COVID Carnality (The Cause & Cure)

Pastors are doing their best to navigate the confusing and challenging impacts of COVID in the way they best see fit for their entire congregation’s needs. They are looking at the needs and concerns of the whole flock. Yet, pastors are (as always) scrutinized and judged from the comfortable armchairs of sideliners who do not bear the same burdens of responsibility. Furthermore, trying to balance a local flock’s physical and spiritual needs is tricky, to say the least. Universally speaking, most churches have faced unprecedented physical sickness, psychological trauma, and spiritual fallout over the past year. There isn’t a perfect solution to each of these problems. Anyone who says differently is either lying or very foolish. Aside from the actual dangers of COVID (we can argue later about the real depth of the physical risks), a spiritual danger is lurking that I call “COVID-Carnality.”

COVID-Carnality: Cause & Effect

For some, COVID revealed hidden pockets of pre-COVID spiritual sicknesses. For others, the tragic spiritual side-effects of COVID weakened them spiritually (or worse), and they are struggling with sinful symptoms and conditions they would not have encountered otherwise. Joblessness, fear, uncertainty, lack of vibrant community, limited fellowship opportunities, stifled church gatherings, inhibited worship, canceled conferences and meetings, impersonal online worship, and adjusted service schedules continue to take a spiritual toll on us all.

For some, COVID revealed hidden pockets of pre-COVID spiritual sicknesses. For others, the tragic spiritual side-effects of COVID weakened them spiritually (or worse).

I certainly hoped writing about COVID in this new year would be unnecessary. We all prayed fervently that we would not be dealing with yet another wave of COVID. Like you, I’m tired of hearing about COVID, talking about COVID, and thinking about COVID. As someone who has walked personally with many individuals through COVID, I’ve learned that almost nothing about the virus makes sense. I’ve known of perfectly healthy people dying and tremendously unhealthy people surviving the virus. COVID is a death sentence for some people, and for others, it’s little more than the seasonal flu. I don’t say this to stoke fear but instead, as a reminder that circumstances force spiritual leaders on the ground to make big picture decisions armed with more information than Monday morning quarterbacks.

In Defense of Pastors

With that in mind, I sense a renewed need to lift pastors’ hands and support them in their decisions. Many pastors have made decisions that differed from what I considered best for my local church. However, I firmly believe they are striving diligently to do what is right in their local context. Even in rare situations where pastors made decisions that, in hindsight, turned out to be imperfect, I give them grace for all kinds of reasons. One, often the “facts” they had were convoluted at best. Two, grace is a vital part of the Christian faith (Ephesians 4:29). Three, their motives were pure. Four, we need unity more than ever before. And five, circumstances change so quickly that yesterday’s right decision becomes tomorrow’s wrong decision.

Saints who abandon or attack their pastor from within during this season are a disgrace to the Kingdom of God. Truth preaching pastors who verbally attack other truth preaching pastors COVID-related leadership during this season are foolish, unwise, and ungodly. Those statements might sound harsh, but the truth always sounds offensive to ears suffering from COVID-Carnality. I realize carnality is not a new problem. However, covert and overt carnality has exponentially increased over the past year.

Saints who abandon or attack their pastor from within during this season are a disgrace to the Kingdom of God.

Truth preaching pastors who verbally attack other truth preaching pastors COVID-related leadership during this season are foolish, unwise, and ungodly.

Carnality is not a new problem. However, covert and overt carnality has exponentially increased over the past year.

COVID-Carnality: Spiritual Symptoms

Studies show that addictions (of all kinds), pornography, rated M Netflix viewing, domestic disturbances, child abuse, molestations, harmful self-medicating, and more are at all-time highs. My anecdotal experiences reveal that unusual levels of carnality are running rampant even within apostolic churches. People who are usually wise are making foolish decisions. Strange sins of perversion are on the rise. Out-of-character attitude issues are being manifested outwardly in the lives of saints. It’s often difficult to tell if these problems are just being exacerbated by COVID or as a direct result of COVID-induced carnality. In other words, is COVID the cause or the revealer? Likely, we’ll never really know for sure. However, I believe it’s a blend of both, depending on the situation.

Studies show that addictions (of all kinds), pornography, rated M Netflix viewing, domestic disturbances, child abuse, molestations, harmful self-medicating, and more are at all-time highs.

Unusual levels of carnality are running rampant within apostolic churches. Wise people are making foolish decisions. Strange sins of perversion are on the rise. Out-of-character attitude issues are being manifested in the lives of saints.

Private Prayerlessness Diagnosed

Just recognizing COVID-Carnality is hardly helpful. However, the sickness must be diagnosed before the cure can be prescribed. Now that we’ve identified the spiritual virus, we can talk about solutions. For example, while prayer gatherings are essential, COVID is revealing the private prayerlessness of saints. Anemic personal prayer lives left the door wide open for COVID-Carnality. Far too many saints were utterly dependent on corporate prayer gatherings. They barely made it from prayer meeting to prayer meeting, and they had no real prayer times between corporate gatherings. Even worse, while in those church prayer meetings, they were mooching off the anointing of a handful of godly prayer warriors in their midst. Meaning, they didn’t know how to touch God for themselves, so they needed others to usher in the anointing on their behalf.

Prayer gatherings are essential, COVID is revealing the private prayerlessness of saints. Anemic personal prayer lives left the door wide open for COVID-Carnality.

The solution is simple yet profound at the same time; our churches need a revival of private prayer closets. I fervently believe in the gathering together of the Church for prayer, worship, and the Word. But the assembling of saints is not a substitute for personal spiritual disciplines. In Matthew 6:5-13, Jesus teaches about prayer during His famed sermon on the mount. He instructs us not to imitate the hypocrites’ prayer lives: …when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. (Matthew 6:5). Jesus wasn’t telling us that we should never pray together or in public, but He was stressing the importance of private prayer that isn’t contrived. The hypocritical Pharisees loved public prayer but shunned private prayer. Their reward wasn’t the blessings of God but the accolades of men.

Our churches need a revival of private prayer closets. I fervently believe in the gathering together of the Church for prayer, worship, and the Word. But the assembling of saints is not a substitute for personal spiritual disciplines.

Spiritual Vaccination

Jesus continued saying: …when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly (Matthew 6:6). Private prayer has public results. Again, we have tons of Bible mandating corporate prayer, but Jesus carefully taught us that corporate prayer must be an extension of our secret prayer lives. While giving us an example of how to pray, Jesus said: And lead (bring) us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen (Matthew 6:13, Amplified Bible). Do you see it? Our private prayers should invite God to deliver us and guide us away from temptation. Consistent personal prayer is a vital component in the vaccine against COVID-carnality.

Private prayer has public results (Matthew 6:6). We have tons of Bible mandating corporate prayer, but Jesus carefully taught us that corporate prayer must be an extension of our secret prayer lives.

Our private prayers should invite God to deliver us and guide us away from temptation. Consistent personal prayer is a vital component in the vaccine against COVID-carnality.

Adding Diligence to Divine Promises

“May grace (God’s favor) and peace (which is perfect well-being, all necessary good, all spiritual prosperity, and freedom from fears and agitating passions and moral conflicts) be multiplied to you in [the full, personal, precise, and correct] knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. For His divine power has bestowed upon us all things that [are requisite and suited] to life and godliness, through the [full, personal] knowledge of Him Who called us by and to His own glory and excellence (virtue). By means of these He has bestowed on us His precious and exceedingly great promises, so that through them you may escape [by flight] from the moral decay (rottenness and corruption) that is in the world because of covetousness (lust and greed), and become sharers (partakers) of the divine nature. For this very reason, adding your diligence [to the divine promises], employ every effort in exercising your faith to develop virtue (excellence, resolution, Christian energy), and in [exercising] virtue [develop] knowledge (intelligence), And in [exercising] knowledge [develop] self-control, and in [exercising] self-control [develop] steadfastness (patience, endurance), and in [exercising] steadfastness [develop] godliness (piety), And in [exercising] godliness [develop] brotherly affection, and in [exercising] brotherly affection [develop] Christian love. For as these qualities are yours and increasingly abound in you, they will keep [you] from being idle or unfruitful unto the [full personal] knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One). For whoever lacks these qualities is blind, [spiritually] shortsighted, seeing only what is near to him, and has become oblivious [to the fact] that he was cleansed from his old sins”.

