Posts tagged ‘Philippians’

Review: Erasing Hell, Chapter One

The question with which Francis Chan begins the first chapter of Erasing Hell is, “Does  everyone go to heaven?”

Without even the slightest trace of sarcasm, Chan comments,

 “Based on what I hear at funerals, the answer is an overwhelming “Yes!” How many funerals have you attended where this was even in question?”

Chan correctly points out that questions of heaven and hell are of far too much importance to leave  to feelings or assumptions, and that we must get down to what the Bible itself says on the matter. That is the launching point for this first chapter, and Chan wastes no time in getting down to it. He does this by asking a different question entirely: does the Bible say that everyone will be saved in the end?

To answer the question, Chan begins with a brief survey of Universalism, the teaching that the Bible says that God will save everyone.  It’s a very old teaching, Chan informs us, going back to the early church leader Origen. Origen’s beliefs eventually were deemed heresy, and for most of Church history (1600 years) there were very, very few who argued that everyone will be saved.

Universalism was heart and center over this past summer’s controversy regarding Rob Bell and Love Wins. Chan is careful to state that Bell never actually uses the label “universalism,” but in a lengthy endnote to the chapter insists that it is in fact what Bell is advocating.

” … Bell never actually comes out and says that this is what he believes. To be fair, he is not explicitly arguing for this position but listing it as a valid view that would help explain a lot of the tension that we feel when thinking about the hard realities of hell. But he presents this position in such favorable terms that it would be hard to say that he is not advocating it. He even says that the traditional view of a literal hell that features eternal torment is not “good news” at all. To use Bell’s phrase, “The good news is better than that.” He implies the view that all people will eventually be saved is actually much better news. So while he never actually says that this is the correct view, Bell certainly presents this as the good view and the traditional view of hell as the bad view.”

Chan spends the bulk of the first chapter in addressing specific passages of Scripture that universalists have said show that God will save everyone. He begins  with Philippians 2:9-11.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

But Chan argues that this passage can only teach universal salvation if it is ripped out of context. He points out that in Philippians 1:28 the Apostle Paul writes that the Gospel is the evidence of destruction for those who oppose it, and salvation for those who embrace it. Similarly, Chan points out that Philippians 3:19-21 makes a contrast between the enemies of the Cross — whose end is destruction — and those who follow Christ, who will receive glory. The day of Christ return spoken of in Philippians 2:9-11 is not a day of universal salvation, argues Chan. It is a day when Jesus will return to reclaim His creation and reign as King, but with that comes judgment for those who opposed Him.

Chan next brings up a number of passages concerning God restoring all people and reconciling all things to Himself, which he says are misused by universalists to prove that all people — regardless of a relationship with Christ — will be redeemed.

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor. 15:22)

In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, no counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:19)

In him all the fullness of God was please to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Col. 1:19-20)

[God] wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2:4)

Again, Chan points out that context is key, and that where Paul says “all will be made alive” in 1 Corinthians 15:22 he is clearly speaking of the resurrection of believers at the return of Christ, as evidenced by the very next verse.

But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:23)

Chan also point out Paul’s first  letter to the Corinthians ends with a rather forceful warning that everyone who does not love Jesus will be damned.

He continues his examination of these Scriptures by asking in regards to 1 Timothy 2:4 what exactly “all” means and what the word “want” means in the context of the verse. Chan demonstrates that “all” does not neccesarily mean every single person, contrasting the verse with 1 Timothy 2:1 in which Paul commands Timothy to pray for all people. Chan argues that it doesn’t seem logical that Paul wanted Timothy to “march through a prayer list that includes every person on the face of the earth,” and that if this earlier “all” doesn’t mean every single person, then neither does 2:4.

As to answering the question of what “want” means in context, Chan draws an important distinction regarding God’s will. 

“To figure out the meaning of “want,” it’s helpful to consider what the theologians have called God’s moral will and His decreed will. Some things may be part of God’s desire for the world, and yet those desires can be resisted. God doesn’t desire that people sin, but He allows it to happen because humans are moral agents who often make evil choices. God is not a puppet master who pulls everyone’s strings to suit His will. That’s why the Lord taught us to pray things like “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). God’s desire — His moral will — is resisted.”

This distinction that Chan makes underlines that the “want” of 1 Timothy 2:4 underscores that it is God’s moral will that every single person will be saved through Christ, but not his decreed will. He successfully demonstrates that the universalist position doesn’t hold up under the actual context of the Scriptures.

Chan closes this first chapter by pointing out that the New Testament clearly shows that Jesus himself not only didn’t teach that every single person would be saved, but the exact opposite — that few would be saved, while many would end up outside of the Kingdom. Chan uses the example of Jesus’ parable in Luke 13:22-30 to illustrate this.

Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

Chan concludes that “if Jesus actually believed in second chances for those who reject Him in this life, then this is  a dangerously misleading parable.”

What’s impressive thus far is how adamant Francis Chan is in reiterating frequently that this topic is not simply a debate over doctrine, but that it is about eternal destinies. “We can’t be wrong on this one,” is his refrain.


The Cost of Following Jesus, Part Three

This is the conclusion of a three-part series.

When Dietrich Bonhoeffer defined cheap grace, he also defined its opposite: costly grace. I’d ask your indulgence as I read once more from Bonhoeffer:

“Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.”

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of His Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered Him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

“Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow Him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Is there a cost to follow Jesus? Oh yes indeed, there is. Jesus intentionally put the rich young ruler in a position in which answering the call of God would have made it would be impossible to go back to the ruler’s old life.  He was asking him to sever all ties with his past and make an irrevocable decision to follow Christ.  The rich young ruler, like many today, seemed to want to try out the call and see if the conditions suited his fancy, then decide later whether or not to stay with Jesus.  No. There is no real cost to a decision such as that. You risk nothing. Truly following Jesus means risking everything you have and everything that you are.

