Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Is It Sin?

In recent political campaigns when the subject of income tax was discussed, politicians (lawmakers) from one or both sides inevitably referred to “loopholes” in the tax code and then referred to those who use them as wrongfully “getting away” with paying less income taxes. Actually, a loophole in the tax code is most often a tax break that was deliberately designed by lawmakers to promote taxpayers into stimulating certain industries. Once taxpayers respond by using a loophole, they can’t be blamed for doing so. The taxpayer is only doing what they were allowed and often promoted to do. And, almost every taxpayer of every type is taking advantage of at least one loophole. After all, who really wants to pay more income tax?

It is one thing to approach the tax code as frugally as possible. However, it is sad when Christians approach the Bible like we do the tax code. So many Christians today treat the Bible as a set of rules (law) with loopholes provided so that we may behave unwisely. I have lost track of how many times I have been asked the question, “Is it sin?” Or, “The Bible doesn’t say it is a sin to _______.” I have even had pastors tell me regarding some gray area of behavior, “Well, the Bible does not say ‘Thou shalt not.’” But, should Christians be taking any of these postures? The answer is no. In light of grace, the correct and more practical question for Christians to answer for such issues is, “Is it wise?” Allow me to explain.

We all agree that sin is wrong. And, we should all agree that we are free from the law as the Bible clearly outlines. But, has the cross changed God’s attitude towards sin? Should the cross change our attitude towards sin? Sin is not something to advance towards. It is something to flee from. The cross has not changed that. When Christians approach the Bible as a set of rules about what is and what is not sin, then they begin to draw a mental line. On one side of “the line” are those things that are clearly referred to as sin in the Bible. And everything else is on the other side of “the line.” Then they proceed to live their lives without concern about getting close to “the line” as long as they stay on the non-sin side of it. In fact, our flesh seeks to see how far we can advance rather than how far we can flee. But, what kind of attitude towards sin does such thinking display? What would "Holiness" look like? While God and His awesome Gospel of grace frees us from the law, He did not intend for His image-bearers to respond by cozying up to sin using God’s word as their stated guide for doing so. Freedom from the law should inspire us to race in the opposite direction of bondage, not back into it (Romans 6, Hebrews 12:1). In our daily walk we should bear in the direction towards repentance not towards temptation.

Do you know how sin is borne? Sin is birthed by a series of unwise decisions. For example, if you are married, is it a sin to have lunch alone with someone else of the opposite sex? Is it a sin to be with that person in a car alone? Is it a sin to have that person over to the house for lunch when your spouse is out of town? Is it a sin for that person to be in your bedroom with you even for innocent reasons? The answer to all of these questions is no. None of these things are technically sin. But, they are foolishly unwise. Behaving this way will birth sin of some form probably ten times out of ten.

It is not mere coincidence that one of God’s names is Wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:24). Given that, and given that we are His following children, should a Christian glorify unwise decisions? God would never support an unwise decision. This is not an attempt to set up a whole new set of rules and form of legalism. God gave us His Holy Spirit to guide us. He guides us wisely and into all wisdom and righteousness. We are called to follow His Spirit. And, His Spirit will not guide us to do something unwise or foolish by God’s standards.

The Biblical approach to sin is to flee or run from it (Romans 13:14, 2 Timothy 2:22). A great example is the wisdom Joseph displayed when he literally ran from Potiphar’s wife. What if instead, Joseph snuggled up to “the line” without crossing it? That not only would have been foolish but terribly unwise!  But, how often do we do that today? When we do, are we being led by the Spirit or led by the flesh? Galatians 5:16 says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Could it be simpler than that?

Being led by the flesh is also very similar to being led by the law. Jesus spoke of this in His first recorded sermon, The Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:20, Jesus said, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Now, Jesus was ultimately referring to how He fulfills the law and all righteousness and credits His own perfect righteousness to us (which is awesome, by the way). But, notice His approach to the “righteousness” of the Pharisees. The Pharisees had drawn “the line” and were led by the written law. But, they were foolish, unwise and unloving. Jesus then went on to give examples of what He meant. In the first example He shared, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” In other words, stop being led by the written law. Instead, be led by the Holy Spirit who wrote the law. When seeking guidance on a given issue, lean towards the wisdom of God’s Spirit.

