Adventures in Theology Blog

Chase A. Thompson: Author, Pastor, Vigilante.

To Halloween or Not to Halloween? That is the Question for Some Christians

Halloween has long been a source of controversy for Christian families; while some Christians embrace the holiday (more or less) others just turn the porch lights out and seek to warn people away from the ‘devil’s holiday.” In around 25 years of ministry, I have served in churches that have preached against the holiday, churches that have tried to redeem it, and churches that have simply taken a neutral stance. I’m now about 4 months into my tenure as the pastor of a California Baptist church 2300 miles from our original home, and this particular church over the years has taken the ‘redeem the holiday’ sort of approach, seeking to do an outreach focused Trunk or Treat that is designed to reach the community while not full on diving into the more violent/dark/scary parts of Halloween. Predictably, such an approach has caused some discussion among church members – should we be implicitly supporting such a holiday by doing a Halloweenish themed outreach? It’s a great question to grapple with! 

Last night at our normal VBC prayer time, I was asked a very direct question: “What do YOU think about Halloween?” I thought it was a great question, and I was happy to answer it verbally, and thought it might be a good idea to write some of it out, so here is my take on Halloween in a large nutshell:  About 15 years ago, I was the youth pastor in a church that disdained Halloween and anything to do with it. The overall teaching was essentially that Halloween was a demonic holiday and that Christians shouldn’t have anything to do with it. I have some very dear friends who are deeply committed (and mature) Christians who have similar views, citing verses like Ephesians 5:11 (“Don’t participate in the fruitless works of darkness, but instead expose them.”) as justification for Christians to not associate with Halloween. While I think vs. 12 indicates that Paul was probably talking about something that would only be tangentially related to Halloween, Ephesians 5:11 does contain a powerful truth for Christians. We should NOT participate in the dark things of the world. We are to be IN the world, but not OF the world. I greatly appreciate the viewpoint of people who have nothing to do with Halloween because of conviction or conscience. Personally, our family does not celebrate Halloween. I put the word ‘celebrate’ in italics for a reason. We do have a couple of pumpkins on our front porch. Some of our kids might acquire some candy on or about the 31st day of October. Indeed, some of them will likely dress up – not in costumes that glorify the darkness, but in lighthearted and whimsical outfits. I myself might even dress up for Trunk or Treat – I do have an apropos Brother Chase the Monk outfit for the occasion. In my mind, that doesn’t constitute celebrating Halloween. Perhaps it does to you…and, in Christ, we have the freedom to disagree on that – and both of us could be right! 

How can that be? Great question! Romans 14 is a very, very helpful passage in the Word of God that does not get the attention that it deserves. If we would understand and follow the truths of Romans 14, there would be far less quarreling and separation in the church, both of which are clearly forbidden by Scripture. Consider this chunk of Romans 14, discussing different approaches to eating and the celebration (or non-celebration) of various holidays and holy-days: 

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.

Did you catch that?! Paul warns us first about passing judgment on other Christians, assuring us that it is the job of the MASTER (Jesus), not fellow servants to pass judgment on each other. Then he presents two sets of hypothetical people. One eats anything and the other only eats vegetables. Which one is right?? According to Paul, the astonishing answer is that BOTH are right, as long as what they are doing is done out of faith. In his second example, one Christian observes multiple religious holidays (probably Jewish sabbaths and festivals) while the other Christian has the view that all days are the same. Again – who is right?? BOTH!! Both opinions are valid as long as they are held in faith and a sincere desire to please the Lord. Let’s read a little bit more of Romans 14: 

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. 21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. 22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

Great, great passage, and so relevant and needed for the church today! Two major things I see here in the above paragraphs: #1 Do NOT judge each other and #2 Do NOT cause one another to stumble by your actions. We must be careful on both accounts. Our commands are to not cause anybody to stumble, nor to judge fellow believers, but to PURSUE what leads to peace and mutual upbuilding. Upbuilding is my new favorite word, even though my spell check doesn’t like it at all! 

How does all of this apply to Halloween and ‘Trunk or Treat’ style outreaches? First of all, let me say this: Romans 14 is discussing what we might call ‘doubtful matters,’ or things that Scripture doesn’t clearly teach about. We can’t use these passages as a justification for things that Scripture clearly forbids (drunkenness, abusive words, racism, sexual immorality etc.)  But in the case of Halloween, some Christians are convinced by their understanding of the Word to NOT have anything to do with it. Those Christians should indeed NOT associate with Halloween! (“Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” Romans 14:5) Other Christians do not share that same conviction and have liberty, as long as they are not a stumbling block and as long as they are doing what they are doing in faith. Neither group should judge the other. That is the Lord’s business, and not mine or yours. 

