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Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Separation from God

This week I'm taking a closer look at some of the things we say when presenting the Gospel to others. Yesterday it was “changed lives,” and today it's “separation from God.” Yesterday was about what happens if you trust Jesus; today is about what happens if you don't.

“Fire and brimstone” have fallen out of favor as ways of presenting the consequences of not being a Christian, of rejecting God's loving gift of His Son. (The most recent popular use of the word “brimstone” I remember is from Shrek, and it was in a much-diminished sense of the term.) Despite being in older translations of the Bible and having been a significant part of spiritual renewal in the past, few church leaders today mention, much less dwell on, the severity of God. We prefer His goodness instead. The Bible speaks of both “the goodness and severity of God” (Romans 11:22).

As heard from Bible-teaching, Gospel-preaching churches and pastors, the consequences of not trusting in Jesus are usually described as a person being “separated from God.” This is true: “your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you” (Isaiah 59:2). This is also not a complete or vivid description of the full eternal consequences of not trusting in Jesus as your Savior.

There is an important theological reason even the lost may not fully understand that can contribute to the ineffectiveness of this as a compelling evangelistic phrase: They're already separated from God now. When we trust in Jesus as our Savior, he breaks down “the middle wall of separation” (Ephesians 2:14) between us and God. That implies prior to salvation the wall of separation still stands. If people are already separated from God now, and they will be separate from God if they don't trust Jesus, then what difference does it make if they reject Jesus?

We, as believers, know that if one is truly and eternally separated from God for eternity, then they will be far worse off then than they are now. But they don't know that. We must explain that to them, and the only way to fully explain what true and eternal separation from God looks like is to describe it.

There are many descriptions of the wrath of God and its consequences in the Bible. The last one is among the clearest and most important:
They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:9-15).
Friends, it doesn't get any more serious or real or permanent than that.

Jesus said, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Again, “I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:5).

Of the lost, the Bible also says, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Psalm 36:1; Romans 3:18). Some Christians also reject fearing God, and with Scriptural reason, too: “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear” (Romans 8:15), and “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).

How do we thread this needle of fear or no fear for believers and non-believers? I think there is an answer; please watch carefully: The Scriptures tell of the righteous wrath of God so that believers, who now have no eternal judgment of God to fear, would be motivated to tell non-believers who still have the fearful wrath of God to face.

We know what eternal separation from God really means. That motivates us. We need to make sure we tell others about Jesus in a way that motivates them, too. There is nothing wrong with nearly literally scaring the hell out of people as long as Christ is preached (Philippians 1:18). Turning to God out of fear is not wrong. It's not even against His nature. He is severe, and He is so for a reason.

My concerns in yesterday's and today's post is that for some lost people in both cases, our evangelistic appeals point to nothing whatsoever that would be different between where they are now and where they would be if they trusted in Jesus as their Savior. Giving a clear Gospel presentation means we must make sure people see the eternal difference in the consequences for their soul in their decision to accept or reject Jesus as their Savior.

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