When a Christian Dies

Article: 10 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE INTERMEDIATE STATE by Dr. Sam Storms (original source here)

I could have as easily entitled this post: ten things you should know about what happens when a Christian dies. So what happens when a Christian dies? The simple answer is that he/she enters immediately into what theologians call the intermediate state. It is called “intermediate” because it is what we experience in between the time of our earthly lives (now) and the time when we receive our glorified and resurrected bodies. So here are ten things to keep in mind.

(1) Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:1 that when we die “we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” What is this “building” from God? Is it heaven itself, or an abode in heaven (cf. John 14:2), perhaps even the New Jerusalem. Others say it refers to the body of Christ, i.e., the church. On the other hand, it may be a reference to an intermediate body, i.e., a bodily form of some sort suitable to the intermediate state but different from and only preparatory to the final, glorified, resurrected body (cf. Matt. 17:3; Rev. 6:9-11). The fourth option is to see here a reference to the glorified, resurrection body, that final and consummate embodiment in which we will live for eternity.

(2) The major objection to this view is Paul’s use of the present tense, “we have a building from God” (not “we shall have”). This seems to imply that immediately upon death the believer receives his/her glorified body. But this would conflict with 1 Corinthians 15:22ff.; 15:51-56; and 1 Thessalonians 4-5, all of which indicate that glorification occurs at the second advent of Christ. However, frequently in Scripture a future reality or possession is so certain and assured in the perspective of the author that it is appropriately spoken of in the present tense, i.e., as if it were already ours in experience. Thus Paul’s present tense “we have” most likely points to the fact of having as well as the permanency of having, but not the immediacy of having. It is the language of hope.

(3) The intermediate state is consciously experienced by those who have died (see 2 Cor. 5:6-8; Phil. 1:21-24; Rev. 6:9-11). It is clear that the deceased believer has “departed” to be “with Christ” (Phil. 1:23) and is therefore “with” Christ when he comes (1 Thess. 4:17). It would seem, then, that some kind of conscious existence obtains between a person’s death and the general resurrection (this is why we refer to this time as the intermediate state). Continue reading

Defining Hell

Michael Horton is the J. Gresham Machen professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California (Escondido, California), host of the White Horse Inn, national radio broadcast, and editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He is the author of many books, including The Gospel-Driven Life, Christless Christianity, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, The Christian Faith, and Core Christianity: Finding Yourself in God’s Story.

Article: Hell Is Not Separation From God (original source here)

Unquestionably, irresponsible speculation about hell on both sides of the debate have made the discussion considerably more difficult. Whether it is vivid descriptions of Dante’s Inferno or revivalist “hellfire and brimstone” sermons, the impression is too often given that we must go beyond biblical description to alert people to avoid such a dreadful place.

The problem here is that hell, rather than God, becomes the object of fear. Think of Jesus’ sober warning: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). Hell is not horrible because of alleged implements of torture or its temperature. (After all, it is described variously in Scripture as “outer darkness” and a “lake of fire.”)

Whatever the exact nature of this everlasting judgment, it is horrible ultimately for one reason only: God is present. This sounds strange to those of us familiar with the definition of hell as “separation from God” and heaven as a place for those who have a “personal relationship with God.” But Scripture nowhere speaks in these terms. Quite the contrary, if we read the Bible carefully we conclude that everyone, as a creature made in God’s image, has a personal relationship with God. Therefore, God is, after the fall, either in the relationship of a judge or a father to his creatures.
And God, who is present everywhere at all times, will be present forever in hell as the judge. “Hell reigns wherever there is no peace with God,” John Calvin wrote, refusing to speculate on its salacious horrors. When our conscience condemns us, “We carry always a hell within us” (Gen. Epp. 167).

Just as heaven is not purely future, but is breaking in on the present through the kingdom of God, hell, too, is breaking in on the present: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.” But they are left without excuse (Rom. 1:18-19). Their tortured consciences drive them to expel the thought of God entirely from their horizon, but they cannot evade the revelation of God’s wrath.

Hell is not ultimately about fire, but about God. Whatever the exact nature of the physical punishments, the real terror awaiting the unrepentant is God himself and his inescapable presence forever with his face turned against them.

