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The Ax and The Ox – Chapter 8 – Return

In case you missed it,
there are 8 chapters total, and
all the published chapters
are listed here.

In that day the Lord with his hard and great and strong sword 
will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, 
Leviathan the twisting serpent, 
and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea. 
(Isaiah 27:1)

Jesus promised he would return. “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.” (Revelation 22:12). Scripture elsewhere states, “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:28).

First, the dead who trusted in Christ from all ages past will be united with their bodies once again: “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16)

Those who put their faith in Christ who are alive will also then meet Him in the sky: “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:17)

Those “in Christ”, that is, those who have believed in Jesus and followed Jesus will forever dwell with God on a newly restored earth:

  • For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.” (Isaiah 65:17)
  • We, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” (2 Peter 3:13)
  • Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.” (Revelation 21:1)


All who did not put their faith in Jesus will not be saved, but stand condemned, “whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:18) This is because Jesus is the truth. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6.) Those who reject Jesus reject the truth, and those who reject the truth will experience God’s judgment. “for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” (Romans 2:8)

Everyone who calls on the name of Jesus will be saved: “everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved” Romans 10:13. However we’re also asked a rhetorical question immediately after: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?” (Romans 10:14). The answer is, those who don’t believe, if they continue in unbelief, won’t call on Jesus and will not be saved.

Those who had no opportunity to hear and believe specifically in Jesus before he came, like Moses, are still saved the same way we are today: by God’s grace through faith in the coming Christ (Messiah). Every person in all times and places has only ever been saved because of the grace made possible by Jesus. (Remember these verses I shared from the previous chapter: John 8:56–58, Hebrews 11:26, Jude 5, 1 Corinthians 10:4, John 12:40–41) Sacrificing animals was a mere foreshadowing and explanation by God about something only Jesus could do. “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebrews 9:14). It’s only ever been about Jesus.

Some may ask, “Why do innocent people die?” And I love R.C. Sproul’s answer to this question: “Only one innocent person has ever died, and he volunteered.” In other words, innocent people don’t die, except for Jesus, who was sinless. All others die as sinners, and are judged for their sin. All those who had no opportunity to hear about Jesus, as in tribes in remote countries where missionaries have not yet been able to reach, will be saved (or not), the same way as everyone else: by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Either the gospel reaches them by normal means and they believe, or they receive a visit by God himself (a grace I believe is possible because of the graciousness of God), or else they too will perish. We’re given examples in scripture that infants are sometimes called and protected for faith and ministry before they are even born:

  • God to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
  • David speaking to God: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb…Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139:13)
  • Luke recording Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John, when Jesus came near in the womb of Mary: “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Luke 1:41)
  • Apostle Paul describing his calling: “God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me” (Galatians 1:15-16) 

God can save an infant any time He pleases, but infants will be saved or not, the same way as everyone else: by God’s grace through faith afforded to them because of Jesus. I think this is a miracle that is possible, but again, according to Scripture, it is still completely God’s prerogative since we are all sinners by nature and choice. 

Remember, when it comes to God and humanity, there are no “innocents” except God. 

  • None is righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:9). 
  • “No one is good except God alone.” (Jesus, Luke 18:19)

And all are responsible for turning to God, because everyone is able to clearly perceive that there is a God, whether they admit it or not, according to God’s Word: “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)

So then, there are only those who have heard about Jesus and believed, and those who have not believed. Those who are fortunate enough to believe are are not “lucky.” God has all power and knows all things. Nothing happens in God’s kingdom by chance, as if God doesn’t know something. No, God knows all, and allows all that comes to pass. The ones who believe therefore, ultimately believe because God has ordained it. Those who don’t believe, ultimately therefore don’t believe because God ordained it and said “yes” to a world in which those exact people would not believe. We have to admit, God could have orchestrated history differently, and didn’t. Some will believe and some won’t. Ultimately, then, God is okay with that, or else it would be different. We can get upset about this reality, or we can accept that He is God and we are a creature and He must know more about what He is doing than we do. Take a look at this scripture regarding who it is that comes to believe in Christ:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:17-21) 

Since no one is righteous before receiving the righteousness of God, no one comes “into the light.” No one comes! The “light” represents God in the above passage. And John tells us they (all) “do not come!” They do not come unless God works a miracle in them. It is God who works in them “both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13) Any of their works have been carried out “in God.” 

