Angels and the Afterlife

Let me say one thing before we get to more important matters. We don’t become Angels when we die. Maybe more shocking to you, there is no reference to Angels having wings (those are Cherubim/Seraphim which is something different), no reference to female Angels, nor any reference to baby angels.

These beliefs flow into the void of information about Angels, and are frequently expressed by those who have only a casual acquaintance with the Bible. They have seen a Bible. Never really read it. It is also the product of medieval and Renaissance art.

Angels are a species of their own. There is no detailed description of what they look like, but the lack of description lends to the understanding that they are human-like, maybe even enough to pass for a human. In Acts, Stephen’s face is described as being “like the face of an angel.”, but there is no explanation of what that means. Hebrews suggests that we may “entertain” Angels unaware of their identity. It is implied that they look like humans.

The name angelus means messenger. Being a messenger from God is the main function we see Angels fulfilling. The species may not be called “Angels”, that is the moniker we have placed on them for lack of other terms. People, especially pastors, can be called angelus in the Bible.

One observed ability that Angels seem to have is the ability to be in Heaven or on Earth. I think this is a bigger idea than simply being able to travel. My assumption is that Heaven is a different time-space plane. One would not necessarily have a physical presence in another time-space plane unless you were made for it. In the case of humans, we acquire a heavenly body once we are in Heaven. We might not have one now.

Since Angels are creatures that properly reside in Heaven, they will be a part of our afterlife while we are in Heaven and possibly in the New Earth as well. What will our relationship be like? Other than to say good, it is hard to say the types of interactions we will have with Angels.

Currently, the Bible suggests that they assist us now behind the scenes. The book of Daniel speaks of Angels assigned to whole nations. In the case of Israel it is Michael. Michael might be a type of super-angel, however. In Matthew 18:10, Jesus speaks of the Angels assigned to little children, and suggests that they have favored access to God. In Acts 12:15, a servant girl mistakes Peter (who was supposed to be in prison) with his Angel. Together these passages may suggest that many or all of us have a “guardian Angel”.

In the Bible, Angels demonstrate the ability to break into prisons and blind guards to what is happening, to physically fight or block someone’s way, and to gather God’s people from around the planet. Hebrews describe humans as being “a little lower than the angels”, which I would take to mean that we have similar but inferior abilities for now.

A possible reference to Angels is found in Genesis 6:2:

the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.

Genesis 6:2

Whoever the “sons of God” were, it would seems that this move was displeasing to God as it is at this point that God dials back the length of human life from potentially 900+ years to 120. It may suggest enough similarity to interbreed.

This passage and Jesus’ words in Matthew 22 bring into question the sexual nature of Angels and our own future sexuality. Jesus said,

At the resurrection people will neither marry or be given in marriage; they will be like the Angels in Heaven.

Matthew 22:30

Jesus never says what the Angels are like. We can infer that they do not marry, but this doesn’t say that they or humans after the resurrection will be asexual.

Like humans, Angels had their falling out with Satan. Revelation 12 suggest that around one third fell away, and now we equate them with demons. If fallen Angels are not demons, then we have no means to account for what a demon actually is. These Angels will share the fate of the damned.

God’s plan of salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection definitely benefits humans, its also “redeems” creation so that there is a new Earth with a new nature on it. Does it impact Angels? Colossians 1 might refer to this:

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Jesus), and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on Earth or things in Heaven, by making peace though his blood, shed on the cross.

Colossians 1:19-20

What that means for Angels is not clear. “All things” and “in Heaven” suggest that it means something. Any guess as to what is merely speculative.

From what we are told, we can expect to interact with, worship along side of , and enjoy an eternal relationship with Angels. The possibilities of what that will be like are as intriguing as what it will be like to interact with other humans who no longer are under the influence of sinful nature.

Why Must We Die?

Considering that death comes for everyone, it may seem like a ridiculous question to ask why we have to die. The question, however, comes up when we are facing the death of either ourselves or someone we love. As it turns out, it isn’t a ridiculous question at all.

Scientifically, we could site the fact that our bodies seem to be programmed to age and die. Our cells can only divide a limited number of times. This sets the outer limit on how long we can physically live. Usually before we hit our full potential lifespan (120 years), death caused by damage or illness takes us. The oldest among us do top out at 120.

