All Have Sinned

“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.”
Romans 3:23-26 NLT

A bigger than usual number of verses today. But what Paul wrote is a concise yet profound exposition of God’s love and grace, and this Biblical paragraph cannot really be subdivided. These verses start with the reality that no human being is capable of achieving God’s righteous standard. Why is that? God requires all those in His presence to be sinless, but through Adam, sin polluted everyone ever born. Once a sinful act has been committed, then exclusion from God’s presence is mandated. Paul said “we all fall short of God’s glorious standard”. I always think of it as an examiner setting a pass mark for an exam, for example 70%. Those sitting the exam may find that they have all failed, with a range of marks varying between 20% and 50%. But it is no good for the one with 50% saying he is better than the one with 20% – they have both failed the test by failing to achieve the pass mark. “God’s glorious standard” is unachievable by sinful human beings.

Thankfully God has supplied a remedy so that we can achieve His standard. And it is all through His grace. Jesus was and is the only sinless human being. He is divine because He is the Son of God, part of the Trinity of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. But He was born to a human being, a young peasant girl called Mary, as part of God’s gracious rescue plan for mankind. Jesus became human so that He could sit the exam instead of us, and, being sinless, He achieved “God’s glorious standard” with 100%. 

For us pilgrims, we managed to stumble across this amazing truth. It may have been that someone had shared with us what Jesus did, and something within us responded to God’s grace. We may have picked up a Bible one day and discovered the truth for ourselves. We may have, in a moment of crisis, happened to walk past a church and entered there, finding the grace we needed at just the right time. But however it happened, there was a day when we believed in Jesus. 

Around us are many people who have not yet made that step of faith. They are still quite ignorantly making their way through life, blissfully unaware of what is coming towards them. They fail to realise that, by default, they have chosen a life separated from God because of their sin. So we pilgrims must take every opportunity to share the truth about Jesus with our friends and families. It may not make us very popular. In some countries it can lead to imprisonment and death. But share Jesus we must. We can’t keep this amazing truth to ourselves. It’s very simple – everyone, without exception, has sinned, and through His love for mankind, God has provided a remedy. That’s it!

Dear Father God. Thank You for Your grace and mercy. Every time You look at us You see Jesus and His righteousness. We don’t deserve Your mercy, but we’re grateful. Amen.

Sinful Logic

““But,” some might say, “our sinfulness serves a good purpose, for it helps people see how righteous God is. Isn’t it unfair, then, for him to punish us?” (This is merely a human point of view.) Of course not! If God were not entirely fair, how would he be qualified to judge the world? “But,” someone might still argue, “how can God condemn me as a sinner if my dishonesty highlights his truthfulness and brings him more glory?” And some people even slander us by claiming that we say, “The more we sin, the better it is!” Those who say such things deserve to be condemned.”
Romans 3:5-8 NLT

From Paul’s account, it looks as though there are some in Rome who are mocking God’s grace. They are saying that in order for God’s grace to be covering mankind, we must sin more and more. And the argument continues by pointing out that God will get more glory if His righteousness shines so much brighter than the dark nature of man’s unrighteousness. Warped logic? Perhaps an example of someone taking a truth in isolation, or out of context, and developing it into something far removed from what the original intent was. There have been many such religious examples over the years.

The logic seems to say that if we do something sinful or wicked, then God will make something positive out of it, thus demonstrating His righteousness. I wonder if Judas will try and justify himself before God by claiming that because he betrayed Jesus, salvation of mankind ultimately resulted. But Judas’s problem is that he still did something wicked. What God made of it was nothing to do with Judas but was part of His plan for mankind. If Judas hadn’t stepped into the role of betrayer, then God would have allowed someone else to act as a catalyst for His plan of salvation. Judas will still be held to account for his sin one day.

