Law vs. Grace

I always found it interesting to compare the Old Testament with the New Testament.  They are like night and day in many ways, but they do unite under one God. 

The Old Testament is based on the Law of God as delivered by Moses and all the many righteous rules and customs that were required to be followed.  The penalty was harsh when somebody broke the laws, which primarily were things that you should not do, which was a very negative approach to life. 

The new covenant brought to earth by Jesus was a positive approach which stated if you do certain things, you will receive God’s grace.  And those things were basically repenting your sins and believing in Jesus Christ who died to pay your sin debts in full.

In effect, you could follow many religions which have saddled followers with their laws of the worldly world telling you what you should not do, or you could accept the gift of God who sent down His son to die so that our sins could be erased. 

So when Christians die, they should not have any guilt if they have repented and truly believe in Jesus as their Savior.  Christianity is the only religion which offers a free “Get-Out of Guilt” card by believing in Jesus.  Guilt would otherwise follow us into death and probably would drag us into chaos.

I am not saying that Christianity is the only religion that believes in God.  But I am saying that you have the best chance to avoid feelings of guilt by being a Christian.  Other religions may serve you equally well in preparing for God, but a negative approach could cause your conscience to bother you at the doorstep of death.  In fact the definition of guilt is: “The fact of having committed a breach of conduct, especially violating a law involving a penalty.” 

Violating the laws of any religion may remove your innocence, so as you wait to enter God’s kingdom, you have a feeling of fear and trepidation.  This is not the feeling you want when you die.  You want your thoughts to be pure when you enter the kingdom of death.  Christianity does that by removing your guilt.

Now, the problem with an elitist Christianity is that some Christians believe they are the new “chosen ones” replacing the Jewish people who were granted that position in the Old Testament.  Many believe they are entitled to a free ride to God’s kingdom by simply believing in Jesus.

Many Christians repent for about an hour each week and then go out and sin again.  They are recidivists of many sins, yet they believe there will be no consequences.  This is far from true.  The Bible is very clear about multiple judgments that await the believers.  There will be consequences for what you did during your life.  Your actions and inactions on earth will be judged.  Make no mistake about that. 

Nobody knows what the judgments will be like.  I guess the best approach is to be prepared.  Even believers may go to Hades to be tested by both tormentors and seducers.  You need to be ready to respond like Jesus would have done.  You must study the teachings of Jesus so you can employ His techniques during these tests. 

The tests will not be easy.  They could involve pain and torture.  Nobody knows, but try to prepare for these tests by thinking of what might be waiting for us. 

Some interpretations of the Bible indicate that even Jesus went to Hades for three days.  Some who have had near-death experiences mentioned this dark, hellish environment with monsters that attacked them, inflicting great pain.  So would you fight or flee the monster or would you try to convert it?  If it struck you on the right cheek, would you turn your left cheek towards it?  Would you be like Jesus?

God Is Not Gray

Most religions have something in common:  they teach moderation.  It is very unusual for a religion or philosophy that has survived the ages to advocate extreme positions.  Moral codes typically have been structured to prevent excessive behaviors of members of society.  Criminal and civil laws have used balancing scales to measure right or wrong actions, and there generally can be mitigating circumstances or gray areas. 

For example, negligence might be defined as the doing or failing to do that which a reasonably prudent person would do under the same or similar circumstances.  But there might be situations where even if a person were negligent, the next person who had the “last clear chance” to prevent the accident might be considered primarily at fault.  And the negligence must be the “proximate cause” of the accident.  Different circumstances can create different judgments.  The laws and rules of societies are not always black and white.   

But God’s judgment may not be gray, at all.  Both the Old and New Testaments take some very extreme positions, indicating that God’s final judgment is black and white with no gray areas.  In the Old Testament, God was quick to mete out judgments against those who did not follow His law.  There are many examples, best known being the Passover, the closing of the Red Sea, Sodom & Gomorrah, and the Great Flood.  In the New Testament, Jesus, although virtuous beyond compare, stated clearly, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.”  Luke 11:23.  There is no gray area here.  You either are with Jesus or you are not.  There is no neutral zone.

Jesus also told us to “fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell.”  Luke 12:5.  The Greek word for hell was gehenna, which was the final destination for those who did not pass the final judgment at the end of days.  Hades, the underground abode of the dead in Greek mythology, has been associated with the location where believers and nonbelievers are separated under the earth after they die.  This may have been the area where Jesus descended for three days after His death before being resurrected.

Jesus described Hades as a place in our earthly world where all people go, which is separated by a great chasm with the righteous dead on one side and the wicked dead on the other.  Luke 16:26.  Those on the unrighteous side complained that they were in agony in the fire, while the righteous were comforted.  Luke 16:24-25.