In conclusion, as you face “gray areas” in your life and you are looking for the answer of what to do, avoid the question, “Is it sin?” Don’t treat the Bible like the tax code searching for an excuse for “getting away” with something. From now on ask “Is it wise?” Or, said another way, since Jesus is Wisdom, “What would Wisdom do?”

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Who Will Rule Heaven?

Over recent years there have been many books written and movies made that give accounts of near-death experiences that include claims of visiting Heaven and speaking with loved ones who have passed on. Some of these are encouraging. But, many of these accounts describe a Heaven that is significantly inconsistent with the Bible's descriptions. And, if Christians are given a choice between what someone says they saw over God's Word, Faith requires that we choose the Bible 100% of the time.

In fact, the Bible also has its accounts of people visiting Heaven. These Biblical accounts are very different from some of the “accounts” we hear about today. The two primary differences are the dramatic impact of the visible presence of God, and reference to the royalty of His children. If lacking one or both of these Biblical truths, the Christian's antennae should go up. By the way, I’m not saying that in all cases where an account differs with the Bible that the person did not see what they saw. It may be they saw a prophetic and/or figurative vision, just not the literal Heaven described in the Bible.

Two posts ago we studied the nature of the eternal and physical New Heaven and New Earth and how we will reside and physically thrive in both for eternity. In my last post, we studied scripture that clearly points to how in eternity we will be supernatural beings capable of feats that make fictional superheroes seem small. But, in this post, I am saving the best for last. The greatest aspect of our eternal homes is the gift of God’s constant and visible presence (Father, Jesus and Holy Spirit). And, with that gift also comes the inheritance of His Kingdom and royal identity. 

First, regarding God’s visible presence, Isaiah was arguably one of the greatest prophets of all time. And, when he saw and heard the presence of God on His throne in Isaiah 6, he was reduced to incoherent groveling and declared himself “ruined.” When John received his vision of Heaven recorded in Revelation, he could not stop from repeatedly speaking about the glories and wonder of the blinding majesty of Jesus Christ. It literally wrecked him. What does it say when a modern "account" lacks such observations?

God’s visible presence is the very essence of Heaven just as His absence is the very essence of Hell. His visible presence is the one thing He destined us to enjoy for eternity, more so than anything else. He designed every part of us to savor communion with Him. In Philippians 1:23, Paul spoke of being emotionally torn between staying here and passing on, “I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Notice that he did not declare value in departing to simply be in Heaven and walk streets of gold. His focus was entirely on the greatest eternal desire of actually being with Jesus. Martin Luther put it best when he said, “I had rather be in Hell with Christ, than be in Heaven without Him.” Amen! But, as Isaiah, John and even Moses attested, God’s awesome presence is more than we can physically handle seeing in our present fallen form. Until God renews us physically, the vision of Him is more than our fallen flesh can handle. In fact, it is too amazing a gift for our fallen eyes to fully comprehend and currently appreciate.

Speaking of appreciating gifts, God is the source of all good gifts (James 1:17). And, in the New Heaven and New Earth He will continue to give us, His children, good gifts. Anticipating and enjoying these gifts brings pleasure to our Heavenly Father, just like enjoying gifts from our Earthly fathers brings pleasure to them. The difference between the current Earth and the New Earth is that today, our flesh is constantly tempted to turn God’s gifts into objects of worship. It is not idolatry to enjoy a gift from God since He finds joy in that. In fact, enjoying gifts from God with a grateful heart draws us closer to Him. It is when we become preoccupied with the gift such that we walk away from God or ignore Him, that our approach to the gift becomes a problem. And, “accounts” of Heaven that praise the gift of Heaven over the dramatic and amazing visible presence of the Giver should draw immediate concerns.

In the New Heaven and the New Earth, we will have no such capacity to turn people or things into idols. We will find grateful joy in God’s gifts, and, in doing so, we will find our joy in Him. This is because we will constantly realize, as we so often fail to today, that all the joys of God’s gifts are derived from God Himself. As Randy Alcorn put it, “Flowers are beautiful for one reason – God is beautiful. Rainbows are stunning because God is stunning. Puppies are delightful because God is delightful. Sports are fun because God is fun. Study is rewarding because God is rewarding. Work is fulfilling because God is fulfilling.” And, Heaven is literally breathtaking, because God is so breathtaking. Heaven can’t be boring because God is there and He is the source of everything that we find fascinating both today and forever.

