Christian doctrine

Eternal Judgment: 4 – Atonement Is Not Universally Applied


Suggested Pre-Reading: Eternal Judgment: 3


Upon hearing that righteousness before God is granted apart from the law, through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, one might be inclined to think that everyone will therefore be counted as righteous on the Day of Judgment. After all, if salvation is not the result of human effort, but an effect of Jesus’ atoning death, what would prevent all humans from being saved? Indeed, this is a fair question to ask. To answer it, we must go to Scripture. As we do so, we see unequivocally that only some people get saved; only some are counted as righteous before God.

If this sounds shocking, that a loving God only grants righteousness to some people, consider the only other options in regards to salvation and righteousness:

  • God saves none
  • God saves all

If either of these options were true, there would be no need for the Bible and the teachings of God. If the point of Scripture is to teach the way of salvation, then such a teaching is pointless if God does not save. Conversely, if God has determined to save everyone, then there is no need to know the way of salvation taught in Scripture, for salvation will be granted no matter what one believes.

So the idea that the Bible teaches only some will be saved stands up under logical scrutiny. Furthermore, the New Testament is replete with references to righteousness being granted to those who have heard about the sacrifice of Christ and believed the message they were told.

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe…(Romans 3: 21 – 22)

But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness. (Romans 4: 5)

…with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform…for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification. (Romans 4: 20 – 25 segments)

…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. (Romans 10: 9 – 10)

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!” However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “LORD, who has believed our report?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Romans 10: 14 – 17)

These passages make it clear that it is not simply the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that saves. The sacrifice of Christ must be coupled with the faith of an individual, in order to be efficacious in regards to righteousness. We see in the Old Testament this idea of coupling faith with a God-ordained sacrifice. The prophet Isaiah rebuked the people of Israel for faithlessly participating in God-ordained temple sacrifices.

Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom; give ear to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah. “What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” Says the LORD. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle; and I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats. When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me…” (Isaiah 1: 10 – 13)

The people did not have faith in God. Yet they brought before God sacrifices in accordance with the law. Because they lacked faith, the sacrifices they brought were not received by God. Likewise, if someone does not believe in Jesus Christ, the sacrifice of Christ is of no value to them, although the fact remains He did indeed die for them, just as the bulls and goats did indeed die on behalf of faithless Israel in the days of Isaiah.

We see another precedent in the Passover. Although the invitation to slaughter the Passover lamb and smear the blood was given to all, only those who actually believed God, and killed the lamb and smeared the blood, were passed over by the destroying angel. Similarly, the invitation to believe in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ is extended to all people through the preaching of the gospel. Yet only those who believe the preached message will be declared righteous on Judgment Day. Spiritually speaking, the atoning work of Jesus Christ must be applied to the individual human soul, just as the atoning blood of the Passover Lamb had to be applied to the doorposts. If the lamb was slaughtered and the blood was shed, but the blood was unapplied, the house would have lost its firstborn that night.

Let us end with a hypothetical.

There are two people sitting next to each other at church on a Sunday morning. Both claim to be Christians. Both, on the Friday night before church, went out on the town and committed grievous sins against God – drunkenness and sexual immorality. While the pastor is preaching the gospel message of Jesus Christ, the first person is delighted with joy, for they know that not only the sins they committed on Friday, but the sum work of their entire life, will lead to a judgment of “guilty” by God. But they do not fear this judgment, for in faith they believe in the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and they know their righteousness is because of Christ and not because of their own piety. The other person, knowing that they sinned against God on Friday night, made a point to show up to church on Sunday, hoping to make up for the sins they committed by attendance and by putting a little extra in the offering plate. This person in their own mind is generally a moral person pleasing to God, but every once in a while slips up and needs to make amends to get right with God.

Only the first person has true faith in Jesus Christ. They will be counted as righteous on Judgment Day. The other person has a false faith. They believe in themselves, and that they can atone for their own sins through religious service. They will be guilty on the Day of Judgment and judged as an unbeliever.

Righteousness before God is real. It is not given to all, but only to some. And it cannot be faked, for God is not deceived. Those with true faith, a faith that is itself a gift from God, are the righteous ones. Those with a contrived faith, a faith that comes not from God but from within, are lawless and do not know Christ.

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” (Matthew 7: 21 – 23)

Eternal Judgment: 3 – Atonement Is The Answer


Suggested Pre-Reading: Eternal Judgment: 2


Atonement is the answer to the question, “How are sinners made righteous outside of the law?”

But what is atonement?

