Holiness and Justice

Desiring God 2007 Conference for Pastors | Minneapolis

The Methodist preacher from Atlanta, Charles Allen, once remarked, “God had only one Son, and he made him a preacher.” After I had taught seminary for a while, I spent two years on the staff of a church and then went back into education at the Ligonier Study Center and also back to the seminary classroom. And one night, a student came to me with stars in his eyes, and he said, “What was it like for you when you were just a preacher?” And I was apoplectic. I said, “What do you mean just a preacher? Don’t you understand that there is no higher calling on this planet than the pulpit ministry?” And I said, “I’m not a preacher because I don’t think I have what it takes to be the shepherd of a flock. The demands are excruciating, the appreciation is minimal, and there’s nothing that I desire more in the latter years of my life than to try to be an encouragement to pastors, to ministers.”

Preach the Word

Ten years ago, I answered the call to become the minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Florida. And I have to tell you, of all the different things that I’ve been involved in my lifetime, this has been the most fun and the greatest joy and delight. There is nothing like having the opportunity to speak to the same people week in and week out, to preach through whole books of the Bible, and to not worry about trying to impress anybody. But we’re meeting again on the Lord’s day, and we’re coming to the Book to hear, not my opinions, not my agenda, not the latest pop psychology or current events, but to hear a word from God.

Before the Apostle Paul died, and he wrote his final letter to his number one student and protégé, Timothy, when he got to the end of that letter, he explained to Timothy that he was about to be poured out, and he gave his last instructions, he didn’t write to Timothy and say, “Timothy, preach.” He said, “Timothy, preach the word. Preach the word in season and out of season.” That’s what our vocation is, and we’re only as faithful as we are to that task. Tonight, in my final message, I want to take us to the book of Leviticus. That’s in the Old Testament. Let’s go to Leviticus 10:1–7. And again, I’d ask you to stand for the reading of the word of God.

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace.

And Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said to them, “Come near; carry your brothers away from the front of the sanctuary and out of the camp.” So they came near and carried them in their coats out of the camp, as Moses had said. And Moses said to Aaron and to Eleazar and Ithamar his sons, “Do not let the hair of your heads hang loose, and do not tear your clothes, lest you die, and wrath come upon all the congregation; but let your brothers, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning that the Lord has kindled. And do not go outside the entrance of the tent of meeting, lest you die, for the anointing oil of the Lord is upon you.” And they did according to the word of Moses.

The word of God from antiquity, from the Torah, which is as relevant to our ministry today as it was when it was written thousands of years ago.

The Hard Sayings

There are a series of passages in the Bible that theologians group together under the rubric “the phrases durioris”, which, being translated, simply means “the hard sayings” — those sayings, those episodes that are related to us, that seem to strike a note of discord. They jar us in our minds and in our souls. And we look at these things, and we say, “Wait a minute, how can God do something like this?” Here, we see the sons of Aaron, the High Priest, who were consecrated to that same ministry and service there in the sanctuary of God. And we’re told that, on this one occasion, they indulged in a little bit of experimentation. They came with their censers to the altar, and they offered strange fire. They offered fire that was not commanded by God, nor was it authorized by him. And God’s response was immediate, dramatic, and severe. He executed them on the spot.

How do we respond to a story like this? When Immanuel Velikovsky died, who was a professor at Princeton University, a colleague and very close friend of Albert Einstein, his book, Worlds in Collision, was on Einstein’s desk. And that little volume, Worlds in Collision, and the companion volume, Earth in Upheaval, indicated Velikovsky’s critique of classic, traditional, uniformitarian geology by studying, on the one hand, the anomalies present in the paradigm of uniformitarianism and, on the other, by a broad examination of ancient mythology. Velikovsky, seeking to understand that mythology, operated on the assumption that the ancient myths that arose in China, among Eskimos, among Aborigines, and among the Hebrews and the different peoples of this world, were simply people’s attempt to understand natural phenomena in a way that they had no science in order to explain them.

And he saw certain patterns in these myths that he thought could only be explained by events in antiquity of such a catastrophic nature that the world was forced into upheaval. He postulated the idea of a planet, an unknown planet, or a huge comet that at one point in history came so close to the Earth that the gravitational and magnetic forces caused such a perturbation astronomically that the Earth’s poles were instantly reversed, producing the most cataclysmic natural disaster imaginable.