My own view of Trunk or Treat is that we, as a church, are doing a Mars Hill sort of thing (see Paul’s sermon in Acts 17) whereby we are using a cultural holiday as a springboard for sharing the love and gospel of Jesus. I am hopeful that it will be a fruitful outreach, and that such a thing pleases the Lord! If, however, you struggle with the idea, then you should most certainly NOT participate in such a thing if your church does it! (“But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Romans 14:23) And, as mentioned above, you really shouldn’t judge or condemn those who do participate in it. That’s not your role, and the Bible is much more clear on its teaching to not judge fellow believers than it is clear on whether or not (and to what degree) Christians should participate in secular holidays. 

So – if you are a Christian with concerns about Halloween and being a party to darkness, then do NOT participate in Halloween. You would not be able to do so with a clear conscience, or in faith. You should not feel guilty about not participating, and you are not a stick in the mud. I would urge you not to seek to evangelize other believers to that position, as ‘each one should be convinced in their own mind,’ and you have more important things to evangelize people about. Similarly, if you are not convicted about participating in Halloween, or in a Trunk or Treat style outreach, I believe you have the freedom to do so, provided you stay faithful to the Word of God. I would advise you to avoid movies that glorify gore and violence (let’s be honest: very few Halloween themed movies are wholesome in any way), and I would advise you to be careful not to glorify darkness or evil, but other than those things, celebrate with liberty! Just be sure to avoid judging those brothers and sisters who believe they should have nothing to do with Halloween. They don’t have to answer to you, they have to answer to their Master (and yours!) 

Here’s the whole of Romans 14 in the HCSB translation for your edification: 

1 Accept anyone who is weak in faith, but don’t argue about doubtful issues. One person believes he may eat anything, but one who is weak eats only vegetables. One who eats must not look down on one who does not eat, and one who does not eat must not criticize one who does,because God has accepted him. Who are you to criticize another’s household slave? Before his own Lord he stands or falls. And he will stand. For the Lord is able to make him stand.

One person considers one day to be above another day. Someone else considers every day to be the same. Each one must be fully convinced in his own mind. Whoever observes the day, observes it for the honor of the Lord. Whoever eats, eats for the Lord, since he gives thanks to God;and whoever does not eat, it is for the Lord that he does not eat it, yet he thanks God. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and came to life for this: that He might rule over both the dead and the living. 10 But you, why do you criticize your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before the tribunal of God. 11 For it is written: As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to Me, and every tongue will give praise to God. 12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

13 Therefore, let us no longer criticize one another. Instead decide never to put a stumbling block or pitfall in your brother’s way. 14 (I know and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself. Still, to someone who considers a thing to be unclean, to that one it is unclean.) 15 For if your brother is hurt by what you eat, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy that one Christ died for by what you eat. 16 Therefore, do not let your good be slandered, 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever serves Christ in this way is acceptable to God and approved by men.

19 So then, we must pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another. 20 Do not tear down God’s work because of food. Everything is clean, but it is wrong for a man to cause stumbling by what he eats.21 It is a noble thing not to eat meat, or drink wine, or do anything that makes your brother stumble. 22 Do you have a conviction? Keep it to yourself before God. The man who does not condemn himself by what he approves is blessed. 23 But whoever doubts stands condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from a conviction, and everything that is not from a conviction is sin.


Sexual Assault, Brett Kavanaugh and the Justice of the Lord.  (with an assist from C.S. Lewis)

I ask one thing of you since this could be controversial, and I usually avoid political writing. Please read the entire article before you @ me. Thank you!  🙂

Consider the following scenario: You are a judge with a defendant before you that is accused of a heinous crime. There is no physical evidence against the defendant – only the testimony of one person, and that testimony is not corroborated. You have no way of knowing whether the plaintiff or the defendant is lying. You must choose – should you rule in favor of execution, or acquittal?  It is a difficult choice which should cause you to ponder: which is the greater evil, to condemn the innocent, or to acquit the guilty? What a conundrum to be faced with! How would you handle such a situation? I would hope with humility, compassion, thoughtfulness and wisdom. I would further hope that you would take on such a task with extreme gravitas and sober-mindedness, knowing how important that rendering justice would be in such a situation, and how tragic it would be to get it wrong. I am honestly not sure how I would navigate such a difficult decision, but I see that many people seem to have no problem easily picking a side in what I consider to be a very similar dilemma- the current Brett Kavanaugh confirmation decision.

Some people seem to have no difficulty in siding with Brett Kavanaugh and slandering Dr. Ford, while others have taken Ford’s allegations as absolutely true, and dismissed Kavanaugh’s denials. My question is this:  How should a Christian respond PUBLICLY (on social media and in conversations with others) to this situation?  This article is an attempt to answer that question. I don’t necessarily want to tell you how to think and feel, but to help ask some questions and share some principles that should guide Christians as to how they respond to explosive situations such as this. Far too often, I have seen Christians on social media take stands and make comments that go against biblical counsel, are unnecessarily inflammatory, or needlessly hurtful. We would do well to avoid such comments given the volumes of Scripture, such as Colossians 4:6, which demand that Christians be careful, wise, and loving with our words. 

