Monday, July 27, 2015

Life after Death: Law, Eternity, and the Changed Mind

There are two pieces, at least two parts of the human experience that every human will partake of: being born, and dying.  That's right.  The death rate for humans is 100%.  I don't think people like to be reminded of that.  It's a shocking thing to consider in fact.  

We all like to pretend we're immortal.  But the body dies.  There are graveyards in every town and community testifying to that fact.  Yet I've seen entire lives lived in rejection of that fact.  I've seen entire stories of people who hide from that fact in their minds.  Until the hospitals descend, and the grimaces of doctors tell the rest.  We're surprised by death.  Why?  Maybe because death isn't normal.  

Every human being born is afflicted with a disease.  It's a disease so insidious that no one even gives it a second thought.  It's accepted.  Yet the human body seems when inquired of by medicine, to have an infinite ability to replenish itself.  Cells in the body have the potential to reproduce and maintain the body structure forever.  Yet for some reason between the ages of 25-30 the stasis of that period begins to descend into deterioration.  Lines form on the face.  Aches and pains begin to develop.  More and more rest is required.  Eventually skin wrinkles and hair turns gray, then white, then loose. 

Death comes to us all.  Many dodge the topic, yet I think we all seem to understand that death is a reality.  Yet some starry eyed dreamers might still ask: "What is the cure to death?" Or:

"Where might I drink of the waters of the fountain of youth?"  

But most simply ignore the fact, dodge the fact, bury the fact, and eventually when all other options are exhausted... they accept the fact.

Death is coming for all of us.  That fact is indisputable.  The question is, can man live forever?  Is there such a thing as eternal life?  The clock is ticking on every life.  I think something like 100,000 people die worldwide per day.  Is there life after death?

For the atheist the answer is most certainly no.  A person does not live on.  In fact for the atheist, in billions of years the stars of the universe will eventually burn themselves out and all life in the universe will vanish.  And finally the great black nothingness of empty lifeless, light-less space. Entropy is complete.  Is that really the ultimate reality?  I don't think so. 

For the Christian, we believe all people have souls made in the image of God, that live forever.  Yet every person is appointed to die physically.  Even Jesus Christ, God on Earth had to endure the suffering of physical death.  The word of God says "Man is appointed once to die, and then comes the judgement" (Hebrews 9:27).  

But the answer for Christians is yes, every person has value and every soul will live forever.  The primary question of eternal life is the quality of that life which hinges on a theological concept called "the judgement seat of Christ." 

Or as it's phrased in Corinthians: We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. 2 Corinthians 5:10

God the architect of the universe, the stars, the laws of space and time and the human soul will indeed one day bring into judgement every single person who has ever lived.  I don't know that such a process is particularly surprising.  One of the most fundamental aspects of the human experience is our interaction with conscience.  We each have a sense of what is right and wrong.  We wrestle with that aspect of ourselves throughout our entire lives.  It's not surprising that a good God would indicate and enforce quality moral standards for his people.  Imagine how perfect the world would be if everyone lived in moral perfection.  

And so we come to the crux of our problem: Our own moral failings face to face with God's perfect standard.

Have you read through the various commands of the Old Testament?  There are many, over 300 I believe?  Anyway, probably the most popular are the notorious "Ten Commandments."  Shall we take a look?

Exodus 20:2-17

  1. “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.
  2. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
  3. “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
  4. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
  5. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.
  6. “You shall not murder.
  7. “You shall not commit adultery.
  8. “You shall not steal.
  9. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”

As a Protestant I guess I'm not a huge fan of the ten commandments.  But feelings aside there really isn't anything too unreasonable here.  

Assuming God is God, don't worship false Gods, golden caves, carved figurines, and worship God only.  Since God made the universe and loves us, we ought to love him back and worship him.  That takes care of 1 and 2.  

3rd commandment, "Don't use my name as a cuss word."  I don't know but I think God is being pretty reasonable when he asks us to not use his name as a cuss word.  I wouldn't want my name used as a cuss word "Justin Steckbauer!"  God wouldn't either.  Fair enough.  

The 4th command indicates that we should take one day off to relax and honor God.  God says rest.  I'm already on board with that.  Rest is great.  I need more of it.  

5th says honor your parents.  I struggle with that one at times, I don't always get along with my dad.  And I feel the need to vent rather negatively regarding his previous conduct, har har.  But I shouldn't do that.  My parents did raise me, I think they deserve my respect.  