Although sinfulness may expose God’s righteousness, that is no help to the sinner. Sin will create a barrier between God and us. When we sin we cut ourselves off from the experience of God’s love, not because He loves us any less, but because we reject His love through our sin. And our sin, if not dealt with, will set us off on the slippery path that ends with God’s judgement. But we are so grateful that through God’s grace, we have a means to deal with our sin. The Gospel is clear and unambiguous. Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost included the following verse, “Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Such love. Such grace.

How can we go on sinning, and by so doing wave our fists in God’s face, rejecting His love and kindness? How can we deliberately sin when we know how much pain it causes our loving Heavenly Father? But His grace will transform us, through faith, to become righteous before Him. So, we don’t become spiritually disorientated, making up stupid arguments, and becoming distracted by a false logic. We respond to the love of our Heavenly Father with grateful hearts. Always.

Dear Heavenly Father. We thank You for Your grace and love. What else can we do, kneeling before You in worship? Amen

A Changed Heart

“For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.”
Romans 2:28-29 NLT

The writer of the Roman letter, Saul of Tarsus, later to be called Paul, had a change of heart one day. It was a dramatic, cataclysmic event that totally changed his life. But it wasn’t just his heart that was changed. The narrative starts in Acts 8, with a mention of a man called Saul witnessing the murder of the first Christian martyr, Stephen. And Saul was so incensed by what he perceived as a dangerous threat, posed by the early Christians who were referred to as “the Way”, to the sanctity of the Jewish religion, that he started to persecute them. We read in Acts 8:3, “But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison”. Dramatic stuff. The story continues in the next chapter. We read in Acts 9:1, “Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest”. Equipped with letters of authority, Saul headed off to Damascus to create mayhem there. But on the Damascus Road, something even more dramatic happened. We read in Acts 9:3-5, “As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting!” Blinded by the light in his vision, and after a few days, Saul was baptised, publicly declaring his conversion to become a follower of Jesus. That encounter with the risen Jesus totally upended Saul’s life. But then something equally as dramatic occurred. We read in Acts 9:19b-20, “… Saul stayed with the believers in Damascus for a few days. And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is indeed the Son of God!”” A “change of heart“? I would say so!

For us pilgrims, we too had a “change of heart“. It may not have been so dramatic as Saul’s, on that Damascus Road. But it would have been real nevertheless. That point in our lives when we turned around, from a life of evil and wickedness, and instead turned towards Jesus, bringing our sins to the foot of His cross at Calvary. And there we received the forgiveness that our spirits yearned for. Through God’s on-going grace and mercy, the offer remains.

But following his “change of heart”, Saul became Paul and one of the most effective evangelists this world has ever seen. We too have a mission. The manifestation of God’s grace through Jesus in our lives cannot be suppressed within us. We have to shout it out. Especially in these last days as the persecution of Christians increases day by day, drip by drip. We may feel that there is no persecution of Christians in our Western societies, but just this week the Scottish Government approved legislation allowing 16-year olds to self-certify which gender they wanted to adopt, in the process cutting right across the God-given order of gender and sexuality. That’s persecution. And in another instance, a woman was arrested in England this week for silently praying outside a closed abortion clinic. It appear that she was not allowed to think her prayers. That’s persecution. 

The early Christians didn’t care about persecution and neither must we. In these dark days we can only keep praying for those in our families and communities, that they too may experience a “change of heart” assuring and ensuring their salvation. And we pray too for our countries. Please join me in praying for Scotland, and particularly for those who have been badly let down by deluded Scottish politicians who, rather than help young people face their challenges with compassion, instead enable them, even encourage them, to embark on a ruinous journey of personal confusion that will not end well before God’s throne.

