What to Do When Christians Let You Down

Have you ever felt disappointed by someone you look up to in the faith? Whether it’s something as big as a pastor falling into sexual sin or as small as having your feelings hurt by a friend you trust, Christians will let you down. Jesus knew that kind of disappointment when his disciples failed him in his hour of need. “The story of the gospel is a story of disciples who fail a Savior who never fails,” Nancy Guthrie says. “When someone disappoints you, let it be an invitation to re-examine where your confidence lies.”

You can listen to the episode here or watch a video.


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10 Things You Should Know about the New Heaven and New Earth

Where will believers in Jesus spend eternity? It won’t be on a cloud or a star in some distant galaxy. It will be on the sanctified and redeemed soil of the new earth. Here are ten things you should about what eternal life will be like in the new heaven and new earth.

(1) According to Revelation 21:1 this present earth and the heavens above will “pass away” when Jesus Christ returns to destroy his enemies and consummate his kingdom. But this present earth does not give way to a purely spiritual existence somewhere in the clouds above. The “first heaven and the first earth” give way to a new heaven and a new earth. The relationship between the former and the latter is ambiguous. Will the new heaven and earth replace the old or simply be a renewal of what we now experience? Certainly there are elements of continuity, even as there are between our present, corruptible bodies and our future, incorruptible and glorified bodies. We will be in heaven the same, though transformed, people that we are now. Yet, the heaven and earth to come are also said to be “new” or kainos, a word which typically indicates newness of quality, not time.

(2) One element of discontinuity between the present earth and the new earth is the absence of the “sea” in the new creation. Those of you who love to fish and sail and water ski and ponder the expanse and beauty of the ocean need not worry. John does not mean that there won’t be bodies of water in the new earth for us to enjoy.

The “sea” was typically regarded as symbolic of evil, chaos, and anti-kingdom powers with whom Yahweh must contend. See especially Isaiah 17:12-13; 27:1; 51:9-10; 57:20; Jer. 46:7-8; Job 26:7-13. And we must not forget that in Revelation 13:1 (see also 17:2, 15) the “sea” is the origin of the Beast as well as the pagan and rebellious nations that oppose the kingdom of God. It is also the place of the dead (Rev. 20:13) and the location of the world’s idolatrous trade activity (18:10-19). As Ladd has noted, in ancient times the sea “represented the realm of the dark, the mysterious, and the treacherous” (276; cf. Ps. 107:25-28; Ezek. 28:8; Dan. 7:3ff). Thus, this is John’s way of saying that in the new creation all such evil and corruption and unbelief and darkness will be banished.

When Jesus stilled the storm on the Sea of Galilee he was giving us a foretaste of heaven. It was his way of saying that one day he will rid the heavens and the earth of all opposition and rebellion and disturbances.

(3) At the center of life in the new earth is the New Jerusalem. It’s important to remember that the New Jerusalem is more than a place. The New Jerusalem is also a people: you and me! Here we see that the descent of the new Jerusalem from heaven to earth is compared to a bride coming to her husband. It would appear that John is equating the new Jerusalem with the bride of Christ, hence the Church = the New Jerusalem (see Rev. 3:12; 19:7-8). This identification is explicitly reinforced by Revelation 21:9-10 where John is told, “’Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” In other words, whereas in one sense the people of God shall dwell in the New Jerusalem, in another sense the people of God are the New Jerusalem (see also Heb. 11:8-10,13-16).

(4) The glory of life on the new earth is found in the intimate fellowship we will experience with God. We read in Revelation 21:3, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (see Lev. 26:11-12 and Ezek. 37:27; cf. 2 Cor. 6:16). This is what makes heaven so heavenly! What makes heaven heaven isn’t the absence of the things that we dislike now on earth. What makes heaven heaven is the presence of God! Heaven will be glorious not primarily because there will be no sin or death or pain or tears but because of the presence of God.

No longer will there be any sense of distance between us and God. Never again will you feel that God is absent or remote. Loneliness is banished from the new heaven and new earth. Our constant companion, our closest and most intimate friend will be God himself! Yes, God is omnipresent. He fills the galaxies with his glory. But his primary place of residence is with you and me! If today you don’t sense God’s nearness, comfort and reassure yourself with the promise that in eternity future you will always and forever be with God and God will always and forever be with you.

(5) In the new heaven and new earth tears of sorrow and pain will be banished (Rev. 21:4). How could we possibly weep in sorrow and sadness and anguish if we are with God and God is with us? There are, of course, multiple reasons why we cry. Tears of joy and gratitude and amazement will certainly be present in the new earth. But gone forever are the tears caused by grief and pain and sin. The tears that we shed now because of persecution and slander will nowhere be found in the age to come.

(6) It isn’t the case that you and I will wipe away our own tears. God will wipe away every tear from your eyes. Many of you are weeping today. Some of you hold back tears of sorrow and suffering for fear that if you ever yielded to the tendency to weep you wouldn’t be able to stop the flow. But in the new earth God will personally wipe away every tear! He will personally banish from your thoughts and your experience everything and anything that in this life led you to cry.

Here we find the fulfillment of what is prophesied by Isaiah (35:10):

“And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; and they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

(7) There will no longer be death in the new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21:4). Not of husbands, wives, aunts, uncles, children, brothers, sisters, grandfathers, grandmothers, cousins, friends, neighbors. Funeral homes will be put out of business. Cemeteries will be empty, for all will have been raised in glorified bodies that are no longer susceptible to disease and decay. Never again the long meetings at the funeral home deciding on caskets and vaults and limo’s and flowers. No graveside services. No obituaries to be read, no video tributes of a person’s life. No eulogies. No flowers to be sent or cards of condolence to be written. Never again a long caravan of cars with their headlights on. No police escorts to the cemetery. No headstones or awkward moments when you don’t know what to say.

(8) Neither shall there be any more pain (Rev. 21:4). There will be no physical pain because our bodies will have been glorified and made like unto the body of Jesus. Paul spoke of this in Romans 8 and called it “the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). Earlier in Romans 8 he made this remarkable promise: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Jesus Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11).

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul again declares that “this perishable body,” that is to say, this body that is subject to germs and bacteria and cancer and old age and decay, “this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality, . . . [and] then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’” (1 Cor. 15:53-56).

This is again what Paul had in mind when he assured us in Philippians 3 that Jesus “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:21). That is why there will no longer be kidney failure or heart disease or diabetes or cancer. No more asking why me or how long? No decay or dissolution.

