Studying Divine Judgment - Doesn't It Just Depress Us? (Continued)
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Sunday, September 16, 2012 - 10:00 a.m.  Sermon #: 1591
Pastor Don Horban

In the second point of last weekís teaching we starting drilling down into this principle:


I said it would be a terrible mistake to think of this topic as morbid, or as though it were somehow beneath New Testament believers or unworthy of the greatness of Father God. We do not get to decide what the content of Godís revelation of Himself should be. The job of God is taken. God has taken on that role in His revelation to us in the Scriptures. Our task is to humble ourselves under what He has revealed. We must shape our brains around Godís self-revelation rather than conforming it of our own value judgments.

Then I said the subject of divine judgment is becoming increasingly intolerable in an age where truth must be made palatable before we will digest it. Itís easy for the church to become like small babies - simply spitting out whatever doesnít suit our liking in Godís diet of revealed truth. But there is something precious, something worth cherishing, in the truth of God as Judge.

At that point we starting studying four Biblical reasons for embracing the Biblical doctrine of divine judgment:

The first was only a Biblically sustained belief in the reality of future divine judgment will sharpen our love for the lost - John 3:36 - ďWhoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.Ē

The second reason was Only a Biblically sustained belief in the reality of divine judgment will orient the soul of the redeemed to high praise and passionate thanksgiving as we worship the Lord from the standpoint of redemption accomplished on our behalf - Thessalonians 1:9-10 - ďFor they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, [10] and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.Ē

These Christians contemplated and relished a particular future delivering act that would be accomplished by Jesus. He would be the One to deliver them from the wrath to come. This is the same wrath John said remained on the disobedient in our first text. And the point here is the doctrine of divine judgment is directly related to the worship and praise of the redeemed. Worship fueled by nothing but the Golden Rule will be shallow, cold, and sappy.

Now on to the third and fourth reasons for keeping the doctrine of future divine judgment alive in our minds, our worship, and our church:

c) Only a Biblically sustained belief in the doctrine of divine judgment affirms the proper balance of the love of God with the justice of God:

Romans 3:24-26 - ď....and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, [25] whom God put forward as a propitiation [not expiation] by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. [26] It was to show [note - this is the second time Paul uses the word ďshow.Ē There is something made obvious in the cross about Godís character that we wouldnít know otherwise] his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier [not order of terms here] of the one who has faith in Jesus.Ē

There is something important in the last phrase of verse 26 - ď....It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.Ē

Notice the order of the accomplishments of redemption. The first thing secured in the event of the cross of Jesus is the justice of God. The second thing secured is the forgiveness of our sins. In other words, did Christ die for us or for God the Father? And if I give any other answer than ďboth,Ē I havenít understood things fully and correctly.

ďWell, Pastor Don, I donít like this very much. I have always heard preachers say God thought of me when Jesus was on the cross. Are you telling me He didnít love me as much as I thought?Ē

Listen, Iím not saying anything of the kind. God did think of you, and me, and every other sinner yet to be, when Jesus was on the cross. We could never even comprehend the love God has for us. But thereís another very important issue that is frequently lost sight of. The issue here isnít just how does the cross of Jesus demonstrate Godís love for me. An equally important question is, ďHow does the cross of Jesus secure my love for God?Ē

This is the profound issue. And the way the cross secures my love for God is it reveals (shows) Him as a holy God and a just God even while showing mercy to people who donít deserve it - to people who have earned punishment.

Trying to love Godís forgiveness without the underlying bedrock foundation of His absolute justice of the atoning death of Christ on the cross reduces Godís love to a flimsy sentiment. OK. He forgave me this time. But how do I know I havenít reached my limit? Will I still have sure pardon the next time I sin? How can I know this for certain? Without the justice of God revealed in His dealing with my sin on the cross, I never know for sure when Iíll run out of luck. And that reduces my love for God in the long run.

People cannot love injustice for long. Remember the O.J. trial? Or better still, if your son or daughter was murdered by a maniac at night, and the judge and jury had conclusive proof of his guilt, would you be pleased if the judge were merely merciful? Would you be pleased if the judge said, ďI know youíre absolutely guilty - even by your own confession. But Iím feeling generous today. Thereís no punishment. Go home and try not to let this sort of thing happen again.Ē

Imagine the outrage at such a decision. We canít love injustice, even in this corrupt, fallen world. We only are drawn to injustice when weíre the ones getting away with wickedness. But on the broad societal scale we all hate injustice.