  Act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.

Colossians 4:5-6

As a refresher, it would probably be helpful to summarize the allegations. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford alleges that in the early 1980s (when she was 15), she was at a party with the 17 year old Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge, and they ‘corralled’ her in a bedroom and Kavanaugh pinned her to the bed, groped her, ground against her, tried to pull off her clothes, and covered her mouth with his hand when she tried to scream. Ford alleges that she was able to extricate herself from the situation when Mark Judge jumped on the bed, disrupting what was going on. At this point, no witnesses have come forward to corroborate Dr. Ford’s version of the events, though several students that attended the same school as Dr. Ford in the 80s have signed a statement that similar situations happened frequently. Mark Judge denies Dr. Ford’s allegations entirely. Dr. Ford has testified that one of her lifelong friends, Leland Keyser, was at the party where the alleged incident happened. Ms. Keyser does not remember being at the party, did not know Kavanaugh, knew nothing of a potential sexual assault, but did say she believes her friend’s story. As you can see, this is a complicated situation – a classic “He said/she said.”  The Wikipedia article on the allegations is a helpful, and nonpartisan place to dig a bit deeper. 

So- where do we go from here? I mean ‘we’ as the American people,  particularly American Christians, discussing and posting about this situation in public. The fact is, I cannot tell whether or not Dr. Ford or Kavanaugh is telling the truth. Both come across as credible in various ways. If you are being honest, you don’t know which one is telling the truth either! You might have an opinion, but you and I have no way whatsoever to know which of these people is being most truthful. I am very interested in the truth here. Let me be crystal clear: If it could be proven that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Dr. Ford in largely the way that she claims he did, then Kavanaugh should NOT be confirmed, and he should be utterly disgraced and forced to step down from his current court position also. Some might say that I am wrong there – that we should overlook something that happened 3 decades ago, but those people would be dead wrong. Why? Because Kavanaugh has adamantly and passionately denied the allegations under oath, testifying before congress and the American people. If he is, in fact, guilty, then he is guilty of sexual assault in the past AND lying and perjury in the present. Not only would he not be qualified to be on our nation’s highest court, he wouldn’t be qualified to mop a basketball court.

The problem is that we don’t know whether or not the allegations are true. There is a principle in law called ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ which I think applies here to a degree, even though the American public is not a court of law. There is also a biblical principle that applies here – the principle of requiring more than one witness to properly establish an accusation. Consider these two passages:

“One witness cannot establish any wrongdoing or sin against a person, whatever that person has done. A fact must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

Deuteronomy 19:15 

Don’t accept an accusation against an elder unless it is supported by two or three witnesses.

1 Timothy 5:19

The principle is that a mere accusation is not enough to prove the guilt of somebody. One need only consider the fictional case of To Kill a Mockingbird, or the nonfictional case of Emmett Till, to understand and agree with this principle. You might rightly say, “what if I am in a situation where I am robbed, assaulted, raped, or attacked and I am the only witness, is the Bible saying that my claim is not valid?” The answer is no – the Bible, in Deuteronomy 19, calls for a ‘careful investigation’ in situations such as these. Consider the words of this passage, and Denny Burk’s excellent expansion on it.

 Deuteronomy 19:16-20 
If a malicious witness testifies against someone accusing him of a crime, 17 the two people in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and judges in authority at that time. 18 The judges are to make a careful investigation, and if the witness turns out to be a liar who has falsely accused his brother, 19 you must do to him as he intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from you. 20 Then everyone else will hear and be afraid, and they will never again do anything evil like this among you.

“Read the very next verses. If there are no witnesses, then other evidence will have to come to bear in a judicial proceeding. In those cases, the corroborating “witnesses” are presumably evidentiary in nature. The point of the Deut.19:15 and its numerous citations in the New Testament (Matt. 18:16; John 8:17; 2 Cor 13:1; 1 Tim 5:19; Heb 10:28) are that an accusation alone cannot condemn someone. There needs to be some sort of corroborating witness or evidence. It is notable that the Lord Jesus himself applies this standard in cases of church discipline (Matt. 18:16). Paul invokes it when talking about receiving accusations against elders (1 Tim. 5:19). The New Testament is teaching us that the principle is still relevant even in the church’s own deliberations about sin and guilt.” Boyce College professor Denny Burk. 

