By Herb Samworth
In the study of the Bible we encounter verses that encourage us to examine ourselves. For example, Paul, when writing to the Corinthians, states that they were to examine themselves to determine if they were true Christians. (2 Corinthians 13:5) Why are these types of verses found in Scripture and what do they mean?
The Word of God takes very seriously the spiritual condition of men. Everything the Bible says is true. It states, without equivocation, that there is a heaven and a hell. Every person born on the earth is going to spend eternity either in one or the other.
Hell is the place of indescribable anguish and punishment. Jesus tells us that hell has been created for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). It is where unrepentant sinners will be condemned for all eternity. Human language is nearly incapable of describing its horrors. The Lord Jesus Himself has given us the most graphic description of its nature when He described it as a place where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. (Mark 9:48)
Heaven is the place where eternal joy will be unbroken. It is the dwelling place of God Himself. Those who spend eternity in heaven will never again experience pain or suffering. Sin will not enter heaven. Words fail in their ability to describe the blessings of heaven. Christians will experience unbroken fellowship with the Triune God and their fellow believers for all eternity. While one phrase cannot do adequate justice to the blessedness of heaven, John, writing in Revelation 21:4, says that God will wipe away all tears.
It is not the purpose of this paper to prove the reality of these places. The Bible states their existence and it is the final authority in all matters of faith and practice. Although many have denied the existence of heaven and hell, the Bible is the standard of truth. Because they are real places, it is of the utmost importance to know where one will spend eternity. This is the single most important question that a person will answer and it is the question that the Scriptures present to every person: where will you spend eternity?
Despite the gravity of the question, it is dismaying to note the indifference and carelessness that many people exhibit in reference to their eternity. If how people live is an indication of their beliefs, it must be concluded that the majority of them deny the existence of both heaven and hell. They live as though life on earth is the sum total of their existence. Life is lived to gain the maximum amount of pleasure and self-gratification for the present in almost complete disregard as to what takes place after life on earth is finished.
However, God, in His grace, has not left man without warning that life on earth is not the final chapter of his existence. God has demonstrated His love to sinful man by sending His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to provide a way by which man might receive the forgiveness of his sins and eternal life (Romans 5:8). It is a measure of his depravity that man often spurns or ignores the Gospel, God’s message of reconciliation.
THE MEANING OF THESE VERSES
Implicit in the Gospel itself is a note of solemnity regarding the importance of the person’s response to God’s offer of reconciliation. The gravity of man’s correct response is underscored by stating that man is already under condemnation because of his unbelief (John 3:18). The Gospel is the good news of how man may escape the consequences of his sins and receive a pardon for them. It is an offer of peace from a sovereign God Whose character has been maligned by the offenses of His creatures. What an act of condescending love is it that God has published abroad the good news of His mercy and grace! He offers His forgiveness freely and to all. However, man cannot spurn that offer and escape the consequences.
There is a marvelous illustration of God’s love for sinners found in Luke 13:34-35 where the Lord Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem. Jesus said that he longed to gather the people as a hen gathers her brood under her wings but they rejected him. What was the result of their rejection of the Lord? Their house was left desolate. What mournful words from the one who would have gladly received them but they refused to come.
But it is not only to the spurners of the Gospel that such verses are addressed. There are many who profess to believe the Gospel but are careless about their relationship with God. Often they base their hope of heaven on a decision they made as a child although there may be little or no fruit of the Spirit manifested in their lives. There are some who place their hope on baptism or church membership. Sadly many people become indigent when asked if their profession of faith in Christ is a true one. Tragically, they remained convinced that all is well with their soul although there may scant evidence that they have a vital relationship with Christ.
Such a self-complacent attitude can betray a woeful ignorance of Satan’s deceptive powers and man’s ability to fall prey to self-deception. Often the lives of such professors of Christianity do not support the claims they make. Recent polls, taken by acknowledged experts, have shown that there is no apparent difference between the life styles and attitudes of non-believers and those who profess to be Christians.
This underscores the importance for all professing Christians to have their assurance of salvation based on the Word of God. While the writer is convinced that the Scriptures teach that a true Christian cannot lose their salvation, he is equally convinced that the Scriptures admonish us that we can be deceived into thinking that we are Christian when we are not. The same Word of God assures us that a true Christian is kept by the power of God through faith unto a salvation to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:5).
It is for this reason that Peter wrote in his second epistle that we are to make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). Assurance of salvation is not a claim to infallibility or that one can know exhaustively his heart. For that reason the Psalmist prayed that the Lord would deliver him from secret sins (Psalm 19:12). However, it is a solemn reminder that the issues are of such paramount importance that one simply cannot afford to make a mistake about the relationship of their soul with God. A mistake of this magnitude is without remedy. It is not without reason that the Lord concludes His first sustained discourse, known as the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7, with the solemn warning that many would come to Him in the last day professing they had been true servants. He will say to them that He never knew them (Matthew 7:22, 23). What must it be when the Lord of glory, Who is now invites all men to come to Him, will say, “Depart from me, you who are workers of iniquity.”
One of the great Puritan writers, Thomas Watson, had to confess that the hardest task that he faced was to “make the wicked sad and the godly joyful.” The Scripture texts noted above have this purpose. Their purpose is to make the true Christian joyful in his relationship with the Lord. However, they are also intended to awaken the careless and indifferent regarding the state of their souls before the Lord.
Nothing in this article should be understood to mean that the writer desires to take away or weaken the assurance of any true believer in the Lord. Nor would he desire to judge another’s conscience. Romans 14:4 states a solemn warning against such practices. However, the question must be put directly to the reader. What is your relationship today with the Lord Jesus Christ? Is it the one taught in the Word of God that gives the assurance that you are a true child of His and will spend eternity with Him? Or is it possible, despite the claims that you make, and what you may believe about yourself, that this profession will not stand the sifting judgment that He will make over you?