Tag Archives: hell

Those Jesus Never Knew (Matt. 7:21-23)

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 12th day of October 2014: 

John Giles, Convict

Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay was home to the former federal prison of Alcatraz. This prison was in operation from the mid-1930s until the mid-1960s as our nation’s leading federal prison. It housed only the most dangerous criminals like Al Capone, George R. “Machine Gun” Kelly, and many others. Alcatraz was considered an inescapable prison—though 6 inmates attempting escape were never located. Prison records recorded them as drowned in the bay. Others dispute that claim saying they made it to freedom.

The US Army used to send laundry to Alcatraz to be washed. John Giles was an inmate who worked at the loading dock where the laundry was delivered. He was sneaky—piece by piece, he was able to steal over time a complete army uniform. Then on July 31, 1945, he merely dressed in the uniform and walked aboard an army boat, pretending to be an army officer. However, the boat was not headed for San Francisco as Giles expected, as he stepped off the boat on Angel Island, where Fort McDowell was, which was a major processing location for troops during WWII. He was arrested immediately.

He may have fooled the officers on the boat for awhile, but he couldn’t pull of the impersonation forever. He may have worn the uniform of an army officer, but on the inside he was still John Giles—criminal, convict.

One of the most sobering truths in all of Scripture is that not everyone who professes to be a Christian is truly a Christian. That there are some people wearing Christian uniforms on the outside, but are in reality unregenerate, unsaved sinners on the inside. They may fool people for a time, but they will not fool the Lord who knows His own. This theme runs throughout all of Scripture, but in Matthew’s gospel (which we are looking at today), there are some very powerful descriptions:

John the Baptist to the face of the Pharisees and Sadducees:

“His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12).

A winnowing fork was a tool used to separate wheat from chaff, by throwing it into the air so the heavier grain/wheat can fall back on the ground . . . And the chaff which would only be on the surface, would be separated from the wheat and the farmers would gather the wheat into their barns, but burn the chaff because it was useless. One day Jesus Christ is going to clear out His threshing floor. He is going to gather into His arms the saved, the elect of God, but there are going to be those who were only on the surface but appeared to be part of the wheat—and they are the unbelievers and according to 2 Thess. 1:9, . ..“They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”

Jesus in the parable of the weeds:

“He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 13:37-42).

What do you do with weeds in a garden? You take them out because they don’t belong—they contribute nothing, they are of no value to the rest of the garden, they may grow together, but the fruits and vegetables are the real thing. Back in 13:30, Jesus said that both grow together. There are those who profess faith in Christ, appear to be Christians but because they never had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and were truly justified by faith—they will not go to heaven, but to hell forever, and they will be surprised to find that out. These are those described by Matthew as those Jesus never knew, and we are going to look at this text together this morning.

The Text: Matthew 7:21-23, ESV

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

I. They Professed Him (v. 21)

The first thing to notice is Jesus’ introduction to this passage where He talks about the profession of these people: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus points out a limitation on those who say to Him, “Lord, Lord.” In Jesus’ time, “Lord, Lord” would have been a title of immense respect (like “revered teacher”). There may be those who say “Lord, Lord,” who proclaim His name, who highly respect Him, that will enter the kingdom of heaven—but according to Jesus, “Not everyone who says to [Him], ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” He tells His audience that there is a restriction from heaven, to some who use that title.

But Jesus’ point is not in the use or misuse of His name/title. Indeed, we are to respect His name and boldly proclaim it; the foremost problem is not the use of the title, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but the fact that the people Jesus is describing leave it at just that—it is only a profession of His name. The problem is claiming His name (as they do three times), but not living His way. They simply say in contrast to those who do the will of God (v. 21b). According to Jesus, these who simply profess faith “will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” This means they are not going to be born again through profession of faith, and they will be denied entrance into God’s heaven because they never truly believed—it was only a profession; it wasn’t transformation. It becomes clear as you study this passage, that these people were never truly saved; These are not Christians who lost their salvation—that’s an impossibility.

The important thing to notice is the contrast Jesus makes between those who “say” and those who “do” here in v. 21. “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” In contrast to the one who professes faith, Jesus says that the only person that will enter “the kingdom of heaven” is “the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

If doing the will “of [the] Father” is what was lacking in those who professed faith, and it is required of those who go to heaven, then what does Jesus mean by doing God’s will? I believe Jesus’ meaning here is two-fold, but inseparable:

A. It is God’s Will for You to be Saved.

Jesus is talking about salvation in this passage. Salvation is needed to go to heaven, after we die. And while not everyone will receive salvation because of rejection of God, it is still God’s desire for all to be saved:

“As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11)

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

B. It is God’s Will for You to Do God’s Will.

But inseparable from salvation, if we are truly saved, our changed lives will be the sure result. Following salvation should be the desire to do God’s will and carry out His commands. Paul writes,

“ . . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12), but in that same text says “it is God who works in you . . .”

A changed life, and living by God’s will is the outworking that we have truly been saved.

