The Gospel Examined

Power of the Gospel

The notion of ‘gospel’ is central to Christian faith, yet it’s meaning and significance has become somewhat muddy over the past few centuries, possibly because of the rise of evangelicalism.

Let me explain.

In modern evangelical usage the term ‘gospel’ most commonly signifies either that body of truth which is life changing (the good news message) or the preached message which is meant to lead people to a prescribed evangelical response, such as ‘making a decision’, going to the altar or otherwise signifying in a measurable way that they have stepped over the line from sinner to saint.

It is this second meaning which is popularised in evangelical parlance and which undermines a truer concept of the Gospel.

We refer to the four historical accounts of Christ’s life on earth as the ‘Gospels’, yet they don’t end in an altar call or a prescription of the approved response by which a person is transformed by that message.

On the other hand it is expected in evangelical circles that if a series of ‘gospel’ messages is preached it is to result in people making a public response that can be tabulated. So at the end of the series of meetings, or the ‘revival’ or the outreach, it can be said that a certain number responded, and that can be compared with last event or with the impact of a different evangelist.

This preoccupation with public record of conversions has subtly transferred the concept of the Gospel as the message good news about who Christ is and what He has done, which message is to be received and believed with life-changing effect, to the concept of the gospel as a style of message that presses people’s buttons and gets them out of their chair to join the Christian band.

Please don’t think I am cynical about getting people to respond to the gospel message. I am not denigrating the work of evangelistic preaching, but simply relating it back to our concept of ‘gospel’.

For the past six decades I have had the privilege of hearing hundreds of evangelistic messages and preaching a few of them myself. I have heard some clear and lucid expositions of the life and sacrifice of Jesus as our Saviour among those messages. I have also heard an array of messages embodying soppy sentiment, scientific mind boggling, heart tugging emotion, end of the world scaremongering and a range of other causes for action.

In those wide ranging messages, labeled as ‘gospel’ the simple message of Christ’s life, death and resurrection may be incidental or even irrelevant to the impassioned appeal for the sinner to respond.

And so the ‘gospel’ becomes in our consciousness a muddy mix of messages designed to motivate sinners to accept Christianity.

A cursory review of the New Testament message should help us clarify what the ‘gospel’ actually is and that might inform us on how best to employ it in Christian ministry. So let me throw a few observations at you and see how they prompt your own investigation of the gospel.

Apostle Paul frequently links the notion of ‘gospel’ with change in the hearer, calling it “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Romans 1:16) and saying that those who engage with his message will be “saved” (Romans 10:9).

So the true ‘gospel’ is more than just ‘news’, but a good news message that has life-changing effect in the hearer, should they respond with faith (believe). Do we see messages in the New Testament that speak of such change and such news?

The first public preaching message in the New Testament was that of John the Baptist telling his hearers “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). When Jesus first began preaching this was his message too (Matthew 4:17). So we could say that the first ‘gospel’ preaching involved a call to action from the hearer, responding in the fear of God.

Another view of the gospel and its call on hearers comes from the mouth of Jesus in the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Here it is Christ, Himself, focusing he gospel on his own life and on the response of ‘belief’ in the hearer.

The Apostle John, in his gospel account of the life of Jesus, uses another term than ‘believe’ in discussing the appropriate response to Christ. “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” (John 1:12)

John links ‘receiving’ and ‘believing’ as our response to the gospel, showing, as Christ did in John 3, that people can choose to receive and believe, or not.

With that background, let’s now look specifically at the ‘gospel’ as explained by Paul. We could say that the four historical gospels present the ‘gospel’ in a non-prescriptive manner, as truth to be received and believed, while Paul, address the churches, was more prescriptive about what was to be expected from believers.

So, what do we see in Paul’s approach to the gospel?

We see a determined focus on the sacrificial life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” 1Corinthians 2:2

Paul’s gospel was not about how he could manipulate hearers to embrace Christianity, but was anchored on the core truth of the good news message, the work of Christ.

That was the message Peter employed at Pentecost, with great impact.

