Buried Alive (The Gospel According to the Bible)

The fear of being buried alive has been around for centuries. But it was especially prevalent during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The famed horror poet Edgar Allen Poe wrote nightmarishly about fantastical scenarios of people being buried alive on several occasions. The societal fear of premature burial became so prolific it eventually led to the invention of the safety coffin, an odd contraption with a string leading up from the coffin to a tiny bell placed near the gravestone. The idea being, if someone found themselves buried alive, they would ring the bell and hope someone would hear them and dig up their prematurely buried body. The safety coffin has been reinvented many times over the centuries. Even today, high-tech versions of the safety coffin are available for exorbitant prices.

Pulse Check Please

Interestingly, and debatably, several modern expressions are derivatives of the safety coffin era. For example, out of concern that someone buried alive might ring a bell in the middle of the night, a new shift was added to church graveyards called the “graveyard shift.” We also get expressions like “dead ringer” and “saved by the bell” from that historical period. Thankfully, modern medicine has done much to eliminate people’s fears of being buried alive. Regardless, some people still have irrational fears of waking up in a coffin underneath an immovable mountain of dirt. Admittedly, I get the shivers and chills if I let my imagination run wild. It’s difficult to imagine anything more horrifying than realizing you have been buried alive and there’s nothing you can do about it. Let’s just say I want my gravedigger to check and double-check my pulse before they plop me in the ground. Why? Because burying living things is barbaric, cruel, and torturous. On the other hand, burying dead things is humane, kind, and decent.

Repentance Check Please

If you are baptized without properly repenting, it is equivalent to being spiritually buried alive. Yes! It really is that dramatic and problematic. If you are baptized without repentance, you’re just getting wet. It does absolutely nothing for you in terms of salvation. We should make sure the sinful nature has been crucified to death with repentance before stirring the waters of baptism. Check for a pulse before burial because to be buried alive creates all kinds of spiritual problems. Pastors, we aren’t doing anyone any favors rushing them to baptism if they aren’t dead.

If you are baptized without properly repenting, it is equivalent to being spiritually buried alive. Yes! It really is that dramatic and problematic. If you are baptized without repentance, you’re just getting wet.

We should make sure the sinful nature has been crucified to death with repentance before stirring the waters of baptism. Check for a pulse before burial because to be buried alive creates all kinds of spiritual problems.

God Doesn’t Resurrect Living Things

I’ve noticed a trend in my church (and other churches as well). It’s pretty easy to convince people they need to be baptized. However, it’s difficult convincing people they need to repent and receive the Holy Ghost. I think there are several reasons for this, and one of them is the traditional and cultural acceptance of water baptism. But it goes deeper than just culture; baptism is the easiest part of the salvation process. Think about it. Only you can repent of your sins. No one else can repent for you, and it’s a painful, bloody, messy, tearful, gut-wrenching process when you face your wretchedness head-on. Our flesh doesn’t die easily, and many people avoid genuine repentance altogether. Which sadly keeps them from ever receiving the Holy Ghost (unless they repent at a later time). Meaning they just stay buried alive and are never resurrected because God doesn’t resurrect living things. God only resurrects crucified hearts that are ready for a new life.

Only you can repent of your sins. No one else can repent for you, and it’s a painful, bloody, messy, tearful, gut-wrenching process when you face your wretchedness head-on.

God only resurrects crucified hearts that are ready for a new life.

The Easy Part of the Gospel

Furthermore, the infilling of the Holy Ghost is something that only God can do for us. The Holy Ghost is our spiritual resurrection. The stone over our tomb rumbles and rolls away as we go from death to new life in Christ. The Spirit of God fills our empty hearts with power, presence, and purpose. We surrender and believe we will receive it by faith, but ultimately, we don’t fill ourselves with the Holy Spirit. That can be a little intimidating for people because it requires faith and trust in the unseen and the unknown. Most people have not previously surrendered to God in that way, and they aren’t exactly sure how to do it.

The infilling of the Holy Ghost is something that only God can do for us. The Holy Ghost is our spiritual resurrection. The stone over our tomb rumbles and rolls away as we go from death to new life in Christ.

The Spirit of God fills our empty hearts with power, presence, and purpose.

We surrender and believe, but we don’t fill ourselves with the Holy Spirit. That’s intimidating for people because it requires faith in the unseen. People haven’t surrendered to God in that way, and they aren’t sure how to do it.

On the other hand, baptism is simple because it’s the one thing someone else can do for you. All you have to do is let someone put you under the water in Jesus’ name. However, we could do with some old-fashioned fear of being spiritually buried alive. Let’s not rush people to premature burials that will leave them traumatized and unchanged. Otherwise, we are guilty of giving false comforts of pseudo salvation to people who haven’t been crucified with Christ and died to sin. Baptism is powerful and life-changing when done biblically, but it can do more harm than good when done incorrectly.

Let’s not rush people to premature burials (baptisms) that will leave them traumatized and unchanged. Otherwise, we are guilty of giving false comforts of pseudo salvation to people who haven’t been crucified with Christ and died to sin.

Baptism is powerful and life-changing when done biblically, but it can do more harm than good when done incorrectly.

The Gospel Graphic

I created this simple graphic to explain how to be saved according to the Bible. Unfortunately, many people will tell you how to be saved according to tradition or opinion but what they describe isn’t even close to what the Bible teaches. I think we are often guilty of trying to oversimplify the Gospel so people can understand and accept it easily. We should try to keep it as simple as the Bible presents it, but we must be careful not to bypass vitally important elements of the process. And it is a process. You can’t be saved in fifteen seconds or less. Anyone who tells you differently is skipping lots of essential things. For example, two things must happen before you can repent of your sin: One, you must have faith that God is and that He is a rewarder of people who diligently seek Him. Two, you must realize you are bound by sin and unworthy of God’s grace. If you don’t have faith that Jesus lived, died, was buried, and resurrected for your sin, nothing else matters. The entire salvation process begins and ends with faith. If you think you are basically a good person that doesn’t need saving all that badly, the whole process will be meaningless to you because you won’t repent properly, and you won’t receive the Holy Spirit.

Unfortunately, many people will tell you how to be saved according to tradition or opinion but what they describe isn’t even close to what the Bible teaches.

We are often guilty of trying to oversimplify the Gospel so people can understand and accept it easily. We should try to keep it as simple as the Bible presents it, but we must not bypass vitally important elements of the process.

Two things must happen before you can repent of your sin: One, you must have faith that God is and that He is a rewarder of people who diligently seek Him. Two, you must realize you are bound by sin and unworthy of God’s grace.

If you think you are basically a good person that doesn’t need saving all that badly, the whole process of salvation will be meaningless to you because you won’t repent properly, and you won’t receive the Holy Spirit.