It is the means by which sins are forgiven by God. As we seek to understand this, we do well to turn to the Old Testament and its description of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Aaron shall enter the holy place with this: with a bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He shall put on the holy linen tunic, and the linen undergarments shall be next to his body, and he shall be girded with the linen sash and attired with the linen turban (these are holy garments). Then he shall bathe his body in water and put them on. He shall take from the congregation of the sons of Israel two male goats for a sin offering and one ram for a burnt offering. Then Aaron shall offer the bull for the sin offering which is for himself, that he may make atonement for himself and for his household. He shall take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the doorway of the tent of meeting. Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat. Then Aaron shall offer the goat on which the lot for the LORD fell, and make it a sin offering. But the goat on which the lot for the scapegoat fell shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, to send it into the wilderness as the scapegoat. (Leviticus 16: 3 – 10)

This description of Yom Kippur can be summarized as follows:

Element Purpose
Bull Sin Offering For the High Priest
Goat 1 Sin Offering For the People
Goat 2 Bears the sins of the people and is released to the wilderness

Note how God did not ask the sinners to sacrifice themselves or to bear their own sins for atonement. Rather, God prescribed the bull and goats to deal with the sins of the people. This is the heart of Biblical atonement – it occurs by means of a substitute. Substitutionary atonement is what keeps the forgiveness of sins distinct from law-keeping. You can never atone for your own sins by obeying God’s law, because God requires a substitute for atonement.

Moving from the Old Testament to the New, the author of Hebrews explains how Jesus is the ultimate substitute.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9: 11 – 14)

For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (Hebrews 9: 24 – 26)

For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10: 1 – 4)

In order to prove Christ’s atonement as greater than even Yom Kippur, the author of Hebrews makes an a fortiori argument. He agrees with the established fact that in the days of Moses God ordained atonement through sinful priests and animals. He then proceeds to argue that if atonement could come through weak vessels, such as a sinful high priest and mere animals, how much more so could God ordain atonement through the sinless and spotless Messiah, as part of the New Covenant.

This idea of the Messiah as an atoning substitute is not unique to the book of Hebrews, or even the New Testament. It was prophesied hundreds of years in advance by the prophet Isaiah.

But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities…

But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.

But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering…

My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities…

Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors

(excerpts from Isaiah 53)

Note how the prophet says Messiah will “justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities”. When atonement happens, the sinner is made righteous in God’s sight. The person who was once separated from God is now reconciled and brought near to God. Theologians call this the Great Exchange – Jesus takes our sins and He gives us His right-standing before God.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5: 21)

This law-gospel binary is essential for all to understand. The law is not the gospel and the gospel is not the law. Our righteousness before God comes not through our own ability to keep God’s law and make up for sins committed, but by having our sins placed on the ordained substitute for atonement. In the days of Moses, it was animals – bulls and goats. In our day, the appointed substitute is Jesus of Nazareth. He went to the cross and shed His blood so that our sins could be atoned for and forgiven once-for-all.

Atonement is why righteousness is outside of the law, and why the gospel is actually good news. There is nothing we can do to pay for our sins, because Jesus has paid it all.

Eternal Judgment: 2 – Righteousness Must Come Apart From The Law


Suggested Pre-Reading: Eternal Judgment: 1


Let us remind ourselves of the predicament.

One day there will be an Eternal Judgment. God will send people to eternal bliss or eternal torment. If this future judgment is based on one’s ability to keep God’s law, all will be sent to eternal torment, for the Bible clearly teaches all have sinned against God and earned death:

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… (Romans 3: 23)

…the wages of sin is death…(Romans 6: 23)

Yet the Bible, just as clearly as it states all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, acknowledges there will be those judged righteous and granted eternal life.

Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12: 2)

But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on His left. Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25: 31 – 34)

A great paradox, then, has been presented to the reader of Scripture: how does a sinner who has earned death become righteous in God’s sight and inherit eternal life?

Before answering this question as the Bible answers it, we must first dispel the notion that the answer is “by keeping the law”. Let us use a courtroom analogy to demonstrate the point. Imagine that a man who robbed a bank is being tried for bank robbery. Will his defense be, “Yes, I robbed the bank, but I didn’t murder or rape anyone, so because I kept those laws, I should be declared innocent of bank robbery”? That type of defense, in an earthly court, is absurd. Whether or not he kept some laws has no legal impact on the law that he broke. In the heavenly court it is the same – no amount of law keeping can erase the sins we have committed. Why would my not having murdered someone legally erase my sin of hateful thoughts toward that person?

The conclusion then is this – righteousness must come apart from the law. This Biblical idea is in opposition to what is commonly taught in false religions. Many false religions send sinners to the law to earn righteousness and deal with sins previously committed. Think of the doctrine of karma in eastern religions or the rite of penance in Catholicism. But the Bible is clear on the matter – the law does not save. Here is what the Bible says about salvation on the day of judgment:

Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe…(Romans 3: 19 – 22)

This argument also appears in the letter to Galatia:

I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly. (Galatians 2: 21)

Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “the righteous man shall live by faith.” (Galatians 3: 11)

Jesus Himself stated the same argument clearly and succinctly:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3: 16)

These verses of Scripture make it clear: those whom God will judge as righteous are not the law-keepers, but those whose faith is in Jesus Christ.