Further, physical reunion with our Father leads to other gifts, especially our inheritance as God’s children. As children of the King and His Bride, we inherit His Kingdom. We thereby inherit a royal identity. Just as Adam and Eve were purposed to be king and queen over the earth and rule it, God’s plan for renewal is quite similar. Jesus Christ is the renewed Adamic King, and we, the Church, are His Bride, the renewed Eve. Jesus is our King, and we are his collective Queen. We are presently co-heirs and we rule along with Him. In fact, the Bible is filled with both present tense references (Ephesians 2:6) and future tense references to our crowns, our royalty and our eternal inheritance of God’s Kingdom. What does it say when a modern "account" lacks such an obvious fact? In addition to other books of the Bible, the final book, Revelation, is probably the most filled with such references to our royalty:

  • Revelation 2:10, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
  • Revelation 2:26, “The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations.”
  • Revelation 3:11, “I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.”
  • Revelation 3:21, “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on His throne.”
  • Revelation 5:10, “and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
  • Revelation 22:5, “And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”
Our inheritance is probably summed up most clearly in Romans 8:16-17, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” And Jesus expanded on that (in the present tense) in Luke 22:29-30, “and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

This last verse begs the question of over whom will we rule? We will rule over angels, each other and possibly beings newly created specifically for such purposes. We will rule over animals, forests, fields, mountains and all of creation. We will rule over everything except God Himself. That is what heirs of God’s Kingdom do.

In conclusion, although being with Jesus is beyond enough, with the understanding of a perfectly New Earth permanently joined with a New Heaven, a perfectly immortal body with unimaginable supernatural abilities, God’s visible presence, our crowning into royalty and our receipt of an inheritance of God’s eternal Kingdom, can there be any place you would rather be?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Will We Be Like Superheroes?

If you have not picked up on it yet, I am a huge movie buff. For me, life is a collection of stories. And, stories can be very effective life tutors. This is probably why Jesus loved telling stories so much. I especially love stories set to film in such a way that allows me to escape, sometimes even into my own dreams and aspirations. This June, the long awaited film, “Man of Steel,” will be released. Probably of all superheroes, Superman is the most loved and the most recognized. Speaking of this, have you ever wondered why we love superheroes so much? Why as children do we dream about becoming a superhero? Why do these dreams even survive into adulthood? Could there be a reason that we have such an insatiable desire? Could this be a vision burned on hearts by God Himself? Could it be that we were designed for such a destiny? Could it be that in eternity, our perfect bodies will possess abilities far beyond our current natural limitations? Could it be that we will have no such limitations at all in eternity? Is Superman small potatoes compared to what we will become? I think the Bible actually confirms all of the above.

In my last post, I addressed how too many Christians have adopted boring lies about the nature of eternity and Heaven. We studied how in Revelation 21-22 God revealed for the last time how He will renew our planet into a “New Earth” and how He will permanently and physically join the New Earth with the New Heaven. We described how the New Earth will be a perfect Earth that more than rivals Eden, but on a global scale. Further, we studied how we will spend eternity doing many of the things we enjoy today on this Earth albeit perfectly. While that is awesome enough, are we destined to enjoy even much more than that? Is the assumption that we will be normal humans in eternity another boring lie? Or, will our immortality be characterized with supernaturality?

When men walked with Jesus/God on this Earth, they accomplished the supernatural. They displayed power that defied nature. They walked on water (Peter in Matthew 14). They teleported (Phillip in Acts 8). They commanded the sea (Moses in Exodus 14). They called down fire from the sky (Elijah in 1 Kings 18). At His ascension, Jesus, the God-man Himself, levitated and flew (Luke 24). And, those are just a few of the examples of how God enables man to be supernaturally powerful. As you read scripture and see other examples, they all confirm the greatness to which God will raise us in eternity. Except, it is clear from scripture that God intends even more greatness for us in eternity than what these men of God displayed while they were here.

