Tag Archives: afterlife

June 2015 Bible Questions & Answers

Topics:  idle words, sinning against God in heaven, degrees of eternal reward and punishment, 1 Corinthian 2:7’s “secret wisdom,” comparison of Sodom and the United States, participation in prayers led by non-Christians, bearing one another’s burdens, asking forgiveness in prayer

Yesterday was the most recent Bible Question & Answer session at the Duncan Church of Christ in Duncan, SC.  I really appreciate these questions, those who ask them, and the research required of me to provide biblical answers.  Activities such as these help us all to grow (1 Pet. 3:15).

Please explain “idle words” (Matt. 12:36-37).

“Idle” (argos) literally means “free from labor, at leisure; lazy, shunning the labor which one ought to perform.”  “Idle words” therefore refer to words which we utter lazily, at our leisure, shunning the responsibilities concerning them which God says we have.

God gives us many responsibilities concerning what we speak and how we are to speak it (cf. Matt. 6:9; Eph. 5:4; Matt. 5:33-37; Eph. 4:15, 29; etc.)  When we unrepentantly speak in haste (don’t think before we speak) or don’t care about what we say or how we say it, we are “idle” when it comes to our words and will be condemned accordingly.

The devil sinned against God in heaven by thinking he was more powerful.  Does that mean we could also sin against God by thinking we are more powerful?

The Bible says the sin Satan committed was pride (1 Tim. 3:6).  Pride in the sense that he thought he was more powerful than God?  Perhaps, but the Bible doesn’t clearly state as much (Deut. 29:29).

We will not sin against God in heaven for whatever reason because the righteous are promised ETERNAL life after judgment, without end (Matt. 25:46).  In the new heaven and earth, death/separation from God will be no more (Rev. 21:4; cf. Rom. 6:23).  Nothing unclean will ever enter Heaven (Rev. 21:27; 22:15).

Are there varying degrees of Heaven and Hell?

There’s no biblical evidence that our human spirit will be fundamentally and basically changed after death.  Thus, it’s likely we will be capable of various degrees of satisfaction in eternity, depending upon our capacity for such, since we are capable of different levels of satisfaction in this life.

The Bible implies varying levels of reward for the saved.  Jesus’ parable of the 10 minas teaches such (Luke 19:12ff).  He promised to “repay each person according to what he has done” (Matt. 16:27).  “According to” (kata) implies a norm, a standard by which rewards or punishments are given, signifying a proportionately fair dispersal.  Paul knew he would have both joy and glory for converting souls (1 Thess. 2:19-20), yet he also cautioned us to seek true converts over superficial ones because if one’s converts did not endure, he himself would still be saved while also suffering “loss” of the joy and glory of knowing his work of converting those souls would be fruitful for eternity (1 Cor. 3:10ff; cf. Gal. 4:11).  In other words, the more of our converts who endure and finally arrive in heaven, the greater our joy and reward will be.

In like manner, the Bible also implies varying levels of punishment for the condemned.  Cities in Galilee were told it would be “more tolerable” for Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom than for them (Matt. 11:20-24; cf. 10:15).  The knowingly disobedient would be punished more than those who were punished because they ignorantly disobeyed (Luke 12:47-48).  Pilate was told that those who had delivered Jesus to him “have the greater sin” (John 19:11), implying a greater punishment.  Willful, unrepentant sinners under the New Covenant would receive a “worse” punishment than unrepentant sinners under the Old Covenant (Heb. 10:26-31).  The “last state” of apostate Christians would be “worse” than it would have been should they had never been converted in the first place (2 Pet. 2:20-22; cf. 1 Pet. 4:17).

What is the “secret wisdom” (1 Cor. 2:7)?

Not human wisdom (2:6, 8); rather, a mystery hidden from man which God ordained before creation (2:7) in order to glorify those who accept him (cf. 2 Thess. 1:10).  It pertains to things which we cannot perceive on our own which God first prepared (2:9), then revealed via the Spirit to the apostles and prophets (2:10-11; cf. John 16:12-14; Eph. 3:1-5), who received it (2:12) and then spoke/wrote it to us (2:13; cf. Eph. 3:3-4).

What is it?  The inspired New Testament, the gospel (Rom. 16:25-26; 2 Pet. 1:19-21).

