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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Dogs, Sorcerers and Saints

I have a Catholic friend who is not a fan of the name Peter. She almost flinches at it. The name has associations, you see.

I think she’s sorta half expecting to meet him someday. Maybe.

In the tradition in which she was raised, Peter stands at the gate of heaven as an endless stream of the dead parade before him. As the man with the keys to the kingdom, she was taught, he personally gives the final decree on whether you go “up” (in her words) or “down” (presumably with his thumb, being the hip fellow Peter is reputed to be), all on the basis of the things you have done in this life.

Or, in the Alternative …

Alternatively, there is the book of Revelation. In it we find God’s version of the final fate of mankind.

Rather disappointingly, Peter does not make even a cameo appearance, other than the mention of his name on one of the foundations of the walls of the New Jerusalem, along with those of the other eleven apostles. Oh, he’ll be there. I just think he has better things to do than hang around any of its twelve gates. There are angels there, after all. He’d be redundant.

The last two chapters of the Bible give us John’s vision of the New Jerusalem, which for sake of simplicity or out of ignorance is often referred to as “heaven”. Three short passages in those final two chapters describe the character of those who get, in my friend’s words, the “thumbs down”.

Actions vs. Character

I say “character” rather than “actions” for good reason. The works of those who get the “thumbs down” merit mention, of course: it is these unforgiven actions, thoughts and words for which men and women are judged in the lake of fire. These charges will be brought against them at the Great White Throne judgment and nobody there will have a word to say by way of response.

Taken outside the context of the rest of the New Testament, the three lists of those excluded from the New Jerusalem are quite intimidating. As a child, I would look down those lists and think I’ve done that one, I’ve done that one …

Outside Are the Dogs and Sorcerers

In fact, here are all three. I guarantee that if it’s only our actions about which God is concerned, we would all fit in here somewhere:
“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
“But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
“Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”
Even children find sins they have committed showing up here. “All liars” would in itself be sufficient to condemn the entire human population from Adam to our generation.

Further, if we believe the teaching of the Lord Jesus, those of us who have not engaged in the physical acts themselves are no safer from condemnation than those who have. If hating my brother demonstrates that I have the character of a murderer, I had arrived by age 6 — maybe even younger. If calling my brother a fool makes me “liable to the hell of fire”, I made these lists very early indeed.

No, if men and women are to be excluded from the New Jerusalem because of our actions, New Jerusalem will lie empty for eternity and the Lord’s promise to “go and prepare a place for you” will be nothing but a mockery.

But it is not so. These lists do not describe individual acts but unrepentant, fully-embraced character.

Washed, Sanctified, Justified

After all, there will be people who have committed sexually immoral acts in the New Jerusalem, including adultery and homosexuality. There will be people who have stolen, and people who have dreamed of the courage to steal. There will be people who have drunk themselves into a stupor over and over again, impoverishing their families and doing things they can’t even remember. There will be former con artists and fabricators of the first order, and even former blasphemers. Paul tells the Corinthians, “such were some of you”.

But they are murderers no more. They are adulterers no more. They are drunks, thieves and homosexuals no more. After all, they have been washed, sanctified and justified. Those names no longer apply. They have washed their robes so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. The blood of the Lamb is all they need and the only means of entrance into the heavenly city of God.

None of these former, sinful descriptors apply any longer to citizens of the New Jerusalem. Our sins and lawless deeds he will remember no more.

Sin as a Lifestyle

On the other hand, the men and women who are “outside” are more than just people who have sinned. They are people who embrace sin as a lifestyle, as their character, as the definition of who they are and as that which for they will be forever known. People who will not give up their idols. Their individual names and lives will not be rehearsed or revisited by their loved ones in eternity, and the very last name by which they are referred to in scripture is the name of the willful choice that keeps them eternally outside.

They are people who chose their passions over Christ, consciously and deliberately. They made gods of their urges and inclinations and so merited the labels with which they are eternally affixed.

Particularly telling is the phrase “everyone who loves and practices falsehood”. It is in this that the difference between “dogs” and saints is most evident. Saints tell lies when they slip, panic, stumble or momentarily revert to an old habit. They do not “practice falsehood”. It is not characteristic of them, and they neither endorse nor deliberately repeat it. If they do lie, their consciences sing like canaries. They hate what they have done and ultimately must seek to make it right.

Those outside have fully embraced falsehood as a mode of being. They lie about the nature of man, the existence of God and the character of the universe, and they do it most effectively to themselves. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie because they prefer it to reality. They love falsehood.

There are things in this world that occasionally — even frequently — tempt Christians, but nothing about this world that we embrace and by which we wish to be eternally defined.

If there is, we’re probably not Christians.

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