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3)

Sanctification involves growing in the faith, being delivered daily from the presence of sin. It is God’s will for us to continue in the faith (Col. 1:23), and our lives had better show evidence of our repentance and faith, or we never had repentance and faith.

Doing God’s will involves living by His principles, obeying His commandments, serving Him faithfully. Something doesn’t make sense when our actions deny our beliefs.

Thomas Linacre was physician to King Henry VII and Henry VIII of England. Late in his life, Thomas studied to be a priest and was given a copy of the four Gospels to read for the first time. Thomas lived through the darkest of the church’s dark hours under the rule of Pope Alexander 6th, who shamed Christianity with his murder, corruption, incest, and bribery. Reading the Gospels for himself, Thomas was amazed and troubled: “Either these are not the Gospels,” he said, “or we are not Christians.”

Our lives must demonstrate true belief in Christ—or we do not have true belief.

Does your life reflect what you say you believe? Your behavior is a reflection of what you truly believe. If it doesn’t there’s a problem—either you’re not saved, or you’re not being obedient to Christ. If you’re not saved, you can be—by repenting of your sins and turning to Jesus; placing total faith in His finished work on your behalf. If you’re not being obedient to Christ and doing God’s will—God can give you the strength to. You just need to surrender completely to Him. Whatever is stopping you from living out the faith you say you believe—it will be worth it when you get it out of the way so you can fully surrender to God.

II. They Defend Themselves (v. 22)

Not only did they profess Christ, but the second thing to notice here is how they defend themselves: “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’” (7:22).

A. “The Day of the LORD.”

Jesus says, “On that day.” What day? He is talking about the Day of the Lord, when all will stand before God in final judgment, where He will separate the wheat from the chaff—and will gather into Him His church, and the unsaved will depart into everlasting fire . . . where He will separate the weeds from the good seeds, where He will separate the believers from the non-believers.

The Old Testament referenced it:

“Alas for the day! For the day of the LORD is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes” (Joel 1:13).

“They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him” (Malachi 3:17-18).

Also, Jesus and the New Testament writers warn of it:

“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:36-37).

“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27).

“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:11-15).

So Jesus is creating the setting for what He’s talking about here. “On that day” of judgment where He will reign as judge (Acts 17:31), He says, “ . . many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?”

Jesus doesn’t say that this is a select “few” who will say to this to Him, but “many.” How do they defend themselves? “Lord, Lord, did we not . . .” You can hear the tone of surprise in their voices—“Did you see what we did Lord? Did you forget? Did we not . . .” They are still saying the same thing as while they were on the earth (‘Lord, Lord’)—that means nothing has changed. They have not been born again, they are still sinners in need of a Savior.

The very fact that they defend themselves is an indicator that they are not saved. Because with Jesus, He’s all the defense you need. He took your case to the cross and settled it. On the Day of Judgment, all you’ll be able to say is “By grace I was brought to faith!” So then, this demonstrates that they were depending on something of their own merit, which they say: “did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many might works in your name?” They list off three things to defend themselves. There’s no doubt that they did these things, even Satan and his followers can perform miracles. Even Judas cast out devils in Mark 3:14-15, and he appeared to be a disciple, but it was shown that he was not. They even claim authority behind their deeds: “in your name” is mentioned three times.

But Jesus isn’t denying that they did indeed do these things—the paramount problem was that these sinners are trusting fully in their own merit—they are defending themselves by pointing to their works. And notice the high standard of their works—I can’t remember the last time I prophesied can you? I can’t remember any time I ever cast out a demon, can you? Those things are things that most people don’t even do or try to do in their lifetimes. But I think that’s Jesus’ point here: It doesn’t matter how great your works are, how high they are—they will not even get you near the presence of God. What if you plant a church on a foreign mission field? Nope. What if you lead thousands to Christ? Nope. What if you give up all you have and serve the poor? Nope.

B. Why Works Won’t Work

Why wasn’t their works enough (they did “mighty works”)? Why aren’t works enough?

1. It’s not the way God saves. (Jesus reveals later the chief problem was “I never knew you.”) It’s not the way God saves, so don’t try to get in that way! The only work you need is the work of Jesus Christ on the cross: “Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him who he has sent” (John 6:29). Jesus also tells His hearers in the Sermon on the Mount, that they must have a righteousness that is greater than outside-righteousness: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). We need His righteousness, and true heart transformation. If you’re going to be saved—it must be God’s way, the only way.

2. Good works cannot justify. We have sinned against God (Rom. 3:23), this demands holy punishment and wrath (Rom. 1:18; 6:23). Good deeds cannot satisfy the wrath and demands of a holy God. Only a perfect substitute can propitiate God’s wrath, and justify us in God’s sight. This substitute was Christ. His perfect work in becoming sin for us, and giving us His righteousness in exchange is enough (2 Cor. 5:21). Paul writes, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5). Again, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal. 2:21). And again, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

3. The spiritual state of man. The current threat that is causing fear among peoples of the world is the spread of the fatal virus, Ebola. The latest report on the death toll of Ebola is 4,033.¹  But there is a worse spiritual Ebola that has claimed more lives than any other disease in the world. That disease is sin. The Bible says that we are “dead in sins” (Eph. 2:1). If you remain spiritually dead throughout this life, even if good works are done, but nothing changes about your spiritual deadness—then you will go through the second death and be thrown into the lake of fire. We must be born again (John 3:3; Titus 3:5). God must do a supernatural work in you—replacing your heart with a new one, giving you a desire for Him, and breathing into you spiritual life.

