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Why Would God Send Anyone to Hell?

This is one of those questions that tends to come up a lot in conversations with people in the community around me, even amongst professing Christians. When it is raised, it is not typically meant as an exegetical argument that challenges the Christian doctrine of justice, but it is a question that comes from a more emotional level. The reasoning looks something like this. “I don’t think that I could condemn anyone to Hell and God is more merciful than I am, thus he must not send people to hell.”

In my late teens and early twenties, I went through a number of years of rebellion against the church and the things that the church taught. During those years I never became an atheist per say, but I became a universalist based on the above idea. I used to say, “God is love and he is the perfection of love; hence, he must love even those whom I cannot find it in myself to love and surely love would not condemn someone to hell.” I used to tell people that I did believe that a hell existed, but I considered it vacant. 

There error in this line of thinking is two-fold. First, it demands that God define norms and actions on the basis of my preferences and standards. Because I could not condemn someone to eternal fire, then God must also not be able to do so. Secondly, it ignores the idea of justice, magnifying one attribute of God over and above all other attributes. In theological terms, God is “Simple,” meaning that not one aspect or attribute of God can be understood outside of the context of all the others — he is indivisible and perfectly consistent in himself.

The thing with justice is that it demands that punishment be given that is suitable to the crime that was committed. In addition, wherever possible, justice also demands that restitution is made. The example that I often give is that if I were to steal something from you, it is not good enough that I be punished for the theft, but you also want your things back (or appropriate compensation so you can repurchase that which was taken). And Biblically, were we to follow God’s established laws for Israel, restitution ought to be greater than the actual value of what was taken, depending on how important that thing happened to be. This greater restitution is designed both as a deterrent for those considering said theft and it is meant as a way of ameliorating the hardships caused by the theft.

And this has to do with theft. What of a more heinous crime like rape or murder? Certainly the punishment must be suitable to the crime. And, while no amount of money could ever atone for a crime like this, it would not be unreasonable to demand a certain degree of restitution from the criminal to compensate the family for medical bills, funeral expenses, etc… Further, a judge that decided to be merciful to a rapist or a murderer out of his or her love for the criminal, would be considered unjust and corrupt. He would be, in fact, promoting that which he should be punishing.

And now, we multiply. You see, all sin that is committed, is not only committed against others, but it is committed against God himself. And, as God is infinitely greater than man, the sin is infinitely more severe. Further, not only must sin be punished to see that justice is satisfied, but restitution must be made for justice to be fully done. Yet, how can man make restitution to God? Indeed, a perfect sacrifice had to be made in addition to the wrath of God being poured out in proper judgment over sin. And since you and I cannot make either the sacrifice nor endure the wrath of God, that is why Hell is our only proper and just punishment.

Does that mean that God is not merciful? That, of course, is the question that the Heidelberg Catechism poses on Day 4 (Question 11). The answer, of course, is to assure us that God’s mercy does not contradict his justice, that both are intertwined in and inseparable from the person of the God we serve. And so justice is served but mercy is shown through the suffering and death of his Son, who was sinless and could thus make a perfect sacrifice (restitution) and could suffer the weight of God’s wrath for all of God’s elect. Mercy, then, is seen in the giving of Christ for all who confess with their lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in their hearts that God raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9). Justice melted out on the Son on behalf of those God has chosen since before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) means that mercy can be given to that same body of people.

And, what of those for whom Christ did not die? Justice must still be served and Hell awaits all who are outside of the body of Christ. Interestingly enough, even in this context, God gives a degree of mercy even to those who are reprobate and headed for punishment in Hell. How so? They have a life here on earth marked by many good things — friends, the joy of holding a child in your arms, the love of family, the simple joys of good music and good food. It is a small consolation, indeed, for eternity in Hell; nevertheless, even to those outside of God’s saving grace, God’s mercies can be seen (or at least ought to be seen). 

Mercy and Justice

These two ideas are not normally thought of as going together very well. Justice demands that the full measure of punishment of the law be meted out in punishment for a crime committed. But justice is not simply limited to satisfying the law. Justice includes the need for restitution to be measured out to the one offended by the crime and justice needs to be exercised in such a way that it is a preventative measure in the larger society — that others, who might be considering said crimes of their own, would be turned back to walk on the straight and narrow path.