A measure of our own ongoing sinfulness is that we just don’t understand the beauty of God’s holiness, righteousness, and justice and the equal ultimacy of these attributes with his love. But one day we will not have a problem with eternal punishment. It will make perfect sense. We are not entitled, much less required, in our present condition to defend the doctrine of eternal punishment in any way that either exceeds Scripture or reflects a perverse delight in damnation.

Since God does not delight in the death of the wicked, neither can we. Hell is both the vindication of God’s justice and the prerequisite for his creation’s restoration. But it is also a tragedy and will forever memorialize the tragedy of human rebellion.

God justifies the wicked: this is the astonishing and counter-intuitive claim that distinguishes Christianity from every other religion. In any defense of the traditional doctrine, we must let our interlocutor know that, unlike the terrorist’s “Allah,” God “so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” for the salvation of every believer. Islam has no concept of the fall, original sin, or the impossibility of attaining righteousness by good works, and consequently, knows nothing of justification, sanctification, and redemptive mediation.

For Islam, it’s simple: good people go to heaven, bad people go to hell; it is self-salvation from beginning to end. In sub-Christian versions, the “good news” is that sinners can be partly saved and partly condemned; they can atone for at least some of their sins by their own suffering. But the genuine “good news” of revelation is that God justifies the wicked who place their trust in Christ and find God a reconciled friend now and forever, world without end. Amen.

The Ordinary Means of Soul Winning

Article by Buck Parsons (original source here)

One of the greatest tricks the devil has ever pulled is convincing the church that it needs to become like the world in order to win the world. In the twenty-first century, the church has been seduced by the world rather than turning the world upside down. As such, the greatest threat to the church is not persecution by the world but the church becoming like the world. For when the church adopts the world’s tactics and schemes, the church in essence begins to persecute itself, and it ceases to shine as a light to the world because it looks just like the world. If the first-century church had done things the same way as the twenty-first-century church, it never would have been persecuted. Rather than being countercultural, the church has become counter-ecclesial in order to become culturally acceptable.

The problem is not only that many churches have adopted the world’s tactics in what they do but also that they have adopted the world’s message in what they say. Francis A. Schaeffer quipped, “Tell me what the world is saying today, and I’ll tell you what the church will be saying in seven years.” Schaeffer’s nearly prophetic assessment has proven true time and time again as churches adopt the world’s means and message in order to be liked by the world and influence the world to the end that they might win the world.

Pastors of such churches have apparently bought into the notion that in order to win the souls of the unbelieving world, they must mimic the unbelieving world. In order to be on the cutting edge, they have to turn to what’s new and fresh, to what’s culturally relevant and acceptable, rather than to what’s ancient and trusted and to what’s truly relevant—whether it’s accepted or not. And in order to remain on the cutting edge, these pastors must study the ever-changing fads of culture rather than the unchanging principles of God’s Word.

For these churches and their pastors, anything goes so long as there is no explicit biblical command against it. They argue that if God can use their means and message to win souls, then why not use them? While I heartily appreciate their ultimate aim, simply because God can use something is not a biblically sound argument for it. For in all of history, we can observe how God has providentially worked around all sorts of sinful means in order to accomplish His sovereign ends. But the ends do not justify the means—unless they are the means that God has ordained.

The reality is that many Christians simply aren’t aware that God has provided the church with particular means for winning souls. In fact, for several years after I became a Christian, I was unaware that God had ordained that the church use such means to rescue souls, disciple souls, nourish souls, and restore souls. I first discovered these means during my freshman year of college. I was at a Ligonier Ministries National Conference and was a poor student, barely able to afford my required course books. I came upon a book on one of the tables in the bookstore that cost only four dollars. It was a white paperback book with a photo of the inside of a cathedral on the cover, and under the photo was the title: the Westminster Confession of Faith. I immediately read the entire confession and its catechisms and quickly realized that I had just discovered one of the greatest documents that had ever been written. My entire world began to change. I was in doctrinal shock, and I have never gotten over it.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism’s question 88 asks, “What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?” and answers, “The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are, his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.” That all sounds much too simple, I thought. But I soon realized that if God has sovereignly foreordained the ends of all things, we must trust Him and His ordained means to bring about those ends. We don’t need to invent our own means or borrow the world’s means to fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus Christ. We don’t need to develop our own cleverly devised tactics and schemes to rescue souls, disciple souls, nourish souls, and restore souls; we simply need to trust God to do what He said He will do by the means He has provided. To do otherwise is to suggest that we know better than God and to set ourselves as a higher tribunal over God. To use our own methods, means, and message, or to revise God’s appointed methods, means, and message is akin to playing God.

