Death Follows

The God Who is There: Leader’s Guide
D.A. Carson

For the wages of sin is death…

– Romans 6:23a

Doubtless many think that hell, if it exists, is for really bad people, like the guards at Auschwitz, perhaps.  What this overlooks is that the guards at Auschwitz were just ordinary people from a sophisticated and highly educated culture…

Hell reminds us of our utter dependence on God.  It was willful independence that lay at the heart of the fall (see Genesis 3).  But tossing away our dependence on the Creator God who made us is equivalent to tossing away our life: death follows.  When we have no experience of the grace that saves and redeems and transforms God’s people, and when we lose the providential support that maintains us in this broken world, the result is hell.


Praise God that He is Unfair

Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

– Psalm 32:2

Or in other words, blessed is the man who is counted perfectly righteous before God.

I’m not a very good gift giver.  I tend to give people what I like – books.  I have given my wife many books over the years and I think she forgives me.  But just because she forgives me doesn’t make me a good gift giver.  It means I have a second chance which I could very well use to buy another book.

Being forgiven is not the same as being righteous.  It means a clean slate and a second chance.  This sounds like good news but it is actually terrible news.  If you give me a second chance to buy something other than a book, it’s possible I’ll take it. But if you give me a second chance to flap my arms and fly out of a window, there is no hope.

We need more than a second chance with God because which of us can be perfectly righteous, without sin, even for one day?  Who can stand before a holy God?  Scripture is perfectly clear.

[10] as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
[11] no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
[12] All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”

– Romans 3:10-12

Thankfully God gives us more than a second chance.  He offers to count unrighteous people righteous.

[11] Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities. 

– Isaiah 53:11

Jesus not only takes our sin and gives us forgiveness; He also lives a perfect, sinless life and gives it to us that we might receive the reward He deserves.

Praise God that He is just but not fair!  It’s not fair for a teacher to take a test and give a student credit.  It’s not fair for a parent to raise a child and for a stranger to boast.  And it’s not fair that Jesus lives a perfect life and sinners can enter into the presence of God and hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Enter into your master’s rest!”

To Believe Him or Not

John 10:17-21

[19] There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. [20] Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” [21] Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”

Whenever anyone makes a statement, we have two choices.  Either we believe them or we do not.  Whether it’s me telling you I can fly or Jesus saying He is the Good Shepherd, our options are that simple.

The Jews in John 10 are sharply divided.  After Jesus claims to be the Good Shepherd some do not believe Him.  His claims are so incredible they call Him demon-possessed and crazy.  Others are not so sure.

We may be tempted to scoff at their unbelief but are we so different?  God consistently declares things that are difficult to understand, hard to believe, or outright outrageous.

Is Matthew 6:33 “reasonable” advice in the midst of financial crisis?

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Is Luke 9:24 true when we face physical, not only metaphorical danger?

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.

Is the life Jesus offers us in John 10:10 actually possible or just a pipe dream?

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Is Romans 8:28 true all the time?

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Jesus’s opponents were proud, selfish, and greedy, but they understood that Jesus meant what He said.  At times, we find ourselves rationalizing or spiritualizing to make it seem like Jesus did not mean what He said.  Fear, doubt, and selfishness can drive us to this.  Of course there are extenuating circumstances and gray areas, but often we are given two simple options – to believe Him or not.

May He give us the grace of faith that we might believe Him, the grace of forgiveness when we do not, and the grace of perseverance to continue to fight despite our stumbling.

A Kind of Death Which Leads to Life

John Stott

Romans 8:13

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

…there is a kind of life which leads to death, and there is a kind of death which leads to life…What the world calls life (a desirable self-indulgence) leads to alienation from God which in reality is death, whereas the putting to death of all perceived evil within us, which the world sees as an undesirable self-abnegation, is in reality the way to authentic life.

Authentic Humanness

Believing and Obeying Jesus Christ: The Urbana ’79 Compendium
Edited by John W. Alexander

Chapter 4: God’s Judgment
John R.W. Stott

Romans 2:14-15

[14] For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. [15] They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them…

Paul is saying neither that the Gentiles always know what is right, nor that they always do it, still less that they can earn salvation by doing it.  He is saying rather that on those occasions when they fulfill the requirements of God’s law (which everybody does sometimes), they give evidence that they know it by nature.