And at that same time, he said that there were emissions of gasses and liquids from these planetary bodies that were released under the surface of the Earth, including oil. And that oil came and showered upon the Earth and began to seep down into the crevices, into the sand, and is now concentrated in those oil-rich nations of the world. And Velikovsky’s explanation for this text of Scripture was this. He said that Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, who were sort of like primitive Jed Clampetts, who drove a stake in the ground and this black stuff came bubbling out. They didn’t know what it was, but they thought they would experiment with it, and they put it on the altar, and it blew up and killed them. And, of course, the people didn’t understand it. They assumed it was an act of God.

Objections from the Modern Mind

The denomination in which I was ordained, the PCUSSR — no, the PCUSA — produced a junior high school Sunday school curriculum when I was working in a church that gave the young people an introduction to the Old Testament. And that introduction cautioned the young people not to take the Old Testament literally because what we have here is a collection of messages brought by primitive, pre-scientific people who gave a mythological interpretation to natural events.

And, for example, they pointed out specifically this particular text and others like it that would manifest a view of God in which there was a shadow side within God himself, a sort of demonic element contained within God, which the curriculum went on to say, “We know certainly, in light of the New Testament teaching and the teaching of Jesus of the character of God, that such description of wrath that we find in the Old Testament is a total distortion of God’s true character. And that these events (such as what is recorded here in the text I just read) can be easily explained by natural causes. These young priests, who had been trained — and indeed brainwashed — to follow the procedures of worship with exactitude, on this one day, decided to play around with the prescriptions for worship. And when they offered their strange fire, they were so terrified they had heart attacks and died of fright.” That’s what really happened, according to that curriculum.

But that’s not the explanation given by the word of God. Let’s look at it again. It says:

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them (Leviticus 10:1).

By the way, one of my all-time favorite Puritan writers, Jeremiah Burroughs, has written a book called Gospel Worship, and he wrote another one called Gospel Fear. In that book, Gospel Worship — which is one of my top 10 books I’ve ever read — Burroughs writes an exposition of this text, and I commend it to you if you’re not familiar with it.

A Due Regard of God’s Holiness

But anyway, these men gave this fire that the Lord had not commanded, and God executed them on the spot. And sometimes I’m amazed by the way in which Scripture is filled with understatements. It passes over moments of pathos, of exquisite pain, with such understatement. All we hear is, “They died before the Lord.” Then Moses spoke to Aaron. May I dare to presume to fill in the gap? When Aaron sees his sons struck down instantly, can you imagine his reaction? He goes to Moses and says, “What’s going on here? Moses, these are my sons. They followed in my footsteps. They’ve been ordained to the priesthood. They had been set aside and consecrated just as we have. And I’ve been serving the Lord faithfully all this time, except for the golden calf. But is this the thanks I get that God would slay my sons in a heartbeat?” Now, you have to assume that’s the kind of thing Aaron took to Moses.

But what is significant here is the reply of Moses that we should have written in our bones. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said, Aaron. Aaron, don’t you remember your ordination? Don’t you remember the commandment of our God, where he said, ‘By all who come near me, I will be regarded as holy’? Remember, Aaron? He said, ‘Anybody that presumes to come near me, he better regard me as holy. And before all of the people, I will be glorified. That’s my law, and I will tolerate nothing less.’”

Unchanging Holiness

Now, lots of things have changed, dear friends, since Moses spoke to Aaron in that manner over the course of millennia. But I’ll tell you something that hasn’t changed, and it’s the character of God. Tonight, God is as jealous for his name as he ever has been. He has never and will never negotiate the obligation that he imposes on everyone who represents him in ministry that they would regard him as holy when they come near to him and to glorify him before all of the people.

Then what happened? Talk about an understatement. It says:

And Aaron held his peace (Leviticus 10:4).

You better believe Aaron held his peace. What else could Aaron do? Was he going to contend with the Almighty? Is he going to say, “Oh, God, you’re overreacting. Can’t we allow for a little latitude here with your servants that, now and then, they can play with worship, now and then they can approach you, not with a sense of gravity, but with a sense of inanity, and what John decries as silliness? God, you’re taking yourself too seriously. Do you always have to be glorified in front of the people? Can’t we just play a little?” Aaron shut his mouth.

So Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel, the uncle of Aaron, and said to them, “Come here. Carry your brothers.” Which brothers? “Nadab and Abihu, your dead brothers. Pick up their corpses and carry them away from the front of the sanctuary, out of the camp.” Remember where the tabernacle was pitched. It was in the exact center of the encampment of the tribes so that in times of trouble, the psalmist could declare, “Though the mountains rage and the storms rage and so on, and the seas fall upon the hills; nevertheless, we shall not be moved” (Psalm 46:1–5). Why? Because, “God is in the midst of her, in the midst of the camp.” And the commandment now is, “I don’t just want these guys killed. I want their corpses out of here. Send them where we send the scapegoat every year on the Day of Atonement, into the outer darkness, outside the borders and the boundaries of the sacred ground. And for heaven’s sake, don’t let them lie there in front of the sanctuary.” So they came near and carried them in their coats out of the camp, as Moses has said (Leviticus 10:5).

The Burning the Lord Kindled

But God’s not done yet. It continues. Moses said to Aaron and to Eleazar and Ithamar, his sons, “Do not let the hair of your heads hang loose, and don’t you dare rend your garments, or you will die too.” What’s he saying? He’s saying, “There’s no mourning for these men. They’re not worthy of your mourning. I want them out of my sight. Don’t tear your clothes, lest you die, and wrath comes upon the whole congregation, but let your brothers and the whole house of Israel bewail the burning, not that oil from the skies has kindled, but that the Lord has kindled.” It was the Lord who killed Nadab. It was the Lord God who killed Abihu. He is the one who brought down the fire. This was no terrestrial accident, but rather the judgment of a holy God.

It then says:

“Don’t go even outside the entrance of the tent of meeting, or you will die, for the anointing oil of the Lord is upon you.” And they did according to the word of Moses (Leviticus 10:7).

Uzzah and the Ox Cart

Consider a similar episode that we read, the story of Uzzah, who was doing the work of a Kohathite. We don’t know for sure that he was one. But you remember that the most sacred vessel of Israel was being transported in a cart, which was against the word of the Lord. You remember the elaborate design of the throne of God with the circles on the edge through which the poles would be inserted, and it was to be carried in procession by the Kohathites on the ground, but David was in a hurry to get it back to Jerusalem, so they put it in a cart.

And instead of carrying the Ark of the Covenant, Uzzah and his cohort simply escorted the Ark of the Covenant as it was in this cart headed toward the Holy City. But you know what happened on the way. One of the oxen stumbled, and the cart tilted, and it looked, for the moment, as if the Ark of the Covenant, the very throne of God, was going to fall from the ox cart into the mud. Instinctively, Uzzah reaches out to steady the Ark. And what happened? God shouts from heaven, “Thank you, Uzzah.” No. In a second, God killed him.

Once again, the critics say, “Here, this man had been trained under no circumstances, under any condition, to ever touch the Ark of the Covenant. And that if he did, he would die. And when he steadied the Ark, he died of a heart attack. He scared himself.” No, no, no. God killed Uzzah. Edwards preached on that text, and he said, “The great sin of Uzzah was the sin of arrogance and of presumption.” You see, Uzzah believed that what would desecrate the sanctity of the Ark of the Covenant would be the mud. But what is mud other than the mixture of dirt and water? And when you mix water with dirt, a law of God’s nature follows: it becomes mud. And in doing so, it obeys the Creator because when water is mixed with dirt, it’s supposed to become mud. And there is nothing evil about the mud.

God had not given his law to keep his throne from being stained by contact with the earth. What he wanted to ensure was not that the Ark of the Covenant would be polluted by dirt, but by the touch of a human hand. “And Uzzah presumed,” says Edwards, “that his hands were cleaner than the dirt.” And God said, “No.”

Ananias and Sapphira

Fast-forward to the New Testament. Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Ghost. There was no warning, no second chance, but instant execution. How do we deal with these texts that seem to suggest that God, from time to time, boils over with temper tantrums that are inexcusable? Of all people, the bad boy of the Roman Catholic Church, Hans Küng, has addressed these texts in his book that catapulted him to international significance back in the 1960s, a book titled Rechtfertigung, translated into English by the title Justification.