It is also the reason why many nominal Christians who claim to have been converted to Christ in evangelistic crusades or in churches that employ the world’s means for winning souls fall away from the church in the end. They never genuinely trusted Christ in the first place. Moreover, it is the reason why many Christians who were truly converted in evangelistic crusades or in churches that employ the world’s means for winning souls later move on to churches that are truly concerned with fulfilling the fullness of the Great Commission by making disciples who are learning to observe all that Christ commanded—churches that are committed not only to reaching the lost but also to making disciples of the found.

The early church understood this. She was committed to fulfilling the fullness of the Great Commission through ordinary means of grace ministry, and by the powerful working of the Holy Spirit, the early church turned the world upside down. We read in the book of Acts, following the Apostle Peter’s sermon:

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:41–47)

What makes a church a true church is not simply a crowd of people doing things however they want and saying whatever they want. Rather, a true church is the gathering of believers who are worshiping God according to His Word and according to the means God has ordained. A true church of Jesus Christ is a congregation of those who have professed faith in Jesus Christ and who are committed to the unadulterated preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the whole counsel of God, prayer, and the proper administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which includes the consistent practice of church discipline. If a church fails to be faithful to these ordinary marks of the church, it fails to be a true church.

As such, there are many gatherings of believers throughout the world that cannot be considered true churches. Churches that do not practice church discipline are not truly concerned with sin and unrepentance and are thus not concerned with repentance and restoration. Churches that do not faithfully administer the sacraments are not concerned with the means that God has ordained to point people to Jesus Christ and to the promises of God. Churches that offer quaint, flippant, and perfunctory prayers and do not give themselves to biblically informed prayer have ceased to be houses of prayer for the nations and have instead become dens of thieves. Churches that do not preach the pure gospel of Jesus Christ and the whole counsel of God for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness—that God’s people may be competent and equipped for every good work—are in reality not churches at all.

Such congregations may indeed have many true believers in them, and such congregations may do many things right according to God’s Word. But in the end, they are only true churches if they are committed to the ordinary marks of the church to the end that souls might be rescued for Christ, that they might become faithful disciples of Christ in all of life, that they might receive the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and that they might become more and more humble men, women, and children who are offering their worship, praises, confessions of sin, and prayers to our triune God.

And as the church gathers for worship every Lord’s Day, with unbelievers visiting our gatherings of worship and witnessing what we’re doing, they may at first feel uncomfortable and out of place by our faithful observance of the ordinary means of grace. They indeed might be offended when they hear about God’s righteous standard, their wretched sinful condition, God’s law, God’s wrath, God’s judgment, and God’s eternal condemnation of the unbelieving and unrepentant in hell. However, it’s only when they hear these truths that God’s grace as it shines forth in the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ will have any meaning—all according to God’s sovereign means and ends, and all by the grace of God and for the glory of God, not for our own glory by our own means and ends.

What Is the Greatest of All Protestant “Heresies”?

The following is an article by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson: What Is the Greatest of All Protestant “Heresies”? (original source here)

Let us begin with a church history exam question. Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621) was a figure not to be taken lightly. He was Pope Clement VIII’s personal theologian and one of the most able figures in the Counter-Reformation movement within sixteenth-century Roman Catholicism. On one occasion, he wrote: “The greatest of all Protestant heresies is _______ .” Complete, explain, and discuss Bellarmine’s statement.

How would you answer? What is the greatest of all Protestant heresies? Perhaps justification by faith? Perhaps Scripture alone, or one of the other Reformation watchwords?

Those answers make logical sense. But none of them completes Bellarmine’s sentence. What he wrote was: “The greatest of all Protestant heresies is assurance.”

