our souls. There was no way for us to save ourselves, or this world, from its poison. Instead, we had become such servants of evil that we did not even recognize our depravity. Even when we try to do good, our sin-soaked hearts can only produce works of righteousness that are as filthy rags before a transcendently holy God. We can't make ourselves what we ought to be-- we are too sick. There is only one thing for us to do: to humbly accept the cure for our souls, the Savior Jesus Christ. As drowning people, can we reject this life preserver thrown to us? Will dying patients refuse to drink the healing medicine provided?

We may do so out of ignorance, but our ignorance is willful. We prefer the instant gratification of sin-stained pleasures to the pure, but distant and unfamiliar ecstasies heaven offers. And yet, there is an inescapable emptiness we feel, even as we gorge ourselves on earth's natural fare. So often the poor man sees the truth first. He is not blinded by the satisfactions of earthly riches, for he lacks them. But in his poverty, he recognizes also his desperate dependency. Life humbles him, and he cries out, "Help me, Lord!"

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3).

Heaven or hell. We are each one of us on a path to one of these destinations. For the non-believer, there should be a careful consideration of the claims of Christ, and an examination of the world around us. Does what Jesus describes about the human condition ring true? What is my destiny?

For the believer, there must be no complacency but rather a sober weighing of one’s life. Do I live as one whose destiny is heaven? Or have I been caught up with the world’s values, swept away by the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions? Will I live in such a way that a taste of heaven is brought down to earth?

I quote the Philippian passage above because I think it provides a great example for us. Paul recognized that his true citizenship is in heaven, and thoroughly repudiates his former way of life; no longer does he place any "confidence in the flesh." For Paul has come to see that the way of the flesh belongs to the old order of things; it is natural, earthbound, and destined for destruction. But the new way, the life of faith in Christ, is the way of a man who belongs to a new order, and who is pressing on "toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus".

Forgive me Father, for so often living as if a corrupt earth is my heaven. Open my eyes that I may see the glorious future that awaits all who have embraced the Son, and may my life be an instrument through which many are reconciled to you.

P.S. The above post was in part triggered by a post submitted to the Christian Carnival titled Hell Hath No Fury? Annihilationism Considered by Lyndon Perry which itself was a response to a post by Pastor Mark titled Hell?, Yes. Both are very interesting reads for further thought and discussion.

Theological Musings

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