2 Peter 1:2-9, Amplified Bible

I hope you read that entire passage because it gives the final additives to spiritual vaccination against COVID-Carnality. First, the apostle Peter defines godly peace as the absence of moral conflicts. Perfect peace comes from God as a result of godliness. The Divine power of God comes through the correct knowledge of Jesus. Understanding who God is and knowing Him invites His favor and power into our lives. We can’t know God without faith. We know God through faith, and He gives us all the things needed to serve Him properly. Remembering the promises of God is crucial to maintaining faith, which is the opposite of carnality. The ultimate promise of God is that we will be with the Lord in Heaven for eternity. When we sincerely long for that promise, it takes our affections off the things of this world. The knowledge of God and His promises are achieved through prayer, Bible study, and spiritual discipline. Remembering the promises of God helps us escape the moral decay of this world.

The ultimate promise of God is that we will be with the Lord in Heaven for eternity. When we sincerely long for that promise, it takes our affections off the things of this world.

The knowledge of God and His promises are achieved through prayer, Bible study, and spiritual discipline. Remembering the promises of God helps us escape the moral decay of this world.

The apostle Peter implores us to diligently remember the promises of God, which increases our faith. Then Peter goes on to list the final additives to the ingredients of spiritual vaccination from carnality. Add to your faith virtue (moral excellence). Add to virtue knowledge (of good and evil). Add to knowledge temperance (self-control). Add to temperance patience (steadfastness, endurance). Add to patience godliness. Add to godliness brotherly affection. Add to brotherly affection charity (love). As we add these things into our lives, our faith becomes effective and productive. Those who fail to add these things to God’s promises diligently are shortsighted and forgetful of their old sins. They are highly susceptible to COVID-Carnality and in great danger of falling away from God.

“So, dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away. Then God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”.

2 Peter 1:10-11, New Living Translation

Continued COVID-Carnality Vaccination

The vaccination against carnality is a constant process. But it’s not something your pastor or anyone else can do for you. To be sure, God designed the Church to help us and strengthen us in this process. But having church is no substitute for prayer and diligent faith. Whether or not COVID caused or effected current carnality matters little in the grand scheme of things. What matters now is that we vaccinate ourselves from carnality moving forward. God can turn this into good and usher in great revival if we learn how to serve Him in this season. Perhaps God is preparing the Church for victory by sifting the carnal out from among us much as He did for Gideon at the spring of Herod (Judges 7:1-8). At that spring, God dwindled Gideon’s army down to 300 men by separating the fearful and less watchful from the rest. I pray God doesn’t have to sift us down that drastically. Either way, let’s commit ourselves to fearless faith and a careful posture so we can be a part of the astonishing things God is about to accomplish.

Perhaps God is preparing the Church for victory by sifting the carnal out from among us much as He did for Gideon at the spring of Herod (Judges 7:1-8).

God dwindled Gideon’s army down to 300 men by separating the fearful and less watchful from the rest. Let’s commit ourselves to fearless faith and a careful posture so we can be a part of the astonishing things God is about to accomplish.

What About Hell? – Everything You Need to Know

Satan’s Hellish Scheme

If I were Satan and wanted to influence people to be less concerned about their eternal soul, I would stir up lots of confusion about Hell. And, that is what he’s done. Hell was a relatively non-controversial doctrine for centuries. It’s one of only a handful of universally agreed-upon doctrines in history. Of course, post-modernism is defined by disagreement and predisposed to disregard Truth. So, it shouldn’t surprise us that Hell became a hotly contested, controversial theology. However, Satan’s misinformation campaign is silently creeping its way into apostolic thinking like a spider stalking prey. This confusion about Hell is deeply concerning, and it’s time to shed some light on Satan’s hellish scheme.

Why Are People Confused About Hell?

Before we dive into specific false doctrines, we need to understand why we’re having this problem in the first place. Somehow, preaching about Hell became taboo. I believe this happened and is happening for several reasons: 1) Preachers are unprepared to defend the paradox of God’s love and judgment. 2) Preachers are afraid modern hearers can’t handle the truth about Hell. 3) Some preachers haven’t “settled” a theology about Hell in their hearts. 4) Preachers are afraid of being labeled wild-eyed lunatics. 5) Many ministers don’t believe in “scaring” people into Heaven. 6) They sense that Hell is a taboo subject and simply give in to peer pressure. 7) Some preachers wanted to distance themselves from genuinely distasteful, hellfire preachers. 8) Preachers are being influenced by mainstream misinformation about Hell that isn’t rooted in solid biblical exegesis. When preachers are silent, saints become vulnerable to every wind of false doctrine.

Sadly, saints ingest lots of false doctrine via “Christian” television, radio, social media, and literature. They read, see, and hear misinformation all the time. Christians who are not comfortable seeking out their own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12) are highly susceptible to believing misinformation about Hell (or anything else for that matter). It’s easy to blame preachers; however, saints are responsible for growing in God’s Word themselves without being spoon-fed every vital thing from a minister. Listen to the frustration in the Apostle Paul’s writings as he reprimands saints in the following passage for their lack of biblical knowledge and understanding:

” …you have become dull in your [spiritual] hearing and sluggish [even slothful in achieving spiritual insight]. For even though by this time you ought to be teaching others, you actually need someone to teach you over again the very first principles of God’s Word. You have come to need milk, not solid food. For everyone who continues to feed on milk is obviously inexperienced and unskilled in the doctrine of righteousness (of conformity to the divine will in purpose, thought, and action), for he is a mere infant [not able to talk yet]! But solid food is for full-grown men, for those whose senses and mental faculties are trained by practice to discriminate and distinguish between what is morally good and noble and what is evil and contrary either to divine or human law (Hebrews 5:11-14, Amplified Bible).”

Finally, the Devil knows his time is limited. He’s intensifying and strategically honing his attacks. Although Revelation 12:12 is speaking of a future event prophetically, it gives insight into how the Devil operates: …rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the Devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time (Revelation 12:12). When Satan is running out of time, he hits harder. Time itself is wrapping up, and even if the Church isn’t fully aware of it, the Devil is.

Why Does It Matter What People Believe Concerning Hell?

Technically, it might be possible to have an incorrect understanding of Hell and be saved, but false doctrine damages other essential areas of our walk with God. For example, if Hell isn’t a real, painful, never-ending place, why in the world would we need to evangelize? Without a correct belief in the horrors of Hell, we are unlikely to carry a real burden for the lost or take the Great Commission seriously (Matthew 28:18-20). After all, what do people need to be saved from in the first place?

It is correct that people are not likely to be terrified into a good relationship with God. However, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 9:10). That word fear is best-translated reverence. Which means awe mingled with healthy fear. I respectfully submit that our culture (religious and non-religious) has lost its sense of reverence for God. Wisdom begins with fear, which leads to a proper understanding of God (Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 9:10). We can’t know God without reverence (fear mingled with awe). An improper view of Hell results in a wrong knowledge of God. All false doctrines have ever-expanding unintended consequences. So, while it might be correct that people will not serve God long-term out of fear because ultimately, we must fall in love with the Lord, the beginning of our relationship with God must include some healthy fear. If we bypass reverence on the way to love, our walk with God will be off-balance.