We are in such a helpless state. We have no idea how helpless we are before we know Christ. 

The Bible, over and over, cries out to us that we are desperately lost without the initiation of the Holy Spirit. God is justified to leave us in that state because of our sins. This is why we are shown the following illustrations in Scripture:

  • Dead. We are dead in our sins. Dead people don’t reach out to God. God needs to touch them first, and then they can reach out to him. Dead people don’t hear or see or seek. God commands the dead to rise and they do.
  • Born. Babies can’t create themselves to be born. We don’t choose to be born. Being born is something we weren’t consulted about. We were given the gift of life. In the same way, your “choice” to be born again was something God planned from eternity past. 
  • Blind. Blind people don’t just choose to see again. They must be healed first by a healer. God chooses to heal your spiritual eyes, or not. And by the way, those who “see” Him never want to be blind ever again.
  • Israel. God gave us an illustration in all His choosing and electing. “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 14:2) God chose sinful Abraham out of the pagan land of Ur, and Abraham had faith because that’s how God made him! Jesus chose the twelve disciples and said “you did not choose me” (John 15:16) which has great application for all his followers. God has chosen us “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
  • Bride. God’s people, the church, are called the “bride” of Christ because He doesn’t choose to love just anyone. He loves his bride. His bride are those who turn to Him. His bride are those who believe. Yes his bride are those who have faith, but let’s stand in awe that God has granted that faith? “It has been granted to you… to believe.” (Philippians 1:29) Everyone has some degree of faith, but that faith which doesn’t save is meaningless faith, because it’s a powerless and dead faith. No, the faith that saves is directly given from God. That kind of faith, “is not your own doing” (Ephesians 5:8). And, as someone once said, the faith that fizzles finally was faulty from the first.

Hell Is Real, Terrible, And Forever

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
Matthew 7:13-14. 

It is popular today to deny that there is a hell. A very popular former Christian teacher has said, “what kind of God is that, that we would need to be rescued from this God?” While that feels like something we can all relate to, it ignores the clearest source of teaching we have about God: the Bible. In this section, I want to talk a lot about hell, because by understanding hell better, we understand God better. Hell is something almost no one talks about because it’s seen as disgusting and obscene, and in one sense, it really is. It’s not easy for me to write about it, but God writes to us about it in His Word, which means it’s something we should contemplate and understand. Here is what Jesus said about hell:

He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know  where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Luke 13)

If we know Scripture well, it dispels the silly images of Jesus that pop culture has given us. Scripture says Jesus is the Lord God Almighty. (Psalm 118, Matthew 21:42) Read how John described Jesus: “His winnowing fork is in His hand to clear His threshing floor and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3:17). In case you missed it, this isn’t referring to wheat. This is referring to Jesus being in charge of destroying people. I realize that this may sound shocking the first time we hear this, but please, keep reading. 

God is the potter and we are the clay. (Jeremiah 18:6) God is the farmer, and we are the grass. “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall.” (1 Peter 1:24) We ought to know and feel the difference between the person (potter) and the inanimate object (clay). The stark difference is purposeful. He cares for us and loves us, but He is not us, and is not like us – except in one special way: God has taken on flesh and added to himself humanity forever.

Jesus is one with the Father, (John 10:30) but as we have seen above, not all are one with Jesus. This means not all are one with God. If not all are saved, then not all become a new creation through God’s Spirit, and are not united with Christ. All people, the original creation, are destined for destruction because Adam corrupted them. This is difficult for us to process because we are human, and we have empathy for each other no matter how terrible God says we are. This love we have for others was given to us by God himself!

If you are truly “saved,” then you are a new creation and as a new creation you have godly compassion. It pains anyone to think that someone could have been destroyed by “unquenchable fire” (Matthew 18:8-9, Mark 9:43-48) but usually the people who are bothered by this the most are those who have already been made a new creation in Christ. 

