What does it mean to follow Jesus?

Yesterday I was sitting amongst a group of people desiring to be more involved in their neighborhoods – how to better love our neighbors. I believe those sitting around the tables all had the desire to better live into what Jesus said the most important commandments in all of Scripture were. Briefly, let me give the context.

In Matthew 22:34-40 this scenario occurs:

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Jesus was the perfect example of this. He lived a life that exemplified living into these commandments wholly. As we talked about what loving our neighbors looks like practically for us, people who are not perfect by any means, a question arose:

“What does it mean to follow Jesus?” 

People went around the room and said what they thought it means. Eventually my wife gave an answer that she and I had just discussed the day before.

When it comes to Christians not wanting to seem judgmental, but still not approving of a certain “lifestyle” or action people often use the phrase, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” It’s one of those phrases that sounds nice, but just doesn’t work. There are a number of problems with the idea that we can truly separate the two.

My wife and I had come across a comment made on Facebook from a non-Christian summarizing what they understood Christianity was supposed to be all about. We both agreed that the person seemed to hit the nail right on the head, and decided that we probably couldn’t have said it any better ourselves. So when the time came, my wife spoke up to the group and summed it up what it means to follow Jesus by using the same words from that person on Facebook:

“Love the sinner; hate your own sin.”

 

Lessons from a 12 Step Meeting.

I recently went to a 12 step program as an assignment for an Addictions Counseling class that I am taking. My only exposure to 12 programs have been in television shows and movies, and most of them have been Alcoholics Anonymous. Generally speaking, when you see something medical or psychological being presented on screen, it’s probably not very accurate. It’s the reason my wife, a nurse, gets upset at any show where a doctor or nurse gets involved in any way.

“That’s not how it would happen in real life!”

“I know…”

Recently I have also found this to be true whenever a counselor or therapist is being portrayed. Oftentimes the client is lying down on a long leather couch with the therapist behind the client just listing and scribbling things down on a notepad. Maybe somewhere in the world that is how someone counsels still…but nowhere that I know of.

Anyway, I digress, I had no idea what to expect when I walked into the 12 step meeting. Do people really all say their name and everyone repeats their name back? (Yes.) Do people say that they are an alcoholic, or a sexoholic, or a drug addict? Really? (Yes.) Surely they’ve got to have a table with stale doughnuts and coffee at the back of the room, right? (Nope.)

The group I went to was a bit unique. It was for both genders, and allowed for any addiction. Anyone who feels they have a destructive behavior in their life that they want to overcome is welcome to come. And as we started, the twelve steps were read at a pace for us to think about them in relation to our own lives. And after they had all been read, the leader said that today we’d be going back and focusing on the first step. This was fortunate, considering this was the first meeting I had ever attended.

We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable

Here is a description about step one from 12step.org:

Step 1 is the first step to freedom. I admit to myself that something is seriously wrong in my life. I have created messes in my life. Perhaps my whole life is a mess, or maybe just important parts are a mess. I admit this and quit trying to play games with myself anymore. I realize that my life has become unmanageable in many ways. It is not under my control anymore. I do things that I later regret doing and tell myself that I will not do them again. But I do. I keep on doing them, in spite of my regrets, my denials, my vows, my cover-ups and my facades. The addiction has become bigger than I am. The first step is to admit the truth of where I am, that I am really powerless over this addiction and that I need help.

The key here in step one is the admission of powerlessness.

After reading step one, and a few comments from the leader, those in attendance were encouraged to share their stories. The room itself was not some cold tiled-floor room with metal folding chairs with a podium. (I assume these do exist.) The room we were in was like someone’s living room. Couches and nice chairs. Pictures and paintings framed on the wall. A fireplace. It was a warm environment.

People started sharing their stories, starting with their name and then stating their addictions. For most there was more than just one addiction. But the addictions that everyone was mentioning varied. Sex, porn, masturbation, overeating, compulsive eating, video games, and the list goes on. Some people had been working through these addictions for 50 years. But people shared their experiences, from their heart. Not in a “look where I have come from” or “look how hard I have it” way. But in a deeply sincere, honest and humble manner. As people shared my heart was heavy and sober, yet unexpectedly joyful.

This place was fascinating. People were sharing their deepest, darkest secrets and I had met them literally five minutes ago. These people were brave. These people were courageous. I was inspired by them.

Even though we were sitting around in a circle sharing our most shameful behaviors, the ickiest parts of our lives, I thought to myself, “This feels…so…HOLY. This is how the CHURCH should be.” 

I think it was the honesty. The truth behind all that everyone was sharing. These people weren’t hiding behind any excuses. They were admitting they needed help and they were powerless. This sense of honesty and transparency filled the room. Isn’t that core to the understanding of what the Gospel is? We are powerless to overcoming sin on our own. We can try, but we’ll always fail. We all need to humble ourselves and admit that we need God.

————-

The feeling of holiness in that room and my thoughts of how this felt like how the church should be stuck with me. Why doesn’t the church look like this? A number of reasons come to mind:

1. “When I go to church, I just want to escape life, relax, and be encouraged.” People deal with hard and busy days all week. Families, friends, work, bills, health, housework, etc. We’re busy and tired people. Oftentimes the last thing we want to get into at church is having to talk about such things. We want to come to church to escape the week — to just relax and be encouraged for half a second before having to go back into the stressful world.

2. “I don’t want to burden other people with my problems.” We oftentimes only see these people once a week. There’s really not time to get to the honest and hard parts of our life with these people. They’d probably be willing to help, but they’re busy too. The last thing I want to do is burden them with my troubles.

3. “If I share what life is really like, I will be seen as a bad Christian.” Church is not a place to “get real” with each other. It’s a place to be happy, smile, and act like everything is ok. We’re Christians! We’ve got to be joyful! If we admit that we are out of control or that our lives are messy then we might seem like we are not “good Christians.”

4. “If I share what life is really like, people will judge me and I could lose my position in the church.” In the same vein as above, the idea that if I tell or show people what my life is really like people will judge me, and I will lose respect and potentially even my leadership position in the church.

5. “Anytime I have tried to talk about my problems with others, no one takes the time to really see how I’m doing.” Maybe a person has tried to be a bit vulnerable about their problems, or they’ve tried to reach out, and the response they’ve gotten was more of a pat on the back and a “I’ll pray for you.” When this happens there is rarely much followup, and perhaps even an avoidance because we feel awkward about having to deal with an uncomfortable situation with someone else.

