Sunday, 10 April 2016

Notes on Death and Judgment

To complement Sean's sermon, (which will go up on Tuesday afternoon) here are the notes I wrote, for our elders' meeting, that represent the historic Reformed Protestant Christian confession, on the weighty subject of death and judgment.  All of this turns on the assumption that through Jesus, God offers us not just a cleaned up heart, but a new one; not just a cleaned up life, but a new one.


Death is the defining chrysalis moment where our true spiritual identity as belonging to Jesus or belonging to the Devil is finally revealed.

The fact that physical death has not been removed by the Cross, should spur a Christian on to honest reflection, maturity and holiness not denial, dissipation and depravity.

Christians follow Christ through death to resurrection life and the new World. If the Master underwent it, so must we, for we are no greater than he.

Our attitude to death reveals to our hearts - where we really think our source of life is located. If we think it is in ourselves, our love and obedience to God will stall, if we know it is from God we will freely give ourselves up to him in love, even to death as he has already done for us in his Son at the Cross.

Below is the handout we distributed: (click on it to enlarge)

The apostle Paul in Acts seemed happy declaring the “brute fact” of Final Judgment to all people, believers and unbelievers alike, whether they were familiar with the Bible or not. What imperative does that press on us for our preaching, our personal lifestyle and our church culture?

The Final Judgement is the great unveiling. Things that were hidden from view will finally be fully understood. This judgment is not our opportunity to plead our case with God – that outcome is already known by whether we received Christ or not – the point of the Final judgement is the public vindication of God’s reputation in condemning sin (rebellion against him) forever in individuals who refused his offer or in Christ at the cross for those who have received him.

Thus, final judgment is for declaring the severity of the sentence for the unbeliever and the greatness of the reward for the believer.

If God does reveal the sins of believers at the Judgment (and it would appear that he does) it will only be in the context of vindicating his grace, and showing that no one receives eternal life on the basis of their own efforts, but only as a gift of Christ’s righteousness. It is therefore not a reason to fear, but it
should provoke a Christian to godliness and to the renunciation of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is probably the biggest sin in the church, causing the enemies of God to mock him – 2 Sam 12:14 (See NASB translation)

The Nature of Judgment

Christ will be the judge – unbelievers will never see the Father only the righteous will see him. (Matt 5:8)

Unbelievers will be judged and the judgement will be brutally holistic and nothing will be left in the dark, no questions left unanswered, no loose ends left unravelled – and there will be degrees of punishment. The punishments will be greatest for those heretics of the faith who whilst claiming to bring people to God led them instead to greater destruction by their false teaching - using Christianity as a means of getting riches and glory in this life only.

We assume that Hell is a place where people will lament and wish they had repented, but it is not. Only those who hate God are sent to Hell. The torments of fire and worm come as each time those who hate God declare how much they loathe him. Were it true that people were crying out to God from Hell to be saved, God would immediately save them, his compassion is so great. But the chilling truth is that like a madman floating on driftwood at sea, refusing to get in the lifeboat when it arrives, so too, gripped by the madness of sin, the wicked would rather be the kings and queens on the throne of their own sinful hearts and go to Hell, arrogant and defiant before God, than humbly bow the knee and lovingly submit to him. However moral and good they may have looked in this life, at the judgment, their nature as children of their “father” the devil - John 8:44 is fully revealed.

Believers will be judged equally holistically and rewards given, (remember their rebellion against God has been paid for by Christ) based on how they have lived. Whilst not everyone’s reward will be the same, for not all have worked equally hard and God is not a communist state, nevertheless everyone’s joy will be complete for God has no favourite children and Christians will have no favourites amongst their brothers and sisters.  There will be no pride in those who have received more, only humble loving service to those under them in the New World.  Equally, there will be no envy in those who have received less, but loving, humble submission to those over them in the New World. Love will perfect all things. Rewards will be greatest not for those who converted the most souls (that is often the immediate conclusion after looking at a subject like this), but for those who have loved God and then their neighbour most wholeheartedly, laying down their lives for both to the uttermost.

