Sunday evening I spent a very pleasant time with about 16 others from church for an informal time of worship and discussion. The setting was relaxed, creatively lit and very agreeably resourced with tea/coffee and cake (thanks Ruth & Co). I felt disarmingly at home.
We sang some songs together, watched a bit of video and discussed some questions together in groups. The worship touched my spirit, and the discussion stirred my mind in a way that no sermon ever could.
Anyway, the point of this is that one of the rather tangential questions that came up during discussion was about judgement, how we never hear it preached or spoken about. The question raised was; have we become soft when it comes to the gospel? Is our missional passion to embrace a spiritually tolerant and relativistic society meaning we hide the truth of God’s judgement?
The passage cited was this: “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” Heb 10:26,27
My immediate observation is that this was written to people who were already followers of Jesus as a warning against treating the grace of God lightly and effectively shaming Christ (and belittling his death) in public. Paul writes to Timothy, “The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them.” (1 Tim 5:24) but here again the warning is to the church and is part of a wider point Paul is making about the consequences of our actions, “In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not cannot be hidden”.
The ministry of both Jesus and Paul seemed to be light on messages about judgement (except for religious leaders who acted like bouncers at the gates of the Kingdom) and full on about the love and grace of God. It is this missional message that we are seeking to rediscover and make known to people whose lives are veiled by an easy going cutlure.
So what do we make of passages like, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17) or “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb 9:27). Again, these were written not to unbelievers but to the church. I do not believe these are examples of the message we bring – rather, they are a warning to us of the seriousness of (not) fulfilling the great commission.