Sin is a Bigger Deal Than You Might Think

We all tend to view ourselves as kinder, nicer, more well-meaning, sincere, and good than we actually are. Also, our day’s prevailing philosophy believes that sincerity is like an ultimate golden ticket to Heaven. The rule of emotion and feelings has toppled the worship of reason and logic. Essentially, this is humanism (self-worship): I think myself to be good; therefore, I must be good. But what if evil feels good to us? Historically millions of wrongs have been sincerely committed by people who believed they were righteous. Even scarier, what if good things feel wrong to us? This happens all the time, faithfulness and self-sacrifice are demanding things, and our feelings deceptively convince us that selfishness is virtuous. Of course, none of this takes God by surprise. The Bible warned against the danger of trusting our hearts (feelings, emotions) centuries ago. Humanity’s egoistical affinity towards looking inwards rather than upwards to God is one of many prevailing flaws ingrained in the sinful human condition.

We all tend to view ourselves as kinder, nicer, more well-meaning, sincere, and good than we actually are. Also, our day’s prevailing philosophy believes that sincerity is like an ultimate golden ticket to Heaven.

The rule of emotion and feelings has toppled the worship of reason and logic. Essentially, this is humanism (self-worship): I think myself to be good; therefore, I must be good.

Humanity’s egoistical affinity towards looking inwards rather than upwards to God is one of many prevailing flaws ingrained in the sinful human condition.

Centuries of humanistic philosophy and false religion have resulted in a general indifference towards sin. Oh, sure, most people consider murder or senseless violence sinful or immoral. Dusty unused Bible’s demonstrate that people aren’t consulting Scripture to define sin and illuminate right living. Most sin is viewed like a speed limit, just a good suggestion, and it can be broken just as long as you don’t go too far above it. Plus, we keep changing the speed limits (sin limits) to fit our feelings all the time. Meaning, most people don’t care about the limits God originally put into place at all. They’re speeding along through life without a care and feeling comfortably self-righteous. Meanwhile, God is grieved, and His nail-scarred hands reach for us lovingly.

Centuries of humanistic philosophy and false religion have resulted in a general indifference towards sin.

Most sin is viewed like a speed limit, just a good suggestion, and it can be broken just as long as you don’t go too far above it. Plus, we keep changing the speed limits (sin limits) to fit our feelings all the time.

Most people don’t care about the limits God originally put into place. They’re speeding through life without a care and feeling comfortably self-righteous. Meanwhile, God is grieved, and His nail-scarred hands reach for us lovingly.

Sin is the focal point of the Gospel. Our frail, fallen, finite, sinful human condition required a sacrifice. Since no human born of Adam’s lineage could ever be a perfect sacrifice, God robed Himself in flesh and overshadowed a virgin named Mary. She miraculously conceived the Messiah (God with us) named Jesus. Because Jesus had no earthly father, the Bible refers to Him as the son of God. It is biblically false and theologically inaccurate to consider Jesus to be a preexisting, eternal, coequal, separate being from God the Father. Jesus was the human manifestation of the Father. Jesus answered Phillip’s request to see the Father by saying, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you?” (John 14:9, NLT). Our sin, no matter how mild it may seem to our carnal minds, nailed Jesus to the cross. Failure to take our sinfulness seriously is an insult to the suffering of Jesus. Failure to die to our sin is a blatant disregard of the significance of Calvary.

Sin is the focal point of the Gospel. Our frail, fallen, finite, sinful human condition required a sacrifice. Since no human born of Adam’s lineage could ever be a perfect sacrifice, God robed Himself in flesh.

Because Jesus had no earthly father, the Bible refers to Him as the son of God. It is biblically false and theologically inaccurate to consider Jesus to be a preexisting, eternal, coequal, separate being from God the Father.

Jesus was the human manifestation of the Father. Jesus answered Phillip’s request to see the Father by saying, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you?” (John 14:9, NLT).

Our sin, no matter how mild it may seem to our minds, nailed Jesus to the cross. Failure to take our sin seriously is an insult to the suffering of Jesus. Failure to die to our sin is a blatant disregard of the significance of Calvary.

Your Tomb Should Be Empty Too

Suppose you boil down every page of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. In that case, it’s the story of sin separating us from a loving, intimate relationship with God and God’s love finding a way to draw us out of sin back into a relationship with Him. You see, God’s holy perfection isn’t compatible with our sinful imperfections. Therefore, God made a way for us with His blood to be washed clean and sanctified (made holy). Once you are dead and buried, you’re ready for resurrection. The only reason we know who Jesus is today is because of His resurrection. It’s beautiful that Jesus died for us, but, miraculously, He conquered death for us. Jesus didn’t die for you to die with Him and stay buried. God wants to breathe His Spirit into your lifeless spiritual body and raise you up with the power to be a new person. His tomb is empty, and yours should be too. If you’ve been buried in baptism but haven’t received the Holy Ghost speaking in other tongues, it’s the spiritual equivalent of staying stuck in your tomb. There’s a great song by the Christian group Cain called Rise Up (Lazarus) that says:

Can't you hear the voice of Jesus calling us
Out from the grave like Lazarus
Rise up (like Lazarus) rise up, rise up
Out from the grave like Lazarus
He's calling us to walk out of the dark
He's giving us new resurrected hearts

What a powerful anthem reminding us that Jesus is calling us to resurrection power. There’s no reason to stay dead when Jesus is offering us new life. The new life Jesus offers is wonderful, powerful, abundant, eternal, joyful, purposeful, hopeful, and supernatural. Once you have been filled with the Holy Ghost, you have the ability (power, authority, desire) to walk in the Spirit and not the flesh. Meaning you no longer have to be a slave to sin. It’s not just that you are freed from the penalty of sin, but you can overcome sin. Old chains of sin and temptation can be broken, and you can access liberty in the Spirit.

If you boil down every page of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation; it’s the story of sin separating us from a loving, intimate relationship with God and God’s love finding a way to draw us out of sin back into a relationship with Him.

Jesus didn’t die for you to die with Him and stay buried. God wants to breathe His Spirit into your lifeless spiritual body and raise you up with the power to be a new person. His tomb is empty, and yours should be too.

If you’ve been buried in baptism but haven’t received the Holy Ghost speaking in other tongues, it’s the spiritual equivalent of staying stuck in your tomb.

There’s no reason to stay dead when Jesus is offering us new life. The new life Jesus offers is wonderful, powerful, abundant, eternal, joyful, purposeful, hopeful, and supernatural.

