Christianity and theology

What Happens at Death?

We are continuing with our study of personal eschatology, and we now come to the question of death. What happens at death? This is a broad question that unfortunately cannot be answered broadly since there are two types of deaths namely that of a believer and an unbeliever. What occurs at the death of these two differs significantly. We will look at believer’s first and later at unbelievers.

First, as a Christian dies, he experiences God’s grace. This might sound obvious since the daily life of a believer is marked by grace. But, I highlight this point because even though death is a defeated foe, it still remains one of great fears of humanity. It is for no reason that we call it the chief of terrors. Many have experienced or witnessed loved ones passing into glory, perhaps more than a dozen times, yet they can’t say that they are used to death. Since no single human being can be used to death, God always grants grace both to the one dying and to his family, more especially, if they are believers. Christ’s grace proves to be more than sufficient and helps everyone through it.

Second, at death a believer attains full sanctification (Heb. 12:23). In this life, by God’s grace, a believer strives to become more like Christ but sin has not yet been fully conquered in his life. However, at death sin is completely eliminated and the Holy Spirit makes his soul perfect in holiness.

Third, a believer’s soul immediately enters into heaven. There are a number of teachings regarding what happens after the soul has been separated from the body in death. Some have taught that the soul sleeps waiting for the final judgment. This teaching is also called the doctrine of soul sleep. Some have said that the soul goes into an intermediate place. In this place, so the say, the souls of believers enjoy a measure of reward but not equal to their final and full reward in heaven. On the other hand, the souls of unbelievers, this teaching states, suffer a degree of punishment but not equal to their future judgment in hell. Some also have taught that there is a place named Purgatory where Christians with some unrepented sins go to be purified before their entry into heaven. However, we cannot find any biblical basis for these teachings. Instead, the Bible clearly teaches us that the moment a believer dies, his soul goes straight to be with the Lord in heaven (2 Cor. 5:1, 6, 8; Phil. 1:23). We shall in the following posts look at how Christian should respond to these erroneous doctrines.

Fourth, a believer’s body returns to earth waiting for the day it will be glorified and reunited to its soul (1 Cor. 15:53-54). I think the fact that one day the dead body will be glorified should be one of the motivating factors for Christians to treat dead bodies with respect. Burial is not just an incidental detail in our lives.

This could spark a debate on whether Christians should bury or cremate. I will weigh in only by making a confession. I have always believed that burial is more ideal. I also believe that I can argue from Scripture that burial is preferable than cremation. I had strong reservations towards cremation until one day when I was talking to a fellow Christian who is from one of the Asian countries. In our conversation we somehow arrived at the topic of cremation and he told me that in his country, more especially in his area, they don’t have enough land for cemeteries so even Christians cremate.

That conversations helped me clear some of the prejudice I had towards Christians who practice cremation. It helped me to understand that not all Christians who practice cremation prefer it to burial rather there are some factors that compel them. So, if there weren’t any valid reasons for cremation, I would have argued that Christians should shun it.

 

 

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Christianity and theology

Cultivating a Heavenly Outlook

Having seen the importance of being heavenly-minded, we need then to answer the question: how can we develop and cultivate a constant reflection of heaven in our daily lives?

First, we can do that by having regular meditations upon the glories of heaven. Deliberately take time each day to reflect upon the splendors of heaven and remind yourself that nothing you know or have experienced in this life can be compared to the glory of heaven. The beauties of heaven include an everlasting joy (Matt. 25:23). There are so many things that bring joy in our life here on earth yet there also many things that try to deflate this joy. But in heaven we will have eternal joy.

Related to eternal joy, heaven is also a place of no tears and sorrows (Rev. 21:4). Ever since the fall, sorrow and tears have been part and parcel of humanity. Sin has brought so much brokenness in the world that a day can hardly pass by without feeling its ugly effects. We shed tears and sorrows engulf our hearts as we experience the curse of the fall. But in the new heavens and new earth, the curse and its effects will be ultimately removed hence we will have no reason to weep and grieve.

