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Archive for the ‘hell’ Category

EvangelismWhat do you associate with the phrase “man-centred evangelism”?  What would self-centred evangelism look like?

I have a tract in front of me. A fairly innocuous cover – it could be about anything.

Open it up and straight away you’re confronted with death and judgement. When we die we will open our eyes either in a state of supreme happiness or unbelievable anguish. There is no annihilation, no re-incarnation, no escape.

The next page tells us How to be sure of heaven. There follow nine numbered points. These include (among other things) ‘repenting’, ‘coming’ to Jesus, ‘trusting in’ Jesus, ‘looking to’ Jesus, ‘receiving’ Jesus, ‘confessing ‘ Jesus, and ‘reading your Bible and praying every day’. These are all separately listed under the heading ‘How to be sure of heaven.’  The work of Jesus is mentioned in the midst of a couple of these points – His death on “Calvary” is instrumental in your forgiveness and something you must realise and trust in.

It concludes with a sinners’ prayer.

Now… let me say I love first contact evangelism, I love tracts.  I use them often. I’ve just been out door-knocking our parish and found it a very fruitful time. I don’t fault anyone for a sense of gospel urgency and a desire to reach out.  So let’s not get hung up on the particular example, but let’s talk about the theology behind it.

The theology fueling this is not confined to tracts. Some folks seem to reverse engineer their gospel from the throne of judgement.  And they bring it all back to here and now and me.  The logic goes like this:

In the future there will be a judgement.

Today you can prepare for that ‘great assize’ by making some changes.

By the way, in the past Jesus did some things that open up the possibility for your salvation today.

But anyway, back to today.  Back to you.  Here are the nine things you need to do

There are numerous problems here, but let me name some of them…

The entire presentation is not an announcement of good news. It is an ultimatum.

It’s not about Christ and what He has done, it’s about you and what you must do.

Your problem, in these presentations, is not really Christlessness.  It’s the future flames which you want to avoid if you know what’s good for you.

God’s solution – salvation – is not knowing God through Jesus (John 17:3), it’s escaping hell. Meaning…

There is no obvious connection between believing in Jesus and being saved (apart from Jesus’ atonement being instrumental somehow).  Therefore…

Trusting Jesus becomes about trusting a mechanism of atonement, not a Mediator who atones.  Furthermore…

Faith in Jesus is blatantly a means to another end: escaping hell.  Which means…

No love for Christ is being encouraged, only love for self.  Thus…

True faith is not being elicited here.  You can tell this because…

Christ in His word is not creating faith (He and His work are barely mentioned), the evangelist is commanding faith.  But…

Faith is not a response to commands, it’s a response to promises.  Similarly…

Faith is not a contribution we make to our salvation (along with 8 other steps we need to take), it is the gift of God that comes as Christ, in His gospel, takes hold of us.

That’s what evangelism is then – placarding Christ.  And yes, talk about judgement – but talk about the condemnation that is our Christlessness, now and eternally (John 3:18). Talk about salvation, but talk about Christ as our salvation.  And talk about repentance and faith, but talk about it in the context of Christ offered to you.  Don’t make it your offering to Him.

If we fail to be thoroughly Christ-centred in evangelism we will be man-centred, no matter how much we quote the King James Bible, no matter how fundamentalist we sound, no matter how proud we are of ‘preaching the hard truths.’  Without Christ it always comes back to me.  Only Christ-centredness is true God-centredness.

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gavelJohn 3:18 is emphatic – humanity is condemned already for its unbelief in Jesus.  The verdict is already handed down, the sentence is already passed, the human race is already lost.  The gavel has fallen, court is adjourned.  There’s no higher Judge, no appeals process, no loopholes, no going back, no ifs, no buts.  Condemned.  Perfectly, completely, irreversibly condemned.

Are you human?  Are you flesh and blood?  Then you are condemned.  Condemned already.

You want a retrial?  Stiff bickies, as they say in Australia.

But let me tell you why it’s good news that we’re condemned already.

