Are Non-Christians going to hell? It is a legitimate question to ask. Many religious people not belonging to the Christian faith are curious as to the Christian answer to this question.
The era of postmodernism saw with it a philosophy of relativism and pluralism. The idea that there are multiple truths. Specifically, where religion is concerned, there are multiple paths to salvation, all equally valid. So, we put the question to Dr. Tim Keller. How does an reformed, evangelical pastor answer the question of “What happens to non-Christians when they die?” He answers it well. Very well, in fact.
I’m a big fan of Tullian Tchividjian. Lately, he has been having an online discussion via his blog about the role of works in the Christian life. I have been enjoying his thoughts immensely and would like to share a portion here:
Passive righteousness tells us that God does not need our good works. Active righteousness tells us that our neighbor does. The aim and direction of good works are horizontal, not vertical.
So, on the horizontal plane–in creature to creature relationships (active righteousness)–I’m happy to talk about effort, action, working out our salvation, practicing Godliness, etc. But the two crucial things I try to remember are:
- It is the passive righteousness of faith that precedes and produces the active righteousness of love for others. Or, to put it another way, our active righteousness for others horizontally is the fruit of our passive righteousness from God vertically.
- Also, be aware of the fact that our hearts are like a “magnet” that is always drawing the horizontal (non-saving) plane towards the vertical–we are always burdening our love for others (which fulfills the law) with soteriological baggage. In other words, we see our good works as a way to keep things settled with God on the vertical plane instead of servicing our neighbor on the horizontal plane.
It is for these reasons that it is so important for us to exert effort to pray, read the Bible, sit under the preached Word, and partake of the sacraments. It’s in those places where God confronts our spiritual narcissism by reminding us that things between he and us are forever fixed. It’s at those “rendezvous points” where God reminds us that the debt has been paid, the ledger has been put away, and that everything we need, in Christ we already possess. This vertical declaration forever secures us and therefore sets us free to see the needs around us and work hard horizontally to meet those needs. Freed from the burden and bondage of attempting to use the law to establish our righteousness before God, Christians are free to look to “imperatives”, not as conditions that have to be met in order to get more of God’s love, but as descriptions and directions as they seek to serve their neighbor. The law, in other words, norms neighbor love–it shows us what to do and how to do it. Once a person is liberated from the natural delusion that keeping the rules makes us right with God, and in faith believes the counter-intuitive reality that being made righteous by God’s forgiving word precedes and produces loving action, then the justified person is unlocked to love–which is the fulfillment of the law.
The firestorm this has created has been unwarranted in my opinion. I think Tullian’s sentence summarizes and settles the issue: Freed from the burden and bondage of attempting to use the law to establish our righteousness before God, Christians are free to look to “imperatives”, not as conditions that have to be met in order to get more of God’s love, but as descriptions and directions as they seek to serve their neighbor. Surely we can all agree that good works do nothing to earn God’s favor or love, neither in justification nor sanctification? If not, than this discussion may need to continue to progress further and longer than many have anticipated.
Tim Keller offers great insight into the gospel. This is one of my favorite of his.
Most people seem to think that what it means that Jesus died for you and you go and ask for forgiveness is that “God now wipes off your past slate and your back now on probation, but now you better do a good job.” [rather] Jesus Christ has gone through the probation for us. He puts us beyond probation. Jesus Christ not only gives us forgiveness for our sins but has accomplished righteousness for us. He is not just the one who pays our penalty but is our advocate. He is the one who stands in for us. He is the archegos. It says that in Hebrews. He is our champion, He is the “author and finisher of our faith.” And you know what that word is “author” – archegos. That is in Hebrews 12:2. He is the one who accomplishes it for us.
How does that change your life? That is that last thing we will talk about and I will just tick it off.