I could probably write pages and pages in response to these five thoughts that I’ve just identified. And I am sure there are dozens of more thoughts that keep us from sharing our issues with people at church. Things which keep us from being real and honest.

———–

One of the main reasons that this bugs me so much is because if we do hear about those who are deeply struggling with an addiction or a destructive behavior in their lives, it’s almost always after those people have hit rock bottom or have been caught. When we find out that a person in the church has been addicted to gambling, or pornography, or fill in the blank, it seems that it is almost always after years and years of struggling.

We act surprised. “Wow! Who knew they had been addicted for 20 years!?” When I hear about that, I put part of the blame on the church. If we find out that someone had been struggling with addiction or a particular sin for the entire time they had been a part of our church, part of that is on us. They might have been good about hiding it. Their families might not have even really known. But that just means that we’re not asking the right questions. We’re not willing to get into the real parts of people’s lives. It’s one thing if the person straight up lies to us when we ask the hard questions, but I’m guessing most of the time those hard questions are never asked.

Also, maybe the fear of being judged is a legitimate fear. If they had come out and told people at the church that they were addicted to pornography or alcohol or video games how would the church respond? Would we instantly try to FIX the person? Would we be aghast about their sin, their addiction?

We need to be people who are not surprised by sin. We preach and talk about total depravity and how we are all sinners, and then we are shocked and surprised when someone admits they are sinning. To be Christian does not mean to always give the benefit of the doubt. People struggle with addictions, sins, and our lives are messy because of it. I think I need to be surprised when I found out someone’s life IS NOT like that rather than the other way around. We should assume that people are dealing with something hard in their life. This generates a place of mercy, grace, and empathy in our attitude towards others. I have probably mentioned it in other posts, but I am struck by the quote,

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

It helps orient my attitude toward others. Life is complicated. And we need to learn how to best help others, carry one another’s burdens, and to love well. We are too often focused on being RIGHT. I think we need to focus more on being LOVE.

Thoughts before Easter

This week is Holy Week for the Christian faith. This is the week in which we mourn and celebrate the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a week that stands out amongst all other weeks. The week begins with Palm Sunday. It is here that the Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. People were all in the streets praising Him as the Son of David. They waived palm branches and shouted,

Hosanna!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” 
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

They celebrated the entrance of what they assumed would be the King of Israel, a good man. A prophet. And he was that, but he was also much more. He was the Messiah. He was the Savior. It would be hard to predict that later that week people would be shouting “Crucify Him!”

This week means a lot to me. It hopefully means a lot to all Christians. It’s hard. I feel like so much of the world’s understanding of Jesus’ death is the physical. Oftentimes I feel the church has probably overemphasized this aspect of his death. Of course it was horrible. Of course it was brutal, and yes he die for us. But the details leading up to his death I feel are so key in explaining what happened those last few days and hours before his death. None of this caught Jesus off guard. He knew that this was to happen. He predicted his death to his disciples on three separate occasions, much to their disliking. Yes, Jesus was betrayed, but he knew what was coming. He knew he was going to be betrayed. He knew that his disciples would scatter taken into custody. He even predicted that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed, although Peter said he’d be willing to die for Jesus. He had the power to take on a whole mob of just by saying “I am he” (John 18:5-6).

This wasn’t something that he was looking forward to by any means. He did go to the garden and pray that “if it be possible, take this cup from me.” But he quickly added, “Not my will, but yours be done.” The prayers he prayed were passionate. He was already under much distress knowing that he was soon to die a very horrible death. His death was simply a meaningless and unjustified death. It was a sacrifice. A willing sacrifice. A sacrifice that would take away the sins of the world. And as he passionately prayed, sweating drops of blood (Luke 22:44), we see the disciples sleeping. Unaware of the anguish of Jesus. Unaware of what he was doing for them. They had no idea. They had no concept of what Jesus was really doing for them. And as soon as Judas came to betray Jesus the disciples fled (although Peter did stick around long enough to cut off someone’s ear).

Then people made false accusations against Jesus, yet he kept his mouth closed. People hit him, spat upon him, mocked him, and still he remained silent. Like 1 Peter 2:23 says, ” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”

Pilate somewhat attempted to save Jesus from death, but bowed to the pressures of the crowds. Jesus was beaten. He was mocked. They gave the true King of the universe a crown made of thorns, and smashed it into his head. Thorns, a result of the fall of humanity into sin. They put on him a purpose robe, mocking him as king in his royal colors. The statements made by the mockers were made as insults in mockery, but were ironically more true than they could ever perceive. Jesus’ statement of “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” could not be more accurate nor loving.

The crowds demanded that Jesus be crucified. The death of criminals and rebels. This was the most shameful of all deaths. This was the most humiliating and public of all deaths. This was an extremely long and painful  way to die. But Jesus carried his cross as far as he could bear. Then he was nailed to it with a big sign in multiple languages that read, “King of the Jews.”

People still hurled their insults at him. People still mocked him. I can’t help but wonder if I would have been one of those people if I there.

“If you’re REALLY the Son of God, then why don’t you save yourself? You saved others…why don’t you get off that cross and save yourself?”

Good Friday is a reminder that we are very glad He did not get off that cross. He became sin. The one who had never sinned became sin for us. God’s righteous judgment that is due to us because of our own sin was all put on Jesus Christ right then. Like Peter said in 1 Peter 2,

‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’  For ‘you were like sheep going astray,’ but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

Or like Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”

Jesus satisfied God’s wrath toward sin in his death.

BUT

        IT

             DOESN’T

                            STOP

                                   THERE

Jesus died. But that’s not where it ended. There’s more to the story.

Racism and Evangelical Christianity

Racism and Evangelical Christianity

            To understand racism, racial prejudice, and discrimination in America one must embark on a long journey. This is a journey in which there perhaps is no definite end until Christ’s return. This is because we are dealing with a problem whose root is sin, and who finds its strength through political systems and social structures built under the supervision and management of the devil himself. Exclusion, prejudice, and racism are demonic. There is more that is going on in our world than first meets the eye.

Racism is alive and well in our culture and society. But it usually is not as obvious as the chains of slavery or the Jim Crow laws of the past. Most of the time racism acts incognito. The roots of racism are vast and deep in the soil of the American society. It finds its strength in some of the most fertile soil: the hearts of people and the political and social systems which manage and dictate the way we live in this country. As many face the horrors of the realities of racism today, many people run away in denial. Sometimes, people act as if it simply does not exist. But in doing this, the roots of racism only grow stronger and more seeds of division are sewn.