In situations like the one between Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford, a careful investigation is called for. Breaking news as of this day (September 28) indicates that the Senate has delayed the hearings on Kavanaugh for one week to allow for that sort of careful investigation to happen. This is good news for all who are concerned for the truth to come out. A longer investigation would likely be even more highly motivated by political delaying tactics (rather than an earnest desire for truth to come out) and a shorter investigation would likely be insufficient to actually qualify as the ‘careful investigation’ called for in Deuteronomy 19.

So – what now? And what if the FBI investigation fails to turn up conclusive evidence supporting Dr. Ford or Kavanaugh’s position? How should Christians react? I would say our first posture should be humility. No matter which side you are on, the fact is that you do NOT know the truth of this situation, unless you are one of the primary parties or a witness. How can you know the truth of this, or any major news/political story? I completely agree with C.S. Lewis’ cynicism about the press. The fact is that journalists – whom I genuinely respect – are nevertheless human. Thus, they are biased – some are biased towards conservative ends, some are biased towards liberal ends, and some have entirely different biases – all of which impact their reporting. We should be aware of this dynamic, and take what the news media says with a salt mine. (The liberal media, the conservative media, and the anti-media media who spill much ink writing about how unreliable all other media outlets are!). Consider these words of wisdom from C.S. Lewis:

“The most unliterary reader of all sticks to ‘the news’. He reads daily, with unwearied relish, how, in some place he has never seen, under circumstances which never become quite clear, someone he doesn’t know has married, rescued, robbed, raped, or murdered someone else he doesn’t know.” C.S. Lewis

– From An Experiment in Criticism (1961), “The Reading of the Unliterary”

 “I never read the papers. Why does anyone? They’re nearly all lies, and one has to wade thru’ such reams of verbiage and “write up” to find out even what they’re saying.”  C.S. Lewis

– From Letters to an American Lady – Letter Dated October 26th, 1955

“Even in peacetime I think those are very wrong who say that schoolboys should be encouraged to read the newspapers. Nearly all that a boy reads there in his teens will be seen before he is twenty to have been false in emphasis and interpretation, if not in fact as well, and most of it will have lost all importance. Most of what he remembers he will therefore have to unlearn; and he will probably have acquired an incurable taste for vulgarity and sensationalism and the fatal habit of fluttering from paragraph to paragraph to learn how an actress has been divorced in California, a train derailed in France, and quadruplets born in New Zealand.” A similar quote, when Lewis was asked his opinion on an American military leader, “I don’t feel in a position to have clear opinions about anyone I know only from newspapers.” C.S. Lewis 

 – Surprised by Joy, page 159 1955 version. 

The fact is that it is difficult for rank and file people like you and me to really know the truth about big major stories like this one. So we should be humble and we should not be bombastic, accusatory nor judgmental. I am not suggesting that we should not have an opinion, but that we should hold our opinion in a way that is Godly, loving, truth-honoring, and not harmful to our ideological opponents, remembering that Jesus commanded us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, not slander them on social media and talk about how stupid they are. 

If you support Kavanaugh and his nomination, endeavor to do it in a way that does NOT shame, minimize, silence, or wound victims of sexual assault. I write this as a victim of sexual assault myself – assaulted by an older guy when I was 10 or 11. Realize that you have NO possible way of knowing whether or not Dr. Ford’s allegations are true or not. What if she is telling the truth? Would you knowingly support a lying perpetrator of sexual assault in order to accomplish some greater good? I hope not. I see nothing in the teaching or ethics of Christ that would support such a position. We are not ever to be people who compromise biblical truth and commands for the greater good. There is no such thing. That said, given the lack of evidence, It is possible to be a supporter of Kavanaugh AND a person who is adamantly against sexual assault and any sort of predation on women or children. 

If you support Dr. Ford, be careful to acknowledge that you yourself have no way of knowing whether her allegation is true or not. What if she is lying? The risk is that in your good desire to stand with the victims of sexual assault, you might be condemning an innocent person – which is a great evil. Had you the power, would you have a defendant executed for a crime with zero physical or corroborating evidence and only one witness? Our entire justice system is designed to disallow such an outcome! Yes, the risk with such a foundational view of “innocent until proven guilty,” is that sometimes the guilty escape human judgment, but understand that they never escape eternal and effective judgment.  It is a dangerous thing to set yourself up in judgment over a case you honestly know very little – if anything – about.

It is not without reason that the Bible sternly warns – multiple times – against judging. If those prohibitions do not apply to this situation, then what could they possibly apply to? Many people are quick to warn others against ‘judging,’ but very rarely – if ever- police themselves. It is being judgmental to assume facts that you do not actually know, and it is being judgmental to assume the motivations or emotions of a person that you are not genuinely acquainted with. Do not judge, or you will also be judged.  (I note here that it is also biblically forbidden to judge or assume the motivations of Dr. Ford and ascribe to her ill intent when you honestly have no way of knowing her intent whatsoever. It is a risky thing to call somebody a liar when you do not factually know whether or not that person is indeed a liar. I have seen many confidently accuse Dr. Ford of lying, and none of those accusers actually know the truth, therefore their accusations are baseless and dangerous. I have seen many accuse Kavanaugh of lying also, and their accusations are just as baseless given that they do not actually know the truth.)