On the other hand, mercy is usually thought of as one being pardoned from either part or all of the demands of the law. The dictionary ordinarily defines mercy in terms of leniency, forgiveness, and clemency. If we are the accused, we usually think of mercy in terms of a reduced or forgiven judgment.

The funny thing has to do with the balance between them. A good and honorable judge is one that sees that the law is satisfied and obeyed. Yet, if he always punishes crime to the fullest extent of the law, without showing any mercy, he is considered ruthless and domineering. On the other hand, if a judge is always showing mercy, we consider him lax and maybe even corrupt and call for his resignation.

A middle ground can be reached in the American society because the law permits for a range in the sentencing. That way a first offender can be charged differently than a repeat offender and so that the judge may take into account the sincerity of an offender’s repentance. And so, the balance is struck and judges are held accountable by the voters in many cases.

The problem, though, when you take this idea and extend it from human experience to eternal things is that God, as judge, is not dealing with first-time offenders. We have been sinning since the day we were born — indeed, even since the day we were conceived! Further, God is not dealing with those who are likely not to sin again. We are repeat sinners and habitual sinners who will struggle with sin all of the days of our earthly life. And, God is not dealing with those who only pose a slight threat to society — our sin offends others and tempts others into sin themselves. And, even further than that, God is also dealing with those who have inherited the guilt of their first-parents’ sin. The only righteous punishment is infinite and eternal damnation in the fires of Hell. There is no range in sentencing possible.

So here, it would seem that with respect to the children of Adam, that God (as Judge) has his hands tied. Mercy cannot be accomplished simply as a matter of appealing to a range of sentencing possible within the law. Mercy becomes incompatible with justice.

Yet, is God not a merciful God? Indeed, scripture tells us that he chooses to have mercy on some (Exodus 33:19; Romans 9:15). Yet, how does God maintain his justice? The just punishment of the law must get meted out on a suitable representative for those to whom God has chosen to show mercy. Indeed, he pours it out on his Son, Jesus Christ. Question 11 of the Heidelberg catechism forms the bridge between the woeful state of our fallen souls and the redeeming work accomplished by Christ — the way that God fulfills both the demands of the Law and his choice to show mercy to some — more specifically to those whom he has elected in Christ from the foundations of the World (Ephesians 1:4-5).

Jael’s Covering

“And Jael went out to call to Sisera, and she said to him, ‘Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me! Do not be afraid.’ And he turned aside toward her tent and she covered him with a curtain.”

(Judges 4:18)

It is clear from the context that Jael is seeking Sisera out. God has ordained his defeat at the hands of a woman and here we begin to see it unfold. One may be tempted to ask, how is she justified in murdering Sisera in cold blood? Doesn’t the Sixth Commandment prohibit such action? Indeed, the Sixth Commandment does prohibit murder, but here we are in a time of war and Jael is simply acting as a combatant, bringing the escaped enemy commander to justice.

Sisera, of course, assumes that Jael’s invitation is friendly…his master does indeed have a pact with her husband…yet, Jael lives up to her name (which means, “Yahweh is On High” — note that “jael” can also refer to an ibex or a mountain goat, which may seem odd at first, but when you recognize the stubborn determination of a mountain goat, again, you see how significant her name is to what she has been called to do) and what follows is her plan to put this wicked man to death.

There is some discussion as to exactly what the term, hDkyImVv (semiykah), means. Some suggest that it refers to a mat or a carpet that might have covered the floor of the tent, others refer to it as a curtain that would have separated the male and female quarters in the tent, which indeed, would be an ironic use of the curtain, which would then have maintained the separation between Jael and Sisera. In modern Hebrew, the term refers to a blanket, which again fits the context, we just do not know for sure. What we do know is that Jael covered him up in a way that would not have been overtly obvious to a casual passerby and went forward with her plan to capture and kill this evil man.

The notion of covering, in the Old Testament, is also often tied to that of atonement. This, I believe, becomes more prominent in Deborah’s song in the next chapter, so we will leave it for then, apart from stating that there is symbolism in recognizing that atonement comes through the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22). The problem is that none of us can atone for our own sins as we are wicked and rebellious to the core (Romans 3:10; Micah 6:7; Isaiah 47:11). The wicked do not understand that, but we to whom the revelation of God has come not only know, but know the one who can and did make atonement for the sins of his people: Jesus Christ.