The Bible has an interesting explanation that fits nicely with observed facts. When Moses wrote down the first five books of the Bible, He relayed God’s feelings about the lifespan of humans:

Then the Lord said, ” My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”

Genesis 6:3

Prior to this the Bible records some amazing lifespans, with Methuselah holding the record at 969 years. I’m sure most people consider these lifespans to be fictitious, but why? If our DNA were different, so that it could replicate more often, why couldn’t we live for 969 years? It seems that God dialed us back because we were getting on His nerves.

It is interesting to note that after this passage, people didn’t just hit the wall at 120. It takes several generations to arrive at this limit.

For that matter, why should we die at all? Indeed, God can make an indestructible body. Adam and Eve were not engineered to die. Their rebellion seems to have genetically modified them. Death was just one of the negative outcomes. People scoff at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil story in Genesis 3. It smells of myth to them. Is it? What if the Tree was real and “knowing Good and Evil” was a euphemism for being modified from God’s original design. Evil isn’t just a human social construct, it is the sum of deviations from God’s plans and His ways. Those deviations included genetic modification and failure, inherent tendency to God forbidden behaviors, and physical death.

We die because we are sinners. We are sinners because it is encoded in our DNA. It is encoded in our DNA because our truly, free-will capable ancestors decided that God wasn’t good or trustworthy. Now there is no way around death, only through it.

More frightening than having to die is the fact that humans were made to be eternal beings and remain so even with built-in physical death. Spiritual death is different than physical death. In physical death our bodies break down and eventually cannot sustain functioning. Decay soon follows. Our consciousness is not a part of body after physical death. The Bible warns of post-mortem judgment, first in Sheol, the after a resurrection in Gehenna (or what we call Hell). These two places share common conditions: fire, despair, suffering. Hell holds a unique condition: forsakenness. Only here does God completely abandon you.

All but physical death is avoidable. Jesus Christ died and was forsaken in our place. A connection to Jesus, makes Jesus’ sinlessness ours and Jesus’ forsakenness ours as well. It is a promise of God’s delivered through baptism.

Physical death remains a requirement since physical death is a part of our physical bodies. We need to shed this. Death is both a terrible thing because it is the product of sin and produces an “unnatural” separation of body and soul, and it is a sought after relief if we are connected to Jesus.

Fear it, fight it, live in denial that it exists. Death still comes for all.

The Parable of the Talents and Judgment Day

In Matthew 25, Jesus gets His disciples ready for Judgment Day. In a series of stories He tells them what they should be doing now in preparation for that unavoidable day. One of the stories is the Parable of the Talents. It links for us the importance of good stewardship to Judgment Day results.

Stewardship is the idea that God has put us (humans) in charge of certain aspects of His creation, and we are to be good caretakers and managers of these things while we are alive. The parable of the talents uses money as a metaphor for all of these things. What things are we talking about?

Money is one of them. God has created a planet that sustains an economic system and places us with certain abilities to earn money, which God expects to be managed in a certain way. We are to be wise and efficient, generous, but not trusting or dependent on money rather than God.

There are other stewardships as well. We are stewards of our time, our abilities (both learned and supernaturally given), our bodies, the planet itself, and the knowledge of God that we receive. In general, we are to acknowledge that these things are from God, we want to help others with them, we want to respect the asset itself, but we never want to confuse the asset for God himself.

So here is the Parable of the Talents:

“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Matthew 25:16-30

Notice that the three stewards are given unequal amounts of money (a talent is about 20 years wages for an average worker). We have different portfolios made up of money, time, talent, relationships, health and natural resources. We are only responsible for what we have. The more we have, the more the responsibility and expectations.

Two of the three make the most of the opportunity. They use their lives well and bring a proportional return that would represent good done with the right attitude and motivation, bringing people to the forgiveness and eternal life that God offers, strengthening the faith of others and enhancing their discipleship, raising genuine praise for God, respecting His creation and resisting evil.

Their life work doesn’t save them. Like everyone, we are saved by Jesus’ life work. We are saved by a gift that covers the multiple failures and many sins. The Judgment Day evaluation of our stewardship is for the sake of reward. Since we are saved as a gift, do we deserve a reward? Absolutely not, but God does it anyway. What reward? The Bible is vague about this, but notice that the Master offers to put the faithful stewards in charge of even more– an impact that they will experience in the New Earth.

The third guy is the interesting and scary one. Who does he represent? He receives something, but in the end there is no return. Can somebody really produce nothing with their lives? This man represents those who hear God’s plan to save them but don’t believe it. They may even be culturally Christian, but they don’t expect a Judgment Day or eternal life, they only live for this life.

