The Future You Cannot Avoid

by Rev. Sterling M. Durgy

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The Threat of Unrecognized Danger

Why God Must Judge

The Reality of the Coming Judgment

Preparing to Come Before God

A Final Appeal

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Imagine what you would do in the following circumstances:

* You are near the shore as a hurricane approaches. You are told that the area you are in will flood within the next twenty minutes, cutting off any opportunity to escape. To remain is to be destroyed by the rising surf.

* You see a tornado coming directly towards you. There is a storm cellar near by.

* You have just experienced the main shock of a major earthquake. The building you are in has obvious structural damage. You protected yourself by standing in a doorway, but the building may not remain after another shock. Now, the way is clear to get to the street before an aftershock occurs.

* You are driving down the highway when a tractor trailer comes careening toward you. You are in the passing lane of a six lane highway and there is no traffic to your right.

* You have been thrown into the water. Although you have hit your head, you have managed to come to the surface. You feel very weak, but someone throws you a rope.

These situations are not unlike those that face thousands of people every year. You or I may face a situation very much like one of these sometime in the future. In all of these situations the path of action is very clear to any sane individual. Once the fact of danger has been firmly established, acting toward self-preservation is immediate.

But to react properly to danger, we must be aware of it.

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The Threat of Unrecognized Danger

The city of Pompeii was built on rich volcanic soil on the coast of southwestern Italy. Due to an almost idyllic climate, as well as to its soil and placement near a river, the city prospered not only agriculturally, but also as a successful resort and sea port. Unfortunately for the inhabitants, they grew accustomed to living in the shadow of the large volcano that provided their rich soil, Mount Vesuvius, and largely forgot about the danger the volcano posed for them. In fact, they believed that the volcano was dead. Their peace ended on August 24, 79 when Mt. Vesuvius erupted and reclaimed the town by quickly covering it with poisonous gases, pumice stone, and volcanic ash.

The destruction of the Pompeii was so rapid that many citizens were able to make only a feeble effort at escape. About two thousand of the twenty thousand inhabitants died. The volcanic ash preserved a number of their forms. When the city was rediscovered in modern times, archaeologists were able to pour plaster into the hollow places left by the forms of dying people and animals. The plaster casts give us a dramatic view of the terrifying last moments of some of the inhabitants of Pompeii.

If what happened to the citizens of Pompeii were unique, the incident would serve as a mere historical curiosity. But it is not unique for human beings to forget about danger and act as if it doesn't exist. You or I are as prone to that attitude as any citizen of ancient Pompeii or any other person who has ever lived.

Jesus spoke of a prosperous farmer, an agricultural "entrepreneur," who achieved much greater success than most of the farmers of Palestine could have expected. Considering his great success, the man decided to replace his barns with larger ones, "And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?' So is the man who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:19-21).

This is not the only time Jesus taught that we should prepare for the future. The story of the prosperous farmer is in the midst of a fuller discussion in which Jesus warns His listeners to prepare to meet God (Luke 12). Among the passages that call us to prepare for the future are Matthew 6:19-20, 7:13-29, 24:29-25:46, Mark 9:41-50, 13:33-37, and John 14-16.

We are talking about more than death here, we are talking about eternal destiny. The question of what happens to us after death is an important one for us all. If there is a danger after death, in particular, if there is a danger that is greater than any we might face in this life, then it is certainly worth the time and effort to try to avoid that danger! The issue of whether our life fully terminates at death, our existence continues in heaven, or we go on to punishment in hell, is well worth exploring.

The alternative is to go on like the people who lived in Pompeii. The people of that city were unconcerned because they believed that the volcano was dead. They were wrong -- as are those today who believe that God is dead! We know that God provides us with certain things that enable us to live our present lives. But the words of Christ imply that after death we might face separation from God and His blessings. When He separates the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25), will we be among the goats?

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Why God Must Judge

Why might God exclude some people from eternal blessings? Is God some kind of monster who enjoys flipping people into hell? Is He looking for excuses to "nail" people so that He can toss them from His kingdom? To put it simply, is God out to "get us?"

The Scriptures do not teach us that this is true. In fact, they teach quite the opposite. The same Christ who teaches us to prepare for the future is the One who said,

"Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom." Luke 12:32
"For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." Luke 19:10
"Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also." John 14:1-3

The apostle Paul wrote:

"It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners . . . God our Savior . . . desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God; and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all . . ." I Timothy 1:15, 2:3-6

If this is true, then why should there be a time of judgment at all? And how might we wind up on the "wrong side" of God?

The answer to this question can be seen both in human history and in the words of Scripture. Human history is a record of inhumanity and suffering. Many millions of people have died in wars in the 20th century alone. The last decade of the 20th century has seen massive violence in Lebanon, Iraq, Rwanda, Haiti, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as numerous human rights violations in places such as communist China. Others around the world have been enslaved, swindled, abused, and victimized by all sorts of immorality and crime. Most people in history have had to fear their own governments. Few have been safe from criminals. Still others have been victims of religions that did more to instill fear than peace with God and mankind.