And in exploring the nature of sin, Küng addresses these questions and ones similar to them. And he said, “From our perspective, we look at the Old Testament, and we seem to think, at times, that the God of the Old Testament is brutal, sort of like a demiurge. And you see, for example, in the catalog of civil sanctions in Israel that there are over 25 specific crimes that are capital offenses. If you disobey your parents in public, it’s the death sentence. If you’re involved in homosexual activity, it’s the death sentence. If you consult with wizards or sorcerers, it’s the death sentence. And on the list goes.

And then you go to the New Testament, and it seems like in the economy of God’s plan of redemption, there is a radical reduction in severity of divine judgment from 25 or so cases of capital punishment to the New Testament, where perhaps only one — first degree murder — remains in the civil code. And so, from our perspective, from our vantage point, it looks like the Old Testament God was brutal.

Desensitized to Blasphemy, Accustomed to Grace

Several years ago, I read an article in TIME Magazine, where the magazine and its editors were expressing moral outrage regarding an incident that took place in the State of Maryland. A truck driver was arrested for disorderly conduct. And when the officers put him under arrest, he was verbally belligerent to the police, and he cursed them venomously, including using the name of God in a blasphemous manner.

So when they brought the truck driver to the magistrate, the most severe penalty that they could give against him was a hundred dollar fine and 30 days in jail for his disorderly conduct. But there was an old statute on the book that the magistrate was aware of that prohibited public blasphemy, and the penalty was another hundred dollar fine and another 30 days in jail, so the judge gave this truck driver 60 days in jail and a $200 fine.

The press was outraged, saying, “How dare this man, this magistrate, oblivious to the separation of church and state, punish this truck driver for a hundred dollar fine and 30 days in jail when all he did was blaspheme God publicly?” I’ll tell you what, that truck driver could thank his stars or whatever else he looked to in his life for thanksgiving that he didn’t live in Israel, because there the penalty was not a hundred dollar fine and 30 days in jail, but it was the death penalty.

And Küng says, “It seems so severe, doesn’t it? But our view of the matter is so distorted.” He said, “Let’s go back to Creation, where the list of capital offenses was unending, where, in Creation, ‘The soul that sins shall die’ (Ezekiel 18:20).” And not only was the penalty for disobedience to God death sometime in the future, but remember it says, “On the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). And we massage that passage and say, “Well, they did die spiritually that day,” but that’s not what the warning was. It was more than spiritual death. It was Thanatos. It was physical disintegration.

And Küng said, “Don’t we understand that the slightest sin, the tiniest infraction, the smallest peccadillo (there’s one for your list) is an act of cosmic treason?” The slightest transgression against the law of God that I commit, dear friends, is an act of treason, an act of sedition, and an act of revolt, an act of blasphemy against God. When I say to God, “Who are you to tell me what I may do and what I may not do? My will trumps your will, and I will do what I want to do,” the reply is, “The soul that sins shall die.” Küng said, “Don’t you see that the reduction in God’s punitive wrath from Creation to Moses is almost infinite, that God had reduced capital offenses to some merely 25 offenses?” But you see, we’re so accustomed to grace.

And Küng explained it this way. He said, “The whole pattern of Old Testament history is that Israel does what is evil in the sight of the Lord.” And as we see over and over and over again in the Book of the Judges, God will deliver them in the hands of their enemies, to the Philistines or whomever, and then the people will groan, they’ll moan, they’ll tear their garments, and they’ll say, “Oh, Lord, forgive us. Lord, deliver us.” So God will raise up a judge like Samson and deliver them from their enemies. And they’ll say, “Oh, thank you, Lord.” Then the next verse is what? “And Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” And the cycle goes on and on and on. The history of the Old Testament is not the blood-curdling history of a tyrannical deity. It is the history of a stiff-necked people who always and everywhere take God’s forbearing grace for granted, despise his holiness, and have no fear of his judgment.

Misplaced Astonishment

Then we finally come to the text John mentioned that Luke records (Luke 13:1–5), the issue that takes place in the ministry of our Lord is that two disasters have taken place. One was when Pilate ruthlessly entered with his soldiers into the place of worship and slaughtered the people, mixing the blood of the Galileans with the blood of the sacrifices. And the other incident was the sudden collapse of the tower of Siloam. Without warning, this building fell down and killed 18 innocent bystanders. These people were walking down the street, minding their own business. They weren’t playing sidewalk superintendent. They weren’t throwing the carcasses of pigs onto holy ground. They weren’t harassing anybody. They were just calmly walking down the street, and boom, the temple fell on their heads and they were killed.