The Master seems angry and harsh, but consider the lengths that God has gone through to save us. Jesus’ death on the cross is no small thing. To reject it is a great offense on top of all of our sins. The unfaithful steward is bound and thrown into “outer darkness”, a place where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” I don’t think I need to explain where that is.

It is interesting to compare this unfaithful servant with a representative person described in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, which is also a Judgment Day picture. That will be the topic of the next blog entry.

Should I Let Them Go?

One of the toughest decisions we may have to make is to stop medical interventions and to let a loved one die.  We are eventually going to die no what we do.  We know that.  But somehow it seems right to pull out all the stops, no matter the cost in money and suffering, and to try to extend life–even if it is not right.  The medical profession is geared to do the same thing.   Even living wills often cannot stop efforts of relatives to keep life going.

It really doesn’t have to be that agonizing.  I put the biggest part of the blame on the person who is dying.  All of us should have detailed living wills, or at least candid discussions about death, even when we are in perfect health.  One never knows when things can turn for the worst.  Just look at those taken unprepared by the corona virus.  When I say detailed, I mean have the will cover some common medical scenarios.  For instance, if I have dementia, chronic pain, severe neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease, “irreversible coma”, and the like; what do you want people to do if you are going to die with intervention?  Name it. By intervention, I mean administer such things as intubation, restart a stopped heart, have major surgery,  insert a feeding tube or even give antibiotics for sepsis.  No one has to do such things.

More important than your desire or willingness to go through painful procedures that may not give you quality of life, is your understanding of what comes next.  Your loved ones should know clearly your understanding.  Of course, your understanding doesn’t make it so.  But if you are closing in on death with no certainty, then you need to talk to people about what is known or believed and face the issue of death.  Too many people have coped with death by ignoring it all their lives.  That is very scary(and really foolish) at the end.  I have tried to minister to plenty of people, often relatives of our congregation members, who have found themselves in that predicament.

This entire blog has been dedicated toward explaining the Biblical revelation about life after death and how it correlates with other experiences like Near Death Experiences.What Should We Think of Near Death Experiences?  If someone is connected to Christ through faith and baptism, then they are ready.  Death alone doesn’t transport us to a “better place”.  Culturally, we just tell ourselves that to comfort us in our loss.  Jesus himself says that a majority don’t go to a better place, and he is the one who gives insight into eternity with proof.  He also is the only way to that “better place”.

Let me assume that you are ready.  You may not have a seamless faith in Jesus, that’s okay.  You are saved by a connection formed by God to Jesus and his death and resurrection.  You are not saved by believing hard enough.  You may have fear.  Few don’t.  Most people are afraid of the unknown.  If you or your loved one is ready, then why go through the physical suffering that medical science now affords us?  Say your good-byes.  Say what you have to say. If forgiving or asking for forgiveness is appropriate, definitely do that.  Medicine can make you comfortable through the death process.  Know that eternal life in Christ is not only better, it is much better.

Should you continue to extend the life of someone who is clearly not connected to Christ?  If you are a believer but your loved one is not, this is the time to pull out all the stops.  I would do it even if they were unconscious.  Tell them how you love them.  Tell them why you are explaining the Gospel.Why Everyone Needs Jesus Don’t accept denial at this point.  If they ask for baptism, baptize them.  Pray like crazy, because only God can create a saving faith, if anyone can.  Then, if it is their wish, let them go.  You will not know the result until you arrive in Heaven yourself.  Some pretty important stuff can happen at the final hour.

Earlier I said I primarily blame the dying person for not getting their loved ones ready for death.  If we are the “loved ones”, we bear some responsibility as well.  We should love each other, enjoy each other, talk frankly with each other about heavy subjects like death and life after death.  But do not create a relationship so dependent on anyone that we cannot conceive of life without them.  We put that level of dependence on God alone. Not everyone gets to die first.  Grieving cannot and should not be completely avoided.  Life and death decisions should be determined by the needs of the dying person, not their grieving family.  The family needs to be strong and prepared.  Again, denial about the reality of death is a lousy coping mechanism.

Covid-19 forced many people to die alone.  This is very sad.  Actually, I have found that some people prefer to be alone.  They will let the people holding vigil at their bedside leave, and then they will sneak out.  Most would like the comfort of someone nearby, even if it isn’t a relative.  Again preparedness is important.  I would love to die surrounded by my living family and friends, but I know that I am never alone if I belong to Christ.  If you have the same faith, make sure your family knows it.

