and Judgment to Come"
What does it mean to be a Christian? Is it limited to receiving the forgiveness of our sins? Have we reduced Christianity to regular attendance of the scheduled worship services? Has our religion been streamlined to a checklist adherence of doctrinal positions? Is evangelism the only goal of the gospel? Or, does Jesus' teaching consist of something more?
Certainly, various aspects of true Christianity are represented by these activities; however, as we conveniently simplify Christ's will to a select set of blessings and responsibilities, we will inherently distort these points beyond their intended place, overlooking crucial and vital components of the gospel. One such issue that may be minimized is morality. As you read the following account of Paul's preaching to Felix, please notice the following inspired breakdown, summarizing Paul's gospel message of reason:
But after certain days, Felix came with Drusilla, his wife, who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ Jesus. And as he reasoned of righteousness, and self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was terrified, and answered, "Go thy way for this time; and when I have a convenient season, I will call thee unto me". (Acts 24:24-25)
Based on this verse, a necessary component of all gospel preaching must be the proclamation of God's standard of righteousness and morality. Adherence to this standard requires self-control, which also must be taught. Ultimately, we must warn of God's pending judgment that awaits all of us. Failure to do this is a disservice to those we teach, and it is a dereliction of our duties before God (II Corinthians 5:10-11). Consequently, this series of articles is focused on disseminating the moral requirements of the Lord's kingdom. Because morality relates to the transformation of our inner man, our concern for righteousness manifests our desire for a personal closeness and intimate relationship with our Savior. Following this theme, the remainder of this article will examine the need and motivation for Christian morality.
Sin, as evidenced by our guilt and desire for forgiveness, implies the existence of a standard, for without law, there is no transgression and no sin (Romans 4:15). What is this standard to which God has called all of us?
"... as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy.'" (I Peter 1:14-16)
In brief, God has called us to a standard that is consistent with His own character. In ancient days, God made a covenant with the Hebrews, also known as the Old Law. This law contained many ritual regulations to maintain ceremonial holiness; however, these carnal ordinances were symbolic of the spiritual holiness, which God now requires of us today ("a shadow of things to come" - Colossians 2:16-17; Galatians 3:19, 23-24). Does this mean that God was unconcerned with man's heart during the days of the Old Covenant? What do you think?
With what shall I come before the LORD, And bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, With calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, Ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:6-8)
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. (Deuteronomy 6:5-6)
They hate the one who rebukes in the gate, And they abhor the one who speaks uprightly. Therefore, because you tread down the poor And take grain taxes from him ... For I know your manifold transgressions And your mighty sins: Afflicting the just and taking bribes; Diverting the poor from justice at the gate. ... Hate evil, love good; Establish justice in the gate. It may be that the LORD God of hosts Will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. ... I hate, I despise your feast days, And I do not savor your sacred assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, Nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs, For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. But let justice run down like water, And righteousness like a mighty stream. (Amos 5:10-24)
Do these Old Testament passages reflect an Old Testament God, Who cared only about external ceremonies? Absolutely not! Not only was God more concerned with the internal man, it was essential that one's heart be right and that he manifest a personal life of righteousness; otherwise, all the outward rituals were performed in vain!
Has God relaxed His moral requirements for righteousness under the New Covenant? Although many of the outward rituals have been eliminated, God's desire for a truly righteous heart and moral life have only been further emphasized under the New Law:
Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," "You shall not bear false witness," "You shall not covet," and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:8-10)
Not only does this passage reinstate several of the basic moral requirements from the Old Law, it also illuminates the actual connection between these moral requirements and the inward man - love. Our obedience to these righteous requirements is an expression of our love for our fellow man and even for God (Matthew 22:36-40). Therefore, living righteously not only exhibits a humble, submissive spirit before our Lord, but as we mature and understand more about God's law, it manifests a desire to reciprocate God's love and to reflect God's love upon others - to love others as He loved us (I John 4:10-12). These are just three of the reasons why we should keep God's righteous commands. Other reasons include, but are not limited to:
- Produces the best possible life here, full of good, peace, and fulfillment (Deuteronomy 6:24-25; Ecclesiastes 12:13)
- Transforms us to be more like Christ and God (II Peter 1:2-4; Romans 12:1-2)
- To glorify God (Matthew 5:16; I Peter 2:11-13)
- Possibly many more, including each of the sub-reasons that are derived as an elaboration upon the above points
- And one other, which we will discuss further below
As is self-evident from common experience, God's righteousness is not compatible with the desires of the carnal man:
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:5-8)
Therefore, to become a child of God, one of the first things we must do is to repent and give up the ways of the carnal man:
I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. (Luke 13:1-9).
Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, (Acts 3:19)
Of what sins should we repent? What good works should we do in the place of the old? No single passage contains all the possible answers to these questions. One must study the Bible diligently, and as he does so, he will better learn God's requirements for him. However, here are a few passages that clearly list sins, which we must avoid, and righteousness, which we should perform:
Sinful works of the flesh:
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:28-32)
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. (I Corinthians 6:9-10)
But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. (Revelation 21:8)
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
Righteous works of the spirit:
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. ... But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16-25)
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (II Peter 1:2-8)
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. ... (Colossians 3:12-14)
Many more passages could be multiplied, like Romans 12:1-13:14, Galatians 6:1-10, Ephesians 4:17-6:20, etc. Virtually every book of the New Testament contains some admonition unto good works, which is one of the primary reasons for our purification (Titus 1:16; 2:11-3:8).
How does one repent from dead works and turn to works of righteousness, morality, and holiness? Certainly, God's grace is an inseparable component of this answer, but the link in the chain of salvation, which we wish to emphasize here, is self-control. God does indeed graciously provide us with the tools needed for mastering our own bodies:
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (II Corinthians 10:3-5)
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints ... (Ephesians 6:10-18)
However, if we do not take advantage of these tools, then they will do us no good. God does put His armor on us. He does not stick His sword in our hand, neither does He make our decisions for us. Therefore, we must exhibit self-control, choosing to give up the "the passing pleasures of sin" in exchange for the reward of Christ (Hebrews 11:24-26). Moreover, we must recognize our weaknesses and go so far as to avoid the situations that provide occasion for sin (Romans 13:12-14). It is no wonder that self-control and temperance is a reoccurring theme found throughout the Scriptures (I Corinthians 9:24-27; I Corinthians 7:2-9; Galatians 5:22-23; I Timothy 2:15; 3:2, 11; II Timothy 3:1-5; Titus 1:8; 2:2; II Peter 1:6; ).
Clearly, if we do not exercise self-control, our carnal flesh will continue to seek sinful satisfaction. However, as we have seen, God gives us the tools to overcome and master the flesh. Furthermore, He gives us the motivation to use and gain experiences with these tools. We have examined some of these already, but we have reserved the most direct motivation for last, which we will now examine.
Beware "Judgment to Come"
As has already been mentioned, the carnal man is incapable of understanding the nobility of God's holy requirements. It should be no surprise that the worldly man may scoff at the virtues of God's love, especially bestowing such love on our enemies, as God did for us (Romans 5:6-8; I John 4:9-10, 19). Likely, the carnally minded man will be skeptical of God's wisdom and purpose contained within His laws. However, there is one divinely provided motivation that even the most depraved beast understands - punishment and reward!
It seems that God has provided this motivation to move even the most calloused soul, if He will but believe. As illustration of this point, please notice that many of the passages, which we previously examined, include some warning of judgment to come as reason for repentance:
but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy." And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear (I Peter 1:15-17)
... who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:28-32)
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived ... (I Corinthians 6:9-10)
... shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. (Revelation 21:8)
... and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. (Colossians 3:5-8)
Once we realize that we will each stand before God Almighty and give a personal account for actions done in our body (II Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:10-12), suddenly the gospel takes on a whole new light of practical significance. There is a day appointed for judgment, our judgment. If we do not repent and seek to work the righteousness of the Lord, then we will stand condemned:
"Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man's devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent,because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead." (Acts 17:29-31)
As Paul observes, the certainty of this judgment is bound to the resurrection of Jesus. The evidence that God provides to sustain our faith in Jesus and the resurrection, is the same evidence that assures us of our coming judgment before God. Therefore, we cannot dismiss the potential of an eternal judgment without denying Jesus' resurrection from the dead. God's judgment is real. It is coming. And, hell is as eternal as the saint's reward in heaven (Matthew 25:31-34, 41, 46). "God is not mocked". Do not deceive yourself into thinking you may escape the judgment of God (Galatians 6:7-8).
How should you react to this message? The recipient of Paul's message, Felix, responded correctly at first: - "Felix was terrified". Unfortunately, Felix's final response was not consistent with his initial reaction. He found a way to put off repentance.
Although this may be unacceptable to some, the gospel does lead off with bad news, if you do not already know it: We are sinners and have fallen short of God's glory intended for us (Romans 3:23). We must repent and exercise self-control, because judgment awaits all of us, including eternal condemnation for the unrepentant and unrighteous (Revelation 20:11-21:8). The possibility of missing paradise in God's heaven and instead spending eternity with all the wicked beings of all time in a place of torment and punishment should chill us to our bones. The question that remains, which only you can answer is, "What is your response to the reasoning of the gospel message?" Will you, like Felix, be terrified but put off a positive decision until a more convenient time, which will never come. Or, will you like the Jews on Pentecost, seek a remedy to your predicament - the good news of the gospel?
"Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call." And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation." Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. (Acts 2:36-41)
As you read through the remaining articles in this series, remember: God has set up a standard of righteousness, which He expects you to keep. If all other noble motivations fail, do not forget that there is a judgment to come.
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