Now consider again the atoning work of the cross. The cross of Jesus does two important things at the same time. It reveals Godís love for me. And it secures my love for Him. Only as God is faithful to judge sin - judge it in the body of His own Son on the cross - is Godís justice displayed and glorified in a way that draws out my love for Him.

The church will be in deep trouble if this powerful pair of redemptive truths is ignored or separated. Because we know our own sin and our own need, we tend to use Godís love to cancel out His justice. Again, God frequently gets made over in our own image. But the love of God and the justice of God in judging sin are co-joined twins that can never survive separation. Only the doctrine of divine judgment can sustain the beauty of the Biblical God of righteousness before this fallen world.

d) Only a Biblically sustained belief in the doctrine of divine judgment will serve as an incentive to perseverance in righteousness:

There are some very important words from the Scriptures to consider:

2 Corinthians 5:9-11 - ďSo whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. [10] For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. [11] Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.Ē

Iím sure there are Christians who read these words of Paul and donít see anything really beautiful in them. Iím sure there are Christians who see Paulís evident consideration of his future time of judgment before Christ as a rather morbid and legalistic motive for any kind of truly spiritual endeavor in this world. Surely we should do what we do for the Lord because we love the Lord, not because we fear the Lord.

I canít tell you how mistaken I think this spin on Paul really is. Deep at the core of this passage, if we only have the eyes to see it, is a beautiful picture of Paulís love for Christ. And I want to close this message trying to lift your sights to see it with me. Paulís love for the Lord is a love that is pruned and nourished and nurtured into an even richer love by his fear of the Lord.

Perhaps the simplest illustration is the love I had for my own earthly father. I did love my dad. I loved him, not because he always let me do my own thing, but because he taught me to appreciate what was right and best in life. And sometimes these were very painful, unpleasant times of schooling.

There were times in my dealings with my father, who was quite strict, when I could relate to Paulís mention of the fear of the Lord and being immediately ushered into eternity and the judgment seat of Christ! Those werenít pleasant times. But they were times when my love for my father was sharpened and formed into maturity. I loved my father because he had the power and authority to force me to think of what was right when I wanted to go in another direction entirely.

And, because my love for my father was a love shaped by times of judgment, my love for him had a healthy element of respect in it that kept me from making the same mistakes over and over again. So my love for him was shaped by his love for me. My love for him had respect because his love for me had more than mere indulgence of foolishness.

Or, think back to the illustration I used earlier about the parents who had their child murdered in the night. Remember how the judge let the criminal off in the name of kindness? I said then that the parents would never love a judge like that. We all instinctively love justice. Of course, the one person who would love the judge in that illustration would be the murderer.

Or would he? Think again. What this murderer would love is his freedom. He would love getting off the hook. But his love isnít really a love for the judge, or a healthy love for justice. No, his experience in court hadnít taught him to love any of those things. In fact, almost certainly, he will be back in court again soon enough because his heart never was trained to love justice itself.

Why? Why would his character remain unchanged? Because his love wasnít tempered and sharpened by a healthy fear. He loved himself, not the judge. Ask any school teacher or police officer what itís like to deal with people who have absolutely no fear of those who work over them. Those kinds of students or citizens always self-destruct.

Now quickly back to our text: 2 Corinthians 5:10-11 - ďSo whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. [10] For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. [11] Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience [Paul means the believers in Corinth knew in their hearts the love Paul had for Christ and for them was genuine].Ē

When Paul says he knows the ďfear of the LordĒ he doesnít just mean he knows about this fear. He means he feels this fear. Not in a way that cancels out his love for the Lord, but in a way that makes his love for the Lord a careful love - a fear that keeps his love for the Lord from turning into lazy presumption and mere sentiment.

Remember where we are. Our final point was, only a belief in divine judgment fosters perseverance in the pursuit of righteousness in this world. Not because such a fear of God is the opposite of love for God, but because fear of God purifies and deepens our love for the majestic, mighty, righteous God who truly is, rather than the self-made God who pampers our fallen desires.

Please, please, donít pack away the doctrine of divine judgment in some suitcase in the back of your mind. Thereís more spiritual nourishment here than you could ever imagine. And, if you donít know Jesus Christ this morning, remember that Godís first love is redeeming, not judging. Thatís why, unlike a teacher who delights in catching students with a surprise exam, He tells us of the wrath to come. Heís not willing that any should perish. Come to the Savior now.