The crucifixion of Christ was a core component of Paul’s gospel narrative. “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness” (1Corinthians 1:23)

But the crucifixion message was always joined with the message of the resurrection, as Paul notes in his famous evangelism prescription in Romans 10:9 “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”

So, when Paul said he was not ashamed of the gospel we know that he was speaking of the message of Christ’s life, death and resurrection and man’s response to that message of faith in Christ resulting in the believer establishing righteousness with God.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” Romans 1:16,17

What then is the gospel?

While evangelists are ever creative about their means of prompting sinners to respond to God, the true ‘gospel’ is the wonderful message of Christ dying for us and rising to new life, as proof that sin and death are defeated, to which message man is to respond with faith, believing that Christ truly did rise from the dead, and by that act of believing receiving divine impact that saves and transforms the believer.

A ‘gospel’ message that does not bring the power of God through faith in Christ’s sacrificial death and glorious resurrection may be nothing more than mere manipulation, and may leave the ‘convert’ without the life-changing impact of the ‘Gospel’.

Footnote:

The gospel of Christ, including the account of Christ’s life, death and resurrection, involves Christ’s reality in two broad dimensions: his earthly life (after the flesh); and his resurrected and eternal character.

The Gospel writers knew from first hand sources the account of Christ’s earthly life, divinity made flesh. The Apostle John also encountered Christ in his resurrected glory, in vision form on the Island of Patmos (refer Revelation). That infusion of the divine perspective is reflected in the Gospel of John (see John 1:1-5, 9-14).

Paul’s contribution to scripture is unique in that Paul did not know Christ in His earthly ministry (after the flesh) but only met Christ in His heavenly, resurrected glory. Paul saw a vision of Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-7), but also visited heaven in vision form (2Corinthians 12:1-7). In his heavenly visits Paul met the resurrected Christ, as indicated by Paul’s claim that Christ personally talked with him about Christ’s earthly life.

See 1Corinthians 11:23 “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread”

Paul, having his own encounters with the resurrected Christ and meeting others who had been with the flesh and blood Christ, made commentary about the difference.

2Corinthians 5:16 “Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.”

Paul’s gospel, then, did not focus on humanity. It was not about a good man who did good for us by dying selflessly for us. Paul’s gospel celebrated a divine being who experienced glory and divine authority and brought that to bear on those who believed in Him.

Philippians 2:9-11 “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Paul and the Apostle John stand special in their encounters of the risen and glorified Christ and we find that the encounters infused their gospel message with reflections of that divine nature.

Note that the writer to the Hebrews clearly understood the divine character of Christ.

Hebrews 2:9 “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.”

Some believe that Paul authored Hebrews and the emphasis on divine elements of Christ’s existence (such as reference to Melchizedek) suggests that Paul’s divine perspective is indicated in Hebrews.

Emotional Filter

Your Emotional Filter – or “How You Fool Yourself”

Your emotional state affects how you remember and understand things.

Your emotions filter information and activate one set of memories or impressions over another.

It is therefore important to understand what is going on and to take charge of your emotions, rather than letting them rule you and fool you.

Three Settings

In simple terms our feelings tend to sit in one of three positions.  Most people are most often emotionally neutral, just getting on with life as it comes along.  On some occasions, though, we can feel very happy and upbeat about life.  These feelings might be prompted by being successful at something, or experiencing some emotionally uplifting experience.

On other occasions, though, we can feel quite down and even depressed.  These feelings might be prompted by an experience of failure or some emotionally challenging experience.

Psychologists use the term Mania for our positive emotional state and Depression for our negative emotional state.  Some people fluctuate between their highs and lows so disruptively they are diagnosed as Manic-Depressive, or Bi-polar as it is commonly labelled today.

In our normal frame of mind, not manic and not depressive, we take things as they come.  We do not have any particular emotional magnet messing with our interpretation of the information coming to us.

If in that state we were to think back on our life we would have access to all kinds of memories, good and bad, happy and sad.

If we are in a manic, upbeat or positive frame of mind our emotional filter tends to focus on and remember times when we felt this way before.  The positive feelings build on the positive feelings and we can have quite a strong sense of wellbeing, security and happiness and even a sense of invincibility, feeling confident that everything is going to go our way.

