If Christians are forgiven, why are we going to be judged?

Question:  It says in the Bible that those who are in Christ are free from condemnation. If this is so, why then willLast Judgement, Triptych we face judgment? And child molesters, rapists, and murderers, are they also free from condemnation when they accept Christ and repent? What sort of judgment might they receive? We will be judged according to our deeds? What does that mean? Christians say we should be free from guilt and shame and accept the free gift of grace and salvation. Then they say we will be judged. This is confusing to me. Should I fear for my salvation or just believe all is well? And honestly, where’s the justice? For those who lived a life of abuse and neglect, hurt, and shame caused by another, God says He will make things right for us. But if the perpetrator is forgiven completely, where’s justice for the victim?

Answer:  There are several judgments mentioned in the Bible.  The final judgment is mentioned in Revelation 20:11-15 and is often referred to as The Great White Throne Judgment because if depicts Jesus sitting on a white throne as he carries out this judgment.  But only unbelievers are present at this judgment, only those whose names are not found written in the Lamb’s book of life.  They are thus judged for not having believed in Christ and they are also judged on their works.  This suggests that there are degrees of punishment in hell (see my article on this).  Dante, in his book Inferno, sought to describe what these different degrees of punishment looked like but there are no specific descriptions given in Scripture.

Believers, on the other hand, will appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10):

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

Though it may sound as if this determines whether we are saved or not, Paul makes it clear in all his writings, and especially in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, that this judgment is really about determining our reward in heaven.  Just as there are degrees of punishment in hell, there are degrees of reward in heaven.  There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1).  When we believe we “pass from death to life” (John 5:24).

But your question suggests that for those who have been abused the presence of their perpetrator or any perpetrator in heaven because they repented and were forgiven may compromise your sense of reward.  This assumes that the sin of the perpetrator is different in kind than your sin and less worthy of forgiveness.  And truly, the sin of the perpetrator is egregious and heinous, having devastated and tortured the life of the victim in extraordinary ways.  But we are also rebels against God’s kingdom and rule.  We too have rejected the love and grace of God until He visited us in grace and forgave us.  We are equally undeserving of heaven.

Besides, when we are fully enveloped in the love of heaven, we will be able to love the perpetrator the way God loves the perpetrator and the way He loves us.  We will be able to say as Christ did, “Father, forgive them.”  The perpetrator will be able to acknowledge how deeply and gravely he injured those he abused and seek reconciliation.  We have seen a bit of this miraculous transformation in the aftermath of the end of apartheid in South Africa and in the forgiveness offered after the slaughter of Tutsis and Hutus.

There is a need in human beings, generated by the uncompromising love and justice of God, to see justice done and to see hatred quashed.  God has figured out a way to do both.  If there is not justice for the least infraction, there is no justice.  If there is not forgiveness for the worst infraction, there is no forgiveness.

 

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Should I be scared because I doubt whether Christianity is true?

doubts_fishhookQuestion:  I grew up in a Christian household. My step dad was atheist but my mom and I believed in God. Lately I’ve been having doubts about God and Jesus. I definitely believe that there is some form of high power. But I just don’t know what makes Christianity the right religion and not Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism or Judaism. I question if Jehovah is the right God. And this really scares me because I do not want to go to hell and I love feeling secure in my faith. Also there are some things about Christianity that just sound weird to me. Are there any scriptures or advice you can give to help me?

Answer:  First I would say, it is proper to deal with doubts the way you are.  We all have them.  I think it is the nature of our fallen world and our fallen natures that we find it hard to trust in anything and of course, there is no 100% fullproof way of knowing all the evidence for or against something.  Fortunately, there have been many who have asked the questions we ask and done some great work in thinking through the issues.  So let me give you some thoughts to work with and some reading to pursue.

