The Extent of Punishment and Belief, Part IV: The Optimal Life

At the end of Part III, we were left with a rather bleak view of our ultimate destination. We had arrived at the conclusion that we are all sinners because we had all fallen short of the commandments that God has given us. As such, we found ourselves in a situation where we owed a debt to God that we had no capital to pay and we were looking at the probability that we were about to spend eternity trapped in a celestial debtors’ prison forever owing a debt that we could not repay.

Before continuing, an e-mailer told me that he didn’t think I had explained very well why it was that we could not pay for our sins. Let me try to be clearer. First, let’s start with the assumption that God is good. The Bible teaches that He is good (e.g. Psalm 34:8) and He does not take pleasure in evil. (Psalm 5:4) Thus, until we have reason to believe otherwise, let’s start with the belief that the Bible accurately describes Him as good. Starting with this presupposition, we can further conclude that if God has set forth in his role as the ultimate benevolence certain commandments for us to follow, those are also both good in and of themselves, and for our own good, too.

During the exodus from Egypt, the Bible reports that God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 20) These commandments have generally been divided into two groupings: our obligations towards God (you shall have no other gods before God, you shall not make graven images, you shall not misuse the name of God, and remember the Sabbath), and our obligations towards each other (honor your mother and father, don’t murder, commit adultery, steal, swear false witness or covet). This is why it was so easy for the Commandments to be boiled down to the two commandments endorsed by Jesus (loving the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself). These laws were given to us not because of some tyrannical desire of God to suppress who we are, but because they are good for us. (Deut. 6:1-3)

Now a lot of people assume that God is some sort of megalomaniac because He says “You shall have no other Gods before me.” They say things like “Is God so insecure that He will damn us to hell because we don’t worship Him?” While I am somewhat sympathetic to this position, it really is a question that arises in ignorance because the questioner greatly misunderstands the point of this commandment. If God is the ultimate good, then putting anything before God is putting something less good (evil, even) before ultimate good. At best, it is taking something that, at best, may be good (we don’t have the ability to see the full ramifications of everything we do so we cannot say for certain, as God can, what is good and what is evil) and placing it ahead of God, and making it more important than God in your life.

If you were going to have brain surgery, you wouldn’t ask a plumber to do it for you, would you? Of course not. Even if the plumber was a very good plumber and a really nice guy, you wouldn’t want anything but the best to make sure that you are have the greatest chance for living a long and healthy life. The same is true here: if you are going to try to live the optimal life, then why would you settle for the moral rules set by imperfect people (including yourself) to live by? Why wouldn’t you follow the rules of the ultimate perfect good, i.e., God?

Now, God has set forth these rules as commands. I don’t think He did so because He wanted to trap us – that would contradict the presupposition that He is good. No, He did so for two reasons: first, He wanted to make it clear that following His rules and His precepts are not optional if you want to live the optimal life. Second, because of His character, it takes someone who perfectly lives the optimal life to get into heaven. If you sin – just once – you have “missed the mark” making you unclean and unworthy of entry into God’s presence.

What does this mean in light of the question? It means that God’s laws are good and anything that is contrary to or less than God’s law is, at minimum, not as good. It may even be downright evil even if the actor does not see how it could be evil. God has commanded us (as the minimum requirement to enter heaven) to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Anytime you do less than that, you are failing to keep God’s law and therefore “missing the mark” or sinning. When you do follow those commands, you are keeping God’s law which is the minimum requirement to enter His presence upon death.

So, what does this mean for earning capital to pay off the sin debt? It means that if you do anything less than love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength or if you do anything less than love your neighbor as much as yourself, you are already sinning. If you do both of those things fully, then you are only doing what God already requires as a minimum to get into heaven. What more can you do to earn “credit” with God that will pay off the debt? Nothing. Not a thing. You are already required to give God your all -- all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. Anything less than all is not following the command, and you cannot give more than all.

Hopefully, I have made my case a little bit clearer. Next time I will return to answering the question of how God gets us out of debtors’ prison.

Part I: What is Sin?
Part II: Against Whom do we Sin?
Part III: Sin, Debt and the Hopeless Situation


biblemike said…
First let me note that your links to the earlier posts don't work. You might try to fix that.

When you talk about sin making one unworthy of entering the kingdom of God, I don't think you are making it clear what it is about the state of sin that makes you unable to be with God.

God gave us free will and that free will gives us the option of choosing to worship God with our whole heart, our whole soul and our whole mind. It also gives us the right not to. Why is that important? Because worship that isn't voluntary isn't worship. Acts of love that are not voluntary are done out of obedience not out of love. Thus in order to fulfill God's law we ned free will, but that also allows us not to fulfill those requirements,

Not fulfilling the requirements has consequences. I do not mean the consequence of damnation or eternal exile from God. There will come a point where that is a necessary continuation of our conditon, but the intial consequence I speak of is the change that occurs in our nature as a result of sin. Man was intitialy created to be with God. Sin changed that. How?

When we act contrary to the way God intended or us to act, we take on aspects of what we have done. For instance, if I dip my hand in honey, even though I remove my hand from the honey a great deal of the honey continues to attach itself to me. The same thing with paint or oil. Part of the substance is retained. Using the appropriate methods we can wash it off, but if we use incorrect methods we cannot.

As long as this stuff (sin) is on us, we cannot be with God. God is perfect, without fault. Scripture says that even a good man (by man's standards) cannot stand in the presence of God without being destroyed by thr glory of His perfectness. Man was created in God's image and enough like God to be in His presence and to comune with Him fully, but once man sinned he changed his essence in a way that prevents him from being with God.

In a sense sinful man is like oil and pure God is like water. The two wil always be seperate unless the man's oil nature is removed so that he is once again like the pure water nature of God. Then and only then can the two be together as originally intended.

It takes very little to understand then what happens at the judgment. The great shepherd must discern which are sheep and which are goats, since sheep and goats must be seperated at shearing or harvest time. There is nothing to harvest from the goats, but there is wool on the sheep that is why Jesus and the prophets used this analogy. What God is actualy doing is seperating those with God essence from those with sin essence. Those that have been cleaned fo their sin can enter the pasture and presence of God. Those who have not must go to the other pasture. There are only two pastures. One for sheep and one for goats. Of course the next argument is why only two and I am sure you will do a much better job than I with that point.

AS C. S. Lewis points out, Christianity comes very close to dualism ith it's one all good being and one all bad being and the people being divided between the two. This dichotomy becomes the downfall of dualism, but I won't go ther right now. However in Christianity the bad being was created by God. He was created good, but chose to contend with God for superiority. For all we know he may think he is going to win in the end.

When time ends and we all exist in tht state without time that is close to what God is, al that will be left is the place for God and his worshipers and the place for Satan and his followers. Even though they may not have realized they were following Satan, they knew they had chosen Other instead of God. The scripture indicates that al men wil be given opportunity. It does not explain how and does not have to. It is sufficient to say that all had a choice. All will live or die because of the choice they make.

Sorry covered mor territory than I intended. Been writing too many emails on this topic lately.

Please fix the links so I can read the other postings. Thanks.

Popular posts from this blog

Where did Jesus say "It is better to give than receive?"

How Many Children in Bethlehem Did Herod Kill?

Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesus, Jonah and U2’s Pride in the Name of Love

Dr. John Lennox: Video - Christmas for Doubters

On the Significance of Simon of Cyrene, Father of Alexander and Rufus

William Lane Craig on "If Mind is Reducible to Brain Function, Why Trust Thought?"

Responding to the “Crimes of Christianity”; The Inquisition

The Meaning of the Manger

Fine Tuning Bait and Switch