Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Realities of Heaven and Hell: The Parable of the Sheep & the Goats

“His German name was Karl der Grosse. At age twenty-nine, he was crowned the ruler of a tiny kingdom in what is now modern-day France. Few people at his coronation thought that King Karl would one day reshape the map of Europe.

At the time of Karl’s ascension in 771, Europe was a collection of petty fiefdoms, plagued by superstition and ignorance, poverty and pestilence. Lost in the dark ages.

In this apocalyptic age, Karl rose up to rescue Christendom. By sheer brutality, he dragged Europe out of the Dark Ages. Over the next forty-two years he fought fifty-three wars. When he defeated an army or captured a city, he insisted that everyone convert to Christianity. Those who refused were slaughtered.

By the cross and sword, he carved out an empire that went from the Atlantic to Russia. Then he spent his final years building monasteries and universities, trying to atone for his reign of terror. He died as one of the most powerful men in the world.

Two centuries later, workmen accidentally broke into Karl’s burial crypt under the cathedral in Aachen, Germany. As they peered into the musty darkness, they saw a two-hundred-year-old skeleton encased in cobwebs and tied to a throne. A crown was perched sideways on a grinning skull.

As the workers inched closer, they saw a table holding a large Bible. The right index finger of the skeleton was resting on a verse in the open book. The workmen called for a priest. Holding a candle close to the Bible, he read the Latin verse of Jesus’ words: “What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” (Mark 8:36).

History remembers him by a single name, Charlemagne. Each of us has been shaped by the way he transformed history. Yet as he coughed out his last, he ordered his body to be buried in a way that would give a message: both the great and small will appear equally naked before God to give an account for their lives.”

-Robert A. Petterson, The One Year Book of Amazing Stories

Today we conclude our series on key issues of the faith. We’ve only touched on a few of the important key issues of the faith, but we will certainly return in the future to many of these topics as we grow together in Christ.

I want to address one of my favorite portions of scripture today, from Matthew chapter 25. And I think this scripture gives us a good picture of ultimate reality. This is one of the many parables that Jesus Christ taught when he was on Earth. It’s a parable about sheep and goats. It’s interesting just how Jesus taught the crowds who followed him. He taught spiritual truths by referring to everyday practices and normal parts of everyday life. Typically ancient nations like Israel were designed in a particular way. There were various walled cities, to defend against invading armies. And these walled cities would be surrounded by farmlands and grazing pastures. There was no complicated supply chain to keep everyone supplied. If a city wanted food, it would have to be surrounded by farm lands and flocks and herds. It’s fairly common. If you think about Owosso it’s pretty similar, you have the inner city area, and surrounding the city you see various farm lands.

So what would everyone see and be aware of? Flocks of sheep, goats, farming, planting, and so on. So Jesus taught referencing such things. If Jesus was walking the Earth today, I imagine he would reference things like the internet, cars, colleges, industries, restaurants, and sports teams.

But in any case Jesus teaches here in Matthew 25, verses 31 through 46 about when Jesus Christ returns to Earth. We know that this will happen at some point in the future, though we don’t know exactly when. It says, “All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”

Typically sheep will follow their master, and tend to gather in flocks. Goats are different. They are more independent and more likely to be resistant and go their own way.

And it continues saying, “34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’”

If Jesus taught this parable today he would be accused of teaching a works based gospel. Because it’s all about what people did for Jesus, right? Well, it’s right here in the word. This a parable that really fits well with the work of The Salvation Army.

I felt very early on as a Christian that I wanted to be part of a church that was really doing something, really connected with the community, really being the hands and feet of Jesus. And the Lord led me to begin working as a caseworker at a salvation army homeless shelter. I loved it.

But this is what we do right? We provide food to the hungry. We provide water to the thirsty. We provide housing assistance and motel vouchers for the homeless. We provide “coats for kids” which fulfills that mandate to provide clothing. And we’re also called to visit and care for the sick, and to visit those in jail, and believe me, I’m working on developing those sort of ministries here.

The scriptures continues, “37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

The amazing thing is, whenever we do one of these things for someone in need, it’s just like we did it for Jesus.

Sometimes I know full well that someone is trying to take advantage of me. I know of them around town. But then I remind myself, it doesn’t really matter, because I’m doing it for Jesus. So I help them. That’s my calling.