THE EXTENT OF RACISM’S REACH

            According to Emerson and Smith, racism, for the majority of white Americans (and especially white conservative protestants), is seen as an individual issue (Emerson and Smith, 74-75). This is assuming people acknowledge racism as an issue in today’s society. Many look to themselves to justify their understandings for racism. Many will say that they themselves have no problems. They are okay with black people as a whole. Emerson and Smith showed that generally people said they only judge others, no matter what their race, individually. They personally are not being racist, and so to them it really is not that big of an issue. They would say that some people may still be racist, like perhaps a family member who still will use the “n” word, but overall racism is not a deeply rooted issue. But as Emerson and Smith point out, these responses come from a tradition of “accountable freewill-individualism,” “relationalism,” and “antistructuralism” (Emerson and Smith, 76). For many white evangelicals, there isn’t a racism problem, there is a sin problem. In viewing racism in this way, most ignore how the political system and social structures impact racism. If structures or programs geared towards helping fight racism are mentioned by white evangelicals, they are mentioned as only bringing up the race issues and prolonging it. Many white evangelicals like to believe that racism is a thing of the past, and if we just leave the issue alone things will work themselves out. They think by simply dealing with racism one person at a time, and “loving our neighbors as ourselves” racism will eventually dissipate. This view, called the “miracle motif” by Emerson and Smith, seems to be quite a prevalent opinion held among Christians, and it allows for racism to continue (Emerson and Smith, 117).

            Through questionnaires and studies, Emerson and Smith show that many people are ignorant of the prevalence of racism that still exists in our society because of their “cultural toolkit.” They fail to see racism’s presence in the various political and social structures. This is because it is generally viewed that anything that is not interpersonal is “superficial.” The general ignorance that leads to these beliefs only helps sustain the structures that allow discrimination. This ignorance, or perhaps stubbornness, due to their cultural toolkit leads to the contribution of the racialization that exists in America, and especially in the American evangelical church. In their ignorance, they may not be actively racist, but they remain passively racist.

             William Julius Wilson agrees that the general populace sees racism and discrimination at the individual level, while rarely seeing racism at the systemic level. However, while this is true for the general populace, especially for white individuals, social scientists rarely look to the individual level or the cultural realm. They generally will look at the political and social systems which cause racial discrimination. It is almost taboo for social scientists to blame cultural aspects because it would be “blaming the victims” (Wilson, 3). Wilson argues that both social structures and culture need to be looked at together, working in concert with one another, to begin to understand the problems of racism. He shows that racism is deeply engulfed in both culture and the social structures, but in ways which are not always intended to be discriminatory. Through many examples, Wilson shows that racial inequality exists through political policies or decisions that seem nonracial, but end up impacting inner-city neighborhoods and poor black residents dramatically. He shows that racism so permeates our social structures that even policies intended for the betterment of all people ultimately negatively impact poor black residents (Wilson, 144).

            Miroslav Volf, speaking from a different perspective than Emerson and Smith or Wilson, discusses racism on the individual level. He showed racism’s influence on the heart. Volf showed that racism is not only an issue between the whites and blacks of America, but it is an evil which is seen worldwide. Speaking from a Christian point of view, he shows that racism needs to be addressed not merely at the systemic level, but at the heart of the individual. He shows that racism is a spiritual issue, and a poor theology by an individual can allow for racism to go unchecked, or perhaps even be encouraged to exist. These various authors show that racism is found in nearly every realm of life, from the individual heart to the national political and social structures. As Emerson and Smith put it, we simply live in a racialized society. A society in which racism and prejudice has extended to all areas of life.

THE INFLUENCE OF RACISM ON THE CHRISTIAN AND THE CHURCH

            Perhaps the best example of how racism has affected the church is through Emerson and Smith’s research. Through their surveys they showed that if the white population generally believed that racism was a personal issue, then a white evangelical would be more likely to strongly believe it. If the black population generally saw racism as a structural issue, then the black evangelical would be more likely to strongly believe it. This means that white and black evangelicals are more strongly divided over the race issue than even the general American population. With ninety percent of populations attending a church of nearly all the same race in America, Christians have been influenced by their own history of racism and discrimination in American and still continue to contribute to it.

            Emerson and Smith showed that with most white evangelicals asserting that racism is mostly an issue needing to be dealt with at the individual relational level, many assume that racism could be defeated if everyone would just become a Christian. This allows the Christians and churches to ignore the systemic problems of racism in America. And if they rarely even come in contact with anyone of another race, then they do not curb racism at all.

            Although Wilson rarely spoke about Christians and racism, he showed that the more conservative a person is, the more likely he is to view racism as a cultural issue. White conservative Christians would like to blame the problem of poverty in the black community on their “black culture,” and do so frequently. This fact only feeds into a feeling of a superiority of whites over blacks, of course then leading to discrimination.

            Volf shows that without an understanding of mercy and a “theology of embrace” the Christian will have issues of racism in his own heart and worldview. He explains sin as exclusion and shows that at the heart of racism is exclusion.

            Christians have been deeply impacted by racism. We may say we are willing to worship together, yet very few churches have congregations that do. America’s history of racism has had much impact on today’s Christians, whether we choose to acknowledge that or not. Racism has affected the church’s reputation and impact and only continues to do so today. In many ways it seems as if racism has made many people blind to its own permutation in the American church.

            Christians mean well. There may be populations which still deal with active, unashamed racism, but overall the church means well and wants to see racism and discrimination come to an end. But oftentimes Christians simply fail to see just how deeply rooted racism is in America, and even in the church. This leads to passive racism, in which no one is actively attempting to fight racism’s impact in the church. Many times it is not seen as a major issue which needs to be addressed because they do not view themselves having problems with racism. This only allows for ignorance to remain and racism to go unchecked in the hearts of people as well as in the social and political structures of our nation.

THE CHURCH AS A PROPHETIC WITNESS

            If the church is ever going to overcome racism in America, it is going to require intentional awareness, honesty, and communication (it will require much more than this, but this is where it must start). Perhaps Emerson and Smith said it best when they said “Evangelicals believe their faith ought to be a powerful impetus for bringing people together across race. Ironically, their faiths seem to drive them further apart” (Emerson and Smith, 125). It would do the church well if it would admit that. Unfortunately many, if not most, are not aware of racism’s influence. Therefore, for the church to ever overcome racism, the first step is to become aware of its presence. It may seem obvious, but awareness does not just happen. There has to be intentional efforts made by seminaries, parachurch organizations, respected Christian leaders, pastors, Sunday School teachers, worship teams, etc. Awareness is the first key to overcoming racism.