The Constitution of the United States recognizes the fact of human sin by building "checks and balances" into government. The three branches of government, and finally the voters, are to place restraints upon the temptation to dishonesty on the part of people in administrative or elective offices. It is a recognition that even when we have chosen "the best," "the best" still need restraints.

It is the intention of God to build a new existence for His people, one in which there is unbroken fellowship with Him and eternal separation from the pain, suffering, and death that make this world so much less than paradise. The Revelation to John looks forward to the day when God says, "Behold, I am making all things new" and, indeed, the "new" includes the elimination of sorrow, disease, and death (21:4-5). Paul envisions a time when "in the ages to come He (God) might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:7).

But unless there are major changes, the same problems that plague us on earth will plague us in heaven. The reason for this is the nature of sin. Sin corrupts and destroys. Can we make a pact with a virus so that it leaves us alone? It is the nature of many viruses to infest us and use us for the advantage of the virus. While it does so, it breaks down the body that it inhabits. In the same manner, sin, which is a part of human existence, has a tendency to destroy us. It is as logically impossible to make a "pact" of coexistence with sin as it would be to try to make one with a virus. Both destroy. Ultimately, the infection must be conquered and eliminated or it will totally defeat us.

This, then, is the defining difference between life that is lived "in the flesh" (as Scripture calls it) and life that is lived "in the Spirit," and the difference between "hell" and "heaven." The Scriptures do not condemn legitimate human needs such as the need for food, water, air, sleep, and so on. Scripturally, life "in the flesh" is life lived totally under the deteriorating affects of sin -- life lived totally under human control absent from the presence and guidance of God's Spirit. Life "in the Spirit" is life that is lived in cooperation with the life-giving presence of God that conquers the corrupting affects of sin. "Heaven" is where the deterioration that is caused by sin does not exist. "Hell" is where the deterioration that is caused by sin never ends. Thus, Paul wrote, "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life" (Galatians 6:7-8).

As the human condition deteriorates, needs that can only be met in God go unmet. Desires, which have been in the driver's seat, unbridled by God's laws, grow greater and greater without end. The degree to which these desires rule stems partly from the extent to which these illegitimate desires were encouraged and fed in this world. This is the "flame" of hell, the "worm" that "dieth not" (Mark 9:48). There can be no fellowship in hell. The ability to relate to others requires a healthy personality. As individual personalities unravel, so does the "social" environment of hell. Walk into life in the worst city or the worst prison, with its poverty, random violence, and predatory relationships, and you will have only a taste of what life would be like outside of God. The New Testament picture of hell is the Valley of Hinnom, "Gehenna," a garbage heap just outside the city of Jerusalem. Because spontaneous combustion created fires that burned the refuse, the glow could be seen from the city at night, and the stench of the rotting garbage filled the air around the valley - the stench of decomposition.

Heaven, on the other hand, is a place where all the legitimate needs are met and all illegitimate ones die. And this is true to a great degree even here on earth for those who walk in fellowship with God's Spirit, as we observed in Galatians 6:7-8 (quoted above).

Scripture exists, and Christ came, because we have a choice. Our eternal destiny is dependent upon what we decide to do. We can prepare to meet God, or we can ignore the reality of our future until our chance to affect it is gone. God wants every one of us in heaven -- as evidenced by the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, who opened up for us a way to heaven at great cost to Himself. What is your choice?

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The Reality of the Coming Judgment

How do we know that this judgment will really come? What indications do we have that this is real and not just our interpretation of Scripture?

First, we have the cross of Jesus Christ. If sins were not serious, and did not require a serious solution, then the cross would have been unnecessary (I Peter 1:18-19). In the Garden at Gethsemane on the night of His betrayal, Jesus asked that He be spared the cross if there was another way. But, He was not spared the cross (Luke 22:39-47, Galatians 3:13). If this is the plan of salvation, then sin is serious, judgment is serious, and salvation is serious.

Secondly, we have the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. "God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead" (Acts 17:30-31). If Christ did not rise from the dead, then there is no salvation through Him, and no future judgment. But reliable, moral witnesses say otherwise (I Corinthians 15), so both judgment and salvation through Christ must be taken seriously.

Thirdly, we have the testimony of the church. Through the ages, those who took God's Word seriously lived in preparation to meet their God. The apostle Paul said that he disciplined himself "lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified" (I Corinthians 9:27).