Those of you who live with constant, chronic pain and disability should be especially encouraged and empowered to persevere. The day is coming, and when it comes it comes forever, never to be reversed, when all pain will be gone! And not just physical pain, but emotional pain, marital pain, relational pain, the pain of a wayward child or an unfaithful spouse, the pain of disappointment and loss, indeed, the pain of every sort and from every cause, all will be gone!

You who suffer from depression or anxiety or relentless fear will forever and finally be set free! The joy and happiness and elation that will be yours will immeasurably, indeed infinitely exceed anything you have ever experienced in this life or hope to have experienced.

This is because “the former things have passed away” (v. 4). The “former things” refers to whatever may have been the cause of your pain. It will have disappeared, never to re-emerge. Indeed, as God himself declares in v. 5, he is “making all things new.”

(9) In the new heaven and new earth God will make all things new (Rev. 21:5). We will be made spiritually and morally new in the sense that our battle with sin and temptation and lust and greed and envy will be forever over. Your frustration with not being able to do what you know is right and your guilt for having failed will be gone. The struggle to resist wicked and perverse thoughts will give way to constant victory.

As I have already stated, we will be made physically and bodily new. There will be enough continuity between what we look like now and what we’ll look like then that we will undoubtedly recognize one another. But gone will be all defects and disabilities. You who are frustrated with your bodies now and live in constant envy of those you regard as more attractive or more athletic than you will never experience that in the new earth. If you hate your body now, you will love it then. Paralysis will be gone. Blemishes will be eliminated. Deafness and blindness and every deformity will be banished.

Let’s be clear about this once again. You will not spend eternity as a disembodied soul or spirit. You will live forever in a new, transformed, glorified physical body that is perfectly suited and adaptable to life in the new heaven and new earth.

(10) “Sam, you say all this with such energy and confidence. How can you be so certain? How do you know it isn’t all a pipe dream? How can I be sure that if I put my hope in this promise it won’t come crashing down on me and leave me disappointed as has happened in so many other instances?” Good question. The answer is given in Revelation 21:5 – “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

How do we know they are trustworthy and true? We know because they are the words of him who is “the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end” (v. 6). God has staked his reputation on it. His honor and fidelity hang in the balance. He said it, therefore it will come to pass. In fact, God speaks as if it has already come to pass. “It is done” (v. 6) is literally, “it has happened” (perfect tense). But even more to the point, the verb is plural, hence: “everything has happened”! In speaking this way God assures us as only he can that everything he promised will most assuredly come to pass.

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On My Shelf: Life and Books with Scott Swain

On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their lives as readers.

I asked Scott Swain—president and professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida, and author of Trinity, Revelation, and Reading and The God of the Gospel—about what’s on his nightstand, his favorite fiction, books that have most influenced his thinking, and more.

What books are on your nightstand?

For the past year and a half or so, I’ve been on something of an Augustine kick. Of late, I’ve been reading three of the bishop of Hippo’s treatises on the nature of marriage, celibacy, and Christian sanctification: The Excellence of Marriage; Holy Virginity; and Continence (New City Press). Though not without his own idiosyncrasies and mistakes, Augustine has much to teach both conservatives and progressives on the nature of sex and sanctification.

Other theological books on my shelf include:

For work and pleasure respectively, I’ve also been reading Cal Newport’s Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World and Adam Roberts’s The Thing Itself.

What are your favorite fiction books?

I don’t read as much fiction as I’d like, but when I get the chance I enjoy authors such as John Updike and P. D. James. Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country was an early favorite that deeply affected me as a teenager. More recently, Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead probably sits at the top of my list of favorite fiction books.

What books have most influenced your thinking and how?

I read John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion during my first Christmas break in seminary. Though I wasn’t raised in a Reformed context, Calvin’s Institutes offered me pastoral, exegetical, and theological mentoring from afar that defined my approach to the Bible, theology, and piety.

D. G. Hart’s Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America introduced me to the category of “confessional Protestantism,” not only shaping my self-understanding at an early stage of theological development, but also suggesting a model for the renewal of Protestantism through investment in the institutions of historic, confessional Christianity.

Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine influenced the way I think about the subject matter of the Bible and, consequently, about the nature of biblical interpretation. It was Augustine, not modern books on biblical interpretation, who taught me that the Bible is about the blessed Trinity, about the humility and glory of Jesus Christ, and about nurturing a community devoted to the love of God and neighbor.

Though not (yet) a book, John Webster’s unpublished Kantzer Lectures in Revealed Theology—the manuscript of which he kindly shared with me a number of years ago—crystalized my thinking on several theological issues and continues to inform my prayer, thinking, research, and teaching.

What three books on the doctrine of God have you found most helpful?

Three of the most helpful books for grasping the basic “grammar” of Christian teaching about God are:

The first is a series of sermons delivered around the time of the Council of Constantinople. The latter two are academic works, by no means easy reads, but sure to reward the patient and studious reader with deeper, more intelligent adoration of the God we worship.

What’s the last great book you read?

Paul J. Griffiths’s Decreation: The Last Things of All Creatures is the most stimulating work in theology I have read in a while. Both formally and materially, this book is a model of excellence in the craft of theology, promoting insight in every paragraph—even when it provokes profound disagreement, as it does at several junctures in the argument.

What’s one book you wish every pastor read?

Like John the Baptist, pastors are “friends of the bridegroom” (John 3:29), charged with contemplating and commending the beauty of Jesus Christ to the church, which is his bride. John Owen’s The Person of Christ: Declaring a Glorious Mystery—God and Man will serve the pastor well in fulfilling this delightful duty. (Christian Focus has recently published an unabridged, reader friendly edition of this classic Christological text.)

What are you learning about life and following Jesus?

I’m always learning and relearning one of the most basic lessons of the Bible: that “the LORD is good” (Ps. 34:8) and that our lives, in their greatest extremities of joy and sorrow, as well as in their smallest details, are governed by the sovereign goodness of “the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (Jas. 1:17).

I’m also continuing to learn that there is great joy in self-forgetful service of God and neighbor, that denying ourselves, for Christ’s sake, is the path to finding ourselves (Matt. 16:25).

Finally, I’m learning the painful lesson that unlike houses, cars, coats, and ties, persons are irreplaceable. For this reason, their losses in this life are worthy of lament. For this reason also, our reunion with lost mentors, colleagues, friends, and loved ones in the next life will be essential to our eternal happiness in God.