Conversely, if we are in a depressive frame of mind our emotional filter will tend to focus on and remember times when we felt depressed before.  The downcast feelings build on similar feelings and we can have quite a strong sense of depression, failure and fear of the future and even a feeling of hopelessness, as if whatever we do is going to turn out badly.

Our emotional filter is not actually a bad thing.  It’s just something we need to understand and manage appropriately.  If you are not aware of it you may end up letting it fool you into wrong thinking.

Changing Emotions

Jesus Christ talked about the ability of our emotions to completely change our memories, when he spoke of a woman giving birth.

“A woman has sorrow when giving birth, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she forgets the anguish for joy that a child is born into the world.” John 16:21

During the difficult times of a pregnancy a woman may have an emotional low and swear that she will never put herself through all of this ever again.  But after the baby is born a different set of emotions kick in and she might feel much more positive about having more children.  Her feelings of despair and discomfort are replaced by feelings of joy and delight.

Such a shift in perspective doesn’t mean she is mad, it is typical of how all of us function under the influence of our emotional filter.

Long before Jesus Christ wise King Solomon recorded the instruction of his mother about giving strong drink to those who need to forget their troubles.

“Give strong drink to him that is ready to perish, and wine to those with heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.” Proverbs 31:6,7

Self-Medicating

We all know that certain foods, drinks and experiences modify our emotional state.  We use these various things to ‘self-medicate’ – to make ourselves feel good.  We can self-medicate with the first cup of coffee in the morning, a home-cooked meal, talking to a friend, listening to our favourite music, indulging in a sweet or retail-therapy. These are all ways we help ourselves feel better if we are not at our best.

I once read that cults had learned to use junk food to modify the moods of their victims.  One group would recruit young people and use them as slave labour doing such things as begging for money in car parks.  Frantic parents would track down their child and get court orders to allow them to meet their child.  Shortly before the meeting the young person would be fed up on junk food which filled their half-starved body with enough sugar and stuff to give them a high.

Under that chemical inducement the young person would feel elated and could only remember all the good things about their time with the so called “friends”.

So, we each have an emotional filter and we are each affected by it in various ways.  We also have the ability to affect it, but it too can dominate the way we think and feel about things.

Crazy Contradictions

The operation of our emotional filter can be seen in those situations where people say completely contradictory things from day or day, or even from moment to moment.

If a person does not have control over their emotions they can display quite alarming swings in their moods, and with the mood swing comes a complete rewriting of their history and perceptions.

When someone feels happy with a loved one, such as spouse, sibling, parent or child, that emotional state triggers memories of all the times they have enjoyed that relationship.  Induced by such memories and feelings they might say something like, “You are wonderful! You make me SO happy!”

However if they then feel offended by that same person their emotions can switch to the opposite setting and suddenly they not only feel negative about that person, but somehow they can now remember many times when they have felt the same negative way.  This time they might say something like, “You have always been SO hurtful! I’ve never really liked you. I wish I never knew you!”

On both occasions the person can speak quite sincerely.  For that moment all the thoughts, memories and feelings they have access to match what they are saying.

Quite often in such an upset the emotions settle down and the person feels apologetic for their excessive outburst.  They may then say something like, “I didn’t really mean what I said when I was attacking you.”

Once again the person is speaking sincerely.  They now review what they said and they don’t have access to all the dominating emotions and memories that fed their negative feelings.  They now have a more reasonable view of things and they try to patch up the relationship.

Clearly it is dangerous to be so out of control emotionally.  Not only will we be pushed like a boat in the wind, but others around us will be hurt and confused by our changeableness.

Rule Your Own Spirit

We each need to have rule over our own spirit, controlling our emotions, managing our emotional filter so it doesn’t fool us and make a mess our perceptions.

Step One – Realise you have an emotional filter that can fool you into believing things that are not true, because they are skewed, either positively or negatively.

Step Two – Recognise your predisposition, toward unrealistic upbeat feelings, or unrealistic negative feelings, or even to switching from one to the other erratically.