I’ve heard many well-meaning evangelists and preachers use this illustration before: “Salvation happens like this: You are struggling at the top of an ocean, wanting to be rescued, and then God throws you a lifesaver and you grab onto it.” But that is a fatal misrepresentation! You have already sunk to the bottom of the ocean, and drowned to death—and God must reach down, pull you out of the water, perform spiritual CPR on you and breathe new life into you. You were dead in sins. You cannot be saved by works because you’re still in a state of spiritual deadness.

On January 1985, there was a large, unmarked and unclaimed suitcase discovered at the customs office at the Los Angeles International Airport. When U. S. Customs agents opened the suitcase, they found the curled-up body of an unidentified young woman. She had been dead for a few days, and as the investigation continued, it was learned that she was the wife of a young Iranian man living in the US. She was unable to obtain a visa to enter the US and join her husband so she took matters into her own hands and tried to smuggle herself into the country. The officials were surprised that an attempt like this could ever succeed. She tried to get in, but it was not only foolish, but fatal.

And if, by good works, we try to get in to heaven our own way, it will prove not only foolish but fatal—with unquenchable fire waiting at the doorstep of our eternity. As a Christian, rest in the cross, your case is settled. Depend on Christ—that gives you true freedom (Gal. 5:1); because you fail too often to depend on your own “goodness” (which is no goodness at all; Rom. 7:18; 14:23). If you are a non-believer, you need to make things right with God—works will never get you to Him. Depend completely on Christ.

III. Jesus’ Dreadful Declaration (v. 23)

These false believers professed Christ, on the Day of Judgment they defend themselves, and then in response to their confession, Jesus confesses something to them: “And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (v. 23).

Jesus reveals to them what the fundamental problem was: “I never knew you.” Wait a minute. Doesn’t God know everything? Of course He does. He’s omniscient. The key to understanding what Jesus is saying here comes from the Greek word for “know.” It’s ginosko, and it’s used here to describe an intimate knowledge—a relationship knowledge—similar to the intimacy between a husband and wife. . . And Jesus is saying that’s what their problem was—there was never a personal relationship. They never knew Jesus as their Savior, so He never knew them as His child—God knows who are His: “But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”” (2 Tim. 2:19).

They were committed to the power Jesus represented and the status they thought they had, but they had never allowed the will of God and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ to control their actions.

Jesus also says to them, “depart from me.” These are the words no one wants to hear from Christ—but by this time, at the day of judgment—it’s too late. This is the final destination of those who are not truly saved—eternal departure from the presence of God. The tragic part about it is not that they are surprised about this judgment, the tragic part is not that they cannot see their Christian friends in heaven, the tragic part is not even that they cannot go to heaven—the tragic part is that they will be separated from God forever.

Jesus tells them their fundamental problem, they never knew Him in a personal relationship. He tells them to get away from Him. Third, He calls them “workers of lawlessness.” They thought they were workers of righteousness by their deeds, but in reality they were workers of lawlessness because their deeds apart from spiritual transformation are of no value, and God takes no delight in them if inner faith is missing. Outward acts of righteousness without inner faith is an abomination to the Lord. In Isaiah this is depicted vividly: “Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me . . .” (Isaiah 1:13).

These who simply profess faith are those described by Jesus in Matthew 15:8, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” They are those who enter through the wide and broad gate that leads to destruction (Matt. 7:13-14); They are those who bear bad fruit (Matt. 7:15-20); They are those who built their house on the sand because they didn’t heed the words of Jesus (Matt. 7:24-27). They are those described by Paul, “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:16). They are those who need Christ to save them through a personal relationship. Is that you today? Do you know Jesus? There’s a difference between knowing about Him and knowing Him. He wants to have a personal relationship with you, He wants to forgive your sin—just repent and trust the Savior.

Conclusion: Charles Waterman

We’ve seen today that there are those who simply profess faith, but will be surprised to find that their works were not enough for salvation—they will on the Day of Judgment finally be separated from God’s eternal presence. The good news is that God saves those who come to Him in repentance and faith—there is hope! God knows your past, He knows what you’ve done, and He is willing to forgive if you’re willing to come to Him. Is God drawing you to come to Him?