The Moral Application of Final Judgment

On a personal level, the final judgment satisfies our need for justice and lets us freely forgive, confident that God will repay rightly. (But remember, its God's standard of justice, not our flawed ones.) It also admonishes us to live righteously now in the present moment. and spurs us to compassion and evangelism.

On one level, this can all seem rather cold and clinical, but the Apostle Paul writes of the joy and sorrow he feels here, almost all at the same time.  It is a tension to be held, in trust of God, not a problem to be solved. The joy:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And in the very next verse, the sorrow...
I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.

At this point, one might legitimately ask:
  • What about those in unreached parts of the world who have never heard the Gospel?
  • What about those who never really heard the gospel clearly because all the Christians in their lives were too flaky to say anything? 
  • What about all those tiny aborted lives or the lives those who died so young?
  • What about the mentally disabled / enfeebled?
  • What about those who have turned away from God because of a dreadful hypocritical witness from those who claimed to be Christians acting in the name of God?
  • Will God really condemn these people?
These are good questions. And along with the Why does God allow suffering? question, they are probably the biggest arguments that lead many to reject the Faith or give it up if they began in it. They cannot reconcile a loving God with these kinds of black and white, in or out pronouncements on eternal destiny.

Many have given defences of God by coming up with reasons why God would grant all of those people eternal life. Others have come down the other way and said, there is no salvation without an explicit profession of faith. And there is every shade in between too.

Personally I would not want to declare either way. I know you think that is a cop out, but on balance, this is a tension to hold, not a problem to solve. There are some things that are for God alone to know. On the one hand, our confidence is that God is loving and merciful, gracious and compassionate, but on the other, he has not given us any confidence in the Bible that there is any way to be saved other than through faith in Jesus Christ, so neither should we.

We might in our arrogance demand, or in our grief plead, that God give an account of his actions, but the truth is that if we as a race had never rebelled against God in the first place, we wouldn't be in this predicament, so the blame is finally with us, not God. God has offered in his love and mercy a way out through his Son, but instead of taking it we try and frame God as the criminal in this, to get ourselves off the hook and vindicate ourselves.

Moreover, in our Western cultural narrative of "rights and equality," we tend to assume that we are entitled to God's kindness, that it's God's job to save us because that's what a loving God should do give us everything we want - like some kind of overindulging parent. Interestingly, in other cultures the question is framed differently, namely, how can God allow himself to draw near to such dark and lowly creatures as we are and still remain pure and just?  If we have an entitlement to anything, it is justice, not generosity, wrath not grace.

So when it comes up in conversation, I would be inclined to say: “Don’t worry about other people, God will take care of them rightly, the question is what are you going to do with Jesus’ offer of life to you today? Or if they are Christian – What does this knowledge of Judgment mean for you? What has God asked of you when it comes to being his witness to the world around you?

One interesting example of this is how the Mouk people received the Gospel. (See from 27:23, but the whole video is worth a watch. It's the second of a two part film series.  Chapter 1 is here.)  The Mouk people could have gotten really angry with God that their relatives and ancestors had entered a Christless eternity, and they do mourn for them, but they don’t allow that sorrow to overshadow the great joy they have at receiving Christ as their Lord and Saviour, or stop it from sharing what they have received with others.


For more on what we believe at RFC, click here.


Dove of Creation said...

Hi Richard,

What are your thoughts on the arguments for Annihilationism in relation to this?

Richard Walker said...

Not especially had any thoughts. Have you had some?

Dove of Creation said...

Personally I'm agnostic on the issue. I think the biblical case for it is very good though - it always surprises me how easily conservative evangelicals brush it off. I just mention it because the diagram above refers to "eternal conscious punishment".

This is a really good piece though, generally, and I think you ask all of the right sorts of questions.

How's it being a father by the way? We must have a catch up sometime!