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The Contents Of This Chapter
Once there was a kingdom ruled by a gentle, loving king. His love for everyone in his kingdom was like that of a good father’s love for his children. Most of his time, energy, money, and possessions were devoted to promoting and protecting the good of everyone under his rule. Just as a wise parent shows no favoritism, so his love was impartial. Though he was exceedingly generous, patient, and merciful he never did anything for anyone that in any way jeopardized the well-being of anyone else in his kingdom.
Wanting everyone to be nurtured and nourished by a love that went far beyond good feelings and the driving forces of passion, he decreed that relationships built on mutual love and trust were to be his kingdom’s most valued treasures. He knew that obedience to this decree would make his kingdom one big happy family. He knew it would make the good of everyone the concern of everyone. And most of all, he knew it would guarantee that everyone, from the youngest child to the oldest adult, would be loved, accepted, valued, safe, and secure anywhere and everywhere in his kingdom.
Knowing the value of love, he wanted his people to be rich in love — rich enough to give as they themselves wished to receive. He wanted their lives to overflow with the unrivaled pleasures and happiness of relationships built on mutual love and trust. Indeed, he wanted for them what he wanted for himself.
That’s right. He wanted to be rich in loving relationships, too. He knew, to the deepest depths of his soul, how precious it was to be loved. He knew how delightful and invigorating it was to share in meaningful relationships of communion and companionship with those who care about others as much as they want others to care about them. He knew how wonderful it was to feel accepted and safe with everyone he knew. And knowing the immeasurable value and deep joy of shared relationships for all involved, he not only wanted them for everyone, but with everyone, too.
To ensure his kingdom remained a safe and secure place to live, the king enacted laws. His laws had a single focus — love. The king defined love as: promoting and protecting the good of others. To help his people understand how to do this, he said they should love everyone affected in any way by their choices and behavior in the same manner and to the same degree as they loved themselves.
It should be obvious to us all that such noble laws, if obeyed, would guard and advance the well-being of everyone — from each lawkeeper to everyone affected by what each lawkeeper does, be they the smallest and weakest or the king himself. If disobeyed, whether intentionally or unintentionally, harm would befall both the lawbreaker and everyone victimized by the lawbreaker’s wrong doing.
But there’s more. The unnecessary suffering caused by lawbreaking has an equally heinous partner. When lawbreakers appear to benefit from lawbreaking, their success influences others to break the law. Thus lawbreaking, if allowed to go unchecked, not only causes widespread, unnecessary, and often irreparable harm, it also increases the number of lawbreakers by inducing others to become lawbreakers. Since breaking the law and the spread of lawbreaking eventually endangers the well-being of everyone in the kingdom, the king decided lawbreakers would have to be dealt with severely.
So the king established fair yet tough penalties for breaking the law — penalties which were designed both to discourage lawbreaking and help lawbreakers get back on the track of doing what they knew was right. But he knew the real problem was not the occasional careless choice or moment of selfishness. The greatest threat to the good of his kingdom was the repeat offender. It was the lawbreaker who had so little concern for the good of others that he not only willingly and deliberately broke the law, he repeatedly broke the law. One such offender can do a lot of harm to a lot of people in the span of one lifetime.
The king had to protect the good people of his kingdom from repeat offenders. So he decided to punish all who willfully continued doing what they knew was wrong. But to be effective, the punishment had to do three things. First, it had to protect all potential victims from those who would choose to act selfishly. Then, it had to send a strong message of deterrence to would-be lawbreakers. Finally, it had to be equal to the crime.
Could there be a punishment which both protected and sent a strong message of deterrence? Was it possible that such a punishment would also be equal to the self-serving, unjust, unnecessary, and thus despicable disregard lawbreakers had for the well-being of everyone hurt by their lawbreaking? Though it sent a shiver of dismay through his being like that of an earthquake that levels a huge city, the king knew the answer. The punishment would be banishment from his kingdom.
Though the king decreed this punishment for the protection of his people, he hoped he would never have to punish anyone. He even wondered, at times, if he could follow through with this punishment, since he loved everyone in his kingdom as if they were his own children. How could he exile someone he loved as his own child — someone with whom he longed to have an intimate and unbroken relationship? How could he send someone he loved into a cold, uncaring world where selfishness is rampant and evil prevails? How could he condemn anyone to a world where there is no relief and no end to the suffering caused by selfish people living selfishly? There would be no one there to protect them, for there would be no law of love or loving authority to restrain the heinous evil of selfishness. Yet he knew he had to punish repeat offenders for the good of everyone. Love demanded it. It was the only way he could promote and protect the good of everyone so no one would suffer unnecessarily or repeatedly at the hands of unrepentant lawbreakers.
At first, the idea of self-centeredness — of making one’s own interests one’s primary concern — was unheard of in his kingdom. Everyone lived as if the king’s happiness and the well-being of family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers was their primary concern. Seeking the good of others was the ruling principle and primary motive in everything people said and did. Relationships built on mutual love and trust flourished. Truly, loving relationships were valued above all else. Everyone was loved and cared for. No one lacked any good thing.