Also in the On My Shelf series: Chad Bird • Sam Chan • Matthew Lee Anderson • Melissa Kruger • Isaac Adams • Denny Burk • Vermon Pierre • Jake Meador • Russ Ramsey • Jason Allen • Jason Cook • Mack Stiles • Michael Kruger • Robert Smith • Tony Merida • Andy Crouch • Walter Strickland • Hannah Anderson • S. D. Smith • Curtis Woods • Mindy Belz • Steve Timmis • David Mathis • Michael Lindsay • Nathan Finn • Jennifer Marshall • Todd Billings • Greg Thornbury • Greg Forster • Jen Pollock Michel • Sam Storms • Barton Swaim • John Stonestreet • George Marsden • Andrew Wilson • Sally Lloyd-Jones • Darryl Williamson • D. A. Horton • Carl Ellis • Owen Strachan • Thomas Kidd • David Murray • Jarvis Williams • Gracy Olmstead • Matthew Hall • Drew Dyck • Louis Markos • Ray Ortlund • Brett McCracken • Mez McConnell • Erik Raymond • Sandra McCracken • Tim Challies • Sammy Rhodes • Karen Ellis • Alastair Roberts • Scott Sauls • Karen Swallow Prior • Jackie Hill Perry • Bruce Ashford • Jonathan Leeman • Megan Hill • Marvin Olasky • David Wells • John Frame • Rod Dreher • James K. A. Smith • Randy Alcorn • Tom Schreiner • Trillia Newbell • Jen Wilkin • Joe Carter • Timothy George • Tim Keller • Bryan Chapell • Lauren Chandler • Mike Cosper • Russell Moore • Jared Wilson • Kathy Keller • J. D. Greear • Kevin DeYoung • Kathleen Nielson • Thabiti Anyabwile • Elyse Fitzpatrick • Collin Hansen • Fred Sanders • Rosaria Butterfield • Nancy Guthrie • Matt Chandler

Browse dozens of book recommendations from The Gospel Coalition’s leaders and sign up your church at Hubworthy.

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Sanctification as singlemindedness

Just ran across this from Calvin. By “integrity” he doesn’t mean what we usually do (ethical consistency) but “singlemindedness”, the opposite of “doublemindedness”.

Let us set this before our eye as the end at which we ought constantly to aim. Let it be regarded as the goal towards which we are to run. For you cannot divide the matter with God, undertaking part of what his word enjoins, and omitting part at your own pleasure. For, in the first place, God uniformly recommends integrity as the principal part of his worship, meaning by integrity real singleness of mind, devoid of gloss and fiction, and to this is opposed a double mind; as if it had been said, that the spiritual commencement of a good life is when the internal affections are sincerely devoted to God, in the cultivation of holiness and justice.

But seeing that, in this earthly prison of the body, no man is supplied with strength sufficient to hasten in his course with due alacrity, while the greater number are so oppressed with weakness, that hesitating, and halting, and even crawling on the ground, they make little progress, let every one of us go as far as his humble ability enables him, and prosecute the journey once begun. No one will travel so badly as not daily to make some degree of progress. This, therefore, let us never cease to do, that we may daily advance in the way of the Lord…

Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 3.6.5

Don’t critique Calvin before reading a bit of his writings! The reader can listen to the Institutes as audible files from librivox.org.

We might also add this from Wolfgang Schrage concerning how the wretched man of Romans 7 is a thing of the past for the Christian:

The human contradiction…the dichotomy and division within the self, is a thing of the past. The radical nature of this new being implies an undivided integrity of God’s claim upon us.

From The Ethics of the New Testament [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988], 187; see also my “Are you a wretched man or woman? Should you be?”

“Sanctification as singlemindedness,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica


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Clergy Consider Handing Out Abortifacients in Church

The Story: Progressive clergy are preparing for the end of Roe by considering how to make abortion available in the pews. Is the pro-life community similarly prepared for the next step in the fight for life?

The Background: The Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper, senior minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City, was asked in a recent interview what clergy should be thinking about now as we consider the possibility of Roe v. Wade overturned and the issue of abortion returned to the states.

The first thing I want to say is that if men bore children, abortion would be a sacrament. It’s sexism that doesn’t allow a woman to use a perfectly ordinary reproductive technology. I’ve had two abortions and was back to work in the afternoon. That doesn’t mean they were inconsequential to me. They were profoundly positive experiences of exercising my humanity and my freedom.

In the late-1960s, Schaper was a member of the Consultation Service on Abortion (CCS), an international network of mainline Protestant and Reform Jewish clergy that helped women obtain legal and illegal abortions. Schaper says she and other liberal clergy plan to take up that mission again if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade:

So where do we go from here? It’s almost like the Do-It-Yourself movement. We’re going to have to encourage birth control because unwanted pregnancies will have no solution for many people in many states.

The thing most of us have been talking about is to encourage the use of medical technology, the morning after pills and very good new drugs. We need to get some wise pharmaceutical company to make money off distributing them so people don’t need abortions, and/or smuggling the drugs in from Mexico and Canada.

There are already very interesting groups of women my age feeling we could take the risk of loading up our vans to take road trips and give them out at churches. We’d see what kind of legal trouble one could get into because the drugs would be given away and are legal in Mexico and Canada.

This kind of civil action, I don’t even know if it’s civil disobedience—would be like the old Jane Collective. This would be Jane with drugs as opposed to Jane with forceps.

(The Jane Collective was a radical feminist organization that performed more than 11,000 illegal abortions in two apartment homes in Chicago from 1969 to 1973.)

When asked how the task of “pastoral care” will change for clergy if abortion is re-criminalized in many states, Schaper says,

It’s very hard to say. It’s going to have to be legislated. Before Roe, it was understood that counseling someone to have an abortion was illegal. Many clergy were picked up for it. I have a feeling that civil disobedience may be required, like the baker who won’t bake cakes for same-sex couples. We may have to say, “we will not not provide counseling” using a religious freedom argument.

Why It Matters: You might be tempted—as I initially was—to dismiss this interview as the insignificant views of an unknown apostate in an obscure radical publication. But I think Schaper is showing us the mirror image of the the pro-life cause. After the Roe decision in 1973, pro-lifers mobilized churches and fellow believers to protect the unborn. Similarly, progressive forces are preparing to use the power and rhetoric of religion to protect abortion after the next decision about Roe.

For Schaper, abortion is a religious sacrament. She’s willing and ready to hand out abortifacients along with the communion wafers. Her fanaticism is loathsome, but she’s willing to take genuine risks to protect an individual’s right to kill their children in the womb. While the pro-life community is ready for a break from this nearly five-decade fight, pro-abortion activists like Schaper are becoming ever more committed and motivated.