When I compare the world’s great religions, Christianity (2.1 billion adherents), Islam (1.6 billion), Hinduism (1 billion), Buddhism (376 million), Sikhism (23 million), and Judaism (14 million) [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_religious_populations], I am struck by these facts:

  • Every religion on earth teaches that the way to have a right relationship with God (this does not apply to Buddhism because it is not technically a religion that worships God) is to live according to His moral law to a sufficient degree that He accepts you.  Every religion except Christianity.  Christianity teaches that you are not good enough to live anywhere near a sufficient degree of law-keeping but must be given a right relationship with God as a gift in response to faith.  This means that only Christianity is really available as an answer for anyone, regardless of their ability to be moral or law-keepers.
  • Every religion on earth teaches that God will forgive people for their failures, if they aren’t too wicked, out of the goodness of His heart.  Every religion except Christianity.  Christianity teaches that God cannot forgive us justly unless someone takes the just and fair punishment for our wickedness, which is what Jesus did, of course.  In other words, only Christianity requires a sacrifice for sins, something Judaism used to require but hasn’t since their temple was destroyed.  The sacrifices had to be offered in the temple.
  • Only Christianity views God as one God yet three persons.  This means only Christianity has a God who from all eternity has been in personal relationship, has therefore experienced perfect love (it requires at least three individuals to demonstrate perfect love with no jealousy and equal sharing), and who provides an explanation for why humans need and seek both oneness with a community and yet at the same time an individuality and personal uniqueness that sets them apart as special from the community.  The Trinity is the only sufficient model for this.

All this is to say that these differences between Christianity and all other religions are mutually exclusive.  You cannot hold to Christianity and agree on these points with the other world religions.  They contradict one another.  This doesn’t immediately prove that Christianity is the truth.  Perhaps all the other religions got it right and Christianity stands out alone as missing the boat on these big issues, though it seems to me just the opposite would be the case.  But here is where the work of many defenders of the faith will help us see just how reasonable the Christian faith is.  So let me recommend some very helpful books:

The Reason for God, Tim Keller
The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel
Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace

God is okay with your having doubts.  He loves you and He made you with a mind to analyze and question.  Ask Him to make Himself known to you as you consider the arguments and to show you the truth.  He wants us to love Him with all our hearts, all our soul and all our mind (Matthew 22:37).  Don’t neglect your mind or put it down for doubting.  Follow it to the truth and I believe you will end up loving God more than you did before as you see just how great He is and how clear His answers are to our questions.

For further reading:

Category Archives: Defense of the Faith (a series of articles I have written touching on defending the faith in my Thimble Full of Theology blog)

Category Archives: Apologetics (Defense of the Faith) from my Ask the Pastors blog

Check out Apologetics 3:15

In Heaven Will We Recognize and Be With Those We Love?

Question:  My big sister just passed away a month ago. I know she is with Jesus, but I wanted to know if I will see her again in heaven.  Everyone says I will , but I don’t believe.  Is there any Bible verse that I can use to support this.

Answer: Consider Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 where he is comparing spiritual gifts and love as to their completeness and lasting nature.  He says that when the perfect (or mature) comes then the partial will be done away with.  Then, he says, we will know fully even as we are fully known.  This marks a change in our level of knowledge that is so incomplete at present, and others’ knowledge of us is incomplete as well.  But then it will be complete.  We will not lose our individuality and identity, but will be even more completely identifiable.

We see this when, for example, Saul consults a medium to talk to Samuel (1 Samuel 28) and the medium recognizes him.  When Moses and Elijah appear to Jesus and his three disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17) they are recognized.  When John has a vision of heaven (Revelation 4,5) he recognizes identifiable groups of people, the “elders,” for example.  We will never lose our identity and so we will be recognized and known in heaven.  Heaven is to be that place where all the perfection we have longed for will come true.  Our relationships will be at the level we always dreamed relationships could be.  Our selfishness will be eradicated.  We will love unconditionally.  Your relationship with your sister will be even more wonderful than it was in this life.

For further reading:

Is Jesus Angry If We Do Any Business or Trade at Church?

Question:  The one(?) time that Jesus got angry was when there were merchants selling stuff in the temple. How is that different than the craft fairs or church bazaars where people are selling stuff at the church?