Heaven is also a place of rest (Heb. 4:9; Rev. 14:13). One of the reasons I love the Sabbath or Sunday is that it does not only give me more time to worship the Lord both in public and in private but also time to rest from my labours. The author of Hebrews tells us that our earthly Sabbath is a shadow of the real rest to come. In heaven we will experience true rest and we will worship the Lord unceasingly.

Heaven is also a place where we will see God face to face (Matt. 5:8; Rev. 22:3-4). On this side of heaven, we know that no one can see God and live (Ex. 33:20). Of course, God revealed himself and dwelt among us in Christ and as John writes, “we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the father” (1:14). Yet when Christ came on earth, he did not come in his full glory. He came as a man of sorrows. His appearance was more of a humble servant than the conquering King whom John saw in Revelation 1:12-18. But in heaven we will see God face to face in his full glory. How that will look like is beyond me to speculate, but it is one of the major reasons I long for heaven.

Heaven is also a place where our souls and bodies will be made perfect (Hebrews 12:23; 1 Cor. 15:42-44). Everyday, I feel the heaviness of sin in my life. I know the right things I am supposed to do; however, I don’t always do them. There are times that temptations and sin conquer me. I believe this is also true for many Christians if not all Christians. In addition, our current bodies are also constantly wearing out due to the effects of the fall (2 Cor. 4:16). But in heaven, both our souls and bodies will be made perfect.

Oh, what a sweet place heaven is! So, if we can take time to regularly reflect on these glories, it is impossible that we should not have a heavenly out look.

Second, we can develop a heavenly outlook by making heaven a regular subject of our conversations. Richard Baxter in his book Saints’ Everlasting Rest bemoans the fact that Christians can meet and part without ever talking about heaven. “It is a pity that Christians should ever meet together without some talk of their meeting in heaven, or the way to it, before they part…Get together then fellow Christians, and talk of the affairs of your country and kingdom, and comfort one another with such words.”

Third, always remember that our day of entry into heaven is nearer than we often think. As you hear or see your clock tick, be reminded that every tick is drawing you closer to heaven if you are in Christ. It could be right this minute or second. Christ reminds us: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matt. 25:13). So, fellow Christians, think of heaven regularly and always be ready to enter into the glory of your Master.

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Christianity and theology

So Heavenly Minded and No Earthly Good?

Last week we began looking at individual eschatology and some of the reasons why this doctrine is rarely discussed among Christians. Today, we pick up by considering the spiritual benefits that come when we constantly reflect upon the glory to come.

One of the lies that the world wants Christians to believe is that they can be “so heavenly minded that there are of no earthly good.” However, the opposite is true. Christians can never be of earthly good until they are heavenly minded. John Calvin writes, “If that hope (of going to heaven) be deeply seated in our mind, it is impossible that it should not lead us to devote ourselves wholly to God. On the contrary, they who do not cease to live to the world and to the flesh never have actually tasted what is the worth of the promise of eternal life.

A Christian should always live with one leg in this life and another up in the air ready to step into glory. Our prayer should always be like that of Jonathan Edwards, “O God, stamp my eyeballs with eternity.” Indeed, may God stamp eternity not just on our eyeballs but also on our minds, ears, hands, soul, feet, and the whole of our being so that the hope of glory should always before us.

The spiritual benefits that come with constant contemplation of the future glory include: a motivation to pursue holiness in our daily lives. How can a Christian contemplate about the land in which he will sin no more and deliberately live in sin? How can we contemplate the eternity in the presence of our Holy Father and willfully give ourselves to sin? Just as sin will keep us from reflecting on heavenly glory, reflecting on heavenly glory will also keep us from sin. Moreover, the author of Hebrews reminds us that without holiness (in this life), we won’t see God in heaven (Heb. 12:14).

Second, constant reflection of heavenly glory is a sign of true conversion and adds to the assurance of our salvation. This is what Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 1. In the chapter, Paul writes that one of the reasons he is convinced that the Thessalonians are truly saved is that they are constantly living with the hope of glory. “For we know, brothers, loved by God, that he has chosen you because…” He mentions various reasons and at the end of the chapters adds one more reason: “(you) wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1:4, 10).