Justice Being Served

“And while they ridiculed him, they took off the cloak and put his own clothes on him and took him to crucify him.”

(Matthew 27:31)


“And while they ridiculed him, they took off the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him and took him out in order to crucify him.”

(Mark 15:20)


“Then they entrusted him to them that he might be crucified. Therefore they took Jesus.”

(John 19:16)


Thus we arrive at the end of a section; what follows will be the crucifixion and the death of our great and glorious Lord. All that will take place follows directly from this wicked trial. Justice is being served…yes, you read this right, but not in the way that you probably think. Justice is being served not in Jesus’ case and not because of this wicked trial, but because God is bringing us to justice but is substituting his Son in our place. The wrath we deserve will be meted out on the cross — that is justice. God’s Son, though, is on the cross in our place — that is grace.

What strikes me as this section wraps up and as we anticipate the following sections of the Gospel accounts, is how little description that the Gospel writers give on the physical events of the crucifixion…even the events here that speak of Jesus having been whipped and mocked and beaten. Very little physical detail is being given.

Now, granted, the physical event must have been horrifying, but it as if the Gospel writers don’t want us dwelling there…instead they want us dwelling on the innocent man who is making atonement for us as our Great High Priest. They want us to focus on the completed work of the cross and the guilt of all of us who sent Jesus to the cross. As horrid as the event on the cross was, this substitution should be even more scandalous to us…and even more wonderful at the same time. Our guilt being paid for…justice being served, just on the head of another.

Yet, if this is the case, why is it that those who produce films and books about this event spend so much time emphasizing the gore of the cross and so little time emphasizing the wrath of God being poured out or the atonement that is being worked. Perhaps could it be that we “moderns” have become so desensitized to gore that we need to be shocked? Could it be that we moderns have become so desensitized to our own sin that the substitutionary atonement of Christ no longer shocks us? Could it be that the film producers simply want to tell a story and don’t want to offer (or don’t understand themselves) truth? Whatever the reason, in communicating the truth of this event, should we not endeavor to place emphasis where the Scriptures place emphasis and tread lightly where the Scriptures also tread lightly?

Thus, as we close this section, Jesus was entrusted to the Roman soldiers and they took him to crucify him that on the cross of Calvary he might bear the wrath of his Holy Father and pay the penalty for my sins…every single one…that I might be made clean and whole…and not just for me, but for all of the elect through the ages. What a wondrous Savior we have…how can our response be to do anything but worship?

Injustice Done

“But he said, ‘What evil has he done?’ But they screamed with more intensity, saying, “He should be crucified!’”

(Matthew 27:23)


“Pilate said to them, ‘What evil has he done?’ But they screamed with more intensity, saying, ‘Crucify him!’”

(Mark 15:14)


“And for the third time he said to them, ‘What evil has this man done? I find no grounds in him for death, therefore after punishing him I will release him.’ But they pressed him with loud voices demanding that he be crucified. And their voices prevailed.”

(Luke 23:22-23)


Luke has an interesting way of relating what is taking place. The language he uses is in essence military and the picture that is being portrayed is that of a battle where the voices of the people have gone to war against Jesus and even against Pilate. Pilate raises his voice in opposition, appealing to the principle of justice. The people raise their voices and press him with them, almost like an army pushing back in hand to hand combat, and their murderous cries push back against Pilate, forcing him into submission.

Pilate is no hero and his motivations to appeal to justice are anything but noble. But like wisdom crying out in the streets in Proverbs, so too is Justice crying out in the streets of Jerusalem — and like their choosing to ignore Wisdom, they also choose to ignore Justice — one of those things that their God demands of them. Of course, like Pilate, when it comes to the pressure that others place upon us, how often we too ignore justice.

And here, the greatest of injustices is being done. He who had no sin is being condemned for the sins of the wicked…not just the wicked in his own day all of those years ago…but the wicked through the ages — your wickedness and mine as well. And he will go to the cross to bear the punishment for our sins. That is injustice, though a blessed injustice it is. Because of this injustice that is being done, in God’s design, we are given life and hope and reconciliation with God. What could be more blessed than that, yet it ought to cause our heart to grieve to see our Lord undergo this for us. May we indeed lay down our lives for him who first laid his life down for us.