I am not afraid to die, even alone.  In fact, I look forward to that day.  I am here to do the work of God, enjoy the unique aspects of this life, enjoy my family and friends, and then to meet you on the other side.

O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory though our Lord Jesus Christ.    1 Corinthians 15:55-57

 

 

Are You Ready?

We all know that we are going to die someday.  Still, that often seems distant and surreal.  Occasionally, an event may make death, including your death, a little more real.  A pandemic can fill that role.

Most people won’t catch the coronavirus, I think.  Most who do catch it won’t be that sick or even show symptoms at all.  But some will face death and plenty will experience it.  How ready are you?  It is fair question to ask yourself at any age or in any form of health.

Your answer will be very much influenced by your worldview.  If you believe in some form of reincarnation, death may scare you, but the results are not final.  If you believe that you must stand before an almighty, but somewhat unpredictable, Allah; then death is very intimidating. If you are convinced that there is nothing beyond the grave, then death is depressing but unavoidable and not a big deal.  If you believe in some generic form of Heaven for being good enough, then death is again frightening and uncertain.  How convinced are you that any of these worldviews are accurate?

I am personally quite convinced that these worldviews are all inaccurate and that one’s worldview does not shape what happens after death. What comes next comes regardless of what you have believed.   I am also convinced that in the history of mankind only one person gives authoritative insight into what happens next and also provides a good outcome.  That person is Jesus because:

  • He has many credible witnesses that testify that He did miraculous things, including raising people from the dead
  • He has many credible witnesses, including former doubters, that He rose from the dead
  • He fulfilled prophetic writings that were clearly written long before His birth.
  • His teachings fit with our experience of self and the world.
  • Archeology affirms many of the details that surround Him
  • Out of body experiences seem to confirm the existence of both Heaven and Sheol.

Jesus himself states, “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”   Jesus and the New Testament authors explain why this would be so.  God requires sinlessness, and none of us meet that standard.  Someone had to be a sinless human being in order to fulfill God’s Law and take the consequences of sin on themselves.  To be sinless, you would have to be born sinless and continue to the end.  The Bible explains that we are all sinful from conception onward.  Jesus’ unusual birth (a virgin birth) allowed him to be born without a sinful nature (genetically distorted to naturally be alienated from God).  Jesus is unique in this way.  Also, if any other process could give us eternal life with God, then Jesus would never have been asked to do what He did.  He not only died on the cross, He was forsaken by the Father as our surrogate.

Connection to Jesus to receive the benefits of His life and the promise of eternal life is both simple and impossible.  In our natural condition we would never believe Jesus’ story or His promises.  That’s what sinful nature does.  It is a good thing that God is working to supersede sinful nature or it would be impossible.  God creates faith.  Some highly unlikely people have come to have faith:  hardcore atheists, very evil people, strong adherents of other worldviews.  God wants to save people.  He wants us to be ready.  We and our children can be connected to Jesus and eternal life through baptism.  That much is simple.

Being Heaven-bound (saved) doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t have questions or doubts.  When God does get a hold of you there are signs:  growing confidence in Jesus, growing confidence in your own salvation, a love for God, a hunger to learn, etc.  Our circumstances and the remaining flaws of our sinful nature may diminish some of the signs; but we may still be ready, especially if we have been baptized.

It is a great feeling to know that you are ready.  In fact, more than ready–looking forward to it.  As this blog explains, there is much to avoid (Sheol, Hell) and much to look forward to (Heaven, Resurrection and the New Earth).  The greater your confidence is in Christ, the less a pandemic seems like a reason to panic.

How Many Will Be Saved?

It’s hard to say how many people have lived since the beginning.  Population growth suggests that a large chunk of those who have ever lived are still alive now.  Add to it those who died in the womb and you have a very large number.  But how many will be saved in the end and how many will be damned?  Speculation varies from a rather small number saved to everyone.  Let’s look at the few Scriptural clues we have.

Let’s start with my least favorite verse in the Bible, Matthew 7:13-14:

Enter by the narrow gate.  For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

“Few” and “many” are relative terms.  At minimum, this passage suggests that a minority find life.  Is this passage about eternal life or just living properly?  I think its wording suggests, at minimum, that destruction refers to entering Sheol.  It probably is speaking about entering Hell, but let’s leave that open for now.

Many argue that a loving God could not possibly damn anyone.  While that seems logical, two passages you must consider on the topic are Matthew 25:41 and as an explanation John 3:19-20:

Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and the people loved darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.