And apparently part of our judgment as Christians will be, did we fulfill these mandates to help those in need? And in particular, did we help other Christians in need?

Then we see Jesus addressing those on the left, the goats, “‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.””

Have you ever noticed someone in need, and the Lord was moving in your heart to go talk to them or help them or pray for them, and you felt the Holy Spirit say go do it, and you didn’t? There have been times that I’ve felt that. And I always regret it later. So if the Spirit is speaking to you, be sure to go quickly and do it. Just do it. Go quickly.

In any case, we see Jesus saying depart from me, to the goats, who did not care for him. These are the lazy Christians who did not help those in need. They didn’t serve others. They served themselves. And if we live that way, we’ll be held accountable.

Jesus actually says to them, you are cursed, into the eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Scary stuff. And sometimes we don’t like to talk about this part, about divine accountability. God is love. God is mercy. God is gracious. But God is also a just judge.

JI Packer a famous theologian said, from his book, Your Father Loves You, “Why do men shy away from the thought of God as a judge? Why do they feel unworthy of him? The truth is that part of God's moral perfection is his perfection in judgment. Would a God who did not care about the difference between right and wrong be a good and admirable being? Would a God who put no distinction between the beasts of history, the Hitlers and Stalins, and his own saints be morally praiseworthy and perfect? Moral indifference would be an imperfection in God, not a perfection. And not to judge the world would be to show moral indifference. The final proof that God is a perfect moral being, not indifferent to questions of right and wrong, is the fact that he has committed himself to judge the world.

It is clear that the reality of divine judgment must have a direct effect on our view of life. If we know that retributive judgment faces us at the end of the road, we shall not live as otherwise we would. But it must be emphasized that the doctrine of divine judgment, and particularly of the final judgment, is not to be thought of primarily as a bogeyman, with which to frighten men into an outward form of conventional righteousness. It has its frightening implications for godless men, it is true; but its main thrust is as a revelation of the moral character of God, and an imparting of moral significance to human life.”

It matters how you live and the choices to make. The goal here isn’t to scare you into being good. The goal is to point to God’s justice and righteousness. And to remind us that we are accountable to God. And there will be a day of judgment, when we give an account for how we lived.

So we see Jesus teaches us, to provide food for the hungry, water for the thirsty, to care for the sick, for those in jail, to provide clothing, and to help meet needs in the world. This is an important calling, and one we partake in, in the salvation army. This august we distributed over 120 backpacks for children in need. We give out food everyday through our daily meals, and our pantry. I would encourage you here if you haven’t, volunteer to help with some of these services. We always needs to volunteers. But more importantly, do these things in your daily life. God will give you opportunities to help people and meet needs. All you have to do is take those opportunities.

My motivation is simple for doing what I do everyday: God is really real. The Bible is really God’s word. Jesus Christ is really my savior. Which means every good deed I do in this life for someone, is just like I did it for Jesus my dear friend himself. And more so, I know I will be rewarded in heaven for each good deed I do.

There are many who testify to having near death experiences, or visions from God, in which they see Jesus in heaven, and Jesus will show these people their house in heaven, and how every time they do a good deed, or preach the gospel, or meet someone’s need, it adds on something new to the house. And Jesus is the carpenter, building the house in heaven, preparing it for them when they arrive in heaven. How beautiful is that? I think it’s amazing. And indeed God’s word says that we will be rewarded for what we do in this life for Christ. Great is our reward in heaven, when we serve Jesus here. Every loaf of bread, every gallon of water, every piece of clothing given to those in need are jewels in your crown in heaven.

I know these things are true. So Christians, be like the sheep who follow our great shepherd Jesus Christ. Don’t be like the goats, who pretend to care about the needy, but don’t really do anything to help people. They just serve themselves. Don’t just pretend. Really live it out. 

Sunday, September 6, 2020

The Great Blessing: Attaining God-Consciousness


The Spiritual journey continues. Last week we talked about the moment of apotheosis, where we realize our identity as Christians, and it connects not only in the mind, but connects from the mind to the heart, and we begin to really feel that we are Christians. Today we consider the next step of the saga , which is really one of the great climax moments of the journey. We’ve been on this spiritual journey for a while now. And we come to the moment of the great blessing.

We finally, finally, finally go from being a Christian who yes knows our identity, but struggles to have communion with God, to a Christian who experiences daily God-consciousness.