Father God. We ask for forgiveness for all those who are intent on disrupting Your ways. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

A Guiding Light

“You who call yourselves Jews are relying on God’s law, and you boast about your special relationship with him. You know what he wants; you know what is right because you have been taught his law. You are convinced that you are a guide for the blind and a light for people who are lost in darkness. You think you can instruct the ignorant and teach children the ways of God. For you are certain that God’s law gives you complete knowledge and truth. Well then, if you teach others, why don’t you teach yourself? You tell others not to steal, but do you steal? You say it is wrong to commit adultery, but do you commit adultery? You condemn idolatry, but do you use items stolen from pagan temples? You are so proud of knowing the law, but you dishonour God by breaking it. No wonder the Scriptures say, “The Gentiles blaspheme the name of God because of you.””
Romans‬ ‭2‬:‭17‬-‭24‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Paul continues in his rant about the Jewish Christians in Rome. He points out that they have the benefit of knowing what righteous living is all about because they have been schooled in the Law from an early age. The problem is that this seems to have introduced feelings of arrogance. Paul points out to them that they know all about the Law, they rely on it, he says, and therefore they claim to “know what is right”, claims added to because they know their special heritage. They are now all puffed up with their knowledge and assumed standing before God, and are convinced that they can act as examples to the Gentiles around them, teaching them all about God. Live like us and do what we do, they say, and you won’t go far wrong.

But Paul points out to them that they need to get their own lives in order before they can take the moral high ground and teach others. And he finishes these verses with the damning indictment that because of their hypocrisy, the very people they are trying to be an example to are taking the view that if this behaviour has God’s blessing then they want nothing to do with it. The classic trap the Jewish Christians had fallen into was the one described in the familiar line, “Don’t do as I do, do as I say”. Has anyone ever heard a parent say that? Or someone else in authority? 

Jesus had a run-in with the Pharisees over this very problem. They started off by asking Him for the reason why His disciples didn’t follow the Jewish traditions of things like hand washing. Jesus’s response was, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Matthew 15:7-8). And as usual, the finger of the Master landed right on the issue. 

Hypocrisy is an easy trap to fall into. As an example, someone I knew once stuck a fish symbol on the boot of his car, advertising the fact that he was a Christian. But one day he drove in a hurry through a small village, significantly exceeding the speed limit, and causing dismay to the locals. He stopped a few miles further on for petrol, and one of the cars he had overtaken in the village pulled up behind him. The driver got out and proceeded to point out to my friend that if he was going to advertise his Christian faith, he needed to do it in more ways than just putting a sticker on his car (or words to that effect). But of course such a problem would never arise with us pilgrims, would it? Our driving manners are exemplary, aren’t they?

We read what Jesus thought about hypocrisy in His Sermon on the Mount. We read in Matthew 7:3-5, “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye“. And this is the theme Paul took up in His letter to the Roman Jewish Christians.

A common objection from people who turn down an invitation to a church service is that the building is full of hypocrites. That may or may not be true, but the world’s perception of Christians has been tarnished by the behaviour of some, hopefully just a few. The people in our secular societies look on, expecting more from Christians than perhaps they should. They observe one Christian behaving badly and straight away decide all Christians are the same. We know that we are “work in progress” but that’s no excuse if our behaviour causes those around us to stumble. 

Most people’s view of Jesus can only be obtained by observing His followers. We pilgrims need to bear that in mind the next time our right foot on the gas pedal feels a bit heavy.

Dear Father God. We are “work in progress” we know, but that is not an excuse for sinful behaviour. We are so grateful for your patience and grace – where would we be without it! Amen.

Punishment

“You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things. And we know that God, in his justice, will punish anyone who does such things.”
Romans‬ ‭2‬:‭1‬-‭2‬ ‭NLT

The word “punishment” is not a popular word or sentiment to bring up in a conversation down the pub. It conjures up thoughts of a child being sent to their room for some misdemeanour, or a criminal being imprisoned as a punishment for their crime. But we live in a moral universe. By that I mean that every misdeed, every sin, every crime, all will one day have to be remedied by a suitable consequential punishment. Every bad deed will be judged, either in this life or the next.

