How God Judges

Q. I’ve known “Christians” whose behaviors do not measure up to what I expect of true believers. Are they saved? How will God judge?

A. I have written on related topics before, and refer you to previous posts:
https://raykliu.wordpress.com/2014/06/21/principles-of-judgment/
https://raykliu.wordpress.com/2014/09/13/seed-on-rocky-ground/
https://raykliu.wordpress.com/2014/10/12/lazy-wicked-servant-2-of-2/

I believe the key test of whether a person is truly saved is fruitfulness. The Lord expected fruit from the Jews:
Lk 13:6-7 And He began telling this parable: “A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’

And He expected it of His servants:
Mt 25:26-27 “But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest.

However, unlike those who hold to “once saved always saved“, I do not believe one act of obedience once in a person’s life guarantees his/her salvation. Nor do I believe one act of disobedience cuts a person off from God’s grace, as the God of the Bible is:
Ex 34:6 The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving-kindness and truth;
God is a God of second chances, proven time and again throughout the Bible, but there is a limit and we should not presume on His forbearance.

As I explained in the article on “Principles of Judgment“, I believe God’s judgment is cumulative and based on obedience. That is, God looks at everything in the individual’s lifetime to determine whether he/she is truly obedient. Everything will be taken into account. Nothing will be overlooked. That’s why only God can judge whether your friend is a true believer or not, because only He knows all the thoughts, circumstances, considerations the person went through in acting the way he/she did. We see only the surface, like the tip of the iceberg, and are in no position to judge our fellow-men.

What if a wicked man repents or a righteous man turns bad? Then the principles in Ezekiel 18 apply:
Ezk 18:21-22 But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die. All his transgressions which he has committed will not be remembered against him; because of his righteousness which he has practiced, he will live.
• Ezk 18:24 But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity and does according to all the abominations that a wicked man does, will he live? All his righteous deeds which he has done will not be remembered for his treachery which he has committed and his sin which he has committed; for them he will die.

That’s why I believe it is the whole pattern of one’s life, not just single acts, that determine whether he lives or dies. God assesses all at the end, taking the beginning, the end, and everything in between into consideration. He bases everything on truth, according to what was done, and does not play favorites. That’s why He is fair and every mouth will be stopped.

One last thing. According to Jesus, our concern should be whether we are following Jesus, not what will happen to others, as all of us will have to give an account of ourselves to God.
Jn 21:21-22 So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!
• Rom 14:4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
• Rom 14:12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.

So focus on your own discipleship. Don’t to nosy about what happens to others except to help them.

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God sanctioned Genocide?

Q. What’s all this violence in the Old Testament? How can God order the extermination of a whole race of people, slaughtering men, women and children without exception? He is worse than Hitler or Pol Pot!

A. Instead of sitting under God’s judgment, critics and skeptics sit in judgment of God, charging Him to be a moral monster who butchers innocent people. They accuse God of being an out-of-control despot, killing those who oppose Him indiscriminately. Is that what’s happening? Of course not, because the accusers do not know the facts and are just ranting their false allegations.

What does the Bible say?
Deut 20:17-18 But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the LORD your God.
On the surface God did command the Israelites to utterly destroy the nations around them. Why? So that the nations may not teach the Israelites to do all their detestable things they have done in their idolatry. What detestable things? Archeology tells us a lot about the evil practices in the nations’ pagan worship, but let me quote just two passages from Scripture to illustrate.

Lev 18:24-25 Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled. For the land has become defiled, therefore I have brought its punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitants.
God was punishing the nations who defiled themselves by doing all the detestable things by casting them out from the land. The list of “these things” is given in Lev 18:6-23, which includes:
• all forms of immoral sexual relations with blood relatives i.e. incest;
• adultery with neighbor’s wife;
• offering offspring to Molech as a whole burnt sacrifice;
• homosexuality;
• bestiality, among others.

The second example is in:
Deut 18:9-12 When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD; and because of these detestable things the LORD your God will drive them out before you.
This again includes burning children and all forms of the occult. As such, God is just in punishing the nations for their grievous evil. If God doesn’t judge them, He would not be righteous.