Differing Definitions (Freedom & Bondage)

One of the oddest issues facing our culture is the mishandling of words. Even among “Christians,” we frequently use the same words, but our definitions differ. Two perfect examples are the words “freedom” and “bondage.” Many self-professing “Christians” have accused me of living in bondage because I live a biblical, holy, separated, consecrated, Spirit-led lifestyle. As the Bible teaches, I believe that God saved me from my past sin and calls me to walk in holiness. That doesn’t mean I’ve obtained perfection. He’s definitely still working on me, but it does mean I’m actively walking away from bondage rather than living in bondage to sin. This is what the Bible means when it refers to freedom and liberty. However, many Christians ignore the Bible and redefine freedom from sin as the freedom to sin freely without consequences. In other words, according to their way of thinking, the cross gives them the liberty to keep sinning. Do you see the disparity? We have completely opposite and opposing views of biblical freedom and bondage. Problematically, Christians of all stripes can use the same language but mean totally different things. Therefore, it’s vitally important to narrow down and lock in our definitions. Otherwise, we run the risk of saying things without honest communication taking place. “Grace” and “mercy” are two other words people often misuse, misunderstand, and misdefine (but that’s another subject for another day).

Many Christians ignore the Bible and redefine freedom from sin as the freedom to sin freely without consequences. In other words, according to their way of thinking, the cross gives them the liberty to keep sinning.

Christians of all stripes can use the same language but mean totally different things. It’s vitally important to narrow down and lock in definitions. Otherwise, we run the risk of saying things without honest communication taking place.

The Gospel According to the Bible

Thankfully, God knew defining definitions and homing in on the correct meaning of words would be difficult. Human dishonesty and forgetfulness constantly rearrange connotations. This is precisely the reason God preserved His Word for us in written form. God charges us with the responsibility to rightly (correctly) divide (accurately handling and skillfully teaching) the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15). Therefore, any information regarding how to be saved from sin and eternal judgment can only come from the Divinely inspired Word of the Lord. Anything else is less reliable than a thirty-day weather forecast. Most Christians agree with the premise that the Gospel must be obeyed according to the Bible. However, many Christians mysteriously misinterpret, add non-biblical elements of tradition, insert opinions, or overlook inconvenient sections of Scripture, diluting the Gospel into something ineffectual. The early New Testament Church certainly would not have recognized most modern gyrations of the “Gospel” presented in churches claiming to be Christian.

Human dishonesty and forgetfulness constantly rearrange connotations. This is precisely the reason God preserved His Word for us in written form.

Many Christians mysteriously misinterpret, add non-biblical elements of tradition, insert opinions, or overlook inconvenient sections of Scripture, diluting the Gospel into something ineffectual.

The early New Testament Church certainly would not have recognized most modern gyrations of the “Gospel” presented in churches claiming to be Christian.

The Gospel Summarized: A Beginning with No End

Salvation begins by acknowledging you need a savior and that Jesus is the only risen Savior (John 3:16, John 1:12, Romans 10:9, Romans 3:23). You must have faith in God and believe that His Word is accurate (Hebrews 11:6, Ephesians 2:8-9, Ephesians 6:16, 1 Corinthians 2:5). Not only are we sinners, but we were born under the grip and curse of human sin (Romans 5:12, Romans 7:14, Psalm 51:5). You must respond to the sorrow you feel over your sin by repenting before God. Repentance is more than “I’m sorry.” Repentance means to turn around and go the other direction. In other words, repentance is the determination and decision to stop sinning (Romans 6:6, Acts 2:38, Acts 3:19, Acts 17:30).

Repentance is more than “I’m sorry.” Repentance means to turn around and go the other direction. In other words, repentance is the determination and decision to stop sinning.

Once you have repented of your sin, you are spiritually and symbolically dead and ready for burial (water baptism in Jesus’ name) [Acts 2:38, Mark 16:16, Acts 22:16, Romans 6:4, Colossians 2:12, Acts 2:41]. Again, it’s vital to be buried (baptized) exactly as the Bible commands. The word baptism literally means to be “immersed” in something. Just like we wouldn’t sprinkle dirt on a dead body and say burial was complete, we wouldn’t splash water on a dead sinner and call them buried either. Recently, I saw a video of a man being baptized standing in a kiddie pool. The pastor poured a bottle of water over the poor man’s head and pronounced him baptized. If it weren’t so tragic, it would be utterly hilarious.

The word baptism literally means to be immersed in something. Just like we wouldn’t sprinkle dirt on a dead body and say burial was complete, we wouldn’t splash water on a dead sinner and call them buried either.

Because there is so much misinformation surrounding baptism, we need to make three things very clear: One, as already mentioned, you must correctly repent before baptism. Two, you must be wholly immersed (submerged, buried, covered, plunged) in water for the remission (washing away) of your sin. By the way, this is why babies cannot and should not be baptized because a baby can’t understand the Gospel and repent properly. Three, and this one is probably the most important and most debated subject concerning baptism, the person baptizing you must baptize you calling on the name of Jesus (Acts 2:38, Acts 4:12, Acts 10:48, Acts 22:16, Galatians 3:27). To clarify further, the person baptizing you must not call out the “titles” Father, Son, or Holy Ghost (or any other name or title) because the titles don’t have the saving authority of the name of Jesus. The cleansing power of baptism comes primarily from invoking the name that is above every other name, the name of Jesus. If you have been baptized in a way that is not biblical, you should consider being rebaptized correctly immediately (Acts 19:1-5).

The cleansing power of baptism comes primarily from invoking the Name that is above every other name, the name of Jesus. If you’ve been baptized any other way, you should consider being rebaptized correctly immediately (Acts 19:1-5).

Once you have died and been buried, you are ready to be resurrected (filled with the Holy Ghost). Here’s a little secret, if the Holy Spirit doesn’t resurrect you, eventually, your old flesh will come back to life. In fact, even after you are resurrected, your flesh will keep trying to come back to life (we’ll talk about that next). Without the Holy Ghost, you can’t access newness of life, and you are not a new person in Christ Jesus. Remember, everything about salvation must be done according to the Bible. And, according to the Bible, everyone who receives the Holy Ghost for the very first time will supernaturally speak in tongues (in a language they do not know or understand). Of course, there are many other continuing evidences that a person has been filled with God’s Spirit (Galatians 5:22) but speaking in other tongues is the very first evidence God requires (Acts 2:4, Acts 2:38, Acts 10:44-46, Acts 19:6, Mark 16:17, 1 Corinthians 14:2, Acts 19:1-7).

According to the Bible, everyone who receives the Holy Ghost for the very first time will supernaturally speak in tongues (in a language they do not know or understand).

There are many other evidences a person has been filled with God’s Spirit (Galatians 5:22) but speaking in other tongues is the very first evidence God requires (Acts 2:4, Acts 10:44-46, Acts 19:6, Mark 16:17, 1 Corinthians 14:2, Acts 19:1-7).

