A few months ago the Girl Guides changed the oath that girls are expected to make upon joining. Rather than promising to serve God and country instead the girl guides now promise to be “true to myself and develop my beliefs”. It probably wasn't the intent of the girl guide organisation but they have unwittingly provided a devastating critique of Western secular society.
We live in the age of Me, an age where morality is determined, not by any objective standard, but by the fickle reason of our egos. All that matter is being true to "myself". We see this in the issue of transgender individuals insisting that biological gender is second place to the decision of Me to be the gender Me wants. We see this in the issue of abortion where Me chooses to rid Myself of an unnecessary inconvenience rather than valuing the life of Another. We see this in society's attitude to sex where the only moral consideration is the consent of two Mes. We see this in the consumer society where Me has to appear better, richer, cooler than anyone else. And we see this in the greed and selfishness which typifies so much of human existence – Me gets what Me wants over the opinions and actions of any other.
When did narcissism become such a sure decider of right and wrong? Yet listening to the moral debates that are had by our society reveals that the only factor under consideration seem to be doing what Me wants as long as it doesn't harm another. But we are deluding ourselves if we think that such a compromise is possible. The wants of Me will inevitably conflict with the wants of another Me. The desires of Me will eventually only be fulfilled at the expense of another.
This is a book about theological nuance. For some that might be immediately off putting; others may think that the authors have wasted their time in pursuit of an overly rigorous theological standard; some will no doubt cast doubt on the authors' intentions implying that Keller haters are going to hate and yet a few others will be greatly vexed that Mr Keller is the subject of such, any, debate. Me, I really enjoyed it! And I hope to demonstrate why if you fall into any of the above categories this book is still well worth a read.
Engaging with Keller: Thinking Through the Theology of an Influential Evangelical is written by half a dozen British Presbyterian ministers criticising Mr Keller's expression of his views on sin, Hell, the Trinity, social justice, hermeneutic, creation and Presbyterianism. As the authors are careful to point out they are not doubting Mr Keller's intentions or his profession to hold to reformed orthodoxy. As they consistently maintain: Mr Keller is a godly man seeking the glory of Christ. What they are calling into question is whether Mr Keller achieves his goal of teaching orthodox truth to post modern society without compromising on the message.
As should be fairly clear, the authors disagree with Mr Keller on the issues mentioned. Yet what is good about the book is that they do not allow their disagreement to become personal. They confine themselves to discussing the theological problems rather than straying into any form of personal attack. It is a mature, sensible, adult conversation they are having - would all such discussion be conducted so! Engaging with Keller typifies the irenic spirit so easily lost in theological debate and a graciousness that befits godly men. I found it a needed challenge to my own writing style to match the authors' graciousness.
As Jesus dies on the cross, a criminal is dying next to him. Jesus turns to him and says: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23v43). This is a remarkable statement considering the bleak predicament of the thief. And it begs the question: how can this dying thief be promised paradise? How can he get to heaven?
Let's say we were in the position to judge his case. Perhaps we might start with all the good he has done in his life; do his good deeds outweigh his bad? That might make him worthy of salvation. But no, the punishment for crucifixion is reserved for the worst of criminals – at the very least he is likely to be guilty of murder. His life is altogether worthless. But how about the rest of his life? Could he not reform his ways and seek to redeem himself with suitable acts of charity? Ah, but, he's dying on a cross and will be dead within a day. He's in no position to do good, no position to do anything but die, his deeds are complete, nothing can change the balance on the scales. Hang on though, many people think they will get to heaven because they have been baptised once. But alas, he has not been sprinkled with water or dunked underneath. There's no hope for him there.
Indeed, this thief is not rich, powerful or intelligent (he was caught after all) and has no friends to help him or priest to bless him or even anyone to pray for him. He has nothing and has done nothing worthy of salvation and can do nothing to make him worthy. We know as well that he even insulted the very man who is now promising him heaven (Matthew 27v44 records both criminals insulting Jesus). The last hours of this man's life would seem to be hopeless but then we have the promise of Jesus that this thief would join Jesus in paradise that very day.
This would beg two questions: how can such a salvation be promised and who is Jesus to make the promise? The answer to both those questions can be found in the one answer. If we go back a few verses and get the whole scene we can learn more:
This question does come with an admittedly large number of assumptions behind it. It assumes, for instance, that you will die this very night which is a hopefully unlikely event. But considering that death will one day take you then it is not so much an assumption as a jump ahead in time to that day when death will come. Another assumption the question makes is the existence of God and the need to defend yourself before him. We'll get to these momentarily. Suffice to say, this question is of no small significance and deserves sober reflection for the matters it touches upon are of eternal importance.