Hills to Die On

“Pilate said to them, ‘Then what am I to do with Jesus whom is called Christ?’ And they all said, ‘He shall be crucified!’”

(Matthew 27:22)


“And then Pilate again asked them saying, ‘What then do you wish for me to do with the one called King of the Jews?’ But they again shouted angrily: ‘Crucify him!’”

(Mark 15:12-13)


“Yet again Pilate called out to them, wishing to release Jesus. But they were shouting, saying: “Crucify! Crucify Him!’”

(Luke 23:20-21)


Perhaps we have simply heard these words too many times that we often miss the sheer horror of what is taking place. Here is an angry crowd — a mob really — crying out for the death of an innocent man. Luke describes them as shouting, Mark uses the term kra/zw (kradzo), which means to shout angrily or vehemently with ill intent. Even the repetition that Luke is recording just drives home the point even further about this angry mob. These people are out for blood and there is no way that Pilate does not see that as well. At this stage, justice is giving way to preserving control of the situation.

We do find a peek into the mindset of Pilate in these verses, though. Luke records that Pilate was intentionally seeking to find a way to release Jesus. What we will find in the verses that follow is that Pilate even goes as far as to protest Jesus’ innocence — not something we might expect from a Roman official, but indeed Pilate is no dummy nor is he a puppet of the Jews as some have portrayed him. He recognizes the innocence of Jesus, his wife has already warned him not to have anything to do with this man, and Pilate also realizes that most of this is taking place because of the jealousy of the Jewish officials. Yet, he is being pressed hard.

It strikes me as interesting that we often falter when it comes to such pressures as well. True, most of us don’t have to face tribunals like this, but how often we falter when pressed from various sides and sacrifice truth, justice, and righteousness, for an “out” from whatever it is that we happen to be facing. We compromise and what we fail to remember is that one compromise always begets another until we find ourselves losing the battle for which we once hoped to stand.

Beloved, we are fallen and frail and apart from the work of God in us there is nothing good that can come from us. Yet, let us find hills that we are willing to die on and let us make those hills Truth, Justice, and Righteousness. Let that hill to die on be the call of Christ for he indeed commands us to take up our cross and follow him.

Let Justice Flow

“Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the High Priest.”

(John 18:24)


We have already discussed the relationship between Annas and Caiaphas as to how both are referred to as the High Priest and how this short exchange formed a kind of initial interview in the shadows of the evening prior to the official trial by Caiaphas. Most likely, it was Annas who had the pull to bring out the Temple Guard to make this arrest and it is most likely that Annas wanted to satisfy his own curiosity in this case. The interview does not produce much other than indignation on the part of Jesus and the interview is cut short and Jesus is sent to Caiaphas for the trial.

It is interesting that probably one of the most significant activities that God calls his people to perform is the one thing that is entirely devoid of this evening. God calls us to pursue justice (Genesis 18:19; Exodus 23:6; Deuteronomy 16:19; Micah 6:8, etc…). Justice is the ensuring that people are treated with righteousness according to God’s will. It is the heart behind the commandment in Leviticus 19:18 that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Justice means that truth is upheld and wickedness is exposed for what it is — that righteous activities are rewarded and sin is punished. And this evening, no justice takes place.

Then again, in the divine plan, were this evening about justice in its purest sense, we would all be condemned. Jesus endures the injustice of men here so that he may bear the justice of God on the cross on behalf of unjust men — that means you and me. Folks, that simple reality ought to stagger us and drive us to our knees in repentance, thanksgiving, and praise. How interesting it is that God chooses to use such ways to show us such grace.