So they came to Jesus, and they said, “What’s up with this?” The basic question is the question I got on 9/12 and almost every day thereafter: “Where was God in all of this?” And I would say, “My friends, he’s the same place he was on 9/10 — on his throne, sovereignly ruling over human history.” Well, Jesus tries to give a theodicy, to give an explanation for these horrible moments of human suffering. First of all, before I tell you what he did say, let me tell you what he didn’t say.

He didn’t say to his inquirers, “I know that the Bible says, ‘He that keepeth Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps,’ but that’s poetry. It’s hyperbole. Let’s be real. Even the Lord God Omnipotent gets tired with his daily task of managing the entire cosmos with all of its intricacies, and even he needs a day off from time to time. And that particular afternoon, when the Father just took a little nap, while he was sleeping, Pilate and the soldiers snuck into the sanctuary and slaughtered the people while he was asleep. Now, I’ll take it up with him, and I’ll say, ‘Father, can’t you be a little more watchful in the future, take more care to notice what’s going on down here?’”

Or Jesus could have said, “I told you that a sparrow doesn’t land on the ground without my Father’s knowing it, and even the hairs of your head are numbered. But that particular afternoon, my Father was busily engaged with a particularly bushy-haired fellow. And while he was counting the hairs on his head and his attention was diverted for just a second, that’s the second when that building collapsed. I’m sorry. Again, I’ll take it up with heaven that the Lord God Omnipotent may be a bit more vigilant in the future.” Now, you know that’s not what Jesus said.

When they came to him with those questions, he gave the same answer to both of them. Basically, what he says to them is, “You’re asking me the wrong question because unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. You see, if you really want to know about the providence of God, you wouldn’t come to me and ask me why those innocent people had their blood mixed with the sacrifices or why those innocent people had that temple fall on their heads. If you really want to know something about the providence of God, you should come to me with the real question, ‘Why didn’t the temple fall on my head? Why wasn’t it my blood that was mixed with the sacrifices?’” But you see, we’re shocked by justice and we presume upon grace.

Shocked by Justice

In all my 40 years of teaching and seminary, I’ve been asked every conceivable theological question from students that you can imagine. I’m waiting for my first student to come up to me and say, “There’s something I just really can’t get over: why did God save me?” That’s what we should be asking. Why me? We harbored the idea in our souls that, somehow, heaven would just not really be heaven if we weren’t there. And even though we say we believe in justification by faith alone and rest our case on the imputation of the righteousness of Jesus and the righteousness of Jesus alone, we still harbor deep within our soul, somehow, the idea that we deserve it. Oh, we sin, but basically, we are worthy of eternal life. That is the greatest lie in the history of the world.

My favorite illustration of this goes back to the second year of teaching to college level 40 years ago. I had the unenviable task of teaching college freshmen in a school “Introduction to the Old Testament” in the first semester and, in the second semester, “Introduction to the New Testament”, and my class was the entire freshman class of 250 students. And the only room on campus big enough to hold this group was the chapel.

So, the first day of the semester came, and I gave them their assignments. I told them, “We have three short papers that are five to eight pages and they’re due over the course of this semester.” I said, “The first one is due on September 30th, the second one’s due on October 30th, and the third one is due on November the 30th. And here are the rules. You must have your papers complete on my desk by noon of the day that they are due unless you are physically contained within the infirmary, or you’ve had a death in your immediate family. Do you understand the rules?” And they said, “Yes.”

So the 30th of September came, and 225 freshmen brought their term papers in, and 25 freshmen stood at the entrance to this classroom in abject terror. “Where are your papers?,” I said. And they said, “Professor, we failed to make the transition from high school to college. It was all our fault. We didn’t budget our time, but please don’t flunk us on this assignment. Give us a chance. Give us another day or so to finish our papers. Please, please, please.” And my heart was moved to pity, and I said, “Okay, I’ll give you two more days. And I won’t dock you this time.” I said, “I understand what it’s like making that transition. I was a freshman once myself. But understand something. Don’t you ever let this happen again.” And they said, “Oh, no. We would never think of letting it happen again.”