This teaching has great importance.  It declares that the same moral law which God revealed in Scripture he has also stamped on human nature…

In consequence, the moral law is not an alien system, which it is unnatural to expect human beings to obey.  The opposite is the case.  God’s moral law perfectly fits us, because it is the law of our own created being.  There is a fundamental correspondence between God’s law in the Bible and God’s law in our hearts.  Hence we can discover our authentic humanness only in obeying it.  If we disobey it, we contradict not only what we know to be right, but we are contradicting our own human being.

For the Sake of His Name

Believing and Obeying Jesus Christ: The Urbana ’79 Compendium
Edited by John W. Alexander

Chapter 3: God’s Gospel
John R.W. Stott

Romans 1:1-5

[1] Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, [2] which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, [3] concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh [4] and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, [5] through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations…

If it is God the Father’s purpose that every knee and every tongue should acknowledge the supremacy of Jesus, it should be our purpose too.  We should be “jealous” for the honor of Christ’s name, troubled when it remains unknown, hurt when it is ignored, indignant when it is blasphemed and all the time anxious that it should be given the honor and the glory which are due to it…

This is the highest missionary motivation.  It is neither obedience to the Great Commission, nor love for perishing sinners (right and strong as these incentives are), but rather zeal for the glory of Christ.  Some missionary endeavor has been a thinly disguised form of imperialism; that is, a hunger for the prestige of our country or our church or our organization or ourselves.  Only one imperialism is Christian, and that is concern for Christ’s empire or kingdom.  “For the sake of the name” is the missionary goal which causes all unworthy motives to wither and die.

Not Interested

Sometimes when my wife and I are talking, my son will interrupt, saying, “Dad, Dad, Dad…Stop…talking…just…play!”  In these moments, he’s only interested in playing and because we are neither playing nor talking about playing, he is not interested.

Part of our struggle to listen to God is that He is not always talking about what we are interested in.

Throughout the Gospels, the Pharisees ask Jesus many questions about the law.  They assumed the law was the path to God’s favor and blessing.  They hate the humiliation and suffering Israel has endured in exile.  Their concerns are urgent, but all Jesus wants to talk about is Himself.

We too have urgent concerns.  Where will I live?  Who will I marry?  When will these kids stop being crazy?  It can seem as if God never answers our questions or speaks to our needs.  But God does speak to our needs, because Scripture is always speaking about the Son of God, the one who we really need.  Scripture speaks, not of the details of the future or the secret to a pain-free life, but of the truth that is essential to know in every circumstance – Jesus reigns as the sovereign Lord, and He is good.

[28] And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

– Romans 8:28

Genesis 19

[1] The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed himself with his face to the earth [2] and said, “My lords, please turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the 00010353night and wash your feet. Then you may rise up early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the town square.” [3] But he pressed them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house. And he made them a feast and baked unleavened bread, and they ate.

[4] But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. [5] And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.” [6] Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him, [7] and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly.”

– Genesis 19:1-7

The angels who had previously been hosted by Abraham come to Sodom, and Lot insists that they stay with him.  Lot more or less repeats the generous hospitality of his uncle, Abraham.  However, that evening, the men of the city arrive, acting in the exact opposite fashion and intending to abuse the visitors.

Lot is by no means perfect but he understands Ancient Near Eastern customs and to some degree understands the God of Abraham.  This God welcomes strangers.

Romans 5:8 tells us, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Jesus comes for those who are far off.  To those who He once did not know, He makes children of God.

Genesis 18

[20] Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, [21] I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.” [22] So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. [23] 18.2.1Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? [24] Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? [25] Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” [26] And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” [27] Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. [28] Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” [29] Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” [30] Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” [31] He said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” [32] Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” [33] And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.

– Genesis 18:20-33

The Lord reveals to Abraham that He will go down to Sodom and Gomorrah to see if their wickedness is as great as He has heard.  Abraham pleads with the Lord to spare the city, first on behalf of fifty righteous persons, but ultimately for the sake of ten.  Abraham’s intercession is both compassionate and wrongheaded.

As the reader of Genesis soon finds, not even ten righteous people are to be found in these large cities, and God rains judgment on them.  This is tragic, disappointing, and unsurprising.  On the objective scale of a Holy God, “none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Romans 3:10-11).

We cannot ask that God would spare the world for the sake of ten righteous people; they will not be found.  But, thankfully, we can plead that God would spare the world for the sake of His glory and for the sake of His Son.  We can call on God to be who He is: gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.  We can plead the precious blood of Christ, which is powerful enough to wash away sin and redeem a lost world.