            But racism is not simply going to be overcome through awareness, as all three of the books clearly demonstrated. Awareness needs to change the thoughts and theology of the individual. It is not that we will overcome racism one person at a time per se, but if the general church attender has no understanding of racism or discrimination, then he has no chance of making strides toward positive change. This requires honesty. Both whites and blacks need to own up to their own sins and pride. This does require the Holy Spirit to be at work and thus also necessitates prayer. Honesty about how racism is at work both at the individual and systemic level is needed – to ignore it only allows for it to exist.

            Therefore, there needs to be more discussion, more conversation, between blacks and whites in America. Pastors need to show their churches what that looks like through their preaching, illustrations, and applications. How do we approach dealing with racism at the systemic level? How can blacks and whites come together in Christ to be inclusive rather than exclusive? It takes sacrifice. This may mean spending money, time, and energy for people that they have never met. But if racism is going to be overcome, (and I believe through the Spirit is can be) blacks and whites must come together relationally, physically, and even politically. It is a fight. It is a fight that I believe in which God expects the church to take part.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Emerson, Michael O., and Christian Smith. Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America. Oxford University Press, USA, 2001.

Gundry-Volf, Judith M., and Miroslav Volf. A Spacious Heart. Gracewing, 1997.

Wilson, William Julius. More than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City. 1st ed. W. W. Norton & Company, 2009.

A look at Colossians 3:1-11

The Apostle Paul deeply cared for the Colossian church. While in prison, Paul wrote a letter to exhort them in their Christian faith. In chapter one, Paul explained that even though he was in chains, he rejoiced in his sufferings for them and was encouraged by them. In chapter two, he encouraged them to grow in their assurance and knowledge of their position in Christ as believers, warning them of false philosophies. Here, in Colossians 3:1-11, Paul exhorts the Colossian church to live out the reality of their new position in Jesus Christ by being heavenly minded and by eradicating lingering sins.

THE HEAVENLY MINDSET (COLOSSIANS 3:1-4)

Chapter three begins with Paul saying “Εἰ οὖν συνηγέρθητε τῷ Χριστῷ…” Paul here, in using οὖν, is referring back to 2:20 where he asked them why they were still submitting to regulations if they had died with Christ.  In this allusion, Paul uses the same approach when he says, “Therefore, if you were raised with Christ…”

Paul uses “Εἰ” here in the first class condition. For the sake of argument, Paul assumes the fact that they have been raised in Christ. He is setting them up for understanding their role as believers in response to what their position is in Christ. Paul also uses “συνηγέρθητε” in verse 2:12 in relation to baptism. This is intentional, as baptism is a symbol of the believer’s death, burial, and resurrection with Christ. Here Χριστῷ is a dative of association because believers have been risen with Christ.

Paul explains that in light of the truth that they have been raised with Christ, they should “τὰ ἄνω ζητεῖτε” (literally, “seek the upward things”). Why seek the things above? Christ is there, and more specifically, He is sitting at the right hand of God. That is where their focus is to be and that is the only place that they will find their satisfaction. “Καθήμενος” is an attributive participle functioning as a predicate adjective. This phrase is not used periphrastically in relation to things above.[1] It is literally where Christ is.

Verse two continues with Paul telling the Colossians to “τὰ ἄνω φρονεῖτε, μὴ τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς.” Not only are they to seek the things above, but they are to think on the things above. The “seeking” of verse one is focused on a practical striving and the “thinking” of verse two is focused on an inward disposition.[2] As Vincent puts it, “We are to both seek heaven and think heaven.” The fact that Paul is somewhat redundant may be for emphasis. To have a heavenly mindset is more than making a simple decision to have one. It is an intentional decision that the believer needs to make in light of the fact that he has been raised with Christ, and then lived out

They are not to have their minds on things “ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς.” Paul describes such people in Philippians 3:19, those who have their minds set on earthly things, as those whose end is their destruction, and whose god is their belly. The things on earth are not in and of themselves sinful, however, but when they are sought or thought on over the things above, they become sinful.[3]

In verse three Paul further substantiates his argument for having a heavenly disposition. He uses the explanatory conjunction “γὰρ” to relate it to the imperatives of verses one and two. Paul says they are to have a heavenly disposition because (γὰρ) they died, and their life has been hidden with Christ in God. Their death is a definite event also wrapped up with Christ (Rom 6:2).[4] “ἀπεθάνετε” is a consummative aorist because the action has stopped. He asserts that they are dead in the sense that they were separated from the former life and all that is related to it.[5]

Paul says that “ἡ ζωὴ ὑμῶν κέκρυπται σὺν τῷ Χριστῷ ἐν τῷ θεῷ.” This “hidden” motif is common of the Jewish apocalyptic worldview.[6] The things that are hidden are only hidden in the present, but because they are the things of God in heaven they will be revealed. The Christian life, Paul is saying, is at this present time hidden with Christ in heaven. Although the believer currently does not seem to be different from unbelievers, that will change in when God reveals the believer for who he really is. Paul’s point here is that their actions should match the reality of where their life is, and that is with Christ. He asserts that the believer is no longer a part of this earth, but belongs to the heavenly realm. The fact that the believer’s life is hid in Christ enables him to live differently than he has in the past.[7]

In verse four, Paul explains what happens when this hidden life is revealed at Christ’s coming. Paul mentions Christ here for the fourth time and states that the believer’s life is not only with Christ as verse three mentions, but is Christ.[8] So the believer died with Christ (2:20; 3:3), was buried with Christ (2:12), was raised with Christ (2:13, 3:1), and when He returns the believer will appear with Christ.[9] “Φανερωθῇ” should be seen as a Proleptic aorist showing the certainty of Christ’s return. As the believer can be certain that his life is hid in Christ, he can be certain of the return of Christ in glory.