In other words, those whom God has newly created, Christians, are the most disturbed by hell because they understand it. They are given a heart to love unconditionally. They are given a heart like God that “desires that none should perish” (2 Peter 3:9) and “takes no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked.” (Ezekiel 33:11) So, sometimes the topic of hell is disregarded and avoided because we can’t stand to think about it.

Yet the only way to be saved, according to Scripture, is to understand at least on a very basic level what it means to not be saved.

God’s word says, “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.” (Proverbs 9:10) This fear is not merely respect, as some like to say, but it is actual, reverent fear. Many people are not afraid to die, but they probably should be. Many imagine that they will probably just die and go to an eternal sleep. But what if what Jesus says is true? This is where Shakespeare had a point when he wrote in his play, Hamlet, “Ay there’s the rub, for in that sleep of death, what dreams may come must give us pause.” Translation: “Yes, there’s the catch, because we don’t know for certain what comes after death, and it’s something to think about.” The Bible warns us of the certainty of terrible things if we don’t have the certainty of our faith in Christ.

If what Jesus says is true, what happens after we die could be worse than anything we have seen or witnessed or comprehended here on the earth. Most people think they are good enough people that even if they got some things wrong here on earth, what lies beyond this life can’t be all that bad. But what if what is waiting for you and me really is an eternal “unquenchable” fire? (Matthew 3:12, Mark 9:43, Luke 3:17)

You won’t read a lot of books on this subject. Like I said, it’s easier to ignore, or disregard. Even more common, it’s easier for people who believe what Jesus said about hell is true to hope that other people will simply read it for themselves someday so they don’t have to bring up the topic.

It’s embarrassing to talk about hell. One of the reasons for this is because no one wants to be classified as someone who thinks they are “holier than thou.” Simply discussing hell creates a question for the hearers: “Do you think you will be going there, or not? And on what basis?” Hopefully, I’ve prepared you enough with all of the previous reading so that it is clear I believe I deserve hell. I believe this because I have come to trust Jesus, that his words are true. But because I believe I deserve hell, I can speak about hell to other people who deserve it (everyone).

Those who have hope in the heaven that Jesus taught us about, ought to also believe in the hell he taught about; and the first thoughts we should have about hell should include real fear. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10) Again this is not a simple respect, but a real, trembling fear. Read Ezekiel chapter 1 where Ezekiel sees a vision of the Lord and says “when I saw it, I fell on my face.” Read Isaiah’s vision of the Lord in Isaiah chapter 6 where he says, “Woe is me! For I am lost.” In other words, “Oh no. I am dead!” Isaiah receives comfort but not before trembling in fear and dread of God. When God spoke the ten commandments, the people “were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” (Exodus 20:18-19) Our God is not a cuddly, cozy sky-fairie. He is not to be trifled with. It’s not because He has an ego problem, it’s that He holds the universe on his little finger.

I remember the first thoughts I had when learning about hell: that hell was only a place where the real bad people went, and I could be glad I would never see it. As I continued to learn, at one point I thought of hell as just a place that people went who rejected Jesus. I thought that everyone who ever lived would be afforded the option to choose to save themselves from hell or not. So hell would be simply filled with people who chose not to save themselves. But that’s not what the Bible teaches at all.

It is popular for people who believe this to talk about hell as people just getting what they wanted after all: separation from God. So they imagine hell as only a place of suffering because it is dark and cold and lonely and eternal without God there to brighten it up. But hell is not primarily punishment for the rejection of Jesus. Hell is punishment for being a sinner. Humans were guilty of sin before Jesus was born. We are guilty of sin before we ever know there is a Jesus to reject. Hell is justice for hating God and hating our neighbors (sin) and for which the penalty is eternal death. There would still be a hell if God never afforded us any opportunity to reject Jesus. You may want to read that sentence again because it’s an important one. 

Hell is a place created by God for the destruction of evil. I’ve already posed this question but I want to ask it again: what if all of us who ever lived went there forever? In the past, even when I heard statements like this, I could make a mental hurdle which was this: thinking that, although hell is a place we all probably deserve, God has provided Jesus, so I can “let him off the hook” so to speak. In other words, hell was always acceptable on some level because I could agree that God makes the rules, and at least He gave us a way of escape. But God would still be good without giving us a way to escape. Hell at one time in my thinking was still a place to me where Satan was king.