What do we mean when we talk about God consciousness? Well, the scriptures refer to this in several different ways. Sometimes it’s called “life in the Spirit.” As Christians we have Jesus as our savior, God as our Father, and the Holy Spirit within us. And you could say that living in God-consciousness is to live with our mind and heart actively connected to the Holy Spirit within. And then we know that the Holy Spirit is connected to Jesus, and Jesus is connected to the father. You could say that the Holy Spirit is our plug in, we’re plugged into the Holy Spirit who is plugged into Jesus who is plugged into the Father. So God-consciousness is having an active mindset connected to the Holy Spirit.

1st Corinthians 2:16 says, “But we have been given Christ’s way of thinking.” And that is another way that God consciousness is referred to in the scriptures. It’s referred to as “the mind of Christ.”

So what does this mind of Christ look like? Well we get an excellent description of it, famously in Philippians 2:5-11 which says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,[b] 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” -Philippians 2:5-11

An astounding declaration is made here, it says in verse 5 right at the beginning, have this mind in yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. You could pass over that but stop there. It says as a follower of Jesus, this mind of Christ is yours already. Wow.

God consciousness. Wow. Let me explain it this way. We all operate on three basic instincts of life. We operate from our security instinct, our social instinct and our sexual instinct. This is basic to all people. We seek food, shelter, work, protection and so on. That is our security instinct. Basic needs of life. We also have a powerful social instinct, we are drawn to have a family, to have children, to develop friendships with others, to be around other people. Very powerful, and of course we have our sexual instinct that powerful desire to meet someone of the opposite sex, get married, and be romantically involved. Security, social and sexual instinct.

All humans operate that way. But God-consciousness is the 4th dimension of existence. When we begin to operate based on a whole new 4th instinct, the instinct to serve God. And this instinct becomes the most powerful instinct for a Christian.

If you are truly a Christian, you know in your heart, that you would rather die than turn away from Jesus. If someone put a gun to my head, and said, are you a Christian? If you say no I’ll let you go. I would have to say yes, because Jesus is my savior and I can’t deny Him. Jesus is greater than my security instinct, and my social instinct. If I have a group of friends, who mock my faith in Jesus and practice sinful things, I may love those people very much, but I love Jesus more, and I will leave that group before they get in the way of my walk with God. Same thing with the sexual instinct. I’ve had many possibilities of relationships, but those women were not Christians, they were not interested in Jesus, and I know they wouldn’t want to join my church, so even though I had the chance at romance, I declined it. Because this 4th dimension of existence, God consciousness, the instinct to serve the God that made me, is greater than all 3 of those main instincts of life.

But here’s the thing about God-consciousness: It doesn’t come at first as a Christian. We start to follow Jesus and we struggle at first, for the first few years, or however long, to develop prayer times in the morning and at night, over meals. We struggle to develop times of reading the Bible, and watching Christian sermons on YouTube and so on. But as we fight those battles to engage in true relationship with God, we see our connection to God begin to blossom and grow like a beautiful growing garden. And of course week by week we go out there and pull out weeds, we water it carefully each day, we protect it from animals and birds. And slowly it grows up and becomes more and more beautiful.

Eventually we reach that point of apotheosis where we realize deep within our identity in Christ. And the journey continues. And eventually we reach this time where we begin to sense God’s presence. We begin to be actively guided by the Holy Spirit within us. We have gut feelings about dangerous situations. We stop and realize God’s loving presence is here and now with us. And we’re amazed and brought to tears by his love. Our prayer life grows beyond a few minutes to an hour a day or more. We read that bible a half hour a day, we watch YouTube sermons and listen to audio bibles. And slowly but surely we begin to actively experience God consciousness, the mind of Christ within us. This is the great blessing, the ultimate blessing, to begin to really live like Jesus.

We become bold. We share the gospel actively. We delight in God. We have an intuitive response in our minds to situations we didn’t use to be able to handle. We realize that God is doing in us, what we could never do ourselves. We have God-consciousness. We now operate from the great blessing of the mind of Christ. And we grow in the mind of Christ, to experience more and more God-consciousness until it’s the new normal for our lives. Isn’t that beautiful? So keep seeking God actively, fighting for an intimate relationship with Him and soon you’ll find yourself operating from God-consciousness, the ultimate blessing. 