However, that all changed the day the well-educated, well-spoken, well-dressed outsider came to the kingdom. He began teaching that the best way, the wisest way, the most sane and sensible way to live was to make the good of self the ruling principle and primary motive in all that was said and done. At first, hardly anyone listened, and fewer still took seriously the challenge to live according to his teachings. But once people began to see the fast-acting, personally gratifying benefits of self-centeredness, it spread like wildfire.
This new way of thinking about themselves led them to believe they had been duped by the king and his glorification of love. Then they became suspicious of the king’s motives and laws. Soon they were brazenly saying cynical and derogatory things about him and his laws. Some said the king’s laws were petty. Others said his laws were oppressive. Some said they were idealistic. Many said they were impractical. Some said the king was dictatorial. Others said he was narrow-minded and intolerant of anything that wasn’t according to his wishes. Many said he wasn’t the king of love at all because his punishment of repeat offenders was excessive, and it seemed he took pleasure in banishing anyone who did not do things his way. Almost everyone was feeling a sense of gratitude toward the outsider for showing them the foolishness of the king’s way.
Compared to selfishness, the king’s love now seemed restrictive and unnecessarily costly to the people of the kingdom. To love the king’s way meant denying themselves for the good of others. They now wanted to indulge themselves for the good of self. To love the king’s way required forsaking too many pleasures and being content with having what they needed. They now wanted more, even though they had enough. To love the king’s way meant using their resources and time to seek the good of others, to protect the weak, and to ensure that those with less always had enough. They now wanted to use most, if not all of their resources and time to make a better life for themselves. To love the king’s way meant building meaningful, lasting relationships with as many people as possible. They now wanted only those relationships which met their needs, satisfied their longings, and fulfilled their dreams.
As far back as they could remember they had made the king’s happiness and the well-being of everyone in his kingdom their primary concern. Now that they were wiser, it was no longer going to be their primary concern. A secondary concern, yes — but not their primary concern. Now their primary concern was their own good.
So they rebelled — some sooner than others. But in the end, everyone rebelled. They rebelled because they were convinced that selfishness did them more good than living the king’s love.
The king tried to reason with them. He explained, over and over, how they were being deceived — truly duped — by the outsider. He tried to show them how, in going along with the outsider, they had to lie to themselves. He pointed out the insidiousness of selfishness — how it promises the best of everything while actually multiplying their problems, unjustly harming others, and destroying relationships. He made it clear that if they continued to disobey they would eventually destroy themselves, their families, and the kingdom.
They did not listen. All they could think of when they heard the king plead with them to return to living by his laws was that his love was too restrictive, too risky, and too difficult. They had tasted the good life, and they did not want to return to the king’s way of self-denial. They wanted the luxuries and pleasures selfishness gave them. They preferred the methods of self-indulgence and self-protection selfishness provided. They liked the feelings of happiness and security obtained through selfishness. And they were certain the king was selfishly trying to deny them this wonderful new life the outsider had shown them.
The king disciplined them. He took away privileges and handed out fines. At the same time, he offered them help. He made his entire staff available to give whatever help they needed to return to a life of love. He trained speakers and sent them throughout the land to explain why selfishness, for all its promises and instant gratification, was the worst way anyone could live. He even offered to pay people’s fines if they would change their mind about selfishness and make a serious commitment to live selflessly once again.
Sadly, only a few changed their minds and returned to the king’s love. The rest remained determined to promote and protect their own good to the neglect or at the expense of others. They knew they were rejecting the king, and in so doing breaking his heart. They understood their selfishness victimized others. They were aware that breaking the law would bring discipline, and that continuing to break the law would mean banishment. They didn’t care. For them, the life of selfishness was a good life — too good to give up. And their persistent pursuit of immediate gratification helped them forget the ultimate consequences of their choices and behavior. Once in a while they felt pangs of guilt, but they repressed those feelings by focusing on the good feelings they got from getting what they wanted.
Finally, the king could tolerate it no longer. Love was compelling him to act. He loved the obedient subjects of his kingdom. He also loved those who, in defiance of his authority, were unwilling to be restrained by love. Without question, he hated what they did — how they victimized others for the sake of some personal gain — but he loved them. In fact it was his love, his love for everyone, that made it painfully obvious he could not go on forever trying to change the minds of those who clung to their selfishness. For the sake of the suffering victims unjustly hurt by those committed to selfishness, he had to take further action. For the sake of the few who returned to loving as he loved, he had to do what he said he would do. So, with a broken heart and tear-filled eyes, he applied the punishment for willfully and repeatedly breaking the laws of the land. He banished the unrepentant offenders from his kingdom.
When we bring unnecessary suffering into the life of just one other person (who could very well be God), we are guilty of sin. When we are guilty of voluntarily and deliberately doing what we know is wrong, God rightly condemns us for the suffering we have unnecessarily caused all who in any way are adversely affected by the wrong we have done.