Please compare the continuous evil thoughts and actions of Sodom to the current state of affairs in the United States.

To clarify, the population of the world in Noah’s day were the ones of whom it was said that every thought and intention of their heart was evil, not Sodom (Gen. 6:5).

In comparing Sodom to the U.S., we must note several things:

  • Sodom was punished because of ungodliness (2 Pet. 2:6), fornication in the form of homosexuality (Jude 7), and selfish, prideful lack of benevolence to the needy in spite of excess of food and prosperous ease (Ezek. 16:49).
  • Cites who unrepentantly rejected Christ would be in a worse predicament than Sodom on Judgment (Matt. 10:15; 11:23-24).
  • God was willing to spare Sodom if 10-50 righteous people were found within it, possibly .5% of its population at most.
  • The entire male population of the town was willing to commit homosexual rape of strangers (Gen. 19:4).

The overall ungodliness and immorality of America is headed towards the same levels of Sodom…but are we there yet?  Compare…

  • Homosexuality is embraced by many as last Friday’s Supreme Court ruling which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide proves…but are all or even most of the population of the United States in favor of homosexual rape of strangers?
  • It’s probable that more than .5% tops of the U.S. population are righteous or at the very least wanting to be righteous.
  • Christ is generally accepted far more in the U.S. than could have been said of the Galilean cities of his day, of whom it was said were in worse shape than Sodom.
  • The U.S. is prosperous, and we are pridefully selfish with our excess to a degree…but we are also well known for our benevolence toward many domestically and abroad.

If we continue down the road we’re on, we will arrive to where Sodom was perhaps within a generation or three.  Yet even now there is still much positive good in America, and we as Christians can make an impact for even more good.

But only if we are far more evangelistic than we currently are.

Is it proper for a member of the church to participate in a prayer led by a non-member?  If I pray along with that non-member, does my “Amen” validate that prayer led by that non-member before God?

God does not hear the prayers of alien sinners (Is. 59:2), save for those who are searching for the truth with honest hearts (Matt. 5:6; Acts 10:1-4; 11:13-14; Luke 8:15).  “Amen” (“so be it”) by definition shows verbal approval, so does God want us showing approval of error?  (Eph. 5:11; 2 John 9-11)

That said, many factors make each individual case in which this situation occurs a matter of personal judgment:

  • In some cases we know the hearts of an individual (Mark 7:20-23), yet in others we don’t (1 Tim. 5:24).  Can we in every case know if the non-Christian who’s leading the prayer is closed-minded to the gospel, or like Cornelius whose prayers outside of Christ were heard because he obviously was open to the truth?
  • If we bow our head during a public prayer led by someone not a member of the church, are we giving them and our brethren the impression that we endorse their prayer and thus consider them to be in Christ even though they’re denomination?  Would that be a stumbling block to weaker brethren, leading them to become more ecumenical?  (Rom. 14:21)
  • Children are not members of the church, yet they are not sinners either if they’ve not yet become accountable.  We are to train them how to pray (Eph. 6:4), allowing them to pray verbally themselves as a teaching tool.  We would hinder our efforts to teach them if they noticed we openly weren’t praying alongside them.

One would be wise to consider each of these and other elements and whether they truly play a factor in each individual situation, and then make a personal judgment accordingly and individually, keeping it between you and God (Rom. 14:22).  If you have any doubts whatsoever, then abstain because whatever violates your conscience is sin (Rom. 14:23).

Saying “Amen” itself doesn’t validate a prayer before God.  Rather, whether the prayer is in complete accordance with his will does that (Col. 3:17).

If what is being prayed by the non-Christian is completely scriptural, and if you’ve taken into account the previously-discussed factors and made the personal, private judgment that it’s okay to make it your own prayer to God…then your prayer would be valid before God, not because of the “Amen” per se, but because what was prayed is scriptural and you made it your own prayer.

To what extent are we to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2)?  Does this verse teach humility (v. 3)?  Does this verse teach us to still bear others’ burdens when they are the result of the person’s transgression (v. 1)?  If yes, we have a great need for love and humility when carrying out this command.

The father in the parable of the prodigal son unhesitatingly and compassionately took back his wayward yet penitent son and comforted him (Luke 15:20-32).  When we do the same, we help bear that person’s burdens.