Whether Roe will soon be overturned is debatable. But for the first time in decades there is the possibility that we can roll back abortion on demand. In future articles, TGC will explore the legal ramification of ending Roe. For now I want to consider why it might not be the total victory we pro-lifers have been expecting.

Many of have grown weary fighting the endless culture war and believe that in rectifying the injustice of Roe, we will finally find some relief. If nothing else, we believe, the removal of Roe will lead to a reduction in the number of abortions. Unfortunately, neither of those beliefs is likely to be true.

Polls and surveys about the issue are often misleading, but they consistently show that few Americans are absolutists when it comes to abortion. Large percentages support restrictions on late-term abortions (second and third trimester) and support keeping abortion legal in the early stage (first trimester). When the legal issue of abortion is returned to the individual states that “compromise” will be the median outcome. A few states may ban all abortions, and a few others will make abortion legal throughout pregnancy. But for the most part, Americans will think they have reached a “moderate” position by banning abortion only after the first few months of fetal development.

From a legal perspective, a patchwork of inconsistent state laws is preferable to a consistent national precedent of abortion on demand. From a legal perspective, the death of Roe cannot come soon enough.

But if we look at the issue from a societal and political perspective, we can see the pro-life movement is unprepared for the next phase of the battle. We’ve convinced ourselves of the misleading half-truth that many, if not most, Americans are beginning to share our pro-life convictions about the value of unborn children.

The harsh reality is that most Americans—including many Christians—are only pro-life when the unborn looks like a newborn baby. That’s why they value unborn life more at later stages of pregnancy, during the stages when the child looks like a baby.

For decades, we in the pro-life community quietly acknowledged this fact and even used it to our advantage. The reason pro-life organizations so frequently display pictures of newborns or late-stage ultrasound photos rather than images of embryos and early-stage fetuses is because of the effective emotional connection of equating “unborn life” with “a being that looks like a baby.”

Beginning in the early 2000s, though, we realized the flaw in this approach. The debate over embryonic stem-cell research revealed how unprepared we were in making the case for all unborn life. Many “pro-life” evangelicals who opposed abortion supported research that required destroying embryonic human life. Most didn’t even recognize they were being inconsistent. They simply couldn’t muster up much emotion for groupings of cells that do not look like a baby.

A decade and half later, we still haven’t been able to convince all Christians that early human life in all locations and in all stages of development is equally worthy of dignity and protection. A couple that would be ashamed to admit to their church family they had an abortion would have no qualms talking about the dozens of “frozen” embryos they’ve abandoned in an IVF clinic. Their fellow believers would consider it sinful and tragic for a child dies in an abortion clinic—and yet shrug when “spare” children die in an IVF clinic.

Molech’s insatiable hunger for the flesh of our children haunts both types of clinics. And increasingly, Molech is being invited into our homes in the form of “morning-after” pills. How are we going to oppose clergy handing out abortifacients in churches when we can’t even convince our fellow Christians not to sacrifice their children (Lev. 18:21)?

We should thank God that the end of the Roe era may be within sight. But we also need to ask the Lord to give us a vision for the next phase of the struggle, and ask that he prepare pro-life believers for what comes next.

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Grown-Ups, Quit Playing ‘Let’s Pretend’

If you think about it, we spend our lives trying to escape the constraints of our created condition. Opening our eyes to this reality is a significant breakthrough. To be human is to be a creature, and to be a creature is to be finite.

We are not God. We are not in control, and we will not live forever. We will die.

But we avoid this reality by playing “let’s pretend.”

World of Repetition  

Let’s pretend that if we get the promotion, or see our church grow, or bring up good children, we’ll feel significant and leave a lasting legacy. Let’s pretend that if we change jobs, or emigrate to the sun, we won’t experience the humdrum tedium and ordinariness of life.

Let’s pretend that if we move to a new house, we’ll be happier and will never want to move again. Let’s pretend that if we end one relationship and start a new one, we won’t ever feel trapped. Let’s pretend that if we were married, or weren’t married, we would be content.

Let’s pretend that if we had more money, we would be satisfied. Let’s pretend that if we get through this week’s pile of washing and dirty diapers and shopping lists and school runs and busy evenings, next week will be quieter.

Let’s pretend that time is always on our side to do the things we want to do and become the people we want to be. Let’s pretend we can break the cycle of repetition and finally arrive in a world free from weariness.

We long for change in a world of permanent repetition, and we dream of how to interrupt it. We long for lives of permanence in a world of constant change, and we strive to achieve it. We spend our lives aligning our better selves with a different future we envisage as more rewarding.

In it all we try to make permanent what is not meant to be permanent (us), and by constant change we try to control what is not meant to be controlled (the world). The world’s seasons and natural cycles are content to come and go, but we sweat and toil to make-believe it won’t be so with us.

Stop Pretending

Ecclesiastes urges us to put this fantasy behind us once and for all and adopt a better way of thinking. Stop playing “let’s pretend” and instead let history and the created world be our teachers. Think about the generations who lived before us. Look at the tides and the seasons and the patterns that God has stitched into the fabric of creation itself.

Things repeat themselves over and over and over again, so it’s time to learn that life has a built-in repetitiveness we aren’t meant to try to escape. The very rhythms of the world point to what it means to be part of the created order as a human being. Stop thinking that meaning and happiness and satisfaction reside in novelty. What’s new is not really new, and what feels new will soon feel old.

C. S. Lewis captured the essence of this point in his book The Screwtape Letters. A senior devil, Screwtape, is writing to his nephew, Wormwood, with advice on how to get Christians to turn away from the Enemy (God). Screwtape counsels Wormwood on humanity’s constant desire to experience something new:

The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart—an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship.

Pleasure in Newness

God has made change and newness pleasurable to human beings. But, Screwtape says, because God doesn’t want his creatures “to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, he has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence.”

Change and constancy are the two balancing weights on the seesaw of human experience, and God has given humanity the means to enjoy both by patterning the world with rhythm. We love that springtime feels new; we love that it’s springtime again. And the Devil goes to work right at this point. Screwtape explains:

Now just as we pick out and exaggerate the pleasure of eating to produce gluttony, so we pick out this natural pleasantness of change and twist it into a demand for absolute novelty. This demand is entirely our workmanship. If we neglect our duty, men will be not only contented but transported by the mixed novelty and familiarity of snowdrops this January, sunrise this morning, plum pudding this Christmas. Children, until we have taught them better, will be perfectly happy with a seasonal round of games in which conkers succeed hopscotch as regularly as autumn follows summer. Only by our incessant efforts is the demand for infinite, or unrhythmical, change kept up.