During this thought process I was ignoring a lot of things throughout the entire Bible. Let me explain. What if the story of the world went a little differently from what the Bible says? What if God created the world, we spit in his face as we have, but hope never came at all? What if we all woke up in hell and stayed there forever? Whatever “unquenchable fire” means, whether literal or figurative, it is meant to wake us up to the fact that, to be in hell is not good. In an eternity of unquenchable fire, I imagine minutes will feel like years. Those who are there will never get “used to it” or “numb” like we do here. Our souls are crafted in such a way that they were not meant to end. “…he has put eternity into man’s heart…” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) So “unquenchable” fire has real meaning to us. Otherwise Jesus could have said hell was “a very long time.” Some people will try to argue that there is no word for eternity and that “forever” simply means “into the ages” or just a long time, but not forever. But that is not the picture we are given in scripture: “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; and they have no rest day and night.” (Rev. 14:11) The original Greek words there are doubled to mean eternity. It is literally “forever upon forever” or “into the ages, the ages.” Furthermore, if there were no words for eternity in the Bible, then neither is heaven forever. We can’t have it both ways. Heaven is forever just as hell is forever: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Daniel 12:2 ESV) Jesus also said, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels … And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:41-45). 

Hell is Justice

What would we say about God if this was all that any of us would ever see? I don’t think many of us dwell too long on these kinds of thoughts – and that’s okay – but we should every now and then, to get some perspective. Try for a minute to imagine that there is absolutely no hope but hell for you and everyone else. Would we say that was cruel? Would we say He was being unfair? Would we ask him things like, “Why did you even create us if you were just going to destroy us?” Would we decide to curse God and live it up here on the earth to take what we could before we die? I know this is difficult, but just ponder this with me for a minute. Would knowing hell was forever for everyone make you sad, or angry at all? The scenario I’m describing is one where no one will live. We will all burn in unquenchable fire. I’m not a genius, but I’m pretty sure that none of what I’ve described above is something we can quickly get glad about. But why not, especially if it is justice?

If sitting around in a lake of fire were all we could ever look forward to for our eternity, would you ever consider that justice? Would you consider it good? Would you consider it holy? The Bible says hell is justice without any footnotes or exceptions or qualifications, because hell is meant for the destruction of the wicked. Satan is not a god. Satan does not create worlds. God created hell. God is the creator. God therefore rules over hell. If Satan ruled over hell, it might be more of a party. But Satan will face the fires of hell just as we all are promised to face, if we’re not given a remedy.

On top of this, what hope is there for rebellious angels? Angels are persons. Jesus did not die for them, and there is no hope for them at all. What kind of God, if He knows the future, would create creatures He knows will break his laws, and be condemned to unending destruction? Answer: the one true, holy and living God would, and could do this, and be justified, because he is the Judge. We can also trust that, since he is good, he is more wise than us in these decisions.

But I think we don’t dwell on this topic because we don’t want to accept it. We come up with ways to ignore it or sweep it under the rug. We always want to interject “But that’s not the story…” But what if it was? That’s an important question, and I ask it, not simply to speculate. The Bible teaches that if the story was only ever hell for all, God would be good and holy to do it. The end. The very definitions of mercy and grace mean God doesn’t need to spare us from our wrongs in order to be good. For God to be good, he does not need to show mercy. We can’t require mercy from God; that would make us God. 

Can you accept this? I believe that our entire understanding of the Bible hinges on this topic that most of us don’t talk about. I would say most people either deny that this is what the Bible teaches or reject the Bible and Jesus entirely because they do see this is what the Bible teaches. If you can accept this, it means you are on your way to understanding what grace is, but never before. Real fear of God is only the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs 9:10) God’s word says that what Jesus did for us is a gracious gift, and that grace is something that is not merited. In other words, being “gracious” is not something God needs to be. God does not have to be gracious to be good. By definition if God was never once gracious to anyone, He would still be totally good, just, and worthy of praise.

