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 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






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  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 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


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 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.

God’s mouse

gift of lifegift of life #19

God’s mouse

It’s a story I heard many times while a missionary in the Philippines. It goes like this: There was a visiting preacher who did not understand the Cebuano language of Mindanao, so he had to have an interpreter with him when he preached. But the interpreter could not understand his English very well, since he had a heavy accent. One night while he was preaching, the preacher mentioned the wrath of God. But the interpreter did not quite hear him correctly. So, the interpreter confidently belted out the phrase ilaga sa dios. Laughter ensued, and the legend of God’s mouse was born!

While the story is funny, the reality of God’s wrath is not. It is a horrible reality. Jesus taught that everyone deserves that wrath, and that everyone will experience it except those who put their faith in him. He said “The one who believes in the Son has eternal life. The one who rejects the Son will not see life, but God’s wrath remains on him” John 3:36. So, according to scripture, the wrath of God is not a form of eternal life. It is the opposite. God’s wrath puts an end to life.

The apostle Paul said that those who refuse to obey the truth are actually storing up wrath which they will experience on judgment day. He said “because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourselves in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed! He will reward each one according to his works: eternal life to those who by perseverance in good works seek glory and honor and immortality, but wrath and anger to those who live in selfish ambition and do not obey the truth but follow unrighteousness” Romans 2:5-8. So, according to scripture, the wrath of God is a sentence of judicial punishment which keeps getting worse and worse as long as you live in rebellion against God without repenting of that rebellion. Those who have repented are free to seek glory and honor and immortality, and the end result of that perseverance will be eternal life. Once again, the wrath of God as a punishment is contrasted with eternal life. The wrath is not a form of eternal life.

The Bible teaches that there will come a day when all of this wrath will be fully poured out on unbelievers. It says “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne. Then books were opened, and another book was opened–the book of life. So the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to their deeds. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each one was judged according to his deeds. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death–the lake of fire. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, that person was thrown into the lake of fire” Revelation 20:12-15. So, according to scripture, the wrath of God is not experienced at death. It will be experienced on judgment day. It will not be a process of perpetual torment, but an event which will end in the second death, eternal death, from which there will be no resurrection.

No, it’s not funny. But it is a terrible reality. If you are an unbeliever, escape the coming wrath by repenting of your sins and trusting in Christ today!

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

(audio file available at Afterlife)


IMG_0368gift of life #18


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 Join me for this entire series as we search the scriptures to learn about the gift of life.

Listen to the audio at Afterlife.

in good hands

menfac98gift of life #17

in good hands

Last session I mentioned that I had just come from a friend’s funeral, and the preacher watched his language and did not stray away from the Bible when he talked about my friend’s death. That’s not always the case. Sometimes, seeking to comfort the grieving, people say the most unbiblical things.

I am reminded of the funeral of another friend a few years ago. My friend and fellow professor at Oro Bible College in the Philippines, Rev. Rustom Marquiño, died after a long illness. Rustom was a great man of God, and one of those people who are full of life – the kind you like to be around. I hated to see him go, and I still miss him.

{The photo is of the male OBC faculty in 1998. Rustom Marquino, Dr. David Dean, myself (Jefferson Vann), and Graciano Villadolid.}

As is the custom in the Philippines, the family asked several different groups that Rustom was associated with to each take a nightly funeral service. As a result, one of the preachers (who probably didn’t know Rustom’s theology) said that Rustom had flown to heaven the moment he died This preacher based that assumption on Acts 7:59, where Stephen prays for the Lord to receive his spirit. The preacher said that Stephen did not go to sleep, he went to heaven. The next day, in class, I asked my students to go to Acts 7:59, and then read the next verse. It says “’And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”

The whole point of what Stephen said is that he was trusting Jesus to take care of him until he comes again and raises him from the dead. Jesus said a similar thing at the cross. He was quoting from Psalm 31:5, where David says “Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O LORD, the God of truth.” David’s assurance was not that death was unreal. His assurance was that when a believer is dead, that believer is in good hands. Death is an end to life. But when God’s hands hold you, there is always hope for new, resurrected life.

Our comfort at the death of loved ones should not be based on fantasy. It should be based on reality. The reality is that death is real. Our only true hope in the fact of that grim reality is that God is true to his word. He will bring the dead back to life again. So, someone who has fallen asleep in Christ is in good hands.

Our trust is not in a theology of human nature. We do not deny the reality and severity of death. Our trust is in a God who is able to keep his promises.

If you have any questions about this teaching, you can ask me at 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.