Will not God grant justice to His elect who cry out to Him day and night? Will He delay to help them? I tell you that He will swiftly grant them justice.  “

Jesus in Luke 18:7-9

Understand this – God knows the truth of this situation, and justice – eternal justice – will be done. Do not fret that somebody is going to get away with evil here. If Kavanaugh has perpetrated this sexual assault and then lied about it, then rest assured, he will not escape the judgment of a holy God. As the Bible says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31) If Dr. Ford’s story is completely fabricated, then she will not escape judgment. If the senators on this committee – Republican or Democrat – are acting in an evil, underhanded way, God knows this, and it is “His to repay.” God is a God of justice who sees all. We are rarely able to know the truth of situations like this, but God does, and He will deal with it completely, fairly and thoroughly, in His time. It may seem like justice is often delayed, but rest assured that our just God will judge rightly in light of eternity. Consider these powerful instructions of Paul in Romans 12, written right before he teaches Christians how to behave in light of the government in Romans 13. 

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.Try to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. 18 If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone. 19 Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord. 20 But If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head.”

Romans 12:17-20 

Let me close with this: The church MUST take sexual assault more seriously, and nothing I have written above goes against that statement. The church MUST also confront the kind of abuse of power that leads to men abusing women and men abusing children. We must never overlook or excuse sexual assault, and we must war against the kind of atmosphere that allows such assault to exist unchallenged. Men are called to “love their wives, as Christ loved the church.” That is, with a love that is sacrificial, gentle and not self-serving. Men are called to treat young women as sisters, and older women as mothers – with all respect and propriety. Sexual predators are like predatory wolves, and the good men of the church (and of society in general) should be on the front lines of opposition against such evildoers. We should be opposed to sexual predation and the abuse of power in all of its forms. We should also be opposed to the bearing of false witness, and we should lovingly and passionately pursue the truth. Followers of Jesus: Be aware that your words have power – use them well, and speak/write them under the governance of the Word of God, not under the governance of your biases, opinions, party allegiances or emotions! 

Do not be agitated by evildoers;
do not envy those who do wrong.
2 For they wither quickly like grass
and wilt like tender green plants….A little while, and the wicked person will be no more;
though you look for him, he will not be there.
11 But the humble will inherit the land
and will enjoy abundant prosperity.
12 The wicked person schemes against the righteous
and gnashes his teeth at him.
13 The Lord laughs at him
because He sees that his day is coming.
14 The wicked have drawn the sword and strung the bow
to bring down the afflicted and needy
and to slaughter those whose way is upright.
15 Their swords will enter their own hearts,
and their bows will be broken.
16 The little that the righteous man has is better
than the abundance of many wicked people.
17 For the arms of the wicked will be broken,
but the Lord supports the righteous.

Psalm 37, selected verses. 
Y’all vs. You Guys: Differences Between Life in the South and Life in California #1

Y’all vs. You Guys: Differences Between Life in the South and Life in California #1

“It’s y’all, dad, and it makes me mad that you don’t say it!” – My Eldest Daughter, rebuking me for attempting to convert to ‘you guys.’

Howdy, Y’all! 

I am a pastor/writer that has been living in Salinas, California for all of seven weeks after spending over four decades in the heart of the Deep South: Birmingham, Alabama. Because it only takes a few weeks to fully understand a culture (wink, wink), I am endeavoring to write a series of posts that examines the differences between life in the South and life in California. Some of these posts will be quite serious, but be warned that there is much tom-foolery, and tongue in cheekery to follow. 

The hardest thing about moving over 2000 miles away from your hometown is leaving behind friends and family. I think the second hardest aspect of moving is packing and unpacking. At this point we have only eight boxes left to unpack (down from over 2.8 million) so that is a triumph of the human spirit. I was led to believe, before moving, that culture shock would be a difficult thing for our family. Since California is obviously completely different from the South, it seems reasonable that our family would have a difficult time adjusting to the pace and differences of life. Thus far, however, we have experienced very little culture shock. In fact, we have really enjoyed the California culture, and find many similarities between the people and practices of this area and those back in SEC country. Though the demographics of people are very different in my new city (78 percent Hispanic background), the behavior of people here is not massively different. People are people, as Depeche Mode once sagely observed. 

