By Femi Aribisala
From God’s righteous perspective, the ultimate punishment that can be imposed on the sinful is death.
God says: “The soul who sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:4). Paul reiterates this: “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23). But our so-called pastors contradict this by insisting: “The soul who sins shall spend eternity burning in hell-fire.” They say: “The wages of sin is eternal torment.” How can we understand this distortion of the word of God?
The problem arises because our pastors don’t understand the scriptures; neither do they know the God who is love. A major blunder they make is to presume the death that results from sin is an affliction scheduled for the future. They think erroneously that when sinners die, they go to a place called hell where they are tormented in a fiery furnace for eternity.
However, this Christian hell is anathema to the word of God. God’s law of sin and death does not say we are going to die as a result of our sins. It says we are already dead.
Law of sin and death
God warned Adam: “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:17). Although Adam lived for 930 years, he died the very day he disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit. For the rest of his life after this sin, Adam was a walking dead man.
Let me spell out the implications here. It means, according to God, bullets don’t kill. Cancer does not kill. Nobody dies as a result of old age. The only thing that kills is sin. Once we sin, we die. That is the law of sin and death.
Jesus reveals that what we mistakenly call death is no more than sleep. When Lazarus died, he said to his disciples: “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.” (John 11:11). He then proceeded to raise Lazarus from his sleep of death.
However, the real death that afflicted Adam and his progeny is widely misunderstood by Christians. This death comes only from sin and it afflicts in the present-continuous. It ensures that the wages of sin will not be death; but that the wages of sin is death. Accordingly, all sinners currently living in the world today are dead and buried. They are walking about in grave-clothes. They are physically alive but spiritually dead.
Referring to them, Jesus says: “Let the dead bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:22). He says to the Church of Sardis: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” (Revelation 3:1). Paul also says: “She who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives.” (1 Timothy 5:6).
On Damascus Road
Let me use myself as an example. Although I am a Christian born and bred, I lived for 41 years of my life as a dead man. I was “dead in trespasses and sins.” (Ephesians 2:1). I had no hope and was without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:12). I had no peace with God and no peace of mind. I lived according to the flesh and specialised in its works. (Galatians 5:19-21). I could neither obey nor please God.
But thanks be to God, Jesus changed my situation and circumstances. He did this not through the scriptures, but through my own “Damascus Road” experience during an armed-robbery attack. In that process, he quickened my mortal body and gave me newness of life. Thereby, the scripture was fulfilled in me whereby the Father of the Prodigal Son says concerning him: “This my son was dead and is alive again.” (Luke 15:24).
Accordingly, Paul writes to new creatures in Christ Jesus: “And you he made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins.” (Ephesians 2:1). A true believer in Christ then is someone Jesus raised from the dead. Jesus says: “The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.” (John 5:25).
From my encounter with Jesus, I became alive to God and to the things of God. The Lord opened my eyes (John 9:30) so I can now see clearly the invisible things of God. (Romans 1:20). He opened my ears to hear his voice (Psalm 40:6); and he opened my understanding that I might comprehend the scriptures. (Luke 24:45).
I daresay, this is a privilege most Christians don’t seem to have. Alas, their pastors are Nicodemus; mere mortals instead of the Lord Jesus himself. Therefore, although the scripture says: “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22); Christians continue to insist the wages of sin is eternal torment in (fictitious) hell.
Paul writes: “To be carnally minded is death.” (Romans 8:6). He then says this carnal death afflicts even Christians: “I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ.. for you are still carnal.” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3).
Carnal-mindedness prevents Christians from understanding why the wages of sin is simply death. They feel death is inadequate punishment for the sins of someone like Hitler who murdered 6 million Jews. Therefore, they substitute eternal torment for God’s penalty of death, believing that by so doing, they are more likely to discourage men from sin.
However, the only penalty God has for any and every kind of sin is death; no more, no less. From God’s righteous perspective, the ultimate punishment that can be imposed on the sinful is death. The reason for this is not too difficult to understand.
God is the epitome of goodness. “In (his) presence is fullness of joy; at (his) right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11). God blessed Abraham by giving himself to him. He said to him: “I am your exceedingly great reward.” (Genesis 15:1). In Canaan, he did not give any land to the priests. Instead, he told them: “I am your portion and your inheritance among the children of Israel.” (Numbers 18:20).
God himself is the inheritance of today’s children of God. We are not heirs of things belonging to God: we are heirs of God. (Romans 8:17). Eternal life is not about going to a heaven with streets of gold. God himself is eternal life. (John 17:3; 1 John 5:20). We are not going to Abraham’s bosom. (Luke 16:22). We are going to the bosom of the Father. (John 1:18).
Therefore, the greatest punishment God can ever impose is to cut himself off from a man. That is what real death (and not its counterfeit) brings: separation from the goodness of God. But when Christians don’t value God, they don’t regard separation from God as enough punishment for heinous venal sins. So they replace it with their own carnal and ungodly verdict: eternal torment.
They fail to appreciate that the agony of Jesus on the cross did not come from the nails that pierced his body, but from his separation from God because of our sins. For the first time in eternity, the Son was separated from the Father, and the pain was too much for him to bear.
TO BE CONTINUED