But we don’t like God to treat us this way. We want to be of two minds. We want the freedom to hold to a double standard and live a life of contradictions. We want others to treat us according to the rules of love while having the freedom to make choices and behave according to the rules of selfishness. If you do not clearly see this about yourself, give serious consideration to the following observations.
We expect of others what God expects of us. When their behavior directly affects us, we feel fully justified in expecting them to do what they know is right. We believe it is our right to expect others to treat us with respect and to refrain from anything that jeopardizes our interests and well-being. Yet at the same time we don’t want these expectations to be a limitation on our choices and behavior. Nor do we want God, or anyone else for that matter, to hold us accountable when we believe our only sensible option is to act self-centeredly.
We expect others to love us as much as they love themselves while acting as if it is right, justifiable, morally acceptable, to love them with whatever is left over after loving ourselves.
We believe that anyone who satisfies his own desires, pursues his own interests, or meets his own needs at our expense has a serious defect in his character (he’s a bad person). Such a person deserves to be held responsible for the wrong he has done. Yet we see ourselves as well-intentioned people who, generally speaking, only do what is wrong when forced to by our circumstances. Our wrongdoing is not the result of a flawed character, but a flawed environment. Therefore, we expect others to understand our situation and overlook our wrongdoing.
We believe that anyone who deliberately ignores us in our time of crisis is just as bad as the one who intentionally and directly harms us. Yet we live as if the less advantaged, the truly needy, the unfortunate, children without parents, abandoned old folks, the underclass, the unempowered, and the victims of disaster are not our responsibility. In fact, we prefer that they become someone else’s concern altogether.
We believe it is right to discipline, dislike, shun, despise, and finally banish (i.e., divorce, imprison) anyone who causes us to repeatedly suffer more than and longer than we think necessary. Yet when we commit the same sin, over and over, we want those sorely affected to see it as our inability to be perfect, or as a flaw caused by being raised in a dysfunctional family, or as a part of our personality. In other words, we want to be accepted and approved just the way we are.
Truly, we are of two minds. We live by two standards. And without saying it, and sometimes without even thinking it, we fully expect two judgments — one which condemns them for mistreating us and one which justifies us for doing the best we can, under the circumstances.
However, the one who sets aside love for the ways of selfishness is a menace to everyone who is affected by just one of his selfish words or deeds. If he repeats one or more sins over and over, he is a perpetual threat. Therefore, the only realistic protection against impenitent sinners is to remove them and keep them separate (banishment) from those who are seriously striving to love as God loves.
Banishment would not be so bad if one were exiled to a place that offered as many opportunities for love, justice, meaningful relationships, happiness, and security as the place one was banished from. But banishment is not a reward for good behavior. Indeed, the first duty of banishment is to protect those who are committed to loving as God loves from those who are committed to loving themselves, first and foremost. The second duty of banishment is to deter would-be sinners by punishing unrepentant sinners. To be an effective deterrent, the punishment must fit the crime. Those who willfully, intentionally, and repeatedly seek their own good at the expense of others are cruel, heartless people. They have convinced themselves that self-centeredness is perfectly justifiable given some of the unpleasant circumstances and unscrupulous people they have to deal with. They want to be selfish. To them, it’s their only hope. Truly, eternal banishment from the presence of God and into the kingdom of Satan fits the crime. In fact, it is poetic justice.
Those who are banished are sent to a place filled with self-centered people committed to selfishness. In this place there won’t be anyone committed to the way of love. There won’t be any people of conscience fighting for justice. There won’t be any people of charity working to offset the effects of selfishness on its victims. There won’t be any authority or government enforcing just laws or protecting the weak from the will of the strong. There won’t be any safe place, no haven where victims can find relief from people eager to use and abuse them. This place will be worse than a prison filled with incorrigible criminals of every kind, and who have complete control over everything that goes on within the prison walls. In such an environment there is no escaping the torment of unjust suffering at the hands of sinners or the despair of being victimized repeatedly. In such an environment there is no hope for a better life. In fact, life will grow worse and worse, forever, because the way of selfishness is a downward path into ever-degenerating depravity and perversion.
In addition, those who are banished go empty-handed. They must leave behind all their worldly possessions, wealth, and positions of power. They enter their new living situation with nothing. And their new place of abode is a worthless land. It has no possibility of gratifying their desires or satisfying their needs. Indeed, it can’t give them one-tenth of one percent of what they had.
Now imagine the endless, desperate efforts of empty-handed, self-centered people in a worthless land trying to supply their own needs and gratify their own desires. Add to that the fact that their only commodity will be each other. This means their only hope of improving their own quality of life will come from preying on each other. And prey they will, for above all else they are self-centered. This is the saddest, and certainly the worst of all existences.
Please, think about this. The punishment for willfully and repeatedly breaking the law of love means losing everything your selfish mind thinks vital to your happiness and well-being. It means going empty handed to a worthless place which has no possibility of gratifying your desires or satisfying your needs. It means being in a lawless place filled with self-centered people who have done, and will continue to do, whatever it takes to get what they want. And because the very nature of selfishness puts us on a downward slide into ever increasing wickedness, your existence will grow ever more horrifying. Truly, it is a place of torment and sorrow — a punishment which fits the crime. And it fits the crime because torment and sorrow are the very things unrepentant sinners continuously inflict on others as they self-centeredly seek their own good.