If we bypass reverence on the way to love, our walk with God will be off-balance.

The Terror of the Lord!

Consider this passage of Scripture where the Apostle Paul speaks briefly of death: …to be absent from the body, … [is] to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). He continues by saying that we labor to be present with the Lord in death (2 Corinthians 5:9). Then Paul pens these politically incorrect words:

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God… (2 Corinthians 5:10-11).”

Paul is carefully emphasizing that we will all stand before the Lord in judgment for the things we have done in this life. And, because we have this holy fear of God, we are motivated to reach people with the Gospel so they can stand before the Lord blamelessly. Genuine Christians are highly determined to reach lost people because they understand the fearsome judgment of God. If God’s adjudication is not dreadful, there is little reason to feel an urgency about evangelism. Indeed, it makes sense Satan would create an aura of confusion around the subjects of God’s wrath and Hell.

We All Need A Healthy Fear of Hell

Look at this often-overlooked passage where Jesus startles His audience:

Dear friends, don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that. But I’ll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into Hell. Yes, he’s the one to fear (Luke 12:4-5, New Living Translation).”

I love how Jesus started gently and then… Wham! He pounced like an old-time preacher (actually the old-timers were preaching like Jesus), telling them to fear God and shun Hell. The word throw could also be translated hurl, which gives a little more gravitas to the message: …Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then hurl you in Hell…. Yeah! That’s pretty terrifying. But Jesus didn’t end the sermon with fire and brimstone. He gave us a beautiful example to follow in our preaching and teaching. Watch how Jesus brought that gut-wrenching thought back around to the overwhelming love of God:

What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So, don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows (Luke 12:6-7, New Living Translation).”

This snippet of Jesus’ preaching shows us precisely how to strike a balance between fearing and loving God. Indeed, as we realize just how majestically awesome God is, we grow to love Him more. But if one views God as the great-big-cuddly-teddy-bear in the sky, one is more likely to disrespect and disobey God. It can’t be helped; we keep circling back around to Proverbs: …the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 9:10). We all need to begin and end with a healthy dose of fear. We just can’t be saved if we don’t fear God and Hell.

Common False Doctrines About Hell: Metaphorical View

The metaphorical view of Hell is growing in popularity despite its lack of biblical support. In the metaphorical doctrine, the unsaved will spend eternity in Hell. But the extreme pain and environmental conditions described in the Bible are not interpreted literally. The biblical descriptions of fire, heat, bondage, darkness, thirst, worms, pain, flogging, fire, etc. are considered symbolic. Proponents of this doctrine believe separation from God to be the ultimate pain of eternity. To them, the only agony endured in Hell will be the agony of complete Divine divorce. As Billy Graham once stated: I have often wondered if Hell is a terrible burning within our hearts for God, to fellowship with God, a fire that we can never quench. Billy Graham leaned towards the metaphorical view of Hell.

Common False Doctrines About Hell: Purgatorial View

The Roman Catholic Church is unique its purgatorial view of Hell. According to this doctrine, everyone is judged by God immediately after death. Only a small minority of saints will go directly into Heaven. God will send most people to purgatory, a place of punishment (basically a temporary Hell). Most Catholics believe that people are released by God from purgatory into Heaven after a certain length of time. Purgatory is like a cosmic prison sentence ending with a ticket into paradise. There is not one iota of Scripture supporting this false view of Hell.

Common False Doctrines About Hell: There Is No Hell

A small minority of Christians claim there is no Hell at all. In their doctrine, unsaved people cease to exist at death. They incorrectly cite Romans 6:23: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord. They interpret this Scripture to mean that death is the ultimate and final wage of sin. They are fond of saying death always means literal death in the Bible, and therefore Hell as a place should never be taken literally.

However, they overlook Luke 15:24: For this son of mine was dead and is alive again (New International Version). They ignore the symbolic use of life and death repeatedly used in Romans 7. Also, they fail to contend with Scriptures like Genesis 2:17: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. In this passage, God was speaking directly to Adam and Eve. We know Adam and Eve eventually did the exact thing God told them not to do, but they didn’t instantly fall over dead. Did God lie to them? Of course not, they died spiritually on that fateful day, and literal death entered into the world as an inescapable reality.

All this and more affirms safely interpreting Romans 6:23 to mean the wages of sin is spiritual death and eventual literal physical death. However, even if you are uncomfortable with this interpretation of Romans 6:23, it does nothing to prove Hell is not a real place. Literal death is an attached consequence to original sin from Genesis 2 and on. We know from a vast array of other Scriptures that death is the precursor to judgment, and judgment is the precursor to Heaven or Hell. This doctrine misinterprets one Scripture, and blatantly ignores obvious passages describing Hell’s realities and eternal damnation.

Common False Doctrines About Hell: Hell Isn’t That Bad

In his classic book The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis envisions Hell as a dreary, bothersome, almost pleasant place, whose inmates can take a day trip to the outskirts of Heaven. This biblically illiterate view of Hell seems to be pop culture’s favorite. Pop music often refers to Hell as a kind of eternal party for the naughty. Nearly everyone casually and exhaustively uses Hell as a curse word. Television and movies like to portray Hell as an obnoxious, almost silly place of torment-ish. For many, Hell might even be considered preferable to Heaven.

Common False Doctrines About Hell: Hell Is Only Temporary

This false doctrine is the evangelical version of purgatory. The lost are sentenced to Hell for a particular length of time, depending on their sinfulness while on earth. When the sentence has ended, the sinner experiences a second death, and their soul is extinguished by God forever. Adherents to this doctrine abandon belief in the immortal soul, and they are forced to become extremely creative with several passages of Scripture. A spin-off of this doctrine believes (much like Catholics) that after a severe sentence is completed, the fire purified soul will be admitted by God into Heaven. I concur with this comment by Stanley Horton: It is hard to see why the Cross would be necessary if the lake of fire could provide another means of salvation.[i]

Is Hell A Divine Overreaction to Sin?

“In no way does man reveal his littleness more effectively than when he exhibits surprise over the fact that there are realities in the universe which he cannot understand. The permission of sin in the universe by a sovereign, holy God who hates sin to an infinite degree, the damage it does to uncounted multitudes of beings—angels and men—whom He loves with a Creator’s love, and the fact that sin must demand of God the greatest sacrifice He could make, all this only tends to enlarge the mystery involved.”[ii]

In no way does man reveal his littleness more effectively than when he exhibits surprise over the fact that there are realities in the universe which he cannot understand.” -Lewis Sperry Chafer

Wrestling with the profound weight of Divine retribution upon sinful humanity is troubling. It requires a great deal of humility to accept our inability to understand how evil sin is and how it conflicts with God’s absolute holiness. We know because Scripture revealed it, that God’s holy answer to unrepentant sin is perdition and retribution. Serving the Lord with real honesty requires growing comfortable with the mysteries of God. Human arrogance assumes that it can always find the answer or solve the puzzle. However, in God’s economy, we aren’t guaranteed every answer to every question, at least not in this life. Deuteronomy 29:29 applies nicely: The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

It requires a great deal of humility to accept our inability to understand how evil sin is and how it conflicts with God’s absolute holiness.

Trying to understand why God will punish sin with eternal suffering isn’t wrong. Job indeed sought understanding in his torment, but he did so without sinning or charging God foolishly (Job 1:22). Consider this: “Sins may be committed by unbelievers or believers, both of whom are injured by it and require grace. Sins may be committed against God, others, self, or some combination. Ultimately, however, all sin is against God (Psalm 51:4, Luke 15:18, Luke 15:21).”[iii] God alone reserves the right to avenge sin (Psalm 94:1, Romans 12:19). But we can take comfort knowing that He takes no pleasure in punishing sinners (Ezekiel 18:23, Ezekiel 33:11, 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9). The reality of Hell, combined with the revelation of God’s overwhelming love, should elucidate just how grave sin is. It’s not merely that God refuses to be compatible with sin. Instead, God’s unchanging nature makes it impossible for Him to coexist with evil (Malachi 3:6, James 1:17, Hebrews 13:8). Humanity is grossly underreacting to sin; God’s response to sin has been consistent since the beginning of time.