God providentially both blesses and corrects the unjust (Matt. 5:45; Ps. 119:67).  In like manner, we bear the burdens of the one who is overtaken in transgression by no only correcting them (v. 1), but also by patiently comforting and encouraging them (v. 10: cf. 1 Thess. 5:11, 14-15).  Doing so requries much love for the one caught in transgression and for our brethren and fellow man in general (1 John 3:11, 14, 16-17).

The one who limits their interaction with a brother or sister caught in transgression to nothing more than correction or gossip loves themselves only…but not their brethren and certainly not God!!

To love others and help them shoulder their burdens requires much humility, a willingness to recognize that we are sinners who need each other’s help also (cf. Matt. 7:12), exactly what Galatians 6:3 is talking about.

Also, note that “bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2) is baros in the Greek, which Thayer defines as “heaviness, weight, burden, trouble.”  Yet, “for each will have to bear his own load (Gal. 6:5) is phortion in the Greek, which Strong defines as “a burden which must be carried by the individual, i.e. as something personal and hence is not transferrable, i.e. it cannot ‘be shifted’ to someone else.”

Thus, Christians must bear each other’s sorrows over sins and misfortunes (Gal. 6:2)…yet each of us must still bear and fulfill our own individual responsibilities (Gal. 6:5).  Balance is required (Matt. 23:23).  We must never try to completely take the problems of another away from them or shoulder all of their responsibilities.  It can’t be done, and trying to do it will hinder them from becoming stronger (Heb. 12:5-11).  Yet we must also not have the mindset of “They laid their bed, now let them sleep in it!”, an attitude that joyfully takes heart in their hardships and selfishly refuses to try to help.

There also comes a time to walk away, yet with love (Tit. 3:10-11; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14-15).

When do we ask for forgiveness in our private prayers (1 John 1:9)?  Should we ask at the beginning of our prayer, or does it matter when we ask?

The model prayer which places forgiveness toward the end of the prayer is meant to be a model, not an exact replica to be repeated verbatim (Matt. 6:7-13).  David requested forgiveness right at the start of one of his prayers (Ps. 51:1-2).

Thus, it matters not when in the prayer the Christian asks for forgiveness, only that he asks…and with a penitent heart (cf. Acts 8:22).

April 2015 Bible Questions And Answers

Topics:  Muslims, boycotting, Jesus’ body after ascension, communication in the afterlife, Jewish racism in the Bible, saying “going to church,” Satan’s sin in heaven, Christians’ punishment compared to the punishment of unbelievers

With this coming Sunday being the next scheduled Bible Question & Answers session at Duncan, I thought I’d post the questions and answers from our last session in April.  Apologies for taking so long to get them out.  I’ll do better with this coming Sunday’s batch of questions and answers.

Can a true Muslim be a good American? How should we interact with Muslims since they are called to convert us or kill us?

The Quran (Islam’s holy book, their “Bible”) contains verses which promote jihad, a holy war which requires Muslims to act violently toward unrepentant non-Muslims.  One of many passages which does so is this one:  “Now when ye MEET IN BATTLE those who disbelieve, then it is SMITING OF THE NECKS until, when ye have routed them, then making fast of bonds; and afterward either grace or ransom till the WAR lay down its burdens.  That (is the ordinance).  And if Allah willed He could have punished them (without you) but (thus it is ordained) that He may try some of you by means of others.  And THOSE WHO ARE SLAIN in the way of Allah, He rendereth not their actions vain.”  (Surah 47:4, emphasis mine).  Muslim scholar Abdulla Yusuf Ali wrote a commentary on this passage in which he stated, “When once the fight (Jihad) is entered upon, carry it out with the utmost vigour, and strike home your blows at the most vital points (smite at their necks), both literally and figuratively.  You cannot wage war with kid gloves.”