Answer:

There were several times Jesus got angry (check out this article), but the thing that made him angry on this occasion was that as worshipers came to the temple for a proscribed or required festival and had to make sacrifices, it was much easier to buy an animal once you traveled to Jerusalem than to bring one from your town far away.  But the leaders in Jerusalem determined that you could only pay for them with a certain temple coin, so that required making a monetary exchange.  It was not a one-to-one exchange.  I suppose you could say there was a money-changing fee attached, but it ended up being a tax and a hardship on many.  Then, of course, the law of supply and demand caused the prices for animals, etc, there in the temple precinct to be inflated.  Instead of helping people worship God it was making it difficult.

In other words, that is completely different from having a church bazaar or craft fair or a bookstore, for example.  Now if a church were requiring you to buy a craft in order to participate in their worship service, that would make Jesus mad.

Will There Be Winter in the Earthly Kingdom?

Question:  I see many Watchtower articles depicting a lovely summer like landscape with kids playing with lions, tigers and bears and everyone has a gleeful look on their face.  We are experiencing a very cold, snowy winter so far and the outlook seems to be more of the same.  Will there be freezing cold winters in Paradise Earth?
I read: While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease. (Genesis 8:22 KJV)

Answer:  There are three phases to the kingdom:  (1) Jesus is currently ruling as king over his people and we live as subjects of the Crown in anticipation of the kingdom coming to earth, (2) Jesus will come and establish his kingdom on earth for 1,000 years, during which there will be births and deaths and a final rebellion led by Satan (Revelation 20), (3) then finally Jesus will hand over the kingdom to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:20-28) and earth will be remade with no seas and heaven, God’s abode, will come to earth in the form of the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21,22).

The question we must answer is whether the time frame God gives in Genesis includes the millennial kingdom (phase 2) and the eternal kingdom (phase 3).  I am guessing that the millennial kingdom will still have seasons, but that with the remaking of the earth described in Revelation 21 and 2 Peter 3:10 there is a case that might be made for this promise having been fulfilled and there no longer being seasons.  Could there still be seasons?  I am sure there could be and there might even be a desire for such for in each season we see something unique and special about God’s handiwork.

phases of the kingdom

For further reading:

Is Jesus God or the Son of God?

Question:  Was Jesus God or the Son of God–did God beget him or was he always around–and did he (Jesus) create the world?

Answer:  Yes.

All of that is true.  Mark 1:1 says Jesus is the Son of God.  John 1:1 says Jesus is God.  John 1:3 it says nothing was made without Jesus.  Colossians 1:15,16 says Jesus is the firstborn of all creation and that in him all things were made.  John 1:18 says Jesus is either “the only [begotten] God” or  “the only [begotten] Son” depending on what the correct text is.  And I put the word “begotten” in brackets because there is a question as to the meaning of the Greek word used here, monogenes.

The word monogenes could mean “only begotten” or it could mean “one and only” or it could mean “unique.”  It is used of Jesus in John 3:16.  But it is also used of Isaac in Hebrews 11:17.  Was Isaac Abraham’s only begotten son?  No, he had sired Ishmael earlier.  But Isaac was his special son by Sarah, the one to whom he was giving his inheritance.  Is Jesus begotten by the Father, or does this term monogenes simply designate him as the unique Son of God as opposed to all created beings who might be designated sons of God?

I lean toward the view that monogenes, when applied to Jesus, means “unique” Son of God.  However, Scripture also says in 1 John 5:18 of Jesus that he is “born of God.”  There is a doctrine that has developed from this called the eternal generation of the Son, which it says is “an eternal personal act of the Father, wherein, by necessity of nature, not by choice of will, He generates the person (not the essence) of the Son, by communicating to Him the whole indivisible substance of the Godhead, without division, alienation, or change, so that the Son is the express image of His Father’s person, and eternally continues, not from the Father, but in the Father, and the Father in the Son.” (See Theopedia)