This idea is really quite scandalous. If someone lives for seventy years and only commits one sin a day, that equates to 25,550 sins over the course of a lifetime. Will God really declare someone righteous at the Eternal Judgment who has sinned over 25,000 times? Yes, God will – if the person trusts in Christ.

To understand more how this can be, we must discuss the Biblical teaching of atonement. This we will do in the next article.

God Reveals His Oracles: 3 – How God Has Spoken To All Men


Suggested Pre-Reading: God Reveals His Oracles 2


As we think about the two ways God reveals His truths – either to all men or to some men – it is perhaps difficult to conceive how God might speak, or might have spoken, a truth to all men. Certainly in our lifetime there has been no booming voice from heaven, loud enough for everyone on earth to hear. And we are all aware that there are atheists, who claim to disbelieve in God altogether. If God has spoken a message to all men, how could there be atheists? If God has spoken truth to all men, how has He done so?

The Christian answers these questions by turning to God’s revealed truths in the Bible. The Bible, which records the truths God has revealed to certain men, tells us through Paul’s letter to the Romans that God has spoken certain truths to everyone.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (Romans 1: 18 – 21)

From this passage we learn that God made two of His attributes evident to all men:

  1. Eternal Power
  2. Divine Nature

These two attributes of God were revealed through His creation. Creation is so magnificent that it undeniably originates, not from nothing, but from an eternally powerful and divine Being. The evidence of a God-created universe is so overwhelming, that to deny it is to commit intellectual suicide. Paul wrote his words nearly two thousand years ago to a people with far less technology and scientific knowledge than us today. How much more so should we as modern people see the creation pointing to the Creator.

Now in addition to God’s eternal power and divine nature, we are instructed that God has revealed a moral law to all men through the conscience:

For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them…(Romans 2: 14 – 15)

Here Paul is discussing how Gentiles (unbelievers) will be judged by God, since they were not the recipients of God’s divinely revealed Law that was given to Moses. The answer Paul gives is that God has given every man a conscience, and this conscience intuitively knows when certain things are good and certain things are bad. There are certain things that people know are right and wrong, and it doesn’t matter whether the government allows it or not. People know that there is a moral law that transcends legislation.

So there are three things revealed by God to all men – God’s eternal power, God’s divinity, and God’s moral character. It is worth noting that the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America affirms each of these three revelations.

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…

The men who wrote and signed that document acknowledged that there is a God who is Creator, and that there are certain rights God has given to men. If God has given man the right to life, then murder is wrong. If God has given man the right to the property he acquires, then stealing is wrong. So there are laws given by God which are unchangeable. Even if a government were to say that murder is okay, it would not be. Even if a government were to say stealing is okay, it would not be. All of our consciences know that the government is not the ultimate authority in determining what is right or wrong. Otherwise, there could be no condemnation of Nazi Germany and other such government-led atrocities.

To conclude, we have learned that God has divinely ensured every human being receives three general truths about God’s nature. Everyone knows intuitively of God’s power and moral character. But this basic knowledge of God is not sufficient for knowing God in any real and personal way. To truly know God, He must give us far more specific and detailed revelations about Himself. In the next post we will begin to look at the Christian claim of God’s specific revelations being contained within the pages of the Bible, and why the Bible should be viewed as authentic and other religious writings as false.

A Conversation With Robert Morris on Tithing


Doctrine Via Dialectic: Examining Biblical truths by means of fictitious conversations.

This conversation is inspired by Gateway Church’s lead pastor Robert Morris, based on his false and dangerous tithing doctrine.

For a more thorough analysis of the heresy, I recommend Chris Rosebrough’s review on his radio show Fighting for the Faith.


Blogger: Do you realize your tithing doctrine is being called heresy?

Robert: God’s prophets have always been persecuted for speaking hard truths.

Blogger: Don’t you find it odd that your tithing doctrine is based upon an exposition of the Mosaic Law?

Robert: What is odd about that? It is God’s word.

Blogger: It’s odd because Christians are members of the New Covenant. Don’t you know the difference between the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant?

Robert: Of course I know the difference.

Blogger: So you don’t have a problem with teaching the compulsory tithe of Moses to New Covenant Christians?

Robert: Obviously I don’t, or I wouldn’t teach it or have written The Blessed Life.

Blogger: Are you aware of Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians regarding financial giving, which completely contradicts you? For he says

Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9: 7

Robert: Of course I am aware of Paul’s words. I am a pastor, after all.