Most of us believe that God owes us something, since we are His creation, and we forget that He is free to do as He pleases. What he pleases is what He does: “Our God is in heaven and does as he pleases.” (Psalm 115:3). Thankfully, God is a person and not a robot, and what God pleases is always good, and He takes care of and loves his creation.

Scripture is clear that God is not the author of evil. He saw everything and declared it “very good” (Genesis 1:31). “He Himself does not tempt anyone” (James 1:13). “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). 

However, the Bible is equally clear that God has ordained evil to be, because being all powerful, He could ordain that there be no evil. I think there are only three options you have regarding God and the “problem of evil.” Either 1) you ignore it, or 2) you falsely imagine that God somehow tied His own arms and can’t deal with evil anymore 3) you accept that evil only ever flows when God himself removes his hand from blocking up that river of evil. In other words, God has evil on a leash. We would otherwise experience much more evil than we already do. Every breath we breathe is a mercy of God. Every act of evil, and “rejection” of him, is therefore an act that God has purposely not stopped, for He allows nothing accidentally or randomly or without purpose. Every heart that hates Him is a heart He has not overcome, which is every person, until He decides otherwise. (John 3:19, 6:44, Romans 8:7, 9:15, Proverbs 21:1, Philippians 1:6, Ephesians 1:3-14, 2:1-5) 

I want to share some surprising verses that have changed my life and the way I think about God. I read these verses for years and ignored them because I couldn’t accept them at face value. However, I challenge you to think about these, and think about how God is in charge and does whatever He wants, which has apparently been to allow a lot of evil to occur. The Bible is unashamed about this, and instead of glossing over these verses as something we can’t comprehend, we are wise to contemplate them. Here are some of the precious and God-breathed verses of Scripture that have changed me forever regarding God’s authority to do as He pleases:

  1. “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (Job 2:10).
  2. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31)
  3. A harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him (1 Samuel 16:14-15). 
  4. I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things. (Isaiah 45:7).
  5. creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him [God] who subjected it” (Romans 8:20-22)
  6. Make us glad for as many days as You [God] have afflicted us. (Psalm 90:15)
  7. What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (Romans 9:22). 
  8. The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked. Psalm 11:5
  9. Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” (Amos 3:6)
  10. Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us.” (Hosea 6:1).
  11. Amaziah would not listen [to do what was right], for it was of God (2 Chronicles 25:20).
  12. God meant it [the evil that occured] for good.” (Genesis 50:20) 
  13. Saul killed himself, but we’re told that was ultimately because “the LORD put him to death.” (1 Chronicles 10:3-14)
  14. The worst evil in history, the death of Jesus, was God, doing “whatever [His] hand and [His] plan had predestined to take place.” (Acts 4:28).

This is how the Bible talks about God. There are no coincidences. It’s not as though God ordains some evil and the rest just somehow slips through randomly, surprising and alarming Him. There are no maverick molecules. No, God is good, and in charge, ordaining evil by not stopping it, and is not held accountable by humans for His action or inaction. God knows and decides what is ultimately good, not us, because He alone sees the “end from the beginning.” (Isaiah 46:10)

The purpose of these verses is not to make us think of God as an evil tyrant, but they are meant to help us understand that God is God, the one and only famous and living God! We don’t impose our rules on him. He decides what is right and wrong and what wrong will be allowed. It ultimately doesn’t matter if we like Him or not, or whether we think He is fair or not. God doesn’t need us to like Him. We aren’t His judge. 

We don’t elect God, He elects us

With all of the above in mind, we can approach a very powerful section of Scripture that is otherwise very hard to understand. If God is God, and we are not his judge when it comes to Him saving individuals or not saving individuals, Romans 9 becomes very clear. This chapter is not read nearly enough so I thought it would be good to have it fully written out here:

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the
children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

What shall we say then?
Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? 

Many books have been written on this one chapter and I want to explain every bolded word above but that is a book for another time! For now, I’m trusting heavily on the Holy Spirit to speak through the Scripture above to you as only He can. When I first read the above chapter, it seemed very plainly to mean something I did not like, and so for 10 years or so I spent time resisting it and enjoying other scholarly explanations for it. None of those other scholarly explanations now hold up in my opinion. It means what it plainly seems to mean. God is in charge and does what He wants regarding saving who He wants, when He wants, and we’re in no place to question Him.