Once you have been resurrected (filled with the Spirit), you are like a newborn baby in the family of God. That’s why we often call it being born again (John 3:3, 1 Peter 1:3). At this point, your life is just beginning. It’s an exciting, abundant, wild, scary, adventurous, joyful, powerful, overcoming life walking in the Spirit. Everything changes once you have been filled with the Spirit. God will rearrange you from the inside out. The Bible calls this process of becoming holy like the Lord sanctification. The Holy Spirit will convict, correct, purify, strengthen, empower, and encourage you daily. No area of your life is off-limits to the Spirit. There is nothing the Spirit isn’t allowed to change, rearrange, or eject from your life. Furthermore, there are countless things the Spirit will add to your life that you could not have otherwise. This ongoing process of walking in the Spirit is never-ending. The Gospel is a process with a beginning and no end. It’s a complete restart, do-over, new beginning, lifelong relationship with God. Count the cost in advance because living for God will cost you everything you have, but it will give you more than you could ever imagine. The Gospel isn’t just a checklist you complete and then forget about as you move through life unchanged. No. The Gospel is radically refining, totally transforming, and Divinely disrupting. Walking in the Spirit will take you through the valley of the shadow of death and to mountain peaks of triumph. Life in the Spirit is never boring. And the afterlife benefits are without compare.

Everything changes once you have been filled with the Spirit. God will rearrange you from the inside out. The Bible calls this process of becoming holy like the Lord sanctification.

The Holy Spirit will convict, correct, purify, strengthen, empower, and encourage you daily. No area of your life is off-limits to the Spirit. There is nothing the Spirit isn’t allowed to add, change, rearrange, or eject from your life.

The Gospel is a process with a beginning and no end. It’s a complete restart, do-over, new beginning, lifelong relationship with God. Count the cost in advance because living for God will cost you everything you have, but it will give you more than you could ever imagine.

The Gospel is radically refining, totally transforming, and Divinely disrupting. Life in the Spirit is never boring. And the afterlife benefits are without compare.

Apostolic Voice | Ep. 21 – Buried Alive

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The Top 10 Articles of 2020

I’d like to offer my warm thanks for your continued readership and support of the Apostolic Voice blog. And, for those that also listen to the new Apostolic Voice podcast, I’d like to thank you as well. It’s become a tradition at the beginning of each new year to post the top ten articles that trended in the previous year. Last year a few sleeper articles made a surge, and several staple pieces held steady in the rankings. Surprisingly, 2020 was, statistically speaking, our most dynamic year yet. Although, that probably shouldn’t have been a surprise considering all the quarantine time we all endured. I remain humbled that you would read and share my sincere rantings, beliefs, opinions, and insights.

The red marks every area of the globe Apostolic Voice reached in 2020.

For those who have been reading from the beginning, you’ve noticed I’ve made an effort to update and refresh the site. Hopefully, it is more user-friendly and easier to search for past articles. Initially, I intended to write predominantly about current events (and in the beginning, I did), but time has led me to write mostly about timeless truths. I pray you are blessed in this new year.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christ… | Podcast Edition

From the original blog article, It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christ… this episode examines what genuine repentance looks like from a Christmas perspective. Topics covered: Holiness, repentance, baptism in Jesus’ name, and the Holy Ghost’s infilling. Ryan looks at the winter’s perceptual dichotomy in the natural, repentance in the spiritual, and the cross of Christ. Christmas readings included: If Jesus Came to Your House and The Christmas Guest, two classics that are sure to warm your heart. So, from my family to yours… Merry Christmas!

Ep. 21 | Buried Alive – The Gospel According to the Bible – PFR Fight Apostolic Voice with Ryan French

Ryan explains how baptism without repentance is like being buried alive from the http://www.ryanafrench.com article Buried Alive – The Gospel According to the Bible. Ryan explains why definitions matter and how differing definitions cause people to miscommunicate the Gospel. Most importantly, Ryan explains the Gospel plan of salvation according to the Bible without the lenses of opinion, tradition, or dishonesty. Don't miss the powerful poetic rendition of PFR's classic song FIGHT. — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/apostolicvoice/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/apostolicvoice/support
  1. Ep. 21 | Buried Alive – The Gospel According to the Bible – PFR Fight
  2. Ep. 20 | Mass Killings and the Question of Evil
  3. Ep. 19 | Support Your Local Pastor's Wife (She Desperately Needs It)
  4. Ep. 18 | Church Hurt Doesn't Excuse Backsliding & What Forgiveness Is Not
  5. Ep. 17 | Courage In Cancel Culture

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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christ…

I love the Christmas season, and I love Christmas music too. I’m one of those annoying people who starts listening to Christmas music way too early. One of my favorite slightly frivolous Christmas ditty’s is It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas. Penned in 1951 by Meredith Wilson, it’s been a holiday staple since its first iconic release. You’ve most likely heard it played many times. Admittedly, at first glance, at least, it isn’t the most Christ-centered Christmas tune. But its catchy melody is fun and family-friendly.

I recently heard It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, and it lodged in my brain and would not let go. We had a few snow dribbles that same day so that imagery combined with the song created a memorable Christmassy scene, which is a rarity in Atlanta. The song paints vivid word pictures of how stores, streets, hotels, landscapes, and people begin to show the not-so-subtle signs of transforming in preparation and anticipation of Christmas. Stores glisten, and streets glow, and kids hope. People’s visages visibly change, and winter snow dominates the scenery. The atmosphere described is beautiful, happy, transcendent, expectant, and surrounded by death.

It’s A Wonderful Death

Epiphany blindsided me on that wintery day as It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas jangled around in my brain. While we’re beginning to look a lot like Christ, we are inevitably surrounded by the transformative beauty of death. Winter is the season of the completion of death. Throughout the fall season, leaves struggle to stay alive, and vegetation does its best to hold on, but winter finally wins, and old things pass away in preparation for new life. Philosophically, there’s a strange perceptual dichotomy at play in wintertime.

On the one hand, we can view winter as stark, harsh, and bleak. But, on the other hand, glowing lanes, candy canes, church bells, and carolers out in the snow can change our wintery perspective. All the joy mingled with the austerity of winter might seem enigmatic. However, it isn’t because we know the cold will give way to warmth, and new life will bloom in springtime. The inevitability of death precedes the miracle of life in the natural order of the universe.

The Visible Image of the Invisible Maker

The universe’s ability to produce new life from death isn’t by accident. The Maker of the universe designed it that way (Psalm 104:19), and He mirrored that same spiritual law in the lives of human beings. The invisible Maker visibly manifested Himself in the form of man and became the ultimate sacrifice for our sins (Colossians 1:15-23). Because our sins deserved physical and spiritual death, He willingly died in our place (Romans 6:21-23).

The invisible Maker visibly manifested Himself in the form of man and became the ultimate sacrifice for our sins (Colossians 1:15-23).

The cross displays a more remarkable perceptual dichotomy than anything else imaginable. Calvary was a gruesome, bloody, agonizing, humiliating scene ending in the unjust execution of a guiltless man. Yet, it was the most beautiful sight the world has ever seen because it symbolizes God’s profound personal love for us (Romans 5:8). In return, all Jesus requires of us is our death, burial, and resurrection (Philippians 3:10, Romans 6:3-8, Acts 3:19). Thankfully, we don’t have to die or be resurrected from a grave physically. Our death, burial, and resurrection are spiritual events made possible by the work of Jesus on our behalf (Acts 2:38).

