Saturday, August 19, 2017

Afterlife – What Is It?

As far as I know, all religions include some sort of belief system about what happens after our life on earth. Some Eastern religions believe in reincarnation of the spirit into a new physical body – an animal if evil deeds outweighed the good in the previous life, or a human being with more or less privilege and status, again dependent on deeds and “enlightenment” achieved before death.

Islam and other works-based religions promote eternity in paradise for those who did enough good during their physical existence to earn it. This creates a conundrum: how good is good enough? The concept of salvation based on works, and not on God’s grace as Christians believe (Ephesians 2:8-9), portrays a giant celestial scale, with a person’s evil deeds stacked up on one side, and, hopefully, outweighed by good deeds on the other.

The person trusting in one of these religious belief systems can never know for sure that they are going to heaven, particularly if the god they trust is capricious or fickle, changing his or her mind about whether the dying person deserves eternal reward or eternal punishment.

Catholicism describes three alternatives after life on earth: heaven, hell, or purgatory. This last state is not described anywhere in the Bible and is based only on man’s traditions and philosophies rather than on Scripture as the sole authority (Mark 7:13; Colossians 2:8). Catholic doctrine describes purgatory as an intermediate state between heaven and hell where souls go who are neither “good” enough to merit heaven nor “bad” enough to deserve hell.

In the Catholic Church, living souls are encouraged to pray for their dead loved ones to transition from purgatory to heaven, aided by “indulgences,” or cash payments to the church. But the Bible tells us that once we step out into eternity, it is too late to change our destiny. Everyone will go immediately and permanently to heaven or hell, based solely on whether or not they trusted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (Mark 9:47; 2 Corinthians 5:1-8; 1 John 5:12).

As he led the Protestant reformation, Martin Luther protested against the concept of purgatory and other traditions honored by the Catholic Church but absent from Scripture.  His faith was in God alone (2 Kings 19:15; Psalm 86:10; Isaiah 37:16; Luke 5:21) as revealed by His eternal Word alone (Deuteronomy 4:2; 2 Samuel 22:31; Psalm 56:4; Isaiah 40:8; Luke 4:4; John 1:1; 8:47; 1 Peter 1:23), and therefore Luther's concept of the afterlife was based on Scripture.

Bible-believing (Psalm 119:11-18), born-again (John 3:3-8) Christians trust in salvation by God’s grace through our faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) in the death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) of His Son Jesus Christ as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6). Although a recent poll of Americans revealed that two thirds acknowledged that they were sinners, the Bible says that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), and that there is not a single good person on earth (Romans 3:10, 12).

How then can any be saved? A holy, righteous God (Leviticus 11:45; 1 Samuel 2:2) cannot tolerate the presence of sin (Ezra 9:15), which is why no matter how hard we try to work our way to Heaven, we cannot ourselves remove the penalty our sins deserve (Psalm 7:11; Isaiah 5:16). God is just, and He therefore demands that the penalty be paid for our sins before He can allow any of us into His presence (Daniel 9:14,18; Romans 2:5; 3:5).

From before the beginning of time, God knew that Adam and Eve would disobey Him and bring the curse of sin upon the world (Genesis 3). He had therefore already devised the plan of salvation (Ephesians 1:13-14). His Son Jesus Christ, equally God (Philippians 2:6), would come to earth in human form (John 1:14) and live a perfect, sinless life (John 1:29). He would die an agonizing, humiliating death by crucifixion (Matthew 27:35) to pay for all our sins (2 Corinthians 5:21), so that whosoever trusts in Him as Lord and Savior would not die, but would live forever with Him (John 3:16; 1 John 5:12).

When Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day (Matthew 28:6-7), He proved that He is God (Acts 1:3) and worthy to be our Savior. Whosoever trusts in Him is freed from the penalty of sin (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), which is everlasting death and torment in hell (Luke 16:19-31). When God looks at the sinner who has trusted His Son, He no longer sees our sin, but the perfect righteousness of His Son, in which He robes us at the moment of our salvation (Isaiah 61:10).

By a mysterious spiritual transaction, the penalty for our sins is debited against Christ’s suffering on the cross, and His perfect righteousness is credited to our account. Instantly we are transformed (2 Corinthians 5:17) from His enemies to His children and heirs (Romans 5:10), and joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17), ready to enjoy our inheritance of eternal life with Him in Heaven (Ephesians 1:11-18; 1 Peter 1:4).

But if we reject His freely given gift of salvation by His grace, we remain His enemies and children of the devil (John 8:44), and our afterlife will be one of eternal torment in hell (Mark 9:43-48). Trusting in Christ is the only Way to eternity in Heaven (John 14:6). We have but one life on this earth, in which good works cannot outweigh or negate our sins or the consequences of those sins. Once we take our last breath, it is too late to change our destiny, and all the sincere prayers and contributions of our survivors cannot affect it.

May those who have not yet trusted Christ do so today, for today is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2), and we are not promised tomorrow (James 4:14). May we who believe share His Gospel (Matthew 28:19-20) with those who are otherwise doomed to everlasting hell.

Praise God that we can know from God’s Word, beyond the shadow of a doubt, how to be sure our afterlife will be in Heaven! Praise the Lord that He paid our sin debt in full! Praise God that He is not capricious or fickle, but unchanging, and that we can depend on His constant, saving grace (James 1:17; Hebrews 13:8).