Third, constant reflection of our blessed hope will make us resist getting comfortable in this world and conforming to its standards. It will enable us to realize that this life is just but a tent. “For we know that if our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1).

Fourth, constant reflection of heaven will bring comfort in times of trials and afflictions. When a believer considers what Christ has prepared for him in heaven, the sorrows of this world would seem as a fleeting shadow. The sorrows will be like labour pains, which last for a while and turn into greater joy when a baby is born. Apostle Peter writing to the persecuted Jewish Christians comforts them with the truth of heavenly glory and says, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).

Lastly but not least, constant reflection of our eternity in heaven fosters love for our neighbors both believers and unbelievers. Knowing that we will spend eternity with our neighbors who are Christians changes how we treat each other here on earth. It will often, by the grace of God, lead us to love them as we love ourselves. For our unbelieving neighbors, a constant reflection of our future glory motivates us to share the gospel with them because we realize that without faith in Christ they can’t taste this glory but will be subjected to the eternal wrath of God.

But how can we cultivate this constant reflection of heaven in our daily lives? This is what we will look at in the next post, the Lord willing.

 

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Sound Teaching

The Intercession of Christ

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25).

The Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 23 asks: “What offices does Christ execute as our Redeemer?” Answer: “Christ, as our Redeemer, executes the offices of a prophet, of a priest, and of a king, both his estate of humiliation and exaltation.” Then in the following questions and answers the catechism explains that Christ as prophet he reveals God’s will for our salvation. As king he defends and protects us, and as priest he offered himself for the sins of his people and he continually intercedes for them.

In Hebrews 7:25 we perfectly see the office of Christ as priest. We are told that Christ intercedes for his people. But before we can look at these two points, we need to have a right view of Christ’s intercession. How does Christ intercede for his people? I believe John Calvin best answers this question. He says, “We are not to measure this intercession by our carnal judgment, for we must not think of Him as humbly supplicating the Father on bended knee and with outstretched hands. Christ however, is justly said to intercede for us, because He appears continually before the Father.” The intercession of Christ is his continual presence at the right hand of his Father.

Now the author of Hebrews 7:25 tells us two important things about this intercession: it is unfailing (he is able to save to uttermost) and unceasing (he always lives to make intercession). The intercession of ChrisT is unfailing because God the Father can never reject any of Christ’s prayers since Jesus’ prayers are always according to the will of the Father. It is also unceasing because Christ can never grow weary in interceding for his people. We sometimes grow weary in prayer, but that cannot be said of Christ. He lives to make intercession for his people.

So, due to Christ’s unfailing and unceasing intercession, all believers are assured that their faith will not fail. They will remain standing in Christ until the day he will call them to enter into his glory or when he shall come to this world in glory. This is why Paul states that he is confident that the one who has begun good work in us will also bring it to completion (Phil 1:6).

Peter’s life is a good proof  of this truth. On the night that Christ was betrayed, he said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”” (Luke 22:31). But Peter promised never to forsake Christ.

It did not take long for Peter to realize that Christ was right. Peter denied Christ three times. Then the Lord looked at him and he was convicted. He went out and wept bitterly probably repenting of his sin. But the story does not end there. Some days later after Christ’s resurrection, Jesus appeared to Peter by the shores of Sea of Tiberias. Christ restored Peter and commanded him, “Feed my sheep,” (John 21). That prayer he prayed for Peter never failed.

The unceasing and unfailing intercession of Christ is the hope for every believer. This is why when Apostle Paul is discussing the intercession of Christ in Romans 8, he also emphatically states that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

 

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Christianity and theology, Sound Teaching

Biblical Prophets Vs. Today’s Prophets

A couple of days ago, the social media was awash with a prophecy coming from the West Africa, Nigeria in particular. The so-called Prophet TB Joshua predicted the outcome of USA 2016 Elections. He stated that a female candidate would win. This was a reference to Hilary Clinton. However, come early this morning, the “prophecy” has proved to be another false prediction.