The word election (Greek: ekloge) is a Bible word. God is not the elect, which means we don’t elect God. God elects the elect. Election occurred before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-14) and is therefore not based on a condition in any person, because no person existed yet. God does not look to the future to learn anything. (Isaiah 46:10) By decreeing the particular universe He created, God thereby ordained who would have faith in Christ, because while the future appears open to us, it is not open to God who knew exactly how it would happen as if it were in the past; fixed; and created the world anyway. Christ’s payment for sin on the cross, while sufficient for the whole world, and more, was only effectively applied to his “sheep” whom he foreknew. (John 10:14-16, Revelation 13:8) Christ did not pay for the sins of all men only to allow some to pay again for them in hell, which is contradictory. As we mentioned, God does all that He pleases, (Psalm 115:3) and when He decides to overcome our spiritual resistance to Him, He does. (Romans 9:15, Proverbs 21:1) Softening a heart and granting faith is not mind control or coercion, but healing. God does not need permission to heal, but does so out of mercy. A heart that is truly healed by God functions the way it was designed. “A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit” (Matthew 7:18) God’s Word says it is “sure” that He will complete the good work He started (Philippians 1:6) and will certainly raise up all, and only, those he draws (Greek: elkuso, drags) to himself (John 6:44).

This Can Be Frustrating

The one idea I want to highlight is that, in response to much of what I’ve written in this chapter, particularly on God’s sovereign choice in election (his choosing), our natural human tendency is to become confused and frustrated. According to Romans 9, this is the natural flow of logic, otherwise Paul would not be addressing it. People are asking, if God is the one who chooses us, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?

Be very careful to notice the answer we are given, which is hardly an answer at all, except to put us in our place. The answer to the question, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” is this: “Who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” In other words, we are not God. The answer is not rationalized away with philosophy. We don’t decide what is right and wrong. We don’t hold God accountable. God doesn’t live under our definition of good, God defines what is good by whatever He does! Our duty is to trust that God, who needs nothing and therefore has no need to do evil, does everything He does with perfect and loving judgment. 

How Can We Trust This Sort Of God?

The anchor to our trembling hearts when we finally see God for who He really is (as a God who does whatever He pleases with no one holding Him accountable but Himself) is Jesus. Otherwise, it is only ever apparent that, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31) When God feels too terrible or wonderful to comprehend, we can read about Jesus. When God feels alien, we can learn about what God the Son said when he walked the earth. This is what the Word of God says about Jesus: “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his [God’s] nature, and he [Jesus] upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (Hebrews 1:3). When we’re tempted to think God is cold or cruel, remember who He is and what he has done for us through Christ. Jesus is 100% God and 100% human, with us, forever. He won’t forsake us because He cannot forsake himself! (2 Timothy 2:13) The second person of the “Godhead” is called a “Son” so that we can see how God sees us: beloved as sons. As a Father, He would give His life for you, and He has. He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” (Hebrews 13:5) and this is true for all who believe. 

Our Will Is Real, But It Has A Cause

It is true that those who are saved choose God, but only because they were given understanding. Understanding is given by God, (Proverbs 2:6, 2 Timothy 2:7) which should make us ask who is truly doing the choosing. This is why Joshua could tell the Israelites to choose: 

And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve… But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15). We know the rest of the story goes that all the Israelites said they chose the Lord, but only a remnant of them had hearts that truly sought after God. “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.” (Romans 9:6) Only some of Israel had true faith. Only a heart made new by God can actually understand and choose God.