Sin is a universal problem. No one is sin free. None of us knows anyone who has lived a sin-free life. Some of us know a good person — someone who sins so seldom it seems he never sins at all. But even such a good person as this has repeatedly sinned at one time or another, and if not in the present than certainly in the past.
Everyone has willingly and deliberately done something that they know is wrong. Who hasn’t, at least once, intentionally acted selfishly, and in the process hurt someone else? Who hasn’t willfully refused, or carelessly neglected to seek the good of someone else for the sake of gaining or protecting some benefit for self? Who hasn’t damaged a relationship through self-centered, self-serving behavior, whether it be a relationship with God, a parent, siblings, a spouse, children, friends, neighbors, or a co-worker? Indeed, we all have broken the rule of love which God established for the well-being of all mankind — the very same rule we want others to live by when dealing with us. (Note: Romans 2:1-16; 3:10-18,23; 13:8-10)
Since we all have sinned, every one of us is rightly under the condemnation of God’s punishment for sin. Yet many argue that God is grossly unfair or diabolically cruel for punishing sinners by banishing them to hell forever. Many are offended, and even angered that God intends to punish them as if they have done enough to deserve banishment. Most of us act as if we’ve sinned so seldom it’s almost as if we haven’t sinned at all. And when we do sin, we see our sin as a mistake, as a consequence of having a bad day, as a result of our up-bringing, as a necessary evil given the circumstances we are in (i.e., believing it’s necessary to use dishonest business practices because that is the way it is in the business world), or as a response to someone who is sinning against us — all things which indicate we think we are basically good people caught in a bad situation. Since we do not see ourselves as bad people deliberately choosing to seek our own good at the expense of others, we often think of our sin as being about as bad as a little, unimportant, almost harmless, white lie compared to what others do.
And who is deciding how harmless our own sin is? Well, of course, we are. But is that fair? Don’t we demand the right to decide how other people’s sin affects us? If we believe it is our right to decide how their sin affects us, shouldn’t we give them the right to decide how our sin affects them? If we maintain the right to judge the effect of sin in both cases, doesn’t that reveal our self-centeredness? And doesn’t it also prove how much we want to hide from the truth about ourselves?
When you sin, when you seek your own good at my expense, when you do what you know is wrong, you are no more of a good person caught in a bad situation than I am when I sin against you. When either of us sins it is because we have deliberately chosen to do what we know is wrong. Therefore, our sin is rarely equal to a little, unimportant, almost harmless, white lie. Our sin is heinous because it is grossly unfair to anyone who must unjustly suffer the harmful consequences put into play by our selfish choice to deliberately do what we know is wrong. (Note: I John 1:8-10)
The problem of sin would be bad enough if we each sinned just once in a lifetime. But as we can read in the newspaper, see on the television, hear from our associates, and know from personal experience, the problem of sin greatly exceeds bad. It is a ravaging scourge wreaking havoc with horrifyingly devastating results in every corner of the world. Why? Because every single human being, past or present, has practiced sin to one degree or another. In other words, we haven’t sinned just once. We sin repeatedly. And we repeat many of the same sins repeatedly.
It isn’t that we don’t do anything right. We do many things right. I don’t know anyone whose every thought, word, and deed is selfishly sinful. And it isn’t that we harm everyone all the time by everything we do. It is easily verifiable that others have been helped by the good things we do. But the problem of sin is not in the things we do right or the people we don’t hurt. The problem of sin is that we willingly, deliberately, and unnecessarily hurt others when we do what we know is wrong. Can any amount of good make up for deliberately and repeatedly sinning against anyone? Absolutely not!
Hey, wait one minute! You can’t say that good doesn’t make up for bad! Maybe it’s true in relation to the evil, vile, sinister, atrocious things some people do. But I only make a few mistakes now and then! Well, maybe I deliberately do a few things I know are wrong. But what’s so bad about that? Everyone sins. And besides, what I do is nothing compared to what most people do! Surely the good I do far exceeds and therefore makes up for the bad!
Consider: there are basically two levels of sin. On one level is the baseball bat to the head sin. On the other is the kick in the shin sin.
The baseball bat to the head type sin is that one-time sin which does so much damage it only has to happen once to be too often. Examples of this are murder, rape, child sexual abuse, adultery, drunk driving that injures others, physically beating your spouse, and torture. When a person commits a baseball bat to the head type sin, all the good they are and have done is overshadowed by the sin. They can pay their debt to society by going to jail or paying a hefty fine, but they can never make up for the suffering they’ve caused. They can change their ways so in the future they treat people with love and respect, but even that cannot undo the harm they’ve done through their sin.
Nothing good the murderer has done or will do can bring his victim back to life. Nothing good the rapist has done or will do can restore his victim’s purity and peace of mind. Nothing good the child sexual abuser has done or will do can restore his victim’s childhood innocence. Nothing good Adolph Hitler (Germany) or Pol Pot (Cambodia) did could make up for the extreme suffering they inflicted on large numbers of people under their control. The “baseball bat to the head” type sins are so heinous they cannot be offset by any good the sinner has done or may do.