Though the similarities do outnumber the differences, there are more than a trivial amount of deviations between life in the South and life in California. For instance, we just registered our vehicles here yesterday and paid over $800 for the privilege of getting California license plates! (That same transaction in Alabama would have cost less then $200 for our modest vehicles) Gas is significantly cheaper back home also, though food prices somewhat balance out, because California, like Florida, does not tax groceries. Overall, life is mostly more expensive here in Cali, and there are more people, laws, taxes, fees, earthquakes, fires and skateboarders than you would find in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, etc. I could kick off this series by writing about dozens of different cultural differences, but I will focus on the single most important, most obvious, most glaring, and most divisive difference between Southern life and California life: ‘Y’all’ vs. ‘You guys’. Sharpen your pitchforks, because we’re about to get serious, y’all…er, you guys. 

For years, sociologists have understood that the greatest differentiation and separation between English speaking humans has nothing to do with skin color, politics, nor economics, but is rather a function of how a person handles the second person plural of ‘You,’ Some people express this plural of you by the contraction, ‘Y’all,’ while other people use the phrase ‘you guys,’ or ‘you all’ in the exact same way. Some people simply say ‘You,’ for both the second person singular and second person plural. Disturbingly, there are a few people that even use the abomination ‘youse guys,’ (or, worse, ‘you’uns’) but this article won’t cover that treasonous crime against the English language. In the South, people sometimes mix ‘you guys,’ ‘you all,’ and ‘y’all,’ but I would guess that ‘y’all’ is used about 85-90 percent of the time, followed by ‘you guys,’ and then ‘you all,’ Those numbers are flipped and probably more extreme in California, I believe. We have heard a few instances of ‘y’all’ use out here in the wild, but it is indeed quite rare.

According to my own highly accurate, science based surveys, Southerners use ‘y’all,’ approximately 2,700 times a day, so quite a lot. Moving west past the Y’allson-Dixon line forces one to make a choice: Should I continue y’alling everything, or should I seek to adapt to the culture and avoid certain etymological bullying? My choice has been to adapt, or at least try to. I have little problems with the principle of cultural adaption on morally neutral issues of language. My family, however, are non-adapters, and they see me as something of a linguistic Benedict Arnold. Behind closed doors, when I say ‘you guys,’ I receive a high amount of persecution from my family in the form of eye rolls, sighs, and sharp glances. The struggle is real, y’all! 

Interestingly, the good people of California have been far more tolerant and accommodating, as you might expect. They have encouraged us to continue in our use of ‘y’all,’ and have even described it as ‘charming.’ Though my daughter has been mistaken for a foreign exchange student at her high school a couple of times (true story!), she has also found that people enjoy her accent, and some students have even resolved to make ‘y’all’ a thing. Our mission of moving to California to spread the good news of ‘y’all’ is coming along quite nicely! 

5 Scientific and Completely Serious Reasons that ‘Y’all’ is superior to ‘You Guys.’

  1. ‘Y’all’ is ONE syllable, as compared to the two syllables of ‘you guys,’ and the seven or eight syllables of ‘youse guys’ and ‘you’uns.’ It is much easier to say, and wastes less energy, therefore it is more environmentally friendly. Climatologists estimate that the entire western seaboard switching to ‘y’all’ would lower global temperatures by at least 3 degrees Kelvin within a decade of adoption, permanently ending the global warming crisis, and ushering in a new era of Grammatical Enlightenment. Yes, I capitalized that phrase, because the Grammatical Enlightenment will be just as important, if not more important, than the regular Enlightenment, which we also capitalize. 

  2. ‘Y’all’ is forward thinking by being gender neutral, whereas ‘you guys’ perpetuates harmful gender stereotypes. Be on the right side of history! 

  3. ‘Y’all’ has less letters, and thus requires less ink to print than ‘you guys.’ The ‘G’ alone in you guys uses up as much ink as TWO ‘i’s!’ THINK OF THE TREES!

  4.  ‘Y’all’ can be said approximately 43 percent faster than ‘you guys.’ Not only does that use less energy (see above) but it also takes LESS TIME! Who has time to spare in this busy season of American life?? ‘You guys’ would be perfect for the early days of American history, like during the American Revolution, or World War 1, when people had the time to just sit around and chew on hay while chatting with friends in the fields. But today, we are so busy, we need to be efficient with our words. Linguists estimate that Californians could save an average of 14 minutes a day by switching to ‘y’all!’ Think about what you could do with that time- that’s four more ‘snoozes’ in the morning, or almost three full episodes per week of that show you are binging on Netflix right now. 

  5. The usage of y’all can satisfy several important grammatical functions, including a collective pronoun, an associative plural, an indefinite pronoun, and an institutional pronoun. I totally didn’t copy that sentence from somewhere else, and I absolutely know what an institutional pronoun is…who doesn’t?! 