From a home with one brother and one sister, Charles Waterman’s urge was to see the country. This took him to hitchhiking on the railroad to California. He was influenced by the worldly crowd and gave himself to become an alcoholic. Even as such, he worked his way up to become an engineer on the steam locomotive. He married Anna, who had a Christian background and did what she could to keep the testimony before him. Anna was discouraged at the path her husband followed because it was causing him to miss work on some of his hangovers. So she asked a lady in her town in California to meet with her and help her pray for Charles to be saved. His wild life went on for three or more years and one night he became frightened while under the influence and when he finally arrived at home, he told Anna he wanted to be saved. She immediately called her friend who came over to their home and they led him to the Lord. He begged the Lord for forgiveness and to clean up his life, which the Lord did.

The happiness that followed caused Anna to write the song Yes, I Know! with these words:

“Come, ye sinners, lost and hopeless,

Jesus’ blood can make you free;

For He saved the worst among you,

When He saved a wretch like me.

And I know, yes, I know

Jesus’ blood can make the vilest sinner clean.” ²

Do you know Christ today? Are you depending on your own goodness and works? Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour? Come to Christ, and He will not turn you away.


 

1. NBC News, Ebola Death Toll Rises to 4,033
2. Hymntime, Yes, I Know! 

Colossians: Christ’s Sufficient Reconciliation (Col. 1:20-23)

The following message was delivered  May 4, 2014 at New Hope Baptist Church in Ballard County, KY:

Our Position as Believers: Reconciled

Our position as believers is truly remarkable. There are many terms that describe our position as believers in relation to God and in relation to man as well. The Bible says that we are justified (Rom. 5:1; Gal. 3:24; Titus 3:7), forgiven (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13; 1 John 1:9), adopted (Gal. 4:5-7; Eph. 1:5), and redeemed (Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7). While there are many other descriptions, one of the greatest of those terms to describe who we are in Christ is reconciliation. That’s what Paul’s theme is in our text. The way Paul uses the term in Colossians pictures a thorough, full, and complete reconciliation. Let’s read it together.

The Text: Colossians 1:20-23, ESV

“20 And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. 21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.”

God’s Plan of Reconciliation

Let’s look first at v. 20: “And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” You may have noticed that our starting place in today’s text is a bit awkward. The reason for starting in v. 20 is because of the language-change. You see that Paul has changed his language from v. 19 in speaking about Christ’s preeminence to v. 20 talking about reconciliation and the first thing he tells his readers about is God’s plan of reconciliation.

Paul writes that “through him [Jesus] to reconcile to himself [God] all things.” That’s a very heavy statement. All things? Paul says here quite clearly that through Jesus Christ, God’s plan is to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven. But why would “all things” need to be reconciled to God? If God’s plan is to reconcile all things to Himself, then there must be some type of separation involved, creating the need for reconciliation. For separation is the opposite of reconciliation. What created that need? Well, you remember the creation story in Genesis, don’t you? Do you remember what God said concerning His creation? “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). About light, day, the moon, sun, stars, plants and animals, you read that God said that it was good. But when God looked and saw everything altogether that He had made, including man, He saw that it was very good.

But what happens two chapters later? The Fall. This is where sin enters the world. When evil and sin entered the world, God’s good creation was marred. It was defiled. Sin destroyed perfect harmony between creatures, and sin affected the entire creation. Paul describes this vividly in Romans 8: “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it” (v. 20), creation, Paul says, is in “bondage to corruption” (v. 21), and, “we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (v. 22). We live on a cursed earth in a cursed universe all because of sin.

Now what is to be said of the beauty that we still see in creation? What about the rocks, trees, fish and lakes? This beauty is owing to God’s common grace. That is, God has still continued to allow creation to display forth beauty and greatness even though it is subjected to futility and corruption. There’s a reason animals kill each other. There’s a reason plants and animals die. There’s a reason that creation is not in exact harmony: sin.

But as you know, the Bible gives us the wonderful promises that God will again restore creation. He will recreate and “God will make friends with creation again” (1). Tremendous, dramatic, glorious changes will take place in that time. Paul says again in Romans 8 that “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (v. 21). God and the creation will be reconciled—the curse of Genesis 3 will be removed. Finally, “after all is said and done,” there will be a new heaven and a new earth:

“But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Rev. 21:2).

God will make everything new and will reconcile all things to Himself. That’s the aim Paul is taking here when he says, “And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven” (1:20a).

A Word About Universalism

Now some have seen this as a path into the heresy known as universalism. This teaching holds that it doesn’t matter what happens in this life, one day everyone who has ever lived will be saved—God has no real wrath against sinners and one day everyone will be reunited with Him forever and there is no such thing as hell or the lake of fire. That’s a lie straight from the pits of hell and you’d be surprised, utterly surprised, at the number of professing Christians who hold to this view of God and eternity. But those who hold to this view say that this text indicates that even fallen angels and unbelieving sinners will be reconciled to God. Paul cannot mean here that there will be ultimate salvation of everyone. Not everyone is going to be saved—we know that. That’s one thing Jesus taught: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many” (Matthew 7:13). And Christ will one day say to unbelievers, “‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41), and then in v. 46 of that chapter, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

There are no second chances for those who go out into eternity without Christ. It’s against the Scriptures and everything that the Christian faith stands for if you identify with something like universalism. So where do unbelievers and fallen angels fall into this category of reconciliation? They will be reconciled to God in the sense of getting their final judgment. Only in the sense of submitting to Him for final sentencing:

“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 bow, 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” (Phil. 2:9-11).