This seems obvious enough. But it only applies to a few people, because most people don’t commit baseball bat to the head type sins. Fewer still commit these type sins on a repetitive basis. Of those who do, most are brought to justice so as to put an end to their atrocities.
So what about the rest of us? We are predominately involved in the kick in the shin type sins. Examples of kick in the shin type sins are tardiness, sloppiness, compulsive perfectionism, manipulation and control, an angry temper, derogatory comments, put-downs, faultfinding, argumentativeness, deceit, shirking responsibilities, over-spending, under-spending, late pay or no pay on debts owed, stinginess, prejudice, unforgiveness, insensitivity, sexual unresponsiveness within marriage, workaholism, neglect, holding others to a stricter standard than we hold ourselves, conceit, general unkindness, jealousy, envy, substance abuse, and getting even.
Generally, society thinks these sins are not so bad. In fact, kick in the shin sins are committed so often that many of them seem normal to most of us. Besides, most of them have a seemingly minor effect on their victims. Surely the good we do offsets this type of sin.
What a self-serving misconception! To begin with, the same distrustful self-centeredness which is the driving force behind baseball bat to the head sins is the driving force behind kick in the shin sins. In other words, whether we commit the supposedly big sins or the seemingly little sins, we sin because we willfully, deliberately, knowingly, and too often eagerly do what we know is wrong — seeking our own good at the expense of others. It is this distrustingly self-centered mindset, this sin-justifying belief system, this exaltation of self-interest over the good of others which makes every sinner a dangerous threat to the well-being of everyone affected in any way by his choices and behavior.
Remember, sin, whether great or small, is evil because it unnecessarily harms others — from self to God to anyone else affected by its ripple effects. In this same way, the sinner, whether he commits atrocities or seemingly insignificant sins, whether he commits one sin or thousands, is evil because he is willing to knowingly and deliberately harm others. Therefore, it is not the size of the sin or the magnitude of sins committed with condemns us to hell. It is our willingness to go our own way, to look out for our own good, to gratify our own desires, to meet our own needs, at the expense of others, which makes us worthy of eternal banishment from God and all who love as God loves.
Beyond this, consider the arenas where kick in the shin sins commonly occur. The greatest number of kick in the shin sins are committed in the home, and in our active communities (extended family, school group, work-place, social group, church group, neighborhood). This means kick in the shin sins are committed by someone we know and with whom we spend significant amounts of time. The sinner may be our parent, sibling, spouse, child, extended family member, neighbor, pastor, fellow church member, boss, co-worker, employee, or a social acquaintance. It is reasonable to assume that every one of these people have good qualities and do good things for those closest to them. Yet if they kick us in the shin once a day, or several times a week, or five to six times a month, or eight to twelve times in a year, it isn’t long before the kick in the shin becomes so hurtful, so offensive, so much a statement of disloyalty and disrespect and lack of love, that it overshadows all the good they do for us.
One example of this is often found in divorce. The wife who wants a divorce is not trying to get away from her husband because he is totally bad. He has many redeeming qualities. He does many things well. So why the divorce? He has kicked her in the shin so often with the same three or four sins that she feels she can’t take any more. She hurts too much. And she’s been hurting too long. Her husband’s sin, though seemingly small by comparison to murder or rape, has become so large in its repetitiveness that he no longer does enough good to offset the bad.
Most of us do not commit baseball bat to the head type sins. But we do commit kick in the shin type sins, again and again and again. This is called practicing sin. We practice sin because we believe in the worth of sin over the worth of doing what we know is right. We practice sin because we are willing to harm others in our efforts to benefit ourselves. We practice sin because we do not believe God or His ways work well enough to be useful in our situation. And whether we admit it or not, every one of us has made a practice of at least one, if not dozens, of kick in the shin type sins.
Therefore, we are guilty. We are guilty of eternal damnation because we have willfully inflicted pain on others for purely selfish reasons. We are guilty of knowing better, especially since we expect better of everyone whose behavior affects us. We are guilty of repeatedly sinning against the same people, of forcing them to endure unnecessary suffering again and again. We are guilty of loving ourselves more than others, and in so doing, we become guilty of deliberately seeking our own good at their expense. This is an atrocity for which God rightly condemns us to banishment in hell forever. And be assured of this, no amount of good done can make up for the wrong we have done.
Too often we ignore how our sin affects God. When we sin, we send God the message that we think we know more about ourselves and what is best for us than He does. We tell Him by our actions that we are rejecting His position of authority over us, and that we are taking over that position ourselves. When we sin, we spurn His love and reject His truth to take hold of what we suppose is love and imagine is truth. This breaks God’s heart, just as it would break any father’s heart who was treated this way by his children.
God’s way of love makes the good of all its focus. We break God’s heart when we make the good of self our focus — hurting people He loves in the process.