Calvary was a gruesome, bloody, agonizing, humiliating scene ending in the unjust execution of a guiltless man. Yet, it was the most beautiful sight the world has ever seen because it symbolizes God’s profound personal love for us.

The Very Beginning of Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christ

The Bible repeatedly teaches us that before we can have new life in Christ, we must die. Old things – ways, habits, lifestyles, mindsets, ideas – need to pass away (2 Corinthians 5:17). Those old things don’t die naturally, so we crucify them with repentance (Romans 6:6). We brutally nail our sinfully embedded affections and lusts to a cross and allow them to perish (Galatians 5:24). God doesn’t force us to do this either. Furthermore, our carnal flesh hates the idea of dying to self.

Before we can have new life in Christ, we must die. Old things – ways, habits, lifestyles, mindsets, ideas – need to pass away (2 Corinthians 5:17). Those old things don’t die naturally, so we crucify them with repentance (Romans 6:6).

Repentance is the only part of salvation that we must do completely alone. At baptism, someone else baptizes us in the saving name of Jesus (Acts 4:12). We consent to be baptized, and we participate in baptism, but we don’t perform it. Dead people don’t bury themselves because they are dead. Likewise, when we are filled with the Holy Ghost, which is our spiritual resurrection, we can’t fill ourselves (Acts 11:15). God pours out His Spirit on us and dwells within us (Acts 2:1-4, Ezekiel 36:27). Once again, we are merely participating and consenting to a Divine process. Repentance is the gateway that leads to baptism and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Without repentance, a person just gets wet at baptism, and without repentance, God will not give us His Spirit.

Repentance is the gateway that leads to baptism and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Without repentance, a person just gets wet at baptism, and without repentance, God will not give us His Spirit.

Hidden with Christ (From Life to Death to Life)

When we repent of our sins, we are willingly offering our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). And that isn’t a one-time thing. Authentic repentance is a commitment to pick up our cross and regularly die to sin (Luke 9:23, Romans 6:1-23, Matthew 10:28, Colossians 2:20). When Jesus commanded us to carry our cross daily (Matthew 16:24-26), it was a reminder to take the burden of repentance with us at all times. Why? Because continual death to sin releases joy, abundant life, power, self-control, and authority in Christ (John 10:10, 2 Timothy 1:7, Acts 1:8, John 14:12). Consider what Paul said to the church in Colossae:

“For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.

Colossians 3:3

Just as Christ became literally dead in the tomb, so we, by virtue of our connection with Christ, have become dead to sin, to worldly influences, pleasures, and ambition. Or, in other words, we are to be to them as if we were dead, and they had no more influence over us than the things of earth had over Him in the grave.[i]

But what does it mean to be “hidden” with Christ in God? Certainly, Paul was alluding to the idea of secrecy and safety in God. Our life and salvation are secure in God when we are dead to sin. But we are not literally hidden from the view of the world. No. The meaning here goes deeper than merely being out of sight. The term hidden (kekruptai) can also mean “concealed.” The implication here is that our life is unknown or not understood by the watching world. But these unseen realities will be revealed to the world by God in due time (1 John 3:1-2).[ii] The spiritual death of a sinner produces a saint that is continuously misunderstood by sinners.

When we repent, we are willingly offering our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1). That isn’t a one-time thing. Authentic repentance is a commitment to pick up our cross and regularly die to sin (Lk 9:23, Rom 6:1-23, Mat 10:28, Col 2:20).

When Jesus commanded us to carry our cross daily, it was a reminder to take the burden of repentance with us at all times. Because continual death to sin releases joy, abundant life, power, self-control, and authority in Christ.

Just as Christ became literally dead in the tomb, so we, by virtue of our connection with Christ, have become dead to sin, to worldly influences, pleasures, and ambition.

The spiritual death of a sinner produces a saint that is continuously misunderstood by sinners.

The Prettiest Sight to See

Therefore, as we begin to look a lot like Christ, which is what we are called to do (1 John 2:6, Galatians 3:27, Philippians 2:5), the dead weights of sin begin to fall off the branches of our lives (Hebrews 12:1, John 15:5, Romans 13:12, Ephesians 4:22-25). When the leaves of sin are falling one by one, we know that a joyous death is about to take place, and winter is coming. Old habits take their last gulps of air, fear and condemnation lie on their death beds, carnal thinking is being transformed, sinful dysfunctional relationships are severing, as the joy of salvation and holiness begin to take root amidst the chill. The death is harsh, tear-soaked, unrelenting, yet it’s one of the prettiest sights to see because Christ’s image is being made manifest in human life.


[i] Albert Barnes, Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament, Accordance electronic ed. (Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 2006), paragraph 24986.

[ii] Max Anders, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians & Colossians, ed. Max Anders, vol. 8 of Holman New Testament Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 1999), 327.

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

Top 10 Articles of 2019

At the end of every year, I enjoy reviewing the most read posts of the past twelve months. I’ve included links to all ten of them below. Just click the pictures and it’ll take you to the articles. Interestingly, the top three haven’t changed in several years. I haven’t written much new content in 2019 (I plan to change that in 2020). Oddly, this has still been an exciting year for Apostolic Voice; we leaped over the million click mark, gained a tremendous number of new readers, and made progress on relaunching the podcast. I deeply appreciate your confidence and support. Thank you for allowing my writings into your life. God bless you all, and may 2020 be your best year yet. If you’re new to the Apostolic Voice family, welcome and I hope you find something helpful, inspiring, or at least mildly interesting.

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.

My Response to the Critics – Should We Still Dress Our Best for Church?

With over a million clicks, the article, Should We Still Dress Our Best for Church? quickly became the most viral article in the history of Apostolic Voice. It’s still getting thousands of interactions a day, and no one is more stunned than I am about it. Often, the articles I think will be the most interesting are overlooked, and the ones I throw together quickly gain insane levels of interest. I’ve received tons of feedback about the article (more personal responses than any other post). To be fair, much of it has been very kind and supportive. Quick thanks to those who visited the French Thread store.

On the other hand, I received a lot of criticism. Some were well thought out, well-intentioned, and interesting. Others were thoughtless and hateful. My little “…latte-sipping, skinny jean, cashmere wearing liberals…” jab probably deserved some good counter punches. I don’t mind criticism; it comes with the territory. You shouldn’t write, speak, sing, or preach publicly if you’re thin-skinned.