Let's see... don't murder.  I definitely agree.  Imagine a world where no one murdered others, or shot up churches?  That would be great.  Seven, don't sleep with someone else's husband or wife.  I agree with that.  Why do people feel the need to cut in on other peoples relationships?  I think they have a phrase for that: homewrecker. 

Eight, don't steal.  I've stolen stuff.  Many times in my life.  And I try not to do that today.  Yep, the world would be much better if people didn't steal.  Just think of Wallstreet and the Federal Reserve.  

Nine, don't lie about your friends, or even strangers.  Don't lie about what they did or didn't do.  I've done that.  I've blamed things on my sister when I was younger, when it was me.  And I felt guilty too.  I'm sure I've done that as an adult too.  Maybe to cover my poor behavior.

And ten, don't want what others have.  Or as they said in the roaring 50s and 60s, "keeping up the joneses."  Today it's competing over cell phones, Ipads, hot rods, possessions, lawn care, or even sports teams.  God says "stop wanting everything."  We've got all we need.  Stop desiring what your neighbor has.  That seems reasonable.  

As you can probably tell, when it comes to the laws of God... I'm guilty.  I've broken all ten in one way or another (No I didn't kill anyone, but the word of God says that anyone who hates a brother is guilty of murder.)  How about you?  How would you stack up in your obedience to the 10 commandments?  Click here to take the test: Are You a Good Person?

So how does this work anyway, is God grading on a curve?  Can I sneak by with a C+?

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. James 2:10 ESV  


For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. Romans 3:20 ESV

God has a perfect standard, and I am guilty.  That means I'm in serious trouble.  On judgment day, standing on my own good deeds, I will not be good enough to live in the presence of God.  I'll be found guilty, and eternally disconnected from God.  Does that seem too mean and judgmental of God?  I don't think so.  Look at how terrible our world is today because of sin.  Sin is serious.  Whenever I've sinned, I've does an offense to God himself.  I have to remember he created me, from nothing, he owns me, and all things belong to him.  I myself belong to him.  It's reasonable to say that I'm accountable, and that a just God must provide consequences for serious crimes against good conduct.  I think we've all been guilty of adding to the problems of Earth, instead of improving them.  Left on my own standing, I deserve to be disconnected from God and left in a place of isolation.  Some call that "hell."  Spooky, but in reality, a place of disconnection from God.  And I deserve it.  When I really think about it thoroughly, it's true... I really do. 


But praise God that it doesn't end there.  God himself has provided a savior for us, a certain Jesus Christ of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago.  


Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:17-44 ESV)


In other words: "For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin,[a] he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." (Romans 8:3-4 ESV)


All of that to say: Jesus Christ is our ticket to life everlasting.  (John 3:16)  Jesus Christ is our fountain of youth. (John 4:14)  Jesus Christ is our way to eternal life. (John 14:6)


Each of us need to put on Jesus Christ.  The instant we do that his perfect life, perfect death, and perfect resurrection pay our debt in full.  God welcomes us into full communion with him.  It's a wonderful arrangement, considering our transgressions, which we work so hard to hide from.  


Death is approaching.  It's coming for all of us.  It's like a hunter, stalking us through the wilderness.  Though we will all experience physical death (the shadow of death) we can have eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  


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. -Galatians 2:16 ESV

We believe in Jesus Christ.  We believe that he really is who he claimed to be: God in the flesh.  And we "repent."  I don't really like that word.  What it means is to "have a change of mind."  We change our mind about what is right and wrong.  We decide to abandon our own distorted views, and embrace God's teachings regarding life.  We embrace the Christian worldview.  We agree to live as Jesus lived.  We look to Jesus for how to live.

Jesus Christ gave us a new commandment that we are to obey above all the OT commands.  He said the new command is that we love one another.  We are to love one another as he has loved us (John 13:34).  Love is the commandment we are under in modern times.  


"Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law." -Romans 13:8


Let all that you do be done in love.1 Corinthians 16:14 ESV  

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.1 John 4:11-12 ESV 

So assuming we put on Jesus Christ as our "parachute" of sorts for when this world comes crashing down, how can we know that we are remaining in Christ throughout our lives?

Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.1 John 2:6 ESV 

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
James 4:8 ESV  

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. John 14:15 ESV 

This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 1 John 4:17 ESV

We can know we are abiding in Christ throughout our years on this Earth by living like Jesus did.  Jesus helped those in need, loved the unlovable, and stood up for the truth.  