Then Jesus stated, “Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”  In other words, God is aware of and does not forget even the smallest details of our lives.  It would be interesting if God forced us to watch a video of our lives, humbling us as we watched in great detail all the bad things we had done, but had forgotten.  It reminds me of a scene in the movie “A Clockwork Orange,” when the British gang member was forced to watch a movie, including evil events throughout history, hoping to make him a better person.  

One of the more striking statements by Jesus is found in Luke 12:51: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but division.”  What does this mean?  Well, Jesus continues on to describe the end of times as being similar to the American Civil War.  It will divide brother against brother and father against son.  There will be two clear sides:  the believers and the nonbelievers.

There are several judgments, but the most important are (1) the judgment made at death and (2) the judgment made at the second coming of Jesus (end-of-times judgment).  It is interesting to note that the bases for these judgments appear to be similar, but the judgments levied appear to be distinguished by the severity of their judging.  By this I mean that the tests for both judgments may be based on your faith in God/Jesus and your acts of faith thereafter.  However, the judgment at death seems to be described as merely a separation between believers and nonbelievers, while the final judgment or end-of-times judgment appears to be a much more difficult test that only a few pass. 

There are many provisions in the Bible referencing this final judgment, but Jesus emphasized it in Luke 13:24, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.”  Jesus told about the man who in preparing for a great banquet had invited many people.  Many accepted the invitation, but on the day of the event, they made excuses for not attending.  Luke 14:16-20.  Jesus concluded that the master exclaimed, “I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.  Luke 14:24.  My interpretation of this passage is that although many will enter Hades, accepting God’s invitation on the side of the righteous, not many of these will taste God’s kingdom in the final judgment.      

I am not a prophet, but I was lucky to receive a message from Jesus one time.  The message was provided in my mind, not a voice from above.  But I am quite certain that it wasn’t me providing the answer to my own question, because it was not an answer I would have given.  My wife and I had been studying the Bible, and we were both struck with how strong the verses proclaimed that “works” were extremely important in God’s judgment.  We knew that many Christians believed that if you confessed your sins and accepted Jesus as your savior, then you were immediately saved and you would enter heaven.  I asked Jesus to explain “works” to me as I prayed one night.  He said, “It’s in the Bible.” 

Like I said, I was surprised at the answer.  After giving it some thought, I came to believe that He had a dual meaning: (1) works are clearly required in the Bible and (2) I was not entitled to a definition, but had to work for it.  Many Christians believe that they are entitled to heaven once they claim belief.  I am not so sure.  Works may be required to prove that you truly believe in Jesus and God.  It really does not matter how works are weighed in God’s judgment, the point is that they are extremely important if you want to enter God’s kingdom.  Faith, by itself, is not enough.  Works are also required.

Now, I understand the reasoning why preachers do not want to address this issue.  They might lose many from their congregation if they explained the complexity of Judgment Day.  Especially, in today’s world when everybody is looking for simplicity, a “free lunch,” and entitlements.  Another reason might be that religious teachers do not want their followers to think too much or to be too anxious at the point of death.  In other words, your thoughts upon death should not be cluttered with regret for your sins or concern whether your works had met God’s “pass-fail” grade.  You should be relaxed in order for Jesus to lead you to heaven without any worry about consequences from your past activities.

The only problem with this approach is that it ignores “works.”  Jesus talks about “works,” using parables.  One is the parable of the fig tree.  A man had a fig tree planted in his backyard that had not produced fruit for three years.  He decided to see if it would bear fruit on the fourth year and if it did not, he would cut it down.  Luke 13:6-9.  My interpretation of this provision is that God and Jesus expect to see fruit from the fig tree after it is planted.  Once you believe in Jesus as your savior, you need to produce fruit or do good works.  There are many versus in the Bible, referencing “works” that are required to enter God’s kingdom.  The Book of James may be the best source if you want to read more about it.

So, the final judgment day will employ a difficult test as both your faith and works are combined and examined.  Again, God is not gray.  He and Jesus both are black and white in their judgment.  You can pretend that you have a “Get out of Jail Free” card based on when you accepted Jesus as your savior twenty years ago, but God knows each and every sin that you have committed over that time.  Perhaps, a certain amount of sins could be forgiven because we are “miserable wretches,” but at some point, God knows that you were not a true believer.  You may be tossed into hell as a miserable wretch who lied to himself when he professed to be a believer.

The parable of the shrewd manager carries the same message.  In this story, a manager was fired for mismanaging his master’s assets.  The manager called all his master’s debtors in and gave them all discounts on what they owed so that they would owe him a favor after he left this job.  His master commended him for acting shrewdly since he looked up to people who thought like him and used worldly wealth to gain friends.  Luke 16:1-9.  Some people interpret the action of the manager as a good thing because he was forgiving payments since his master had overcharged the debtors.  However, I link it to Jesus’ final comment, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts.”  Luke 16:15.  In other words, even if the manager did the right thing for the debtors, he did it primarily for his benefit to obligate the debtors to him for future services.  God knows your heart.