Finally you can deal with your guilt. Finally!. Most people cannot deal with their guilt. The person who has got that voice nailing them down: “But I have done something wrong…” But you see God has not just given you forgiveness. People who think that is all that we get. The reason you can’t deal with your guilt is that you believe God is simply merciful. Well He is very merciful. It was mercy that brought forth the whole idea of Jesus dying on the cross and standing in for us but you must understand something else. That not only the mercy of God demands that He love and accept you and shower you with blessings and treat you as if you were His Son. And had done everything that Jesus had ever done, it is His justice that demands it too. Don’t you see the reason why Paul says “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”? Don’t you see why Paul will break in during that same chapter and say “who shall bring a charge against God’s elect.” See? ‘It is Christ who died yea rather that is risen again who is even at the right hand of the father. What shall separate us from the love of Christ?” See what is he doing at the end of chapter 8? He is going on and on that this is not just forgiveness. This is righteousness. God’s righteousness has come to us and it showers us and we are living in it. This is the end of the voice. You know, when the voice comes to us and says, “you call yourself a Christian. Look at what you have done.” And of course that great hymn:
Well may the accuser roar of sins that I have done
I know them all and thousands more and Jehovah knoweth none.
And if you don’t know the hymn, you have to be able to turn to the voice and say, ‘Jesus Christ is my advocate. Of course I have done these things. God knows that. But when he sees me he sees me in my advocate. I am lost in my advocate and all He sees is a beauty.” Do you know how to do that? If you say I am a Christian but I cannot deal with my guilt. If you say, I am a Christian but don’t feel worthy to go before God you don’t get this yet. Be here’s hope; keep reading about it. Keep thinking about it. Keep talking to somebody because when it dawns on you wait till you see.
But on the other had, what else does it bring you? Also it is the only way to deal with disappointment. I have come to the conclusion that most people get into despondency not over guilt necessarily but over the loss of a hope. Something in their life that is so important to them. Something in their life that is so valuable. Something in their life that means so much and you get despondent. You know why? Most of your deepest yearnings for success are actually efforts to be what only Christ should be for you. These things that you get so despondent when you lose they are your case, your arguments before God. They are the things that you look to and say, “see I am worthy” And when one of them falls through: This person doesn’t love me. This job has not worked out. Why are you so despondent? Because you don’t know the hiddeness.
Let me close with this. When Stephen, the great first martyr… you can read about him in Acts 6&7. When he was preaching and was brought into courts. And the religious authorities were upset that Christianity was spreading as it was. They looked at him and said we are going to execute you. Especially after he explained the gospel to them and told them they were wicked sinners. And it didn’t go over very well. You know the first part of the sermon tonight fortunately most of you probably will not try to execute me but some of you will probably be unhappy. In this case, Stephen was preaching to people who had the power to execute him so they did. And they took him out to stone him but just before they began to kill him God gave him something. He looked to the heavens and said “I see Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, standing at the right hand of God.” What did he see? He saw his advocate. And the thing that is so amazing is when on earth he was getting condemned – he was being called a loser, he was getting called a traitor, he was being called a cult leader and a liar. Everything he would want to claim. He would want popularity. He would want a good name. He would want success. He would want a good reputation. It was all being stripped away from him. What did he do in response? When he saw Jesus Christ as advocate standing up there, his face God radiant, it said. He says I see the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” In other words, to know that his advocate in Heaven, and his Father in Heaven loved him, commended him, acclaimed him and accepted him meant that all of the rejection and even an execution here on earth. – He got so excited he seemed to forget, if you read the text, that he was about to be executed – to the degree that you grasp the fact that you have an advocate with the Father you will be able to take criticism. This guy could take an execution. You will be able to take criticism. You will be able to take rejection. You will be able to take sin and guilt. You will be able to take the things that right now weigh you down. You will have the fullness of the Spirit to the degree that you grasp that when we sin we have one who speaks to the father in our defense: Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
You can find the original article in its entirety here.
How do seasons of revival come? One set of answers comes from Charles Finney, who turned revivals into a “science.” Finney insisted that any group could have a revival any time or place, as long as they applied the right methods in the right way. Finney’s distortions, I think, led to much of the weakness in modern evangelicalism today, as has been well argued by Michael Horton over the years. Especially under Finney’s influence, revivalism undermined the more traditional way of doing Christian formation. That traditional way of Christian growth was gradual – whole family catechetical instruction – and church-centric. Revivalism under Finney, however, shifted the emphasis to seasons of crisis. Preaching became less oriented to long-term teaching and more directed to stirring up the affections of the heart toward decision. Not surprisingly, these emphases demoted the importance of the church in general and of careful, sound doctrine and put all the weight on an individual’s personal, subjective experience. And this is one of the reasons (though not the only reason) that we have the highly individualistic, consumerist evangelicalism of today.