10 quick facts about “Y’all” 

  1. ‘Y’all’ is a contraction of “you all.” The ‘ou’ has dropped out and been replaced by an apostrophe. 
  2. Though I do see the irony in speaking of proper grammar in the context of ‘y’all,’ the proper spelling and use of the word is y’all, NOT ya’ll. Ya’ll is a contraction of ‘Ya-all,’ which sounds abominable. Y’all appears ten times more often in print than other derivatives. I have a particular set of skills, and if you use ‘ya’ll’ in writing, I will find you. 
  3. ‘Y’all’ first appeared in print in 1824, so it is a modernish invention, similar to combustion engines, microprocessors, rockets ships, photon torpedoes, faster than light travel, warp-speed, etc. This means that it represents an advancement in linguistic technology, sort of like how high speed internet is an advancement over 56k modems, and Corvettes are an advancement over riding on goats. 
  4. ‘Y’all’ developed independently among South African Indian English speakers and those of a Scottish background (likely deriving from the Scottish phrase, ‘ye-aw.’) That it developed independently among two different people groups demonstrates that ‘y’all’ is a logical progression of language. 
  5. Y’all is a partial replacement for ‘Ye,’ which was commonly used in older English. “Hear ye, Hear ye,” would now be translated as, “Hear y’all, hear y’all!” (Notice the inelegance of “Hear you guys, hear you guys.”) 
  6. ‘Y’all’ is translated to ‘You lot’ in British English. (One of the few areas that British English is inferior to American English. ‘You lot’ just sounds silly) 
  7. ‘Y’all’ can be used properly when speaking to a single person, if the phrase is being used of a group of people. For instance, If I was out riding my horse around the cow patties in Alabama, and I ran into my friend Jeb, I would say this to him, “What are y’all doing for dinner tonight?” Even though I was just asking him, I am including other people in that statement. 
  8. ‘All y’all’ is the proper way to refer to large groups, or a collective of several somehow related groups. For instance, in referring to several different (but related) families, “All Y’all Clampett’s make good hoe cakes!” Or, “All Y’all Auburn fans should convert!”   (Note: I have never had an actual hoe cake, and am not really sure what it is. Also, Roll Tide.) 
  9. ‘Y’all’ is also utilized in other English speaking countries, such as the Canadian Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Island of Saint Helena, and the Middle Eastern country Bubbastan. 
  10. The first use of ‘Y’all’ in the English printed language is this sentence, from a Texas history book, ““Why, heern as how the regerlators wur guine to cotch y‘ all and swing y‘ up to dry, us thought we’d better heave to.””  Yes, that sounds as foreign to my ears as it does to yours! 

Thanks for reading! Coming soon, I plan to write about:  Driving in California vs. The South. Fancy Waters in California vs. The South.  Southern Beaches vs. California Beaches. Cost of Living + more! 

Answering BIG Questions #2: What Must I do to be Saved? (How can I go to Heaven?)

Note: This is a simple chapter on salvation from a biblical perspective, and will seek to avoid such weighty theological terms as soteriology, supra/infralapsarianism and a detailed discussion of the ordo salutis, or order of salvation. Sometimes we over complicate things, and the article below is an attempt to be very simple, and very biblical.

Perhaps the most important question of all is centered on salvation, and how to live eternally in Heaven. This is a BIG question, and it comes in many different flavors: How do I become a Christian? How do I get saved? How can I go to Heaven when I die? How can I inherit eternal life? People in the Bible frequently asked this question in its various forms. Probably the most common answer in the church today, at least in the American church, is an answer that contains an element of praying, and an element of somehow “asking Jesus to come into your heart.” You might be surprised to discover that this formulation is not particularly biblical at all! Think about it: The most common answer that Christians give today when somebody asks them how to spend eternity in Heaven with Jesus is not really based on the Bible at all…that is a problem!

Interestingly, the Bible does not have a standard and uniform answer to the question of how to be saved. (More on that in a moment…) But there are multiple passages where the question is asked. Consider the Rich Young Ruler of Matthew 19. This was a young man who was zealous for God and had apparently lived an extremely holy life, seeking to please God by keeping all of the commandments. One day, that young man encountered Jesus, and asked Him the BIG question:

“Just then someone came up and asked Him, “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?” 17 “Why do you ask Me about what is good?” He said to him. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”18 “Which ones?” he asked Him. Jesus answered: Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; 19 honor your father and your mother; and love your neighbor as yourself. 20 “I have kept all these,” the young man told Him. “What do I still lack? 21 If you want to be perfect,” Jesus said to him, “go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” 22 When the young man heard that command, he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.” (Matthew 19:16-22)

How did Jesus ultimately answer the man? He told Him two things: #1 – To sell His possessions, and #2 to Follow Jesus. Is this THE definitive answer to the question of how to be saved? Must all who want to inherit eternal life sell all of their possessions and then follow Jesus?