True happiness, fulfillment, and security come from relationships built on mutual love and trust, with God as one of the parties. We break God’s heart when we look for happiness, fulfillment, and security in the wrong places, such as employment, entertainment, worldly pleasures, personal accomplishments, power, fame, possessions, and money — damaging and destroying relationships in the process.
God promises to father us and raise us to spiritual maturity. We break His heart when we want Him to pamper us with a problem-free, healthy, wealthy life — destroying our will to do what is right in the process.
God is fighting an all-out war with evil to protect the good of all. We break His heart when we go over to the side of His archenemy, the devil, just so we can promote the good of self — influencing others to side with Satan in the process.
But above all this, God’s way of love compels Him to want a love relationship with us — a two-way, intimate relationship of communion and companionship built on mutual love and trust. Yet we are like the prodigal son who have taken our father’s wealth and gone off to live as we please — breaking our Father’s heart by severing our relationship with Him.
We can’t do this without being in rebellion against God, without being hostile to the ways of God, and without sending the clear message that we despise God. Indeed, we bear witness to the truth of what is in our heart every time we place our interests above the good of someone God loves. And who does God love? Everyone. God loves us all — male as well as female, child as well as adult, black as well as white, Asian as well as Mexican, righteous as well as unrighteous, Muslim and Hindu and new-age and skeptic as well as Christian, Democrat as well as Republican, your neighbor as well as you, and you as well as me.
If I selfishly mistreat or abuse or despise you, I am hurting someone whom God loves. This breaks His heart and drives a wedge between Him and me. If you cannot see this, put it into human terms.
If I selfishly mistreat or abuse or despise my mother-in-law, I am hurting someone whom my wife dearly loves. This breaks her heart and drives a wedge between us. In the same way, we cannot selfishly and unnecessarily hurt anyone God loves without hurting God, and alienating ourselves from Him. To deliberately and unnecessarily sin against God, the creator of the universe, our loving Father, the One to whom we owe honor and respect, surely means we deserve banishment from His presence and kingdom forever.
Not only do we hurt God every time we sin, we hurt everyone else our sin affects. This point has been made quite extensively already, but it bears repeating.
Some of the destructive consequences of our own sin boomerang on us, bringing unwanted hardship, suffering, turmoil, and loss into our own lives. But this is exceedingly fair. What is so unfair is that some of the destructive consequences from our sin victimize others who had no involvement with our decision to sin. Yet because of our sin, they are in some way harmed by it. This is inhumane. It is cruel to bring needless difficulty, heartache, anxiety, pain, suffering, and loss into the life of anyone who has had no part in choosing and committing our sin.
Consider the unjust and unnecessary suffering inflicted on children raised by compulsive or perfectionistic parents. Consider this same thing for children raised by domineering or critical or nagging parents, children of divorced parents, children of workaholics, children of alcoholics or drug abusers, children of religious fanatics or hypocrites, children of sexually or physically or emotionally abusive parents, children of permissive parents, children of unreasonably strict parents, and children neglected or abandoned by their parents.
Consider the unjust and unnecessary suffering experienced by a spouse who becomes infected with the HIV virus because her mate is sexually promiscuous or an IV drug user. And what about people injured by drunk drivers, students taught by ill-prepared teachers, citizens whose politicians are more interested in re-election than good government, manufacturers who are sued by consumers because employees carelessly do their work, workers who are underpaid or exposed to hazardous work conditions because employers are too concerned with profits, and employers who lose money because employees steal from them.
Consider the unjust and unnecessary suffering inflicted on neighbors of people who live like pigs, or on people who are robbed — especially those who are robbed and physically harmed at the same time, or on people who undergo unnecessary surgery just so the doctor or hospital can make more money. And what about people who are denied the opportunities and privileges that others enjoy because of discrimination on the basis of color or religion or gender or physical condition. Everywhere we look, we find people suffering unjustly and unnecessarily at the hands of sinners.
In spite of the shortness of these lists, they make the point. Because of sin, everyone who has ever lived on the face of this earth has suffered unjustly and unnecessarily at the hands of willful sinners acting selfishly. Yet the connection between a sinner’s sin and a victim’s suffering isn’t always clear.
An automobile assembly line worker had the job of attaching brake lines on the passenger side of cars. One Monday night he stayed up late to watch football. During the course of the game he drank enough beers to get drunk. He went to work the next day, but he was neither mentally nor physically fit to do quality work. During his workday he made several mistakes in attaching brake lines. He wasn’t aware of making any mistakes because he wasn’t giving the kind of attention to his work that was necessary to detect mistakes.
As the cars passed the next inspection point, an inspector who had a bad sinus infection was more engrossed in nursing his cold than in inspecting cars. Out of neglect caused by the distraction of his sinus infection, he put his stamp of approval on every car that came his way that day, instead of giving them his usual thorough inspection.
A computer company bought one of the cars made on this day for business use by a new young employee. The company intended that the car be used for work purposes only. Yet since it was new and gas could be purchased on the company credit card, the young man drove the car for some personal use as well. One evening, after spending several hours dining, dancing, and drinking alcoholic beverages with his friends, the young employee got into his company car and started for home. Within a mile of his home his headlights shown on a car. The car was pulled to the side of the road, but not off the road. It was halfway in his lane. An older gentleman was trying to change the rear tire on the driver’s side.