There can be nothing more important that our standing before our Creator. So many people think about God the wrong way round. They ask themselves: "What do I think of God?" when a far more vital question is: "What does God think of me?" It may be that you are perfectly happy with the idea that God exists. But what does God think of your existence and life before him?
The question above helps to get us to consider these issues. It is, I hope, a useful question to ponder. For death has a way of stripping us of all illusions and delusions and focusing our minds away from trivial matters and onto weightier ones. Naked we enter the world and naked we depart. Wealth, talent and success just isn't going to be of any use in death for we take nothing with us.
Over the past year I've said a fair bit about the Church of Scotland, most of it critical, (check out here and here) and I'm afraid that trend is only going to continue. It's not that I have a grudge against them or anything, in fact, I was converted under the preaching of a Church of Scotland minister and there are many faithful godly men working away in the national church. But their faithfulness, especially in this matter, is inconsistent.
For those of you who don't know the Church of Scotland is meeting tomorrow (May 18th) in order to vote on whether or not practising homosexual ministers should be allowed. The debate is split between conservative evangelicals who argue that the Bible says homosexuality is a sin and the church should not give way to the cultural trend. And on the other side are the liberals who argue we should ignore the Bible, or rather, 'interpret the Bible in a modern framework'. As you can guess from my sarcasm I'm siding with the biblical view, we have no other authority, society can say what it likes, we must stand on the Word of God or we will fall.
Yet with all the discussion happening two things have vexed me. The first is that there seems to be no recognition that the Church of Scotland has brought this on their own heads. As the Bible says: "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." (Galatians 6v7). In this case, the evangelical members of the CoS are reaping the fruits of allowing liberalism within the church to grow. The Bible has a clear command on the issue of necessary separation:
With my final ever university exam tomorrow and a desperate need to engage in some form of productive procrastination I was trying to think of a suitable topic to write about when Good Omens sprang to mind. It’s a fantasy book written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, before they were both famous, which I picked up a good five or more years ago. It’s something of a cult classic and they record in the foreword that many of their readers have dropped the book in the bath or some form of liquid. Thinking: “What a bunch of idiots” I then proceeded to do exactly that.
The story is a mix of Just William and the Apocalypse, where the ‘Anti-Christ’ is an eleven year old boy called Adam Young, who was meant to grow up the son of an American diplomat, thus setting him up for a life of pure festering evil but due to swapping the wrong children around he ends up being brought up in a quiet British village by normal parents. At the same time, Crawley, a demon, and Aziraphale, an angel, are both trying to stop the end of the world from occurring having grown fond of humanity and, more importantly, developed their own working friendship.
The first time I read it some years ago it made me uncomfortable as, though it is a fantasy book, it borrows heavily from Christian imagery, striking a little too close to reality. But this second time, I’ve found it easier to view it as pure fiction, no different than reading Harry Potter or any other fantastical work. And like all such works, it has a message, a grand point to make about human nature.
There’s a lot to say about the book but I’m going to concentrate on what’s probably their main point. It comes as Adam Young faces up to the forces of Heaven and Hell and argues for the continued existence of humanity, without any interference. Crawley says about Adam: “He grew up human! He’s not Evil Incarnate or Good Incarnate, he’s just… a human incarnate-” (italics not mine). This sentence is packed with worldview implications and it’s worth exploring them.
The Christmas season is one of the few times of the year when people who ordinarily would not be seen dead in a church will go and sing some carols because, hey, it's Christmas! Sadly, such are the times that we live in that it is likely that they will go to a church that does not preach the gospel; or rather they will preach a gospel but it will not be the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ but a false gospel that instead of pointing them in the direction of salvation will usher people towards hell.
This is a great evil, as Paul writes: "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!" (Galatians 1v8) It matters not if the intentions were good or if the church has the most noble of purposes, if a false gospel is preached then the speaker heaps condemnation on himself.
What follows are some of the common false gospels that will be preached in churches this Christmas. I probably should add from the start that most are fairly subtle but that makes them all the worse for they are more likely to be believed. It must be of great delight to Satan that even when people do go into a church they only hear a corrupted gospel that does not proclaim the truth has is found in the Bible.
Of all the many problems sadly facing the modern church the Wishy Washy Gospel is one of the worst offenders. Yet defining what the Wishy Washy Gospel actually is can be hard, working out whether a church preaches such a gospel is tricky and knowing exactly where the Wishy Washy Gospel goes wrong can be difficult.
