Friday, May 22, 2015

Gospel of the Second Chance?

Good morning,

As if the posts of the last two days were not minefields (and yesterday's was like a "progressive dinner"!), today we march onward into 1 Peter 4, where we find one of the most confusing of verses.

In this chapter Peter continues to expound upon the theme of persecution in this life, equating denying the desires of our flesh, our bodies, with suffering.  Anyone who has ever encountered a delicious dessert when simultaneously trying to manage his/her body weight can certainly relate. Such temptations are not difficult to understand, nor is there any question that we, as believers, should live lives of holiness in order to reflect the glory of our Savior, no matter the area of sin that threatens to trip us up.  This daily "taking up the cross" is our love offering to Him, in response to His amazing grace.

Of course, in juxtaposition with the type of suffering Peter was referencing, stomping down the fleshly desire for sugar-laden food seems trivial.  He was attempting to encourage new believers (and all were relatively new in those days) to walk resplendent, even if it would cost them their very lives.

The perplexity arises when we get to 1 Peter 4:6-7.  Honestly, I have never heard a sermon on these verses and, when I encountered them, found them to be astounding.  No surprise - - - one site I visited commented that he was aware of over 60 interpretations of this verse.  Whew!

Here is the larger passage from the NIV:

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.  They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.
The end of all things is near.
Let's think about the life of a first century Christian, those to whom this letter was directly written (although it is given to us for our benefit).
1.   These believers faced constant abuse, of varying degrees, because of their faith.  In addition, they believed that the return of Jesus would happen in their lifetimes; they were looking for Him to return at any moment (as we should be also).  See verse 7a.
2.   They were very concerned to know the fate of their fellow believers who had died, either by martyrdom or via "natural causes".  Their concern about this is seen elsewhere in Scripture among other groups of early believers.  For example, this was the context for Paul's dissertation in
1 Thessalonians 4, specifically verses 13-18.
"But I would not have you be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep..."  (vs. 13)  And, he concludes in verse 18:  "Therefore, comfort one another with these words".

In verse 5, Peter affirms that those non-believers who are persecuting the faithful believers will be judged by God.  Those non-believers are spiritually dead.  In verse 6, he reassures the faithful that their "now (physically) dead" brothers and sisters who were judged by men in their bodies (martyred), will live according to God in their spirits.  The gospel "was preached" to them.  Peter is not saying that preaching occurs to people after they are dead.  Preaching is only effective among the living.  In other words, the currently living believers are not to worry that their dead brethren are without the promise of eternal life.

The obvious misinterpretation of this passage is to use it as a single indicator that after physical death the souls/spirits of people will be given a second chance to turn to God through Jesus Christ.  The problem with this interpretation is that it goes against many other scripture verses that state the reverse.

Some scripture verses are more clear than others.  When a verse is puzzling, we must look to other related verses in order to discern by the Holy Spirit the interpretation of them together as a whole teaching on that subject.  What do the majority of the texts say on this subject?  What do the more clear texts say?  Much erroneous teaching has been put forward when students of the Scriptures fail to do this.

Some faiths build entire major (false) doctrines around this one verse, 1 Peter 4:6,  leading to practices like saying prayers for the dead, lighting candles for the dead, baptism for the dead, praying for those in Purgatory and so forth.  Those who believe these also try to connect Jesus' proclamations to the chained angelic beings (1 Peter 3:19-20) with 1 Peter 4:6.  Did Jesus make proclamation to those angels in Tartarus?  Yes.  Did He preach the gospel to dead, unrighteous humans in Sheol, to give them a second chance?  No.

There is no such "gospel of the second chance" supported in Scripture.  In fact, just the opposite is found.
It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment. 
Hebrews 9:27

Indeed, the "right time" is now.  Today is the day of salvation.
2 Corinthians 6:2

The best evidence, though, against "second chance salvation" is found in the story we touched on yesterday, the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31.  In that story, told by Jesus Himself, the rich man was BEGGING for a second chance.  However, it was quite plainly denied him.  No hope for salvation was extended.

Furthermore, did you see any repentance in this man, the rich man?  Was he expressing sorrow for his sins, expressing a desire to turn to God?  No.  If a person's heart is set against God in this life, it will remain so in the next.  There is no miraculous change of heart, no desire for Jesus Christ after death.  The desire expressed by the rich man was two-fold:  for relief from his torment, and for his family to avoid his fate.

Each person must make his or her own decision to accept or reject Christ Jesus and His offer of salvation.  We are unable to "will" salvation to another, nor to "pray them out of Hell".  Although these are traditions of some churches, they are scriptural distortions.  This is why we speak in my church of the "personal decision for Jesus Christ" - - - no one can do it for you.  Think about it:  do you see anyone in either the Old or New Testaments doing these false practices?
An additional proof for the truth of one-to-one, personal salvation is found in Ezekiel 18:20 - -

20 The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.

God is tremendously patient with us in this physical life, offering us opportunity after opportunity to accept His salvation through Jesus Christ.  But, when our souls/spirits depart our physical bodies and we step into eternity, there is no going back.  Once a person dies physically, there are no more chances. All that remains for the unbeliever is judgment.  That is what compels us believers to preach the gospel "to every creature" in this life.  The stakes are so high - - - they are eternal!

Father, these verses are sobering.  How I wish I could have enough faith for someone else!  What a comfort it would be if the Truth were like that little song, "If I get to Heaven before you do, I'll bore a little hole and pull you through!" But, that is not how you ordained it, Lord.  Grace is given one-on-one.  I pray that this Truth will burden us to the point of nearly crushing us today, so that we will be unable to resist Your Holy Spirit's urging us to either accept the gospel and decide for Jesus Christ or, for those who have done so, to share the gospel through the power of the One who is able to do "exceeding abundantly above all we ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20)...while there is time.  In Jesus' name, amen.


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