Four Views of Sanctification: Lutheran, Calvinist, Keswick, & Wesleyan


Last week we talked about three views of the atonement of Jesus. Today we’re going to continue forward and talk about the concept of sanctification. That’s a big theological word, but in general sanctification is defined as the process by which a believer in Jesus is conformed to the image of Christ. In other words, sanctification is the process by which we are made slowly over our lives more and more holy, pure, and like Jesus our savior.

Salvation happens for us at the moment that we believe in jesus Christ as our savior. At that moment we are born again, we receive the holy spirit who lives in us, and we begin a new life as a follower of Jesus. That is the moment of salvation.

But now that we’ve become Christians, we live the rest of our lives following Jesus, and slowly growing to be more and more like Jesus. That is the lifelong process of sanctification. It’s also referred to as growth in holiness, growth in purity, and growth in maturity. The scriptures make consistent reference to the process of sanctification is these various ways, another way it’s referred to is as putting to death the sins of the flesh, and living by the Spirit in us.

Are you taking notes? I hope so. We’re going a bit deeper today. So I want to give you first of all the four chief views of sanctification within the church, and then we’ll focus on the Wesleyan view, which as The Salvation Army, is the theology we follow. And I think you’ll see why, it’s quite beautiful. But I want you to be aware of all the various perspectives on sanctification.

Before we start I want to tell you that is issue of sanctification really hits on a huge, huge massive issue within the Christian faith, and it’s how Christians wrestle with sin after becoming Christians. This is to me the grand question of following Jesus: How do we resolve the fact of sin in the life of the believer? Do we ignore it? Do we throw up our arms and quit? Do we focus in on Christ? Do we work to overcome it? And these viewpoints each tell us a different response to the question of what should a Christian who keeps sinning do?

First of all we have the Lutheran view. I had quite a debate with one of my professors at Liberty university who held the Lutheran view of sanctification, and I found it to be quite an unacceptable viewpoint. But in any case, the Lutheran view suggests that the moment of salvation and sanctification are one in the same. So at the moment that you get saved, you are also fully sanctified. Which makes absolutely no sense to me. Because I haven’t met many Christians who seem to be instantly just like Jesus, though perhaps it does happen from time to time, I don’t know. But from my perspectives when I see Christians growing, it’s a lifelong process of slowly, sins being weeded out one by one, and a slow growth in maturity. So this perspective believes that it’s a sort of one and done, you get saved in Jesus, and at that same time you are fully sanctified as well.

So this perspective answers the question by saying we are new in Christ, any attempt to live a holy life is just man trying to be saved by his owns, and so we just focus on Jesus, grace through faith alone, and we don’t worry about it when we struggle in sin. To me, this perspective decides to ignore and push aside the sin problem in a believer’s life.

The second view is the Calvinist view. The Calvinist suggests that sanctification occurs both at the moment of salvation, and also as a progressive process through our whole lives. Believers are considered a new person, who is also being progressively renewed in Christ. So it’s lifelong process of slow growth in sanctification that never really meets an end. So a Calvinist would say, generally, that a believer will always sin in this life. And not to worry about it, you won’t be sanctified like Jesus until coming into heaven.

Once again, the question, what about sin in a believer’s life, the answer for the Calvinist is: Yes, you keep on sinning in this life. You can never be free from sin. So this perspective simply embraces sin as a reality of this life. They would say you can resist sin in Christ of course, but you can’t ever be fully free from sin.

The third view is the Keswick “Deeper Life” view. The Keswick view is best described from the Keswick movement that took place in the late 18th century from their first publication which states, “We believe that the Word of God teaches that the normal Christian life is one of uniform sustained victory over known sin… that a life of faith and victory, of peace and rest, are the rightful heritage of every child of God, and that he may step into it… not by long prayers, and laborious effort, but by a deliberate and decisive act of faith. The normal experience of the child of God should be one of victory instead of constant defeat, one of liberty, and rest, and that this may be obtained not by a lifelong struggle after an impossible ideal but by a surrender of the individual to God, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.” The Keswick view indicates that Christians fight a battle within themselves between the desires of the flesh, and the desires of the Spirit. And as much as believers try to fight this battle to live in the Spirit, instead of the flesh, they can’t win the battle.

So the solution for the Keswick view is a single moment at some point in the future where the believer fully surrenders to God. A complete surrender and turning over of all to God. They would say this moment of surrender usually happens along with some sort of crisis in the life of the believer. They believer realizes in this moment of crisis that they are totally powerless to sin, and so they come through this crisis to a complete surrender.