God is not Gray.  His kingdom also is not gray.  This is one reason why so few enter His kingdom.  In Luke 17:21, Jesus said, “…the kingdom of God is within you.”  This is one of His most important statements.  My interpretation is that the kingdom is spiritual and internal.  In the external universe, it is very gray.  For every rule, there are many exceptions to the rule.  The external world has opposite poles or extremes that balance each other. 

This external universe is full of impurities, lacking perfection except in sanitized laboratories.  This world is very gray.  In Luke 14:34-35, Jesus was describing the cost of being a disciple, ending with an interesting comment:  “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.”  My explanation of this is that Jesus was saying that salt, which came primarily from the nearby salty seas, was impure and it lost whatever saltiness it had as the impurities increased.  Weathering could have diluted the salt content.  If it could not be made salty again, it needed to be thrown out as no good.  This is analogous to the judgment at heaven’s gate. 

But the internal universe of God is black and white.  Your mind which has impure thoughts should be cleansed so that you can enter God’s kingdom.  You seek His kingdom with only your thoughts, so if they are not pure, then you will not find the kingdom.  If you seek the spiritual benefits of His kingdom, then the worldly things will be given to you as you need them.  Luke 12:31.  There is no room for gray or impurities in God’s kingdom.     

     

God’s Kingdom

What is God’s Kingdom and how does one prepare to arrive there?

Jesus talked about “the kingdom of heaven” in many of his parables in the Bible.  In order to be better prepared for this kingdom, I attempted to analyze sections of the Bible related to the kingdom.  I then made an effort to synthesize this analysis, bringing the scattered pieces together like completing a jigsaw puzzle, but with some pieces missing. 

One of the more confusing parts of the Bible to me is Judgment Day, determining whether we will enter God’s kingdom.  Is there one judgment or are there multiple judgments?  After we repent and accept Jesus as our savior, thus receiving God’s grace, is that the first judgment?  Is there a second judgment when we die, based on our faith and actions after repentance?  Or do we go to hell, separated from the nonbelievers, where our actions will be tested in a very different, difficult, and deceitful environment?  Or is heaven a destination where believers await the second coming or the end of times?      

We know that our sins are forgiven by God’s gift of grace since His son suffered and died for us.  This is called justification.  If this is the first test, many Christians will do very well.  It requires faith in and the acceptance of Jesus Christ as your savior.   

I will use many citations from the Book of Romans, since it is perhaps the best study of Christian theology, but I also will refer to the parables of Jesus and the Book of Revelation.  Romans, written by Paul, reveals God’s plan of righteousness and salvation for all humankind through both justification and sanctification.  One of the questions that I fairly raise in this article is whether these two are so intertwined that they form a single basis for Judgment Day or are they separate tests for purposes of judgment?  And if so, which judgment?   

Romans 5:1 states, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…”  The Bible tells us that we cannot receive God’s grace through works, yet we also know that works are important.  But how important are they?

A minister who was working with a prisoner heard him shout that he was saved.  The prisoner’s cellmate asked the preacher if that were true or not, and the response was:  “We will see.”  This uncovers the danger of “cheap grace” first coined by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Grace is not a get-out-of-jail-free card and it is not an entitlement and it is not free.  Grace is granted at a great cost:  (1) Jesus Christ, who was tortured and crucified for us, poured out His blood for us and (2) God provides grace to believers who, after receiving this grace, need to work hard to become like Jesus, who should become their role model.  

Once we receive God’s gift of grace, we cannot continue sinning.  Romans 6:1-2 provides, “What shall we say, then?  Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means!  We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”  We are united with God through Jesus and our conscience is linked to the Holy Spirit so that we cannot sin any longer.  This is called sanctification.

Titus 2:11-12 provides that God has enabled us, through grace: “Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.”  And Ephesians 2:8-10 states: “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.  Not of works, lest any man should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”  Thus, it appears that grace comes first and then works follow like a horse and carriage on our journey to God’s kingdom.

So, is there one judgment or multiple judgments?  The Eastern Orthodox Church believes in two judgments:  (1) the Particular Judgment that occurs at the time of death and (2) the Final Judgment that will happen after Christ returns.  The Protestants are not as clear on what happens after death but before the Final Judgment.  Some believe that the dead sleep in hell; others say that believers dwell in heaven leaving nonbelievers to wander the earth; but some think that there will be no time separating death and the second coming.  Many Protestants believe that Jesus will carry out the judgment of believers at the end of times, and God will judge the nonbelievers.  I’m not certain it matters since God and Jesus are united in the kingdom. 