This all happens through Jesus Christ—this is the extent of the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ; this is God’s plan of reconciliation—“to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (1:20).

The Opposite of Reconciliation

It is God’s grand, glorious plan to reconcile all things to Himself through Jesus, but now Paul focuses on his readers in a special way. Before Paul talks about God’s central purpose in reconciliation—reconciling men and women to God, he reminds them of their state of being before reconciliation. He describes the opposite of reconciliation: “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (v. 21).

Paul focuses on his readers here. “And you who once were. . .” Paul is talking about something that these readers were, not something that they are now. And he describes the Colossians’ pre-Christian state in a three-fold way:

1. Position: “you . . . once were alienated” (1:21b).

The Bible actually talks about aliens more than you think. When you think of aliens, however, you probably picture the little green guys trying to abduct humans for research. Or possibly more relevant, illegal aliens, are those who come over to our country illegally. But why do we call the fictional green characters aliens, and why do we call illegal immigrants aliens? Because they are strangers. Aliens would be strangers because they’re not from our planet. Immigrants because they are not from our country. And when it comes to Paul’s readers, this is their position apart from God: strangers. To be alienated is to be cut off from God, a stranger to God, a non-participant in the things of God.

Speaking of those who do not know Christ, “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Eph. 4:18). Sin is what separates us from God. Sin is what alienates us from God and creates that need for reconciliation back to our Creator. God is holy and we are not—and that is a problem for us. The Scriptures attest about Him, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing” (Habakkuk 1:13 NIV), “The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth” (Psalm 34:16), “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you” (Psalm 5:4, ESV). God is holy and our depraved position apart from Him is alienation/separation. And if nothing’s done about it, it will lead to eternal separation one of these days in the lake of fire where, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15). The reason that it is an eternal hell is because sin is an offense against an eternal God. Our position depraved and apart from the saving grace of God is one of damnation: we were once alienated.

2. Intellect/Thinking: “you . . . once were . . . hostile in mind” (1:21c).

Not only alienated, but the Colossians had also been hostile in mind. This literally means that they had a hateful attitude towards God. According to Paul here in this verse, even our intellect is infected by sin. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:21). The Scripture teaches that the unbeliever’s mind is even corrupt and affected by sin. It doesn’t mean he cannot think, it doesn’t mean that he cannot be philosophical, it doesn’t mean that he has no logic—but it does mean that his mind is corrupted by sin and will not willingly submit to God or the things of God. “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom. 8:7). Our mode of thinking was entirely against God.

There’s an interesting passage in the New Testament about this truth. It’s in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Paul says here that their minds are blinded. Wait a minute. I thought being blind meant that you couldn’t see? That’s the point here. Satan so darkens the minds of unbelievers that they cannot see the light of the gospel—they are blinded; even by their own minds. So don’t be under the impression that you can win people over with philosophy, or even theological discussion. You cannot save a single soul. Only God can regenerate a sinner who is that depraved. Only God can transform a man.

3. Actions/Deeds: “you . . . once were . . . doing evil deeds” (1:21d).

Not only were they alienated from God, and their minds hostile to Him, but they were doing evil deeds. If they are already so depraved that they are separated from God and hostile in their thinking, then it would follow that their actions would result in “doing evil deeds.” Jesus confirms this fact: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:19-20). Everything man does in His rebellion against God is sin: “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).

Indeed, we are in an extremely depraved condition apart from Christ. Your predicament, if you are an unbeliever, is very heavy. We are not as sinful as we could be—God by His common grace restrains some evil in the world. But the Scripture teaches that everything about us, our minds, hearts, and wills are all inclined and bent towards evil and that every faculty of our being is corrupted by sin. The New Testament is replete with passages about who we are before Christ:

“Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents” (Rom. 1:30, KJV)

“Dead in trespasses and sins,” “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:1, 3).

“We were enemies” (Rom. 5:10).

“as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Rom. 3:10-12).

That’s the magnificent thing about salvation. God doesn’t just leave us in our depraved condition. He’d be just and right in doing so. God is not obligated to give grace to anyone—that’s why it’s called grace. It’s undeserved. God reserves the right to give grace to whoever He pleases—He doesn’t have to give grace to any sinner. But thank God He gives grace! God did a great thing on our behalf.

Why is this important to know? Why does the Bible place so much emphasis on our condition before Christ? Well, you will not appreciate your present salvation without remembering your past condition—you will not fully be grateful for your present relationship with God without remembering your past separation from God. If someone has a cold and they take some Mucinex to take care of it, do they normally rejoice, and hop up and down because they no longer have a cold? Not normally, unless they are just a happy person (and probably had too much Mucinex!). But if someone has had a terrible, life-threatening cancer and they receive treatment and beat the cancer. . . Oh there is rejoicing alright. They are very, very thankful. It works the same way in the Christian life. If you do not realize the depth of your sinful condition before Christ, then you will not even begin to realize how great a miracle your salvation actually was!