The religion of Islam is similar to Christianity in that its followers each exhibit varying degrees of faithfulness to its commandments.  Just as there are “liberal” Christians who hold to a relaxed view of biblical teaching, there are “liberal” Muslims, those who hold a relaxed view of the many teachings of the Quran concerning violence towards non-Muslims and thus are peaceful and kind.  Just as there are “conservative” Christians who simply take the Bible for what it says and try to obey all of it, there are also “conservative” Muslims who take the Quran for what it says and try to obey it all, including the passages about violence towards non-Muslims.  The “conservative” Muslims are currently represented by ISIS, the 9/11 hijackers, etc.  The “liberal” Muslims, generally speaking, are far more likely to be “good Americans” (i.e., abiding by the laws of this country; living peacefully with their fellow Americans.)

Scripture gives several guidelines on how Christians are to interact with Muslims:

  1. Remember that their souls are precious in the sight of God, so reach out to them with the gospel (John 3:16; Luke 19:10; Mark 16:15).
  2. Help them see us and our Christ as a loving people who represent a loving God by loving our neighbors and our enemies (1 Cor. 13:4-7; 1 John 4:8; Matt. 22:39; 5:44).
  3. Our love is primarily shown by sharing the truth with them in love (Eph. 4:15).
  4. Rather than writing off all Muslims you know as among the “conservative,” violent type, judge each individual Muslim righteously (John 7:24).
  5. Upon evidence that you’re dealing with a Muslim who is very “conservative” in doctrine (i.e., a violent jihadist), act wisely to protect yourself (Matt. 10:14); cf. Acts 23:12-35).

Should Christians boycott businesses which promote sins like homosexuality?

Conscientous Christians are always concerned about their affiliations and the causes they support (Prov. 4:14-15; 1 Thess. 5:22; etc.)  We all want to avoid giving evil the upper hand.  In our society, this means we are often faced with questions of which businesses we ought to support as consumers.

First of all, it must be said that we must never do anything to violate our own consciences (Rom. 14:23).  Yet, it must also be pointed out that God authorized Christians to do business in markets which sold meat that was offered to idols, even though eating meat offered to idols is sinful (1 Cor. 10:25-31; cf. Acts 15:28-29).  Thus, God allows us to purchase products or services from a business that sells things which contribute to the sins of others.

God also commands us not to research everyone through whom we purchase products or services to determine if they’re good (1 Cor. 10:25, 27).  This is because of another fact we must no longer overlook.  Boycotting breeds inconsistent hypocrisy, something God wishes Christians to overcome (Rom. 2:1, 17-24).

In recent years Disney, Ford Motor Company, McDonald’s, Sears, Wal-Mart, NBC, IBM, Subaru of America, Volvo, Chase Bank, Baby Magazine, Procter & Gamble, and more have all to some degree sponsored or promoted pro-homosexual organizations or causes.

If you boycott them all, what about businesses which hire and support liars, alcoholics, and the unscripturally divorced?  What about the businesses which sell alcohol and immodest clothing?  What about utility companies which serve businesses that sell or offer sinful services and products?

Every gas station I’ve ever seen sells alcohol, porn, lottery tickets, and tobacco products…so don’t worry about boycotting Ford, Volvo, or Subaru for supporting homosexual causes, because you won’t be able to buy a car to begin with!

If you boycott Procter & Gamble because they sponsor homosexual causes, forget about buying Duracell batteries, Febreze, Charmin, Ivory, Olay, Zest, Cover Girl, Max Factor, Crest, Scope, Gillette, Folgers, Always, Pringles, and a host of other products which they produce.

Friends, can you name even one business which is completely free from some association with sin?  Are we going to boycott them all for consistencies’ sake?  It can’t be done.

This is why we who hate to think we’re supporting sin need to remember how the New Testament says that purchasing a product or service which is innocent in itself is not a vote for that company or business’s immoral policies.

Don’t violate your conscience if it demands you boycott a business (Rom. 14:23), but also follow Romans 14:22 by not advertising your boycotting to others.  By doing so you will avoid advertising your inconsistency also.

Instead, let’s boycott sin itself!

When Jesus ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9), was he still in his earthly body?

All scriptural indications point to the conclusion that he was still in his earthly, resurrected physical body when he ascended into heaven (Acts 1:1-9; Mark 16:1-19; cf. Luke 24:36-42).

Yet flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom of heaven; hence, when we are resurrected on the last day we will be given an imperishable, immortal body (1 Cor. 15:50-54).

Jesus was the very first to be resurrected never to die again.  We will experience the same on Judgment Day (1 Cor. 15:20-23; Acts 26:23; cf. Rev. 1:18; Rom. 6:9).

