Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Giving Season Draws Near

I am writing this post in November as we (in the Western world) prepare to start the season of giving. The season of Christmas. Gifts will be given in accordance with the Christian tradition started when the wise men brought gifts to the baby Jesus on the morning of His birth. The giving season about which I am writing is however something slightly different. It too is drawing near (it my be nearer than the upcoming Christmas season). What I am writing about is the gifts (or rewards) Jesus promises His believers in the Biblical Book of 1 Corinthians Chapter 3: If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. (1 Corinthians 3:12-15 NIV) Jesus promises His believers rewards on their Day of Judgment. Rewards for how we live our lives as believers or lack of rewards for how we live our lives as believers. This will be the real season of giving.

Many non-believers think that to get to heaven one must simply live a good life. You may have heard the saying. "You can't tell me I'm not going to heaven! I live a good life. I'm a good person!" As Christians we often fall into the trap of telling people they are going to hell if... To be quite frank, we are not in a position to tell anyone anything. When God however is the one doing the telling, well that is entirely a different matter. The Bible tells people that living a good life is not enough to get one into heaven. The Bible tells us: …salvation is found in no one else (but Jesus), for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." Acts 4:12 (parenthesis mine).

Once we have genuinely accepted Jesus as the substitute for our sins, our lives are lived continually trying to justify the lofty position of being granted acceptance into His Kingdom through His sacrifice and God's mercy. True appreciation of God's mercy causes us to live more and more for Him. It is our lives after our salvation that is the basis for the rewards spoken about in 1 Corinthians 3. The judgment of the believers is the assessment made by Christ as to how we have lived our lives in His Name after we have become Christians. Non-believers are not judged during this time. Their judgment occurs at the "Great White Throne" judgment at the end of time as detailed in the Book of Revelation Chapter 20: Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20: 11-15 NIV).

The judgment of believers is the basis of our gifts. How have we lived our lives as Christians? Have we been faithful to God’s commands for His people? Have we lived our lives helping to show the gospel of Jesus to others? Have we showed love to others so that Jesus may be shining through our to them? Have we been willing to share a story about our salvation so that someone else might be encouraged to possibly give their lives to Christ? Have we shared of our time, talents or finances with those in need? Have we prayed for a stranger when God has allowed us knowledge of a difficulty in their lives? These are some of the things for which Jesus will reward Christians at the judgment of the believers. These are some of the behaviors that will be tested with fire on the Day of Judgment. But our other behaviors will be tested as well. The lack of love shown to others (especially other brothers and sisters in Christ). Our selfishness with the blessings given to us by God. Our unwillingness to sacrifice for the benefit of others. Our use of filthy language even as God’s Word commands us to refrain from doing so. Our lying on our taxes, our resumes our mortgage or rent applications. Our distaste for other believers who’s style of worship may be different from our own. Oh the list is so very long! As Christians our works will be tested. All of them. The scary thing to me is the part of the scripture that says: If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. Our worthless living as Christians will be exposed for what it really is. During this life, many of us can hide behind the façade. We can hide behind the outward appearances. Can hide behind the lifting of hands. Can hide behind the churchy clichés. But on the Day of Judgment our true natures will be exposed! Can you imagine just standing there…just you and Him! Jesus will ask for an accounting! The word does indeed say: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2: 10-11 NIV).

As Christians we will bow low before Him and be grateful for His mercy. His mercy will let many enter His Kingdom…even after we have done little with the gift of salvation that He paid for with His own blood at the cross. Please be careful to understand. We do not earn our salvation by any good works! We have been given salvation only by the mercy of God through the sacrifice of Christ. But as Christians, should we not live for Him? That is what the Day of Judgment is about for the believer.

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A God who sends people to Hell?