Step Three – Ask God to help you get “rule over your own spirit” so you don’t get pushed around by your emotions or the skewed sense of reality from your emotional filter.

Step Four – Get your friends and loved ones to function as a reality filter for you.  Find people who are balanced (not overly optimistic or overly negative or critical) and get them to check your ideas with you.

Step Five – Wise up about life and reality.  A good way to do that is to read the Bible and learn Christ’s principles for living.  They will be an anchor for your life and give you a reference point to test whether you are out of balance or not.

Vanity

I enjoyed a lovely encouragement recently from the word ‘vanity’.  It came from the words of the wisest man that ever lived, King Solomon, in his book Ecclesiastes.

“I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” Ecclesiastes 1:14

Solomon saw that all our best efforts are temporary in their effect.  No matter how delicious your breakfast this morning, you will want another tomorrow.  No matter how much work you get done today there will be more to do tomorrow.  You will die, and so too will your children, and your children’s children.  Your team may win the trophy this year, but there is another whole competition ahead for next year’s trophy.  You lovely garden will not stay that way without continued care.  The grass that was cut today will need to be cut again.

Here is the positive spin on that truth that helped me.  There is no great reward for achieving all those things we stress over trying to achieve, like success, prominence, noteworthy accomplishments, etc.  They are just vanity.  They are no big deal.

What is a BIG DEAL is the will and purpose of God.  In God’s plan there are things we need to do for His Kingdom and doing those things is Really important.  Putting our faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour, for example, has eternal impact on us.  Sharing our faith with others has eternal impact on them.  So those things are not ‘vanity’.  But most of what we do on a day to day basis is vanity, and so we can relax about it.

Bible Examples

Let me explain what I mean by referring to some famous people whose lives are recorded in the Bible.  Consider Joseph, son of Jacob.  He was hated by his brothers and sold as a slave into Egypt.  But in God’s great plan Joseph rose to being second in command of the land and was able to save his whole family (the children of Israel) from a devastating famine.

Once Joseph had achieved his purpose of bringing the Israelites to Egypt the rest of his life’s work was ‘vanity and vexation of spirit’.  It doesn’t matter how well he administered Egypt in the next three decades, or what honours were placed on him at his death.  That is all ‘vanity’.

I don’t mean he was wasting his time and should not have done those things, but in the big picture of what God was doing on the earth it did not matter if he invented a sport, taught business administration, sang in a local choir, enjoyed fried fish, drank pineapple juice, kept up with the latest fashions, held dinner parties, had a swimming pool, coached a junior football team, or whatever.

Let’s suggest that he did do a bunch of extra-curricular activities, such as sport, entertaining, performing, art and craft, continuing education, investing, business enterprise, creative writing and so on.  And let’s suggest that he became quite absorbed in some of those things and even lost sleep over different problems they presented from time to time.

All of that time and activity was nothing more than vanity.  And all the angst he felt about them was simply ‘vexation of spirit’.  There is no lasting impact from any of those things.

Yet there is lasting impact from him being where God put him for the task God had for him.  The people of Israel survive today because of Joseph.

And He Begat

In several places in the Bible people get their names listed because they are in the lineage or genealogy of Jesus or Abraham or King David.  They are significant in God’s plan because they were a generational step in an important lineage.  If they had not been born and had not given birth to a son the lineage would have stopped.  Imagine if Jesus had never been born because someone simply didn’t get born or didn’t have a son.

These people are important yet all we know of them is their name.  Consider this example from the Book of Ruth.

“Now these are the generations of Pharez: Pharez begat Hezron, And Hezron begat Ram, and Ram begat Amminadab, And Amminadab begat Nahshon, and Nahshon begat Salmon, And Salmon begat Boaz, and Boaz begat Obed, And Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David.” Ruth 4:18-22

In this list of names leading to the birth of King David we know a little about Boaz, Obed and Jesse, but we know nothing more than the name of others on that list.

Speaking of the significance of these men and their whole lives let me put it poetically, “God simply summarises that by saying just ‘And he begat’!”