The reality of Hell, combined with the revelation of God’s overwhelming love, should elucidate just how grave sin is.

It’s not merely that God refuses to be compatible with sin. Instead, God’s unchanging nature makes it impossible for Him to coexist with evil

Humanity is grossly underreacting to sin; God’s response to sin has been consistent since the beginning of time.

Will There Be Different Levels of Punishment in Hell?

I believe the Bible affirms there will be varying degrees of punishment in Hell (Matthew 10:15. Matthew 11:22, Matthew 12:36-37, Luke 12:47-48, Romans 2:5, Hebrews 10:26-31). All the lost will suffer for their sin; for some, that suffering will be worse than for others. Hebrews 10:26-31 is one of many compelling passages indicating various degrees of judgment:

“…if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (English Standard Version).

People who do not believe in various punishment levels for individuals in Hell reduce the throne of judgment into a sham where God pretends to be fair. The Bible is clear that God will be so entirely just in His decisions that not one person will claim unfair treatment (1 Peter 1:17, Romans 2:11, Colossians 3:25, Romans 3:19, Revelation 19:1-2). God will judge in absolute righteousness (Acts 17:31). His decisions will not be limited to who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell. God will also assign punishments in perfect fairness. Every lost soul will receive a personalized sentence directly from their Creator.

What Criteria Will God Use to Determine Levels of Punishment?  

The Gospel Coalition lists three biblically sound considerations: 1) The extent to which a person has abandoned himself to sin (Matthew 5:21, Romans 2:5, Revelation 18:6-7). 2) The extent to which a person by example and influence led others to sin (Matthew 18:5-7, Mark 9:38-47, Matthew 23:13). 3) The extent to which a person abused their exposure to revelation and opportunity (Luke 12:47-48, Romans 2:12, Matthew 10:15, Matthew 11:22-24).[iv] I believe that age and mental capacity will also be taken into consideration by God (Genesis 18:25). Furthermore, God will evaluate things we have never contemplated in this world (Psalm 19:7-14).

There is No Hope in Hell!

There is no biblical basis for holding onto any hope that grace will extend past this life into eternity. As Chafer eloquently points out:

“Such a case should not be considered as being without precedent. Uncounted legions of angels have sinned, and for them, there is not the slightest intimation to be found in the Bible, which extends to them a ray of hope. By Divine decree, these angels are already consigned to the lake of fire, not under a possible proviso that this doom will be averted if, in the meantime, they repent; but they are arbitrarily, unrevokably consigned to retribution and that without remedy. Since God has said, without condition, that the fallen angels will be cast into the lake of fire, He would be found untrue should the destiny of the fallen angels be otherwise.” [v]

Chafer continues by pointing out the utter lostness of the Gentiles from Adam to Moses. Their pagan plight is chronicled in Romans 1:18-32, as those who willfully rejected God. Three times in one context, Scripture declares that God abandoned them to their sinful ways. Ephesians 2:12 shows just how emphatically God discarded the Gentiles before the New Covenant: …at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. No more decisive terms could be used than men being without Christ, without promise, without God, and without hope.Furthermore, God destroyed the entire earth with water, and at least two cities with fire because of humanity’s iniquity; all this judgment came before God gave mankind a Bible or a Messiah.[vi] Chafer concludes with a mind-altering thought: The result of any unprejudiced investigation into God’s revealed truth respecting fallen angels and God-rejecting Gentiles of past ages will be a conviction that the marvel of it all is not that sinners are lost, but that they are ever saved.[vii]

“…the marvel of it all is not that sinners are lost, but that they are ever saved.” -Lewis Sperry Chafer

Does Hell Just Mean the Grave?

It’s essential to address one final objection often raised against Hell being a place of eternal torment. There’s a convoluted idea floating around, which asserts that the Hebrew word Sheol (the KJV sometimes translated Sheol as Hell, sometimes as the grave, and sometimes as the pit) always means the grave and does not refer to the afterlife at all. Others erroneously contend that Sheol always refers to Hell (if you’ve Googled articles about Hell, you’ve likely read an article fervidly arguing this fallacy). One is used to undermine biblical teachings regarding Hell, and the other is an overzealous attempt to uphold orthodox teachings about the afterlife. Horton handily dismantles the myth that Sheol only means the grave:

“Actually, Sheol is often described as a depth that contrasts with the height of Heaven (Job 11:8, Psalm 139, Amos 9:2). Often, the context refers to God’s anger or wrath (Job 14:13, Psalm 6:1-5, Psalm 88:3-7, Psalm 89:46-48), and sometimes to both wrath and fire (Deuteronomy 32:22). In some cases, the references are brief, and it seems it is treated simply as the place or the state of the dead. In it, the dead are called rephaim, what we might call “ghosts” (Isaiah 14:9, Isaiah 26:14). Other passages refer to some of the dead as elohim, in the sense of “powerful spirit beings” (1 Samuel 28:13). But very often, it is clear that Sheol is the place for the wicked and “all the nations that forget God” (Psalm 9:17, Psalm 39:12–13, Psalm 55:15, Psalm 88:11–12, Proverbs 7:27, Proverbs 9:18, Isaiah 38:18). Where the New Testament quotes Old Testament passages referring to Sheol, it translates the word by Hades, which it sees, not as the vague place pagan Greeks talked about, but as a place of punishment.”[viii]

Interestingly, in Acts 2:27, Peter quotes Psalm 16:10, clearly understanding Sheol as Hades. It’s perfectly proper to link the Old Testament (Sheol) and New Testament (Hades) verbiage together with the word Hell. Also, it’s incorrect to assume ancients did not believe in the afterlife. Enoch and Elijah did not taste death because the Lord took them directly to Heaven (Genesis 5:24, 2 Kings 2:11). David believed he would “dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23:6, Psalm 16:11, Psalm 17:15).” David speaks of being redeemed from Sheol’s power (Psalm 49:15), indicating his desire to be with God rather than in Sheol in death. The psalmists Asaph spoke of being received into “glory” at death (Psalm 73:24). Another phrase seems to indicate Old Testament saints expected an afterlife. God told Moses that after he went up the mountain and looked across to the Promised Land: You too will be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was (Numbers 27:13). But Aaron was buried at Mount Hor, and no one knows where God buried Moses (Deuteronomy 34:5–6). Therefore, being “gathered to one’s people” does not refer to the grave.[ix]

How Does the Bible Describe Hell?

Jesus intimated that Hell was initially designed for Satan and other fallen angels (Matthew 25:41). Revelation 20:14 reveals that Hell will contain a horrific lake of fire. After the Final Judgment of God (Revelation 20:11-15), the lost will experience continual and unimaginable suffering and torment. In contrast to Heaven, where there will be no more tears (Revelation 21:4), there will be dreadful weeping and gnashing (or grinding) of teeth in Hell (Matthew 8:12). This gnashing suggests, among other things, the pain will perpetually cause people to grind their teeth in agony (Matthew 8:12, Matthew 22:13, Matthew 24:51, Matthew 25:30). Numerous times Jesus mentioned hellfire or the fires of Hell (Matthew 5:22, Matthew 29:30, Matthew 18:19, Mark 9:43-47). Jesus called the fire everlasting, leaving no doubt that Hell’s torments are eternal (Matthew 25:41). Jesus underscored the seriousness of Hell, saying it would be better to cut off your hand or foot or pluck out your eye, rather than use any of those things sinfully and be cast into Hell (Mark 9:43-47).