There is something else that follows that needs to be before our eyes, and that is the change that this grace of God works on us as we live our our life in this unjust world. Will we seek justice? Will we seek to act with grace to those who act unjustly toward us? Will we seek to bring justice to the lives of those who cannot speak for themselves? Millions of babies have been aborted in America and the church has often remained quite silent. Will you be a voice for those babies who are being treated so unjustly? The poor and homeless are often shunned by the church as not fitting into “the mold” that the church is looking for and their voices are often marginalized by city governments that don’t really want to wrestle with the question of abject poverty. Will you be a voice for those who society has sought to silence? Mental Illness is widespread in our culture but few seem to want to address it and learn how to minister to those in our midst that need such care. Again, will you be their voice and advocate? Children with severe disabilities are often denied the kinds of therapy that are needed to help them live a productive life and their families are worn thin with the battles against the system. Will you be their advocate? Justice demands that we be the voice for those who cannot speak for themselves and to ensure that righteousness is advanced and the wicked are punished. And God commands of us that we work justice. Will you be obedient to that command, or will you, like Annas, use Jesus to satisfy your own curiosity and allow justice to be perverted to preserve your own status, comfort, and influence?

“Let justice flow out like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing torrent.”

(Amos 5:24)


Come and See the Deeds of Yahweh!

“Come and see the deeds of Yahweh;

How he has brought destruction upon the earth.

He causes wars to cease unto their end;

The earth and bow are shattered;

And the spear is smashed to bits.

The wagons he burns with fire.”

(Psalm 46:9-10 {verses 8-9 in English translations})


Come and see the deeds of Yahweh! Indeed, the psalmist calls to us to witness the power and the might of our Lord. Usually, when you hear this kind of language, the images that come to mind are images of grace and mercy given to the undeserving, yet that is not the direction that the psalmist takes as he challenges us to come and see. Instead, he speaks of the destruction brought by God’s judgment. The word he uses here is hDÚmAv (shammah), which is a term that is always used to refer to the destruction that follows judgment. Sometimes this word is rendered as “atrocities” to give it more force from the perspective of those under said judgment.

And indeed, God’s wrath is horrific for those under his judgment. Think about those who perished in the flood of Noah’s day or in the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah. Think of the plagues that God set upon the Egyptians and even the judgments against those like Korah who rebelled in the wilderness wanderings. In the Israelite entrance into the Promised Land, God commanded entire cities be put to the ban; bringing death to every living thing that dwelled within the city. And then in God’s own judgment poured out against his Son, Jesus, when he was on the cross of Calvary. Indeed, these are horrific events, but events with a purpose.

Often Christians shy away from the language of God’s wrath, but in doing so, they leech the Gospel of its power. If we do not have a clear-eyed-view of what it is that we are being saved from, we will not appreciate the salvation that is extended. James says that the demons tremble at the name of God (James 2:19); unbelieving men and believing men alike rarely give God’s wrath a second thought. Why this contrast? It is because the demons know the justice of God is poured out in wrath and that they are bound to receive it in full; men have deceived themselves into thinking that God is little more than a senile grandfather who dotes on his grandchildren. What a rude awakening many will receive.

So what is the purpose of such events? On one level they are meant as a warning to us to drive us to our knees in repentance. In addition, they are a reminder that God is a just God who will not allow sin to go unpunished. Sometimes, when we look at judgment, we may be tempted to cry out as children so often do, “not fair!” Yet, were we to really grasp the magnitude of our own sin we would be forced to concede that God indeed is fairness defined. It is only through and because of the work of Christ that we have any reason to hope for an escape from judgment because he took our judgment upon himself.

Indeed, come and see the justice of our God! To you who believe, know that in our God we have a strong refuge but to you who stand firmly in your own arrogance and pride; beware, for the judgment of God is horrific indeed. Hell is a place where the fires burn and are never quenched, where the worms consume and never go away, where we are eternally in the process of being torn down and are separated from anything that is good. Such is the just punishment for our sins against a Holy and Righteous God. Praise be to God for the redemption that is given in Jesus!

Rockets Downrange for Jesus

Last week I saw this statement on a window sticker. Now, I live and work in a military community, so, it is not unusual to see slogans like this on bumpers and windows, but this one struck me as curious. At first, my “hawkish” gut reaction was to say, “Yes! Do all things for the glory of God, including blowing up bad guys!” I also thought about all of the imprecatory psalms and their outright call for the destruction of the enemies of God, and thought that this slogan was remarkably consistent with God’s call to the Israelites to lay to waste all of the cities of Canaan and the other enemies who flaunted their power against the people of God.

