Last week I listed 4 situations in which Christians in sin died, then
asked if they are in heaven: The speeder, the bitter ex, the porn addict, the suicide. I shared how it is our recreated spirit that proves our status as God's children, thus our 'ticket' to heaven.
How big is your God?
If we believe heaven is to be lost by someone's death at 1 mph over the speed limit, which is on the basis of them being in sin when they died, then followed to its logical conclusion not too many believers would actually make it into heaven.
That would make the Father and the Lord Jesus rather small, rather limited, that they couldn't come up with a plan any better than one that gets people born again and welcomed into the heavenly family, only to have the plan dashed to pieces should that believer die while traveling 1 mph over the speed limit, still have some anger towards an ex-spouse, have a hidden sin, or purposely cut their life short. Couldn't God come up with a better plan than that?
I have a pastor friend who grew up in the Nazarene denomination. He said every Sunday he went to the altar to repent and 'get saved', because he was sure if he had committed a sin during the week and had died, he would go to hell. He thought citizenship in heaven and status as a child of God changed with each sin/repent cycle, and he just hoped when he died he was on the 'repent' side of that cycle.
So how does this work?
If I know I've sinned or am sinning, but I don't deal with that sin by asking forgiveness or in some way acknowledging it and turning my heart and mind towards righteousness, and die, do I still go to heaven?
If someone has a habitual sin, like my example of the heart-diseased man with a porn addiction, does that sin have the power to taint his born-again spirit so that he won't go to heaven? Or because he is a child of God does he still go to heaven - but if that is so how does God handle that unrepented sin?
If a person has been through a lot in this life and only comes to God on their death-bed or after years of hardship in the world, does God expect them to have fully resolved every hurt and pain, every mistake and experience BEFORE they go to heaven - or else they won't be granted entrance?
Here today, gone tomorrow?
All these questions are really asking this: Does the Holy Spirit leave me each time I sin?
Does He stay in me if I speed a little while driving, but He might
leave if I spoke evil of an anointed minister? Would He stay if I watched a little porn, but leave if I had an affair? Would He stay in me if I thought about depression a lot and just wanted to end it all and get to heaven, but leave me if I actually pulled the trigger or swallowed those pills to end it all? Where is the dividing line between heaven and hell for a believer?
Foundation #1: Earth controls heaven
Though Jesus died on the cross roughly 2,000 years ago, you didn't become born again at your first breath. You had to make a decision later in life, meaning though you responded to the Father's invitation, you still had to decide to believe on Jesus and follow Him. Earth controlled heaven in your salvation.
If that was not so, the God who 'wants all mankind to be saved'*, would just do it for you. (* I Timothy 2:4)
If we resisted the Father's invitation for salvation until we were good and ready, this same principle extends to the smaller unresolved sins in our lives as well - though He may be inviting us to deal with sins and issues in our hearts and lives, we decide when and where and if we will deal with these things. Sometimes we like sin and so protect it in a carefully guarded place in our heart no one knows about. What happens if you die before you were ready to deal with it?
Whether that sin is something like bad feelings toward an ex-spouse you want to see punished just a little more and are resisting
Father's prodding to forgive, a speeding habit where you are ignoring His admonition to slow down because you like speed, or an addiction that is there because of unresolved emotional issues you aren't quite ready to face - we control heaven's involvement in our lives.
To say it another way, a sinner sins because it is his nature to do so;
A believer sins by choice. (Ephesians 2:3 says we used to be 'by nature
children of wrath')
We decide to invite the Father and Lord into our little protected areas, or not. What if only He and you know about this little area - and then you die! What will be His reaction when He sees you?
Foundation #2: The difference between sins and
Paul said in Ephesians 2: "And you He made alive when you were dead in your trespasses and sins."
The Lord makes a distinction between trespasses and sins, and this is seen from the Old Testament through the New. If you don't understand the difference you will misunderstand the Lord in the gospels, misunderstand the epistles, and build a whole theology on false and incorrect beliefs. So let me clarify.
A sin is an act against God. We can think of a sin therefore as
A trespass is an act against a person. We can think of a trespass therefore as horizontal.
This means not all sins are trespasses, but all trespasses are sins.
If I trespass against another believer I have also sinned against Christ. I Cor 8:12, Rom 14:9-15 That is why all trespasses are also sins.
The guilt and the injury
New Testament understanding that God makes a distinction between trespasses and sins comes from the Old Testament. In Leviticus 6:1-7 we have the law of the trespass offering.
(I go into more detail on this in my series entitled Sermon on the
Mount 2, which involves turning the other cheek, walking the extra mile, and other OT and cultural understandings we often missunderstand)
In the trespass offering the person who trespassed against a person could not be forgiven by God until and unless they had first made it right with the person they trespassed against. Not only did they have to restore whatever they did wrong, they had to add 20% interest in a monetary fine to make sure all was now right between the 2 people. ONLY AFTER the restoration and interest payment had been made could they come before God to get their trespass and sin forgiven.
In the Father's mind, the person must mend the damage their trespass
did to the other person - the injury - before they could be forgiven
vertically - the guilt. Both injury and guilt must be made right for a person's life to be right before God.
The Great Filter
The ramifications of God not forgiving a person's trespass unless they
have at least tried to be forgiven by the other person can be seen in our churches today.
Sister so and so bad mouths and speaks evil of another woman in the church, yet goes to church Sunday morning and sings as if she is heaven's personal soloist, like nothing is wrong between her and the other woman out in the congregation. Because she is the one who committed the trespass and has made no effort to repent and make it right, God hasn't forgiven her no matter how many octaves she can hit Sunday morning. When she gets to heaven, she will have deal with it personally with the Lord if she doesn't change.
When you stand praying, forgive
And this is why Jesus made the statement in Mark 11:25-26: "And when you stand praying, forgive if you have something against another, that the Father may forgive you your trespasses. For if you don't forgive another's trespasses, neither will the Father forgive you your trespasses."
This is NOT heaven or hell. This is about horizontal sins, trespasses. If
you bind up in your heart someone's trespass against you, you are tying the Father's hands in heaven and His ability to forgive you your trespasses. NOT SINS, but trespasses. Earth controls heaven in this case. If you do the Lord's Prayer, "Forgive us our trespasses even as we forgive those who trespass against us" - then all is well and your life is clean before Him.
For example: If the ex-wife who is still bitter in my example dies with
that unresolved, her sins are forgiven but that one trespass is
not - Paul says she will be saved, though that trespass will be burned away - more next week on what happens 'on the other side'.
Let me close with the questions I know many are asking:
Do I have to go back 15 years to my ex and apologize that I put the burning sack of dog poop on his front step before God forgives me of that trespass? Do I have to go back to my former pastor and apologize for what I said about him 10 years ago? How do I make it right with someone now dead?
The short answer is no, you don't have to run through the caverns of your memory and hunt for any hidden trespass you may have done, large or small. In every context of this teaching by Jesus, James, and Paul, the situation calls for immediate action, but for more distant in the past trespasses you only now understand accurately, His grace covered your ignorance long ago. But from this time forward you know what to do.
And I want to add, by saying 'As you stand praying, forgive', Jesus makes it clear forgiveness is a decision, not a feeling nor emotion. We make the decision to forgive right away, but the feelings needing to be worked through may take 10 years! Jesus taught forgiving someone is a decision, not an emotion.
Next week: More clarity on this, and gold, silver, precious stones, or
wood, hay and stubble. Until then, blessings