Relevant Verses: Deut. 4:5-8; Jer. 31:33-34; Rom. 8:1; John 3:16-17
Leading Question: How can we make the idea of judgment good news? Or will it always have to have a touch of bad news too?
Comment: If there are two concepts that are difficult for devout conservatives to appreciate (diversity and change). So there are two biblical ideas that are very troublesome for sensitive, conscientious people (law and judgment). Quoting the official study guide, this week’s lesson
considers “the end-time judgment process with its three main phases: the pre-advent judgment, the millennial judgment, and the executive judgment.”
I do not want to deny the truth or the reality of those three aspects, but I do think they must be handled very careful lest they drive the wrong people away from God. There is a real danger that the wrong people will be kept away from worshiping with God’s people.
“It’s the law”
Have you ever heard anyway say “It’s the law” with a smile on their face? It’s almost impossible! I like to list seat belt signs from gentle to tough. Here there are in order;
“Buckle up. We love you.” Nice and gentle, but it doesn’t work.
“Buckle up. It’s our law.” Note the softening result of “our.”
“Buckle up. It’s the law.” True, but not always helpful.
“Click it or ticket it.” That the one that is most effective.
The apostle Paul new about the differences. As he wrote to the Corinthian church: “Shall I come to you with a stick or with love in the spirit of gentleness?” 1 Cor. 4:21.
The reality is that some people only respond to the stick. In the classroom, if I come up to a student who hasn’t been turning work in, asking them about the choice between the stick or love in a spirit of gentleness, about 70% say, “No stick Thompson. I’ll get it in!” But about 30% say, “Bring on the stick. I need a stick.” And one of our graduates once quipped, “And probably half of those who say they don’t want the stick really do need it!”
Different teachers will use different methods, too. Once, in the same class, I had two students sitting right across the aisle from each other describe quite different methods from their piano teachers when it came to the challenge of keeping the wrists up. One teacher used candy bars and dollar bills, another used tacks along the key board.
Even in my own experience, it was the tougher teachers who got results out of me, not the too-gentle ones.
Now if everyone in the world was like my gentle wife, we would need no policemen, no courts. She tells the story of when she was very young and used some crayons to scribble on the wall. She got spanked for it. Her comment: “I don’t know why I got a spanking. All they needed to do was tell me not to do it and I wouldn’t do it!
Even though I sometimes needed the stick, the biblical passages that really touched my heart were Deut. 4:5-8 and Jer. 31:33-34. Deuteronomy celebrates law as Gospel; Jeremiah 31 celebrates a time when no one will tell anyone what to do because the law will be written on the heart. And note that this new covenant promise comes first in the OT!
Deut. 4:5-8 (NRSV): “See, just as the Lord my God has charged me, I now teach you statutes and ordinances for you to observe in the land that you are about to enter and occupy. 6 You must observe them and perform them, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!’ 7 For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? 8 And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?
Jer. 31:33-34 (NRSV): But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord, for I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.
Grace Triumphs Over Judgment
Two important passages declare the triumph of grace over judgment: Romans 8:1 and John 3:16-17:
Rom. 8:1 (NRSV): “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
John 3:16-17 (NRSV): “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him.
In case there is any question as to whether God adapts his messages to the needs of particular people, this passage from Ministry of Healing should banish all doubt:
Every association of life calls for the exercise of self-control, forbearance, and sympathy. We differ so widely in disposition, habits, education, that our ways of looking at things vary. We judge differently. Our understanding of truth, our ideas in regard to the conduct of life, are not in all respects the same. There are no two whose experience is alike in every particular. The trials of one are not the trials of another. The duties that one finds light are to another most difficult and perplexing.
So frail, so ignorant, so liable to misconception is human nature, that each should be careful in the estimate he places upon another. We little know the bearing of our acts upon the experience of others. What we do or say may seem to us of little moment, when, could our eyes be opened, we should see that upon it depended the most important results for good or for evil. (MH 483)