This is because it is not so much what the WWG says that is a problem it is more what it doesn’t say. So, I can sit under a preacher and agree with almost everything he says and still be heartbroken by the fact that the true gospel isn’t being preached.
As Christians the Bible makes it quite clear that we CANNOT add or take away from the gospel. We have to preach the truth. Not what men want to hear but what they need to hear.
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!”
Galatians 1 v 8 – 9
As you can see from the above verse the Wishy Washy Gospel is an evil gospel. Enough to condemn the men that preach it. For the Wishy Washy Gospel is anything other than the one the Bible proclaims.
So what are the errors of the Wishy Washy Gospel? Where does it go wrong? What is missing?
People ask this question a lot – mainly because what they really want to say is: ‘I’m too good a person to deserve an eternity in Hell.’ Over the course of this post I’m going to take a look at that assumption and see if it holds up.
I’m not a murderer, I’m a decent person, I’ll get to Heaven
When pressed this is what most people would say about their chances at getting into Heaven. On the face of things it seems reasonable; I know most people reading this and let me be the first to call my friends good people. In many cases they’re better people than I am – more friendly, not as annoying, not as arrogant, charitable, all round good people. But there is a huge mistake people make when thinking about Heaven and Hell.
Imagine that one of your friends applied to Cambridge University. Nothing wrong there except this person was so certain of getting in that he’d bought a flat in Cambridge, ordered his textbooks for next year, got the Cambridge hoody and planned the rest of his life around the fact that he was going to Cambridge. You’d be impressed by his certainty so you’d ask him why he was so certain; you would ask him on what basis he knew he was getting into Cambridge. How would you react if he responded: “Because I think I’m good enough”? Well, you’d ask him why he thought he was good enough “Oh, I got four Cs and a D at Higher and they’re bound to love me in the interview.” At this point you’d start to feel sorry for the guy who was obviously deluding himself. Here was someone who was sure of getting in because he thought he was good enough for Cambridge. The biggest mistake he made was never thinking whether Cambridge thought he was good enough for Cambridge. He set his own entrance criteria and didn’t care about the real one.
And that is the mistake people make with Heaven and Hell. They think they’ll get into Heaven based on criteria that they set. They think they won’t go to Hell because of their assessment of themselves. But who gets into Heaven and who goes to Hell isn’t a human decision at all. Far from it, God decided who goes where. It is God’s entrance criteria that we need to look at not our own. Not to do so would be illogical and like the guy who thought he’d get into Cambridge we’d look pretty stupid.
So, what is the entrance criteria for Heaven?
Well, we know that God created Heaven and Hell and decides who goes where. Therefore it is God’s criteria that we must look at not our own. We know from my last post that God is completely Holy – that is, he is perfect in every respect. Therefore as Heaven is a place where God resides so it is also completely holy. The perfect God creates the perfect Heaven. So to get into Heaven we must be what the Bible calls ‘righteous’. As it says:
“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the Kingdom of God?”
1 Corinthians 6 v 9
The Bible divides the world into two groups of people: the righteous and unrighteous. To gain eternal life in Heaven you have to be righteous. The unrighteous will be thrown into Hell as I have discussed previously.
Who then is righteous?
“For it is not those that hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it those that obey the law who will be declared righteous.”
Romans 2 v 13
To be righteous we would have to obey God’s law. And because God is completely holy we would have to have a perfect record of obeying God’s law.
What is God’s law?
Well, God’s moral law can be found in the Ten Commandments but these can be further summarised into just two commands:
“Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Matthew 22 v 37 – 40
Have you obeyed both those commands all the time? No! Of course you haven’t. You haven’t loved God with all your heart, soul and mind. You haven’t loved your neighbour as yourself. You’re a sinner just like me and every other human being that has ever lived.
Who then is righteous?
This is what leads the Bible to say:
“As it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one.”
Romans 3 v 10
“For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
Romans 3 v 23
“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his [God’s] sight by observing the Law; rather, through the Law we become conscious of sin.”
Romans 3 v 20
The Bible is clear: we cannot achieve righteousness by our actions. We are all unrighteous. We cannot achieve the moral perfection needed to earn ourselves a place in Heaven. It is impossible to get Heaven on the back of our works. We all fail to follow God’s law 100% of the time. In fact, God’s law merely makes our sin more obvious.
But I do good works!
“All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”
Isaiah 64 v 6
Our good works we like to think so much of are like filthy rags to God! A more crude translation would be the word ‘menstrual’ instead of ‘filthy’! Our goods can do nothing to hide the fact that we break God’s law. We cannot get to Heaven on our goods works if we commit just one bad work. Heaven is a perfect place, God is a perfect being, he cannot tolerate imperfection. His wrath is set against sin.