Surely these men deserve some recognition for their character, enterprise, intelligence, inventiveness, management skills, salesmanship, attention to detail, creativity, talent, good looks, popularity, wealth, political power, social impact, contribution to their local community, etc.  But No, their entire lives, happiness, tragedy, accomplishments and relationships are completely overlooked.  Those things we get so hung up about are, in the big picture, just ‘vanity and vexation of spirit’.

Job Done

Look at it another way.  For Joseph and for these men who gave birth to a son who were significant to God in a key lineage, once they had done the main thing God had for them to do the rest of their life was unimportant to the big picture.  The rest of their life was ‘vanity’.

So, let’s assume you have achieved your core purpose in life.  You have placed your faith in Jesus Christ, you share your faith with others, you have fulfilled all those things God has asked you to do and you are ever ready to dive into any new purpose He has for you, then the rest of what you are doing is simply vanity.

It may be vain for you to join a choir, learn Italian cooking, decide to start your own gym, or start coaching a junior sport team, but then everything else you do will be vanity anyway!

If the rest of your life was ‘vanity’, then it may as well be vanity that you enjoy and that blesses others.

If whatever I do today is a waste of time, then I may as well enjoy the day anyway!  If there is nothing I can do that is critically important today (since this is a day of ‘vanity’) then why not make it a day when I encourage someone else, stop to smell the roses, help someone in some small way, sing my favourite songs, or drink my favourite coffee?

The notion that ‘all is vanity’ takes the pressure of ‘I must perform’ off our backs and allows us to enjoy the days of our vanity in as productive and pleasant a way as possible.

On Eternal Duty

While we may think that what we are doing is vanity be aware that God is ordering your steps and you are always on duty, ‘eternal duty’.  At any moment God may require you to do something that has lasting impact, and your key purpose in life may not yet have arrived.

So go through your days enjoyably, diligently, faithfully, contentedly, without stress, but always stay alert to the moment when God wants you to help someone, share your faith, worship Him, obey Him, or otherwise fulfil a divine destiny, even if just for a moment.

God Loves You

I recall the testimony of a young man named Jonathan who took the train into the city one day.  The peak hour train was crowded and he travelled in the mindless way most people do in such situations.  Unexpected he noticed a young lady sitting opposite him and felt a strong impression to tell her God loved her.  He refused to do so, as it is out of character with the way people behave on a peak hour train.  But the impression persisted.

Jonathan told me he did not want to say anything to the lady, but she noticed him looking at her and she scolded him with the words, “What are you looking at?”  That put him on the spot so he told her, “God told me to tell you He loves you.”

At that the young lady began to cry and in the ensuing conversation she confided that she had planned to commit suicide that day, but his intervention saved her life.

That’s a divine moment, breaking into our vanity.  And you are always on duty for such things.

Little Things

But sometimes what God has for us to do is not dramatic, just a simple smile, or word of encouragement.  Many people have felt greatly blessed by a small act of kindness, being noticed, being appreciated, having someone listen to them, getting good advice, or feeling safe and protected.  You can do all manner of little things while enjoying the vanity of your life, and so be a blessing to many.

Once you are free from the performance pressure associated with all those vain things you are doing, you will have more time and more presence of mind to notice others and help them and bless them.

So, may I suggest to you that you realise what a waste of time most of what you do is.  Take stock of that and start to live more meaningfully, and determine to enjoy the life God has given you, even with the useless things you are doing.  Learn to be content, and do be good at what you do, but without getting hung up about it.

And keep your antenna twitching for all the opportunities God will send your way to be a blessing to Him and to people you don’t even know.

Among those chance encounters may be many divine moments where your vain life takes on great effectiveness in the lives of others.

Note that this post reflects my thoughts also shared in Getting On With Life. You might like to read that post too at http://chrisfieldblog.com/2015/10/23/getting-on-with-life.

Eternal Judgement – What Does the Bible Say?

A friend asked me recently for summary of Bible teaching on hell, as her son was challenged by his university friends that eternal punishment did not seem logical to them.  They suggested that a spirit would be incinerated in hellfire and so any judgment would be over quickly, not a protracted experience.  Following are the notes I put together to give an overview of the subject from a Biblical standpoint.

