The first lie told by the father of lies was that God is the liar, and man believed him. Since that first sin, man has struggled with the concept of consequences and repercussions. The enemy continues to tell the same lie in different forms, and apart from the redeeming power of Christ man continues to take the bait. “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4) is such a simple bit of encouragement – those who have been conditioned by their own self-importance can’t even begin to fathom how a ‘loving’ God could possibly make it otherwise….after all, ‘He knows my heart’, and ‘I’m special in His sight’….the siren song goes on and on, completely ignoring the binary absolute that He is also a ‘just’ God. He is a god of absolutes, contrary to man’s fallen presumption. In creation, He made ‘something’ out of ‘nothing’, in man He called ‘life’ out of ‘death’ (dust to dust), He split night and day, seed time and harvest…the list of examples is almost endless. The bottom line is that among those things that were separated in His divine plan were ‘good’ and ‘evil’. To believe that there can be blessings without cursings is a logical fallacy, yet it’s embraced by people as a matter of hopeful aspiration, and the concepts of absolute truth, right and wrong, and yes, sin and consequence are rejected as something to be remedied by ever advancing social evolution, not right choices.
From the earliest days, man has spent unconscionable amounts of time, money, and effort to remove consequences from the equation in the misguided attempt to make man the master of his own fate. Therein is ‘where the rubber hits the road’ with this lie – that by mitigating outcomes and removing the pain from the pleasure, man frees himself from the tyranny of not getting his own way. It’s the difference between liberty and license, and mankind by unredeemed default seeks license to do as he pleases without consequence. Consider the narrative of 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul is dealing with the concept of resurrection – in itself an implausible promise at best. He asks the rhetorical question “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (55). In that context, he intentionally uses the imagery of a sharp pointed implement that would be used to correct the behavior of animals to that of their herdsmen’s intent using pain. It is in essence a purely physical and carnal response to an unexpected stimulation brought on by not staying on the path or refusing to move rightly forward. Consequences. Death is that ultimate enemy – in fact, the last enemy to be destroyed (26). As such, the ‘sting’ to which Paul refers is that of sin’s consequence, not the chastening of a loving father…. “The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law” (56). It is the ultimate expression of the supernal payday that awaits us all (Romans 6:23). The very promise that “…it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27) clarifies that our judgment is not ultimately about our intentions or the quality of our life – it is antiseptically focused on the one thing that separated man from God in the first place – SIN.
A critical piece that seems to be missing from much of what passes for Gospel preaching these days – at least in the comfortable and prosperous first world – is that of preparing for that judgment. The enemy has cleverly distracted masses of otherwise well meaning believers with promises of fulfillment, personal wealth, success, and pleasure as the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice instead of it’s laser-focused reality. The simple, inescapable truth of the scripture narrative is that ‘….Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ (1 Tim 1:15b), and the victory we are promised (….thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (57)) is over SIN, not punishment. Christ died once, for all (Hebrews 10:10), not as some sort of cosmic bribe to seal future blessings for His followers from some angry God, but as the final sacrifice to pay the sin debt for ‘whosoever (would) call(s) upon the name of the Lord…’ (Romans 10:13) and restore that connection lost in the fall. What again was that first sin? Lack of TRUST! It was believing the lying scheme of a fallen imp over the trustworthy word of the Creator himself, stimulated by the same unrighteous ambition that got Lucifer kicked out of heaven in the first place (Isaiah 14:14) – to become ‘like God’ (Genesis 3:5) by the works creature’s own hands. When Paul told the Corinthians that the ‘strength’ of sin is the law (56), he was emphasizing that the law of God offers man that binary choice – either trust Him and His way, or suffer the consequences that the enemy tries so hard to camouflage. The wages of that ‘sin’ is death, but the gift of God is and continues to be eternal life (Romans 6:23) given by the one who ‘….giveth us the victory’ (57). Notice the present tense imperfect — He GIVETH, not ‘has given’.
Christ’s work of restoring access of the creature to the Creator is finished, and His promise is vouch safe, but the salvation of the believer doesn’t take away his free moral agency – man still gets to choose every single day whom he will serve. Apart from an intimate surrender and personal relationship with the One who made that access possible, sin’s payday remains unresolved. The consequences of that rebellious rejection of God’s way in favor of his own way makes man a candidate for the punishment Christ himself made clear (Matthew 25:41 & 46). Eternal damnation with no reprieve nor hope for pardon is the final consequence of a life of sinful indulgence, not a rap on the knuckles for God’s ultimately beloved but incorrigible adopted children followed by an indulgent dismissal of the very thing that cost the life of His only begotten son – SIN! The scripture could not be more clear of the punishment for unrepentant sinners – the lake of fire (Revelation 21:8)! Likewise, it couldn’t be more clear on how to avoid that second death – OVERCOME! (Revelation 2:11). Overcome what, you ask? Overcome sin! (1 John 5:4, 18-20). Is it any wonder that the enemy has worked from the day of man’s first sin to this day trying to obscure that fact with heretical teachings, whispered alternatives, and carnal temptations? He knows that God cannot and will not ever lose His grip on the hand of a surrendered, trusting child. Just like Peter who first took Christ’s invitation to walk on the water, then began to slip below the waves when he shifted his trust off the Master (Matthew 14:28-31), it took him reaching out for Christ’s hand for him to be delivered from what represented certain death, even though he had just exhibited one of the greatest acts of faith recorded in scripture seconds before. The key is in the connection, not the intention – that’s why the enemy works so hard to sever that connection and to offer an inferior alternative to the one thing that still saves – the hand of Jesus! The choice is clear when the fog of the enemy’s distractions is blown away – either live with Christ or spend an eternity suffering in regret. There is no middle ground, no do-overs, and no escape once the gavel has dropped on that last heartbeat.