Daily Archives: September 12, 2014

Questions about God: If God Is Omnipresent, Does that Mean God Is in Hell?

 

God’s omnipresence is one of His essential attributes. His justice is also essential, and, therefore, it is necessary for Him to punish sinners who do not trust in Jesus for salvation. Thus, we have a God who is referred to as everywhere present yet who maintains a place called hell, described as a place where people are removed from His presence (see Matthew 25:41).

Three passages are particularly important to this discussion. First is Psalm 139:7–12, in which David says, “Where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” Sheol is simply a transliteration of a Hebrew noun that means “the grave” or “the place of the dead.” Sheol is a broad term and is not synonymous with hell, the word commonly used to refer to the eternal place of punishment.

Second Thessalonians 1:7–9 says that those who do not know God “will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (emphasis added). Yet Revelation 14:10 says that any who worship the antichrist “will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb” (emphasis added). These two verses are by far the most confusing on this topic because of their apparent contradiction. Even so, there is a rather simple explanation found in the original Greek.

In Revelation 14:10, “presence” is a literal translation of the Greek enopion, which means “in the presence of, before.” This is a spatial word, suggesting proximity and literal, measurable distances. In contrast, the word translated “presence” in 2 Thessalonians is prosopon, which most commonly refers to a person’s face or outward appearance. Paul appears to have taken this verbiage directly from Isaiah 2:10 as found in the Septuagint. There are other references to God and His people being “separated,” even on earth. Jesus’ cry of agony on the cross is one example (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). Theologian Dr. Louis Berkhof teaches that Paul refers to “a total absence of the favor of God.” This description of hell would present a more exact opposite to heaven. Heaven provides blessing and wholeness not through being closer spatially to God, but by being in complete fellowship with Him. Hell is associated with a complete lack of blessing due to the severing of any fellowship with God.

Ultimately, it appears that God is indeed “present” in hell, or hell is in His presence, depending on how one looks at it. God is and will forever be omnipresent. He will forever know what is happening in hell. However, this fact does not mean that the souls imprisoned there will have a relationship with God or any communication with Him.[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Church: What Does the Bible Say about Shunning?

 

To shun is to deliberately avoid or keep away from something or someone. In the Bible, the word shun is applied to evil. The Lord said that His servant Job was “blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8). Job himself confessed that “the fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding” (Job 28:28). The Bible advises us, “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil” (Proverbs 3:7–8). “A wise man fears the Lord and shuns evil” (Proverbs 14:16). So, shunning evil is good.

But what about shunning people? Certain societies (such as in Bali) and religious groups (such as the Amish) practice shunning as a means of punishment against those who are considered traitorous, sinful, or apostate. Normally, the ostracized person has broken a taboo or in some way violated an established standard. The group issuing the sanction refuses to associate with the shunned person, sometimes even refusing to acknowledge his or her existence. Some cults use the threat of shunning as a tool of spiritual manipulation. Some (but not all) Mennonite groups shun an excommunicated member for life and consider him lost and without hope of salvation, regardless of his association with other churches. Does the Bible say anything about this type of shunning? Is there any justification for the practice of shunning a family member or church member?

While shunning often connotes legalistic tendencies, there is a proper place for breaking an association. The Bible teaches excommunication as a form of church discipline. In 1 Timothy 1:20, the apostle Paul said he had handed Hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme. The two blasphemers had been excluded from the church. Out in the world, away from the church, they would be open to the full force of the god of that worldly system. In 2 Timothy 2:17–18, we discover what these men did to warrant expulsion from the church: they had denounced the physical resurrection and were dividing the church by teaching an early form of the heresy of Gnosticism. This was no misdemeanor or petty sin. Such drastic action as excommunication is always a last resort and is never taken lightly.

First Corinthians 5:1–5 also uses the expression “to hand over to Satan” concerning a man in unrepentant, flagrant sin. In verses 12–13, Paul indicates that such discipline is meant for church members, not for the outside world: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked man from among you.’ ” Verse 11 says that, in cases of blatant sin, believers must disassociate themselves from the erring brother or sister (see also 2 Thessalonians 3:14).