However, some Protestants also believe in two judgments.  One is conducted at the end of time by Jesus sitting on a white throne judging the dead according to what they had done, Revelation 20:11-15.  The other is the God’s judgment seat, sometimes called the bema judgment, which is based on works in determining heavenly treasures.  Protestants believe that this judgment only applies to believers.  It is mentioned three times in the Bible.  Romans 14:10 provides, “For we all stand before God’s judgment seat.  2 Corinthians 5:10 states, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”  It is not clear whether “things done while in the body” means while alive and/or after death if you still have a body in hell.  The Book of Romans mentions that the judgment is made by God, while 2 Corinthians indicates that it will be made by Christ.  I do not believe it matters since the judgment will be the same.              

It is unclear to me about the sequence of judgments.  There could be a judgment entirely based on faith when we declare our faith in Christ and an additional judgment when we die based on faith as proven by our acts or this faith judgment could be continuous.  It seems logical that God and/or Jesus would have to separate the believers and nonbelievers first, before administering any additional judgments.  A belief in Jesus is not a subjective test, so even if individuals think that they believe, it is an objective test determined by Jesus/God, who know everything about us.  This faith judgment could be during life or at death or continuously. 

Some Christians believe that there is an earthly location which Jesus visited for three days after His death.  In Matthew 12:40, Jesus foretold that He would spend three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, which may be a location or destination where believers and nonbelievers are separated, rather than the lake of fire mentioned in Revelation 20:14-15.  However, this would be a faith judgment days after death.  Whether these three faith judgments discussed are separate or one continuous judgment, I cannot find sufficient evidence in the Bible to prove one way or the other.  However, Matthew 10:22 states, “… he that endures to the end shall be saved.”  Matthew 12:32 also states, “… whosoever speaks against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.”  These come pretty close to saying that the faith judgment is continual during life, carried to the end or into the world to come.

Logic also tells me that the faith judgment probably continues throughout your life.  My wife and I approached a minister to baptize us since we had been baptized when we were younger when we did not have the faith that we have now.  The minister asked me if we could get married again, and I told him yes.  A couple could remarry since it would be a marriage between two new people, whose experiences had changed them and had made them different than when they first were married.  Since they were not the same people, they could remarry.  Baptism is the same.  Our current faith walk would make this a completely different baptism and, in our opinions, a new one.  We were not the same people who were baptized decades ago. 

The minister was trying to say that you can only get married or baptized once, but that is a legalistic examination.  That is a manmade limitation.  A spiritual marriage develops continuously over the years, so that at any point in time, you could take a snapshot of that marriage and declare it to be a new marriage based on the couple’s progress in loving and believing in each other.  Baptism should be the same as a marriage.  My wife’s and my love for and faith in Jesus and God had developed over the years, so we were completely different people coming before Jesus and God for holy baptism. 

After death, there could be three additional judgments after believers are separated from the others:  (1) the end of times judgment, (2) the glorification judgment, and (3) the rewards-of-heaven judgment.  It seems logical that the end of times judgment would occur before the glorification and rewards judgments since the end of times may be a second faith judgment of both believers and nonbelievers, but this time including a thorough evaluation of their works.  God can do anything, so God has the power to select special nonbelievers who converted to Christianity during their stay after death and showed by their good deeds in the earth that they should be accepted into His kingdom.  But, unfortunately, there will only be a few selected for His kingdom. 

The glorification judgment will be God’s testing of our remnants of humanness, squeezing out those remaining selfish aspects of our characters.  Jesus asked God to glorify Him with God’s own self, filling Jesus with the glory that He had with God before the world existed in John 17:5.  In effect, before the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, the humanness of man did not exist, so glorification removes those human characteristics and glorifies us before God.  

The rewards judgment appears to be based on a thorough analysis of all of our deeds and misdeeds with God finally deciding what our lives will be like in His kingdom.  What is this judgment based on?  In 1 Corinthians 3:13-14 we are told that in this judgment, “… his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light.  It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.  If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.”  Does this provision mean that all our actions during life will be examined in detail?   My wife and I have wondered if it would be like watching a movie of ourselves in humbling detail.  And is this judgment only for believers to determine what rewards they will receive in God’s kingdom?  I have not discovered the answer yet. 

But we know that there will be consequences for our choices made during life.  Many Christians believe Jesus died for their sins, and eternity is their entitlement based on their faith.  However, the Bible clearly refers to judgments before God, evaluating your actions. 

James, perhaps the best analysis of works in the Bible, states in 1:22-26: “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.  For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass; for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.  But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.  If any man among you seem to be religious, and brideleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.”  This seems to say that we have freedom of choice and our actions will be judged.

James 2:14 offers, “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works?  Can faith save him?  Then James 2:17-18 answers the questions, “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.  Yes, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.”  James concludes in 2:24 and 26:  “Ye see then how that by works a man’s justified, and not by faith only….  For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”

It makes sense that faith and works are both judged since Christ told us that only a few will pass into God’s universe.  Matthew 7:13-14 quoted Jesus, “Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  Jesus also said, “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few…,” Matthew 9:37.  Revelation 14:1 indicated that there would be only 144,000, who would enter the kingdom.  Matthew 22:14 stated, “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Most of us do not like to hear bad news, particularly when the Bible focuses primarily on the Good News.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with the Good News of the coming of Jesus to save us from our sins, as long as we are realistic about what we need to do in response to the Good News.  The actions that we take after receiving God’s grace are critical to our final judgment. 