We often treat our choice making as if it were “without cause” like we spontaneously create our choices out of nowhere like God created the world. But the only thing in the universe without a cause is God. Only God has no beginning and creates things ex nihilo (out of nothing). When we who are saved are all standing on the earth-made-new, knowing there were multitudes who weren’t saved, what will we say? Will we feel glad we made the right choice, or will we feel totally indebted to God to stand where we stand? Will we think of those who didn’t choose God as the dummies, who didn’t take the life raft of Jesus? Or will we attribute 100% of our salvation to God alone? I think we will all do the latter. Not only do I believe that Scripture shows us this, but it’s obvious when you think about it. Who doesn’t take a life raft? Answer: Only those who don’t understand what the life raft really is! Nobody willingly and knowingly chooses eternal punishment and “unquenchable fire,” or else they don’t truly know what they are choosing (which isn’t really a choice). In the same way, anyone who truly comprehends the love of God, can’t help but love Him back, or else they don’t understand who God is! And who truly comprehends even a small portion of the love of God except by a miracle of God? Who has given us the understanding to choose wisely? Where does wisdom come from? God, of course. (James 3:17, Proverbs 2:6-8, Job 28:20-28) We’re only free to choose what we want, and what we want is based on our understanding, and our understanding is completely given to us by God. 

Only those who dedicate their lives to following Jesus will be raised to life when he returns, and since not everyone comes to Jesus, this means not everyone will be raised to eternal life. All people who have ever lived will be “drawn” up at the resurrection of the dead (John 12:32). But only those who the Father draws to Jesus come to Jesus, and Jesus says he is certain to save all those He draws. In other words, not all people are drawn to salvation. Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44). 

Jesus says elsewhere, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28). This point is being made here by John because people really believe that we ourselves, or the devil, is running around snatching people from God’s saving hand. Impossible! God will save who He will save, and no one will stop Him. 

That is why Jesus could say to Peter, “this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17) In other words, you don’t “figure out” Jesus on your own. The Father either reveals himself or He doesn’t.  

God Does Not Show Favoritism

When you begin to contemplate that God does the choosing, immediately we resist and say things like, but who then would God choose? His favorites? We know God “does not show favoritism.” (Romans 2:11). But hear throughout Scripture how God shows favor. Yet even Noah found “favor” with God before he was described as righteous. God favored Jacob over Esau. He favored Israel over all the nations. “The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 7:6-7) If we trust Scripture, then somehow God’s favor is not the same as “favoritism.” I simply take this to mean God is fair in his favor, because God is God. Does God choose only the wise, or the righteous? No, often – maybe even most often – He chooses the foolish, the weak, the lowly, and those despised and those considered as nothing. Like Jesus. God such men and women to then be made into the likeness of his very own Son. “those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” (Romans 8:29) He chose the weak, because in our weakness He is strong, which is good news for the weak. He chooses the despised and ridiculed, because God will not be mocked, and this is good news for the mocked. He chooses soft clay, because He is the potter, and this is good news for us lumps of dirt.

More importantly, God chooses us so that He will receive all of the glory, and we receive much joy. We receive unending joy, and none of us can boast in His presence. All of us in heaven and on the earth-made-new will rejoice together with one voice that God alone is glorious and worthy of praise. The reason we won’t boast in His presence is not because we actually do have something to boast about but just won’t boast about it because we’re so humble.. I feel like I need to write that again: It’s not as if we’ll just be humble about things we could boast about – no, the reason we won’t boast is because we literally have no grounds or basis at all for boasting! In His presence we will understand, it was always “God at work in us to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:3)

What does this mean for us?  It has a hundred implications, but to name a few: it brings humility. If faith is truly a gift, we don’t look at those without faith as the dummies. It gives us patience and compassion for those for whom God has not yet opened blind eyes. It gives us hope to pray for the lost knowing God can and will answer those prayers and easily overcome resistance to him if He wills it. It gives us rest, knowing the weight of the world is on His shoulders and not ours. God can be superman. We get to participate in the furthering of his Kingdom.

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29)

I will end this section of the book with this verse from Romans once again: “You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” That’s the answer we are given, like it or not: Who are we? We’re not as wise as God. If this is still frustrating or confusing, I encourage you to take a moment and pray to God for understanding. He promises to give wisdom to those who ask for it.

Heaven

On the new earth there will be celebrating forever. “in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11) We don’t seek God simply in order to receive heavenly gifts, but He promises to give them to those who seek Him with all their heart, and we can be glad about that. 