God, through Moses, set down detailed laws that had to be followed by the rag-tag bunch of ex-slaves, as He led them through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Many of these laws still apply today, because they underpin the very cohesion of our society. But here’s one that illustrates the principle of justice involving punishment. God taught that the punishment must match the crime, so justice is achieved. We read in Exodus 21:23-25, “But if there is further injury, the punishment must match the injury: a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot, a burn for a burn, a wound for a wound, a bruise for a bruise”. I’m not, of course, suggesting that we should implement physical punishments as in Moses’ day – such a response is considered barbaric in 21st Century society, but many today will suggest that this principle of the punishment fitting the crime no longer applies in society, with apparent punishments being too lenient and favouring the offender rather than the victim. But, never fear, the scales of justice will be balanced on the Day of Judgement, if not before, when all mankind will stand before God.

But what about us pilgrims? When we see behaviour in others that we disagree with how do we respond? Criminal behaviour is of course the responsibility of the civil authorities, and we are told to pray for them. But unfair and offensive behaviour, “legal but harmful” in modern social media parlance, may initiate feelings of anger within us. Jesus taught about this in Matthew 5:22, “But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell”. So we learn not to react when something happens to provoke us. Instead, we ask God to intervene and we then move on in the knowledge that our blood pressure and inner peace are unaffected. And the Master Judge will do what is right.

People in general, even many Christians, do not understand how detestable sin is to God. In fact, it is so abhorrent to Him, that one day all those whose sin and wickedness is recorded in their Judgement Day Book (not the Book of Life), will end up in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:15). Some will try and claim that our loving God would never do such a thing, but they fail to understand that God is not just a God of love, He is also a God of Righteousness, Holiness and Purity. For a season in these End Times days we have access to His grace. He has given us a remedy to sin and we can today stand righteous and holy before Him, through the sanctifying power of Jesus’ blood. But the door He has opened will not remain open forever. 

Once again, I issue a rallying call to my fellow pilgrims. We have the knowledge of the redeeming Words of God. We must share them to everyone we can while there is still time.

Father God. We thank You for Your inexhaustible supply of grace. We embrace it today, with love and thanks, and pray for more opportunities to share You with those in our families and communities. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Judging

“You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things.”
Romans‬ ‭2‬:‭1‬ ‭NLT

How often in our lives have we called out to God, asking Him to do something about the wicked? We think, if only God would destroy these totalitarian rulers in places like China, Russia or Iran. Or closer to home, what about that drug dealer, who causes so much misery? We cry out to God, that He would help the Police catch the burglar who beat up an old lady gratuitously while robbing her home. The Bible too contains cries and pleas to God about the wicked. The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 104:35a, “Let all sinners vanish from the face of the earth; let the wicked disappear forever…”. And Psalm 139:19, “O God, if only you would destroy the wicked! Get out of my life, you murderers!

But there’s a problem. Paul wrote a few words in Romans 3:23 that go like this, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard”. So if everyone is wicked anyway, why should God restrict His judgement and punishment for those people over there but not the ones over here? If the pass mark for an exam is 50%, and one person achieves 49% while another only gets 20%, there is no difference with the outcome – both people have failed the exam. As others have said, God has no favourites and the ground at the foot of the Cross is level ground. What is there about human beings, that faults, sins, and problems can all be seen in other people but we can’t see them in ourselves? Why should we pilgrims try and take the moral high ground when we are also under God’s judgement.

Jesus taught about judging others in His Sermon on the Mount. We read His words in Matthew 7:1-2, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged”. Paul also pointed out to his Roman friends that Christians are particularly at fault, because they know the difference between right and wrong. An unbeliever can have the, albeit weak, excuse that they didn’t know God and His requirements. But not a Christian.