But even in His righteous judgment God is slow in anger and abounding in loving-kindness, being very patient in giving time to repent:
Gen 15:16 Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.
As an example, the Amorites were allowed four generations before judgment finally struck, when God used the Israelites to execute judgment.

Some feel the men and women deserved to be punished, but children? What evil could they have done? I need to point out two things. First an analogy. In dealing with cancer, you need to remove all the cancer cells, not just some parts of it. Otherwise what’s left behind will kill you. There can be no leniency in leaving parts behind. The same is true in dealing with the depraved nations, which need to be totally removed.

Secondly, in destroying the children, God is actually showing mercy to them, because children who are under the age of accountability, who do not yet have the capacity to distinguish right from wrong, are accepted into God’s Kingdom by grace. They are born sinners and do not deserve heaven, but God is compassionate and gracious. He gives grace when the young children are not yet developed to such an extent that they know how to trust Him. I have written on the evidence for this in previous posts. Those interested can refer to:
https://rayliu1.wordpress.com/2016/01/17/never-heard-gospel/
https://rayliu1.wordpress.com/2015/09/17/is-god-barbaric/
https://raykliu.wordpress.com/2011/08/28/original-sin-3/
https://raykliu.wordpress.com/2011/06/22/slaughter-of-the-innocents/

So in conclusion I say “Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Gen 18:25) Don’t be so fast in condemning God, worry about how you will face Him as Judge instead.

Greater Gifts?

Q. In 1 Co 12, Paul went to great length in explaining there are different members of the body that God put together, especially giving honor to the weaker parts so there is no division. Each member is given different gifts as the Holy Spirit desires and is just as important. So we ought to be satisfied in playing the roles that we are given. If so, why is it all of a sudden in the last verse (v 31) he asks us to desire for the greater gifts? It almost implies that there are levels of greatness and importance in the gifts. On the one hand, we are to be satisfied with what our gifts are, but on the other hand, we are to desire and seek greater gifts?

A. There is no contradiction. On the one hand, the Church is one body, with many parts. To each one is given some gift by the Spirit for the common good (v 7), not personal glory. Notice the phrases:
• through the Spirit v 8,
• according to the same Spirit v 8,
• by the same Spirit v 9,
• by the one Spirit v 9,
• by one and the same Spirit v 11, and
• by the Spirit v 13,
a 6-fold repetition to emphasize that everything comes from the same Spirit who distributes to each one individually just as He wills (v 11). Accordingly there should be unity amongst members despite the diversity of gifts.

On the other hand, the Corinthians had mistakenly elevated tongues above prophesy, when in fact it should be the other way around:
1 Co 14:5 Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying
so Paul wrote to correct this error. The measure of the importance of a gift is the extent to which it builds up the church:
1 Co 14:12 So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church.
Tongues, unless interpreted, do not edify others, and is therefore inferior to prophesy which edifies everyone:
1 Co 14:19 however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also (i.e. prophesy), rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.

Is there a priority ranking to all the gifts? Yes and no.
1 Co 12:28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.
• 1 Co 14:1 Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.
• 1 Co 14:39 Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues.

Note that apostles, prophets and teachers are also gifts, or gifted men, that God gave to the church. Yes, there is a ranking as indicated by first, second and third, and some extend that ranking (fourth, fifth, sixth etc.) further to other gifts, but the latter is not part of the text, only an extrapolation by commentators. No because the ranking is not given for all gifts, only some. I would restrict myself to what’s given in the text, no more, no less, and estimate the relative importance by how much a gift edifies the church.

We are to be satisfied with what gifts we have, because they are sovereignly given by the Spirit:
1 Co 12:11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.
We are also to earnestly desire the greater gifts (1 Co 12:31), so that the church will be edified. There is no contradiction.

Infallibility?

Q. 1 Corinthians 2:15 But he that is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. What does “judged of no man” mean? Is seems to be talking about the infallibility of clergy or the Catholic theory. It does not make any sense with Acts 17:11 Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

A. It is not talking about infallibility. The word “infallible” appears only once in the Bible:
Acts 1:3 to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. (NKJV)

It means:
• that from which something is surely and plainly known,
• on unquestionable evidence, impossible to doubt.