And it means, first of all that the believer completely surrenders to the fact that they can’t beat sin on their own, and secondly they put a complete resting faith in Christ. This ends the battle with a total surrender to Christ, and no more striving to be holy and pure. At that moment of surrender, the believer is given by the Holy Spirit the power to resist sin, and live holy in Christ.

So there’s a lot of good stuff there. There’s plenty to like in this view. You surrender to God, and God removes the problem. Sounds a lot like say the twelve steps of recovery groups in society.

So to the answer of the question of sin in the life of a believer, the Keswick view would say the answer is a time of crisis, that brings us to a complete surrender to God, and that resting faith in Christ delivers us from all sin. So the answer changes now, for the Lutheran and Calvinist view, sin must always remain. But for the Keswick view, sin can be overcome.

But now let’s look at the fourth view, the Wesleyan View, which is the idea of entire sanctification as perfect love. This view considers all sin a problem of the heart. Because the scriptures say that man looks at actions but God looks at the heart. It’s all a heart issue. Sin is the problem and Christ is the solution. All this growth in holiness is only done by Christ in us, and by the Spirit working in us, we simply cooperate with that and respond as God moves in us toward growth.

And I think you’ll see that the Wesleyan view actually combines a lot of the best elements from the other views.

Let’s take a look at the chart. 

So you see the moment of salvation, justification, that Jesus makes us new, washes away our past sins, and gives us a new life, we receive the Holy Spirit and we begin our Christian journey. Then we see the slow progressive growth in holiness. Similar to part of the Calvinist view. We slowly over the months and years, watch as God removes sins from our lives, removes things like pride, and ego, and gossip, and coldness, and we repent, and God removes those things.

We come to a moment of surrender, where we give ourselves fully over to God, this really heralds a time when we realize we’ve given our whole lives to God. And we’ve humbled ourselves before him. This is a time when victory begins to become the new normal. So sanctification continues, and eventually at some time in the future, we come to this point of what we call “entire sanctification” where our hearts are filled with the love of Christ. Now, this is not the removal of the constant temptation to sin, but it is the moment when we reach the point where we no longer sin in this life. We’ve repented of our sins, because God has done the work in us. And we now have the mind of Christ, and live with the love of Jesus.

You might think it ends there, but growth continues after entire sanctification. God continues to grow us in so many ways, continues to prune, and expand our ministry and we continue in life.

Then one day we die, and we come before Jesus, and at this moment we receive glorification, which means the sinful nature is removed from us, and we no longer are predisposed to be tempted by sin. We come into eternal life, and have received our inheritance.

And I think of all these views the Wesleyan perfect love view gives us the most complete version of the Christian life. We find the whole process, growth, surrender, freedom from sin, and glorification after death.

Entire sanctification is stated in the word, from 1 Thessalonians 5:23 ESV “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So as Wesleyans, to the question of what do believers do about sinning in their lives after coming to know Jesus? We would say continue to grow in sanctification, continue to walk with Christ, continue to repent of active sins, and one day you will reach the point of entire sanctification, when you will no longer sin in your life. You will live out true holiness in Christ.

And it’s important to remember, this is not something we do in our own strength or by works. This is a work of God, miraculously done in us over time, eventually reaching the point of full and complete freedom from sin. So we would answer: Continue to walk with Jesus, be zealous in repentance and closeness with God, and you will be free from all sin. But fear not, you are saved today. You are born again today. Live a lifestyle of repentance in the meantime and you will reach that moment of freedom from sin, entire sanctification. We affirm the truth that nowhere in the new testament are we told, nowhere, are we told that Christ and sin can abide together in the flesh. One will push out the other. Either sin will push out Christ, or Christ will push out sin. It’s a process, and it does reach a point of consummation.

I hope that makes sense. I hope you’ve been taking notes and will put this into practice in your own lives.

So in conclusion, how does this apply to us today? Well, if you are a Christian who currently struggles in active sins, have hope, Christ will set you free. Be zealous, and live a lifestyle of repentance. But not in your own power. Give these issues over to Christ, and he will set you free. Your part is the practice the opposite, and steadfastly continue in growth. Christ does it in us. We can have hope. Sin will not reign in us. We are free to live holy as Christ is holy, and as God is holy. 

Share this Post!