My main point is that a verdict of damnation is spoken to a significant population of human beings.  This happens despite the giving of Jesus (the light) and the promise of forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  Many just prefer evil and they get the consequence of unforgiven evil.

Without Jesus there is no forgiveness.  Without forgiveness there is no Heaven or New Earth.  If the “destruction” referred to in Matthew 7 is Hell, then those “on the left” are a majority of mankind, and there is no way to tell how large of a majority.  If it refers only to “Sheol” then there is a small hope that it could be less, depending on the meaning of 1 Peter 4:6:

For this is why the Gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.

This is an enigmatic passage without other Scripture to help to clarify it.  It comes in the context of Peter speaking about the descent of Jesus to speak to “spirits in prison”.  Does it tell of the Gospel being preached successfully in Sheol?  Let’s hope so, but let’s also preach the Gospel like this is our only chance.

In the end, whether a minority or not, a large and diverse population of humanity makes it to Heaven.  Revelation 7:9 describes it this way:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Jesus’ self-sacrifice, the “narrow door”, results in the salvation of a great multitude.  Let’s work so as to make it greater.

Why Did God Even Create the Damned?

One question has always bothered me.  It is the question I will grapple with in this blog.  As time goes on, more and more people are saved by Christ; but this number pales in comparison to the number of those lost eternally.  If God truly loves mankind, wouldn’t He bring an end to the world just to stop the bleeding?

Of course, that reasoning would have ended creation at the very beginning.  God’s people have always been a remnant (a minority).  The love of God for mankind is a love for all.  Jesus died for all.  Through Jesus’ death atonement has been made that, at least theoretically, could cover the sins of every person.  It is the persistent rejection of such a great sacrifice and love that makes the judgment of eternal death just in God’s eyes,  not just the people’s sins or their sinful nature.

It is a wrong conclusion to think that God created certain people to be damned.  Yes, certain people in history were the unlucky people to play infamous roles: Pharoah, Judas, Pontius Pilate to name a few.   But what we are is not just the product of God’s creation.  We are God’s creation plus a distortion that dates all the way back to Adam and Eve.  On top of that, we are partially the product of our environment or our reaction to our environment, and I would include Satan as a part of our environment.  All these factors create a wide array of people.  None of us can choose God all by ourselves. God must do something to open us to Him.  But it seems that many remain closed regardless.

It is my conclusion from the information in the Bible that God can know all of human history and know every human heart.  He knew or could know everyone’s potential reaction to Jesus before anyone came into being.  Jesus said,

Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate that leads to life, and only a few find it.  (Matthew 7:13-14)

Jesus knew that many have and would enter into destruction.  Is God indifferent about this or is He grieved?

In a very interesting and confusing passage in Genesis 6:6, God expressed regret for creating mankind.  It would seem that God does not always use His foreknowledge if He can experience regret.  It doesn’t seem like a stretch, then, to conclude that God grieves the loss of so many even though He considers their sentence just.

It is impossible for us to know all that has gone into God’s decisions.  We can’t even relate to what it is like to be God.  It is certainly different than our frame of reference.  Consequently, I can’t say why God didn’t or doesn’t cut His losses with mankind.  What I do know is that God wants more to be saved.  That is the motivation for His patience.  All else remains a mystery.

Can You Tell a Person’s Destiny?

Knowing what happened to somebody who died, or knowing what will likely happen to somebody when they die are two pieces of information we can greatly desire.  Sometimes you want to know because you care.  Sometimes you want to know because you want to minister to them appropriately.  Sometimes that knowledge would help you to grieve.

But can you know?  Jesus urges us not to judge in Matthew 7:1.  This command is especially relevant here, because there are many factors that could lead to the wrong conclusion.  Here are a few:

One cannot determine a person’s eternal destiny based on how they died.  It is common to view a peaceful death that is well anticipated as a superior sign over a violent, unexpected death.  But the cause of death says nothing about a person’s eternal destiny.  Jesus confronted this popular misperception when a tower that was under construction collapsed.  People concluded that the workers who died must have been worse “sinners” than others.  Jesus put us all in the same boat.

Nor can we conclude anything based on experiences as one dies.  Some have visions of Heaven.  Some express nothing at all.  My own mother had the experience of “falling” as she was dying.  Sheol isn’t actually down and Heaven is actually up.  So experiences of going up or down are just caused by the failing of the brain.  In my next blog entry, I plan to start to address Near Death Experiences.  While both experiences of Sheol and experiences of Heaven occur, also in the mix are intentional deceptions by Satan.