Fleeting Satisfaction

This is exactly what the Preacher of Ecclesiastes wants us to spot. Where we’re unsatisfied with the rhythmical repetition of our lives, it’s because we’re pretending things should not be like this for us as human beings. To want infinite change—in other words, to “gain” something—is to want to escape the confines of ordinary existence and somehow arrive in a world where, on the one hand, repetition doesn’t occur and, on the other, permanence does.

But neither is possible.

As we search for something new under the sun, we search for absolute novelty, which doesn’t exist. As Screwtape reminds us, “The pleasure of novelty is by its very nature more subject than any other to the law of diminishing returns.”

When you think you’ve made a decisive change in your circumstances at last, you will soon want to change something else. Whatever it is you think you’ve gained, it will soon vanish from the earth like morning mist—and you along with it. Part of learning to live is simply accepting this reality.

The Preacher in Ecclesiastes teaches us what we should—and should not—expect out of life. He’s not just saying there’s no gain after we’ve chased the wind; he’s insisting there’s no need for the chase in the first place. There’s no ultimate gain to be had under the sun, and that’s precisely the point.

None need be sought.

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How to Give Your Child a Vocabulary of Faith

“If you just teach them words, it’s just going to be words, but that’s true of any human learning a language. First you learn the word, and then you learn the meaning behind it. So you might teach a child ‘hot,’ and not until they touch the stove do they truly discover its meaning. But that doesn’t mean we don’t give them vocabulary. We must give them language to understand their experiences.” — Lucy Olson

Date: June 15, 2018

Event: The Gospel Coalition 2018 Women’s Conference, Indianapolis, Indiana

You can listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition podcast here.


Find more audio and video from The Gospel Coalition 2018 Women’s Conference on the conference media page.

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Can God’s Existence be Proven?

Short answer: probably not. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways in which to determine with a high degree of probability whether or not God exists. Many have tried to articulate various arguments believed to be decisive in demonstrating that “God” exists, none more famous than the so-called “Five Ways” of Thomas Aquinas. Thomas died in 1274, just shy of his fiftieth birthday.

The Five Ways include:

• The argument from motion or change
• The argument from causation
• The argument from contingency of being
• The argument from gradation
• The argument from design

Here is a brief summary of each argument taken directly from Thomas himself.

(1) Consider the following, taken from his first argument from motion or change:

“The first and most obvious proof is that which is based on change. It is certain and evident to the senses that some things in this world are in a process of change. But anything in a process of change is being changed by something else. For although things which are changing possess the potential for [the actuality] towards which they move, they do not yet have it, whereas that which causes the change possesses it in actuality. To cause change is nothing more than to transform potentiality into actuality, but to transform potentiality into actuality can only be done by something in which the actuality already exists. For example, fire, which is hot in actuality, causes wood, which is hot in potentiality, to become hot in actuality, and thereby it brings about a change in the nature of the wood. Now it is impossible for something to be actually and potentially the same thing at the same time. It may, however, be actually one thing and potentially something else. For example, something which is actually hot cannot be potentially hot at the same time. It can, however, be potentially cold. So it follows from this that something which is changing cannot itself be the cause of the change and the result of the change at the same time: a thing cannot change itself. Anything that is changing, therefore, is being changed by something else. But if the thing that is causing the change is itself being changed, it is itself being changed by a second something, and this, in turn, by a third. But we cannot go on forever with this process, for if we do, there will be no First Changer to cause the first change and therefore no subsequent causes [to cause the subsequent changes]. A second cause will not produce change unless it is acted upon by a first cause. A stick, for example, will not move or change anything else unless it is itself first moved by the hand. It follows, therefore, that one is bound to arrive at some first cause of change which is not itself changed by anything, and this is what everybody understands by God” (Summa Theologica, Part I, Question Two, Article Three).

(2) Aquinas appeals, secondly, to the nature of an efficient cause:

“We find that there is a sequence of efficient causes in sensible things. But we do not find that anything is the efficient cause of itself. Nor is this possible, for the thing would then be prior to itself, which is impossible. But neither can the sequence of efficient causes be infinite, for in every sequence the first efficient cause is the cause of an intermediate cause, and an intermediate cause is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate causes be many, or only one. Now if a cause is removed, its effect is removed. Hence if there were no first efficient cause, there would be no ultimate cause, and no intermediate cause. But if the regress of efficient causes were infinite, there would be no first efficient cause. There would consequently be no ultimate effect, and no intermediate causes. But this is plainly false. We are therefore bound to suppose that there is a first efficient cause. And all men call this God” (ibid.).

(3) His third argument is based on the nature of possibility and necessity. He argues that whereas some things may either exist or not exist, there must be something that must exist:

“Now everything which is necessary either derives its necessity from elsewhere, or does not. But we cannot go on to infinity with necessary things which have a cause of their necessity, any more than with efficient causes, as we proved. We are therefore bound to suppose something necessary in itself, which does not owe its necessity to anything else, but which is the cause of the necessity of other things. And all men call this God” (ibid.).

(4) The fourth way of arguing for God’s existence is

“from the degrees that occur in things, which are found to be more and less good, true, noble, and so on. Things are said to be more and less because they approximate in different degrees to that which is greatest. A thing is the more hot the more it approximates to that which is hottest. There is therefore something which is the truest, the best, and the noblest, and which is consequently the greatest in being, since that which has the greatest truth is also greatest in being. . . . There is therefore something which is the cause of the being of all things that are, as well as of their goodness and their every perfection. This we call God” (ibid.).

(5) Fifth, and finally, Aquinas appeals to the fact that

“some things, like natural bodies, work for an end even though they have no knowledge. . . . Now things which have no knowledge tend towards an end only through the agency of something which knows and also understands, as an arrow through an archer. There is therefore an intelligent being by whom all natural things are directed to their end. This we call God” (ibid.).

All five “ways” of demonstrating God’s existence ultimately reduce to the cosmological argument, moving from an event or aspect of reality to what Aquinas insists must be its first and original Cause, namely, God.

Whether or not these arguments (or any others) are persuasive, one thing must be noted. The Apostle Paul declares in Romans 1:19-21 that God has made clear in the material creation, or what we call nature, that he exists, and that all mankind is without excuse for not worshiping him and giving him thanks. He writes:

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:19-21).

Truly, he is the “fool” who says in his heart, “There is no God” (Ps. 14:1).