The Bible describes heaven on earth like a wedding, the happiest of all parties. Jesus’s first miracle was at a wedding, where he turned water into wine. Just in case we’re tempted to think the wine Jesus made was more like grape juice, or watered down wine, those that drank it praised it as the best kind of wine: “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” (John 2:10). In contrast, the prophet Isaiah also compares the sinfulness of the Israelites to bad wine. It was bad because it was watered down, “mixed with water.” (Isaiah 1:22) Since Jesus did not sin, and he did not get drunk, as the bible commands us to not get drunk. (Ephesians 5:18) But he also attended enough parties where alcohol was served to be accused of being a drunkard: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Matthew 11:19) Whether we abstain from wine or not, God’s word says that God made “wine to gladden the heart of man.” (Psalm 104:15) The point here is that we were created to enjoy God, and enjoy his creation to the fullest, forever. I believe sin and death here on the earth has all but ruined our imaginations when it comes to pleasure. When our minds are no longer corrupted, we will be able to enjoy life and God’s creation as God intended because there will be no sin (Revelation 21:27). 

 
Life on the earth-made-new will be much like it is now, but much better. We know this because God shows us a lot of what He intended for us in Genesis 1-2 in the garden. Many people think of earth as being more pleasurable than heaven because they imagine heaven to be clouds and spirits. But look at the garden of Eden! We are meant to have bodies! We will eat food! We will tend gardens! And look at all the life and creativity in the world God has made. It’s an indication that there will be art. We will play music, not only for worship, but because music is also something God made to be enjoyable. If Jesus’s new body is any indication to us about what ours will be like, we will be able to walk through walls. (John 20:19)

Animals won’t attack us, but all of them will instead eat plants. (Isaiah 11:6) We will run fast and not get out of breath. (Isaiah 40:31) We will work without sweating, as a reversal of the curse. (Genesis 3:19) We will play. We will make decisions on matters regarding angels! (1 Corinthians 6:3) We will sing and create music and art and love and laugh. And every day will seem better than the next. This should certainly help clear up any agonizingly boring images we have of doing nothing but floating around with a harp and singing worship music for eternity. 

God has promised us wonderful things. The most wonderful thing of all is that we would meet the most famous one who has ever lived, God himself. He is there, waiting for us! He has prepared it for us. (John 14:3) After we’re finished falling on our faces in complete awe and reverence, I’m sure we’ll get to shake his hand or give him a hug. I’m sure we’ll get to have conversations with him just like the disciples did. If we imagine He won’t have time for us we must remember, time will be something we’ll have so much of we’ll probably have no use for keeping track of it. We’ll have all the time in the world.

I hope this book has brought God glory and brought you joy. I’ll end with this stanza from amazing grace:

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Then when we’d first begun.

I hope to see you there.
Soli Deo Gloria.

IN SUMMARY

The Ax: Jesus is returning to judge the living and the dead. Some will spend eternity in hell, while others will spend eternity in heaven with pleasures forevermore by His side.

The Ox: Hell is justice for hatred against God and people. Heaven is the free gift of God to those who trust solely in the justice Jesus endured for us on the cross.

In this chapter we discussed:

  1. Jesus is coming back.
  2. The dead will be raised.
  3. The earth will be made new.
  4. Those who trust in Jesus will be saved.
  5. Those who did not believe will face judgment.
  6. Salvation has always been by Christ.
  7. All know there is a God.
  8. God is the one who works in us.
  9. God chose.
  10. Hell is real.
  11. Hell is justice.
  12. Heaven is wonderful.

GOSPEL MEMORIZATION GRAPHIC

EXAMPLE OF HOW TO SHARE THE GOSPEL

“Let me tell you about the Gospel, which is the good news that we read about in God’s Word (the Bible): God exists and He is good. He made man good and upright, but we all have fallen and disobeyed God. God said the punishment for sin is eternal, wide-awake death. But God in love and mercy promised to bring men and women back into fellowship with Himself. Without ceasing to be God he became the man Jesus Christ, died on the cross for sins, and rose from the grave that all who put their faith in Him would also rise to eternal life. All who believe this are changed forever and seek to obey God out of a thankful heart by loving God and loving others as we eagerly await his return to judge and restore.”

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