However, knowing what we should do, and doing it are two different things. I was reminded the other day about a personal lapse. A friend was severely afflicted with the cold virus and I showed him little sympathy. A week later I was displaying the same symptoms and feeling quite sorry for myself. I didn’t get much sympathy either, but my wife reminded me of my attitude the week before. Perhaps, judging my friend’s response to his cold ended up with me being judged with the same criteria I used. Hmmm…

We pilgrims need to take into account seriously what Jesus said. Judging mankind is God’s prerogative, not ours. The Apostle James echoed Jesus’ words, as we read in James 2:12-13, “So whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free. There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you”. Instead of judging others, we must show them mercy. In 1 Peter 4:17, Peter wrote, “For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household. And if judgment begins with us, what terrible fate awaits those who have never obeyed God’s Good News?” Our mercy must displace any feelings of judgement we might hold. It’s a counter-cultural response. When the world shouts judgement, we shout mercy. When the world condemns, we see a person who has lost their way. When the world lashes out, we embrace and show the love of God. When the world rejects the unlovely, we accept and invite them to join us on our journey to Eternal Life. We have the Good News that far surpasses all the Bad News the world can produce.

Dear Father God. What can we say but “thank You”. Your love prevails. Please help us to win others for You, so that they too will escape the verdict that leads to an eternal death. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

‭‭

Grace and Peace

“And you are included among those Gentiles who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ. I am writing to all of you in Rome who are loved by God and are called to be his own holy people. May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.”
Romans‬ ‭1‬:‭6‬-‭7‬ ‭NLT

The structure of Paul’s letters is not something we use today. We are more likely to end our missives with sentiments such as “grace and peace”, rather than start them. But why did Paul think the Roman Christians needed these qualities. Both of these words define necessities for the human soul. Without them conflicts within and without us will lead to destruction. Medically, illnesses and conditions like heart attacks and strokes, can be caused by reacting to the situations around us without grace and internal peace.

Take for example a modern phenomenon called road rage. The occurrences of anger that is invoked when another driver behaves in a way that we think is dangerous, or unfair. Such events happen in road works, when another driver thinks he can jump a queue of traffic, cutting in dangerously and forcing another driver to brake suddenly. Without a supply of grace, the driver who thinks he has been wronged may react with anger, resulting in a rise in blood pressure and risking a stroke or some other heart-related ailment. There were no road rage incidents in Ancient Rome but there would have been other occasions where a similar response would have been common.

So what is “grace and peace”? Taking grace first, the Cambridge On-line Dictionary has several meanings, but the one closest to what we’re interested in is “approval or kindness, especially (in the Christian religion) that is freely given by God to all humans“. That definition is for something that theologians refer to as “common grace”, demonstrated by verses such as Matthew 5:45b, “… For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike“. In those terms, there is no advantage to being a Christian – God’s common grace covers all that mankind needs for life, and it extends to everyone. However, there is a much nobler definition of grace, and that extends to God’s willingness to forgive everyone of their sins if they believe in Jesus’s sacrificial death at Calvary. There He took on Himself the sins of mankind, exchanging them for His righteousness. And now those who repent of their sins before the Cross will experience the grace of God. A common acronym is God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. So Paul asked that “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” gives us grace. We need it for our continuing relationship with God and we need it for living redemptively with those around us. And more of it, please God!

Similarly, peace is something much needed in our pilgrimages through life. We’re not talking just about peace as being the opposite of war. Again, our dictionary defines peace as being, “the state of not being interrupted or annoyed by worry, problems, noise or unwanted actions“. But this only partially applies to what Paul was talking about. Philippians 4:7 reads, “Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus“. Godly peace involves faith in God Himself. A faith that is built on the foundation that God is who He says He is, and that He keeps His promises. A faith that will sustain us through all the trials and tribulations of life. A faith that, through Jesus, we will one day be able to spend eternity with Him in Heaven. Now that is real peace. In John 14:27, Jesus said, “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid“. Now that is real peace. More of it, please God!

Paul, in asking that God gives us grace and peace, was calling down a blessing as essential to the lives of believers as the food we eat. Real soul food that we need for our spiritual lives. Food that will sustain us through our earthly lives. And we need a constant supply of it. Day by day. And the amazing thing is that God’s grace and peace is unlimited. We only have to reach out and accept the gifts so tenderly offered to us by our loving Heavenly Father. Gifts far more precious than any shiny earthly bauble.