PURIFICATION FROM SIN (COLOSSIANS 3:5-11)

Paul in verse five begins a new focus, while still using familiar metaphors. Paul now applies this metaphor to the life of the Christian while on earth.[10] Here “οὖν” links verses 5-11 to verses 1-4. The imperative “νεκρώσατε,” and the imperatives that follow, are rooted in the teaching of verses of the previous four verses.[11] Paul tells the Colossians that they are to put to death the members which are of the earth. The word “μέλη” is a physical term, but Paul is using it in a moral sense. He is attacking in some sense the Gnostic mindset that the soul is not affected by the deeds of the body.[12]

Because positionally in Christ they have died (v. 3), the Colossians’ actions and character should reflect this truth. That is why Paul uses the same imagery and tells them to “put to death” the members which are on the earth, and then gives examples.

The order of the vices is generally from less comprehensive to more comprehensive. Therefore, “πορνεία” is a special kind of uncleanness, and ἀκαθαρσία is used in a more generic sense.[13] The vices in a sense also gain a somewhat climatic force and then end with “καὶ τὴν πλεονεξίαν, ἥτις ἐστὶν εἰδωλολατρία.” The structure changes here and states that covetousness is idolatry. Perhaps Paul is suggesting that covetousness is the source of the other four sins mentioned in the list. At the same time it must not be thought that idolatry explains the entire vice list. Paul marks “πλεονεξίαν” with an article setting it apart from the rest of the list. Paul is explaining that the desires of this earth are not compatible with the heavenly mindset already discussed. To put anything before God is greed, it is idolatry, and Paul says to “νεκρώσατε” such things. These are sins of earth, and the believer’s life is hid in Christ in heaven. He is not to be meddling with “τὰ μέλη τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς.”

Paul is not making a suggestion to the Colossians that they rid themselves of such sins, but demands it of them. In verse six, Paul states that “διʼ ἃ ἔρχεται ἡ ὀργὴ τοῦ θεοῦ.” Here “διʼ” is a preposition of cause. Paul is saying that God’s “ὀργὴ,” His wrath and judgment, is coming to those who practice such sins, to those who have not put those sins to death. Paul is trying to make them realize the seriousness of their sins and that if they do not put to death those sins, then they should expect God’s wrath. The verb “ἔρχεται” is in the present tense and denotes the certainty of the future event of the coming of God’s wrath.[14]

The next part of verse six has text critical issues. The words “ἐπὶ τοὺς υἱοὺς τῆς ἀπειθείας” are lacking in some key manuscripts. The words are not included in several English translations (NASB, NIV, ESV, TNIV). As the NET Bible explains, this is a difficult problem to resolve. Ephesians 5:6 includes these words, providing the scribes with a possible motive for adding them in this passage. Yet, if the words are not part of the text, then the reading could be considered too hard. This is because the “ἐν οἷς” in verse seven would not have an immediate antecedent if “υἱοὺς” is not part of the text. The other option is to see the antecedent as being the vice list in verse five, if “ἐν οἷς” is taken as a neuter. [15] There remains uncertainty, but the external evidence for the longer passage remains strong enough to be included.

Whether or not the end of verse six contains the phrase is important because it influences how verse seven is translated and interpreted. If “ἐν οἷς” refers to verse five, then it is understood as “in which things,” but if it refers to verse six, then it is understood as “among whom.” It is very important to note that even if the phrase at the end of verse six is included, it does not necessitate “ἐν οἷς” to be seen as masculine and referring to “υἱοὺς.” It can still be viewed as neuter and referring to “these” in verse six, and thus referring to the vice list in verse five while retaining the longer reading.

“περιεπατήσατέ” is talking about their way of life. The verb is most likely a constantive aorist. They were living in the sins, and walking accordingly. Paul is reminding the Colossians of their former ways. They “ποτε” walked this way. They were once children of disobedience. And to those who are still walking in sin, Paul is urging them to see that they are no different than sons of disobedience. The word “ἐζῆτε” stands out in distinction from the aorist tense of “περιεπατήσατέ.” Paul once again alludes back to 2:20 when he asked the Colossians about why they were acting as if they still lived in the world.[16]

The Colossians might have once walked this way, but Paul continues to exhort them to live consistently in light of their life being hidden in Christ. In verse eight, Paul uses the emphatic “νυνὶ δὲ” in contrast to the “ποτε” of verse seven.[17] Another list of vices is brought up, and Paul says to lay them aside like old clothes. Paul uses this metaphor of clothing here with “ἀποθεσθε,” but also in verse nine with “ἀπεκδυσαμενοι,” in verse ten with “ἐνδυσαμενοι,” and in verse twelve with “ἐνδυσασθε.”[18]

Paul does not intend this list of vices to be exhaustive. He says that “πάντα” such things are to be put off. They are the vices which follow, but also sins of the same sort. Specifically, however, Paul says to put off five specific sins. He first mentions “ὀργήν.” This word God is said to have in verse six, and justly given to the unjust for their disobedience. For the created being to have this “ὀργήν,” it is not appropriate. If this wrath is not appropriate, then θυμόν is worse, for it is a “tumultuous outburst of passion.”[19] “κακία” (malice) and “πονγρία” (slander) frequently occur together (e.g. 1 Cor 5:8).[20] “αἰσχρολογίαν” is a hapax legomena. It is made from “αἰσχρολογος” (as in 1 Cor 11:6) and that is made from “αἰσχος,” which means disgrace.[21] Paul includes these vices perhaps to include more of those who did not feel they were guilty of the other list. These sins were probably more common among the believers to whom he was writing. But Paul here is telling the Colossians that they must take these sins off as they would dirty old rags.

In verse nine, Paul tells the Colossians not to lie to one another because they have stripped off the old man with its practices. Here “ἀπεκδυσάμενοι” is understood in the causal sense of the circumstantial participle. Building on the metaphor of verse eight, Paul gives the image of a person stripped of who they were. They are naked. It is at this point that Paul tells them to not lie to one another. There are two possible assertions: 1) Paul is saying that because they have already stripped off the old man with its practices, the practices mentioned in verse five and eight, it would be foolishness to lie to one another. To do so would be trying to put on the “old self” again, the filthy rags that were just stripped off. 2) Paul potentially could be saying that now that they are naked, they have nothing to hide. To lie would be foolishness because others see them for what they are. It would be an obvious offense and sin because they have already stripped off their “old self”. Their sin needs to be covered, but in their nakedness their offense is obvious, setting up the need for something beyond themselves, namely Christ.