Then, I reflected on Christ’s command that we love our enemies and the irony of this statement really struck me. How is it that those who profess Jesus as Lord and Savior can celebrate the destruction of others? Mind you, I am not a pacifist by any stretch of the imagination and I do not believe that God is a pacifist. Jesus made a whip and chased people out of the Temple courts; God is referred to as the Lord of Armies 240 times in the Old Testament and twice in the New Testament writings; and Jesus is depicted returning on a white stallion wielding a great sword to destroy his enemies in the final battle (Revelation 19:11-16). In addition, one of the promises that Christ gives to the faithful church is that we will join him in crushing his enemies (Revelation 2:26-27). There can be no arguing that the God of the Bible is not a God of warfare when it comes to dealing with his enemies.

At the same time, God calls us as believers to be ambassadors of peace. Also, it is impossible to share the gospel with a dead man. Christians, of course, have wrestled with the question of whether they can serve in the Armed Forces for nearly two-thousand years; I am not sure that I add anything original to the conversation. Yet, what do we do with this seeming contradiction. To begin with, God has given the government the power of the sword to punish those who would do evil. Certainly this applies to wicked nations as well as to wicked men. Similarly, we do want godly men and women to serve in the military—we are to be salt in every area of life. Thus, that opens the door to the Christian serving in the Armed Forces. In addition, the Bible does present an argument for righteous anger to be expressed without sin (Ephesians 4:26) as well as a command that God expects believers to work justice in the world around us (Hosea 12:6; Micah 6:8). While working justice in a fallen world can sometimes be worked through diplomacy, often it requires force…and rockets shot downrange.

Which brings us back to where we began. As Christians we hold to what we call a Doctrine of Vocation. Essentially that means that whatever your profession happens to be, from the pastor to the soldier to the mechanic to the lawyer to the politician and to the trash collector, you have been called by God to serve in that profession and thus should do so to the best of your ability and to the glory of God. In short, that means, if your job as a soldier is to send rockets downrange to blow up things, then you ought to do so to the best of your ability and give glory to God in the process. Indeed, Rockets Downrange for Jesus is a sign that a soldier understands that all the things we do is to be done to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Sadly, in a fallen world, such rockets are sometimes necessary, may they be shot well.

One final note…there is a better solution than rockets when it comes to the wickedness of man in the world around us…and that better solution is the Gospel of Jesus Christ lived out in Truth and in Love. But until that day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, there will be evil men and evil governments that civil authorities will be forced to contend with, and like the soldier, it is expected that they, too, do so to the glory of God on High.



A Christian Hierarchy of Values

The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, argued that there was a hierarchy of values in terms of what was worthwhile for individuals and society to pursue.  For Aristotle, the highest value was the knowledge of truth for its own sake.  Of course, Aristotle was an Empiricist, which means that his real interest in “Truth” has to do with what one can observe with one’s senses or through the use of observational tools.  Some might be tempted to simply label this, “science,” but such a label would shortchange both science and Aristotle’s view.  Much of science is based on the use of reason built upon basic presuppositions and Aristotle recognized that observation could be applied to things outside of the realm of what we would typically classify as science (metaphysics, for example).

Aristotle’s second value was the discovery of practical knowledge—what Christians and Jews typically refer to as wisdom.  This is the kind of knowledge that can guide one to live a life well and skillfully.  For Aristotle, this was exemplified in the Four Cardinal Virtues of Greek thought: Justice, Wisdom, Courage, and Moderation.  Finally, the value at the bottom of Aristotle’s list was that of learning to be skilled in Technique—what we would refer to as technical or vocational skills.  These are the skills by which one would earn a trade.

I began to reflect on these ideas for two reasons.  First, I heard a contemporary philosopher argue that our modern culture has turned Aristotle’s hierarchy upside down—that those who our society values the most (based on their paychecks) are those who demonstrate a high degree of skill in technique and those who are valued the least are those whose life is dedicated to the pursuit of truth for truth’s sake.  Thus we live in a society where professional athletes, popular musicians and actors, and skillful doctors (again, technique with the surgical instruments) are the wealthiest class and preachers, teachers, and philosophers make up one of the poorest classes in society.  The second reason that I began reflecting on this idea is because I happened to be teaching on Augustine’s approach to the Four Cardinal Virtues of the Greeks.  Ultimately, Augustine affirmed these virtues as Christian virtues, but only when they were joined by faith, hope, and love—especially love.