Blogger: So you have no problem teaching a compulsory tithe, while at the same time knowing that Paul instructed giving should be based on what the Christian has purposed in their heart?

Robert: No, I don’t.

Blogger: I don’t know what to say, other than given this obvious double-mindedness, it is no wonder Mark Driscoll sought counsel from you in the final days of his Mars Hill ministry. The proverb seems to be true – birds of a feather flock together.

God Reveals His Oracles: 2 – Methods of Transmission


Suggested Pre-Reading: God Reveals His Oracles: 1


If we accept the premise that God gives oracles to men, we must take the next step and conclude that these oracles must be communicated in a way that man will understand. It can hardly be considered an oracle if it is communicated in a completely cryptic way. For example, if everyone on the planet spoke English, but God gave an oracle in Spanish, and there was no way to translate the message from Spanish to English, then this could not be considered divine revelation, for nothing in the Spanish message could be discerned by the English-speakers. It could definitely be considered divine speaking, for it was God speaking in Spanish, but since there was no receiver of the message, nothing was revealed and there was no actual communication between God and man.

If we accept this basic understanding of divine revelation, that God speaks oracles using language that the recipients understand, we can proceed to examine the flow of the message from God to man. There are two fundamental ways:

  1. God reveals a truth to all men, or
  2. God reveals a truth to a select audience.

If God reveals a truth to a select audience, then the following can be presumed:

  1. Those who receive His message will share it with those who did not receive it, or
  2. Those who receive His message will not share it and will keep it to themselves.

We have then two models of the transmission of divine revelation, both of which can be diagrammed to aid our understanding.


Diagram 1: God Speaks A Truth To All Men

revelation-diagram1


Diagram 2: God Speaks A Truth To Some Men

revelation-diagram2


So we see that in regards to divinely revealed truths, God either speaks to all or He speaks to some. No matter who He speaks to, if He wants His message understood, He will ensure that the recipients can understand it. If God chooses to only speak to some, but He wants His message to go beyond the receiving audience, the responsibility is on the recipients to share God’s message with others.

It is important to note that the model of communication God chooses to use could vary for each revealed truth. In some instances God might choose to give all men a message, and in other instances He might choose to give some men a message. The next installment of this series will examine how Christians believe God speaks to men, using each of these two models just discussed.

God Reveals His Oracles: 1 – Introduction to Divine Revelation


Suggested Pre-Reading: The Faith Foundations overview


Of the seven aforementioned principles that are essential to Christianity, we will start by discussing the principle “God reveals His oracles”. If God does not reveal His oracles then we cannot talk about the other six principles, for they all derive from the notion that God has spoken to man.

“Divine revelation” is a term commonly used when referring to the oracles (revelation) given to man by God (divine). It is essential that belief in God and beliefs about God are based upon the revelation of God. If God has not spoken, and we only have our own ideas, we will end up in a state of confusion. The world offers too many opposing pictures of reality to make meaningful sense of God and His character. For example, one might say God is a God of love, if they grow up in a nice and tender family. Another might say God is a God of hate, if they grow up in an abusive and dysfunctional household. One might say God wants nothing but the best for us, if they grow up wealthy and healthy. Another might say God is spiteful and wants the worst for us, if they grow up poor and have a chronic disease. Therefore the importance of divine revelation cannot be overstated.

Now, to briefly digress, there is a mode of inquiry into the nature of God that can occur outside of divine revelation. It is known as natural theology and it relies primarily upon human reason to conclude certain truths about God. For example – through natural theology one can come to the understanding that if “good and bad” are to be legitimately objective concepts, then “a god” is necessary to impose the standards of good and bad. If only humans determine the standard, then it is subjective and subject to change in accordance with the whims of society. Therefore, if justice is to be real, if right and wrong are to be real, then a god is necessary. Despite these types of general things that can be concluded via natural theology, it is hard to make specific conclusions. For example, even if we know only God can impose standards of good and bad, how would we know what He considers to be good and what he considers to be bad? We could suggest certain things are bad, like murder or stealing, but we would be unable to come up with a comprehensive list. In order to know what God considers to be good or bad, He would have to tell us.

It is worth mentioning that if you believe in divine revelation then you believe in God. If God has spoken, a corollary is “God exists”. But the inverse is not true. If God exists, it does not necessarily follow that God has given oracles to men. This distinction is important to make, I believe, because one can use natural theology and all sorts of logical argumentation to prove the existence of God, but they have done very little to discuss the claims of divine revelation that exist in the world today. The Bible, the Quran, the Bhagavad Gita – these are all writings that make distinct claims about the nature of God and His interaction in human history. You can’t really use natural theology to judge between these three holy books. You actually have to review the claims of the books and examine what is being said.

If there is one thing to take from this introduction, it is this – divine revelation is the foundation for anything specific we could ever know or say about God.