Too many believers treat their position before Christ like a fake threat. Like they were not in any real danger. It’s like the lady in the circus who spins on the wheel while the knife thrower pretends to throw knives around her. If you ask her at the end, “Don’t you feel glad that’s over? Aren’t you happy you’re still alive?” And she says, “It’s just a trick. The knives pop out of the wheel. What’s to get excited about? It’s just a fake threat” (2).

They say, “Nobody is perfect.” While that’s true, that’s not even scratching the surface of what you were before Christ. Read what the Scripture says about who you were before Christ, because when you recognize who you really were before God transformed you, then you will so much more appreciate your salvation now. Paul even says in Ephesians 2:11-12, “Therefore remember that at one time you were without Christ . . . having no hope, and without God in the world.”

How often do you ponder what your life was like before Christ? How often are you brought to tears of joy before the presence of Almighty God for saving you from such a depraved position? How often do you allow these things to grip you?

The Means of Reconciliation

Paul never tells us who we were before Christ, without also telling us who we are now in Christ (or what God has done for us to transform us). He never tells us to remember what we are now without remembering what we once were. So Paul has talked about the Colossians’ depraved sinful state and the complete opposite of reconciliation. Now he talks about the means of reconciliation: “He has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death” (v. 22a).

If we have a need for reconciliation to God then how is that accomplished? Paul says, “He has now [this is present tense] reconciled in His body of flesh by His death.” This is talking about Jesus. Jesus Christ is the one who has brought us to God. All the members of the Trinity work actively in your salvation. The Father initiates your salvation, He plans it. The Son accomplishes your salvation on the cross. The Spirit applies your salvation through regeneration. Now, Christ did a lot of things while He was here on this earth, but the main reason He came was to “seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). And if you know Christ as your Lord and Savior, then you are reconciled to God through His death. Your reconciliation to God is owing completely to the death of Jesus Christ. It wasn’t because you were good enough, it wasn’t because you did or said the right things, it was because Jesus died for you! “You contribute nothing to your salvation, except the sin that made it necessary”—Jonathan Edwards.

Are you reconciled today? Are you reconciled to God through Christ?

The Aim of Reconciliation

Paul has talked about God’s ultimate plan of reconciliation, the opposite of reconciliation, the means of reconciliation and now he talks about the aim of reconciliation: “in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (v. 22b).

In contrast with their three-fold depravity, Paul describes the three-fold aim of Christ’s reconciliation work on behalf of the Colossian believers:

1. “in order to present you holy” (1:22b)
2. “in order to present you . . . blameless” (1:22c)
3. “in order to present you . . . above reproach” (1:22d).

The Evidence of Reconciliation

Paul has described God’s plan of reconciliation, the opposite of reconciliation, the means of reconciliation, the aim of that reconciliation, and now he concludes this section by speaking on the evidence of that reconciliation. “If indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard” (v. 23a).

Paul says here that “continuing in the faith” is evidence that you have been reconciled: “Christ reconciled you in order to present you holy, blameless, and above reproach before Him . . . if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast.”

Paul is not saying here that “continuing in the faith” is necessary to your salvation because you are lacking something that Christ didn’t do. It’s necessary in order to prove your salvation, but not necessary because Christ isn’t enough. Christ is mighty to save, He saves to the uttermost, He is able to reconcile fully, completely, and thoroughly—salvation was not just made “possible” for you at the cross—but it was made actual for you at the cross. Christ actually accomplished, bought, and secured your salvation.

So, “continuing in the faith” is the necessary response and the “out-working” of a life that’s been reconciled to God. And the Scripture teaches that if your life does not show evidence of being reconciled to God, then you are not reconciled to God and you are still “alienated, hostile in mind, and doing evil deeds,” and you are not saved.

One of the most sobering truths of the Bible is that not all who profess to be Christians are in fact saved. Christ warned us about it: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23). And John writes in his epistle, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).

No, you can never “lose” your salvation, but there will be a great falling away of those who were never truly saved. Look at Hebrews 6:

“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of god and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt” (Heb. 6:4-6).

Paul says here in Colossians that if we continue in the faith, we continue to be faithful to Him, continue to serve Him and love Him, if we remain steadfast and stable that it shows forth evidence of our present reconciliation with God.

Are you continuing in the faith? Does your life show evidence that you have been reconciled to God? Can you think of some ways in which God has shown His grace in your life? If not, then heed the words of 2 Cor. 13:5, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.”

The Ministry of Reconciliation

In addition to Paul talking about the evidence of reconciliation, he speaks briefly in this section about the ministry of reconciliation. He writes, “[this gospel] which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister” (v. 23b).

Paul was made a minister of the gospel. We are all ministers of reconciliation. We are to tell others about Jesus Christ like Paul did. There’s a great passage of Scripture about that:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;  that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:17-20).