The young man could have veered around the parked car and continued safely on his way, but his mind was too clouded with a mixture of alcohol and exhaustion from too many late nights. The only thing he could think of was stopping — right now! So he jammed on his brakes. The force of his foot on the brake pedal was so powerful that the improperly fitted brake line connected to the front left brake broke loose as the pressure of the brake fluid forced its way into the brake. As brake fluid poured out, the left front brake quit working and the young man crashed into the parked car. The collision killed the older gentleman. When the police arrived, they looked inside the older gentleman’s car and found his wife, seriously injured. She spent two months in the hospital recovering from the accident. To recover her losses, the woman sued the company the young man worked for.
How did all this happen? It happened because of choices — selfish choices which left victims in their wake.
The assembly line worker chose to stay up late and drink too much beer, even though he was old enough to know it would affect the quality of his work the next day. He chose late night entertainment and the pleasure gained from too many beers over the safety of those who drove or got in the path of any car he helped build.
The sick inspector was so concerned about relieving his own suffering that he neglected to be properly concerned about the safety of the consumer. He could have stayed home, but he did not want to use his sick leave. So he chose income and the relief of his own suffering over the well-being of anyone who would drive or get in the way of a car he inspected that day.
The young employee chose to drive the company car even though he knew it was against company policy. He chose to take and use what did not belong to him because it meant he did not have to use his own income for such things. He gave no thought to how his dishonesty and greed might hurt his company. He also knew he drank more than he should. But he enjoyed partying with his friends. It kept him from being lonely. Like so many others, he wanted to be liked, to feel happy, and to have more than he had — and he was willing to pursue these things at the expense of others.
It is clear that none of the choices these people made were made with the intention of harming anyone. They were simply looking out for themselves, as selfish people do. They were not like murderers who plot their evil beforehand. They were like manslaughters who harm others from carelessness and foolishness. They were not intentionally harmful, just intentionally selfish. Yet in seeking their own good without equal regard for the good of others, the results were just as disastrous as if they had intentionally plotted to do this much harm.
Most of us do not think about how our choices and behavior affect others. We are too concerned with our own interests. Yet we expect others to be careful as to how their choices and behavior affect us. This is a double standard — an intentional double standard that is an abominable evil.
Love does no harm to its neighbor. Loving God supremely and our neighbor as ourself is the only way to protect everyone from unnecessary heartache, injury, and suffering. If we will not repent of selfishness and make love the ruling principle in our life, we remain a constant threat to the well-being of everyone affected by our selfish choices and behavior. Truly, banishment is the only effective, permanent protection against such a threat.
God has chosen to banish everyone who willfully remains committed to selfishness. This is reasonable in that it removes the self-centered so those who love can live together in peace and harmony — loving others as each wants to be loved. Therefore, banishment (death, eternal separation from God, being cast into hell with the devil and all his cohorts) is God’s chosen way of protecting the victims of sin, punishing sinners who continue to deliberately do what they know is wrong, and deterring would-be sinners from practicing sin.
Sinners, especially the successful ones, influence and inspire others to sin. The apparent ability of sinners to quickly and effectively protect themselves, satisfy themselves, and accumulate good things influences others to pursue sin as a reliable means of improving their condition.
Consider the parent who tries to control his children through angry physical punishment, harsh words, or excessive threats. He may control his children, but he is also teaching them to treat others the way he treats them. He won’t have to sit his children down and explain to them that anger and abusiveness are effective means of making people do what you want. His example provides all the teaching they need. The truth of this is proven in our own society. Most children who come from physically violent or verbally abusive homes use abusive force on their mates and children to maintain control over them. This is the direct result of one sinner influencing others to join him in his sin.
The businessman who seems to have all the money he wants for personal use is often looked up to as a success. If his success to due to cheating on his taxes (paying cash under the table, swapping business services for personal-use goods, treating personal expenses as business expenses), and underpaying his employees, those who want to mimic his success will be highly influenced to mimic his methods. This is how one sinner influences others to join him in the ways of sin.
Consider the impact of motion pictures and television on the young and impressionable. Movies and television often depict sinful behavior as normal behavior practiced by decent people. They depict seemingly normal people participating in acts of violence, revenge, sexual activity outside of marriage, homosexuality, drug and alcohol abuse, divorce, deception, greed as it pertains to wealth and luxury, the abuse of power, and other self-serving, sinful behaviors. Story lines often give the message that these things improve one’s quality of life, or right wrongs where justice is lacking. So why not participate in them? Watch the people around you, both young and old. See how many are being influenced to try sinful things or continue down the path of sin as a result of the influence movies and television have on them.