There has been a withering critique of revivalism going on now for twenty years within evangelical circles. Most of it is fair, but it often goes beyond the criticism of the technique-driven revivalism of Finney to insist that even Edwards and the Puritans were badly mistaken about how people should embrace and grow in Christ. In this limited space I can’t respond to that here other than to say I think that goes way too far. However, this critique trend explains why there is so much less enthusiasm for revival than when I was a young minister. It also explains why someone like D.M. Lloyd-Jones was so loathe to say that there was anything that we can do to bring about revivals (other than pray.) He knew that Finney-esque revivalism led to many spiritual pathologies.
Nevertheless, I think we can carefully talk about some factors that, when present, often become associated with revival by God’s blessing. My favorite book on this (highly recommended by Lloyd-Jones) is William B. Sprague’s Lectures on Revivals of Religion (1832). Sprague studied under both Timothy Dwight, Edwards’ grandson, at Yale and also Archibald Alexander at Princeton. The Princetonians – the Alexanders, Samuel Miller, and Charles Hodge – did a good job of combining the basics of revivalism with a healthy emphasis on doctrine and the importance of the church. Sprague’s lectures include a chapter on “General Means” for promoting revivals, and his chapters on counseling seekers and new converts are particularly helpful.
The primary means-of-revival that everyone agrees upon is extraordinary prayer. That’s the clearest of all and so I won’t spend time on it. The second means is a recovery of the grace-gospel. One of the main vehicles sparking the first awakening in Northampton, Massachusetts was Edwards’ two sermons on Romans 4:5, “Justification by Faith Alone,” in November, 1734. For both John Wesley and George Whitefield, the main leaders of the British Great Awakening, it was an understanding of salvation by grace rather than moral effort that touched off personal renewal and made them agents of revival. Lloyd-Jones taught that the gospel of justification could be lost at two levels. A church might simply become heterodox and lose the very belief in justification by faith alone. But just as deadly, it might keep the doctrine “on the shelf” as it were and not preach it publicly in such a way that connects to people’s hearts and lives.
To finish reading this article by Tim Keller click here.
In Galatians 5:6 Paul writes, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” In this context, Paul is speaking of the sinner’s justification, but his point is equally applicable to the believer’s sanctification. The gospel dispels any need for works to be declared justified. So too, in sanctification, the gospel dispels the need for works done apart from love in order to be sanctified. Rather, faith working through godly affections is the essence sanctification. Just as outward works can never justify, so too, outwards works performed apart from faith in the gospel producing godly affections can never sanctify.
In the book of 2 Thessalonians Paul writes to the church at Thessalonica to reassure them of the future of Christ’s return. The church was not to be lackadaisical in their spiritual growth. Through the gospel, they were to grow more into the image of Christ. Paul writes:
But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ
Sanctification is the process by which Christians become more holy. According to Paul, sanctification occurs through belief in the truth. The gospel is truth and the basis of sanctification. The gospel calls us to righteous living and empowers us to live it.
The apostle Peter writes:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Peter is clear; through Christ, believers have been granted access to the knowledge of God and his promises so that they might escape a life of sin and be fully equipped with everything that they need to live and walk in godliness.
Peter’s phrase “for this reason” in verse five is the transition from indicative to imperative. Because of what Christ has done, there is something that believers can do. Because of Christ’s accomplishment on the cross of making relationship with God possible, believers should “make every effort to supplement faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.” It all starts with faith.
Faith is the first thing mentioned in Peter’s list. Faith is the foundation on which the rest of the Christian life is built.
It is from faith that the rest of the qualities that Peter describes flow. Faith is what produces fruit. Since this is true, the inverse of this is also true. A lack of fruit is due to a lack of faith. Or as Peter puts it, a “forgetting.” When the believer forgets who he is and what Christ has done, he has forgotten his identity. “For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.”