Dear Father God. We are so grateful that You know exactly what we need for a godly life, and have made provision for us to receive it. We purchase our soul-food direct from Heaven through the blood of Your Son, Jesus. Thank You Lord. Amen.

Come Lord Jesus

“He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s holy people.”
Revelation‬ ‭22‬:‭20‬-‭21‬ ‭NLT

So we arrive at the very last verses in the Book of Revelation. It has been a roller coaster of a journey, taking us over six months to complete. But we have finally arrived at the end, with Jesus providing the last word. He reminded John that He has signed off the contents of this book, and He then said, “Yes, I am coming soon!”. 

If there is ever a witness with the absolute capability to be totally right, it is Jesus. He not only walked on our planet, assuming a human form, but He also has lived for all eternity with His Father in Heaven. A unique position, and because of it He is the only One who can reliably inform us of all the physical and spiritual events that have spanned more than time. They have spanned eternity itself. So His claim to be “the faithful witness” can be totally trusted.

As we journey through the highways of life, we pilgrims need a Guide, and the Revelator, Jesus Himself, fills that role exactly and totally. We follow Him. We obey Him. And, of course, we love Him. And amazingly, the Holy Spirit, writing through John, reminds us in the last sentence of this Book, of one attribute that God has, and that gives us hope for the future. His grace. The unmerited favour He has poured out on us. As the acronym says, God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Only Jesus has the words of eternal life, and because of His sacrifice at Calvary, where He, the very Son of God, gave His life for the propitiation of our sins, He gave us an escape route from the sin and wickedness of Planet Earth. A staircase into Heaven for those who embrace the grace and become a member of “God’s holy people”. 

John also used the word “Amen”. So be it. May it happen. And it will. Just as Jesus said it would. We echo the amen and tramp on, inspired, full of joy, and with our faces glowing, reflecting God’s light, love and presence, and by it illuminating the lives of those around us. What a Saviour. What a God!

Dear Father God. What can we say? On our knees we worship You today and every day. Amen.

The Second Death (1)

“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practise magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death.
Revelation‬ ‭21:8‬ ‭NIVUK

From His throne, Father God concludes His instructions to the Apostle John. He lists eight categories of people who will end up in the fiery lake. At this stage in the End Times narrative, there will be none of these people left, because the time of the Great White Throne judgement has passed. So why was God reminding John about these things? John, of course, knew what was acceptable behaviour and what wasn’t because he spent over three years in Jesus’ company. He was there when Jesus taught about murder and adultery. He had been brought up in the Jewish culture and knew right from wrong. There are two possible answers to our question.

God asked John to write down this warning, so that back in his time-bound world, there would be no doubt about the fate of those violating God’s laws. Only the eight traits listed were mentioned but, as we will see, there were deeper implications behind them. God was also giving John the assurance that in Heaven there will be no sin. In Heaven, no one practising sorcery, for example, would be there. They would instead be finding out what life in the fiery lake was all about.

So who are those people God listed? We will all have our own thoughts when we read this verse, but here are a few of mine.

The cowardly are those who failed to stand firm in their faith when persecuted. This is really hard, because when faced with extreme levels of persecution, it is easier to deny Christ than continue to declare allegiance to Him. “How would I react in these circumstances?” is a difficult question to answer until we understand that God will give us the grace and strength when we need it. Jesus clearly warned His disciples of the difficulties ahead of them, as we can read in Matthew 10, but these two verses provide comfort, “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (‭‭Matthew‬ ‭10:19-20). And we look at the privations experienced by the early Apostles, in particular Paul. As I read some of the testimonies provided by Open Doors and other organisations that work with persecuted Christians, I am constantly humbled by ordinary people who experience so much opposition and persecution just for declaring the Lordship of Jesus.