Jesus (God) came to Earth to redeem and renew our spirit and our flesh. He also came to show us the Way and to model what supernatural men look like. He left us with a vision of what our eternity will promise. With God, men had full dominion over this planet. They experienced “all authority” realized in the flesh. Why would it be any less for us in the New Earth? Why would God show us, tease us even, with supernatural living only to destine us for something less? God has destined us for more, even far more. God has destined His children to fully resemble Him in most ways, excluding Deity of course. If you are a child of God, you can’t help but inherit a supernatural destiny. God has destined us to be eternally, physically supernatural. Romans 8:19-21 says, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” This is yet another reason to greatly anticipate our eternity like nothing else.

Consider also for a moment our eternal rank above angels. We are higher than the angels even to the point of presiding as judges over them (1 Corinthians 6:3). What does it imply when angels, who also perform supernatural feats of Biblical proportions, are lower than us? We will be greater than these awesome beings. And, they will be in awe of us, God’s adopted offspring. Jesus told us that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, that we can command mountains to relocate and they will obey (Matthew 17:20). This power is available to us now. Imagine how much more power we will possess in eternity where faith is replaced with knowledge and full realization of who we truly are and whose we truly are.

Randy Alcorn pondered even further, “It seems possible that even the second law of thermodynamics may have been the product of mankind’s fall. If true, it demonstrates the mind-boggling extent of the Curse. The most remote galaxy, the most distant quasar, as somehow shaken by mankind’s sin.” All creation fell with us. What if God intended that our dominion over the earth would ultimately extend to the entire physical universe? If we are to inherit God’s Kingdom, we inherit everything. If man without supernatural ability is able today to explore vast reaches of the universe, why can’t (and why won’t) we do the same albeit supernaturally in the New Earth and the New Universe? I don’t know about you, but I plan on teleporting or even flying to other planets firsthand, just to return to my awesome Father and tell Him how truly amazing He is for creating what I observed. I don’t think that is a stretch at all. In fact, I think anything less is actually the stretch, but in the wrong direction.

Speaking of the “Man of Steel,” in the third trailer to the film, you can clearly see a picture of how Superman is an obvious analogy of Christ. But, you should also see how Superman is an analogy of us as well. Below are some excerpts from the trailer. As you read these, think about the storyline, its ultimate inspiration, and how it points to Jesus and us (you can watch the trailer by clicking the link, Man of Steel Trailer 3 ):

(Father)           “Good bye my son. Our hopes and dreams travel with you.”
(Mother)          “He will be an outcast. They’ll kill him.”
(Father)           “How? He will be a god to them.”
(Father)           “What if a child dreamed of becoming something other than what society had intended? What if a child aspired to something greater?”
(Father Kent)  “You’re the answer, son. You’re the answer to ‘Are we alone in the universe?’”
(Boy)              “Can I just keep pretending I’m your son?”
(Father Kent)  “You are my son!”
(Father Kent)  “And, I have to believe that you were sent here for a reason. And, even if it takes the rest of your life, you owe it to yourself to find out what that reason is.”
(Father)           “You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They’ll race behind you. They will stumble. They will fall. But, in time, they will join you in the Sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.”
(Man of steel) “My father believed that if the world found out who I really was, they’d reject me. He was convinced that the world wasn’t ready. What do you think?”
(Lois Lane)     “What’s the S stand for?”
(Man of steel) “It’s not an S. On my world, it means hope.”

All of our hopes and dreams traveled with Jesus when he came as Emmanuel (God with us). He was God to us and we attempted to kill Him. But, He gave up His own life freely to redeem us. He is the answer to ‘Are we alone in the universe?’ We are not alone because God and His angels are with us. As Christians, we not only bear His image, but we also inherit His Kingdom as our destiny. I don’t have to pretend to be God’s son. He has already declared that I am. And, I receive everything that comes with that, as do you if you believe. This is the reason He created us. Jesus gave us an ideal to strive towards. We, as God’s children, race behind Him. As we do, we stumble and we fall. But, in time, in eternity, we will join Him in the Sun. And, He will help us accomplish wonders that only God’s supernatural children can. The world is not ready for this. They rejected Him and they reject us. But, we carry the mark, the cross, which the world sees as a symbol of death. But, on our world (the New Earth) it means Hope!

We were meant to be immortally supernatural, even more so than Superman could ever be. Our God-given dreams and aspirations confirm it. More importantly, God’s word confirms it. And, we who receive this free gift from the most loving Father, we will be God’s superheroes…forever!