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

Here’s Why Young People View the Church Like the Last Old Department Store

In the last 25 years, the church growth movement has transformed how America has church. It has also changed how younger people view church.

Many churches are now driven by business and marketing philosophies, moving away from a focus on discipleship and relationship with God.

The pastor has changed roles from shepherd to salesman. A distorted view of grace is his wares.

Evangelism is nonexistent. Apostles are no longer understood. Prophets are rejected. Teaching revolves around life skills. Prayer is redefined as positive thoughts, and the Spirit has no place in the business plan.

People now go to church to be courted and entertained, rather than to worship God.

Choosing churches is now the equivalent of deciding between buying jeans at the GAP or Old Navy. The product is pretty much the same. So who has better customer service? Or you can always stay home and do your shopping every Sunday morning online with a beer in your hand.

The result of this church culture is that younger people now view most churches like the last old department store in town, barely hanging on from the last century.

And they are simply shopping elsewhere.

Attempts to become mega church businesses have equated churches in the minds of millennials with the Sears downtown.

There is a “Going out of business” sign on the windows and everything is for sale, including the fixtures, the building, and even management.

The only way the Church will ever out-market, out-perform, or out-sell the world is through prayer, the preached Word, and the power of the Holy Ghost.

This world doesn’t need the Church to be Sears, a megachurch, their coffee shop, or a theater where they can view a well designed theological-themed production.

The world needs the Church to be Apostolic, Spirit-led, and Gospel preaching.

The world needs the Church to be full of conviction and separated unto God.

They need the God-designed Church that began in the Book of Acts, has thrived in every century, and still preaches the Truth that has the power to change even this generation.

Rev. Jonathan Sanders is a dynamic evangelist, preacher, teacher, and coffee connoisseur. This article originally appeared on Jonathan’s Facebook page. His posts and daily thoughts are always inspirational, articulate, interesting, relevant, and thought provoking. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter here and here. As I read his original post, I couldn’t help but think of David refusing King Saul’s armor before fighting Goliath. David understood that he needed to use the tools that God had equipped him with rather than conventional weapons of war. The modern Church desperatelly needs to reject marketing methods and embrace spiritual, God-ordained weaponry.

 

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9 Types of Church Services

Many people approach church with preconceived ideas or expectations about what makes an excellent service. Rather than allowing God and the ministry the liberty to lead us, we stand (or sit) in judgment if God doesn’t “show up” in the way we expect Him to. In the Old Testament, God revealed Himself in many ways: burning bush, cloud by day & pillar of fire by night, whispering, thundering, and the list could go on and on. The moving of the Spirit is more than just a dance (and I’m all for dancing in the Spirit), and it’s more than only a time of blissful silence (and I’m all for those quiet and deep moves of the Spirit). Verse number two in our Bible gives a clue as to how the Spirit operates; “…And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters (Genesis 1:2).” John 3:8 compares the Spirit to the wind that blows where and when it wants to blow. My point is simply that the Spirit of God is not predictable, controllable, entirely understandable, and it is certainly not able to be manipulated by you or me.

The Spirit of God is not predictable, controllable, entirely understandable, and it is certainly not able to be manipulated by you or me.

It seems counterintuitive for an Apostolic to say the Spirit’s moving is more than emotional (although it can often be emotional). It’s foolish to relegate the Holy Ghost’s operation to mere emotion because our emotions often play tricks on us. The Holy Ghost can and should cause us to celebrate, speak in tongues, sing, shout, become demonstrative, and extravagant in our praise. However, we should also be receptive when the Spirit convicts, corrects, rebukes, teaches, perfects, and other various things that are sometimes painful. In other words, if we are genuinely seeking God’s will every time we gather together as the children of God, we will lay aside our manmade expectations and sincerely ask God to have His way. With this in mind, I have compiled a list of nine types of church services.

It seems counterintuitive for an Apostolic to say the Spirit’s moving is more than emotional (although it often is emotional). It’s foolish to relegate the Holy Ghost’s operation to mere emotion because our emotions often play tricks on us.

Comforting Services (John 14:26). Some church services are meant to bring comfort to our hearts. This can happen in many ways, but the Holy Ghost is indeed the great Comforter (John 15:26, John 16:7).

Evangelistic Services (Acts 2:38). Often church services are designed to evangelize the lost and answer the question, “…what shall we do (Acts 2:37)?” When the Spirit moves to reach the lost, it is vitally important that those of us who are already saved remain involved in the process. Spiritually mature Christians are ok when a service isn’t explicitly aimed at their needs. If you emotionally check out of evangelistic services, you need to check your Holy Ghost pulse.

When the Spirit moves to reach the lost, it is vitally important that those of us who are already saved remain involved in the process. Spiritually mature Christians are ok when a service isn’t explicitly aimed at their needs.

Reminder Services (John 14:26, Jude 1:5). Regardless of how long we have been following Jesus, we still become forgetful. Even worse, sometimes we slip into complacency, and so the Spirit often moves in our church services to remind us of things that we should already know.

Proclamation of Truth Services (John 16:13). When the Spirit moves, it guides us into truth. Proclaiming truth is one of the Church’s primary functions, and all of its activities should lead to the Truth.

When the Spirit moves, it guides us into truth. Proclaiming truth is one of the Church’s primary functions, and all of its activities should lead to the Truth.

Prophetic Services (John 16:13). Apostolic churches must be comfortable with the reality that God has not changed, and the gift of prophecy is still authentic. I know that prophetic gifts are sometimes abused, but so is everything else. The Church as a whole profoundly needs genuine prophetic gifts to be in operation.

Prophetic gifts are sometimes abused, but so is everything else. The Church as a whole profoundly needs genuine prophetic gifts to be in operation.

Family Reunion Services (Galatians 4:6). God is our Heavenly Father, which makes us brothers and sisters in the Lord (Galatians 3:28). Therefore, it is appropriate that we gather together and honor our family heritage. I think of this as a family reunion because the Church is not just one congregation. The Church is comprised of a massive number of congregations from all over the world. There should be times when we connect, refresh, uplift, and encourage one another.

Teaching Services (Ephesians 4:11). It’s important to remember that the apostle Paul included teaching within the parameters of the Five-Fold Ministry. Teaching services equip, train, and solidify our minds. Mature Christians covet good teaching.

Teaching services equip, train, and solidify our minds. Mature Christians covet good teaching.

Celebration Services (Exodus 15:19-21). We should celebrate the goodness of God all the time, but when God does something especially tremendous, we should focus our celebration around it. Some services will celebrate the goodness of God.

Giving Services (1 Chronicles 29:9, 2 Corinthians 8:1-5). Although consistent giving is needed, sometimes a spirit of sacrificial giving is required to advance the Church’s mission. This is the type of service that usually meets the most resistance. Even pastors fear this kind of service. Don’t let fear or carnality keep you from reaping the blessings birthed out of sacrificial giving.

Although consistent giving is needed, sometimes a spirit of sacrificial giving is required to advance the Church’s mission.

Conclusion

Healthy churches experience a blend and balance of the nine types of services mentioned above. Furthermore, healthy Christians are comfortable with each of these service types. Unhealthy churches get stuck overemphasizing two or three types of services to the exclusion of the rest. This creates a spiritual imbalance. Every church service contains some elements of the things mentioned above, but there is an overarching theme that God is directing us towards. Learning to be sensitive to the Spirit is one of the most important spiritual disciplines a believer can cultivate.

Learning to be sensitive to the Spirit is one of the most important spiritual disciplines a believer can cultivate.