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Help Me Teach the Bible Live: Don Carson on Teaching the Bible as One Book

Don Carson has had a hand in shaping many Bible teachers—through his 40 years teaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; by serving as a guest lecturer in academic, conference, and church settings around the world; and through the influence of The Gospel Coalition, which he co-founded with Tim Keller in 2005. His writing, which includes more than 60 books, Bible projects, and edited book series, has perhaps had an even more pervasive influence.

For this interview, recorded live at TGC’s 2018 Women’s Conference, I had grand plans to work through a number of particulars presented in the volume he edited with G. K. Beale, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. It took us a while to get there, but it’s worth the delay to follow the winding road of conversation about what it was like to grow up the son of a persecuted pastor, which he wrote about in his 2008 book, Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson, his practical advice for people who want to get better at handling the Bible, and a brief introduction to biblical theology.

Books by Carson discussed in this episode:

You can listen to this episode of Help Me Teach the Bible here.

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The Difference between Buzz and Belief

“There’s all this buzz around Jesus because of the miracles and the way he carries himself with the religious authorities. But John is signaling that buzz does not equate to belief.” — Cole Huffman

Text: John 4:43–54

Preached: May 16, 2017

Location: First Evangelical Church, Memphis, Tennessee

You can listen to this episode of TGC Word of the Week here.


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Did Congress Print the First American Bible?

One of the hardiest Christian America myths is the idea that Congress gave financial support to print the first American-published Bible in 1782, or even that Congress printed it themselves. Neither is true, though Congress did give an endorsement to the Bible printed by Robert Aitken. In the past, Christian America writers such as David Barton have routinely circulated mistaken ideas about the connection between the 1782 Congress and the Bible.

I was surprised recently to learn that the myth about Congress and the Bible has a much older source than Barton, one that Barton himself continues to cite. It is W.P. Strickland’s History of the American Bible Society (1849).

As Seth Perry explains in Bible Culture and Authority in the Early United States (2018), the original edition of Strickland’s history was full of factual errors, including the claim that “the first Congress printed and circulated the Bible.” Strickland changed many of the errors in subsequent editions, but he left the one about Congress and the Bible intact.

The text of Barton’s current Wallbuilders article on the Aitken Bible at first makes clear that Aitken printed it, not Congress. Yet the article ends ambiguously by quoting Strickland, who said, “Who, in view of [Congress’s endorsement], will call in question the assertion that this is a Bible nation? Who will charge the government with indifference to religion when the first Congress of the states assumed all the rights and performed all the duties of a Bible Society long before such an institution had an existence in the world!”

But how could the Congress have “performed all the duties of a Bible Society” if it didn’t print Aitken’s Bible or any other?

The role of religion in the founding is one of the most controversial historical subjects in America today. Secularists and Christian America advocates tend to go to extremes, with the former arguing that Christianity had virtually nothing to do with the founding, and the latter arguing that it had everything to do with the founding. The actual history brings us to a more reasonable position: Christian principles were powerfully if imperfectly present in the political culture of the founding, but many of the major founders were not traditional Christians. It is certainly not clear that they were seeking to create a “Christian nation” of the sort imagined by Christian America partisans.

Early America’s ties between organized religion and the state were often tighter than they are today, especially before the First Amendment was adopted in 1791, prohibiting Congress from making laws respecting an “establishment of religion.” But there are many reasons to question whether the American government ever presided over a “Bible nation” in any formal sense.

On such fraught issues, we must attend closely to the facts of what happened in history, lest we be persuaded by those who want to employ history for partisan ends. A balanced account of the facts about Congress and the Bible comes from Daniel Dreisbach’s Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers. (See also Dreisbach’s TGC post, “What America’s Founders Really Thought about the Bible.”)

Expanding hostilities with Great Britain in the 1770s interrupted the importation of English-language Bibles from the mother country. This prompted three Presbyterian clergymen in July 1777 to warn of an impending shortage of Bibles and to petition the Continental Congress to underwrite a domestic printing of the Scriptures. A congressional inquiry concluded that it would be more expedient to import Bibles from continental Europe than to print them in America. On September 11, 1777, a legislative committee recommended the importation of “20,000 Bibles from Holland, Scotland, or elsewhere,” but the Congress adjourned before implementing legislation was enacted.

The shortage of Bibles grew more acute as the war with Britain dragged on. The procurement of Bibles was again raised in Congress in October 1780. The same committee charged with looking into the matter was also assigned a petition, dated January 21, 1781, from the Scottish-born Philadelphia printer and Presbyterian elder Robert Aitken (1735–1802), seeking congressional support to publish “a neat Edition of the Holy Scriptures for the use of schools.” (In 1777, Aitken had successfully published the first English New Testament in America.) Aitken asked the Congress to approve this major publication project and to permit him to print and sell his edition of the “Sacred Scriptures” “under the Authority of Congress,” an endorsement that would no doubt have business benefits. Congress apparently encouraged the enterprise.

Aitken’s Bible was completed by early September 1782. Following a report from congressional chaplains William White and George Duffield commending the “great accuracy” of Aitken’s work, Congress passed the following resolution on September 12: “the United States in Congress assembled, highly approve the pious and laudable undertaking of Mr. Aitken, as subservient to the interests of religion … , and being satisfied from the above report, of his care and accuracy in the execution of the work, they recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States.” Thus, with a congressional endorsement, Aitken’s Bible was the first confirmed English-language Bible published in North America.

Congress was happy to endorse Aitken’s work, but they appeared reluctant to get directly involved in Bible importation, production, or distribution.

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9 Things You Should Know About Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh

Last night, President Donald Trump announced Brett Kavanaugh will be his nominee to replace retiring justice Anthony Kennedy. Here are nine things you should know about Judge Kavanaugh:

1. Brett Kavanaugh, age 53, was born in Washington, DC, and educated at Yale University (BA) and Yale Law Law School (JD). He previously served in private practice at the Washington, D.C., law firm of Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel, and served as principal deputy to the associate attorney general and acting associate attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice. He was appointed as a judge to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit by George W. Bush.

2. After graduating law school, Judge Kavanaugh clerked for two appeals court judges and for Justice Anthony Kennedy on the U.S. Supreme Court. He also served as an attorney in the Office of the Solicitor General of the United States and an associate counsel in the Office of Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr. As part of the Independent Counsel, Kavanaugh drafted the report refuting the claim that Bill Clinton’s Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster was the victim of a murder plot and coverup. Kavanaugh was also the primary author of the section of the 1998 Starr report that detailed grounds for a possible impeachment of then-President Bill Clinton.

