Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Does Hell Really Exist?

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more….
Fear Him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell.
Yes, I tell you, fear Him.”
– Luke 12:4-5

A 2014 Pew Research Poll revealed that 72% of Americans believe in Heaven, but only 58% believe in Hell. Surprisingly, the survey indicated that—even among those who claim to be “Christian”—there is much doubt about Hell. Thirty-seven percent of Catholics don’t believe in Hell. Neither do 40% of those who associate with a traditional denomination (e.g., Lutheran, Methodist or Episcopal). Even among self-proclaimed “evangelicals,” there is much reluctance to believe in Hell.

Suffice it to say: It’s much easier for us to wrap our minds around the idea of an eternity of bliss in Heaven than it is to embrace the notion of an eternity of torture in Hell. Even for those of us who believe in Hell, most of us aren’t comfortable with it. How can we be? If Hell is half as bad as we’ve been told, we wouldn’t wish it on our worst enemy. Even the respected author and theologian C.S. Lewis said of Hell, “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of Scripture and, specially, of our Lord’s own words.”

Let’s do our best to push aside our preconceived ideas about Hell and examine the New Testament’s answers to three questions. Question #1: Is Hell a real place? In a word, yes. There are several dozen references to Hell in the New Testament, and most of these are made by Jesus himself. The most common Greek word used by Christ for Hell is “gehenna.” Gehenna was the name of a valley located south of Jerusalem where Molech worshipers had once practiced infant sacrifice. In the days of King Josiah, the pagan altars were demolished and desecrated. And by the time Jesus came onto the scene, gehenna was used as the town dump, where the smell of burning refuse constantly rose from the valley. Since this was common knowledge to the people of Israel, Jesus adopted this word “gehenna” as the name for the place of eternal punishment.

Question #2: What is Hell like? Although Jesus doesn’t give an exhaustive description of Hell, he tells us enough to make the hair on the back of our necks stand up. In Matthew 13:40-42, he describes Hell as a “fiery furnace” where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” In Matthew 25:41, he adds that it is a place of complete separation from God, a place of “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” And according to Christ’s words in Mark 9:47-49, in Hell the fire is never quenched and “their worm does not die.” I don’t know what an eternal worm looks like or does, but its purpose in Hell doesn’t sound pleasant. And just like everything else in Hell (the punishment, the flames, the hopelessness and the misery), it is eternal.

Question #3: Who will go to Hell? Throughout the New Testament we are reminded that Jesus Christ is the only way to Heaven. Therefore, he is the only one who can offer us a “Get out of Hell Free” card. So, ultimately, whether or not we end up in Hell depends on what we choose to do with Jesus. The one who chooses to reject God’s laws—including the law to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ—will be condemned by God’s laws. The one who rejects God’s offer of eternal grace through Christ will have only one alternative: eternal condemnation for his/her sins in Hell.

Most of us don’t put up a fuss about mass murderers like Hitler, Osama bin Laden, Charles Manson or Jeffrey Dahmer being condemned to Hell. But when we read passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Galatians 5:19-21, we quickly come to realize that there is a laundry list of sins that condemn us to the eternal flames: premarital sex, adultery, homosexuality, drunkenness, greed, hatred, witchcraft, jealousy and fits of rage—just to name a few. Sadly, all of us have fallen short of God’s standards. Each of us has broken God’s commands. We’ve all turned our backs on God and gone our own way. Therefore, according to Scripture, the just punishment for each of us is eternal separation from God in Hell.

But thankfully, there is good news! Jesus Christ offers us the marvelous gift of grace instead of justice. We learn in Romans 6:23 that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” We discover in Ephesians 2:8-9 that “it is by grace we have been saved, through faith. And this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not by works, so that no one can boast.”

So, according to the Bible, is Hell a real place? Yes, it is. It is an actual place of eternal punishment that is unimaginably horrible. It will be the eternal home of Satan, the demons and every person who has sinned against God and refused to humbly accept the free gift of grace and forgiveness offered by Jesus Christ. It boils down to this: In eternity you will receive either justice or grace. So, for Christ’s sake, choose grace.

Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information,
visit www.fccvv.com  and join us for worship Sunday at 10 am.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Don’t Be a Cold Christian

 “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.”
– Revelation 2:4

We’ve all met them. At some time or another you may have even been one. I’m talking about cold Christians: Christ followers who do all the “right” things without a bit of love. Many a marriage has fallen apart—not because there was an affair, abuse or abandonment—but because there was no love in the marriage. And just as a marriage can’t survive for very long without love, a church can’t survive very long without love. As Bible scholar Leon Morris puts it, “A church can continue only for so long on a loveless course... If they repent they may yet be saved. But if not, there is no hope.”

In Revelation chapters 2 and 3, Jesus delivers seven brief letters to seven different churches in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). Christ praises six of these seven churches for doing certain things very well. And his longest list of praises is delivered to the Christian Church in Ephesus. In Revelation 2:2-6, Jesus identifies seven different practices of the Ephesian Christians that are worthy of praise. In short, they practiced good deeds, worked hard, persevered amidst difficulties, refused to tolerate wickedness in the church, discerned false teaching, endured hardship, and hated the practices of those who tried to peddle heresy among their members.

By any estimation, this is an impressive list. Most churches would be ecstatic to have Christ shower them with these compliments. On a scale of 1-10, the Ephesian Church looked like a “10.” But even though it appeared to be a picture-perfect church on the outside, the church had something seriously wrong on the inside. Jesus bluntly tells the Ephesian Christians in verse 4: “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.”

What does Jesus mean by this rebuke? Well, there are a couple possibilities. According to Jesus, the greatest command in the Bible is: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30-31). So, “you have forsaken your first love” could indicate that the Ephesian Christians were going through the motions of a Christian who truly loved God, but deep down …they really didn’t. They may have had some admirable motives for living out their religion so well, but love for God wasn’t one of them.

Or possibly “you have forsaken your first love” indicates that the Ephesian Christians had forsaken love for people as a top priority. Years earlier Jesus had told his disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). The Christians in Ephesus had been taught well to embrace God’s love and know God’s love and reflect God’s love in their personal relationships. But somewhere along the line, their love for people had grown cold. Although they looked good on the outside, their perseverance, doctrine, and ministries were loveless. They didn’t do the good things they did out of a deep love for Christ and others. So, despite how good their deeds may have looked to outsiders, the truth was: The Christian Church in Ephesus was dying. And only repentance and a re-prioritizing of love could bring it back to life.

I am reminded of the powerful words written by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” And Paul concludes the chapter with this short but powerful insight: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

As I consider the Ephesian Christians’ lack of love, a few words come to mind: unfeeling, robotic, mechanical, impersonal, loveless, lifeless and cold. Perhaps you could think of a few other words to describe a church that does the right things but does them without love. Regardless of the words that come to mind, I hope and pray that my Christianity will never be these things: unfeeling, mechanical and impersonal. I hope and pray that your Christianity will never be these things: loveless, lifeless and cold.

Friends, just as a husband and wife must guard themselves against a loveless marriage, Christians must guard themselves against a loveless church. We must be very careful. As we persevere through trials and endure hardship and faithfully teach God’s word and carry out some great ministries, we must make sure that we do it all in love. Cold, loveless Christianity is a dying Christianity. And a cold, loveless church is a dying church. The Apostle Paul was right: When it comes to living out our faith, “the greatest of these is love.” So, let’s make sure that we love Christ and others with everything we’ve got. If we don’t, our Christianity is nothing.

Dane Davis is the Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information,
visit www.fccvv.com  and join us for our worship celebration Sundays at 10 am.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Is Jesus Really the Only Way?

 “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment.”
– Hebrews 10:26-27

Perhaps you’ve seen the movie: God’s Not Dead. The 2014 film tells the story of a first semester college student named Shane Harper who enrolls in a philosophy class and experiences a formidable challenge on the first day of class. You see, he is a committed Christian, and his professor is a militant atheist who requires every student to sign this simple statement in order to pass the class: “God is dead.” One by one, all the students in the class take out a sheet of paper and sign the statement. All of them…except for Shane. He refuses to sign it, and as a result, the professor requires him to spend the next three class sessions doing his best to prove that God’s Not Dead.