Some find it troubling that Jesus mentions outer darkness in the context of Hell (Matthew 22:13). 2 Peter 2:4 references chains of darkness, and some also find that hard to reconcile with the fiery images of Hell the Bible typically evokes. But this is hardly proof of biblical errancies, the afterlife will defy our sense of logic, and it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that God created dark hellfire. Beyond that, we know that Hell will be large and is ever-expanding (Isaiah 51:4). Scripture doesn’t specify that every square inch of Hell will be fiery or that every square inch will be dark. Hell may have significantly different regions throughout its length and breadth. We probably know less about Hell than we know.

In Mark 9, Jesus abruptly ends His ominous comments about Hell by mentioning worms that never die and fire that never goes out (Mark 9:48). The word translated Hell in Mark 9:43 is the Greek word Gehenna, which comes from the Hebrew name for a place called the Valley of Hinnom.[x] Jesus used this place to paint a vivid mental picture of Hell. Gehenna was Jerusalem’s giant garbage dump located on the southern outskirts of town. In the past, children were sacrificed to idols by pagan parents in Gehenna (2 Kings 23:10); in Jesus’ day, it was a place burning with constant fires to devour the city’s trash. The things burned there included everything from household trash to animal carcasses to convicted criminals (Jeremiah 7:31–33). Jesus was quoting from Isaiah 66:24, and the worm mentioned in connection with dead bodies means grub or maggot. Maggots bring the awful imagery Jesus intended to conjure sharply into focus.

The Bible gives us enough information about Hell to know; avoiding it should be life’s paramount priority. Nothing is more crucial than diligently ensuring we enter Heaven and escape the anguishes of Hell. Jesus lovingly and compellingly asked His disciples: What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul? (Matthew 16:26). Then Jesus asked another rhetorical question: Is anything worth more than your soul? (Matthew 16:26). Satan challenged God on this very subject while seeking to destroy the righteousness of Job. Satan argued that a man would give everything he has for his life (Job 2:4). He was wrong about Job, but countless others have traded their righteousness for temporary things. Again, Jesus cautioned us to prioritize heavenly things above earthly things encouraging us to store up treasures in Heaven, not on the earth (Matthew 6:19-21). All of creation and God’s Word compel us to live with eternity at the forefront of our minds.

The Bible gives us enough information about Hell to know; avoiding it should be life’s paramount priority. Nothing is more crucial than diligently ensuring we enter Heaven and escape the anguishes of Hell.

All of creation and God’s Word compel us to live with eternity at the forefront of our minds.

How Can I Escape the Torment of Hell?

The ultimate question is, how can a person be guaranteed to avoid Hell in the afterlife? This, of all questions, should be searched after with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). Yet, many people think very little about the salvation of their souls. Tragically, one of Satan’s magnificently malicious victories is convincing generations of people that salvation is easy, cheap, and convenient. The average person spends more time searching for temporal pleasures than searching for redemption. Yet, salvation is not found with casual commitment or through convenient conversion. The Bible says that even righteous people barely escape Hell; think of the awful fate awaiting those who have not obeyed the Gospel (1 Peter 4:17-18)? That alone should remove any casual or careless approaches towards the discussion of salvation. Especially knowing it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31). The God who created the universe and Heaven and Hell is the only One able to tell us how to be saved. And, He chose to reveal the answer to us through the Bible (His Holy Word).

Tragically, one of Satan’s magnificently malicious victories is convincing generations of people that salvation is easy, cheap, and convenient.

The average person spends more time searching for temporal pleasures than searching for redemption. Yet, salvation is not found with casual commitment or through convenient conversion.

The God who created the universe and Heaven and Hell is the only One able to tell us how to be saved. And, He chose to reveal the answer to us through the Bible (His Holy Word).

There is only one place in all Scripture where people specifically ask: What must we do to be saved (Acts 2:37)? The Apostle Peter gives the most transparent, concise response possible in the following verse: …Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38). That precise formula is the only way to be birthed (John 3:3, 1 Peter 1:23) into the Kingdom of God. At the heart of the Gospel is the teaching that we must undergo our own spiritual death, burial, and resurrection just as Jesus did physically (Romans 6:3-8, Galatians 2:20, Colossians 2:12-13).

Essentially, repentance is our spiritual death (Galatians 5:24, Romans 6:11, Galatians 2:20, 1 Peter 2:24, Romans 6:6), baptism in Jesus’ name is our spiritual burial (Romans 6:3-4, Colossians 2:12-13), and the infilling of the Holy Ghost is our spiritual resurrection (Romans 6:5, Colossians 3:1, Romans 8:8-14). Furthermore, the infilling of the Holy Ghost is first evidenced by supernaturally speaking in unknown (previously unlearned) tongues (languages) just as they did in the book of Acts (Mark 16:17, Acts 2:4, Acts 10:46, Acts 19:6) and every time from then on. And, baptism is only salvific when done in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12, Colossians 3:17, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Galatians 3:27, Acts 10:48, Romans 6:3).

Baptism is only salvific when done in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12, Colossians 3:17, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Galatians 3:27, Acts 10:48, Romans 6:3).

After we are obedient to the fullness of the Gospel, all the old sinful things pass away, and we become a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). We walk in agreement with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). Meaning, God not only saves us from our past sin, but He also empowers us with His own Spirit to live righteously (2 Peter 1:3-4). The extra good news of the Gospel is that God doesn’t just save us and leave us the same: He saves us, changes us, dwells within us, and continues to strengthen us daily. Now that’s excellent news, and we’ve only scratched the surface of what it means to be transformed by the power of God.

The extra good news of the Gospel is that God doesn’t just save us and leave us the same: He saves us, changes us, dwells within us, and continues to strengthen us daily.

Hell Motivates Christians Morally

Grudem lists four ways the doctrine of Hell influences our lives morally: 1) It satisfies our inward sense of a need for justice in the world. 2) It enables us to forgive others freely. 3) It provides a motive for righteous living. 4) It gives an excellent motive for evangelism.[xi] Engrained in the complexity of human nature is the desire to see justice served. The doctrine of Hell assures us God is in control and that justice will be done in the end. Because that is true, we can forgive without worrying about final judgments. We must love God to serve Him truly, but there are seasons where the fear of Hell keeps us on a righteous path. Finally, the doctrine of Hell should compel us to go into all the world, preaching the Gospel out of concern for the lost (Matthew 28:16-20).

The doctrine of Hell should compel us to go into all the world, preaching the Gospel out of concern for the lost (Matthew 28:16-20).

I sincerely hope this article has been helpful, informative, and compelling to you. If so, please consider sharing this article with a friend. If you are uncomfortable sharing it publicly on social media, consider printing it out and giving it to a friend or loved one. I realize Hell and the afterlife is an uncomfortable topic for many people to discuss openly. Maybe this article can be a good starting point to open up a dialogue between you and people you know and love. If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me, and I will respond accordingly. As always, thank you for reading and may God bless you.


[i] Stanley M. Horton, Systematic Theology, Revised; Accordance electronic ed. (Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 2007), 654.

https://accordance.bible/link/read/Horton-Theology#4606

[ii] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology Kregel/Accordance electronic ed. 8 vols.; Dallas: Dallas Theological Seminary, 1976), 4:427.

https://accordance.bible/link/read/Chafer-Theology#5341

[iii] Stanley M. Horton, Systematic Theology, Revised; Accordance electronic ed. (Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 2007), 280.

https://accordance.bible/link/read/Horton-Theology#1295

[iv] Degrees of Punishment in Hell | The Gospel Coalition

[v] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology Kregel/Accordance electronic ed. 8 vols.; Dallas: Dallas Theological Seminary, 1976), 4:429-430.

https://accordance.bible/link/read/Chafer-Theology#5342

[vi] I highly recommend Sodom Had No Bible, Leonard Ravenhill.