Only God and His word are infallible in the sense of “incapable of being wrong, unable to err”. Paul knew he was a sinner, and even claimed to be chief:
1 Tim 1:15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.
By definition sinners are wrong and cannot be infallible. For any human to claim infallibility is foolishness.

As always, the meaning is determined by the context. The whole chapter 2 of 1 Co is talking about Paul’s reliance on the Spirit. In particular, the immediate context is 1 Co 2:14-16 (NASB):
14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
• 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one.
• 16 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.

The natural man, the man who does not know God cannot understand spiritual things, because they must be spiritually evaluated or discerned with the mind of Christ. A spiritual person, one who is controlled by the Spirit, is able to judge all things, yet no one (the unbeliever) can understand him.

Let me quote from a few paraphrases to make it clearer:
AMPLIFIED BIBLE But the spiritual man [the spiritually mature Christian] judges all things [questions, examines and applies what the Holy Spirit reveals], yet is himself judged by no one [the unbeliever cannot judge and understand the believer’s spiritual nature].
• THE MESSAGE The unspiritual self, just as it is by nature, can’t receive the gifts of God’s Spirit. There’s no capacity for them. They seem like so much silliness. Spirit can be known only by spirit—God’s Spirit and our spirits in open communion. Spiritually alive, we have access to everything God’s Spirit is doing, and can’t be judged by unspiritual critics.
• PHILLIP’S NT But the unspiritual man simply cannot accept the matters which the Spirit deals with—they just don’t make sense to him, for, after all, you must be spiritual to see spiritual things. The spiritual man, on the other hand, has an insight into the meaning of everything, though his insight may baffle the man of the world.

Hope this helps.

Forgiving Debt and Lending Money

Q. Mt 18:23-25 That is why the kingdom from heaven may be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. When he had begun to settle the accounts, a person who owed him 10,000 talents was brought to him. Because he couldn’t pay, his master ordered him, his wife, his children, and everything that he owned to be sold so that payment could be made.

Lk 6:34 If you lend to those from whom you expect to get something back, what thanks do you deserve? Even sinners lend to sinners to get back what they lend.

The theme of the parable of the unforgiving servant is not about money but about forgiveness. However, on the surface, it looks look Luke is stepping on the toes of Matthew. What is your verdict on lending money or other things?

A. You are right in observing that the parable of the unmerciful servant in Mt 18:23-35 is not about money but forgiveness. Although the text mentioned “owed” and “debt”, the amount is simply too big to be considered ordinary lending.

If you read your NIV footnotes, you will see that a talent was worth about 20 years of a day laborer’s wages. He owed the king 10,000 talents. Let’s bring this to today’s terms. Assuming a round C$12/hour, 8 hours/day, 300 days a year (no work on Sabbaths & feast days), a year’s wage = C$12 X 8 X 300 = C$28,800, more if he works over 8 hours a day, say C$30,000 in round terms. So 10,000 talents = C$30,000/year X 20 years/talent X 10,000 talents = C$6,000,000,000! There is no way a king would lend his servant $6 billion! Possibly, the servant was one of the king’s officials who mismanaged the kingdom’s finances and lost this staggering sum, just like our current ministers :-).

Lk 6:34, on the other hand, is about “love your enemies” using lending as an illustration. It is real lending since “lend” is repeated 3 times in v 34-35, and “expecting to be repaid” twice. Matthew and Luke are not contradicting each other.

My verdict on lending money depends on whether I am the borrower or the lender. If I were the borrower, my guiding principles are:
Rom 13:7-8 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.

I would avoid debt if at all possible, except things that are too big for me to handle such as buying a house, in which case I would take out as small a mortgage (by using as big a down-payment I can afford) and as short an amortization as possible. It’s not that I don’t know about leverage, as I was a finance professional for over 3 decades before becoming a pastor. It’s just that I believe the Bible more when it comes to financial wisdom.

If I were the lender, my guideline would be:
Lk 6:35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.

I would be judicious in discerning whether the borrower has legitimate needs, as I am also a steward of the resources God had entrusted to me. I would balance extending help to relieve the burden, while not encouraging shirking responsibility and dependence on others. If the debtor can repay me, I would accept repayment to use the funds for other worthwhile causes. If he/she cannot pay me back, that’s fine as I do not expect to get anything back. Just helping someone in need is sufficient.