It is through Christ that we have a knowledge of God. When we lack the fruit of the Spirit in our life, we are failing to live in the faith of that knowledge. We are living, instead, in a state of spiritual amnesia. The remedy is simple, to be reminded of and believe in the gospel; who Christ is, what he has done, and who we now are in him as a result of his work. It is by faith alone that we can produce fruit.
The result of faith in the gospel is love. Or as Peter calls it “brotherly affection, and . . . love.” Peter uses the Greek word φιλαδελφία. Most English Bibles translate this word as “brotherly affection” or “brotherly kindness” This phrase is important to the understanding of Peter’s original intent. The word φιλαδελφία carries with it a significant kind of affection; it is an affection for others that is expressed “in devoted attachment induced by that which delights.”
Peter calls believers to embrace the gospel by faith, and to let that faith which delights in the gospel be the motivation for serving one another. The service is to be done out of the delight of devotion, the joy of love. The heart of the believer must be fully engaged in the faith as well as the action.
Finally, Peter concludes, “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Only when faith is placed in the gospel can there be an affection for one another. When Christian understand and believe in what God has done in and through Christ on our behalf, the Christian is then enabled to love his neighbor and serve him out of a devotion and attachment that gives the one serving delight and joy. As this faith and love work together, their result and end product is spiritual fruit. When a Christian remembers the gospel and puts his faith in it, that faith produces brotherly affection, that brotherly affection enables the Christian to be effective and fruitful in serving others.
As faith and love increase, effectiveness in serving the kingdom of God increases. In contrast, it is impossible to be effective or fruitful in serving apart from faith and love. Faith and love are what make the believer effective and fruitful for Christian service. Faith demonstrated through love produces godly practice.
Substitutionary atonement satisfies God’s righteous requirement. Because all of the believer’s righteousness is met in Christ, there are practical implications that flow from this. The gospel declares us righteous and allows us to experience that righteousness. John Ensor writes:
The punishment that Christ bore on our behalf – a complete punishment for all our sins and a just punishment for each of them – cleared the way for the free flow of God’s mercy. In terms of our human experience, putting our faith in Christ and his Great Work on the cross means that we experience this mercy as a lean conscience and a bold, expectant confidence in drawing near to God. That too is part of the Great Work. The cross and our trust in the cross are akin to a gate being opened and a gate being entered. . . . Christ is our righteousness. He makes us blameless and above reproach. Agreeing with this means having our consciences satisfied in the work of the cross in the same way that God is satisfied – completely.
The gate of heaven opening and the Christian passing through it is the cross trusted and experienced. By faith, the joys and love of heaven can be experienced, however in completely or imperfectly, they can be experienced. Such faith in the gospel producing experiences of heavenly joy and love result in godly practice, such is the role of the gospel is sanctification.
In Luke 7, Jesus tells the following story:
A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.
Jesus uses this story to teach a lesson to a Pharisee named Simon. Jesus’ point was simple, those who have been forgiven much, love much.
When Christians understand and believe by faith the severity of their sin, repent, and trust the gospel, the result is love. The gospel produces love. Faith in the gospel produces love for God in the heart of the believer. In his first epistle, Peter mentions this outworking of the gospel. He states,
“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.” Peter uses a parallelistic style to communicate the truth of the relationship between faith in the gospel and love. The believer cannot see Christ, but he loves him. The Christian cannot see Christ now, but he trusts him, and that trust in the unseen Christ causes the heart of the believer to “rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.”
Just a few verses later Peter continues, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again.” Again, Peter argues that the brother love of the Christian that produces obedience comes from the gospel. Remembering the gospel gives the Christian a pure heart for producing godly actions.
In 1 John 4:19, John writes, “We love because he first loved us.” John’s statement could not be plainer. Our love for God and others is the direct result of God’s love for us. Our love for God and others is a response to His love for us. According to John, the gospel, which says that Christ loved us first, is the source of the believer’s love for God and others. Our strong godly affections of love drive our intense godly actions. Believing the gospel, seeing by faith the cross of Christ and the love demonstrated their for us, is the motivation and power to love God. Faith in the gospel produces godly affection, and godly affection produces godly actions.