Surprise… Surprise…

Two things did surprise me, though; the extreme emotions that people feel concerning church attire (among other things, I’ve been called legalistic, hateful, egomaniac, haughty, jerk, old-fashioned, and my personal favorite… parasitical), and the knee-jerk reactions of the critics (many responded to the article simply by reading the title and not the content). How can you debate against a proposal that you haven’t considered? It confirms that our culture is highly opinionated yet tremendously understudied. Opinions steeped in feelings rather than reflective thinking provoke strong emotional outbursts.

I usually do not write follow up responses to my own articles, but the lively debates have exposed several key issues that I feel need to be addressed and a few clarifications that need to be made. This post will probably seem a little more disjointed than my usual writings, and for that, I apologize. It’s simply easier to respond to the critics in one public setting rather than give the same responses over and over again in private messages.

Our culture is highly opinionated yet tremendously understudied. Opinions steeped in feelings rather than reflective thinking provoke strong emotional outbursts.

Clarifications & Response to the Critics

Let me be very clear, I do not believe that wearing a suit and tie will save you. I have known many tremendous Christians who didn’t wear suits or ties to church. They did, however, dress respectfully in what they considered their best. For those who accused me of “adding” to the Gospel, the article in question was not a theological discourse. It was a thoughtful discussion about what is “best” and most appropriate for corporate worship. Mainly, what is “most” favorable for fostering a respectful and worshipful environment, which should be the goal of every church service. Essentially, I was speaking culturally about spiritual things. I know. I know. Cultural debates are dangerous… try preaching about Christianity’s ongoing love affair with sports, Hollywood, sex, and immodest fashion trends.

I acknowledge there is some room for debate regarding what respectful attire looks like in American culture. The article was directed towards Western Christians who already have a deep relationship with God. I also affirm that non-believers should “come as they are,” but my prayer is that God will transform them with His Spirit (internally and externally). The demoniac ran to Jesus from the tombs naked and tormented but left clothed and in his right mind (Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20). My experience has been that ultra-casual church attire is accompanied by ultra-casual worship, and ultra-casual worship is a symptom of casual dedication.

My experience has been that ultra-casual church attire is accompanied by ultra-casual worship, and ultra-casual worship is a symptom of casual dedication.

When Jacob Went to the House of God

Interestingly, when Jacob and his family went back to Bethel (literally translated, the house of God), they did four things: they got rid of their idols, they cleaned up, they changed their clothes, and they buried their earrings (Genesis 35:1-4). Concerning Genesis 35:2, the Adams Clark Commentary says:

“Personal or outward purification, as emblematical of the sanctification of the soul, has been in use among all the true worshippers of God from the beginning of the world. In many cases, the law of Moses more solemnly enjoined rites and ceremonies which had been in use from the earliest ages.”

When Jacob and his family went back to Bethel (literally translated, the house of God), they did four things: they got rid of their idols, they cleaned up, they changed their clothes, and they buried their earrings

Concerns for the Poor

Several people have objected to dressing “up” for church out of concern for how the poor or homeless might feel in the service. That’s a noble sentiment when genuine, although it’s often used as a red herring argument. First, dressing our best doesn’t have to be expensive or trendy. Second, I’ve been to many “hip” churches that dressed very casually, but their shoes cost more than my whole outfit. You can make people uncomfortable in hundreds of little ways. Third, if you live your life by this standard, you should apply it to the car you drive and the house you live in because all those things could make a poor person feel uncomfortable.

I’ve seen many poor homeless people find salvation who desperately wanted to rise out of their situation, not stay stuck there. In fact, sometimes they feel like people are condescending when they try to be “like” them (think Gucci faux grunge in the soup kitchen). The key is to treat people from every walk of life with true love and compassion. People can tell if you really care whether you’re wearing a tie or a T-Shirt.

The key is to treat people from every walk of life with true love and compassion. People can tell if you really care whether you’re wearing a tie or a T-Shirt.

Every culture has a type of attire that is culturally deemed respectful or dressy. Conversely, every culture has attire designed to be rebellious and disrespectful (think jeans that intentionally sag down to the knees). You don’t have to be a genius to know those fashion designers intentionally design clothes to make a statement of some kind. T-Shirts are just walking advertisements. There’s even a style of dress commonly referred to as a “cocktail” dress.

It would be intellectually dishonest to ignore the reality that there are types of clothing that are culturally speaking, inherently disrespectful, and vice versa. For example, most American citizens still put on a suit and tie to meet the United States president at the White House. Why? As a symbol of respect and honor for the position (even if they don’t like the man).

It would be intellectually dishonest to ignore the reality that there are types of clothing that are culturally speaking, inherently disrespectful, and vice versa.

Nevertheless, there’s an astonishing theme that I’ve noticed trending from the most vehement objectors; many people do not believe that a church service is special or worthy of respect or any special consideration. Most of these objectors acknowledge that certain clothing is more respectful than others but maintain that it is irrelevant because a Sunday service is no more important than getting coffee (or a beer) with friends who happen to be Christians.

Their arguments stem from the assumption that the early Church was incredibly informal and that the whole Sabbath thing is so “Old Testament” and, therefore, completely immaterial. They consider any other view to be pharisaical and legalistic (by the way, that whole “legalism” thing gets taken out of context way too often, but that’s another subject for another day).

Is Sunday the Sabbath?

So, what about the early Church? What about the Lord’s Day? Is Sunday special or not? These are crucial questions with far-reaching ramifications. Early Christians considered resurrection Sunday to be a spiritual embodiment of the Sabbath (here’s a great article that delves deeper into that subject). John the Revelator called it the “Lord’s Day (Revelations 1:10).” Literally translated, the “Lord’s Day” means “the day belonging to the Lord.” Markedly, the Holy Ghost was first poured out on a Sunday (Acts 2:1-36). Early Christians viewed the Lord’s Day with the same pious reverence with which they had previously observed the Old Testament Sabbath. Consider how the writer of Hebrews speaks of the Church:

“Wherefore we having received a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear (Hebrews 12:28).”

Clearly, we are to view the things of God and his Church with veneration and admiration.

Furthermore, Jesus did not say, “The gates of Hell shall not prevail against you or me.” He said, “…I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).”

Consider another important Scripture that gives us a glimpse into the way the apostles viewed the Church:

“These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:14-15).”

The apostle Paul was emphasizing certain parameters that should be observed within the house of God. Early church services were not unplanned gatherings without leadership or organization. It wasn’t just a coffee break or an informal get-together. It was the sacred assembly of God’s holy people (here’s an easy to read article on the biblical distinctions between private and public worship). Private worship is important but not to the exclusion of public worship. They serve different purposes, and they are both imperative to the Christian life.

Early church services were not unplanned gatherings without leadership or organization. It wasn’t just a coffee break or an informal get-together. It was the sacred assembly of God’s holy people.

The most common objections came from people who don’t think God cares how we dress under any circumstances. Modesty to them is pure legalism. Any kind of outward holiness is loathsome. Their favorite verse in the Bible happens to be an Old Testament verse, which I find interesting because this same crowd typically preaches to me about how we are no longer bound by anything in the Old Testament. They usually misquote a fragment of the verse as saying, “God doesn’t look at the outward appearance; He “only” looks at the heart.”

