the goal of Christian faith

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Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:12 NASB).

Compete well for the faith and lay hold of that eternal life you were called for and made your good confession for in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:12 NET).

We leave traces of our hopes and dreams to the generations that come after us. We place markers that let the future world know what our aspirations were. One marker is our literature.

Suppose you walk with me through the library of modern books about the goal of the Christian faith. What kind of markers are we placing, describing our hope? Let’s look at this shelf:

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There are a lot more books on the shelf, but the titles of these give us the idea. Lots of people think the goal of the Christian life is to get to a place called heaven when you die.

In fact, chances are, some of you may be scratching your heads as you read this. After all, doesn’t the very verse I just quoted say that Timothy’s goal was to get to heaven when he died? I know, it says to take hold of eternal life, but isn’t that the same thing?

I don’t think it is the same thing. I know, to many that might sound heretical, so let me explain:

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Before Jesus died, he told the Jewish leaders that he was going somewhere, and where he was going they would not be able to come.1 They wondered what he meant by that. They thought he was going to go on a missionary tour and preach to the diaspora Jews scattered throughout the Roman Empire.2 Jesus repeated the same statement later to the same audience.3 By then, they had guessed that he was planning to commit suicide.4 He told them that he was not from this world; he was from above.5 John, when he wrote his Gospel, explained what Jesus meant. He said that Jesus was going “to depart from this world to the Father.”6 He quotes Jesus as saying “I am going to the Father,”7 But he promised to come back and take the disciples to be with him, so that they could be together from then on.8 He was not promising the disciples that they would go see God when they die. He was talking about the second coming.

In fact, later, when Paul talked about God here in his letter to Timothy, he said that “no human has ever seen” him, or is even “able to see” him.9 This was after some of those disciples had already died. They didn’t go to heaven. You cannot get to heaven – with or without roller skates!10

Now, obviously there are a lot of Christians who disagree with my interpretation of these passages. Even if we were to suppose that the Bible did teach that Christians go to heaven when they die, that still does not mean that going to heaven is the same thing as having eternal life.

goal - 05

Everybody knows that the heaven where God lives is eternal, right? But what about those Bible passages that say the present heaven is going to pass away?11 That’s right, the present heaven is going to pass away. It’s not eternal. In fact, when the apostle Paul had a vision of the future life, he saw that future in another place besides the present heaven. He called it the “third heaven.”12

Where is this third heaven? Wrong question. The right question is “When is the third heaven?” Listen to Dr. Glenn Peoples’ comments on 2 Peter 3:

  • Look at what is said here about the heavens and the earth: The “heavens and the earth” once perished. There now exists the “heavens and earth” that will one day pass away as well, and there will be a new heavens and earth. For those who are counting, how many is that? Which one is the eternal state? By my count, it’s the third.”13

I am not saying, or course, that God is not forever. I’m simply saying that what we now refer to as heaven may not be as eternal as God is. There’s going to be a new heaven. So, if you put your hopes on going to heaven, it is not the same thing as having eternal life.

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I hope you see my point. Our hope should be grounded on the scriptural promises and proclamations, not human traditions. When we look at the actual texts of scripture, we see them consistently declaring that the goal of the Christian faith is eternal life.

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So when the apostle Paul encourages Timothy to fight the good fight of faith and take hold of the eternal life to which he was called, he is encouraging Timothy to keep seeking the goal of his faith. That goal is not a place in the sky. That goal is immortality.

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But, you see – our human religious traditions have contradicted this plain teaching of scripture by insisting that everyone is born with a soul which is already immortal. So, the goal is not becoming immortal. It is being released from the mortal body so that the immortal soul can enjoy heaven.

I see at least four problems scripturally with this doctrine when it makes dying and going to heaven the goal of the Christian faith.

goal - 09

 

goal - 10

 

What practical difference does it make if your goal is eternal life, rather than heaven when you die? I think it makes a lot of difference, and that difference can affect us in a variety of ways. But I want to focus on one fact which is implied in today’s text.

Paul told Timothy to “fight the good fight” to take hold of that eternal life which is the believer’s goal. He implied that how Timothy lived his temporary life now determined whether or not he would reach his goal of a permanent life in the future.

  • When Timothy came to Christ, someone prophesied that he would fight the good fight, keeping his faith and his conscience clear.29
  • In his final letter to Timothy, Paul says:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”30

Paul says he is looking forward to “the crown of righteousness.” What is that crown? It is what Jesus called “the resurrection of the righteous!”31 James and John called it the “crown of life.”32 Paul says we get that crown not at death, but at Christ’s second coming – the day of his appearing.

Our fight is not to gain a nice place to live for eternity. Our fight is to preserve something we have been promised. There is a resurrection to permanent life awaiting all those who stay true to their faith in Christ. That is the goal of Christian faith, and obtaining that goal is worth all the struggles we undergo. It is worth all the discipline and perseverance that we can muster.