One cannot make an absolute judgment based on behavior.  When we are connected to Jesus and saved from our sins the Holy Spirit does change us for the good.  This change of qualities and increase in love should be observable.  But even saved people continue to struggle with sinful nature.  As such, the progress of our sanctification (being made into somebody good in our actions) can be slowed with periods of digression along the way.  Don’t get sucked into the “good enough” evaluation.  We are not saved by our deeds.  We are saved by Christ’s deeds.  While good works are valuable, they are neither the source of salvation nor a trustworthy way to evaluate whether somebody is saved.

One cannot make an absolute judgment based on whether a person’s faith is unwavering.  Ephesians 2:8 says we are saved by grace through faith.  This sentence uses the word “faith” to describe a connection that God makes between us and Jesus.  That type of “faith” can produce the “faith” that is certainty in what is unseen but promised by God.

Many solid disciples of Jesus can have frightening doubts as they approach death.  It is common.  You are not saved by your certainty.  You are saved by Jesus.  So do not get sucked into the “faith enough” evaluation either.  Comfort a dying person who is afraid.  Don’t beat them into believing better as if that were possible to do.

In the end, judgment is God’s business alone. Our ministry to the dying should be one of sharing and reaffirming God’s promises of grace.  Our “self-evaluation” can be this simple three-question quiz: 1.  Did Jesus really die and rise again?  Yes or no. 2.  Did God promise eternal life to all who call on Jesus?  Yes or no. 3  Is God a liar?   If you can answer yes, yes, no, it is because God chose you and gave you those answers.

Any other circumstantial evidence should kept at arm’s length.  It probably doesn’t mean anything.

Holy Week and Life After Death

For many, Holy Week is a forgotten celebration.  The only remnant of it left in their lives is Easter, and Easter is nothing more than a celebration of Spring and a chance for kids to get candy for some reason.  Talk about missing the boat.

The events of Holy Week are not only historical, they are critical to any of us having life after death versus suffering after death.  Jesus had to do what He did or God’s Law would scoop everyone of us up and drop us in the same bucket with the most evil people who ever lived and Satan himself.  We are all sinners.  Something had to be done about that.  Holy Week is the celebration of the fact that somebody did.

In his life, Jesus did many miraculous and beautiful things.  He fed thousands of people, healed many sick, freed many from demons, gave us clearer insight on God and life after death, laid out a morality based on love and more.  None of these were his main purpose, however.  He was born the way he was (from a virgin mother) so that he could fulfill God’s Law on behalf of the whole species and so that he could bear the required punishment for the sin of all mankind.  To do this he had to be sinless.

The Bible says that we are all born sinful–altered from how God created humans and resulting our in being selfish and hostile to God.  Jesus’ unusual birth allowed him to be without our genetic deformities.  His life stayed within the bounds of God’s Law.  Making Jesus the only sinless human since the beginning.  This is why there is no alternative path to eternal life.  There is only Jesus.  Jesus said of the way to Heaven, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”

For God, sin demands death.  This is more complicated than it seems on the surface.  Our life includes our physical body which easily becomes non-functioning and decays away; but it also includes our (mind, consciousness, soul).  This is not caused by our physical body.  It interacts with our physical body.  This aspect of ourselves God has made to be eternal.  Death for our soul constitutes being forsaken/exiled from God, and it is miserable.  Such a thing could happen anywhere, but the plan of how this judgment is to be executed is to resurrect/recreate an indestructible body for all and to cast both that body and our soul into Hell.

That sounds harsh, but it seems appropriate when you understand that it takes the rejection of an enormously costly rescue attempt by Jesus.  Jesus was forsaken and physically died for us that first Holy Week.  His voluntary sacrifice makes a whole different narrative possible.

It seems strange to us that one person’s actions could potentially result in the satisfaction of a condemning law for all people.  That isn’t our idea of fairness.  But if you understand that one person’s decision (pick Adam or Eve) resulted in a modification of our DNA to make us sinful, and that this was inherited by everyone; the idea seems less out there.  Jesus was doing what needed to be done to save the people he loved.

If you still celebrate Holy Week, celebrate it again with a fresh appreciation of how much those events have changed your life and eternity.  If you are skeptical or unsure of such things, I exhort you to read one the Gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ death and ask God to keep your sinful nature in check if possible.  Perhaps you will see this story through a different set of “eyes” and understand that God is real, He loves you, and the road to eternal life in joy has been cleared for you by Jesus.