Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Afterlife (Part II)

Last week I noted that there are four key elements in the Christian understanding of the afterlife. To recap: Christ will come again at a time of God’s choosing which cannot be known by us. The dead will be raised and judgment will take place. This second coming (or “parousia”) will bring about a transition from the present world order to “a new heaven and a new earth.”

I told you I would talk about judgment this week and I know you have been hardly able to stand the suspense. Let me begin by saying that most people accept the idea that there will be some kind of reckoning for the way we conduct our lives. They think people like Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and Paris Hilton should have to pay a price for what they have done in this life. But most people assume that their own good deeds far outweigh the bad and therefore they will “make the cut.” It’s like those surveys which indicate that something like 89% of people consider themselves above-average drivers. Riiiiight.

One of the foundational claims of the Christian faith, and indeed one of the things that serves as a stumbling block for some, is that we all, left to ourselves, “miss the cut.” Paul says “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).” To be sure, some people are much better human beings than others are. But even the best fall short of the righteousness and holiness of God. What we need, then, is pardon, which is won (or “paid,” or “secured”) for us when Jesus, himself sinless, offers himself as an atoning sacrifice for our sins on the cross. Indeed, this was God’s plan, so that, for instance, Paul talks about “the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement” (Romans 3:24). This pardon which Christ, out of love for us (I John 4:9-10) secured is made “effective through faith.” (Romans 3:25). That is, it is offered to everyone (this is the “Good News”) but people must choose whether or not they want to place their faith and trust in it or, more precisely, in Him.

Two things Christians hold in tension about judgment is that, on the one hand, people are accountable for how they live, and on the other hand, they are saved by God’s grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), not by our works. How to reconcile the two? I like the way Edward Fudge puts it when he distinguishes between the “believer” and the “make-believer.”

“Our security is not in a doctrine, but in a Savior. The question is ours each new day: "Do you acknowledge that you are a sinner, considered apart from Christ? Do you acknowledge him as your Savior and trust his atonement for peace and right standing with God? Are you sorry for sin and determined to turn from it? Do you cling to the cross of Jesus as your only hope of forgiveness? Do you give yourself to God in return, in gratitude for his unfathomable kindness and grace?" All who sincerely answer "Yes" to these questions may know that they belong to Christ and that God will keep them to the end.” (GracEmail, 8/2/05;

I’ll discuss Heaven and Hell in future weeks. If you just can’t wait to talk about Hell, spend some time outside in August in Houston. This will fire up your imagination.


Post a Comment

<< Home