1John 7:34.

2John 7:35-36.

3John 8:21.

4John 8:22.

5John 8:23.

6John 13:1.

7John 14:12.

8John 14:3.

91 Timothy 6:16 NET.

10I am referring to the Betty Johnson song “You can’t get to heaven on roller skates.”

11Matthew 5:18; 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33; Revelation 21:1.

122 Corinthians 12:2.

13Glenn Peoples, Did Paul Have an Out of Body Experience? (Afterlife, November 20, 2013).

14Matthew 19:29; Mark 10:17; Luke 10:25; 18:18.

15Matthew 19:16.

16Matthew 19:29; Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30.

17John 3:15-16; 6:40; 1 John 5:13.

18Matthew 25:46.

19Acts 13:48.

20Romans 2:7; 6:23; 1 John 5:11.

21Galatians 6:8.

22Titus 1:2; 1 John 2:25.

23Titus 3:7.

24Jude 1:21.

251 Corinthians 15:26

26Revelation 1:18.

27Titus 2:13.

28John 6:39,40,44,54; 1 Corinthians 15:42; Philippians 3:10-11; Hebrews 11:35.

291 Timothy 1:17-18.

302 Timothy 4:7-8.

31Luke 14:4.

32James 1:12; Revelation 2:10.

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2018 articles published in New Zealand

Afterlife

2018 articles published in New Zealand

Here is a list of articles I have written which were published online in New Zealand in 2018. You may click on the hyperlink for an individual article to find it on the Afterlife website.

 

it’s like a box of chocolates

DSCF2150gift of life #23

it’s like a box of chocolates

If you are ever inclined to be philosophical, try an internet search for quotes that begin with the words “life is…”

Some of my favourites are:

  • “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  (John Lennon).
  • “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”  (Albert Einstein).
  • “Life’s hard. It’s even harder when you’re stupid.”  (John Wayne).
  • “Life’s under no obligation to give us what we expect.”  (Margaret Mitchell).
  • “Life … is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  (William Shakespeare, Macbeth).
  • …And then there’s my favourite “life is…” quote of all, attributed to Forrest Gump’s mother: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”

It seems that almost everybody has an idea or two about life, but we all do not agree. Even if we were unified, who’s to say that we would be right? What we need is advice from the One who invented life. We can find such advice, but we have to look in the right place – the Bible.

The most prevalent message in the Bible about life is that it is limited. It is a precious thing because it runs out. Life has a beginning and an end, and the end always comes too soon. The Bible says “our days on earth are a shadow.” Our days pass by quickly, disappearing as soon as the light hits them. Job said “Man who is born of a woman …flees like a shadow and continues not.” You cannot look at a shadow, and come back in an hour or two and find it in the same place. Like life, shadows are always coming and going. Shadows do not stay put. You never know what you’re going to get when you open the box of chocolates, but you know it won’t last very long.

Lots of things just seem unfair, particularly the more we realize that the limits of life do not allow for do-overs. Often we realize too late that our days are like an evening shadow, soon to be over – swallowed up in death, and nothing we can do will change that fact. Robert Harris said “The true currency of life is time, not money, and we’ve all got a limited stock of that.” As we conclude our study of the gift of life, I want to leave you with a word of application. Since the Bible teaches that we are mortal, and our lives are limited, don’t waste your life currency. Don’t waste your limited time doing things that will not matter in eternity.

And now a short summary of the 23 lessons in this series:

  • Life is a gift, not a given. Socrates was wrong: only God has immortality. We are dependent on him for life.
  • Having a soul does not make us immortal. Animals have souls.
  • In our sinful state, being immortal would be a curse, not a blessing.
  • Death is not going to a better place. It is not the answer to our problems. Christ is. Death is sleep – an unconscious wait for the resurrection. The dead go to a silent, dark state or condition in which everyone exists at death. In that state we know nothing, and can only live again by a resurrection from the LORD.
  • Hell is a reality, but it does not take place at death. It is the future lake of fire in which God will punish the lost with everlasting destruction.
  • The hope of resurrection is essential to the gospel message, and it should never be replaced by a hope of going to heaven at death.

If you have any questions about this teaching, you can ask me at jeffersonvann@yahoo.com. Thank you for joining me in this series as we have searched the scriptures to learn about the gift of life.

Listen to the audio file at Afterlife.

a resurrection perspective

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gift of life #22

 

a resurrection perspective

 

Paul David Tripp calls it “eternity amnesia.”  It is people living with no hope for the future. They live for today because they think today is all that we have. In his recent book, Forever, he outlines the symptoms of this problem: 

 

  1. Living with unrealistic expectations,
  2. Focusing too much on self,
  3. Asking too much of people,
  4. Being controlling or fearful,
  5. Questioning the goodness of God,
  6. Living more disappointed than thankful,
  7. Lacking motivation and hope,
  8. Living as if life doesn’t have consequences.