Now this is not the first time that prophets in my beautiful and beloved continent have predicted falsely. They are a number of instances that can be cited, but that is beside the point of this post. I am writing mainly to express my concern over some people’s unhealthy fascination with prophets.

Prophets have become so popular in Africa that they are regarded as semi-gods, which is certainly against the Second Commandment. Prophets have also become the elite and one of rich groups of people, monetary wise, at the expense of their poor followers. But this is very different from the picture we see of Biblical prophets both in the Old and New Testament.

The Biblical prophets were often unpopular. Their message was very offensive to those rebelling against God. The Biblical prophets were not crowd-pullers as our “prophets” today. They were not business magnets as the prophets our time. When one was called to be a prophet in the Bible, it often meant putting your life in the harm’s way.

While it was not all glamour and glitter for the Biblical prophets, it’s all a bed of roses for the contemporary “prophets.” The biographies of modern “prophets” stand in sharp contrast to the biographies of Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and John the Baptist just to mention a few examples.

Looking at this fact, one thing is certain: the prophets like those in the Bible no longer exist. Without repeating what I have stated again and again, the ultimate fulfiment of the office of Biblical prophets is found in Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2). Jesus Christ is the Prophet par excellence. He is the only prophet we need today. In fact, he is not only the Prophet but also the Priest and King forever.

Now back to the prophecy of TB Joshua. His so-called prophecy should bring to mind Deuteronomy 18:20-22:

But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’  And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’ when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.

Now we know how we should respond to TB Joshua and all the so-called prophets.

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Christianity and theology

Happy 499th Reformation Day!

Happy Reformation Day!

Today we celebrate 499 years since the Protestant Reformation began. We need to thank the Lord for his faithfulness and goodness to his church.

As I was reflecting on the Reformation, I thought of the common saying, “ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda (latin for “the church reformed, always reforming”). No doubt this one of the abused sayings in the Church today. Often it has been used to argue that the church needs to keep reforming or changing according to times.

For instance, I heard one arguing for female leadership in the church basing on the phrase. The argument went something like this: the church has been led by male leadership over the centuries, but now it’s time to embrace female leadership because the Church is reformed and always reforming.

What an abuse of this well-meaning phrase. The Church does not reform with times, it reforms with the word. Christ reforms his Church by the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word. Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei (the church reformed, always reforming according to the Word of God).

When the Old Testament church was deformed, God used the word to reform it (Nehemiah 8). The Pharisees also deformed the Church with their man made rules and Christ used the word to reform it (Matt. 5:17-20). The same thing happened in the 16th Century. God used his Word to Reform his Church. Reformation without the word is not Reformation at all. If the church is reforming without the Word, it is actually deforming.

Happy Reformation with the Word!

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Sound Teaching

The Power of the Gospel

“Our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit, and with full conviction” ~ 1 Thessalonians 1:5

What does Paul mean when he says “the gospel came not only in word but also in power.” Some have said that the word “power” here refers to miracles since the preaching of the apostles in the First Century and at the beginning of Christianity was accompanied by miracles and wonders as a means of authenticating their true apostleship. This is very possible.

However, I also believe that Paul is talking of a special power that a Christian or a person who hears God’s word experiences as the Holy Spirit is applying the word. I believe it is the special power, which among others things brings conviction of sin and also assurance of salvation.

It is the power that Cleopas and his friend experienced when Christ spoke the word of God to them. Do you remember their words regarding their experience as they heard the word of God from Jesus in Luke 24:32? “And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” I believe it is this power that the apostle is speaking of in this verse.

It is also the power that we read of when Paul preached to Felix in Acts 24. In Acts 24:25 we read that when Felix heard the gospel being preached to him, he trembled.

All of us who have sat under the preaching of the gospel have experienced this power. But sadly, some like Felix when they hear God’s word, they  tremble but still harden their hearts and don’t believe. But others like  Cleopas and his friend believe and surrender to the power of God’s word.

Which of these two examples describes you well, my friend?  Is it the one of Felix who after he heard the gospel said to Paul, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.” Or that of Cleopas and his friend who believed the word of God and returned to the other disciples of Jesus to share what Christ had done and said to them?

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