As you probably know, by many measures Christianity is on a decline in America. Fifty years ago, the overwhelming majority of Americans identified as “Christian” and considered the United States to be a Christian nation. But as much as I hate to admit it, America is a Christian nation no longer. Each year hundreds of churches close their doors. More than ever before, Christians are marginalized and criticized. A large percentage of Americans don’t believe the Bible to be God’s word. And millions of Americans—even many professed “Christians”—proclaim, “If there is a heaven, Jesus is certainly not the only way to get there.”

In this age of inclusivity and tolerance, many Christians are hesitant or embarrassed to affirm the exclusivity of the gospel. They deem it to be a huge cultural blunder to declare Christianity to be true and every other religion to be wrong. Let’s face it: We don’t like to be labeled “intolerant," “narrow-minded” or “bigoted” by our culture. Therefore, we find ourselves second-guessing what the New Testament teaches about heaven. We think: Perhaps Christians have been too narrow-minded with their doctrine of salvation. Maybe we have misunderstood what Jesus and Scripture teach about salvation. Could it be that our belief in “Christ alone” is illogical and doesn’t stand up to intellectual scrutiny?

Allow me to share something very important that Christians everywhere need to hear—three proofs that Jesus is the only way to heaven. Proof #1: Jesus revealed it. Throughout the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), Jesus reveals this truth over and over. For example, in John 3:16-17, Jesus makes it clear that he is “the” Savior from whom we receive eternal life. In John 11:25, Jesus reveals himself as the “resurrection and the life.” In Matthew 28:18, Jesus tells his followers that he has “all authority in heaven.” In other words, Jesus oversees all of heaven, even the front gate. There’s no back door, and there’s no appeal to a higher power, because Jesus is the highest power. And Jesus couldn’t have been more clear than he is in John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” So, is Jesus the only way to heaven? Yes! Jesus revealed it.

Proof #2: The New Testament confirms it. Time and again, the Book of Acts and the epistles confirm that Jesus provides the only path to salvation. In Acts 4:12, when the Apostle Peter is being pressured to stop preaching in Jesus’ name, he boldly proclaims, “Salvation is found in no one else [besides Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Paul declares in 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” And according to Hebrews 10:26-27, if we reject Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, there is no other path to salvation. Inevitably, all those who reject Christ will have to face the music: “judgment and raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.”

Proof #3: Logic proves it. Once we understand that Jesus Christ and the New Testament speak in harmony regarding salvation through Christ alone, it is completely illogical for any Bible-believing Christian to come to any conclusion other than this: Jesus is the only way to heaven. Now, Christians get accused all the time of clinging to beliefs that are too narrow-minded and too exclusive. But the fact is: All truth is narrow-minded and exclusive. Think about it: The truth that “two plus two equals four” is exclusive. Basic arithmetic doesn’t allow for any other conclusion. Two plus two can never equal three, five, seventeen or 38,000. Two plus two always equals four. Every truth is equally narrow-minded. Racism is wrong. Period! First degree murder is evil. Period! Incest, rape and armed robbery are always bad. Case closed! All truth and all truth claims are exclusive, narrow-minded and intolerant. Truth couldn’t care less about being politically correct. Truth doesn’t dabble in the “touchy-feely.” Truth is truth whether we like it or not.

In our culture where a growing number of Christians are more concerned with being politically correct than biblically correct, we need to embrace and speak the truth regarding salvation and heaven. We need to lock arms with Shane Harper and boldly proclaim the gospel. Pastor John MacArthur says it well: “As long as Christians are being duped or intimidated into softening the bold claims of Christ and widening the narrow road, the church will make no headway against postmodernism. We need to recover the distinctiveness of the gospel. We need to regain our confidence in the power of God’s truth. And we need to proclaim boldly that Christ is the only true hope for the people of this world. That may not be what people want to hear…but it is true nonetheless. [Therefore,] it is all the more urgent that we rise above all voices of confusion in the world and say so.”

Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information, visit www.fccvv.com  and join us for worship Sundays at 10 am.