It means I’m not crushed under the weight of determining my eternity!  I don’t stand at a crossroads with heaven and hell depending on my wise and moral choices.  Neither am I walking a tightrope – one wrong step and I plunge to my doom.  No, no.  Thank God the pressure’s off.  I’m condemned already.

It means that none of my past sins have condemned me to hell and none of my future sins ever can.  That betrayal, that abortion, that infidelity, those years of rebellion will not take me to hell.  My sins and my works just don’t have that power.  They don’t even come into this equation.  They are only the fruit of a condemned tree, the symptoms of a condemned condition.  Reality is, I’m condemned already.

It means that both the problem and the solution lies in the realm of my being not of my doing.  I’m not expected to summon up the strength for a 5-point plan of salvation.  All that nonsense is irrelevant.  I’m condemned already.

It means I don’t need to worry about judgement day as though that will have the decisive word on my destiny.  Judgement day is not about presenting my good works or my right confession of faith (as though we’ll be in the queue nervously rehearsing our confession “Please let me in because of the blood of Jesus shed for me”).  Nothing hangs in the balance. And no-one hangs in the balance. Judgement day will only confirm what we are and therefore what we have chosen.

It means that hell is God’s pronouncement upon those who remain in unbelief: ‘have it your way.’

And it means that Jesus is my only hope.  There’s nothing in me that’s not sunk in perdition.  Therefore my eyes are taken off myself.  I must look to a Saviour completely outside myself because I’m condemned already.

In evangelism it means that we do not address religious consumers with their capacities for choice.  Instead we address condemned criminals with news of a pardon.  We do not treat unbelievers as mighty decision-makers with eternity in their hands.  They are lost.   And we do not preach judgement simply as something hanging over them but as something in which they are already sunk.

Do you think we give enough emphasis to the already-ness of humanity’s condemnation?

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Judgement and Jealousy

People often recoil from these two J words.  Judgement and jealousy can sound like horrible aspects of the Lord’s character.  But actually when you put the two together, you see a very different picture.

Judgement and jealousy are regularly twinned in the bible:

Ex 20:5; 34:14; Deut 4:24; 5:9; 6:15; 29:20; 32:16,21; Josh 24:19; 1 Kings 14:22; Ps 78:58; 79:5; Is 9:7; 26:11; 37:32; 42:13; 59:17; Ezek 5:13; 8:3ff; 16:38,42; 23:25; 35:11; 36:5; 36:6; 38:19; Joel 2:18; Zeph 1:18; 3:8; Zech 1:14; 8:2,3; 1 Cor 10:22; Heb 10:27

In fact Jealousy is at the very heart of the LORD’s character:

Exodus 34:14 Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

Song of Solomon 8:6 …Love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD.

Jealousy is the very Name and Flame of the LORD!

We baulk at this, having only negative connotations for ‘jealousy’.  But…

a) The word in Hebrew and Greek can as well be translated zeal (in fact in Greek it is zelos!  See the way it’s used in Rom 10:2 or Phil 3:6 for instance).  In Hebrew it is derived from the word for ‘red’.  It’s the idea of hot-blooded commitment.

b) The bible has all sorts of examples of good jealousy on a human level (e.g. 2 Cor 7:7,11; 9:2; 11:2)

c) Jealous love is – first of all – good, appropriate, hot-blooded, protective, possessive zealous ardour.  Only secondarily does it imply opposition to rivals.  And the existence of negative jealousy (e.g. Gal 5:20) is in fact a perversion of true jealous love.  It is a zeal but not according to knowledge.

d) This is a good example of how all love must include a righteous jealousy or it’s not true love.  Dr Braintree is not demonstrating true love to his wife because he’s not expressing real jealousy about Roger’s adultery…

So the God who is love is a Jealous God.  That is His original and all-pervading nature.

Secondarily this implies a certain stance towards rivals – towards those who would threaten, steal, oppose or belittle His love.  But this is absolutely secondary.  Originally and to His very depths, God is love and the flame of His passion is the sunshine of His love.