This new metaphor of the “παλαιὸν ἄνθρωπον” and the “νέον (ἄνθρωπον)” that Paul brings into the mix is key in understanding many of Paul’s theological arguments. He sets up a contrast between a realm that opposes God, rooted in Adam’s sin and defined by sin and death, and that of the realm that is rooted in Christ’s death and resurrection and is defined by righteousness and life.[22]

Once the old self has been stripped off, and the person stands naked, there is a need to put on something. Therefore, Paul tells the Colossians to “ἐνδυσάμενοι” (put on) the new self in verse ten. This word is the same one used of putting on Christ in Galatians 3:27 and Romans 13:14. When the “new self” is put on, the ability to do the things which are characteristic of this new self is possible. It is only through Christ that one can live righteously, and the fact that one has put on this new self that he can be seen as righteous.

Paul used the word “ἀνακαινωσις,” a word found nowhere before his use of it.[23] It has the idea of the continual refreshment of the new man in Christ. The person who puts on the new man is qualitatively changed. The individual puts on the “new self,” and the new self penetrates the whole being. The mind of the person is renewed, specifically “εἰς ἐπίγνωσιν.” This is the true knowledge in Christ.[24] The image of God in the one who puts on the “new self” is being fully restored. This image is ultimately found in Christ, the perfect image of God (1:15), and hidden with Him in heaven. It is when Christ returns that the image will be complete and man will be as Christ is (1 John 3:2). Ultimately, it is Christ who supplies the pattern for the “new self” and gives the ability to live in accordance to the image of God.

In verse eleven, Paul explains that here (“ὅπου”) in this new man there exists no distinction of any race or people. Paul uses “οὐκ ἔνι.” “Ἐνι” is the long form of “ἐν” and “ἐστιν” is to be understood, making this to say, “there does not exist.”[25] Pushing against racial distinctions would not have been common in that day, but Paul is boldly doing so here.

Paul’s argument is that racial distinctions fade away in Christ. In a context where people were divided over race and heritage, Paul asserts that these are not so in Christ. Whether one is a Jew or a Gentile, has been circumcised or not, they are no different than the barbarian or the Scythian, slave or free. Everyone is equal in Christ. Within the church at Colossi there were slaves, free men, and masters. Perhaps Paul even had Philemon and Onesimus in mind here.[26] In the Colossian church, their errors were Judaistic and ceremonial, insisting on things such as circumcision. This made them look down on such people as barbarians and slaves.[27] But Paul goes beyond religious precepts and ceremonial observances. He says that there is no real advantage to even being born a Jew. Therefore, it is to no advantage to make people become as Jews.[28]

Here in verse eleven is the only place that Paul mentions the Scythians. It is known that the Jews had no good feelings for barbarians, an onomatopoeic word mocking the way the Greeks spoke (“bar bar bar”).[29] But as compared even to barbarians, Scythians, it is assumed, were the “epitome of unrefinement and savagery.”[30] But, as Paul concludes, Christ overcomes all as the One who is “πάντα καὶ ἐν πᾶσιν.”

CONCLUSION

In Colossians 3:1-11, Paul argues very clearly and forcefully for the Colossians to be living in the reality of their position in Christ. Paul earlier explained that they had died with Christ (2:20), and now he explains that they also have been raised with Christ. Beyond this being a phenomenal truth, Paul argues that this has implications for how they live on this earth. Even though their lives are hidden with Christ in heaven now, Christ is coming and believers will appear with Him in glory. In light of this truth, Paul instructs the Colossians to do two main things: 1) Have a heavenly mindset, and 2) put to death the sins which are characteristic of this world. Through metaphors and allusions Paul exhorts them to live in a way consistent of their position in Christ, and he also warns them that to live in a way inconsistent of this truth warrants God’s wrath (3:6). He shows the Colossians their need for Christ in this, and that they are to put on the “new self” after stripping off the “old self.” He ends in verse eleven by explaining that in the putting on of this “new self” Christ makes all men equal, for He is all and in all. Paul’s argument is clear, logical, and practical. Living with the heavenly mindset and in the “new self” allows for love, hope, and faith within the church – all aspects that Paul desires to see in the Colossian church for the glory of God.


[1] A. T Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997), Col 3:1.

[2] Marvin Richardson Vincent, Word studies in the New Testament (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2002), Col 3:2.

[3] Kenneth S Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament : For the English Reader (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), Col 3:2.

[4] Robertson, Col 3:3.

[5] Wuest, Col 3:3

[6] Douglas J Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2008), 250.

[7] Ibid, 249.

[8] Vincent, 3:4.

[9] Moo, 251.

[10] Robertson, 3:5.

[11] Moo, 252.

[12] Robertson, 3:5.

[13] Joseph Barber Lightfoot, Saint Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon., 8th ed. (London and New York: Macmillan and co., 1886).  209.

[14] Vincent, 3:6.

[15] Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition (Biblical Studies Press, 2006).

[16] Moo, 262.

[17] Robertson, 3:8.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Lightfoot, 212.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Robertson, 3:8.

[22] Moo, 268.

[23] Robertson, 3:10.

[24] Lightfoot, 213.

[25] Robertson, 3:11

[26] Ibid.

[27] Vincent, 3:11.

[28] Lightfoot, 214.

[29] Moo, 271.

[30] Ibid.

A Look at Psalm 51:9-15

Psalm 51 is a cry of a repentant heart and a transparent plea for forgiveness. As the psalm’s title explains, this psalm of David takes place after Nathan the prophet came to him because of his affair with Bathsheba. David’s entreaties are sincere and heartfelt, and the language used is direct, intentional, and expressive. In verses 9-15 (11-17 in the BHS), David pleas for cleansing and praises God for his forgiveness. David in hope of forgiveness makes vows to God promising to bring God the glory by bringing sinners to Him. This passage is a look at true repentance – David offers God his broken heart and contrite spirit.

PSALM 51:9 (51:11BHS)

Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.”

Here in the middle of the Psalm David is deeply ashamed of his sins. He continues calling out to God in distress. For the one thing that David desires more than anything else is the assurance of the forgiveness of his sins.[1] David already stated in verse three that his sin was ever before him. He now asks God to “hide His face” from his sins. David does this by using the hifil imperative הַסְתֵּ֣ר. In his entreaty of God, David is not asking God to turn away from him, but away from his sins. David is keenly aware of his sin and that it is a sin against God alone (vs. 3-4). It is this confession which enables David to ask God to hide His face from his sin.