If you study the Beatitudes, Jesus told us that we could not even think about evil things.  So, Jesus took a big step from the Ten Commandments, telling us that we should not lust for others.  Don’t even think bad thoughts.  Who among us can reach that level?  There probably are only a few.  And God will know your every thought both during your life and when standing before Him in judgment.  Perhaps the best approach to this difficult task is to take baby steps.  For example, if you can limit your lusting to your spouse that would be a good start.  As Jesus and the Holy Spirit take up more room in your heart, it will become easier.

If you believe in God, you may have passed the first test, but your journey to God has just started.  If you follow the teachings of Jesus and do your best to have good works during your life, you probably are on your way to passing the second test.  However, there is no guarantee that you will be selected by God to enter His eternity.  Only God knows what He will be examining on the final Judgment Day.  He may examine both our thoughts and deeds, so that few of us will pass into His kingdom.  That seems to correspond to what Jesus said.

In Matthew 13:24-30, Jesus used the parable of the weeds and wheat to explain Judgment Day.  He said that the weeds, the people of the evil one, would grow beside the wheat, the people of God’s kingdom.  The wheat would not be harvested until it matured when it would be easier to distinguish between the weeds and the wheat.  Matthew 7:1 also stated, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  So, man should not do any “weeding” or evaluating in advance of God’s judgment.  In other words, leave the judging to God. 

Some of the weeds will die out before the harvest because they could not compete against the wheat.  In advance of death, you know whether you believe in God or not, so you also know whether you will be in the harvest or not.  God will conduct a harvest even though there are still weeds in the field.  The weeds will be separated out and burned and the wheat will be gathered and taken into the kingdom.  Revelation 14:14-20 also references a final harvest.

John, the last living of the twelve disciples, wrote Revelation in exile on the small island of Potmos.  He included enigmatic visions that were difficult to understand, but I included an analysis of John’s word pictures written in an apocalyptic style since he wrote about the end of times.  In Revelation 20:12-13, the dead would be judged according to what they had done.  This is the end-of-times judgment.  Revelation indicated that those being judged would be the dead coming from the earth.  This makes one think that part of God’s test of your works is how you did both above and below ground.

So, what do we do?  Well, I believe the answer is that we do the best that we can, knowing that we are human and will make mistakes.  If you fall back one step into sin, then try to move forward two steps along the path of Jesus.

I have no idea what Judgment Day or Days will entail.  Jesus, himself, may have gone below the earth before being raised with His Father.  It would not surprise me if those of us who were believers had to go through the tests of fire itself.  We might have to endure the same suffering that Jesus went through.  Perhaps we will be tested by the evil denizens to see how strong our faith really is.  I do not know, and this is one of the biggest missing pieces for me in the jigsaw puzzle.

I guess the best advice is to be prepared.  In Matthew 22:11-13, Jesus told about the king who invited everybody to his wedding banquet, which has been interpreted to be the kingdom of heaven.  There was one group that did not enter the kingdom of heaven because they did not accept the invitation.  In other words, they didn’t even believe.  There was a second group that had entered the kingdom, but was then kicked out into hell, not properly preparing for the event.  This guest did not wear proper wedding clothing.  What does this mean?  Some interpret it to mean that this individual accepted the invitation, but did not conduct himself properly.  In other words, he may have sounded righteous by his acceptance of the kingdom, but his deeds and actions showed otherwise.  Jesus described these as two separate events:  (1) accepting the invitation and (2) being judged for wearing inappropriate clothing.  Even though, faith in God and acts supporting this belief are linked together, the judgments for these two events do not have to occur simultaneously.  Jesus may have been talking about two separate judgments. 

Your imagination and your thoughts may be your worst enemy, so it makes sense that we cannot make it through our earthly travels or the afterlife without God’s help.  That seems to be the importance of unification with God, who provides control and peace.  If you are separated from God, you will face chaos alone in both the present world, but also in the following world.   

There are two parables in Matthew that related to workers in a vineyard.  The vineyard may have been analogous to the kingdom of heaven, which Jesus had been discussing in Matthew, including Chapter 20, verses 1-16, the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.  In this parable, a landowner agreed to pay a denarius to men who would work in his vineyard.  He would continually add workers as the day progressed, finally hiring workers for the eleventh hour of a twelve-hour workday.  He paid all the workers a denarius, even those who joined at the final hour.  The workers who started early in the morning were not happy because even though they received what they had been promised, the workers who worked for less than an hour got the same wages.  The landowner told them that he had the right to do what he wanted with his money and he wanted to reward the last man the same as the first.