Thus, I began asking the question, if I had to construct a hierarchy of values for the Christian life, how do I think that they would be reflected in the Christian life.  One might be tempted to begin, as Aristotle begins, with a knowledge of truth for its own sake.  Jesus said that his purpose in coming to dwell with men was to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37).  God, of course, is the God of truth (Isaiah 65:16) and those who reject God suppress the truth (Romans 1:18).  In addition, those who have no knowledge of God (as truth resides in God) destroy themselves (1 Corinthians 1:34).  Also, the implication of scripture is that it is the knowledge of God that allows his people to be faithful (Hosea 6:6) and when there is no faithfulness in the land, it is joined by a lack of the knowledge of God (Hosea 4:1).

Yet, it seems to me that a higher virtue sets the stage for the knowledge of the Lord.  When Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the very Son of God, Jesus’ response is not to congratulate him on that knowledge, saying it was the highest virtue, but Jesus instead said, “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah” for this knowledge came from “my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17).  There are two things that need to be brought out from this verse in light of understanding Christian virtue.  First of all, the source of the knowledge of God is God himself, not something gained through a human pursuit—and if something has a source, or a precursor, it ought not be seen as the “highest” virtue.  Secondly, Jesus does not say, “virtuous are you,” but he says, “blessed are you.”  The Greek word for virtue, ajreth/ (arête), refers to one’s moral excellence or other attributes that make one praiseworthy.  Yet, blessedness, maka/rioß (makarios), has to do with one’s internal state as a result of their relationship to God.  Thus, Jesus can say, “blessed are you when you are persecuted for my name’s sake…”  Similarly, Peter’s blessedness does not come from anything he has done, but because of what has been done to him.

Now, we may be tempted to engage in a discussion of regeneration, but since the purpose of a hierarchy of virtue is to give us something of merit to pursue, such a discussion does not seem to have a place here as regeneration is something that God does in us which in turn precipitates a response of faith and repentance in the believer.  Our temptation, too, might be to jump immediately to the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and to Peter’s instructions on how to build up our faith (2 Peter 5-7), but again, these seem to have their source in a virtue that is more primary.

And that brings us to the question, what then does the Bible present as primary?  The logical answer seems to be that the highest virtue is the fear of the Lord.  We are told in scripture that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of both wisdom (Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 9:10) and knowledge (Proverbs 1:7).  The fear of the Lord gives life and health not only to the individual believer, but it is also a sign of a healthy church (Acts 9:31).  And then, out of the fear of the Lord proceeds the pursuit of the other Christian virtues.

Strong Horses: Zechariah 6:1-8

“When the strong horses came out, they were impatient to go and patrol the earth.” 

-Zechariah 6: 7a, ESV


How impatient are the angels of God that have been ordained to extend Justice to the world and how great is God’s grace, even toward unbelievers, in staying their hand until His time is at hand.  And the impatience of the angels is not a sign of their weakness.  They are responding properly and correctly to the way we as a people have abused and misused the very name of God.  Swift justice is deserved upon mankind, yet God’s long-suffering patience is such that he would endure the abuse of man so that the full number of elect will be brought into the kingdom.  What amazing grace we have received!

In Zechariah’s day, the angels were permitted partial success, and God is yet restraining their destructive work.  How the judgments pile on the head of unbelievers.  Not only do they live in rebellion to the true and righteous law of God, but they interpret the staying of God’s hand as more time granted for them to revel in their wickedness.  They squander their time rather than repent of their ways.

Yet, we in the church have also been guilty of being lax in proclaiming God’s message of grace and judgment to the culture around us.  Think about it, Scripture remembers Noah the carpenter as a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2).  He had no pulpit and no congregation of thousands that came to hear him preach.  He simply had his faithful lifestyle and the testimony of the ark which he built.  His evangelism was successful toward his family, and there is also much to be said for that.  How often we are willing to compromise the truth of the gospel in order to be liked.  The praise we should seek is not that of men, but the title of “good and faithful servant,” offered by Christ.

Warnings from Israel’s Past: Sodom and Gomorrah (Sexual Immorality)

“As Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, in like manner committing sexual sin and going after each other’s flesh, they are set before you as an example of suffering justice and eternal fire.” 