On October the 30th, 200 students came with their term paper. Fifty of them didn’t have their term papers. I said, “Where are your papers?” And they said, “Oh, it’s the middle of the term, and we had papers due in all of our courses. We had midterm exams. Besides that, it was homecoming. Oh, please, please, please, professor, don’t punish us. Give us just one more chance.” And I said, “Okay, one more chance, but this is it. Don’t push me on this.” And they said, “Oh, no, no, no.” I told this story a couple of years ago at a conference, and at the end of it some guy came up to me and said, “I was in that classroom.”

So I said, “Okay. I’ll give you this as your last break.” Do you know what they did? This is the truth. Spontaneously, they began to sing my praises. And I was Mr. Popularity for 30 days. Then came November the 30th. A hundred students showed up with their term paper. The other 150 were at ease in Zion. They walked in there and they were as casual as they could be. “Johnson,” I said, “where’s your paper?” He said, “Hey, prof, don’t worry. No sweat. I’ll have it for you in a couple of days.” Then the most dreadful thing that they ever saw took place. I picked up the black book. Do you remember the black book teachers used to have with your name in it? And I said, “Johnson, you don’t have your paper?” And he said, “No, sir.” I said, “F. Klein, where’s your paper?” He said, “I don’t have it.” I said, “F. Robinson, where’s your paper?” He said, “I don’t have it.” I said, “F.” Now what do you think the response was? With one voice, they cried out in protest, “That’s not . . . fair!”

You got it. I said, “What? Johnson, what did you say?” And now he’s angry. He said, “I said, ‘That’s not fair.’” And I said, “God forbid that I fail to be fair. You know, if it’s justice you want, it’s justice you shall have.” I said, “Johnson, weren’t you late in October with your paper?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Okay.” I went back to October and I said, “F for that one.” I said, “All right. Who else wants justice?” And I had a whole classroom full of Aarons who held their peace.

The Unrequired Nature of Grace

Now, do you know why I love that illustration? Because it doesn’t just manifest the corrupt hearts of college freshmen; it is every man. It is all of us. We’ve grown accustomed to his grace, and we’re no longer amazed by grace. What shocks us, what leaves us in total consternation, is God’s justice. That’s the mislocation of astonishment. Where we should be astonished by grace, instead, we’re shocked when God is just.

You see, what happened in that classroom was this. The first time they broke the law and were forgiven, they were grateful. The second time, they were less grateful. By the third time, they not only expected forgiveness, they demanded it and were sure if they didn’t get it that they were victims of an injustice. And I told them, “What you have to understand is that the very essence of grace is that it is not required. And if you ever think for a moment in your mind that God owes you grace, let a bell go off, let a light blink in your head that says, ‘I have just confused grace and justice. I have located my shock, my amazement, and my astonishment at the wrong place.’”

In the most famous sermon ever preached in America, infamous in some circles (Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God), Edwards used the metaphor of the spiderweb, where he said, “You’re hanging by a slender thread over the pit of hell, with the flames of divine wrath beating and thrashing about it, ready to burn and singe it at any second. You would drop into the pit at any second, except that the hand of God is holding you up.” And then he looked at his people at Enfield that day, and he said, “You can’t give any reason why, since you have gotten out of your bed this morning, God did not allow you to fall into that pit.” That’s what the Bible is telling us. That was the message that Jesus gave when he said, “Unless you repent, the temple falls on your head. Unless you repent, it’s your blood tha will be mingled with the sacrifices.”

Let me close with this. If I have deluded myself my whole life and convinced myself that I’m in a state of grace when, in fact, I’m not, and if on the Day of Judgement I looked at Jesus and said, “Lord, Lord, didn’t I do this in your name? Didn’t I do that in your name?” and he said to me, “I don’t know your name. I don’t know who you are. Please leave. You don’t belong here” — if that were to happen to me I’ll have to be honest with you, I’ll be surprised because I do have the assurance of salvation, but I also know this; if that should happen to me on the Day of Judgement, I know that I would have absolutely no grounds for complaining about it for the simple reason that he is holy and I am not. The only way I can relate to him is by grace.

(@RCSproul) (1939–2017) founded and chaired Ligonier Ministries, pastored Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida, and authored more than one hundred books.