Monday, April 25, 2011

The Gospel: Am I Going to Heaven or Hell?

Craig Gross recently wrote an article on CNN.com titled My Take: Is Judas in heaven or hell? God only knows. I would encourage each of you to click the link and read the article before you read my thoughts on it.

First, I think it is sad to see these things written by a pastor who ought to know what the whole council of Scripture teaches. Sadly he uses the classic cop out line when he says, “I am not here to debate theology.” It seems odd to me that he would talk about God’s Word yet say he is not talking about theology. Theology is the study of God. We know and learn about God through his Word. I guess he can say he is not debating theology but when you talk about the Bible or Jesus then we are on the grounds of theology.

Second, he says, “Without a doubt, Judas, the biblical disciple of Jesus, is considered the greatest sinner of all time because of what he did to Jesus.” I understand what he means but if I could have written this article I would have put “Jason Lapp” in place of “Judas.” The greatest sinner I know is me!!! Not Judas. I think he does address this issue by saying near the end of the article that we should look inside ourselves. I believe he is speaking about seeing our own sin. In light of who God is it is nothing but the truth to see myself as the greatest sinner. We see this modeled in Paul in 1 Timothy 1:15-17 when he calls himself “the chief of sinners.” Paul says this because he understand how sinful he is and how holy God is. We should also be humbled by our sinfulness in light of God’s holiness.

Third, he makes this statement: “In terms of experience with Jesus, whatever you can say about Peter, James and John, you can say about Judas.” That is not biblically accurate. Yes he was a disciple but even within the disciples Peter, James and John (the inner circle) witnessed things the others did not. “After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus” (Matthew 17:1-3) and so the gospel account goes on but there is no mention of Judas or any of the other disciples and this was a very significant event. In Mark 5 we see another account: “While [Jesus] was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?’ But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James” (35-36). The story goes on to speak of Jesus raising this young girl from the dead. If you notice though only Peter, James and John were allowed to go with him.

Fourth, all we hear in this article is about the end of the life of Peter and Judas but clearly we have a life of theirs to look at throughout Scripture. I will briefly go into this because my friend, Stephen Bean is going to do an entire post tomorrow on the lives of Peter and Judas. In the account in John 12 we get a glimpse of the heart of Judas not just his actions.

“But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’ He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” (John 12:1-6)

This was a heart issue that never changed. He said one thing that sounded good but his heart was focused upon himself and robbery. We never see Judas repent. Also all throughout the gospel account we never hear Judas call Jesus his Lord and Savior. Never once is it recorded in Holy Scripture that Judas knew Jesus to be his Master. Judas always addressed Jesus as only a teacher (Rabbi). The Bible is clear that a person is saved by faith in Christ and confessing him as Lord and Savior through repentance. We see none of this in the life of Judas.

I think clearer than anything are the words of Jesus directed to Judas in the upper room. The Scriptures say, “When it was evening, [Jesus] reclined at table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said, ‘Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’ And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, ‘Is it I, Lord?’ He answered, ‘He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.’ Judas, who would betray him answered, ‘Is it I, Rabbi?’ He said to him, ‘You have said so’” (Matthew 26:20-25). I just cannot imagine heaven worse than being born. Heaven is the place of ultimate joy because of the presence of God almighty and worshipping him with no more sin or sorrow. We will be free to worship Christ for all eternity yet to Judas we hear Christ say, “It would have been better for [Judas] if he had not been born.”

But he does bring up a good point about Peter. What is the difference? They did both deny Jesus. Scripture is clear that both men committed this sin. Since this post is getting long I will let Stephen address this tomorrow.

Fifth, the saddest of all statements: “I don’t know who gets in, actually. Do I believe in heaven and hell? Yes. I believe one is dark and one is light, and they both last forever.” I’m grateful he affirms there is a heaven and a hell. I am also grateful he affirms that they both last forever. These are two very true statements according to Scripture. He is also correct in saying “I don’t know who gets in, actually.” I know he means he doesn’t know the heart of every human being. That is for God to judge and God alone but two things should be addressed. 1. We need to be clear on how one does inherit eternal life with Christ and 2. We are called to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”

1. We do all rightfully deserve God’s righteous wrath for rebelling against him with our sin. We are all called “haters of God” (Romans 1) and because of our hatred God should justly punish us with an eternity in hell where the fire is never quenched (Luke 3:17). This is a gloomy picture without the cross. God in his great mercy sent his Son, Jesus Christ, as a mediator for sinners like us. He sent his Son to take the place of sinners. Christ bore the Father’s wrath that we deserved and took our sins upon himself. The sinless died in place of the sinful. The call is for people to repent and place their trust in Christ as Savior and Lord. Going back to Judas this is exactly what we don’t see in Scripture.

2. We are also called to “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” This is what is called sanctification in the believer’s life. Justification is an act of God where he declares sinners righteous through the merit of his Son. Sanctification begins at justification and is a life-long process of growth for a child of Christ. In this bearing fruit idea Jesus does give us a way to help determine what is in the heart of a person. Once again we cannot know for sure but we can see indication because we know from Scripture how a Christian will live. Most people throw out the classic Matthew 7 passage when speaking about judging another person: “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Sounds good until you keep reading in Jesus’ sermon: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:13-20). Judge not yet you will be able to recognize them by their fruits. When it comes to the gospel and being a Christ follower Jesus is saying we will want and welcome the accountability of the saints to hold us to the Word of God. Christians ought to be people who are pursuing godliness through the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Jesus is clear: “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” True repentance and trust in Christ brings life change.

Lastly, I am shocked by his statement: “This is not the debate Christians need to be engaged in. We don’t know. Instead of wasting our time on these types of arguments inside our little Christian world, maybe we should look inside ourselves this Easter.” No debate on Holy Scripture is a wasted debate. Also this debate is not just going on “inside our little Christian world”, it is going on all over the world. This is a debate goes deeper than just our Christian world because it is ultimately a debate about Christ and his Word. This is no time waster. The most important thing we can talk about is the gospel of Jesus Christ and how souls are rescued through his life, death and resurrection. Peter and Judas were no exception therefore this debate is important. This is why proclaiming the gospel is “of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

To close maybe we should re-title the article: The gospel: Am I going to heaven or hell?

Grace upon grace,
JRL

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