There may be several interpretations, but the most logical is that all those who work to enter the kingdom of heaven will be considered equally, even those who convert at the eleventh hour.  If a murderer receives Jesus as his savior right before the fatal injection, he might still enter the kingdom of heaven.  The real test of Judgment Day is did the murderer truly confess his sins and turn his life over to God or was he just hedging his bets at the last minute?  Only God will know that.      

In Matthew Chapter 21, verses 28-32, the Parable of the Two Sons, a father asked his two sons to work in his vineyard.  The first son flatly stated that he would not, but after thinking about it, he changed his mind and worked for his dad in the vineyard.  The second son politely responded, “I will, sir.”  However, he walked away and did not do the work.  Jesus asked the people inside the Temple in Jerusalem, “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” 

They answered, “The first son.”  The chief priests and the elders condemned themselves by this answer since they were more like the second son, because they agreed to serve God, yet refused to have anything to do with Jesus.  Their actions betrayed their mouths.

In the military, we called it “Walking the walk.”  There were two primary types of soldiers:  (1) those whose actions showed the courage of their convictions, and (2) those who told a good story, but were nowhere to be seen when the actions started.  We called this “Talking the talk.”  Jesus seemed to be saying that the Scribes and the Pharisees were only “talking the talk,” but not “walking the walk.” 

As it turned out, Jesus was correct, because the elders forced the Romans to torture and crucify Him.  They proclaimed that they were devoted to God, but had the Son of God put to death.

There may be a second level in this parable.  Jesus may have been talking about two judgments.  The first judgment would be based on what you say or believe.  In this case, the second son, falling in the category of those who preach and attend church, would pass the first judgment as a believer in God.  However, the second test may be the final judgment, which is based on your acts that showed your true faith and beliefs.  In this case, the first son, representing those who originally were sinners, did what was right and obeyed God’s will after accepting Jesus as his savior.       

In effect, the first son did not initially have enough faith to enter the vineyard to do works.  But he had a change of heart and did good works in the kingdom.  The second son initially had the faith to enter the kingdom, but he never did good works.  As between the two, the son who actually did the works for God entered the kingdom ahead of the second son, who had no works.  Sinners, who initially renounced God but later decided to work for God, could enter heaven before preachers, who mouthed words without matching them with deeds.

The perfect son was Jesus, who answered his Father that he would obey and then acted accordingly, accepting lashings and crucifixion.  Jesus is our only role model, and we should try to be like Him in every way.  Jesus both talked the talk and walked the walk.

In Matthew 13:1-23, the first parable given by Jesus was the story of a farmer who scattered his seed on (1) a hard path, (2) a thin soil, (3) a thorny ground, (4) and a rich soil.  The birds ate the seed on the hard path, the plants died from lack of water in the shallow soil since there were no deep roots, the thorns chocked out the plants, but the good soil produced a great crop. 

Jesus instructed the disciples to study the parables because they contained the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, Matthew 13:11-13.  The disciples were instructed to question and study the parables in depth to better prepare for the kingdom. 

The traditional interpretation of the Parable of the Sower is that the seeds of wisdom about God’s kingdom can fall on a hardened heart, a shallow heart, a distracted heart, or a deep heart.  Those who would inherit the kingdom of heaven would have the deep heart.  The belief in God would allow the seed to germinate, so that only the hardened heart prevented germination.  The shallow and distracted hearts allowed the plant to grow through belief in God, but the plant withered and died because it did not have a strong faith.  Matthew 13:23 summed it up by saying that good soil is found in the “understanding” of God’s word.  In other words, ask questions.  What does the parable mean?  What was Jesus trying to say?

Another lesson of the Parable of the Sower may be that a farmer continues to sow his seed even though he knows that some of the seed will be wasted.  Jesus knew that his parables were falling on deaf ears and even the disciples did not fully understand, but He knew that His parables would be studied later and would serve as the keys to understanding the kingdom of God.  It was worth it since His word would be studied later in good soil.

Perhaps the most important parable about God’s judgment is found in Matthew 25:31-46, the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.  It talks about Jesus separating people like a shepherd separating the sheep from the goats with the sheep on the right and the goats on the left.  The basic test behind this judgment is “What did you do to make life better for others?”  And the evaluation is not based on how much money you gave or how many people you impacted, but is founded on selfless generosity and kindness to others.  As Jesus said, “… whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”  If your charitable acts are based on personal rewards, this will not earn many points with Jesus.  For example if you give to the poor because you expect this will be your ticket to heaven, you may be disappointed.