The goal of excommunication is restoration (Galatians 6:1). Being officially ostracised from the church, the sinner might be brought to repentance. If either Hymanaeus or Alexander later realized that he had sinned against God, he could repent and come back to the church for forgiveness and reinstatement. The same was true for the man in the Corinthian church—in fact, he later did return and was restored (2 Corinthians 2:6–11).

Jesus had this to say about church discipline: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses even to listen to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15–17). Again, we see that excommunication is a last resort, after repeated warnings (cf. Titus 3:10). Jesus’ command to treat an intractable offender as a “pagan” or a “tax collector” means simply to consider such a one as unsaved. How are we to treat the unsaved? With love and grace. They need to be evangelized. We are to love even our enemies (Matthew 5:44).

Some denominations use passages such as 1 Timothy 1:20 as justification for shunning any member of their group who has been expelled. After being cast out of the congregation, he is utterly ignored. This happens even to family members who have been expelled. Parents will no longer communicate with their children, with their own biological brother and sisters or even with their own spouse. This results in the breaking up of families. Such actions are not condoned by the Bible. To remove someone from the membership roll of a church is not the same as shunning him. Close fellowship may be broken, but we are not commanded to break all ties with those in sin. We never get to the place of “writing someone off” for good.

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). That is how the church should deal with those who are subject to church discipline. The purpose of the discipline is to prompt repentance and, ultimately, to reunite our fallen brother or sister with the church body.

Scripturally, excluding a person from the church is preceded by admonition and counsel; it is only employed in the case of bona fide heresy, obdurate divisiveness, or sexual sin; and it is a last resort. After excommunication, the relationship between the former member and the church naturally changes; however, the church still has the responsibility to pray for the one being disciplined and to extending forgiveness when repentance is evident. Shunning, as defined by a refusal to speak to someone or by a total severing of all ties, goes beyond what the Bible advocates.[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Salvation: What Does It Mean that Good Works Are the Result of Salvation?

 

Ephesians 2:8–9 makes it clear that we are not saved by good works. In fact, before we are saved, our works are done in the flesh and cannot please God; even our most “righteous” deeds fall far short of God’s glory (see Romans 3:20 and Isaiah 64:6). We can be saved only because God is gracious and merciful and has designed a way for us to be declared righteous when we are not (Psalm 86:5; Ephesians 2:4). When Jesus became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21), we inherited His righteousness. Salvation is a divine exchange: our tattered rags of self-effort for the perfection of Christ. Because His death and resurrection paid the price for our evil deeds, we can be declared perfect before God (Romans 5:1). We are told to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” like a flawless garment (Romans 13:14).

At salvation, the Holy Spirit moves into the repentant heart (Acts 2:38). Self is no longer the uncontested lord of our lives. Jesus is now the boss. That’s what it means to say that Jesus is “Lord” (Romans 10:9; Colossians 2:6). We were once headed south; we are now headed north. Everything is changed. We begin to view life from God’s perspective, not our own—as John Newton wrote, “I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”

The sins we once committed without thought now bring conviction. To know God is to see sin the way He sees it. First John 3:9 says, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.” Instead of sin, the born-again Christian produces “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). Salvation enables us to live “in the Spirit” and so truly perform good works (Galatians 5:16).

Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” God’s goal in saving us was not only to rescue us from hell, but also that we would reflect His character and goodness to the world. God delights to see us becoming more like His Son (Romans 8:29). We were created in God’s image. Sin marred that image. When God bought us back for Himself, it was to restore His image in us and free us to become all we were created to be. When the Holy Spirit comes to live inside us, He prompts us to do things that glorify God (John 14:26). Our desire to please God grows as our understanding of Him grows. That desire to please God results in good works.

It is biblically inconsistent to say that someone has beensavedbut has notchanged. Many people go through the outward motions of giving their lives to Christ, but no lifestyle change follows. That is not real salvation but is a “dead” faith (James 2:26). When you walk into a dark room and flip the switch, you expect light. If no light appears, you rightly assume something is wrong. It would be logically inconsistent to say that the light is on when the room is still pitch black. Light naturally dispels darkness. When a dark heart receives the light of salvation, it is illuminated (John 12:46). Priorities change. Desires change. Outlook changes. Life is seen clearly for the first time. If the darkness of sin continues, we can rightly assume no light came on.