3. During the presidency of George W. Bush, Kavanaugh served as an associate counsel and then senior associate counsel to the president, and as an assistant to the president and staff secretary to the president. During those years he met and married his wife, Ashley Estes Kavanaugh, who served as personal secretary to the president between 2001 and 2004. In his memoir Decision Points, President Bush said that Kavanaugh helped to convince him to nominate John Roberts for the position of chief justice of the Supreme Court.

4. Since joining the appeals court in 2006, Judge Kavanaugh has taught full-term courses at Georgetown University Law Center (a course on constitutional interpretation in 2007), at Yale Law School (a course on national security in 2011), and at Harvard Law School (a course on separation of powers from 2008 to 2015, and a course on the Supreme Court in 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2018). He has been named the Samuel Williston Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School since 2009.

5. In his judicial philosophy, Judge Kavanaugh is considered a proponent of originalism, a manner of interpreting the Constitution that begins with the text and attempts to give that text the meaning it had when it was adopted, and textualism, a method of statutory interpretation that relies on the plain text of a statute to determine its meaning.

6. Out of the seven justices in American history who have previously served as law clerks for the Supreme Court, four are currently on the bench: John Roberts, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Neil Gorsuch. Kavanaugh would not only be the fifth, he would also be the second justice to have served as a former law clerk of Anthony Kennedy (Gorsuch was the other).

7. While in private practice in the 1990s, he served as chair of the Federalist Society’s Religious Liberties Practice Group and wrote two pro bono Supreme Court amicus briefs in support of the cause of religious liberty. (The Federalist Society is a group of conservatives and libertarians interested in “reordering priorities within the legal system to place a premium on individual liberty, traditional values, and the rule of law.”)

8. In a 2017 case involving an unaccompanied and undocumented migrant teenager who sought an abortion while living in a government-funded shelter, Kavanaugh issued a dissenting opinion. In that dissent he wrote that a previous “ruling followed from the Supreme Court’s many precedents holding that the Government has permissible interests in favoring fetal life, protecting the best interests of a minor, and refraining from facilitating abortion.” However, he found the opinion of the majority on his appeals court represented a “radical extension of the Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence.”

9. Kavanaugh is a Catholic and regular lector (i.e., responsible for reading aloud excerpts of Scripture at a liturgy) at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Washington, DC. He regularly served meals as part of the St. Maria’s Meals program at Catholic Charities in DC and has tutored at the Washington Jesuit Academy and at J. O. Wilson Elementary School.

Other posts in this series:

MS-13 • Wicca and Modern Witchcraft • Jerusalem • Christianity in Korea • Creation of Modern Israel • David Koresh and the Branch Davidians • Rajneeshees • Football • The Opioid Epidemic (Part II) • The Unification Church • Billy Graham • Frederick Douglass • Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968 • Winter Olympics • The ‘Mississippi Burning’ Murders •  Events and Discoveries in 2017 • Christmas Traditions • Sexual Misconduct • Lutheranism • Jewish High Holy Days • Nation of Islam • Slave Trade • Solar Eclipses • Alcohol Abuse in America • History of the Homeschooling Movement • Eugenics • North Korea • Ramadan • Black Hebrew Israelites • Neil Gorsuch and Supreme Court Confirmations • International Women’s Day • Health Effects of Marijuana • J. R. R. Tolkien • Aleppo and the Syrian Crisis • Fidel Castro • C.S. Lewis • ESV Bible • Alzheimer’s Disease •  Mother Teresa • The Opioid Epidemic • The Olympic Games • Physician-Assisted Suicide • Nuclear Weapons • China’s Cultural Revolution • Jehovah’s Witnesses • Harriet Tubman • Autism • Seventh-day Adventism • Justice Antonin Scalia (1936–2016) • Female Genital Mutilation • Orphans • Pastors • Global Persecution of Christians (2015 Edition) • Global Hunger • National Hispanic Heritage Month • Pope Francis • Refugees in America • Confederate Flag Controversy • Elisabeth Elliot • Animal Fighting • Mental Health • Prayer in the Bible • Same-sex Marriage • Genocide • Church Architecture • Auschwitz and Nazi Extermination Camps • Boko Haram • Adoption • Military Chaplains • Atheism • Intimate Partner Violence • Rabbinic Judaism • Hamas • Male Body Image Issues • Mormonism • Islam • Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence • Anglicanism • Transgenderism • Southern Baptist Convention • Surrogacy • John Calvin • The Rwandan Genocide • The Chronicles of Narnia • The Story of Noah • Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church • Pimps and Sex Traffickers • Marriage in America • Black History Month • The Holocaust • Roe v. Wade • Poverty in America • Christmas • The Hobbit • Council of Trent • Halloween and Reformation Day • Casinos and Gambling • Prison Rape • 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing • Chemical Weapons • March on Washington • Duck Dynasty • Child Brides • Human Trafficking • Scopes Monkey Trial • Social Media • Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Cases • The Bible • Human Cloning • Pornography and the Brain • Planned Parenthood • Boston Marathon Bombing • Female Body Image Issues • Islamic State

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10 Things You Should Know about the Great White Throne Judgment

It is all too easy to become discouraged and disheartened by the rampant presence of evil and injustice in our world today. It leaves us wondering: Will anything ever be done to bring to justice those who have perpetrated such wickedness? Will anything ever be done to reward those who are righteous? The answer is Yes! We have this assurance because of what we read in Revelation 20:11-15 concerning the final judgment. Here are ten things to keep in mind.

(1) What we have in Revelation 20:11-15 is a more detailed and graphic portrayal of the judgment that was first mentioned back in Revelation 11:18 – “The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.” Simply put, the time of God’s patience and longsuffering and mercy are over. The time for judgment has come. Paul warned the philosophers of Athens in Acts 17, declaring unequivocally that God “has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:31).

(2) You’ve probably heard people speak of the final judgment as the Great White Throne judgment. That language comes from v. 11. We earlier saw in Revelation 4-5 John’s description of the throne of God and the majesty and beauty that surrounds it. But the throne is also the place from which God will bring judgment upon an unbelieving world. The whiteness of the throne symbolizes God’s own purity and the righteousness with which he judges.

(3) This final judgment will occur at the time of Christ’s Second Coming, immediately following the release of Satan from the abyss and his last and futile attempt to destroy the church (Rev. 20:7-10). Whereas premillennialists believe that the Great White Throne Judgment will occur after a 1,000 year reign of Christ on the earth, amillennialists believe it will happen at the close of this present church age, immediately preceding the inauguration of the eternal state and the coming of the new heavens and new earth.