(Jude 7)


Thirdly, Jude deals with the sin of sexual immorality by pointing to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  This destruction is only a shadow of the destruction that will come on the ungodly in final judgment, for at that time the fire of judgment will be eternal. 

Friends, we live in a culture that glorifies sexual immorality, not unlike the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Our culture has rejected the idea that sexuality is meant to be enjoyed within the confines of a marriage relationship.  To understand why this is, we must understand what sexuality represents.  Sexual relations between a husband and his wife represent the sealing of their marriage covenant, which is why we say that a marriage is not consummated until after sexual relations have occurred.  Covenants, both in Biblical language and in the larger ancient world, were confirmed by the shedding of blood.  The shedding of blood when a husband takes his wife in sexual relations and her hymen is broken is representative of the confirmation of this covenant.  Afterwards, when a husband and a wife come together to the marriage bed, they are renewing the covenant which they made with each other before God.

This is why marital infidelity is so heinous in the eyes of God.  For not only does it break the emotional and spiritual trust that is to be held within a family relationship, but it is a breaking of the covenant which was made by bringing someone who is not a member of the covenant into the covenant relationship.  This is also why pre-marital sex is considered a sin, for it pretends to confirm a covenant that has never been made. 

Throughout scripture, God uses the illustration of marriage to represent his covenant with his people.  He is the faithful husband and Israel is the wife who falls repeatedly into sin.  When the church worships idols, she brings an outsider into the marriage bed.  To confirm the covenant with his people, God shed his own blood—the blood of Christ on the cross—thus, when God’s people fall into idolatry, they are simply playing at a covenant that does not exist.

Just as God uses the illustration of marriage to represent his relationship to the church, his faithfulness in his marriage to the church is to be modeled in the marriages of his people.  Given that we live in a culture where the divorce rate amongst believers is as high as it is in the culture, it would seem that we don’t tend to take this very seriously.  Friends, the faithfulness that you demonstrate within your marriage sends a message to the world about what you think of God’s faithfulness.  If you want to send a message to the world that we must take our covenant with God seriously, then you must do so by demonstrating to the world how you take your covenant with your spouse seriously.

The sexual immorality of Sodom and Gomorrah and the sexual immorality of our culture today mocks the covenant relationship that God has with his people.  It makes light of the blood that was shed to confirm such a covenant.  And, it downplays the idea of the covenant itself.  The penalty for these two wicked cities and for all of the surrounding cities was for God to rain down fire upon them, wiping them from the face of the earth.  And, this is the same judgment that faces those in our own culture that chase after sexual immorality—in the day of judgment.  Our culture has exchanged the truth of God for a lie.  We have adopted the idea that momentary pleasure is better than lasting pleasure and physical pleasure is better than spiritual pleasure.  The pleasure that God offers in himself is eternal and infinitely satisfying.  The pleasures of the flesh are fleeting and leave you unsatisfied and with a guilty conscience.  Which will you chose?



David in the Wilderness: Psalm 63 (part 11)

“They will be thrown down on the sword;

they will be a portion for foxes.”

(Psalm 63:11 {Psalm 63:10 in English Bibles})


Not only is David confident in the death of those who seek his life, but he is confident in the ignoble way in which they will die and be left for the scavengers of the field.  The language of being “thrown down” on the sword paints the picture for us of the execution of defeated enemies, forced to their deaths.  And of course, the language of their bodies being a portion for the foxes finishes the picture of dead bodies strewn across the battlefield and left to rot and be eaten by scavenging animals—alone and without the dignity of a proper burial.

Oh, the indignity of the final end of those who persecute God’s own.  Not only is it ruin in this life, but it is ruin in the next.  Beloved, how many people do you know and love that are destined to be a portion for the foxes?  How many people do you regularly interact with who are on the wide path that leads to damnation?  And have you been faithful in showing them that there is another way?  Have you worked, even at cost, to remind them that Christ is the answer to their problems?  Have you warned them that unless they flee to Christ, condemnation is what they will face?  Oh, loved ones, how often we sit idly by while those we care about head for the sword of final judgment.  Friends, take a serious look around you at those whose lives do not reflect a relationship with the person of Jesus Christ.  Will you share the good news with them?  They may reject you, forsake you, change the subject, or walk the other way, but if they don’t, and they listen, oh the joy that you will share in seeing one who was destined for destruction experience life!