Matthew 25:46 discusses eternal punishment and eternal life.  It is important to think about our universe as being infinite with time going on forever and God’s world as being eternal where time does not exist.  In our closed universe, matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed.  God’s kingdom is outside our closed universe, where creation may occur.  Being trapped forever in our closed universe would lock you into a recycling nightmare.  God’s kingdom allows you to escape from this universe for perpetuity.  In Luke 21:33, Jesus said that both heaven and earth would pass away at the end of times.  He may have meant that the destinations of heaven and hell are both within our closed universe and will be left behind after the end of the Messianic Age.   

These musings are not meant to interpret the parables and the teachings of Jesus with any degree of certainty, because that may not be possible.  Our humanness will prevent a perfect understanding of Jesus.  However, by asking questions and by probing the parables and other parts of the Bible, we may stir up some thoughts from the depths of our minds that may help us understand and reach the kingdom.

God bless us one and all on our journeys to reach the kingdom.

Entitled to Heaven

America has become a nation of entitlements.  Americans are entitled to Social Security, welfare checks, food stamps, health care, Medicare, Medicaid, and, of course, Heaven.  Religion in America must offer entitlements or the congregation will shrink.  Religion must offer an entitlement to Heaven.  All you have to do is believe in God and Jesus, who died for your sins, and you get a free pass to Heaven.  It does not matter what you do after you receive Jesus as your savior; it is a gift from God not requiring any works on your part.

This is called justification, meaning that we are justified through our faith and we are reconciled with Jesus when we receive this gift of grace from God.  It cost Jesus everything, but cost us nothing other than believing in Him.  So what happens after justification?  Many ministers stop at this point because this is where Americans want to stop.  Christians receive a free ticket to Heaven without having to do anything other than saying they believe in God. 

However, there is much more to the story of faith.  If you truly believe in God and Jesus, you will follow the path of Jesus and avoid sinning.  This is called sanctification, which is rarely mentioned by ministers.  Sanctification is hard work.  It requires us to act on our belief in God by going out and doing good works.  And it requires us to fight our sinful nature constantly. 

The majority of Christians are happy with justification.  They console each other on Sunday that they can reach Heaven by just believing.  Since they do not reach Heaven through works or deeds, they can attend church one hour on Sunday and then sin from Sunday afternoon through next Sunday morning.  These Christians go back to church each Sunday, repent, and then start sinning all over again.  But they ignore the most important evidence of truly believing in God and that is avoiding sin and being like Jesus.

In Romans 6:5-7, when we believe in God, we are united with Jesus/God, leaving our bodies of sin behind so that we no longer are slaves to sin.  The Holy Spirit enters us and we become one with God.  It seems very clear that true believers do not believe in God only one hour per week and then repent their actions taken over the last six days and 23 hours.  True believers fight their sinful nature every second of every day with the power that the Spirit provides in a moral and ethical code that is embedded in our conscience.  When we unite with God, the Holy Spirit enters us and guides us.  If we do not follow that guidance, then we are not united with God and are not true believers.

Our actions to please God are the best evidence of our true belief in God.  Those Christians who seek a church for self-serving reasons and use it to wash away their weekly sins without making any effort towards self-discipline are no better than atheists.  They do not believe in God since they do not fight their demons on a daily basis.

Belief in God is your key to enter Heaven, but you are not entitled to the key.  You have to work to earn it.  Your works are the true justification of your belief.  There can be no justification without sanctification.  They are entwined so that you cannot have one without the other.      

Totalitarianism is the End Game

The older generation typically is unhappy with subsequent generations, labeling each one in succession as being more liberal than the last. When Elvis Presley came onto the music scene, the older generation thought that the younger generation had “gone to the dogs.” Of course, Elvis is an angel when compared with heavy metal musicians and today’s rappers. So should we dismiss the older generations as all being out of touch with the current reality? Or should we analyze this as an evolutionary process, where each follow-on generation has to go further to the left in order to shock the latest older generation?

As most civilizations develop, like democracy in America, it starts with Founding Fathers who are wrapped in a very radical cloth. These early Americans were willing to die for freedom from England, and branded this new country with a Bill of Rights that guaranteed these newfound freedoms. These revolutionary leaders were on the cutting edge of new-age thinking, and they went way outside the box to form a republican form of government.

As time marched on, conservatives took control of government, corporations, and the culture. Everything ran like clockwork with work and family life becoming a consistent daily activity. Any radical tendencies were suppressed by peer or societal pressures.

But as each day became like “Groundhog Day” with a certain degree of monotony, the younger generations started to rebel against the old guards. At this point, each generation became increasingly bold in an effort to distance itself from the prior generations. This was indeed an evolutionary process headed down the road to a more liberal destination. We can certainly recognize this, looking back over the last six decades. The traditional standards of politics, religions, movies, music, and family-lives have all been modified substantially.

So where does this trend toward liberalism end? Well, unfortunately, it ends with the death of that system. In our case, the democratic experiment will implode as liberalism is pushed to its socialistic extremes where you don’t have to work, you don’t have to study, and you don’t have to do anything in order to be entitled to live in America. Everything will be free… except suddenly your freedom will be gone. All your freedoms will evaporate into thin air, replaced by a repressive slavery imposed by a totalitarian government. And then you, now a slave, will have to do whatever the government tells you to avoid being sent to a death camp.