We can understand it when people who do not know Christ live this way. But all too often, those of us who claim to know Jesus live the same way. We are victims when we should be living in victory. The victory was already obtained by Christ. Because of what he did for us, we need never live as if these temporary lives are all that we have. We can see everything that happens now in the light of the glory that awaits us in eternity. We can tolerate pain and failure because we understand them to be temporary setbacks. We can better grasp the significance of success when we see it from the standard of eternity as well. We can look on every soul we encounter as another being who is potentially immortal and glorified, which might help us tolerate their present imperfections. We can have a better attitude about our own present failures to hit the mark.

 

Another Paul, the apostle Paul – said something about eternity amnesia too.  He said “And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.” (1 Corinthians 15:19). If you take away the resurrection, Christianity is an empty religion with no real hope, and believers are of all people most to be pitied. The reason is that all human beings are born mortal. We have a death sentence hanging over us because of Adam’s rebellion. We imitate Adam by being creatures who return to the dust. But the hope of the resurrection gives us a forever perspective.

People who live without the forever perspective can only hope to accomplish a limited number of things. No matter how happy or successful or significant their lives, that happiness, success and significance will be buried in the ground when they die. But people who have a resurrection perspective – a gospel perspective, can accomplish an unlimited number of things. We can make an eternal difference in other people’s lives by pointing them to the Saviour. We can get our minds off of the things which enslave others, because our focus is on serving Christ.  He was the first to be resurrected.  We are next.  Knowing our future can free us to truly live in the present.

 

The gospel’s victory is not a happy life today.  The gospel’s victory is an eternal happy life at the resurrection.  Here is how the apostle Paul explains it: “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory”” (1 Corinthians 15:52-54.) The resurrection is God’s victory, and ours. The gospel is the good news about that victory. It is the story of the crucial battle won on the cross, and demonstrated by Christ’s resurrection. It is the story of the final victory over sin and pain through the resurrection at Christ’s return. Coming to faith in Christ is entering into that story. We know how the story ends. That is why we can have a resurrection perspective.

 

 

If you have any questions about this teaching, you can ask me at jeffersonvann@yahoo.com.  Join me for this entire series as we search the scriptures to learn about the gift of life.

 

Listen to the audio at Afterlife.

wrong about hell

DSCF1426gift of life #21

wrong about hell

Today I want to respond to some of the criticisms we conditionalists get when we dare to assert that hell will eventually come to an end.

The universalists say we are wrong about hell because they believe hell’s purpose is destroying sins, not sinners. They agree with us that hell is a temporary event. They teach that it will end when the last sinner has paid for his sins, and has been restored.

But we conditionalists don’t see evidence of that restoration in scripture. Scripture says that God makes the wicked perish, blotting out their name forever (Psalm 9:5). Jesus taught that God can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna hell (Matthew 10:28). But neither the universalists nor the traditionalists think that this is really possible. Both of these groups believe that souls are indestructible. Conditionalists teach that human souls are created by God, and they can be destroyed by God.

Traditionalists say we are wrong about hell because we redefine the word forever. We respond by pointing out that most of the time in the Bible when the Hebrew word ‘olam or the Greek word aionios appears, neither refers to a perpetual process. Most of the time they simply mean permanent, or everlasting, and we certainly have no problems with those translations.

Here are some examples:

  • the permanent destruction the lost will face at Christ’s return (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
  • the permanent glory that accompanies salvation in Christ (2 Timothy 2:10).
  • The permanent salvation made possible by Jesus, our great high priest (Hebrews 5:9).
  • The permanent judgment that will take place after the resurrection of the dead (Hebrews 6:2).
  • the permanent covenant made possible by the shedding of the blood of Christ (Hebrews 13:20).
  • entrance into the permanent kingdom provided for all those who make their calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10-11).

But, yes, we object to the word eternal because that English word conveys the idea of an on-going process. By definition, destruction cannot be a perpetual process. It has to end, or it cannot take place.

Traditionalists also say we are wrong about hell because God’s justice morally demands it. We agree with all other Bible-believing Christians that God’s justice requires a judgment day. We object to those who insist that day must continue forever. If the punishment for sins requires an eternity of suffering, then all of us are lost. Our Lord himself suffered punishment in our place on the cross, but his suffering came to an end when he died. How can we say that his death atoned for our sins? That’s what the Bible says. It says God sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:10). It says the wages of sin is death, not suffering eternally (Romans 6:23). It says that final punishment will be a lake of fire, resulting in the second death. That is what God’s justice demands.