[vii] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology Kregel/Accordance electronic ed. 8 vols.; Dallas: Dallas Theological Seminary, 1976), 4:430.

https://accordance.bible/link/read/Chafer-Theology#5343

[viii] Stanley M. Horton, Systematic Theology, Revised; Accordance electronic ed. (Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 2007), 608.

https://accordance.bible/link/read/Horton-Theology#2785

[ix] Stanley M. Horton, Systematic Theology, Revised; Accordance electronic ed. (Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 2007), 609.

https://accordance.bible/link/read/Horton-Theology#2789

[x] David G. Shackelford and E. Ray Clendenen, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, s.v. “HELL,” paragraph 7790.

https://accordance.bible/link/read/Holman_Dictionary#7790

[xi] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Bits & Bytes/Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 1148.

https://accordance.bible/link/read/Grudem-Theology#12731

COVID-19 (A Christian Manual for Navigating Uncertain Times)

An unseen microscopic viral enemy is bringing the world economy to its knees and taking lives. Whether you believe the worldwide response has been warranted or irresponsible the impact of COVID-19 is tangible and far reaching. Secular and religious organizations alike have been forced to make difficult choices in these uncertain times. Churches are closing their doors to corporate worship and frantically ramping up live stream capabilities. Even now, we just aren’t sure how long this threat will last.

Because this is all so unprecedented and strange (for modern times) there’s not many resources teaching us how to think or react to the events unfolding around us. Godly saints are especially vulnerable during this time of disconnection between one another and pastoral leadership. Opinions abound, but wisdom and common sense are precious, hard to find commodities. Consider this a starter manual for spiritually navigating these uncertain times. This beginner manual will certainly need to be updated and revised over time, and applied to new and changing situations. However, it’s at least a start as we all prayerfully wait on the Lord.

Gathering Still Matters!

While nobly attempting to remain boldly optimistic, many leaders and saints have overblown the impact of having virtual church. This sends mixed messages to people about the continued need for the Church to gather together for corporate worship on a regular basis. Just because we temporarily can’t have church, doesn’t mean we aren’t desperately in need of having church.

To clarify, I’m all for live streaming and getting the Gospel out with every high-tech or low-tech tool available. However, nothing can, should, or will replace the necessity of the assembling of the Church. Beyond that, live streaming isn’t some sparkling new thing that just materialized because of the Corona pandemic. It’s been around for a long time and it can be a great blessing in certain situations. But, it simply cannot compare to what happens when God’s people get together and unify in faith, fellowship, worship, praise, prayer, preaching, and power.

Yes. The Church is not a building. Yes. The Church should be the Church outside of the building. But everyone stuck at home, watching live streaming in their pajamas while eating Lucky Charms, isn’t exactly an epic unleashing of the Church. It’s great to be positive, but let’s not be silly and trivial about the importance of corporate worship.

Trust Your Pastor In Times of Crisis

I’ll echo what many wise folks have already voiced: Your pastor has never pastored in a pandemic before, and he wants what’s best for the church more than anyone else. Pastors are doing their absolute level best to love, protect, and care for their flocks during this crazy and confusing time. They have to answer to God for the decisions they make during this season. They don’t need Monday morning quarter backs criticizing their every decision.

It’s important to note that God may direct one pastor differently than another pastor. Every church has a different dynamic. If you’ve ever trusted your pastor, trust him during this time. If you’ve ever supported your pastor, support him during this time. Your support means more to him than you can imagine. Either you believe your pastor is a God-called under-shepherd over your life or you don’t. Times of crisis reveal the heart; take inventory of your heart in times of crisis.

Speaking of the Heart

If mass social distancing and quarantines have taught me anything, it’s that we have taken too many luxuries for granted. Other nations struggle with hunger, but we feel majorly distressed if we can’t find our favorite brand of coffee creamer. We are, without a doubt, a spoiled people. We are totally unfamiliar with genuine sacrifice or deprivation.

We take our freedoms for granted, including our religious liberties, because we have been too busy and distracted with luxuries. As a nation, we have trended towards less and less church gatherings, and many Christians casually skip church for silly non-essential reasons.

We Americans make plenty of time for the internet, social media, Netflix, and sports; yet we struggle to find time for prayer and spiritual gatherings. This reveals an American heart problem. We are busy doing everything, except for the things that matter the most. Suddenly, when church buildings are temporarily closed our deep need for spiritual connectedness becomes crystal clear.

Many Christians are learning for the first time that sports are little more than a frivolous distraction from reality. We can and should spend more time with our families. Careers aren’t everything and economies and markets are fickle friends that will betray us without warning. Governments can’t save us or even really protect us from every threat. In other words, uncertain times clarify the things that truly matter in our lives. It gives us perspective. And, hopefully a fresh wellspring of gratitude for God and family is bursting into our national consciousness.

The things we care about most are far more fragile than we realize when the busyness of life jerks us from activity to activity. Maybe, just maybe, God is trying to slow us down long enough to remember to keep the main things the main thing. No. I don’t mean that God sent a COVID-19 plague upon the world. However, I do believe God would have us learn lessons in our crisis moments.

Speaking of Crisis Moments

Many people’s finances are being adversely impacted by the quarantines. Jobs are disappearing at staggering rates. Others are enduring layoffs and having their hours slashed. Businesses and small business owners are going under while others are hanging by a thread. If you aren’t being financially effected, you probably know many people who are being effected right now.

With that said, churches still need supported so they can survive this crisis too. If you still have income (be grateful) and be sure to get your tithes to the storehouse of God. Don’t take a vacation from giving God what is already His. That’s a sure way to lose His blessings over your life.

I’ve heard many reports of churches that are unable to pay their regular bills. Newer churches, and smaller to midsize churches in large numbers are facing financial collapse if things don’t change soon. There’s no government bailout for churches. And the church shouldn’t need a government bailout anyway. Let’s just keep being the Church like they were in the book of Acts. If the Early Church could find a way to faithfully give (without the internet) in the middle of literal physical persecution, we can too.

We Always Do Better Under Pressure

God’s true Church has always thrived under pressure. In fact, we seem to spiritually flourish in tough times and become spiritually anemic in times of ease. That was certainly true of the original book of Acts Church, and we see that same phenomenon in the great revivals and spiritual awakenings throughout history. Tremendous apostolic outpourings of the Holy Ghost were poured out during the Great Depression. Those revivals continued to spread even during the first and second World Wars. History is replete with examples of powerful revivals in crisis seasons and spiritual decline in seasons of prosperity. Just look at the reports from economically depressed, and physically oppressed countries outside of the United States. They have constant miracles, church growth, signs, wonders, and spiritual hunger in those regions. Why? Because the Church thrives under pressure and persecution.

But why does the Church thrive under pressure? And, why does the Church seem to struggle with prosperity? I could get very preachy and talk about how the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10), but it’s deeper than just loving money and stuff too much. That’s just part of the overall problem. I think (and I’m preaching to myself), in times of ease we lean to our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6) rather than leaning on the Lord. We rely on ourselves more and rely on God less. Essentially, we take God for granted without even meaning to do so. But times of crisis push us back into the arms of Christ. Pressure keeps us razor sharp and keenly focused on God. When we run out of options and resources, we come sheepishly back to our Creator for rescue. And, He rescues us because He loves us with a deep love.

This Will Pass

We’ll move from this valley to a mountaintop, and dip back into another valley. There’s a time and a season for everything under the sun (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). Perhaps God will teach some of us how to cry out to Him in our distress and face our fears and faithlessness (Mark 4:37-41). Maybe God will show some of us that we can walk on water and overcome the impossible if we keep our eyes fixed on Him (Matthew 14:22-33). How wonderful would it be if the Church rediscovered the power and importance of prayer meetings like the book of Acts Church (Acts 2:1-2, Acts 4:23-24, Acts 12:5-12, Acts 16:25)? The Church can and will continue to turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6) in the midst of pressure. However, when the pressure passes, let’s keep the lessons and priorities we have learned close to heart.

