Creeping and Drifting…

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From the Preacher’s Pen… I once heard of a mayor who firmly believed that traffic warnings were overdone. He was elected just because he felt it excessive to always be telling people how to run their lives and what not to do. So, his solution was to get rid of all the traffic control in his city. No more stop lights, no more stop signs, no more yield signs, no more signs preventing people from driving however they wanted.

As you might expect, things didn’t go well in that town. As traffic snarled and accidents abounded, pedestrians were increasingly run down and people eventually became so angry that they replaced their mayor with one that promised to put the rules back in place and restore order.

Hopefully, you realize the lesson has important parallels for us in God’s word. Let’s look a moment at…

Creeping and Drifting

Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about the salvation we share, I felt the necessity to write to you urging you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 3-4)

Jude presents an important reminder of the fact that sin does not appear to us dressed up with horns and a pitchfork. Satan and his false-teaching followers know how to creep in without our notice. The warning from God is clear; we must always be on the alert, watchful lest the Devil and his ungodly companions sneak in and cause us to also do wrong.

The NIV renders verse 4 like this: For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. Watch out for the dangerous, unnoticed, secretly slipping in ungodly people who are perverting God’s will! Do we get the point?

What is amazing in light of God’s clear teaching is how often someone will suggest that we “let them talk and have their say. After all, won’t everyone recognize false teaching?” Do we really have a God-given responsibility to protect those babes and immature ones in Christ? Let’s check with God on that: Reject a factious [divisive, Paul literally calls them a heretic] person after a first and second warning, knowing that such a person is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned. (Titus 3:10-11) Paul also warned the elders of the Ephesian church that savage wolves were going to be a threat to the church and that they would be leading people away from salvation (cf. Acts 20:25-30).

God’s lesson for us is important: There is danger out there and it will sneak in and destroy our lives and the Lord’s church if we let it. Be careful, always watchful, always devoted to the truth in God’s word! Okay, as soon as we observe the big bad wolf huffing and puffing at our door, we will immediately stop him and never allow ourselves to be led astray!

The problem with this boast is that God also warns us of another danger… that of drifting. The Hebrew writer warns: …  we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? (Hebrews 2:1-3a)

Danger does not always come with a sign and a warning. Indeed, it is especially deadly when it creeps in. We miss the signs when they are almost unnoticeable. We drift ever so slowly away. It is dangerous simply because it is insidious, easily missed until it is too late.

All the warnings in the world are useless without us first knowing God’s will. Reading your Bible daily is a beginning. Studying intently on your own and with your fellow Christians will help even more. James puts it like this: Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (James 1:22–25)

Be careful not to allow either creeping or drifting into your life for the Savior!

— Lester P. Bagley

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low either creeping or drifting into your life for the Savior!

— Lester P. Bagley

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11/3/18 ~ Degrees of Punishment and Reward

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

A few weeks ago a dear brother and fellow preacher and I were looking at what the Scriptures say about degrees of punishment and reward. It is an interesting study and one that, like everything God teaches us, points us directly to the importance of handling God’s word correctly.

There is really no point in giving the false arguments and wishful thinking of those who disagree with God. So, let’s look at what Scripture actually says about…

Degrees of Punishment & Reward

Reward

To begin with, degrees of reward has virtually no real support. 1 Peter 4:18 is not so much a comment on degrees of reward as it is on the difficulty of salvation, much like Jesus’ lesson of the broad vs narrow ways. It is thus fitting that Peter is also the one to remind us (2 Peter 1:11) that, because of our Savior, our entrance into heaven is NEVER just “barely making it into the pearly gates” but rather is an “abundant” entrance.

Yes, there are several times that Jesus refers to varying rewards. “The five talent man received five more but the two talent man ‘only’ received two more,” you say. On the other hand, Jesus plainly provoked the ire of those who believe in degrees of reward with his lesson in Matthew 20:1-15. There He tells of the one working only the last hour of the day as receiving the same reward as the one that worked longer hours.