Thus, Jesus must have received a physical, yet imperishable and immortal, body when he was resurrected, in which he also ascended.

How did Abraham speak to the rich man when there is a great gulf between them?  Will we be able to communicate with others in Hades?  Some say we are in a dormant state.

Abraham in Paradise and the rich man in torment did have a conversation in Hades in which they were able to communicate with each other in spite of the fact that there was a great gulf or chasm between them and they were far away from each other (Luke 16:22-26).  The Bible doesn’t explain the mechanics behind this fact, so I will not either (Deut. 29:29).

It is true that death is often referred to as “sleep” in the Bible (Matt. 27:52-53; John 11:11-13; Acts 7:60; 13:36; 1 Cor. 15:6, 18, 20; 1 Thess. 5:13-17; 2 Pet. 3:4).  “Sleep” is a euphemistic metaphor for death, and should not be taken to mean that death brings about an end to all consciousness, in which the soul or spirit is “dormant” in the sense of hibernation or unconsciouness.  Otherwise, Abraham and the rich man wouldn’t have been able to communicate after death due to being in an unconscious sleep.

Rather, death is like sleep in that it brings about a cessation of activity, a season of rest and repose for the saints in Paradise.

Webster defines racism as the practice of racial discrimination or persecution.  The Jews were God’s chosen people, so were they not racist?  They called the Samaritans dogs because they were a mixed race, had nothing to do with the Gentiles, and weren’t permitted to marry Gentiles to keep the Jewish nation pure.  Maybe I’m wrong; if so help me to understand.

The prohibition against marrying Gentiles was to keep the Jewish nation which would produce the Messiah pure in a religious sense (Ex. 34:13-16; Deut. 7:3-4; Josh. 23:12-13; cf. 1 Kings 11:1-8; Ez. 9-10; Neh. 13:23ff).  However, marriage to Gentiles was allowed in some cases (cf. Deut. 21:10-14).  Thus, the prohibition was not founded out of racist discrimination, but rather out of a desire to keep the Israelites loyal to God alone.

God has never shown partiality between Jew and Gentile (Rom. 2:9-11).  True, he set Abraham’s descendants apart to produce the Messiah because of Abraham’s faith (Gal. 3:6; Rom. 4:9-12).  Yet, remember that Abraham was an uncircumcised Gentile at the time God set him apart (Rom. 4:9-12).

God also communicated with and/or blessed in various ways individual Gentiles such as Abel, Noah, Job, Melchizedek, Jethro, Balaam, Rahab, Ruth, etc.  He also indirectly and directly reached out to and/or blessed many Gentile nations and their kings, such using Joseph with Pharaoh’s Egypt, Daniel with Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon, Daniel and Esther with Darius’ and Xerxes’ Persia, Jonah and Nahum with Assyria, Obadiah with Edom, Zephaniah with Ethiopia, and Amos and Ezekiel with Ammon, Phoenicia, Egypt, and Edom.

God also offered his Son for the whole world and the gospel to both Jew and Gentile (John 3:16; Rom. 1:16; Tit. 2:11).

Thus, any racist discrimination and prejudice against Gentiles by Jews did not originate with God.  Rather, it came about through the inordinate, selfish pride of the Jews who took their divine national sanctification to mean more than it did (Matt. 3:8-9; John 8:37-41).  Jesus reached out to and showed kindness to Samaritans and Gentiles, as did his faithful followers (John 4; Mark 7:24-30; Acts 8:5ff; 10-11; 15; etc.)  Prideful, racist Jews tried to either prevent or limit compassionate outreach to Gentiles (cf. Gal. 1-5; Col. 2: Rom. 2-11).

Is it wrong to say that we’re “going to church”?  The church is the people, Christians, not the building.  So is it a sin to say that we’re “going to church” when we’re talking about going to the building?

The Greek word ekklesia is translated “church” in English Bibles.  It literally means “called out” or “assembly,” and is used to refer to those called out universally from sin (cf. Matt. 16:18), local congregations of Christians (cf. Gal. 1:2; Rom. 16:16), and even to secular assemblies like courts (Acts 19:32, 39, 41).