Dear Preacher – They’re Rejecting Jesus, Not You

American preachers don’t receive much up-front, in-your-face rejection. Sure, the occasional person might get up and walk out during a sermon. People walk in and out so much during preaching these days it’s hard to know if they are upset or just running to the water fountain.

People who study these things are finding that if someone walks through the doors of your church they have already researched your beliefs online pretty thoroughly. Meaning, if they were really likely to be overtly offended they probably just wouldn’t attend in the first place.

While people may not be throwing rotten eggs at us, preachers do experience rejection in more indirect ways. The visitor who never returns. The saints who skip across town because we refuse to reinterpret the Bible for their favorite sin. The subtle crossed arms and slanted eyebrows that glare back at us while preaching a particularly convicting passage of Scripture. The tragic altar call where the sinner leans back rather than running to repent. Passive aggressive anonymous letters of disapproval.

Experienced preachers develop the ability to glance around a congregation and discern immediately who is rejecting and who is receiving the message God has given them for that service. That ability can become either a motivation, a distraction, or a discouragement. In worst case scenarios, one person rejecting the Word can mentally overshadow a room full of people who are receiving the Word with gladness.

Frankly, there are times after preaching that I leave incredibly discouraged because I couldn’t reach that one person. That preoccupation sometimes keeps me from rejoicing over other lives that were deeply touched by God.

I was discussing this weakness in my personality with a friend recently and he promptly dropped a little conviction grenade right into my psychological bunker. He said, “Ryan, don’t you hear the arrogance in your statement?” I was a little stunned and self-righteous until he repeated my words back verbatim, “…I leave incredibly discouraged because I couldn’t reach…” Then he paused and let the grenade explode, “Ryan you’re saying a lot of me’s and I’s, don’t you know that you just plant the seed and God gives the increase?”

How quickly preachers can forget that we are just the messengers. We aren’t the attraction. Sometimes we are a distraction, but we certainly are not the attraction. The Word is the seed and all we can do is cast the seed and pray that it takes root on good ground (Matthew 13:1-23). Often my discouragement is rooted in my own hubris rather than anything truly sincere. Don’t get me wrong, I want to preach as compellingly as possible. I want to be persuasive like the apostle Paul and passionate like the apostle Peter. But in the end, my abilities can’t save a single soul.

The apostle Paul taught that we are simply ambassadors of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). We represent reconciliation between God and man (2 Corinthians 5:19). We speak on behalf of God. The message is not ours. The Gospel was not our idea. It’s not a commodity with a sales quota attached. When the Word is rejected they aren’t rejecting us they are rejecting Jesus.

Jesus knew that His ambassadors would be tempted to judge the success or failure of ministry by the metric of popularity. He knew that rejection would feel like a personal failure. He knew that we would struggle with our own unique blends of pride and insecurity. He knew that we would be prone to despiritualizing the Gospel and relegating it down to humanistic abilities. So, Jesus gathered the twelve disciples together and sat them down to tell them, and by extension us, when they reject you they are really rejecting Me. Look at this uncomfortable reminder from Jesus:

“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you (Matthew 5:10-12).”

You can’t be truly Christlike unless you are willing to suffer rejection for His sake. In fact, if you haven’t been rejected or reviled in a while you’re probably not a true ambassador.

Please don’t take me out of context, I’m not advocating running around trying to prove how spiritual we are based on how many people reject the Gospel. But it is freeing to know that as ambassadors we can only proclaim what we have been given by our King to proclaim. If we are rejected it is for His sake, and we must shake the dust from our feet (Matthew 10:5-15) and keep preaching the Good News.

How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things (Romans 10:14-15)!”

File Oct 04, 10 52 32 PM

File Sep 07, 1 51 18 PM

File Sep 07, 1 51 32 PM

File Sep 07, 1 51 03 PM

File Sep 07, 1 50 31 PM

File Sep 15, 11 37 31 AM

IMG_2407

File Sep 07, 3 03 19 AM

Don’t Settle for an iTunes Version of the Gospel

My kids inherited their daddy’s deep love for music. Unfortunately, they’re also picky and opinionated about the music we listen to on a regular basis (also something they inherited from me). My iron-fisted reign over the music played in the car is being overthrown a little more each day. Complicating things even further, my kids aren’t in total unity about which songs are “super great”. So, when they both really like a particular singer a little shred of heavenly peace fills our daily commutes.

Recently, we accidentally discovered Matthew West, a Christian solo artist. His lyrics are godly and the kids are wild about it. Julia loves Becoming Me and Talmadge thinks Amen is the anthem of the ages. After about a week straight of playing the “Anthem of the Ages” and the “Sweetest Song Ever Penned” I simply couldn’t take it anymore. It turns out, you can have too much of a good thing. So today, I gathered the kiddos around my outdated iPhone, fired up the iTunes store and started sifting through all the Matthew West songs available. Fifteen dollars bought us all a little much-needed peace and sanity.

For those that don’t know, when you’re searching for music on the iTunes store it allows you to listen to short clips of the songs before making a purchase. This had my kids up in arms. They reasoned that people can’t possibly decide if they like a song in just a few seconds. Which is kinda true. Their recommendation was to just buy every song, but Matthew West has a big musical portfolio and that was out of the question. So, we settled for doing our best to sort out which songs we truly enjoyed with limited information.

This whole process conjured up all kinds of happy memories from my childhood. Memories I happily shared with my kids. They were shocked to hear that in the good old days you couldn’t buy one song at a time and store them on your phone. They gasped at the concept of having to buy an entire CD and needed a detailed explanation of the word cassette tape. My eyes probably shined with joy telling stories of running into the Family Christian Store to buy the newest Steven Curtis Chapman album and listening to the entire thing from beginning to end. Not only would I listen to every word of every song, I’d open that slipcover and read all the lyrics, credits, and thank you’s too. Yep. Those are some of my favorite childhood memories.

Those days are long gone. The only album I’ve purchased in full in the last several years is this one – and you should too. In fact, people typically buy one song per album. Usually, it’s a song they heard on the radio and anyone with any musical taste knows the radio hit is rarely the best song on the album (told you I was musically opinionated). We miss so much great music in the age of iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, and whatever the other newfangled digital platform is ascending nowadays. We bypass wonderful songs because the little five-second clip doesn’t do it justice. We totally ignore songs because they’re not on the local Christian radio charts. Charts that increasingly seem to only have about five songs in rotation.

I may be pining for the old days now but in reality, I love the convenience of not carrying 300 CD’s around in my car. Also, it’s nice having all my music available at the touch of a button. Music is much cheaper when you aren’t forced to buy the entire album. In other words, there’s no going back now. And musically speaking, maybe that’s fine.

Every cultural revolution and technological advancement has unintended (or at least corresponding) sociological consequences. For example, many people approach the Bible like an iTunes playlist. They get little biblical snippets here and there, mostly from easily accessible digital sources. They’re familiar with the top ten Bible verses, but rarely know the context or framework of their favorite scriptures. Their theology and resulting understanding of the Gospel is based on sound clips and abbreviated versions that sound great but lack depth and richness. This is evidenced by nationwide lagging attendance during midweek Bible study services. And further demonstrated by Christians who lack transformation and basic biblical knowledge. For unbelievers, they see and hear the lack of mainstream Christianity’s depth and want nothing to do with that slick, naive, cheap, polished brand of empty believe-ism.