We owe people the gospel’s message this side of hell. The proper response to such a great gospel is joyfully sharing it with others. So who are you ministering to? Who has God placed in your life that you need to minister to? “You may be the only Bible people are reading.”—Billy Graham

Conclusion

We’ve seen today: God’s ultimate plan of reconciliation (1:20). Our state before Christ, the opposite of reconciliation (1:21). Christ’s present, real reconciliation work on the cross (1:22). The aim of Christ’s reconciling work (1:22). The evidence of Christ’s reconciling work (1:23). And how we are all made ministers of that gospel (1:23). Where is God stirring in your heart today? In the commands we found in the Scriptures, which are you not obeying? The gospel gives you the power to carry out those commands in obedience, so what are you waiting for? I pray we will be obedient to God and heed the truths gleaned from Colossians concerning this great position we have as believers: reconciled. 


1. John MacArthur, Colossians/Philemon (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1992), 58.
2. Adapted from John Piper, Remember That You Were Hopeless (Desiring God, 1981).

 

You’ve Got Questions: What Happens to Someone Who Never Hears of Jesus?

You’ve Got Questions: What Happens to Someone Who Never Hears of Jesus?

The Bible teaches that people can only experience God’s salvation through Jesus Christ: “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The Bible also teaches that everlasting judgment awaits those who reject Christ: “The one who believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one who refuses to believe in the Son will not see life; instead, the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). But what about the people who have never heard the gospel? Are they without hope? Will God judge them anyway? Some people suggest that those who never hear the gospel might still receive salvation if they respond to God’s ‘spiritual light’ in nature. That since God has revealed Himself through creation (Rom. 1:19-20), people who never hear the gospel can still be saved because there is evidence of God in creation. While it is true that God has revealed Himself generally through creation, the Bible gives no indication whatsoever that creation is of salvific value to sinners. The Bible gives no indication of any other way of salvation but through Jesus Christ. “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). But if we are going to answer this question, we need to keep three points in mind:

Salvation by works is impossible. If we can earn our salvation, then Christ did not need to die (Gal. 2:21; 3:21).

God has indeed revealed His power and being through the beauty and order of creation. However, people suppress that truth and choose sin instead (Rom. 1:18-23). All of mankind, whether they be in North America or some undiscovered tribe, have a sense of what God requires and a knowledge of God (Rom. 2:14-15). So the problem is that they have rejected the knowledge of God that they already have, not that they have no knowledge of God at all.

The Scriptures assert that Christ is the only way to God and salvation (John 14:6; Acts 4:12), and that rejection of God is to subject yourself under God’s divine curse and wrath (John 3:36; 1 Cor. 16:22).

Our concern for the lost should drive us to reach the unreached with the message of the gospel. Rather than dwelling on “what ifs,” let’s get busy!

Finally, we are not ultimately in a position to judge God’s actions as fair or unfair. Some think it is unfair to express judgment on sinners who have never heard of Jesus. What’s more, some people would consider it unfair that they were “force-fed” Christianity their whole lives, while others could say it was “unfair” to hear the gospel from Christians who tainted the message by being abusive or hypocritical. In other words, even those who hear about Jesus may hypothetically complain that they didn’t have a fair chance! In the end, however, we know that God is just and that no sinner will be able to honestly protest to God that he wanted to know Him but was not allowed.

 

You’ve Got Questions: How Many People Are Going to Heaven?

You’ve Got Questions: How Many People Are Going to Heaven?

While the Bible does not give a specific numerical answer (Ex. 3,400,832), there is a passage of Scripture that gives us an answer we can work with. In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Christ is calling His listeners to enter by the narrow gate and He gives a warning concerning the wide gate. What are these two gates? They are the entrance to two different “ways.” The wide gate leads to the broad way, or road. The small narrow gate leads to the way that is narrow. The narrow way is the way of the godly, and the broad way is the way of the ungodly.

The broad way is the easy way. It is attractive and self-indulgent. It is permissive. It’s the inclusive way of the world, with few rules, few restrictions, and fewer requirements. Tolerance of sin is the norm where God’s Word is not studied and His standards not followed. This way requires no spiritual maturity, no moral character, no commitment, and no sacrifice. It is the easy way of following “the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). It is that broad way that “seems right to a man, but end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12).

The gateway to eternal life, called “narrow” does not mean that it is difficult to become a Christian. But it does mean that there is only one way to live eternally with God and that only a few decide to walk that road. Believing in Jesus is the only way to heaven, because He alone died for our sins and makes us right before God. Living His way is not popular, but it is true and right. The narrow way is the hard way, the demanding way. It is the way of recognizing that you cannot save yourself and must depend on Jesus Christ alone to save you. It’s the way of self-denial and the cross. The fact that few find God’s way implies that it is to be sought diligently. “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). The point is this that no one will stumble into the kingdom or wander through the narrow gate by accident. Someone asked Jesus: “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” He replied, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:23-24).