However if and when rivals appear, that same flame will burn but with markedly different consequences:

Zephaniah 1:18 In the fire of His jealousy the whole world will be consumed, for He will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth.

Zephaniah 3:8 In the fire of my jealousy all the earth shall be consumed.

The whole world is headed for the flames.  God will be all in all when He consumes the world.  For those hidden by the LORD (Zephaniah means ‘The LORD Hides’) they will experience the sunshine of His love – as Zephaniah 3 goes on to describe.  For those who stand apart from their Refuge it will be a judging, ravaging fire.

Same flames – very different experience.

“How can a God of love judge?” cries the outraged sceptic.

Well there should be outrage in that question.  But it shouldn’t be outrage towards God.  The great tragedy is that there are rivals to the love of God.

As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?  (Ezekiel 33:11)

Judgement is not necessary as though the flames burn brighter when the wicked are fuel.  That would be like saying that jealous marital love requires adultery.  No.  Judgement is the strange and alien work of the LORD (Isaiah 28:21).  But, when confronted with rivals, it’s the work of the LORD who burns with love.

It should be very obvious from this that love and judgement are not incompatible.

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It’s your parents’ 40th wedding anniversary.  Your father’s holding a big dinner as a surprise for Mum.  He wants the whole family there.  Everyone.  Including your wretched brother – a heroin addict who’s been nothing but trouble.  Your father has been through hell trying to keep him alive and out of prison.  He’s even had to pay off mobsters with extortionate sums to stop them killing him.

At every stage your brother has shamed the family.  And at every stage your parents have pursued the boy and bailed him out.  They’ve paid any price to bring him back.

You, on the other hand, have never been any trouble.  You’ve kept out of your parents’ way, put your head down and worked hard.  You spent your teenage years hitting the books and keeping yourself to yourself.  The first chance you got, you left home and made your way in the world.  You didn’t need any help and you never asked Dad for a penny.

Now your father wants the whole family to sit around the same table.  And, wouldn’t you know it, your brother is actually keen on the whole idea!  It’s unthinkable.  You can’t go. You won’t go.

First you avoid your brother’s calls. Then your father rings: “Please son I want you all there.”

Unbelievable.  You’re being cast as the bad guy?  You’re the sticking point?  How ridiculous!  Can’t everyone see, it’s your brother.

But Dad continues to press you.  “Son, I haven’t seen you in so long, can we meet face to face?”  No we cannot, you think.  There was something deeply disturbing about your father’s gaze.  He seemed to search your face for something that just wasn’t there.  And you both knew it.  You’d been avoiding that gaze for as long as you could remember.

“Well then,” he asks “would you do it for your mother?” Oh, now he’s playing that card is he?  Fury grips you.  This is precisely the problem.  Some households have a little thing called family manners.  With yours it’s all family and no manners.  It’s all caring and no consequences.  Well no longer.

If it’s a choice between brotherhood and behaviour, you pick behaviour.  And you hope they choke on their mercy meal.

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Hell is not an equal opposite to heaven.

Hell is outer darkness, shut out from the Light.

Hell is the judgement flowing from God’s mercy.

Hell is for good people.

Hell is getting what you want.

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A sermon on the theme

Audio  Video  Text  Powerpoint

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The real issue is… why doesn’t everyone accept God?

Sermon text

Sermon audio

Powerpoint slides

 

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Every year Steve Levy’s congregation ask him to preach his hell sermon.  They invite their friends and people become Christians.  It’s phenomenal preaching and if you ask me it’s exactly the way to speak of judgement.

Hell is already on us.  We experience it (John 3:18,36; Romans 1:18).  We see the “trailers” for the main feature and everything screams at us “You do not want to go there!”  Jesus does not come into the world to save some and damn others.  He comes into a condemned world only to save.  We are not at a cross-roads with heaven or hell in the power of our choosing.  Hell is on us.  Our only response is to turn to the Saviour.

Download here.

Also check out the rest of the Mount Pleasant sermons.  Wonderful stuff – including some recent Blackham sermons too.

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Happy Friday

3D Street Art – see them all here.

 

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