Friends: This is the epilogue of a short book I wrote a couple of years ago. Comments welcome!
“We are not simply dealing with matters of life and death. We are dealing with matters of eternal life and eternal death.” (Bill Hybels)
“I’m afraid that in the United States of America today the prevailing doctrine of justification is not justification by faith alone. It is not even justification by good works or by a combination of faith and works. The prevailing notion of justification in our culture today is justification by death. All one has to do to be received into the everlasting arms of God is to die.” (R.C. Sproul, Saved from What?)
If we have truly been rescued from God, by God, and for God, then there is no greater joy in life than in serving Him. Whatever that means.
Being rescued from God reminds us of the rightful, eternal judgment that awaited us upon death if our sins were not taken care of. John 3:36 says that “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” The Bible teaches that we come into this world as sinners, as those who are under the wrath of God. And the only way to get that wrath removed from us is to believe in His Son. Those who reject the Son won’t get eternal life, but eternal judgment. They will not see life. Why not? Because “God’s wrath remains on them.”
Some today bristle at the idea of God’s wrath. They not only hate Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” their perspective twists that sermon into “GOD in the Hands of Angry SINNERS!” Being rescued from God means being rescued from His wrath.
But we have also seen that our rescue from God was accomplished by God. Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Divine Trinity, paid our debt that we might be
righteously forgiven. Only one who is fully divine could pay that debt. The centrality of the deity of the Lord Jesus is a doctrine rejected by many in our culture. What they do not realize is that a non- divine Jesus can’t save anyone.
The story is told of a liberal minister who was being tried for heresy by his denomination. “We understand that you deny the deity of Jesus,” the council said to him. “Is this true?” The minister replied, “Deny the deity of Jesus? Deny the deity of Jesus?!”, he replied. “I haven’t denied the deity of any of us!”
The central theme of the Bible is that God loved man so much that the Son of God volunteered to become human (without giving up His deity) for the express purpose of coming to this earth to die for man’s wrong-doings. To deny the deity of Jesus completely obliterates the meaning of His atoning work on the cross.
We have been rescued from God, by God, and for God. The burden of this book has not been to simply talk about how nice it is to be saved. Instead, we have looked at several implications of salvation. We have seen that our lostness has been taken care of. The work of salvation was done out of the love of God paying the debt we could never pay. We were lured into becoming fellow men-catchers with Jesus. We also saw that we have embarked on a life of learning in which Jesus Himself is our curriculum and He puts us to work. Because He is now our life, we are not devastated when we are labeled, but do our utmost to speak to the intellectuals of our day the Good News about Jesus, even if we are thought to be mental airheads in the process! There is now a glorious liberty to those who are the Sons and Daughters of God, and nothing should entice us to give up our
freedom in Jesus. With all these blessings, we also discovered that we have been launched into a mission for the Son of God and need to get to it.
But not all will believe. Not all will be saved. In fact, some will resist this message and will go to their graves passively ignoring or actively opposing Jesus and His atoning work. What about them?
Yes, what about those who die without Jesus? Those who refuse to see their own lostness, mock the love of God, steadfastly resist His attempt to lure them into the family of God — what about them? What about those who insist on not enrolling in Jesus University, who are content with the myths of this world and will not become learners of God’s grace? What about those who give no reason to be labeled as “little Christs,” and turn away from the liberty that God promises to His redeemed children? What about those who couldn’t care less about His mission and launch themselves into their own orbits of self- absorption? What about them?
Limits to God’s Love?
Some would say that the unredeemed, those who refuse to be saved, will still be loved eternally by God, even as they are separated from Him and the family of God. After all, isn’t the love of God everlasting? There can’t be limits to God’s love, can there?
But what does the Bible itself say about those who die without Jesus? We read in Matthew 25: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” (v. 41). To be in the category of the “cursed” does not sound like they are objects of God’s love. Earlier in this chapter of Matthew we read of a worthless servant. The master tells the
faithful servants to “. . . throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (v. 30). At the end of Matthew 25 Jesus gives us a summary conclusion of the sheep and goats’ analogy: “Then they [the goats] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous [the sheep] to eternal life.” (v. 46)
The fate of those who die outside of Christ is explained as their being thrown out of His presence, a place of eternal fire originally prepared for the devil and his angels, a destiny described as eternal punishment where there will be everlasting weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The book of Revelation tells us that “A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: ‘If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, 10 they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.’” (ch. 14).
We read in Revelation 16 of those who experience a foretaste of God’s wrath: “They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.” (v. 9). This seems to contradict those who say that a moment’s experience of God’s wrath will immediately convert a person to faith.
In Revelation 20, we read of the punishment of the evil trinity: Satan, the beast, and the false prophet. We
read: “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” (v. 10). Two verses later we read about the fate of all human beings outside of Christ: “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” (vv. 12-15).
There is no way that anyone could read such verses and conclude that the lost are still objects of God’s love. They are, instead, objects of His eternal wrath.
A Shocking Resurrection
But the idea of God’s righteous hatred of the wicked is not just taught in the last book of the Bible. We read in Daniel 12:2 an amazing end-times’ statement: “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”
The Bible teaches that there will be a resurrection of the wicked, for they will receive indestructible bodies which will undergo God’s wrath eternally. We do not rejoice in such a doctrine, but must recognize that, apart from God’s grace in our lives, we would merit the same. And that’s one major reason why those of us who are saved must get the Good New about Jesus out to a lost world. A.W. Tozer said, “The vague and tenuous
hope that God is too kind to punish the ungodly has become a deadly opiate for the consciences of millions.”11 May those of us who by His grace know Him not succumb to such a doctrinal drug.