A moment’s reflection explains why. If justification is not by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone — if faith needs to be completed by works; if Christ’s work is somehow repeated; if grace is not free and sovereign, then something always needs to be done, to be “added” for final justification to be ours. That is exactly the problem. If final justification is dependent on something we have to complete it is not possible to enjoy assurance of salvation. For then, theologically, final justification is contingent and uncertain, and it is impossible for anyone (apart from special revelation, Rome conceded) to be sure of salvation. But if Christ has done everything, if justification is by grace, without contributory works; it is received by faith’s empty hands — then assurance, even “full assurance” is possible for every believer.

No wonder Bellarmine thought full, free, unfettered grace was dangerous! No wonder the Reformers loved the letter to the Hebrews!

This is why, as the author of Hebrews pauses for breath at the climax of his exposition of Christ’s work (Heb. 10:18), he continues his argument with a Paul-like “therefore” (Heb. 10:19). He then urges us to “draw near … in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22). We do not need to re-read the whole letter to see the logical power of his “therefore.” Christ is our High Priest; our hearts have been sprinkled clean from an evil conscience just as our bodies have been washed with pure water (v.22).

Christ has once-for-all become the sacrifice for our sins, and has been raised and vindicated in the power of an indestructible life as our representative priest. By faith in Him, we are as righteous before the throne of God as He is righteous. For we are justified in His righteousness, His justification alone is ours! And we can no more lose this justification than He can fall from heaven. Thus our justification does not need to be completed any more than does Christ’s!

With this in view, the author says, “by one offering He has perfected for all time those who come to God by him” (Heb. 10:14). The reason we can stand before God in full assurance is because we now experience our “hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and … bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22).

“Ah,” retorted Cardinal Bellarmine’s Rome, “teach this and those who believe it will live in license and antinomianism.” But listen instead to the logic of Hebrews. Enjoying this assurance leads to four things: First, an unwavering faithfulness to our confession of faith in Jesus Christ alone as our hope (v.23); second, a careful consideration of how we can encourage each other to “love and good works” (v.24); third, an ongoing communion with other Christians in worship and every aspect of our fellowship (v.25a); fourth, a life in which we exhort one another to keep looking to Christ and to be faithful to him, as the time of his return draws ever nearer (25b).

It is the good tree that produces good fruit, not the other way round. We are not saved by works; we are saved for works. In fact we are God’s workmanship at work (Eph. 2:9–10)! Thus, rather than lead to a life of moral and spiritual indifference, the once-for-all work of Jesus Christ and the full-assurance faith it produces, provides believers with the most powerful impetus to live for God’s glory and pleasure. Furthermore, this full assurance is rooted in the fact that God Himself has done all this for us. He has revealed His heart to us in Christ. The Father does not require the death of Christ to persuade Him to love us. Christ died because the Father loves us (John 3:16). He does not lurk behind His Son with sinister intent wishing He could do us ill — were it not for the sacrifice his Son had made! No, a thousand times no! — the Father Himself loves us in the love of the Son and the love of the Spirit.

Those who enjoy such assurance do not go to the saints or to Mary. Those who look only to Jesus need look nowhere else. In Him we enjoy full assurance of salvation. The greatest of all heresies? If heresy, let me enjoy this most blessed of “heresies”! For it is God’s own truth and grace!

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” – 1 John 5:13

The Holy Spirit’s Ministry

Article by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson (original source here)

The Reformers placed tremendous stress on the gifts of the Spirit to the whole body of Christ. John Calvin himself has rightly been described as “the theologian of the Holy Spirit” (B.B. Warfield). Yet Reformed Christians always have been given a “bad press” for their views on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Our conviction is that God purposefully gave some gifts (specifically the ability to work miracles, the gift of revelatory prophecy, and speaking in tongues) only for a limited period. We have solid biblical reasons for believing this:

1. A temporary manifestation of these gifts is characteristic of God’s pattern of working. Contrary to popular opinion, such gifts as these were given spasmodically in biblical history. Their occurrence is generally contained within a handful of time periods lasting around a generation each.

2. The function of these gifts, namely to convey and to confirm revelation (now ceased until Christ’s return), is underlined in the New Testament itself (Acts 2:22, 14:3; cf. 2 Cor. 12:12; Heb. 2:3–4).