What this means is that from all eternity God the Father has been in a relationship with the Son by which He has generated the personality of the Son (and He and the Son have “generated” the personality of the Spirit) so that they share the same essence (deity, divine nature).  This makes them entirely equal in every sense of the word so that each is rightly called God, and yet Jesus can also rightly be called the Son of God.  This doctrine makes a lot of sense of the data of Scripture concerning Jesus absolute deity (John 1:1) and yet his submission to the Father in all things.  This makes it reasonable for him to be the one who takes on human nature (the Father and the Spirit did not do this) and to rule God’s kingdom until it can be handed over to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24).  Jesus is thus “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Hebrews 1:3), which seems to speak of some kind of derivation from the Father, and yet at the same time exact equality.

This is a difficult concept to wrap our heads around, but then God is the most amazing and unique being of all, infinite and beyond our ultimate ability to comprehend, yet able to correctly reveal Himself to us in true ways that enable us to know Him.

So the answer to all your questions is, “Yes.”

Is It Wrong In Every Case to Cuss?

Profanity usage by cause

Profanity usage by cause (Photo credit: Warren Noronha)

Question:  A lot of people quote Ephesians 4:29 when they tell me cussing is a sin, but it doesn’t say cussing its talking about corrupt speech.  I always thought that means verbally going off on someone to make them feel like crud. I didn’t think it was referring to cussing, and the individual who told me this really laid it on thick.  I haven’t even said I dreamed a dream to my mom in a long time cuz it has the word h**l in it, but does the bible really tell us not to cuss?

Now don’t get me wrong I try not to use foul language especially with people but I mean like for those who sing or act, if it is in the lyrics or script would it then be acceptable since you’re not going off on someone? I guess for this one I just wonder what is scriptural and what is just going overboard.  I know a lot of Christian actors or singers who have a hard time choosing if it would be okay in that instance or not.

Answer:  What is the purpose of using cuss words? To shock, to shut someone up, to inflict pain? Does that comport with Paul’s instructions in Ephesians 4:29 to only let words that build others up to come from your mouth? Now an actor, portraying someone who cusses might be a different issue since the role is seeking to communicate a message about how people interact or whatever. But some uses of cuss words are completely gratuitous and unnecessary and it is questionable whether believers should put themselves in such movies. This too is not an open and shut case.

Question:  But I don’t know if I’m just dumb or what but the whole Ephesians 4:29 still feels wrong.  I mean I was raised to see words as just words unless you put your intent behind them.  For instance if I cuss someone out and make them feel like crud then yes it goes against that scripture, but what about if I cuss in a joke to make a friend feel better or sometimes a motivational speech had a cuss word in it.  Now I don’t know if I’m alone in this but a cuss word is meant to portray a stronger emotion either good or bad. I have never thought that cuss words were inherently bad. Am I wrong?

Plus, what is and is not a bad word is cultural also, so I mean take the word bloody for instance to me it means nothing, but if I go to England is basically like saying d**n or the F bomb.

I honestly don’t mean to be argumentative but I just don’t understand how we can take this scripture and apply it to certain sets of words that our society has decided are bad over time, I mean am I wrong in thinking that Ephesians is referring to how you use words? Cuz like I pointed out even a supposedly bad word can be very edifying if used properly.

Answer:  You are not wrong, there is nothing inherently wrong in most of the words we have designated cuss words. I can see the situation you are talking about when a cuss word might actually cheer a friend. It is all about intent and purpose. Perhaps the only reason a cuss word would cheer a friend is because our culture has chosen to express emotion that way. This might suggest that we are bad at communicating emotion or that there are just certain emotions that demand a harsh word. Words that denote a sexual act may fall into a different category in that we are treating something precious as crude. Maybe it is better that we overcome our derogatory views of sexuality than submit to a cultural usage in that case.

You are being discerning and I think that is the mark of a Christian. We don’t conform to the world if the world is portraying a wrong perspective, but there are still beautiful and valuable aspects to our world’s cultures that we can endorse. It is God’s common grace to all (Matt 5:45-48) that enables human beings to do good despite ourselves.