Jesus knows that many will choose the wide gate and the broad way which leads to destruction and hell. Correspondingly, He said that only a few will choose the narrow gate. So how many people are going to heaven? According to Matthew 7:13-14, there is no doubt that more will go to hell than to heaven.

In addition, many are confused by thinking that the reference to the 144,000 in Revelation 7:4 is a reference to how many people are going to heaven. However, that is a claim from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They claim that 144,000 is a limit to the number of people who will reign with Christ in heaven and spend eternity with God. The 144,000 have what the Jehovah’s Witnesses call the “heavenly hope.” Those who are not among the 144,000 will enjoy what they call the earthly hope—a paradise on earth ruled by Christ and the 144,000. First, this claim should be rejected because Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. In fact, they believe that the church has corrupted the Bible over the centuries. If they do not believe that every word is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16), and therefore without error, then how can we even begin to lean in their direction of interpretation? Additionally, the governing body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society) is the only body in the cult that claims authority to interpret Scripture. In other words, what the governing body says concerning any scriptural passage is viewed as the last word, and independent thinking is strongly discouraged. By stark contrast, the Bible teaches that we should all study the Word of God (2 Timothy 2:15).

Finally, while there are varying views among evangelical Christians as to how to interpret Revelation, we Christians can all agree that the Bible places no numerical group on the children of God.

Further Resources: Who Are the Jehovah’s Witnesses?

You’ve Got Questions: What Happens if a Christian Dies by Suicide?

You’ve Got Questions: What Happens if a Christian Dies by Suicide?

It is a sad fact that some Christians have committed suicide. Adding to the tragedy is the false teaching that committing suicide automatically consigns one to hell. Many believe that a Christian who commits suicide will not be saved. This teaching is not supported in the Bible. Scripture teaches that, from the moment we truly believe in Christ, we are guaranteed eternal life. According to the Bible, Christians can know beyond any doubt that they possess eternal life (1 John 5:13). Nothing can separate a Christian from God’s love (Romans 8:38–39). No “created thing” can separate a Christian from God’s love, and even a Christian who commits suicide is a “created thing”; therefore, not even suicide can separate a Christian from God’s love. Jesus died for all of our sins, and if a true Christian, in a time of spiritual attack and weakness, dies by suicide, his sin is still covered by the blood of Christ.

Suicide is not what determines whether a person goes to heaven or not. Only by trusting in Christ for salvation are you guaranteed entrance into heaven. You must be justified by faith in Christ. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Of course, if the unsaved person commits suicide, all he has done is expedite his journey straight into hell. There is no way to sugar coat that truth. But will that unsaved person go to hell because he committed suicide? No. The reason for his going to hell isn’t because he committed the act, but because he is an unsaved sinner. Sin is what separates us from God. We are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), “children of wrath,” and enemies of God; hostile to God.

Suicide is not the “unforgivable sin” as many say, but those who take the sacred name of Christ upon their lips dare not contemplate it. Our lives belong to God and He alone has the prerogative to bring them to an end. In the very words of God, “See now that I myself am he! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand” (Deut. 32:39 NIV, emphasis mine). The Bible views suicide as equal to murder, which is what it is—self-murder. God is the only one who is to decide when and how a person should die. We should say with the psalmist, “My times are in your hands” (Psalm 31:15). God is the giver of life. He gives, and He takes away (Job 1:21). Suicide, the taking of one’s own life, is ungodly because it rejects God’s gift of life. No man or woman should presume to take God’s authority upon themselves to end his or her own life.

Characters in the Bible

In addition, the Bible mentions six specific people who died by suicide: Abimelech (Judges 9:54), Saul (1 Samuel 31:4), Saul’s armor-bearer (1 Samuel 31:4–6), Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23), Zimri (1 Kings 16:18), and Judas (Matthew 27:5). Five of these men were noted for their wickedness (the exception is Saul’s armor-bearer—nothing is said of his character). Some consider Samson’s death an instance of suicide, because he knew his actions would lead to his death (Judges 16:26–31), but Samson’s goal was to kill Philistines, not himself.

Furthermore, many people in Scripture felt deep despair in life. Solomon, in his pursuit of pleasure, reached the point where he “hated life” (Ecclesiastes 2:17). Elijah was fearful and depressed and yearned for death (1 Kings 19:4). Jonah was so angry at God that he wished to die (Jonah 4:8). Even the apostle Paul and his missionary companions at one point “were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). However, none of these men committed suicide. Solomon learned to “fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Elijah was comforted by an angel, allowed to rest, and given a new commission. Jonah received admonition and rebuke from God. Paul learned that, although the pressure he faced was beyond his ability to endure, the Lord can bear all things: “This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9).

Conclusion

In conclusion, suicide is a sin. It is not the “greatest” sin—it is no worse than other evils, in terms of how God sees it, and it does not determine whether or not a person goes to hell. However, suicide definitely has a deep and lasting impact on those left behind. The painful scars left by a suicide do not heal easily. May God grant His grace to each one who is facing trials today (Psalm 67:1). May God grant the psalmist’s perspective to each one who is facing trials today: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 43:5).