But it is truly an evolutionary process from a radical concept of freedom to a conservative style of living to a progressively liberal lifestyle and finally to slavery under a totalitarian rule. Even if you know it is coming, you probably cannot stop it from happening. But if we were smarter, we definitely could slow it down. But unfortunately, that is not the case.

Where Is the Social Security Trust Fund?

Do you know where your Social Security Trust Fund is located?  Where is the $2.6 trillion trust fund that has been collecting Social Security taxes for decades and is considered to be “untouchable” by Congress?  This question might be similar to the questions about where the Loch Ness Monster is hiding or where the Yeti is living?  Did the federal government place this trust fund in Area 51?  Where is it?

Well, it doesn’t exist or at least not in the typical way we expect to see trust funds invested.  If you and I were to start a savings or trust account, we would have cash and securities or something physical funding the account that we could touch and withdraw if we needed the savings.

The Social Security Trust Fund has no cash or securities.  This trust fund receives I.O.U.s from the federal Treasury, which takes the daily Social Security taxes and includes them in its general fund.  The “untouchable” Trust Fund is funded with “special-issue securities” from the Treasury, which are loans that the Treasury must repay.

In effect, the Social Security Trust Fund is a “fairy tale” account that not only is a fiction, but the $2.6 trillion dollar fund promised to the public was spent many years ago.  There is nothing left of this fund, but “smoke and mirrors” of the federal government.  Each year, Social Security has to obtain money from the Treasury in order to fund its cash-flow deficit.  If the Treasury does not provide the cash, there is no fund to cover this amount.

This makes a very interesting lie that the government has foisted on the public.  The government has told us for decades that the Social Security has a dedicated revenue stream and a separate “untouchable” trust account that should not be considered as part of our budget deficit.  The truth is that the Social Security funding should be part of the federal budget deceit and deficit.  It should be included in our federal budget deficit because it comes directly from the Treasury each year just like any other federal payments.  It is no different than any other non-funded Treasury expense.

America, Disposable Society in Land of Entitlements

I met a young man, who just started working in a furniture store.  He was amazed at how many Americans purchased new furniture to replace perfectly good old furniture.  They either sold the furniture, which in some cases was only two years old, or they declared it as a charitable contribution.  He also told me that he was on welfare for a year, but he took a job that paid less than his entitlements because he didn’t feel good about himself and he was getting bored.  This young man is the exception.  Most Americans are more than happy to take the money and make no legitimate effort to get a job, certainly not one that paid less.

So with one story, I have pretty well summarized what is wrong with America today.  We have become a disposable society in this land of entitlements.  Many years ago, Americans made their possessions last and if there were problems, they fixed them.  Today, if something goes bad, you just replace it.  And don’t worry about the costs because you are entitled to anything you want.

Unfortunately, this same philosophy carries through to marriages, jobs, and, in some cases, lives.  In other words, if you don’t like your life, you kill yourself.  But you don’t do it quietly at home.  You plan it out and kill as many others as you can before killing yourself, at least making a big name for yourself on your last day on earth.  If you don’t like other people’s lives, you kill them.  That’s how it’s done in all the blood-soaked video games that are branded in kids’ minds.  Killing is as common as breathing.  Just look at our recent history of mass murders in schools and movie theaters.

And our new culture tells us that we don’t have to work for anything anymore.  It will be given to you.  Expectations are out of control.  Everybody wants to be paid a large salary for doing nothing.  Everybody in America is entitled to a big house and car and new furniture.  The old belief that you had to work for these things is out the window.  Even religion has fallen into this pattern, so that you simply believe in Jesus and you are entitled to heaven.  You don’t have to do anything other than believe.  We’re entitled to anything and everything.  And the worst part of this philosophy is that if people don’t receive these entitlements, they become angry and may kill those who get in their way and block them.

We want to take action because we feel helpless.  So, we pass new gun laws.  So, we tighten security in schools.  But these are reactionary steps that will have little effect on what is happening in America.  So, what is happening in America?

America is changing.  It’s moving from an ethical, hard-working culture to an immoral, disposable society that believes it is entitled to anything and everything.  Is there any way to stop this?  Yes, but it has to be a proactive change at the source, not a reactionary modification downstream.

It all starts at your home.  Parents have to put aside their careers long enough to instill moral values in their children.  Children have not been encouraged to develop a strong work ethic or even common, basic ethics.  And parents have to lead by example.  Children are lost in today’s environment without any good role models, including their parents.  Yes, you can blame it on the poor education system in America, but first look in the mirror at home and see if you have failed your children.

So, let’s all look at the man in the mirror and start by changing his ways.