(4) God’s presence on the throne of judgment is so overwhelmingly powerful that “earth and sky fled away.” This is simply another way of describing the cosmic upheaval of God’s judgments and the trauma brought to bear on the material or created realm. On several occasions in Revelation John spoke of great earthquakes and mountains and islands being ripped out of place and cast aside, the darkening of sun and moon and stars falling to the earth. The point of all this is that the first creation, the creation that was subjected to a curse because of man’s sin, is now fleeing away never to be seen again, and soon to be replaced by the second and final creation, the new heavens and the new earth (Revelation 21-22).

(5) John speaks of seeing “the dead, great and small” (v. 12). This undoubtedly is a reference to all of mankind from every age, both unbelievers and believers. The fact that they are “standing before the throne” indicates that a universal resurrection has taken place: all are now standing before God in their resurrected bodies. This is confirmed in v. 13 (see also John 5:28).

(6) That both believers and unbelievers are standing before the throne of judgment is evident also from the fact that two sets of books are opened: “the books” and “the book of life.” The “books” that are opened contain the record of everything that every unbeliever has ever done or said. God will bring justice to bear upon them in perfect harmony with the deeds they have committed.

But those who are by faith in Christ will not be judged based on their works but solely on whether or not their names are written in the book of life. This “book” appeared earlier in Revelation in Revelation 3:5; 13:8; and 17:8. There we were told that the names in it were written down “from the foundation of the world”. This is the Lamb’s book of life. “It is the registry of those from every nation whom he ‘purchased for God’ with his blood (5:9), and it is the one book in all the universe that spells the difference between eternal life and unending death” (Johnson, 299). Only those whose names were written down in the Lamb’s book of life before the foundation of the world will escape the judgment of the lake of fire (v. 15).

(7) We know that all who are believers in Jesus Christ will be judged, but it is a judgment not to determine who enters God’s kingdom and who is excluded, but a judgment to determine the rewards that God will bestow on all of us for the works we have performed for the glory of Christ (see 2 Cor. 5:8-10).

Here, though, the focus is on the judgment of all the unbelieving from every age of human history. And you can rest assured that no one will be exonerated or found innocent. The evil, selfish, sensual, godless, lifestyle of unbelieving mankind will stand as witnesses against them. The only hope for acquittal is the blood of Jesus Christ which they have spurned and rejected throughout their lives on earth.

(8) How do we know that believers in Jesus Christ will not be judged based on their evil and sinful deeds? We know it because God has declared that he will not “remember” our sins ever again (Heb. 8:12). He has “cast” all our sins “behind his back” (Isa. 38:17). And as David declared in Psalm 103, “he does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities” (v. 10), but rather “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (v. 12).

(9) John speaks of Death and Hades being cast into the lake of fire. This is again a symbolic way of describing the defeat of death. Paul spoke of this in 1 Corinthians 15:26 where he said, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Don’t press the language of Revelation as if John is to be interpreted in some literal or wooden way. Death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire just as the Beast and False Prophet are. This is John’s way of describing the final defeat of God’s enemies and his eternal victory over every force or person that has opposed him. God wins!

(10) John describes this final judgment as the “second death.” The first death is physical death. The “second death” is spiritual death, eternal and everlasting separation from the presence of God. We need never fear facing the “second death” for Jesus himself said in Revelation 2:11, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” This echoes what John said in Revelation 20:6, namely, that “the second death has no power” over believers who experience the first resurrection.

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20 Quotes from Sam Allberry’s (Brief) Book on Church

The following quotes caught my attention as I read Sam Allberry’s excellent and accessible book Why Bother with Church? And Other Questions About Why You Need It and Why It Needs You (Good Book, 2016).

Just as the U.S. embassy in London is considered a part of U.S. sovereign territory overseas in a foreign land, so the local church is a small part of heavenly territory in this world. (17)

People don’t enter a church; the church enters a building. (17)

The church depends on the truth. But there is also a way in which God’s truth depends on the church: not that the church approves or decides on what the truth is, but that the church is the means by which God’s truth reaches into his world. The church is the earthly outlet for God’s truth, the embassy that represents him. (19)

The day of Jesus’s return will be a wedding feast—and Christians are invited to it not as guests, but as a bride. None of us will have to sneak into heaven through the back door—we’ll be walking up the aisle. (21)

If you want to understand how committed Jesus is to the church, here’s your answer. He doesn’t just create it and let it be. He marries it. . . . Church is not his hobby; it is his marriage. (22, 23)

The membership of every local church is no accident; it is by divine design. There is no one there who is a spare part, a third foot, or second nose. There is no one there who is not necessary, or who doesn’t need the rest of their church. (37)

If the church is worth Christ’s blood, then it is certainly worth its leaders’ labor. (61)

We want to be in a church with small groups, not a church of small groups. The main center of church life is the whole gathering, not the small groupings. (66)

The very things that make church hard work are often the things that make it great. (72)

The only perfect church is the heavenly assembly, and this does not meet at 10:30 a.m. each Sunday a short drive from your house. So until you’re called to join the throng around God’s throne, you’re called to belong to a church in which others will get things wrong—and so will you. (73)

Church is not for your entertainment, as a consumer, but for you and others to find encouragement, as a contributor. (75)

It is almost impossible to overstate the positive impact we can have on others if we are coming [to church] looking for ways in which to be an encouragement. (76)

Are we praying regularly for our church? The answer to that question is a good indication of whether we’re coming as Christians, or as consumers. (76)

You need a church, and there’s a church out there that needs you. (80)

All the church is and does cannot be ultimately accounted for by the usual measurements of this world. (81)

Church is not something we go to but something we belong to. (84)

Nothing helps us feel that we belong to a body of people more than regularly praying for them. Unfamiliar names become familiar, and we find that the more we pray for people, the more we find ourselves caring for them. If you’ve never really felt as if you’ve belonged at your church, try praying for the other members, by name and regularly. (87)

Remember that pastors are church members too. They need the same pastoral care as anyone else. . . . I remember one church member being quite shocked when I told her I was going though a period of struggling with my devotional life. We need to let our pastors be Christians, not putting them on any kind of pedestal and assuming that the Christian life just happens automatically for them, but getting alongside them, encouraging and supporting and loving them. (91)

In God’s church we find something worth being devoted to—an embassy of God’s kingdom, a family of God’s people, the bride of the Lord Jesus. It is remembering what the church is, and whose the church is, that makes hard work glad work, and keeps us joyfully devoted. (92)

Once we grasp Christ’s deep affection for the church, we cannot help but begin to share it. (92)

Previously in the “20 Quotes” series:

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