3. The history of the New Testament suggests that by the close of the apostolic age the role of these gifts was being superseded by the completion of the New Testament. Thus, there is no reference to their presence—or, more significantly, their future regulation—in the Pastoral Letters.

More could be said here in terms of biblical Christology, for the outpouring of the gifts of tongues, prophecy, and miracles at Pentecost was specifically intended to mark the coronation of Christ. It was, therefore, inherently intended to be a non-permanent feature of the life of the church. But in this context, it probably is more important to emphasize another, often-ignored facet of Reformed teaching. It is well-expressed in some words of the great Puritan John Owen:

Although all these gifts and operations ceased in some respect, some of them absolutely, and some of them as to the immediate manner of communication and degree of excellency; yet so far as the edification of the church was concerned in them, something that is analogous unto them was and is continued.

What does this mean? Simply this: It is the same Spirit who gives both temporary and continuing gifts to the church. We should not be surprised, therefore, to discover common threads in both. Continue reading

The Scriptures by Thomas Watson

(Original source here)


A: The Word of God, which is contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

2 Tim 3: I6. ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God,’ &c. By Scripture is understood the sacred Book of God. It is given by divine inspiration; that is, the Scripture is not the contrivance of man’s brain, but is divine in its origin. The image of Diana was had in veneration by the Ephesians, because they supposed it fell from Jupiter. Acts 19: 35. The holy Scripture is to be highly reverenced and esteemed, because we are sure it came from heaven. 2 Pet 1: 2I. The two Testaments are the two lips by which God has spoken to us.

How does it appear that the Scriptures have a Jus Divinum, a divine authority stamped upon them?

Because the Old and New Testament are the foundation of all religion. If their divinity cannot be proved, the foundation on which we build our faith is gone. I shall therefore endeavour to prove this great truth, that the Scriptures are the very word of God. I wonder whence the Scriptures should come, if not from God. Bad men could not be the authors of it. Would their minds be employed in inditing such holy lines? Would they declare so fiercely against sin? Good men could not be the authors of it. Could they write in such a strain? or could it stand with their grace to counterfeit God’s name, and put, Thus saith the Lord, to a book of their own devising? Nor could any angel in heaven be the author of it, because the angels pry and search into the abyss of gospel mysteries, I Pet 1: I2, which implies their nescience of some parts of Scripture; and sure they cannot be the authors of that book which they themselves do not fully understand. Besides, what angel in heaven durst be so arrogant as to personate God and, say, ‘I create,’ Isa 65: I7, and, ‘I the Lord have said it,? Numb 14: 35. So that it is evident, the pedigree of Scripture is sacred, and it could come from none but God himself.

Not to speak of the harmonious consent of all the parts of Scripture, there are seven cogent arguments which may evince it to be the Word of God.

[I] Its antiquity. It is of ancient standing. The grey hairs of Scripture make it venerable. No human histories extant reach further than Noah’s flood: but the holy Scripture relates matters of fact that have been from the beginning of the world; it writes of things before time. That is a sure rule of Tertullian, ‘That which is of the greatest antiquity, id verum quod primum, is to be received as most sacred and authentic.’

[2] We may know the Scripture to be the Word of God by its miraculous preservation in all ages. The holy Scriptures are the richest jewel that Christ has left us; and the church of God has so kept these public records of heaven, that they have not been lost. The Word of God has never wanted enemies to oppose, and, if possible, to extirpate it. They have given out a law concerning Scripture, as Pharaoh did the midwives, concerning the Hebrew women’s children, to strangle it in the birth; but God has preserved this blessed Book inviolable to this day. The devil and his agents have been blowing at Scripture light, but could never blow it out; a clear sign that it was lighted from heaven. Nor has the church of God, in all revolutions and changes, kept the Scripture that it should not be lost only, but that it should not be depraved. The letter of Scripture has been preserved, without any corruption, in the original tongue. The Scriptures were not corrupted before Christ’s time, for then Christ would not have sent the Jews to them. He said, ‘Search the Scriptures.’ He knew these sacred springs were not muddied with human fancies. Continue reading