David asks God to “blot out” (מְחֵֽה) all of his “iniquities” (עֲוֹ֖נֹתַ). The qal imperative מְחֵֽה is not only seen here, but also in verse 1(v. 3 BHS) when he asks God out of His tender mercies to blot out his transgressions (פְשָׁעָֽ). The word עֲוֹ֖נֹת, here translated as iniquities, is also used in verse 2 (v. 4 BHS) when David asks God to wash him from his iniquity. David is seen repeating his ideas and even words in his fervent pursuit of God’s forgiveness. This verse is chiastic, as is verse two. David here again employs chiasmus as a poetic device in his petition to God to remove all his sins.[2]

PSALM 51:10 (51:12 BHS)

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

David wants more than a mere cleansing (v. 7), he wants God to create a new clean heart in him. David tells God to בְּרָא a clean heart in him. The word בְּרָא does not mean to make something from nothing. It is used to show that something is far above the ability of man. As God created the heavens and the earth, so God is the only one who can forgive and create a new heart within David.[3]

David also tells God to “renew a steadfast spirit” within him. This ר֥וּחַ is not to be confused with spirit as opposed to body, but rather the attitude of one’s will. David desires a renewed ר֥וּחַ which is נָ֝כ֗וֹן. This word is commonly translated “right,” but can also mean in the Niphal “established” or “steadfast.” Here David uses this participle to show that he wants a fixed and resolute spirit. He desires a spirit which is unmoved by the assaults of temptation.[4] David is asking God for things which he cannot provide for himself.

David desires God not to bring him back to a place of restoration where he has been before with God. He desires something new – a radical change of both heart and spirit.[5] David knows he cannot purify, much less create a new heart within himself, so here he surrenders himself before an all-powerful God who is the only one able to do such great things. Forgiveness is not enough for David. He does not want to be an old person cleaned up; he wants to be a new person.[6]

PSALM 51:11 (51:13 BHS)

“Do not cast me away from before your face, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me.”

After David asked God to hide His face from his sins in verse nine, he here asks God to not hide His face from him. David knew that to be cast away from his presence (תַּשְׁלִיכֵ֥נִי מִלְּפָנֶ֑יךָ) was to be cast out of His covenant, and deprived of his favor.[7] David is fearful. He knew that his sin was great. Perhaps, he thought, it was so great that God would remove (תִּקַּ֥ח – Qal, Juss, 2MS) His Holy Spirit (ר֥וּחַ קָ֝דְשְׁ) from him. This was not an unreasonable fear for David to have. He knew that Saul was removed from kingship due to his sin, and David could very well have the same thing happen to him. The anointing by Samuel to the kingly office upon David marked the beginning of the Holy Spirit’s presence with David and the end of His presence with Saul (1 Kings 16:13). [8] But God had been gracious thus far towards David, and He had not taken His Holy Spirit from him.

The phrase Holy Spirit (ר֥וּחַ קָ֝דְשְׁ) is found only twice in the Old Testament. It is found here and in Isaiah 63:10, 11. Because of this, some argue that it really does not carry the same idea as what we perceive as the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, namely, the third person of the Trinity.[9] They argue that it is God’s power, which is called holy only because it is of God and because it does His will.

PSALM 51:12 (51:14 BHS)

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.”

David continues in his petition to God by asking for the joy of His salvation to be restored. He was not praying that his salvation be restored, but the joy of that salvation be restored. Sin had destroyed that joy, but David knows that God is able to reestablish it. There is no assurance of joy when plagued by guilt of sin. There was a time in which David had experienced that joy. David had forgotten what that joy was like. David says הָשִׁ֣יבָה to me that joy. David continues in his string of imperatives. This time he uses the hifil. Literally the word means “bring back.”[10] He has experienced it before, and he wants God to bring it back to him.

More than experiencing that joy for a fleeting moment, David wants to be upheld by a willing spirit. He wants to desire to do right continually – a sort of disposition to obey Him.[11] The end of this verse is translated differently depending on whether the willing spirit is the power of God or the psalmist’s own inner strength. Many translators see it as being a spirit of God’s strength. But it is probably correct to see it as the spirit of David, rather than that of God. David is asking to be upheld by being given a “free” or “noble” spirit – the opposite of the “spirit of bondage” which Paul discusses in Romans 8:15.[12]

PSALM 51:13 (51:15 BHS)

“I will then teach rebels your ways, and sinners will return to you.”

David here turns from petition to promise. He has asked God for much, but David says that if he is restored to favor, and his spirit is renewed, then he will give back to God in wholehearted service to Him and to others. A truly grateful heart desires to give back to God for his goodness.[13] David is determined to promote God’s glory by bringing others to salvation in Him. He has much that he can teach others, he just needs to be pulled from this nightmare of guilt.[14] He wants to help those who have fallen like him, and he desires to see them return to God and he has returned to God.

The beginning of this verse can be seen as “Let me teach” rather than “I will teach.” The word אֲלַמְּדָ֣ה here is a piel cohortative, 1cp. The promise or request is not what one would expect as the result of the repentant David. Usually one would expect a sacrifice. But here David desires to teach transgressors, rebels, the ways of God. These ways are the requirements of God as expressed in the Torah.[15] He wants to see others experience the return to obedience and to experience the joy of God.

PSALM 51:14 (51:16 BHS)

“Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, God of my salvation,

and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.”

David now asks to be delivered from דָּמִ֨ים (literally “bloods”). There are various ways of rendering this request by David. It could be referring to David’s own death or it could refer to the shedding of the blood of others. Some even alter the Hebrew text to get “deliver me from silence.”[16] It can also be translated “deliver me from deadly sin.” To interpret it this way would leave three options: 1) keep me from offering sacrifices, 2) keep my blood from being shed 3) purify me from the blood I have shed.[17] Perhaps David is thinking of Uriah. Some suggest that “bloods” refers to crimes which the death penalty was appropriate, such as his crimes of adultery and murder (2 Sa 12:5, 13).[18] It seems that in the context here of deliverance and salvation, David is most likely talking about his own life being saved from a violent death.

David calls out to his God – the One who not only created the world, but is the One who can create a new heart within an individual. David promises that he will sing praise of His righteousness if he is delivered from bloodguiltiness. God is indeed righteouswhen He sends judgment, but he is also equally as righteous to remove chastisement.[19]

PSALM 51:15 (51:17 BHS)

Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.”