Does God Only Look at the Heart?

This is an important question that every Christian can and should settle once and for all. Let’s look at the actual verse in question in the original context:

“But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).”

This is the scene where God was about to anoint young David through the prophet Samuel to be the next king of Israel. All Samuel knew is that one of Jesse’s sons had been chosen by God (1 Samuel 16:1). When he saw the older, stronger brothers, he naturally assumed one of them was God’s chosen. Especially because king Saul was a tall man with a kingly countenance (1 Samuel 9:2). But God didn’t want Samuel to make the mistake of choosing the wrong son just because of his appearance. God knew that David was a man after his own heart despite his youthful appearance and inexperience (1 Samuel 16:11-12).

1 Samuel 16:7 is among the most mishandled Scriptures in the Bible. The text does not indicate that God doesn’t care at all about outward appearance. That would contradict dozens of Old Testament (Deuteronomy 22:5, 12, Exodus 28:42-43, Ezekiel 44:17, Proverbs 7:10, Hosea 2:13, Leviticus 19:28, Genesis 17:14) and New Testament passages (1 Timothy 2:9-10, 1 Peter 3:2-5, 1 Corinthians 11:1-15, Ephesians 4:19, Galatians 5:19, Romans 12:1-2).

1 Samuel 16:7 is among the most mishandled Scriptures in the Bible. The text does not indicate that God doesn’t care at all about outward appearance. That would contradict dozens of Old Testament and New Testament passages.

The spiritual principle at work in 1 Samuel 16:7 is that God is not fooled or swayed by outward appearances alone. God is not impressed by the superficial. God has the supernatural ability to see beyond our exterior into our innermost being. He sees our true intentions, our deepest desires, and our secret longings. While a man may see physical strength, God sees spiritual weakness. Where a man may only see outward sincerity, God sees inward corruption. This is refreshing and sobering at the same time.

The spiritual principle at work in 1 Samuel 16:7 is that God is not fooled or swayed by outward appearances alone. God is not impressed by the superficial.

The Inside Scoop on Holiness

I wholeheartedly believe in outward holiness, but without inward holiness, the outward is in vain. Genuine inward holiness will produce outward expressions of holiness as well. For example, a man may love his wife with all his heart, and because of that, it affects his outward actions towards her and for her. If he abused his wife, that would be an outward display of inward problems. If he cheated on his wife, that would be an outward display of inward problems. If he wears something she genuinely hates, that would be an outward display of inward disregard. If he blatantly and publicly disrespects her, that would be an outward manifestation of an inward problem. Avoiding those things is not legalism. It’s love.

I wholeheartedly believe in outward holiness, but without inward holiness, the outward is in vain. Genuine inward holiness will produce outward expressions of holiness as well.

Modesty Always Matters

This whole discussion has brought the issue of modesty to play several times. The hermeneutical law of first mention makes the issue of modest clothing incredibly important. Remember, after Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, they lost their innocence and realized they were naked. In response, they inadequately covered themselves with fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). God saw that they were still immodest, so he personally made a coat of skins and clothed them sufficiently (Genesis 3:21). Modesty is a common theme that runs throughout the Old and New Testaments.

One furious individual wrote to me and said, “I wanted to speak at my church, and they told me I had to wear a collared shirt… talk about controlling.” Now I realize the Bible doesn’t condone collared shirts as sacred. And I realize collars aren’t necessarily evidence of sanctification, but doesn’t a church have the right to maintain a dress code of some kind? Most jobs have a dress code. Shouldn’t the church have some influence?

My daughter just had her first piano recital, and she was given a precise list of what-not-to-wear. We had no problem with that because we respect the institution’s stated goals of artistry and excellence. I’m not even going to bother with theological examples of authority and respect. Doesn’t common cultural decency inform us that we should have some deference to spiritual and secular authority? Apparently, it no longer does, and that’s sad.

Jesus’ Seamless Garment

You’d be surprised how many people believe Jesus dressed like a bum! Yep. I’m getting tons of emails claiming that Jesus was the son of a carpenter and probably dressed like a poor country boy. The implication being that since Jesus was poor and likely dressed poorly, we should too. One individual even claimed that carpentry should be a prerequisite for the ministry.

While I think a good argument could be made that carpentry wasn’t necessarily poverty level, it is obvious in Scripture that Jesus came from humble beginnings. However, it has no bearing on the discussion at hand. Nowhere am I indicating that poverty-stricken people should be financially irresponsible and buy fancy clothing before they attend church. Dressing “our” best may vary from person to person and from paradigm to paradigm.

To keep things interesting, let me throw out a little tidbit of information that many people overlook. As you probably know, the Bible doesn’t really say much about Jesus’ appearance or wardrobe. We can extrapolate some things based on His time’s cultural norms, but that’s about it. However, the Bible does make one mention of the Lord’s “seamless” garment (John 19:23). This is the garment that the soldiers gambled for amongst themselves. Why? Because a seamless garment was valuable. In fact, the consensus seems to be that this was the kind of garment usually owned by wealthy royalty. I don’t think this means we should all go out and buy royal garments. I’m just saying Jesus apparently wasn’t running around in rags, as many suggest.

The Vanity Objection

The final objection I’d like to address generally goes something like this, “Christians who wear suits and ties to church seem haughty, arrogant, and condescending.” Sometimes they follow up with a statement like, “It seems to me like a suit and tie fosters a spirit of vanity and showiness that would be unpleasing to God.” I know that this is often just a misperception, but I still think this is the one objection that has some real merit.

So, this is where I preach to my like-minded friends for a moment. All our dressing up out of respect for the house of God is valueless if we don’t love and respect others (1 Corinthians 13:1). If we’re condescending, unkind, derisive, or prideful, we have missed the point. My friends, I’m am imploring us all to speak the truth in love and demonstrate that holiness is inward as well as outward. If we respect God, we will respect others (Matthew 7:12, Romans 12:10, Philippians 2:3, 1 Peter 2:17, John 13:34-35). Don’t let inward filth defile the beauty of outward consecration. Vanity is always wrong, no matter what we’re wearing or not wearing.

All our dressing up out of respect for the house of God is valueless if we don’t love and respect others (1 Corinthians 13:1). If we’re condescending, unkind, derisive, or prideful, we have missed the point.

Don’t let inward filth defile the beauty of outward consecration. Vanity is always wrong, no matter what we’re wearing or not wearing.

The Myth of Once Saved, Always Saved – Debunking False Doctrines

Few false doctrines are more dangerous than the Calvinistic assertion of “eternal security” or “once saved, always saved.” This belief has become pervasive far beyond theological academia’s reach. “Once saved, always saved” is a popular mantra for the average “low information” Christian. It crosses denominational lines, bleeds between theological spectrums, and slips into everyday dogmas.

