There is one critique of the Christian notion of sin and the justice of God that is troubling on its face. That key critique for anyone who claims that God demands justice for sin is that God is seemingly unjust to require justice of beings who can’t measure up.
Many modern people bristle at the Christian idea of sin, and they bristle even more at the idea that God would punish sinners. Frankly, I think many modern people simply don’t understand what sin is and who God is.
But, that aside, there is one critique of the Christian notion of sin and the justice of God that is troubling on its face. That key critique for anyone who claims that God demands justice for sin is that God is seemingly unjust to require justice of beings who can’t measure up.
Alongside the notion that the God of the Bible and demands judgment for not measuring up to God’s just standard is the notion that all people are sinners who don’t measure up. In fact, the New Testament is fairly read to say that people are incapable of living up to God’s standard.
The doctrine of original sin says that we are all corrupted because the sin of Adam and Eve has been passed down generation after generation. Even if we don’t believe in the doctrine of original sin, however, the Bible is clear from the Old Testament to the New Testament that human beings don’t measure up to God’s standard:
They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.
They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.
as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one; …. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
Jesus said, “No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18 (NIV)) Yet, he says, “Be perfect … as your heavenly Father is perfect?” (Matthew 5:48)
This is the dilemma: How can we be perfect?! “To err is human” the bard once said, and so it seems we are imperfect by our very nature.
Many people reject the idea that God can be just and demand justice from people incapable of measuring up to the standards God’s justice demands. They say it would be unjust for God to demand justice from beings who have no ability to act other than they do, and so fail to meet God’s standards.
God seems to be acting unfairly to demand that we meet His standards when we are 1) created beings, 2) born into sin, and 3) incapable of living up to the perfection God requires.
Other questions tumble after these thoughts: Why didn’t God create us perfect? If we are born sinful, how can God blame us for being sinful? If we are incapable of being perfect, how can God punish us for our imperfection?
Jesus said, “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my father.” (John 15:22-24)
These words convey a stark reality that is not pleasant to consider. We might assume that Jesus was speaking of the Jews when He spoke these words, but we would be wrong. Jesus was speaking of the “world”. Just before Jesus spoke the words quoted above, He said:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19)
These are curious things coming from Jesus. The import of what Jesus says here is that the world is ordered in opposition to Jesus and God the Father. And even when people reject Jesus, God’s purpose is fulfilled.
In other places, we see Jesus saying very different things. For instance, Jesus said elsewhere, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17) So, we might be confused when we see Jesus implying that he came to hold people accountable for their sins.
[B]y His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 2 Peter 3:7
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. 2 Peter 3:10
I had a poster in my room of a nuclear explosion with a classic mushroom cloud when I was a teenager. I am not sure why I had that poster, other than it was my reality. I lived in the days of the cold war. I was a teenager in the ‘70’s, and the possibility of a nuclear strike or nuclear holocaust was real to me.
Those days seem like long ago now. I had forgotten about that poster until reading this passage recently. It strikes me that the possibility of nuclear catastrophe is even more “real” now than ever before. The Soviet Union has splintered into disparate countries, and who knows where all the nuclear bombs have ended up. Many of those countries have unstable governments, with people who have cowboy mentalities and segments of radical Muslim populations. The exposure to capitalism and destabilization after the Soviet demise have produced black markets for many things that may include nuclear weapons
Those black market weapons may find ready buyers in the various radical Muslim groups like the Taliban, ISIS and others who would certainly not hesitate to use them on the West. The Middle East has been a hornet’s nest of for more than a generation, and the fighting seems to be escalating. Israel, with nuclear capability, is in the middle of that hornet’s nest. Add in North Korea and Iran which may have nuclear capability.
Yet, people no longer talk about nuclear annihilation like they did when I was young. I no longer think much about it.
I am reminded of the frog in the boiling pot. If the frog is tossed cold into the pot of boiling water, it will immediately be alarmed and leap to safety. But, if the frog is put into a pot of cold water that is slowly heated up to boiling temperature, it will not be alarmed; it will remain until it is boiled to death.
The threat of nuclear holocaust is not something we can escape like a frog in a pot of boiling water, but we have gotten used to it. At least, we have learned to ignore it.
The passage in 2 Peter 3 referenced above is a reminder that, not only is nuclear holocaust a possibility, the end of the earth as we know it is inevitable. Whether by nuclear holocaust, or a large asteroid, or global warming, or simply by long, steady degeneration, this world will not last forever.
We may not die in a nuclear holocaust, but we will surely die.
The dichotomous uses of the Greek word for heaven (or heavens) remind us that there is more to reality and existence than this physical world. The present heavens (and earth) that will pass away mean the universe that we live in and know. In verse 13 of the same chapter, Peter says “But, according to His promise, we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth….” The reference to “heavens” in verse 13 is figurative, corresponding to something that is more than this physical space, time and matter existence that we know.
This is nothing new. Peter actually alludes to the prophet Isaiah who speaks of new heavens and a new earth. (Is. 65:17; 66:23) “Heavens” (plural) for both the Jew and the Greek meant possibilities that we cannot imagine, spiritual reality in which God dwells outside of this space, time continuum that we know. John also describes the new heavens and a new earth that he saw in his encounter with God described in Revelation 21.
We may be closer than ever to this new heavens and a new earth. When Peter spoke the following prophetic verse, he had no idea about the power of nuclear energy or the destructive possibility of nuclear holocaust:
The heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 1 Peter 3:12
The “heavens” here is the literal, physical universe that we see. How could Peter have even imagined the sky, the planets and the stars burning and melting? We might not even imagine nuclear capability that could do that; Peter certainly could not imagine the nuclear capability that could ow destroy our earth.
The point of all this is not that we should live in fear of nuclear holocaust, like living under a nuclear cloud. But, we should not be unmindful of the fact that we are temporal, and this life we live is passing. What do with this life, however, has eternal significance. When that Day of Judgment comes, will the work we have done in this world survive? Or will it all burn off like impurities in the fire?
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Cor. 3:10-15)
Ouranós – heaven (singular), and used as a plural (heavens) nearly as often. The OT backdrop for creation indicates the plural (“heavens”) refers to the sky, atmosphere, stars, planets, outer space, etc. (See also 2 Peter 3:10); whereas 2 Peter 3:13 conveys the typical meaning of ouranós (plural) in the NT – corresponding to the infinite levels of the Lord manifesting His presence (glory).
I use The Discovery Bible to gain a deeper, richer and more complete understanding of the Scripture. If you want ready understanding of the original Greek, the original word emphasis and Greek tenses that do not exist in English, definitions of Greek words and more to make your reading of the New Testament deeper and richer, check out The Discovery Bible. The Discovery Bible opens up knowledge of the original New Testament text in Greek to you in your everyday Bible reading. It shows the words emphasized in the Greek text, the tenses and the meanings that do not always translate well into English or English sentence structure. If you are ready to dig deeper in your Bible reading, try a free 30-day trial download of The Discovery Bible.
There is a great divide between the World and the Church, and it is getting bigger. The fracture is even dividing the Church. What Jesus said about judging and judgment is critical to understand in this time.
In a world that rejects the idea of sin, embraces moral relativism and demands that Christians tolerance everything (other than what we believe to be true), we naturally feel like we are being besieged; we are on the defensive. We know that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s righteousness, but our culture doesn’t buy into that idea, let alone any biblical truth that suggests a person shouldn’t simply “do what feels good”.