Eternal Judgment is one of the foundational doctrines listed in the Bible.

“Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on to perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.” Hebrews 6:1,2

By its very label this judgment is “eternal”, not transitory.
Repulsive as the thought is to our minds the Bible makes it clear that ongoing torment will be given to those who reject the salvation God offers us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Consider these warnings from Jesus and their reference to enduring punishment:
“And if your hand offends you, cut it off: it is better to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that is never quenched: Where their worm doesn’t die, and the fire is not quenched. And if your foot offends you, cut it off: it is better for you to enter life lame, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that is never quenched: Where their worm doesn’t die, and the fire is not quenched. And if your eye offends you, pluck it out: it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm doesn’t die, and the fire is not quenched.” Matthew 9:43-48
“And these will go into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” Matthew 25:46

What we understand from the Bible is that mankind has at enduring (eternal) soul (or spirit) which will either enjoy eternal blessings in God’s heavenly Kingdom (heaven) or eternal pain and torment in hell.

Hell is described for us as a place of continuous torment of fire without being burned up.

Jesus gives us a picture of this in His account of a rich man and a poor beggar named Lazarus. After death the rich man went to a place of enduring fiery torment while the faithful beggar went to a place of comfort, called Abraham’s bosom.

“And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and sees Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so he can dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” Luke 16:23,24

“Then he said, I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house: For I have five brothers; that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.” Luke 16:27,28

In each of these depictions of punishment for the wicked the pain and torment is enduring, not a temporary incineration.

Sin is just that horrible, not just to God and to the standards of holiness, but also to ourselves. Our selfish sinful heart wants to believe that sin is an excusable slip and something that can be justified away by blaming our past unhappinesses or the pressures of the moment. But when sin is measured against God’s holiness it is so horrible and so destructive that it warrants eternal punishment of the extreme kind. Sin damages us beyond our comprehension and all God’s warnings to us to avoid sin are for our protection, not to spoil our fun. God knows how toxic sin is.

Wonderfully none of us is ever intended to endure the eternal punishment that sin deserves. God wants all men everywhere to repent (2Peter 3:9). God’s overwhelming love compelled Him to become the very sacrifice for our sins so that man could be saved from eternal torment. However, if we snub such amazing sacrifice and hold the immeasurable love of God as something to be ignored we remain under condemnation and will have to face the just punishment for the abhorrent sin we have committed and refused to repent of.

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He who believes on him is not condemned: but he that believes not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” John 3:17-19

“He who believes on the Son has everlasting life: and he that believes not the Son will not see life (eternal life with God in heaven); but the wrath of God rests on him.” John 3:36

Note also that hell was never designed for mankind, but as the place of punishment for the fallen angels.

“Then will he say to them on the left hand, Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:” Matthew 25:41

If the devil can seduce us to reject God’s salvation and live in our sinful nature then the devil will drag us into the place of eternal torment that was not made for us but for him.

These insights come to us by God’s revelation in the Bible (the Word of God). Truth comes from God and our source of truth is God’s Word, the Bible. Our selfish hearts will try to wrestle with the Word of God and even twist it to say what we want to hear, but those with faithful hearts will accept what God says as God’s Word and seek to understand it, not neutralise it.

Eternal judgment, as in judgment that endures for eternity causing those who are punished to be in perpetual torments, is what the Bible describes. The idea of annihilation is more tolerable than the idea of enduring torment. But one of the foundational doctrines of the Bible (as quoted earlier from Hebrews 6) is “eternal judgment”.

On a pastoral note, be aware of your own heart. The human heart is dangerous territory.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9

“But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:” Matthew 15:18,19

“Keep your heart diligently; for out of it are the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23

Every time our heart reacts to some truth given to us in God’s Word that reaction indicates there is a wrong setting in our heart. Reaction to the truth of eternal judgement may indicate we have a “fear of eternal damnation” and need prayer to be free from that tormenting fear. Or it may be that we resent God’s authority because we have unresolved offences from authority figures who offended us in the past. Or we may have such pride that we want to rule our life and even eternity on our own terms, instead of submitting ourselves to God. Or reaction could spring from many other impulses in our heart. Stay attentive to “reactions” because those things that come out of a man reveal his heart and show the “issues” they need to deal with to truly walk in the freedom that truth brings.