The doctrine of eternal security essentially states that nothing can cause them to be disfellowshipped from God once a person is saved. Without going too deep, it should be noted that there are numerous variations and machinations of this doctrine. In its most extreme form, a person could theoretically be saved and murder his wife while remaining “unconditionally” saved. Others would assert that if someone were to commit such a heinous act, he was never “truly” saved in the first place.

Sadly, this dangerous doctrine flatly contradicts Scripture, and it is commonly used as a smokescreen to justify sinful lifestyles. In other words, “once saved, always saved” appeals to the most carnal leanings of our humanity. It gives false legitimacy for sin, false comfort to sinners, and builds a pseudo-biblical barrier between countless sinners and repentance.

The doctrine of eternal security flatly contradicts Scripture, and it is commonly used as a smokescreen to justify sinful lifestyles. In other words, “once saved, always saved” appeals to the most carnal leanings of our humanity.

The doctrine of eternal security gives false legitimacy for sin, false comfort to sinners, and builds a pseudo-biblical barrier between countless sinners and repentance.

It’s eerie how the Calvinistic notion of eternal security shares similarities with Satan’s seduction of Eve in the garden of Eden. The serpent assured Eve, “…Ye shall not surely die (Genesis 3:4).” The satanic implication being that Eve could live in disobedience without fear of Divine consequences. The doctrine of eternal security makes the same false claim, and it originates from the same satanic source. Here’s the primary passage of Scripture used to prop up the concept of once saved, always saved:

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. 37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. 38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:35-39

The doctrine of eternal security shares similarities with Satan’s seduction of Eve in the garden of Eden. Satan said, Ye, shall not surely die. The implication being that Eve could live in disobedience without fear of Divine consequences.

First of all, this is a tremendously encouraging passage of Scripture, but it’s talking about God’s unconditional love, not unconditional salvation. With close examination, you’ll find that sin is not once mentioned in the context of this promise. As with other passages used to support O.S.A.S. (John 3:15, John 5:24, John 10:28, Romans 8:1, 1 Corinthians 10:13), the emphasis is always on external forces having no authority over your personal responsibilities towards God.

Let’s put it this way; nothing can force you to separate yourself from God except you. Satan can’t make you do it any more than he made Eve do it. Eve exercised her free will. Adam exercised his free will. And they both suffered the consequences of their actions. Sin separates us from a right relationship with God, but it does not remove us from the love of God. For example, “…God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).” God loves us even while we are in sin, but to say the cross made sin acceptable is to undermine the cross’s necessity in the first place completely. The phrasing “while we were yet sinners” shows Paul’s assumption that believers would naturally understand sinful lifestyles must be discarded after salvation. Furthermore, the apostle Peter calls us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, “Who did no sin (1 Peter 2:21-22).” A few verses down, he underscores that Jesus “bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness… For ye were as sheep going astray, but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls (1 Peter 2:24-25).”

Nothing can force you to separate yourself from God except you. Satan can’t make you do it any more than he made Eve do it. Eve exercised her free will. Adam exercised his free will. And they both suffered the consequences of their actions.

God loves us even while we are in sin, but to say the cross made sin acceptable is to undermine the cross’s necessity in the first place completely.

But we still haven’t sufficiently debunked the doctrine of eternal security. Few people would argue against the Scriptural emphasis on living above sin. Many would say that righteous living is the best way but not a requirement for Heaven after obedience to the Gospel. So let’s take a look at several Scriptures that prove that it is possible to throw away our salvation and trample upon the grace of God.

The parable of the sower gives us insight into the issue at hand. Jesus speaks of individuals who receive the Gospel immediately with joy, but when affliction or persecution arises because of the Word, they fall away (Mark 4:16, Luke 8:13).

Consider these self-explanatory Scriptures from the book of Hebrews:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame (Hebrews 6:4-6).”

For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries (Hebrews 10:26-27).”

“Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition (destruction); but of them that believe to the saving of the soul (Hebrews 10:38-39).”

Additionally, Peter speaks plainly of people who return and are “overcome” by the “pollutions of the world,” stating that it would be better if they had never known the “way of righteousness” in the first place (2 Peter 2:20-22). But the words of Jesus are the most potent, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Matthew 7:21-23).”

We could go on and on demonstrating the Scriptural imperative that we must not depart from the faith post-salvation or risk Divine judgment. I’ll leave you with a list of Scriptures proving saved individuals must continue to “work out… salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).”

Children of God Can:

  1. “Fall from grace” – Galatians 5:1-4,13
  2. “Be led away with error” – 2 Peter 3:17
  3. “Err from the truth” – James 5:19-20
  4. “Weak brother may perish” – 1 Corinthians 8:11
  5. “Fall into condemnation” – James 5:12
  6. “Be moved away from the hope” – Colossians 1:21-23
  7. “Deny the Lord who bought them” – 2 Peter 2:1
  8. “Depart from the living God” – Hebrews 3:12
  9. “Can be a castaway” – 1 Corinthians 9:27
  10. “Can become accursed children” – 2 Peter 2:14

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Resolved Audio

Royal veins flow through my blood. It pumps and drips and falls and floods. Like a saga, it journeys on never stopping to hear the song. And if I could quiet the noise in my ears the melody could take me far away from here, and every mistake, every twisted trace. But for now, this throbbing pain is all through my brain, it fills my thoughts like a sinful stain, it melts my heart without a trace.

The ache is real but the hurt is fake, and it’s all I can do to stay awake. But I have resolved to pray and pray until these demons have gone away.

Would you do more if you could see your fears like tangible things springing into your atmosphere? Or would you cower into the shadows like an overgrown child running from faith like it was out of style? These are the questions we ask when we have too much time, too much space, and too much at stake.

The ache is real but the fear is fake, and it’s all I can do to stay awake. But I have resolved to pray and pray until these demons have gone away

Twisting grace has become the norm for some and now everyone’s soul is on the run. Every turn brings a brand new pain and every valley leads into a deeper place. Until mountains are dimly lit memories from another space, and time that won’t return, until we learn to turn back to the Son that saved us all with blood, and nails, and wood, and grace. We forgot that place as we traveled along never stopping to sing the song.

The ache is real but the fear is fake, and it’s all I can do to stay awake. But I have resolved to pray and pray until these demons have gone away.

And away they’ll go if I can keep the faith, walk in the light and not the gray. But strange voices pull and they tug, nameless faces call my name from dimly lit places on every lane. The strain is strong as I pull away back into the light of day.

The ache is real but the fear is fake, and it’s all I can do to stay awake. But I have resolved to pray and pray until these demons have gone away.

Twisting grace has become the norm for some and now everyone’s soul is on the run. Every turn brings a brand new pain and every valley leads into a deeper place.