The balance between teachings that seemingly suggest greater rewards is offset by those teaching equality of reward for all. So we must conclude, as with any other imagined contradiction in scripture, that the idea of greater rewards is our misunderstanding of God’s point. John describes many of the eternal blessings of heaven (Revelation 21:1-4). But never does he suggest that anyone in heaven receives only some tears wiped away or only some pain removed or only some eternal life. Like Jesus’s example of the talents, the real reward is the gift of God and not to be measured.

Yes, there are plenty of people that see various rewards, some rich and happy in heaven and some miserable, or even temporary punishments to further qualify one for heaven. Since those positions take a lot of work at misunderstanding what God says they rightly belong to the study of denominational doctrines and other false teachings.

Punishment

Degrees of punishment requires a bit deeper study, but again, we have to be careful about the meaning inserted by false teachers. Matthew 12:41–42; 23:14; Mark 12:40; Luke 11:31–32; 20:47 are all passages in which Jesus speaks of “greater condemnation” for some people. Note that it’s not always the same people, so the exact reason for the comparison (hotter seats next to the fires?) is not really stated. We must be careful not to make more than is actually said, since in each case Jesus’ point is that it is worse for you (His subjects) than for everyone else in general.

Two further passages make an interesting lesson as they are often seen as in opposition to each other: James 3:1 is used as a “popular excuse” NOT to teach the Gospel. In contrast, Hebrews 5:12 counters that interpretation by saying maturity in Christ requires ALL to be teachers. Is James perhaps using some of the same sarcasm Jesus often used to suggest that those rejecting Him felt that they “needed” less forgiveness than the “common” sinners? Certainly, James knew that failure to actually obey the “Great Commission” as part of our obedience to the whole of Christ’s teaching would NOT result in salvation!

2 Peter 2:21 is often used to “prove” a worse punishment for those that once were faithful. While they “could” have one of those “seats closer to the fire,” it certainly could also remind us that eternal punishment will certainly be a self-inflicted “worse” for someone knowing for all eternity that they had no excuse of ignorance to fall back on, while that same “ignorance” defense might allow others to feel a bit less tormented.

That last discussion also leads to the oft-debated “ignorance” plea. Will God actually condemn those that do not know His word? God never has accepted the “ignorance” plea as Leviticus 26:14, 18, 27; Deuteronomy 28:15; Romans 2:8; 2 Thessalonians 1:8 and 1 Peter 4:17 all show. His standard has always been much like that of a parent, “did you DO what you were told” and unaccepting of the “I didn’t hear you” excuse.

Jesus made an interesting observation and gives us a bit more to think about in the explanation of a parable dealing with being prepared for Jesus’ return (Luke 12:39-40). When Peter asks about the target of that preparedness parable, Jesus responds with a lesson contrasting faithful servants and unfaithful servants thinking they can get away with something (Luke 12:41-46).

The conclusion Jesus draws is three-fold. First, the slave that willingly fails to obey will “receive many lashes” (Luke 12:47). Second, the slave that did wrong out of “ignorance” will receive “few lashes” (Luke 12:48). Third, the Lord’s final comment on the matter is the reminder that the more we know and are given by God, the more God requires of us (end of Luke 12:48).

Putting all this together brings us to two important lessons:

1) Our reward is based on grace. Our “merit” is that of Jesus who gave His life for us. Thus, the abundance of that inheritance is enjoyed by all because they gave their all. Without giving God our ALL, there is no hope of heaven.

2) Punishment is dealt out to those who do not OBEY the will of Jesus, whatever the excuse. One might well receive a technically lesser punishment for ignorance, but it will never be anything like the reward for obedient service. Spending eternity cheering partial failure is no more a win than any other loss.

There is no second-place finish when it comes to salvation. Either we “fight the good fight… finish the course” and “keep the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7) and receive the same crown prepared for all, or else there is no crown, no win. God’s promises belong to those that faithfully DO His will. What are you doing when it comes to obedience to the Gospel?

— Lester P. Bagley

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