And then there are hypocritical Church members. Hypocrites are those who bear the name “Christian”, who look to the Bible for advice on how to live, who openly admit they believe in God, who claim to know God’s will, who talk about the difference between authentic Christianity and so-called Christianity, and who know enough about the Bible to teach others. Now these folks are hypocrites because they do not live according to what they claim to believe or teach others. Yet because of their status in the local church, they become powerful influences on others to follow the ways of sin. Their influence is so deadly that God tells sincere Christians to stop associating with them in order to protect weaker Christians from the power of their influence. (Note: I Corinthians 5:9-13)
The influence hypocrites have outside the Church is just as deadly as it is in the Church. Because of hypocrites, God’s name and His Word are laughed at, cursed, discredited, and even hated by unbelievers, or those of other religions. Unbelievers become hardened to the Gospel because so-called Christians live a life which includes the known, justified, tolerated, and even defended practice of sin. This drives unbelievers farther from God and more and more into a life of selfishness and sin. (Note: Romans 2:17-24)
Do not ignore this truth. Sinners influence would-be sinners to sin. If God let one unrepentant person, one human being who willingly and self-justifyingly practiced known sin into His Eternal Kingdom, that one person would influence others to join him in rebelling against love and practicing sin. Sin would spread. There would be more victims. Unjust, unnecessary suffering would increase. And in time, the Eternal Kingdom of God would be no better than the present condition of earth. For the preservation of all that is good (such as love, justice, peace, joy, the provisions of everyone's needs), God must send all who willfully and deliberately practice known sin to their own place.
Sin is abominable. There may be little sins and big sins, but all sin victimizes others who had no part in making the decision to sin. Thus, every sin is an outrageous evil that must be stopped. To stop sin, unrepentant sinners must be separated from those who repent and make it their goal to love as God loves.
The doing of good which secures the well-being of everyone is completely dependent upon the practice of love — love which seeks the good of others in a way that is at least equal to its seeking the good of self. The choice to practice love is required of all who live together in any form of community if each individual’s well-being is to be protected and the greatest possible good of all is to be secured. Sin is the only obstacle to the existence of such loving communities. Since sin is brought into our world and practiced by people, sinners must either repent of sin and be converted to a life of love (righteousness), or they must be removed if sin itself is to be removed.
Repentance or removal are the only two reasonable, workable options for stopping sin in a world where people can freely choose how they will live. In spite of this, many have the idea that they can knowingly and willfully practice sin here on earth and still go to heaven after they die. They think that when we pass through the gates of Heaven, God will mysteriously change our willful devotion to selfishness into a willful devotion to love. Is this the teaching of the Bible? To me it seems like the thinking of selfish sinners who want the best of both worlds.
The message of the Bible is that after we die physically, God will put us in a place where we can live to the fullest potential, unhindered by any opposing forces, the way of life we practiced here on earth. (Note: Isaiah 3:10-11; Matthew 7:21-27, 13:41-43, 25:41-46; Romans 2:4-11; II Corinthians 5:10; Galatians 6:7-8; Hebrews 10:26-31)
If you have repented of sin, put your faith in God, and are verifying the genuineness your repentance and faith by dying to self and becoming as godly as you can possibly be in this life, God will bring you into His Eternal Kingdom. There, your choice to love God supremely and love others as you love yourself can reach its fullest potential, unhindered by the opposing forces of sin and the devil.
If you are committed to keeping selfishness alive so you can enjoy its benefits here on earth, God will send you to hell. There, your self-centeredness can reach its fullest potential, unhindered by the opposing forces of good and God. Such action on God’s part toward the selfishly sinful is both punishment and necessity. It is punishment for willfully victimizing others throughout their lifetime. It is necessity because it is the only suitable way to protect those who want to love as God loves from unnecessary pain and suffering at the hands of unrepentant sinners.
Some people say that the penalty for sin is unfair. However, the penalty for sin is just that — a penalty. It is not an effort to reclaim the sinner from a life of sin. God has been doing that since Adam sinned, and He will continue to do that until Jesus returns. And because God does not want any sinner to be exiled from His eternal kingdom, He has gone far beyond all reasonable expectations to win us back from our life of selfishness and sin.
God’s efforts to reclaim us from the practice of sin are made while we are living on this earth. If we resist God’s diligent and loving efforts until our dying day on this earth, we would only go on resisting His efforts if He allowed us into His eternal kingdom. Bringing us into Heaven will not change us into a loving, caring individual who wants only what is best for God and our fellowman. Therefore, the penalty is not for our good, but for the good of those who have chosen love as the governing principle of their lives.
Since we all have sinned, we are all under the penalty of sin. There is no escape from this penalty except through the means God has graciously provided. He pleads with us to partake of His provision so we can live with Him and all who love as He loves, forever. Truly, God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. His deepest desire is that we turn from our sinful ways and live.
What about you? Do you understand that sin is so horrible that it can only be dealt with by removing it, just like cancer has to be removed? If God leaves even a little bit, it will grow until it destroys everything. God is love, and His love compels Him to be just. His justice compels Him to exile all practicing sinners from His kingdom. Will you be exiled? Or will you repent of sin and believe on the Lord Jesus for salvation from the influence, practice, and penalty of sin, so you can live with God forever? Only you can make this choice for yourself.
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