Finally, we have the reality of sin and death in history and around us. Even in the best of times, the imperfections of humanity are evident. We can turn our back on them for a while, but when death comes, or we suffer from some of the great injustices of this world, we face realities that mankind cannot conquer alone. Without a Judgment there shall be no accounting for the evil or goodness of this age nor will there be a respite from the corrupting influences that mar life in this age. But the cross of Christ means that God, through Christ, has shared in the sufferings of this age, and the resurrection means that He has conquered them (Isaiah 53:5-6, Acts 2:22-36, Romans 1:1-4, Hebrews 2:10-3:4).

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Preparing to Come Before God

"For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, 'As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.' So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God." Romans 14:10-12, Isaiah 45:23
"For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?" I Peter 4:17; Matthew 12:36-37, Romans 2:4-16, Luke 12:3-5, Hebrews 12:18-29

Bring your life, as much as you are able, into conformity with God's will as revealed in His Word, the Scriptures. If you are to give an account for how you live, live as someone who is accountable. Do not ignore the reality of God or what He must do to restore peace and order in His universe. Rather, live as a part of that new order, honoring God and His Lordship over your life. Where you fail, strive to do better with the help of God. (II Peter 3:3-11, I Corinthians 6:9-11, Revelation 21:7, Mark 1:1-4, Matthew 3:17, Acts 2:38, 3:19, I Peter 1:14-21, Titus 2:11-3:8)

Believe that you are forgiven for sin through the cross of Christ and given the ability to live for Him through the Spirit of the resurrected Christ. Only God can save us from the consequences of sin. Only God can give us a new life and make us fit for His kingdom. The deterioration caused by sin can only be counteracted by the life-giving Spirit of God dwelling within us.

Jesus said, "Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life." John 5:24 "
"But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." John 1:12-13

In prayer, ask for God's forgiveness for sin, ask Him to give you His Spirit, and thank Him for what He has done for you through Jesus Christ. (John 3:1-21, Romans 5:1-11, Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 2:1-10, Philippians 3:7-16, Colossians 1:25-27, I John 4:9-19, 5:12-13)

Make use of the "means of grace." Pray and read the Scriptures regularly. Find a church that honors the Scriptures and become a part of it. Use whatever resources and abilities God has given you to enrich the lives of others in your family, church, and community. (Acts 2:41-42, II Timothy 3:14-17, Hebrews 10:24-25)

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A Final Appeal

Scripture teaches that believing Christians, who honestly seek to serve Christ and whose sins are forgiven through Christ, do not face exclusion from the presence of the Lord. However, Scripture also teaches that even faithful Christians will give an account of their lives and how faithfully they have served the Lord according to the opportunities and resources they have been given, and that God will reward or rebuke each of His servants as appropriate (Matthew 16:27, 25:14-30, Mark 10:28-31, II Corinthians 5:10, I Corinthians 3:11-15, Ephesians 5:5-6). Therefore, every person will someday come before God. This face-to-face meeting is the climax of the history of this age for every individual - the inescapable future of every human being who shall ever live.

Jesus said, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Matthew 6:19-21

God said through Isaiah, "Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live. And I will make an everlasting covenant with you . . ." Isaiah 55:2-3 "'Come now, and let us reason together,' says the Lord, 'Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.'" Isaiah 1:18

The person who has heeded these words can approach God with confidence, not fear (John 3:21, Matthew 11:28-30, I John 1:9, 2:28, 3:21, 4:18). But those who do not want to serve God find His presence unbearable because they make it so (John 3:20).

Author C. S. Lewis once described an imaginary bus that took the inhabitants of hell to visit heaven. At the end of the visit, every one of the inhabitants of hell re-boarded the bus of their own free will and returned to hell. As much as they didn't like the things they had in hell, they liked the things they found in heaven even less. There is much truth in this picture that C. S. Lewis has given us. No one wants to suffer, but may people are desperately interested in avoiding God. Rashly or with purpose, they reject the love and the future God offers them.

Perhaps you find God and everything about Him offensive. Perhaps you have no interest in the life or fellowship that He offers you. God gives you the right to choose for yourself where you want to spend eternity -- and to accept the consequences of that decision.

But, for those who see the logic of choosing safety over danger, life over death, blessing over curse, fellowship over loneliness, hope over gloom, God has opened the door wide to you, and invites you into His fellowship and His kingdom (John 6:66-69, 37, 10:1-18). "Behold, now is 'the acceptable time,' behold, now is "the day of salvation'" (II Corinthians 6:2, Isaiah 49:8). Why not respond now -- before it is too late?

"Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling,
and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy,
to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord,
be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority,
before all time and now and forever.
Amen." Jude 24-25

Copyright 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.

Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968,1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

The American Night Watch is a trademark of the Christian ministry of Sterling M. Durgy.

Permission is granted to reprint " The Future You Cannot Avoid " or any portion as long as all copyrights are included, this statement is included, the text is not altered in any way, and the text or reprint is not sold to the recipients.

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This page was last updated October 22, 1999.