To use another biblical analogy, God wants to produce fruit in our lives (see Galatians 5:22–23). He is the Vinedresser, Jesus is the Vine, and we are the branches. The branches are naturally attached to the vine; from the vine they get their support, their ability to produce fruit, and their very life. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit” (John 15:5). That is the purpose of the vineyard—to produce “much fruit.” Good works follow salvation.

So, although we cannot be savedbyour good works, when wearesaved, wewillproduce good works. Just as a baby will grow after birth, so a believer will grow after the new birth. We grow at different rates and in different ways, but a live birth results in growth. If a baby never grows, there is something very wrong. No one expects a baby to stay a baby forever. As he grows, the child begins to look more and more like his parents. In the same way, after salvation, we grow, and we begin to look more and more like our Heavenly Father. This is only possible as we “abide in Him” and allow Him to reproduce His character in us (John 15:4).

Good works do not produce salvation. Good works are the product of salvation. Jesus said to His followers, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

GTY Blog: Insufficient Help, Part 2

by John MacArthur

Why has the church been so quick to accept psychology? In large part it is because psychologists portray themselves as members of the scientific community. In our scientific age, unequivocal acceptance in the academic community must mean that psychology’s truth claims are unassailable, right?

How Scientific Are the Behavioral Sciences?

After decades of growing acceptance, most advocates of psychology simply assume that psychology is a true science. But it is not. It is a pseudo-science, the most recent of several human inventions designed to explain, diagnose, and treat behavioral problems without dealing with moral and spiritual issues.

Psychology is not a uniform body of scientific knowledge, like thermodynamics or organic chemistry. When we speak of psychology we refer to a complex menagerie of ideas and theories, many of which are contradictory. Psychology has not even proved capable of dealing effectively with the human mind and with mental and emotional processes. Thus it can hardly be regarded as a science.

Many, I’m sure, will object to my classifying psychology as a pseudo-science. But that’s exactly what it is. Little more than a century ago debate was raging over a different kind of “behavioral science” called phrenology. Phrenology held that personality characteristics were determined by the shape of someone’s skull. A phrenologist would feel people’s skulls, diagnosing their problems by the location of bumps on their heads.

If you think behavioral science has advanced greatly since then, ask yourself how reasonable it is to surround an adult in the fetal position with pillows so he can get back in touch with his prenatal anxieties. Given the choice, I believe I would opt for someone poking around on my head!

Modern psychologists use hundreds of counseling models and techniques based on a myriad of conflicting theories, so it is impossible to speak of psychotherapy as if it were a unified and consistent science.

But the basis of modern psychology can be summarized in several commonly held ideas that have their roots in early Freudian humanism. These are the very same ideas many Christians are zealously attempting to synthesize with biblical truth:

  • Human nature is basically good.
  • People have the answers to their problems inside them.
  • A person’s past is the key to understanding and correcting attitudes and actions.
  • An individual’s problems are the result of what someone else has done to him or her.
  • Human problems can be purely psychological in nature, unrelated to any spiritual or physical condition.
  • Deep-seated problems can be solved only by professional counselors using therapy.
  • Scripture, prayer, and the Holy Spirit are inadequate and simplistic resources for solving certain types of problems.

Those and other similar godless theories have filtered into the church from the assorted stuff in the psychological tank. Tragically, they are having a profound and disturbing effect on the church’s approach to helping people. Many sincere Christians are seriously off track in their understanding of what counseling is and what it is supposed to accomplish.