What is a Christian’s afterlife like? After our life is done, what remains of us for those we leave behind? Stay tuned to subsequent posts as we explore these questions!

© 2017 Laurie Collett

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Cisterns of Living Water

Photo by Hoda dara 2013

I had a dream in which I attended a business meeting held in a shopping mall. I was unaware of the true nature of the meeting until I arrived, for I had been told only that it was to discuss an income-producing opportunity. I was surprised that those presenting at the meeting were women who appeared to hail from the 1970s, dressed in psychedelic floral or paisley print miniskirts or bell bottom pants, with bouffant hairdos.

The “opportunity” turned out to be door-to-door sales of waterbeds, to be purchased from these women acting as distributors. I knew this was nothing I wanted to get involved in, as the waterbed craze was over three decades ago, and I had heard bad things about them. Unless heated, they tended to be uncomfortably cool; they were bouncy and unstable; they were so heavy that they could put undue stress on the floor if placed in an upstairs room; and they might even leak.

Then I remembered that my husband had told me of a time when he went to clean out a vacated rental apartment, only to find that the former tenant had simply emptied his waterbed onto the floor, causing flooding, rot, mold, and water damage! Even worse, the sample that these women were showing us was made of thin plastic that already had small holes in it even though it had not yet held water!

So I politely declined the offer, and as the meeting was breaking up, a little girl I didn’t know came running up to me and threw her arms around me.

“Jesus loves you and so do I!” I told her.

“Then sing it with me,” she pleaded. I looked around timidly, somewhat reluctant to break into a hymn in a crowded shopping mall, but I couldn’t resist her fervent enthusiasm, and we began singing “Jesus Loves Me.”

As I awoke and pondered the meaning of the dream, Jeremiah 2:13 came to mind:
For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.

In the dream, the world was offering an opportunity of no value, namely an outdated, defective product sold at an inflated price by out-of-touch people who only wanted to line their own pocketbooks, and not benefit the sales people reporting to them or their customers. Even if able to hold water, the result would be a cold (Matthew 24:12; 2 Corinthians 11:27), unstable (James 1:8), heavy and potentially dangerous burden (Psalm 38:4; Isaiah 46:1; 58:6; Matthew 23:4).

Yet a little child was showing the way to the only opportunity of true value – to be saved by trusting in Jesus Christ, Who loved us so much that He died for us on the cross to pay our sin debt, and Who rose again to prove He is God and that through Him, all can have eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; John 3:16).

The book of Jeremiah begins with God’s great purpose for Jeremiah, whom God knew long before his conception and had preordained that he would be a prophet. When Jeremiah heard this from God Himself, he protested because he was only a child. But God touched his mouth, signifying that He would give him the words to speak, and promised him that He would accompany Jeremiah on his missions and deliver him from his enemies (Jeremiah 1:4-10,19).

Youth in itself is no excuse for not following God’s plan for our lives. In fact, Jesus loved children and said that the kingdom of heaven was theirs, and that even adults need childlike faith if they are to be born again (Matthew 18:3-4; 19:14; John 3:3-8). The prophet Isaiah foretells of little children fearlessly leading once wild beasts, now tame in the Millennial Kingdom where Jesus Christ shall reign (Isaiah 11:6-9)

Scripture says that children are the most genuine and perfect in their praise (Matthew 21:16). Samuel was another child whom God used as a prophet to bring His Word and foretell His judgment to a corrupt people (1 Samuel 3). The apostle Paul warned his protégé Timothy to continue preaching God’s Word, even though others might tend to disregard him because of his youth (1 Timothy 4:12).

In my dream, the child therefore symbolized the attitude of humility and trust we need to be saved by faith through His grace (Ephesians 2:8-9), and to praise Him and witness unashamedly of His love. She encouraged me by running to me and hugging me; I proclaimed His love for her, and my love for her which flowed from His love; and she encouraged me to join her in praise and worship!

When I was first saved I brimmed over with joy, zeal and excitement to tell others of the change He made in me (2 Corinthians 5:17. Galatians 6:15). Perhaps this child in my dream is a reminder not to leave that first love (Revelation 2:4), and to share it with others and to rejoice in Him always!

The Lord God raised up Jeremiah to warn His people of their wickedness, sin and particularly idolatry (Jeremiah 2), which violates the First Commandment putting God first (Exodus 20:3-5). He accused them of two evils: first forsaking God, Who is the Fountain of Living Water (Jeremiah 2:13; 17:13). Second, they turned to idols, which are like leaking water storage devices, or the defective waterbed in my dream.

Not only are these broken cisterns of no good, but their false promise of quenching thirst turns people away from the Living Water (Song of Solomon 4:15; Revelation 7:17), Who is the only source of eternal life. How often do the vain, empty promises of success, fame or fortune in the world lure people away (John 17:15-16; 1 Corinthians 5:10; Colossians 2:8; James 4:4) from true satisfaction and fulfilment (Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 2:12; 2 Corinthians 4:4), which is found only in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?

But through His amazing grace, once saved we can ourselves become cisterns of living water! (John 4:10-11; 7:38). His Holy Spirit enters us at the moment of our salvation (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13; 4:30), so that we can be a channel through whom blessings flow! Like the little child who knows that Jesus loves her, we can by praise flowing from the Holy Spirit, through our hearts and from our lips, bless all who hear us with the living water of His Word!

© 2017 Laurie Collett