I cannot tell you how many times during my years as a missionary to the Jews that I experienced heart wrenching moments of watching those whom I had ministered to count the cost of deciding to follow Jesus – a cost that for some included the rejection of their families, the loss of jobs, and the censure of their entire community! I think particularly of a young Jewish man named Alan whom I ministered to for most of a year. We met weekly to study Scripture, and was I spurred to pray for Alan often as I judged that he had made such progress that I thought he would surely give himself to Christ at any moment. This hope of mine was crushed one day when Alan confessed to me that while he had come to believe that all I had taught him was true, and that Jesus was most likely the Messiah, he could not follow him. “If I follow Jesus, I’ll lose my family and everything else, and I just can’t do that.” Alan was stuck at a terrible place: the crossroads of truth and convenience. In time I got past my disappointment in his choice, and returned to praying that God would move him past that crossroads. Alan made a choice much like that of the young ruler.

The cost that Jesus would have us pay to follow Him is to abandon our focus on ourselves and on earthly things. “Go, sell what you have,” He tells the young ruler, “give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” The cost of following Him and becoming like Him is to fix our gaze on heavenly things. That cost is achieved by allowing God to take away the heart we have and replace it with a new heart. A heart that beats for Him! A heart that yearns not for the things of this world, but that yearns for the same things that the Lord yearns for! It means giving up who we are in our sinfulness, and becoming new creatures who exist to serve His purposes, not our own selfish ambitions and desires.

The apostle Paul spoke to this idea when writing to the church in Philippi, stating,

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed-not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence-continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”  Philippians 2:12-13

When Paul says to “work out your salvation,” please understand that he is not suggesting that anyone through some effort on their part can earn God’s salvation. The key to what he means is contained in verse 13, “for it is God who works in you.” Paul was admonishing the Philippians to live lives that made their salvation in Christ obvious – and he wanted them to remember that this could only happen if they allowed God to be at work in their lives, causing their will to conform to His will, causing them to desire that their actions would directed towards God’s purposes.

God will not take up residence within you, His Holy Spirit cannot tabernacle within you, if sin remains in you. If you have withheld a part of yourself from Him and sin therefore remains, how can you possibly expect that Jesus will take up residence within you and transform you from the inside? If you have professed yourself a Christian, and yet are still holding onto something from your past, please understand that by keeping your whole heart from Him you are grieving the Lord by blocking the work of His Spirit in your life. The things you hide from other people, the secret sins you’ve never confessed to another person, that patch of darkness you’ve harbored in your heart … they are all seen and understood by the Lord. He is able to cleanse you of them. It is His desire that you turn them over to Him so that he might heal you and cause you to grow to Christian maturity.

If you have never truly given lordship of your life over to Jesus, you can have no idea of what it means to have Him cleanse your sin, to heal you of all the brokenness in you. In 1997, at the time I first came to know Jesus, there is no other way to describe what I was other than an unqualified mess. I had come through alcohol. I had come through drugs. I had come through one failed relationship after another. I had come to grips with the fact that I just wasn’t any good at my chosen career. I was just plain miserable. But on the day I met Jesus, I gave all of that pain and misery over to Him, and He opened wide His arms and simply said to me, “Welcome home.” From that moment on, although I have had trials and tribulations in life, none of them have ever been more than momentary clouds on the horizon because in dying to the life I led and allowing Christ to live within me, for the first time I experienced God’s  shalom, the peace that surpasses all understanding.

Even as the young ruler trudged away in sorrow, Peter looked at the Lord and said, “We have left everything and followed you.” There’s a question in this statement, and the question is, “Did we make the sacrifice that this rich young ruler wouldn’t?” Jesus’ response recognizes that Peter and the other disciples did make a sacrifice of their lives – a sacrifice Jesus measures in houses, in brothers or sisters or mothers or fathers, in children and lands – for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel. Not only does he affirm that they have made the right choice, but Jesus goes on to indicate that those who are faithful to Him, even amidst persecutions, will be rewarded. Rewarded with what?

“that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 NRSV

Is there a cost to following Jesus? As I wrap up, I don’t want to keep beating the same drum.  But if you say you are following Jesus, and your life hasn’t changed, I want to challenge you to ask yourself why. If you call yourself a follower of Christ and yet your life doesn’t reflect Him, it begs the question of whether you’ve truly turned your back on your own sin and thrown yourself entirely on the mercy of God. Maybe you’re thinking that there are things in your life you’ve done that God can’t forgive. Maybe there places of darkness you’ve wandered into where you think His light can’t reach. People, understand that the cost to follow Jesus is not about following rules. It’s not about managing your sin. It’s about saying to God, “Here I am, you can have all of me.” That’s the cost of following Jesus. That’s what it takes.

Have you paid that cost? Are you willing to pay it? Who are you living for? Are you living for Jesus, or are you living for yourself? Do you find yourself in possession of a cheap grace or a costly grace? When God calls, will you cast down your nets – as some of the disciples did – and follow Him, or will you walk away downhearted as the rich young ruler, unwilling to give all of your heart to Him so that he can give you a new one?

* All quotes or information regarding Dietrich Bonhoeffer were drawn from The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer,  1959, Simon & Schuster

** All quotes or information regarding Richard Wurmbrand were drawn from Jesus Freaks, dc Talk & Voice of The Martyrs, 1999, Albury Publishing

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