The word “church” originates from the old English word cirice or cyrice, which in turn comes from the Dutch word kerk and the German word kirche, which in turn are based on the medieval Greek term kuriakon doma (“Lord’s house”).  I surmise that in medieval times, kuriakon doma (“Lord’s house”) was used synonymously with ekklesia (“called out,” “assembly”) because the ekklesia was referred to as “the house of God” (1 Tim. 3:15).

Therefore, whenever you read the word “church” in your Bibles, know that you’re reading a word that should technically be translated “called out” or “assembly.”  However, the reason it’s translated “church” is because “church” originally meant “Lord’s house,” a biblical description of the religious “assembly” of the “called out” from sin (1 Tim. 3:15).

So when you say “Let’s go to church,” you’re technically saying either “Let’s go to the assembly of the called out” or “Let’s go to the Lord’s house,” both of which are biblical and basically mean the same thing.

Remember also that God warns us to avoid “unhealthy cravings for quarrels about words” because they produce “dissension…evil suspicions, and constant friction” and prove that we “understand nothing” and are “deprived of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).  The inconsistent policing of the term “church,” the suspicion of error or even apostasy such policing produces among some who hear their brethren say “Let’s go to church,” and the lack of knowledge and understanding about the origins of these terms all combine to show a prime example of what Paul’s talking about here.

How?  Several inconsistencies are made by those who tell their brethren that they shouldn’t say, “Go to church”:

  1. Technically, we should say “called out” or “assembly” instead of “church” because that’s what ekklesia actually means, but we don’t and no one has a problem with it.
  2. The etymology of “church” shows that it originally meant “Lord’s house,” a biblical description of ekklesia…so why quibble over something that technically is biblical?
  3. Ekklesia was also biblically used to refer to a secular court (Acts 19).  No one has a problem saying “Let’s go to court” or “Court is in session” or “I’m representing myself in court.”  So why have a problem saying “Let’s go to church” or “Church has started” or “I’m in church”?
  4. When Paul said that it’s shameful for a woman to speak “in church” (1 Cor. 14:35), how is that different from saying, “We’re in church”?

Just something to think about.

The Bible repeatedly says that God cannot know sin.  So how is it the devil could have sinned against God in a perfect heaven?

The Bible gives little information about the origin of Satan.  We know that he was a created being (Col. 1:16), possibly an angel created during creation week (Job 38:7) and thus originally “very good” like the rest of God’s creation (Gen. 1:31).  Some believe what is said about Babylon’s king, Lucifer, and about Tyre’s king figuratively applies to the origin of Satan (Is. 14:1-15; Ezek. 28:11-19).  All we know for certain is that he was condemned because of pride (1 Tim. 3:6).

We also know God gave the human beings he created free will to choose to disobey him or obey him (Josh 24:15; 1 Kings 18:21).  Since God tempts no one to do evil (James 1:13), the only logical conclusion based on the little information we have is that Satan also had free will to choose to obey or disobey God.  Due to pride, he chose to sin against God and was cast down.

Who knows if there is more to this story which hasn’t been revealed to us?  (Deut. 29:29)

Why are we punished worse than the unbeliever if we commit the same sins as they, even if we pray about it?

God does imply a degree of worse punishment for the apostate Christian than the unbeliever who had never known the way of righteousness (2 Pet. 2:20-22; Luke 12:47-48).  This is because the believer who willfully, unrepentantly sins is “crucifying once again the Son of God…and holding him up to contempt” (Heb. 6:4-6), and has “spurned the Son of God…profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:26-29).

Yet, the Christian who penitently prays about his sins to God, confessing them and asking for forgiveness and strength to overcome them, will receive no eternal punishment, but rather forgiveness and eternal life (1 John 1:7-9; Acts 8:22).

Yes, Heaven IS For Real (But The Book Isn’t)

Yes, Heaven IS For Real (But The Book Isn’t)

Heard about the book Heaven Is For Real?  Seen the trailer for the upcoming movie?  Thinking about reading the book and seeing the movie?

Regardless of whether you do, read this article by Ben Giselbach which gives some biblical truths about whether or not anyone can actually “die and go to heaven and come back.”  Remember this, folks.  No matter how great a story one can tell about a supposed out-of-body experience, in the end the only story that will be proven true is the one the Bible tells.