“You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” John 8:32

Clay Pots and Brokenness

I spoke on Clay Pots tonight for the end of year Men’s Support Group event in Melbourne. Here are some key insights I shared.

We are all just clay pots. Human flesh is made of the same ingredients found in the soil, plus lots of water. So that makes us ‘mud’. We are fashioned into clay pots, ordinary and utilitarian.

Many of us wish our clay pot was somewhat better than it is: taller, better looking, stronger, more skilful, smarter, or more impressive in some way.

The best way to improve our clay pot is not to work over the shape and size of the pot, but to place treasure into it. If ordinary clay pots were for sale and one of them had a treasure inside it you would want to find that one to buy, rather than an empty one. The treasure gives the pot far greater value than it has on its own.

Similarly we as ordinary humans can have divine treasure inside us and that makes us incredibly more valuable than we were before.

What is the divine treasure the Bible speaks about? It is described by the apostle Paul….

“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” 2Corinthians 4:6,7

The treasure is God’s “light” shining on the inside of us. Light speaks of such things as revelation, insight, truth, illumination, removal of darkness, exposure of hidden things and cleansing.

We get to carry the light of God on the inside of us, illuminating and transforming us. That is an incredible treasure making us totally different to all those who have never been born again and who thus do not carry God’s light within.

That treasure is SO wonderful it makes our ordinariness, our clay pot status, quite irrelevant.

While some people struggle to improve their clay pot with personal development, education, social upgrades and so on, they can never upgrade their clay pot to anything of the value of the treasure God is waiting to place inside them. Giving your clay pot (your natural life) a makeover is a totally insignificant process compared to inviting God’s ‘treasure’ into your life.

So let’s take a look at the “light” that God shines into us. In 2Corinthians 4:6 Paul compares the light which God shines in our hearts with the light that shone into the darkness at Creation. At Creation the light shone where there was only darkness.

It is the same with us. When we receive God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ God’s light shines inside us where there has only been darkness. And just as the original creation of light completely dispelled the darkness and triumphed over it so God’s light in us dispels darkness within us and triumphs over it.

It doesn’t matter how dark things are inside our clay pot, with fears, torments, guilt, shame, addictions, evil, pride, suicidal thoughts, or whatever, God’s light shines into that very darkness and dispels it. God’s light is not created by us or worked up by some process within us, but it shines into our darkness, despite our darkness and dispels our darkness. “God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness has shined in our hearts.”

That makes each of our clay pots special, including those that are fat, bald, skinny, disabled, very ordinary, shy, weak, illiterate, crushed by life’s challenges and such like. We are all special when there is a deposit of God’s treasure within us.

We are each a light to the world and we are told to let our light shine.

Talking of clay pots with light inside links to a time when 300 soldiers followed Gideon into battle against a huge army of Midianites. At night each soldier took his place on the ridges around the enemy camp carrying a clay pot with a flaming torch inside. At Gideon’s signal the clay pots were smashed and the lights blazed brightly, leading to a decisive victory over the enemy.

That historic example reminds us that light inside the clay pot shines brightest once the pot is broken. I see examples of that among the men of the Men’s Support Group in Melbourne. Men who have been broken by life’s challenges, with health and family taken from them, or having to struggle through tough situations, often show the sweetest compassion, patience, care and self-sacrifice in order to help others. Their light shines much brighter than other Christians who are distracted by their comfortable lives keeping themselves happy.

If you have not received God’s light into your life then pray to God and tell Him that you believe Jesus is God’s Son who died for us and ask God to forgive you of your sins through the blood of Jesus. Then ask God to shine His light into your life and lead you into a life as His child, filled with all the fullness of God. God bless you as you do.

For more insight about us being clay pots go to my first article on Clay Pots by clicking here.

http://chrisfieldblog.com/2014/12/12/claypots1