It’s not possible to pick and choose the “highlights” or the “best of” moments of the Bible and leave the rest out. Jesus put it this way: “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word the proceeds out of the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).” Many churches are filled with sincere unsaved people who have not truly obeyed God’s Word because they unwittingly settled for an iTunes version of the Gospel. And the world is full of people who have rejected the iTunes version of the Gospel because they easily recognized it as inconsistent, indefensible, and unsatisfying. You see, cheapening the Gospel doesn’t make it more palatable, it actually renders it worthless to the world. A little fly in the perfume gives the whole bottle a bad smell (Ecclesiastes 10:1).

The saving power of the Gospel is more than mental assent, a moment of sincere belief, or an ecstatic emotional experience. Simply stated, the Gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Before you can even enter into the plan of salvation you must believe that God exists and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6). Many people believe in the idea of God but reject Jesus. But to embrace the Gospel we first must believe that Jesus Christ is both Lord and Savior (Acts 16:31, John 3:18, John 4:42).

At the heart of the Gospel is the teaching that we must undergo our own spiritual death, burial, and resurrection just as Jesus did physically (Romans 6:3-8, Galatians 2:20, Colossians 2:12-13). There is one recorded instance in the Bible where bystanders clearly asked a question about salvation (Acts 2:37). Peter gives the most concise biblical answer in the following verse and everyone in the early Church followed that apostolic foundation for salvation. The apostle Peter preached: “…repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38).” That precise formula is the only way to be birthed (John 3:3, 1 Peter 1:23) into the Kingdom of God.

Essentially, repentance is our spiritual death (Galatians 5:24, Romans 6:11, Galatians 2:20, 1 Peter 2:24, Romans 6:6), baptism in Jesus’ name is our spiritual burial (Romans 6:3-4, Colossians 2:12-13), and the infilling of the Holy Ghost is our spiritual resurrection (Romans 6:5, Colossians 3:1, Romans 8:8-14). Furthermore, the infilling of the Holy Ghost is first evidenced by supernaturally speaking in unknown (previously unlearned) tongues (languages) just as they did in the book of Acts (Mark 16:17, Acts 2:4, Acts 10:46, Acts 19:6) and every time from then on. And, baptism is only salvific when done in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12, Colossians 3:17, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Galatians 3:27, Acts 10:48, Romans 6:3).

After we are obedient to the fullness of the Gospel all the old sinful things pass away and we become a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). We walk in agreement with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). Meaning, God not only saves us from our past sin, He empowers us with His own Spirit to live righteously (2 Peter 1:3-4). The extra good news of the Gospel is that God doesn’t just save us and leave us the same: He saves us, changes us, dwells within us, and continues to strengthen us daily. Now that’s really good news, and we’ve only scratched the surface of what it means to be transformed by the power of God.

I know that isn’t the slick version of the Gospel many people have seen on TV or heard on the radio. It doesn’t fit nicely on a bumper sticker. God didn’t design the Gospel to blend in with our overly commercialized culture. No. The Gospel is timeless, changeless, and sacred. Please don’t settle for an iTunes version of the Gospel that doesn’t save or satisfy.

Whataboutism (Why It’s Wrong)

Whataboutism is an old word gaining fresh attention primarily because of the obnoxious world of politics. Don’t worry; this isn’t a political post. Whataboutism is a debate technique that deflects criticism by pointing out the wrongdoings (whether real or perceived) of others.

Oxford Dictionaries defines it as “the technique or practice of responding to an accusation or difficult question by making a counter-accusation or raising a different issue.”

Whataboutism is a debate technique that deflects criticism by pointing out the wrongdoings (whether real or perceived) of others.

Essentially, whataboutism uses misdirection in the form of a rhetorical question. My kids use whataboutism all the time. Recently, while scolding my daughter because her room was a disaster, she responded by asking, “What about Bubs?” At that point, she was smirking at the profundity of her argument. She continued with what she considered to be the knockout punch, “You haven’t told him to clean his room, and it’s messier than mine.” And presto, she felt vindicated. In her mind, she had accomplished two things: 1) unveiled hypocrisy by pointing out a lack of consistency, and 2) justified her wrong behavior by focusing on her brother’s wrong behavior. In doing so, she was trying to evade the question and shift the blame.

Essentially, whataboutism uses misdirection in the form of a rhetorical question.

Every kid I’ve ever known skillfully employs the whataboutism technique. I certainly did (I can hear my mother shouting “Amen”). It’s a childish artful dodge. And yet, whataboutism has become the rhetorical loophole of choice for adults who don’t want to discuss the merits of biblical morality. Whataboutism is the favorite self-justification of the average backslider. They shout, “What about all the Christian hypocrites?” And my response to them is the same response I gave my nine-year-old daughter, “Someone else’s wrongdoing doesn’t make your wrongdoing ok.”

It’s a childish artful dodge. And yet, whataboutism has become the rhetorical loophole of choice for adults who don’t want to discuss the merits of biblical morality.

Whataboutism is the favorite self-justification of the average backslider. They shout, “What about all the Christian hypocrites?” My response to them: Someone else’s wrongdoing doesn’t make your wrongdoing ok.

As I’ve said before, many Christians embraced gay marriage because they saw Christians committing adultery, divorcing, and fornicating. They said and still say regularly, “You’re against gay marriage, but what about that TV preacher who cheated on his wife?” Well, what about it? Two things can be true at once: 1) homosexuality is a sin, and 2) Christians can be sinful hypocrites. But finger-pointing doesn’t make my sin or your sin somehow magically acceptable.

Two things can be true at once: 1) homosexuality is a sin, and 2) Christians can be sinful hypocrites. But finger-pointing doesn’t make my sin or your sin somehow magically acceptable.

There’s a compelling case of whataboutism in the Bible involving David and his oldest brother Eliab (1 Samuel 17:22-29). David had just arrived at the battlefield with food for his brothers, only to find the entire army of Israel hiding from Goliath. David started asking around about the situation. He rightfully felt indignation that a pagan giant was being allowed to defy the armies of the living God. But when Eliab overheard David’s questions, Eliab grew angry, probably because he was feeling a surge of guilty humiliation. “What are you doing around here anyway?” he demanded. And then he dropped the hammer, “What about those few sheep you’re supposed to be watching?” And there it is, whataboutism on full display. Eliab didn’t stop there, “I know your pride and deceit. You just want to see the battle,” he sputtered at his little brother.

Eliab resorted to a defensive posture when faced with his naked cowardice by insinuating that David was equally imperfect. He projected his own reprehensible character flaws onto his brother. Thankfully, David didn’t let that stop him from doing the right thing. Whataboutism always carries a whiff of resentment with a dash of accusation. If there isn’t any actual hypocrisy for a whataboutist to exploit, they’ll simply make something up. The argumentative whataboutism spirit of Eliab is alive and well today. Christians must resist the pressure to succumb to this toxic brand of self-justification. Jesus addressed the natural human desire to justify our bad behavior with someone else’s bad behavior. He said:

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you (Matthew 5:43-44).”

The message is clear, just because your enemy was hateful first doesn’t mean you get to be hateful too or excuse hatefulness in others. Jesus wasn’t a hypocrite either. He talked it and lived it. Speaking of Calvary, the Apostle Peter wrote:

“Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness… (1 Peter 2:23-24).”

Although unjustly judged, Jesus left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. The work of the cross allows us to live unto righteousness. Christians are new creatures in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). That means we don’t get to play the whataboutism game. We don’t get to say, “They did it first!” In other words, we aren’t reactionary. We stand stationary on the Rock that is Christ Jesus. Oh, and the next time someone starts pointing out all the imperfect Christians to excuse their sin, just point them towards Jesus.

Christians are new creatures in Christ Jesus. That means we don’t get to play the whataboutism game. We don’t get to say, “They did it first!” In other words, we aren’t reactionary. We stand stationary on the Rock that is Christ Jesus.

The next time someone starts pointing out all the imperfect Christians to excuse their sin, just point them towards Jesus.

“For He hath made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).”