So, no, we are not wrong about hell. We are a voice of reason, asking people to take another look at what the Bible really says about this important topic.

If you have any questions about this teaching, you can ask me at jeffersonvann@yahoo.com. Join me for this entire series as we search the scriptures to learn about the gift of life.

Listen to the audio file at Afterlife.

the purpose of hell

citrus-fruit-trees

Wheat Fied, Palouse, Washington State, USA


gift of life #20

the purpose of hell

I’m a little bit older now, and I’m glad for it. I enjoyed raising my three daughters, but I wouldn’t want to do it again. I am glad some aspects of parenthood are now over for me. Top of that list is punishing the kids. I did it when I had to, but I never enjoyed it, and I didn’t want it to last any longer than necessary.

In the last session, I introduced the concept of the wrath of God. Yes, God will have to punish his naughty kids, too. But people teach a lot of ideas about God’s wrath that just don’t add up. Listen to what John the Baptist taught about the wrath to come:

Luke 3:7 “So John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You offspring of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?”

Luke 3:9 “Even now the ax is laid at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Luke 3:17 “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clean out his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his storehouse, but the chaff he will burn up with inextinguishable fire.”

This was the very first message about final punishment in the New Testament. It was preached by John the Baptist, to his own fellow Israelites. In it, he spoke of God as if he was an orchard owner, who is going to cut down all his unfruitful trees, and burn them up in a fire. He spoke of God as if he was a wheat farmer, who is going to gather up all his good wheat, and throw the chaff into a pile and burn it up, in a fire that no one can put out.

Now what does this message tell us about the purpose of hell. Well, consider what it does not say. It does not say that the orchard owner takes pleasure in torturing his unfruitful trees for eternity. It does not say that the wheat farmer will try to burn up the chaff, but he will not be able to, because for some reason the chaff will prove to be indestructible. You see, an inextinguishable fire still burns up chaff. It’s not the chaff that’s inextinguishable. It’s the fire which the wheat farmer uses to burn the chaff up.

As a parent, I did not want to punish my children. But when I had to do it, I did it, and got it over with. That’s what John the Baptist taught about final punishment. At the end of the day, there will only be fruitful trees, because the fire will serve its purpose, destroying the unfruitful trees. At the end of the day, there will only be good wheat, because the fire will serve its purpose, destroying the chaff. That’s what hell is for. That is the purpose of hell.

I know, you’ve been taught something else. You have been taught that God’s holiness requires that unbelievers be consciously tortured for eternity. But what this text teaches is that God’s holiness requires an eternity without unbelievers. That’s what hell is for. That is the purpose of hell.

If you have any questions about this teaching, you can ask me at jeffersonvann@yahoo.com. Join me for this entire series as we search the scriptures to learn about the gift of life.

Listen to the audio file at Afterlife.

everlasting

IMG_0368gift of life #18

everlasting

There are basically three views of final punishment debated among Christians. Two groups believe that God has created everyone with immortal souls. One group believes that in hell, God will keep punishing the souls of the lost forever because he cannot destroy them. This is what I call the traditionalist view. Another group says that God will destroy the sin, and eventually restore all the souls, so that no one will be lost forever. That is the view I call universalism. Traditionalists and universalists both agree on one thing: the immortality of the soul. They disagree over the meaning of hell itself. Traditionalists see hell as a perpetual process, while universalists see it as an event with everlasting results.

We conditionalists agree with universalists in that we see hell as an event with everlasting results, not a process which has to go on perpetually. We disagree with both groups in that we find no biblical justification for innate immortality. We believe that hell will involve real destruction, and that destruction will be everlasting.

The Greek adjective used to describe hell most in the New Testament is aionios, and that word is better translated everlasting, not eternal. It refers to the permanence of a result, rather than the continuous duration of a process.

Paul used this word aionios three times in his second letter to the Corinthians, and each use demonstrates that meaning.

  • In 4:17, he compared our present slight momentary affliction to our future everlasting weight of glory.
  • In the next verse, he compares the everlasting things to come that we cannot see now to the temporary things that we can see.
  • In 5:1, he compares our future everlasting body in the sky to our temporary tent of a body that we have now.

Now, the traditionalists look at that evidence and they say “see, hell is everlasting, so people will continue to suffer in it forever.”

No, when Paul used the word aionios to describe hell he said that the lost: “will be punished with everlasting destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). That is not an on-going process. It is an event which has everlasting results.

So, when we conditionalists say that hell is everlasting, we affirm just what Paul did. It is God’s real solution to the problem of sin. Sinners will be destroyed, and that destruction will be everlasting.

If you have any questions about this teaching, you can ask me at jeffersonvann@yahoo.com. Join me for this entire series as we search the scriptures to learn about the gift of life.

Listen to the audio at Afterlife.