This has been a difficult topic.  It's always difficult when we're trying to look at ourselves in an unfettered light.  The purpose of the laws of God were to show us, to convict us of our need for a savior.  I'm not trying to hurt anyone of you with these descriptions.  But it may be offensive.  The word of God itself says the gospel is an offense to those who are perishing, but it is the very word of life to those who are being saved.  To me, it used to be an offense.  Now it's the power and truth of God himself saving me.

These are difficult concepts to deal with.  The judgement of God, the wrath of God, the idea of eternal disconnection from God.  I hope I haven't scared anyone off with these ideas.  But they are the facts.  Yet we must believe and understand that these stark realities can, yes, can be reconciled with the incredible love and grace of God.  He loves us deeply.  He loves us with a full heart.  That's why he offered this simple agreement of believing in Jesus Christ and having a change of mind about life.  And then we are reborn as his own children.  That is beautiful.  He wants all to be saved.  

But a loving, graceful, merciful Father wouldn't be a good dad if he didn't also act justly, and punish those who are doing wrong.  When a child does something wicked, the dad scolds the child, and the child has a change of mind, and the dad lovingly welcomes the child into closeness with the Father once more.  It is similar when we sin against God, and then repent and believe in Jesus Christ.

I can't say I fully understand all of it.  In fact if I was making up my own god I would do it differently.  But that fact doesn't change the reality of my situation.  Just because I don't want to believe in a God who punishes evil doesn't mean that God suddenly disappears.  The facts on the ground are simple, this is the situation, and the arrangement for salvation is simple: have a change of mind, embrace the Christian worldview, and put on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, your righteousness forever.  

I'm sure we will understand better in the next life, but in this one our field of view is limited, and these vast concepts escape our ability to fully comprehend.  We want a God of unconditional love, yet we want justice for those who do evil.  We want Hitler, Stalin and Bin Laden punished for their sins, but we want unconditional love despite our own.  We obviously can't see the issues clearly enough, personal bias, whatever it is, better to trust God, and his plan.  His arrangement for the salvation of his people is simple: Faith in Jesus Christ, and changing our lives in response to His.

Consider these things carefully if you haven't yet made that commitment.  If you have made that commitment, are you living it?  Are you really living like Jesus Christ?  Have you had a change of mind?  Consider these issues carefully.  Pray if you are confused, and seek answers in his Holy word.  You won't be disappointed.  God is good, and God is love.  In the end analysis, though I don't fully understand these concepts of judgment and sin, I trust my God and his plan, that he is doing the right thing.  I really do.  You should too.  He made us from nothing.  He knows what hes doing.  Maybe I need to stop judging God, and let him do his job, running the universe, while I do mine, serving those in need.

Death is something we all face.  Death is terrifying when we think about it.  Physical death is a stark reality for planet Earth.  Lots of people are dead and lots of people are dying.  Do we have souls?  Yes we do.  We're all going to live forever.  The question is, when the jury is summoned, the court room laid forth before the throne of God, what shall the prosecutor say?  Will he have a long list of your crimes?  Or will Jesus Christ enter the court room, remove that list of crimes, and declare you innocent before God?  Will you then receive riches in heaven for your many good deeds?  And eternal life, transfixed with joy, with the billions before you whom have chosen the Son?  I pray so.  

I hope you will humble yourself, and accept such a simple and profound arrangement.  I find it to be the state of the absolute truth of this moral universe we engage upon.  It is the very soul stuff of existence itself.  We are moral beings, found immoral, yet for those who choose it, made perfect in Jesus Christ the one who defeated death on the cross 2,000 years ago. 

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
-1 John 2:1-6 (ESV) 

  Related Posts:

  1. Wisdom from Above: Living in Light of the Victory of Jesus Christ
  2. The Mindset of Christ: Teach Me How to Live, Lord
  3. A Rational Inquiry of the Bible: Is it reliable? Is it the word of God?
  4. You Oh Lord are my Strength: The Manifold Provision of God
  5. Love Others: The Second Great Command
  6. What is the Gospel?
  7. Does man need God in Western Civilization: Young People are Hungry for the Truth
  8. Real Christianity: Clothing, Buildings, Money, & Extravagance
  9. The Stairway to Heaven
  10. Salvation of the Soul: Is it Conditionally Secure or Eternally Secure?

 A special thanks to Living Waters, the ministry of Ray Comfort who inspired me to write this post.  Thank you for the Way of the Master.