Ironically, even before the church became infatuated with “behavioral science,” those who know it best were beginning to question whether psychotherapy is a science at all. In 1979, Time magazine ran a cover story called “Psychiatry on the Couch.” It said this:

On every front, psychiatry seems to be on the defensive. … Many psychiatrists want to abandon treatment of ordinary, everyday neurotics (“the worried well”) to psychologists and the amateur Pop therapists. …

Psychiatrists themselves acknowledge that their profession often smacks of modern alchemy—full of jargon, obfuscation and mystification, but precious little real knowledge. …

As always, psychiatrists are their own severest critics. Thomas Szasz, long the most outspoken gadfly of his profession, insists that there is really no such thing as mental illness, only normal problems of living. E. Fuller Torrey, another antipsychiatry psychiatrist, is willing to concede that there are a few brain diseases, like schizophrenia, but says they can be treated with only a handful of drugs that could be administered by general practitioners or internists. …

Even mainline practitioners are uncertain that psychiatry can tell the insane from the sane. [1]

The article concludes with a pessimistic forecast by Ross Baldessarini, a psychiatrist and biochemist at the Mailman Research Center. He told Time, “We are not going to find the causes and cures of mental illness in the foreseeable future.” [2]

Several years later, a conference in Phoenix, Arizona, brought together the world’s leading experts on psychotherapy for what was billed as the largest meeting ever held on the subject. The conference, called “The Evolution of Psychotherapy,” drew 7,000 mental-health experts from all over the world. It was the largest such gathering in history, billed by its organizer as the Woodstock of psychotherapy.

One truth came out clearly in the conference: among therapists there is little agreement. There is no unified “science” of psychotherapy; only a cacophony of clashing theories and therapies.

The Los Angeles Times, for example, quoted Laing, who “said that he couldn’t think of any fundamental insight into human relations that has resulted from a century of psychotherapy. ‘I don’t think we’ve gone beyond Socrates, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, or even Flaubert by the age of 15,’ ” he said. [3] Laing added,

“I don’t think psychiatry is a science at all. It’s not like chemistry or physics where we build up a body of knowledge and progress.” [4]

Jeffrey Zeig, organizer of the conference, said there may be as many as a hundred different theories in the United States alone. Most of them, he said, are “doomed to fizzle.” [5]

Psychology is no more a science than the atheistic evolutionary theory upon which it is based. Like theistic evolution, “Christian psychology” is an attempt to harmonize two inherently contradictory systems of thought. Modern psychology and the Bible cannot be blended without serious compromise to or utter abandonment of the principle of Scripture’s sufficiency.

Though it has become a lucrative business, psychotherapy cannot solve anyone’s spiritual problems. At best it can occasionally use human insight to superficially modify behavior. It succeeds or fails for Christians and non-Christians equally because it is only a temporal adjustment—a sort of mental chiropractic. It cannot change the human heart, and even the experts admit that.

(Adapted from Our Sufficiency in Christ)


[1] Time, 2 April 1979, p. 74.

[2] Ibid., p. 82.

[3] Ann Japenga, “Great Minds on the Mind Assemble for Conference,” Los Angeles Times, 18 December 1985, p. 1.

[4] Ibid., p. 17.

[5] Ibid., p. 16.


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Yieldedness unto Spirit-filling

Possessing the Treasure

by Mike Ratliff

1 Παρακαλῶ οὖν ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί, διὰ τῶν οἰκτιρμῶν τοῦ θεοῦ παραστῆσαι τὰ σώματα ὑμῶν θυσίαν ζῶσαν ἁγίαν εὐάρεστον τῷ θεῷ, τὴν λογικὴν λατρείαν ὑμῶν· 2 καὶ μὴ συσχηματίζεσθε τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ, ἀλλὰ μεταμορφοῦσθε τῇ ἀνακαινώσει τοῦ νοὸς εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς τί τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ, τὸ ἀγαθὸν καὶ εὐάρεστον καὶ τέλειον. (Romans 12:1-2 NA28)

1 Therefore, I urge you brothers through the compassions of God to present your bodies as living, holy sacrifices, well pleasing to God, which is your spiritual service. 2 And do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may discern the will of God, that which is good and well pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

One of the requirements for Spirit-filling, which is truly the key to that filling, is “yieldedness.” Those professing Christians I have…

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CONTENTMENT

Samuel at Gilgal

Arthur W. PinkArthur W. Pink:

Instead of complaining at his lot, a contented man is thankful that his condition and circumstances are no worse than they are. Instead of greedily desiring something more than the supply of his present need, he rejoices that God still cares for him. Such a one is “content” with such as he has (Heb. 13:5).

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