Imprecatory Psalms versus Love your Enemies?

Q. Jesus taught us that we should love and pray for our enemy. Mt 5:44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Why is it that in Ps 109 David curses his enemies before God?

A. Imprecatory psalms and prayers invoking curses on ones’ enemies are a problem to many Bible readers, who find it difficult to reconcile these passages with Jesus’ command to love your enemies. And it’s not just David being vindictive, but involves other people such as prophets as well, who are God’s spokesmen and ought to know better e.g.

Jer 18:21 Therefore, give their children over to famine
And deliver them up to the power of the sword;
And let their wives become childless and widowed.
Let their men also be smitten to death,
Their young men struck down by the sword in battle.

It is especially problematic in view of God saying, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” (Deut 32:35; Rom 12:19; Heb 10:30) What were these people thinking? Don’t they know what God said? Some therefore consider such passages as sub-Christian and shouldn’t be in the Bible. How do we reconcile them as they are indeed part of Scripture?

Rather than consider those who call upon God to judge their enemies as being mean-spirited and beneath what a Christian should do, my opinion is that it is us who are not as close to God as the imprecatory psalmists were, who were more concerned about God’s name being profaned by their enemies than seeking revenge for themselves. David did evil in the sight of the LORD when he committed adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11:27, 12:9) and when he ordered a census of Israel’s army (1 Chron. 21:7), but God never faulted him for his imprecatory prayers. That should alert the critics that they overlooked something.

The LORD called David a man after His own heart (1 Sam 13:14; Acts 13:22). David knew “Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood And has not sworn deceitfully (Ps 24:3-4). He was not afraid to call upon God to “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me,” (Ps 139:23-24a). I would not dare to do so unless my heart was totally free from personal motives and 100% pure before God.

And his actions vindicated his thoughts. David had the opportunity to get back at those who wronged him, but he did not take matters into his own hands, instead leaving it to the LORD to exonerate him e.g. sparing Saul’s life twice (1 Sam 24; 1 Sam 26).

My conclusion is that unlike us who often view things through jaundiced eyes tainted by self-interest, David saw things in sharper contrast of right vs. wrong, conformity to God’s character or against it, positive or negative impact on God’s name etc. He therefore called upon God to deal justly with His enemies and give them the punishment they rightly deserved. Notice that in v 6-20 all the righteous judgment are taught elsewhere in the Bible, including doing unto his enemies what they did to him, and David had not gone overboard in retaliation against his enemies. He left the “settling the scores” entirely in God’s hands.

My last comment is that biblical ethics is a progressive revelation. While there is continuity between OT and NT ethics, with the coming of Christ in the age of grace, people receive a fuller understanding of what God requires of us than in OT times. We should therefore not read back NT standards into the OT and expect full compliance.

Christian Suicide?

Q. This is a true story from the YouTube. The jihadists told a Christian to denounce his faith or watch his wife getting raped. He killed himself. I don’t think he would have killed himself if the jihadists threatened to kill his wife instead. They may just kill his wife after his suicide instead of raping her. Where would his soul go? Both denying Jesus and killing are sins. I don’t see any way out.

A. Some accept what the jihadists say at face value, that if the Christian denounce his faith then his wife won’t be raped. Others are less trusting and assume the worst based on what the jihadists had done in the past, that they would coerce the Christian to apostatize, rape his wife, then kill them both. You can speculate the outcome; my opinion is that the latter is more likely.

I don’t know why the Christian killed himself, possibly because he made up his mind not to renounce Christ, but could not bear to see his wife raped before his eyes. He believed that to apostatize is worse than death, therefore he committed suicide.
Heb 10:26-29 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?

I have written on Christian suicide before and refer you to my previous post:
https://raykliu.wordpress.com/2012/11/21/where-does-a-christian-who-commits-suicide-go/

Where would his soul go? Since he decided that he would rather die than renounce Christ, he is not an apostate. He has not blasphemed against the Holy Spirit and committed the unpardonable sin. Although he committed suicide or self-murder, he was compelled to do so under threat of violation to his wife. It is forgivable. Therefore my opinion is that he went to be with Christ.