David’s heart is hopeful of his forgiveness. Here, David says that all that God has to do is to open his lips and his mouth will declare praises of Him. This request of “Lord, open my lips” is a metonymy, where the use of one aspect of an action or thing represents the whole.[20] David is telling God to forgive him so that he can open his mouth and praise. He is once again setting up a condition, that if it is met, David promises to do something. Up to now the guilt of his sin has kept his lips closed. Once he experiences forgiveness, David feels that he will be open to declare God’s praise. As David addresses the Lord, he does not call upon the name of God, Yahweh, but calls upon his אֲ֭דֹנָי. David is not asking the Lord to enable him to praise, but rather is still focused on being forgiven – the one thing his heart longs for more than anything else.

CONCLUSION

In Psalm 51:9-15 David is seen humbly coming before his Lord. He exemplifies what true repentance looks like. He comes to God admitting his own sin and pleads for God to change him. David understands that he has no power of his own to create a new heart within himself. He so longs for the joy which comes from forgiveness and a right standing before God. He appeals to God, making promises that he can win people to Him if He just only forgives him of his sin. He desires to be seen as righteous. If God grants him this mercy, then David promises to be an instrument of praise and song to God.


[1] Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002), Ps 51:9.

[2] Robert G. Bratcher and William David Reyburn, A Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Psalms, Helps for Translators (New York: United Bible Societies, 1991), 472.

[3] Lawrence O. Richards, The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed. (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1991), 362.

[4]James E. Smith, The Wisdom Literature and Psalms (Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub. Co., 1996), Ps 51.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ted Cabal, Chad Owen Brand, E. Ray Clendenen et al., The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007), 836.

[7] The Pulpit Commentary: Psalms Vol. I, ed. H. D. M. Spence-Jones (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2004), 395.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Bratcher and Reyburn, 473.

[10] William Lee Holladay, Ludwig Köhler and Ludwig Köhler, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. (Leiden: Brill, 1971), 363.

[11] Bratcher and Reyburn, 473.

[12] Spence-Jones, 396.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Andrew Knowles, The Bible Guide, 1st Augsburg books ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2001), 239.

[15] Bratcher and Reyburn, 473.

[16] Bratcher and Reyburn, 474.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Smith, Ps 51:14.

[19] Spence-Jones, 397.

[20] Cabal, 836.

Woe to you, Chicago! Woe to you, L.A.!


20
Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”

Powerful words of Jesus Christ. Jesus had done many signs and wonders among the people of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Yet these people were unrepentant and they were not changed by Jesus Christ’s declaration of “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Jesus says to the people of these unrepentant cities that if the same mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon, two pagan cities that they would have been well aware of, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.

Jesus goes on by saying that it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgement for that reason. This is a mind blowing statement. This assumes two things:

  1. There are different degrees of punishment1
  2. God knows not only all things in the past, present, and future reality. But God also knows all things possible in the past, present, and future.

Let me begin with number one. As Jesus said in Matthew 11:22, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment. This infers that there are different degrees of punishment at the judgment. It seems to be linked to the amount of revelation revealed to and the response of the individual to what has been revealed unto him. So the more truth we have been exposed to the more we are held accountable in the eyes of Christ at the judgment. The ultimate destination is the same for all unbelievers, but the amount of punishment is seemingly determined by how much truth they were exposed to.

Along with this understanding comes with the understanding that God owes salvation to no one. Yes, Jesus Christ died for all mankind, but only those who humble themselves, repent, and believe who He is (the LORD and Savior of all mankind) are given gift of salvation. God owes this gift to no one. This is why missions is so important. The only way people will be exposed to the truth of the Gospel is if we tell them. As Paul put it in Romans, “How will they hear without a preacher? How shall they preach except they be sent?”2 Understanding this aspect helps us understand this whole discussion.

Jesus even goes on to tell them them that because they would not repent that is shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for them. It was well known that Sodom was a land and of people of gross sin and immorality. Yet, Jesus says that if Sodom had seen the mighty works that these unrepentant cities had seen, Sodom would still be around because even they would have repented. This to me seems very powerful.

This brings us to number two. Not only does God know all realities past, present, and future. He knows all possible realities past, present, and future. This to me is phenomenal. God knows that if Sodom would have had the same things preached and had the same mighty works done in it, they would have not been unrepentant as were Chorazin, Betsaida, and Capernaum. Does this mean that God does not judge Sodom? No. He still judges them based upon reality. But this passage does seem to infer that he keeps in account all possible realities. Sodom finds themselves utterly demolished here on earth, and its inhabitants in hell. But perhaps the degree of their punishment is influenced by the possible realities.

One again, this brings back to understanding that God owes salvation to no one. So God is not doing any kind of injustice by judging Sodom for their sin even in light of the reality of not having these mighty works done within it. He judges them fairly based upon their reality of living in sin and immorality.

This helps us understand the role of missions in the world. If we do not tell the lost world about God, they will die and go to hell because they are natural born sinners. Without the hearing of the Word, then there can be no faith in the Gospel. For faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. There cannot hear the word except it be preached, for God has chosen preaching as his method for spreading the Gospel across this world to all peoples of all cultures of all countries. It is the duty of mankind to tell the world of God’s Gospel. If we do not then the lost die without hope of the Gospel of Christ and go to an eternal hell. If we preach to them the gospel, then they are now accountable to Gospel and they are given the opportunity to accept God’s message and experience life and salvation from hell. They will be given the privilege of an eternal, personal relationship with the Creator of the universe. We must go out and tell those who have not heard!

It is not the responsibility of the preacher/missionary to make sure that everyone he proclaims the Gospel to believes. Jesus Himself did mighty works and preached His word, and yet people still were unrepentant. Those who reject the message will be held more accountable and therefore will be punished more severely. It is not the fault of the preacher. The preacher is to do all that he can to encourage them to repent and believe, but ultimately it is a decision that every individual in this world has to make for himself.

So to bring things back home, how does this relate to us? Well, I look around me and I look to our history (Anglo-Saxon) and I see the Gospel presented fairly consistently. There were some high points and some low points in our history, but overall the Gospel can be found. There are thousands upon thousands of recourses such as books and websites which explain the gospel. There are thousands upon thousands of churches which proclaim the Gospel every week. And perhaps you can hear God say, “

“Woe to you, Chicago! Woe to you, Los Angeles! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Calcutta and Beijing, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Lima and Beijing than for you. And you, New York, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Bangkok, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Bangkok than for you.”


1. I believe that it can also be assumed through other passages that there are differing degrees of reward as well. (Rev. 22:12; 2 Tim. 4:7-8; 1 Cor. 3:12).

 

2. Rom.10:14-15