Saturday, November 03, 2007

Do Christians Experience Divine Judgment?

Copyright © 2007 By Helena Lehman

My recent articles describing the California wildfires of 2007, and Global Warming as an act of judgment by God have raised the hackles of many of my fellow Christians considerably. In response to my opinions, they have accused me of being unfeeling, unloving, uncompassionate, and a host of other unflattering behaviors. However, not one of them has made the effort to search the Scriptures to find out whether or not what I have said is true. I have therefore taken it upon myself to carefully explain why I feel the way I do, based on the clear teaching of Scripture.

First of all, let me state that I know many good Christians who love God, pray often, do good works in keeping with the Spirit, and go to church regularly who have suffered from times of financial hardship, sickness, and loss - myself among them. In many cases, hard times are not acts of judgment so much as they are God acting as a character-builder in the lives of His beloved disciples. As Paul attests, hard circumstances are often God’s way of meting out discipline, and helping us to grow to be like Christ:

Hebrews 12:5-11 - “And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.’ Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

Here the writer of Hebrews tells us that, because Christ loves us, His Spirit orchestrates our circumstances to help us learn to conform to His Will. Sadly, some of us take longer to learn the lessons God is trying to teach us than others, thereby staying in hard circumstances longer. These tough times become more bearable, however, and often end when we realize that we are being chastised because of God’s love for us. Then, if we accept the discipline, and joyfully make the needed changes in our lives, God will work to bring us out of the troubles we are in.

Nonetheless, there are times when Christians are called to suffer far more than most do when chastised or disciplined by God, especially in the area of sickness and property loss. In these cases, it is up to people to judge for themselves, and find out where they stand with God in every difficult circumstance:

1 Corinthians 11:28-32 - “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.”

Since, in the act of Communion, we symbolically become the Body of Christ, the preceding Scriptural passage implies that all sickness and weakness can be attributed to not treating our own bodies as if it were Christ’s body, and giving it the prayer, and care it needs to thrive. I can attest to this in my own life. I often push myself beyond my own limits of endurance, and eat the wrong types of foods, thereby reaping bad health.

To be healthy without miraculous intervention, we need to take care of ourselves as if we were taking care of our Savior’s property, which we are! All believers were bought and saved by Christ by His Death, and by His blood, and are indwelled by Christ’s Spirit to show His ownership over them (1 Cor. 6:19-20, 7:23; 2 Cor. 1:21-22, 5:5; Ephes. 1:13-14). Like many people, I have a hard time accepting Christ’s ownership, and taking care of His property (especially because I have a husband who thinks it is a sin to pamper oneself), and have been asking Christ to help me with it. But it is not easy! I have so much to do, and so little time to do it all in! As a result, it is a constant struggle to balance work with relaxation, rest, exercise, and nutrition.

In short, Christians can and do suffer more when they don’t do God’s Will, or they have family members without compassion.

To make matters worse, there are also many people who call themselves Christians, but who do not live a godly life. I know many who profess to be Christian, but never read the Bible, only pray by rote, have never memorized, or tried to live by the Ten Commandments, and only worship God when it is convenient for them, if ever. These people can, and often do suffer bad circumstances because God is trying to wake them out of their sinful stupor, and change their hearts. Sometimes, however, they have become so apostate that they have fallen out of grace, and thereby can suffer the same fate as the heathens around them.

Remember the story of Lot, Abraham’s nephew? Abraham asked God if He would spare Sodom if only 10 righteous people could be found there (Genesis 18:32). God agreed that He would, but not even 10 could be found! Therefore, if Lot and his family had not left Sodom at the prompting of God’s angels, they would have been destroyed in the consuming heavenly fire and brimstone that fell on the city (Gen. 19:23-25). There simply were not enough good people in the neighborhood for God to withhold His wrath and judgment any longer.

This brings us to another reason why godly people sometimes suffer along with their unrighteous neighbors. Many Christians are not listening to the Spirit’s promptings within them to change various sinful aspects of their lives, whether it is their spending habits, sexual behavior, or choice of neighborhoods. As a result, they can, and often do suffer from financial, bodily, or property loss. God is not a cornucopia of prosperity! He only rewards us commensurate with our works, and in keeping with His Will.

Contrary to popular Christian belief, self-directed good works are not God’s Will! He desires for those under His Grace through Christ to submit to His Spirit, and follow His Spirit’s promptings. This means asking God before we do anything, and making sure that where we are, and what we do is in God’s Will at all times. When we do this, we who are under God’s Grace will be greatly blessed:

James 2:20-26 - “But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”

The Scripture above by James has received much abuse from legalists and Judaizers over the years, so it is easily ignored. However, if all Scripture is good for correction and instruction, James’ statements about doing good works must be taken into consideration when discussing the concept of Grace. If we listen to God’s Spirit, and act as we are guided to in love, then we will always do good works that God approves of. There are many times when Christians have chosen to disobey the Holy Spirit’s promptings, or felt unable to fulfill the Spirit’s requests, and therefore paid the consequences. These requests can include: being asked to only marry someone approved by God, witnessing to one’s neighbors or friends, and buying new properties or businesses only with God’s approval.

Many well-meaning Christians have suffered or died needlessly simply because they did not listen to God’s Spirit, and so were in the wrong place at the wrong time. These include the Christian people who died or suffered from the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001, in the Indonesian Tsunami and flooding of New Orleans in 2005, in the severe droughts and floods of 2006 and 2007, in the many diverse wars and terrorist acts continually going on, or - most recently - in the California wild fires of 2007.

The final reason why Christians can suffer more than they should is when they do not understand the power they have been given though Christ’s indwelling Spirit. Scripture tells us that all true believers should be capable of working miracles, such as casting out demons. If any of us have cast out demons with Christ’s authority (as I have), or healed the sick with a laying on of hands, it is a sign from God that our faith in Christ is genuine. The following Scriptures explain why we can and should continually exercise Christ’s authority, and do miraculous works in keeping with His Will:

Matthew 28:18-20 - “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ “

Mark 16:17-18 - “And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

I can personally attest to the fact that, when I am not exercising Christ’s authority in my life, such as in casting sickness out of my body, I can be demonically oppressed, or become severely ill. But the minute I ask for forgiveness for not acting in faith, and then do act decisively in prayer and petition to Yahshua to heal me, or change my circumstances, He will act on my behalf, sometimes immediately - as in the case of sickness! My fervent prayers for relief have been answered as a direct result of Yahshua’s intervention, and I have been miraculously healed, or delivered from financial ruin on more than one occasion. But these sorts of deliverances can only happen when we wake up out of our spiritual stupors. Sleepy or apostate Christians are therefore open to suffering and judgement.

In conclusion, there are many good reasons why law-abiding people who are considered good by the world’s standards are being judged in the world today. They are either sleepy or apostate, and suffering the consequences of their ungodly actions, or inability to change, and refusal to follow the Spirit’s lead. Yes, godly people sometimes do suffer unjustly. Believers often are called to suffer persecution, or to become martyrs for their faith. But when not faced with unjust persecution, if believers continually judged themselves, and immediately acted to change as God willed in their lives, they would be spared many calamities.