Following God’s standard instead of ours leads us to the terrible conclusion: we all deserve Hell. Not one of us deserves Heaven. I cannot say this is a nice truth; it is not a truth you want to hear but that does not detract one iota from its truthfulness! God is a god of justice and holiness – he has to punish the wicked in Hell, he cannot let the imperfect into Heaven. We’re all F grade students – we’re all Fails when it comes to Heaven. We all break God’s law; we don’t love God with all our heart, mind and soul. We don’t love our neighbour as we love ourselves. We are sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God.
Good people deserve Hell because no one is good. I deserve Hell. You deserve Hell. We all do. There is no discrimination – all are equally damned. Hell is what we deserve for none of us are righteous. No, not one. And God's wrath against sin is set against us.
Is that it?
This could be it. We deserve nothing more. Hell could be the single reality facing all of us on our death. God’s wrath against sin would be satisfied. We would all spend eternity being punished for our failure to keep God’s holy law.
IS THAT IT?
No! Wonderfully, gloriously, that is not it. There is another way to gain eternal life. There is salvation!
“For God so loves the world that he sent his one and only Son, that who so ever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
John 3 v 16
“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Romans 6 v 23
2000 years ago God became Man in the form of Jesus Christ. Jesus lived a perfect life, his record was blameless. He was crucified on the cross and in dying for us he took God’s punishment against sin for us.
“For God presented him [Jesus] as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood.”
Romans 3 v 25
He satisfied the wrath of God against sin. By his death he bought salvation.
Are you sure?
Yes! For on the third day Jesus rose again. To prove that death was defeated, to prove that his death on the cross was a complete sacrifice for our sins. Jesus’ resurrection is the staring point of the Christian faith – if he did not rise from the dead then our sins remain unforgiven. But he did.
“For what I received I passed onto you as of first importance: the Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised from the dead on the third day,”
1 Corinthians 15 v 3
Does that mean all sins are forgiven and everyone gets in Heaven?
No. There are qualifiers.
“That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”
Romans 10 v 9 – 10
“In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.”
Acts 17 v 30
“From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
Matthew 4 v 17
To be saved from your sins you must repent of your sins and believe that the Lord Jesus Christ died for your sins and that through him you will be saved.
What does it mean to be saved?
Simple, Jesus’ perfect record, his perfect soul becomes our perfect record and our perfect soul. Jesus washes away our sin so that we become righteous in God’s eyes.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
Romans 5 v 8 – 11
Jesus Christ reconciles us to God. He allows us to form a relationship with God. His perfection becomes ours. We become righteous and therefore God can turn to us and welcome us into Heaven.
I don’t believe in this
Whatever made you think that your opinion matters? Do you think that when you die God will accept that excuse? You’re a fool if you do. For when you stand before God at the Judgement seat and tell him that you refused to accept his offer of salvation he’ll respect that choice of yours. He’ll respect your free will and send you to an eternity if agony in Hell as a consequence for your sin.
God wants me to go to Hell
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
2 Peter 3 v 9
God is giving you every chance to repent. He is patiently waiting for you to come to him. And if you do so he will not turn you away.
I’ll wait until I’m older
How old? How long do you have left on this earth? You’re going to die yet you don’t know when. The truth you have heard should make you realise how serious the reality of Heaven and Hell are. You need to act on this now in case death takes you tomorrow.
You have no excuse. I have presented the gospel message as clearly as I can. To get into Heaven one must obey God’s laws perfectly. No one can do this. We are all sinners. We all deserve Hell. But God in his love provided his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection we can be saved. But only if we repent of our sins and believe in our hearts that Jesus Christ is Lord. We do not get to Heaven by works but through the grace of Jesus Christ.
It is now down to you: what I’ve told you is the single most important truth you will ever hear. What are you going to do about it? Are you going to continue on in your sin and suffer eternal punishment in Hell? Or will you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour and gain an eternity in Heaven? If so, then pray to him, now, just speak to him, he’s listening, he’ll hear you and he will not turn you away.
“For God demonstrated his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
“Romans 5 v 8
You enjoyed writing this!
No! A thousand times no! Do you really think I like telling people that they deserve Hell? You forget that I also am fully deserving of Hell it is only by the grace of God that I am saved. It is nothing I do. And I write this because you need to hear the truth. If Hell is a reality how could I not warn you? That would make me a monster!
If you have any questions about what you have just read please, please, please email me with them. This is an immensely serious truth and I will gladly answer any question as best I can.