Coupled with the cowardly are the unbelieving. These are the people who just don’t believe in God. They may express outright opposition to God, or just be “lukewarm” as Jesus warned in His message to the church in Laodicea. We read in Revelation 3:15-16, “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!” Controversially, they may be people claiming to be Christians but who deny the laws of God and seek to dilute, change or ignore His Word, the Bible. However, I should hasten to add that God’s grace and love is there to grasp. He will not reject a repentant sinner. 

God’s warning communicated through John will be no surprise to us pilgrims. We have spent our redeemed lives very much aware of the need for personal holiness, because we have read the verses in 1 Peter 1:15-16, “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”” Amongst other things, to be holy means to be set apart. We must not allow ourselves to adopt any of the worldly practices God was warning John about. That, of course, does not mean we should sell up all we have and then go and become a monk or a nun, although some have. As Jesus said in John 17:15-16, “I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do.”‭‭ We can only share the message of God’s grace and love with our friends and families, and the people around us, by being in the same place as they are. But we make sure we are not tainted by the contact. We read in Galatians 6:1, “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.” There are a few words at the end of James 1 that are a warning, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means ….. refusing to let the world corrupt you.” ‭‭

But I’m sure all the pilgrims reading this today don’t need reminding. We have a wonderful and loving Heavenly Father, and our relationships with Him are precious and above all the things of the world around us.

Dear Father God. We thank You for Your love and compassion that You have lavished so freely on Your people. We pray for strength to stay the course and to keep ourselves separate from the world around us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Burning Lake

“Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulphur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
Revelation‬ ‭20:10‬ ‭NLT

The armies of the earth have been destroyed by fire. A sad end to man’s rebellion. They will of course be present at the second resurrection, and the consequences of this we will see, in a future blog, that it will not end well for them. Fire will be with them for all eternity, not just for the brief moment when they, and their fellow soldiers, were incinerated. But in today’s verse we see that the devil is seized once again. He seems impervious to his own limitations, and his inability to avoid God’s judgement, even though he must have known it would come to this. Look at the sequence of events. He was thrown out of Heaven. He was defeated at Calvary. He was incarcerated in the bottomless pit. And now he has been assigned to his final home – the fiery lake of burning sulphur. And in his vision John saw that the devil would be tormented, along with the beast and his false prophet, forever. Without any rest or parole. But he can never claim he didn’t know what would happen to him.

The devil overreached himself. He thought, in his arrogance, that he could take God on and win. Have we pilgrims ever met anyone who is so full of themselves, apparently impervious to their own limitations? They think that they are someone when, in reality, they aren’t?  But isn’t it strange – we can see this character trait in others but not ourselves. The Apostle Paul reminded the Romans of this in Romans 12:3, “Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us”. Paul said we should assess ourselves honestly, but how do we do that? One piece of Scripture that has helped me greatly on my pilgrimage through life is Ephesians 4:22-23,“throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes”. Personal deception is part of our old sinful lives. Through the renewing that comes through the Holy Spirit, we get the help we need to evaluate ourselves honestly. 

Jesus described hell as being dark, and full of wailing and gnashing of teeth. At the marriage feast He found that there was someone not wearing the right wedding clothes, and he was removed from the banquet. We read in Matthew 22:13, “Then the king said to his aides, ‘Bind his hands and feet and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”‭‭ Jesus gave a graphic description of the eternal regret that an unrepentant person will experience – in darkness and deep sorrow. But in John’s vision in Revelation 20, as we will see in a future blog, those whose names are not recorded in the Book of Life will be joining the devil, the beast and the false prophet in the lake of fire. Either way, though, eternal separation from God in a place of torment, shows how seriously God views sin and wickedness. We must view it the same way, particularly in our own lives. And pray for our loved ones, that they too will take advantage of God’s love in this season of His grace.

Dear Lord. In humble gratitude we thank You for your grace and love. Amen.