The same question is asked again in Acts 2. Peter has just preached his Pentecost sermon to thousands of people. Many of them are cut to the heart, and they approach him and ask the big question – what should they do? How can they be saved? Note how Peter’s answer is somewhat different from Jesus’ answer:

“When they heard this, they came under deep conviction and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles: “Brothers, what must we do?” 38 “Repent,” Peter said to them, “and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” 40 And with many other words he testified and strongly urged them, saying, “Be saved from this corrupt generation!” 41 So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them.” (Acts 2:37-41)

When Peter is asked the question, his response is slightly different than Jesus’ response to the Rich Young Ruler. This time, Peter tells those asking the question to #1 Repent and #2 Be baptized in the name of Jesus. Does this represent a contradiction between what Peter said and what Jesus said? Absolutely not, but there is an important reason for the differences. Before we discuss that, however, let’s look at yet another passage. This time involving the apostle Paul:

“Then the jailer called for lights, rushed in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he escorted them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the message of the Lord to him along with everyone in his house. 33 He took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds. Right away he and all his family were baptized. 34 He brought them into his house, set a meal before them, and rejoiced because he had believed God with his entire household.” (Acts 16:29-34)

Yet another different answer! This time, when Paul answers the BIG question, there is no mention of baptism OR selling all of one’s possessions OR repenting, only that belief in Jesus is the necessary thing. Here’s one more Scripture from Paul that clearly states what a person needs in order to be saved:

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

In Romans 10:9, confession is a key element, but baptism, repentance, and selling possessions are missing. On the surface, this could be quite confusing – especially if we are looking for the steps to be saved – why doesn’t the Bible have ONE simple formula for us to follow and for Christians to tell the world about? And that question brings us to the crux of the issue: The reason the Bible never gives a consistent series of steps to salvation is because there isn’t a formula to be saved! There aren’t steps that, by carrying them out, we can ensure salvation. There does not exist a certain set of instructions that, when followed properly, will ensure that somebody has eternal life. It doesn’t work that way at all! JESUS is at the center of every answer to every salvation question asked in the Bible. Follow Jesus, believe Jesus, confess Jesus, be baptized into Jesus, etc. It is all about Jesus, and what He has done! Consider Paul’s famous description of salvation in Ephesians:

“In the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— 9 not from works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Salvation is NOT by works. Not by a series of steps. Not by a series of activities. Salvation is found in a PERSON. You aren’t saved because you prayed a prayer or saved because you were baptized, or saved because you did what a pastor asked, and took a few steps down to the altar at a front of the church. NONE of those things are sufficient for salvation. Salvation requires a savior. Rescuing requires a rescuer.

Think about it this way – you are on a boat that sinks in a fierce storm, and you are plunged into 40 degree waters. The waves violently toss you about, and you are at the absolute end of your strength and in desperate need of rescue. Your arms are almost useless, and your lungs are beginning to fill with water. Which is a better scenario: #1 A Coast Guard Cutter pulls up, and an officer shouts down instructions to you as to what YOU must DO to save yourself from the water. OR #2: A Coast Guard Cutter pulls up, and a rescue diver is lowered down to you, and he grabs you and pulls you to safety? Though not all analogies are perfect, the point of this one is that a person drowning in the water does not need instruction on what to do in order to save themselves, they need a rescuer. A person lost in sin doesn’t need a few steps to follow to make themselves acceptable to God and worthy of eternal life – they need a Rescuer, Jesus, to save them completely. The focus is not on the steps to be saved, it is on the Savior!

THAT is why the Bible never gives the same instructions on what must be done for somebody to be saved…because it is NOT about what YOU must do for salvation – it is about Jesus and what HE has already done. Consider the words of Acts 4:12, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people, and we must be saved by it.” Jesus is the ONLY way to salvation. Apart from Jesus, prayer is meaningless, baptism is just water, repentance has no power, and selling all of your goods may be noble, but it won’t save your soul.

“So,” I hear you asking, “What does all of this mean? What should I do??” It is a fair question. The answer is: Look to Jesus, and live! Jesus is the Root of salvation (Revelation 22:16), He is the Way of salvation (John 14:6), He is the Door of salvation (John 10:9) and He is the beginning and end of salvation (Revelation 1:8.) Go to Jesus, and He will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28) Go to Jesus, and He will give you life. (John 14:6) Go to Jesus, and He will give you living water that will spring up into eternal life! (John 4:14)

I will close with this one last simple verse, which is an amazing and precious promise of Jesus. You may bet your life on it, and I hope you do. John 6:40, “For this is the will of My Father: that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Yes! It is as simple as that, according to the Master Himself. LOOK to Him and BELIEVE. Should you get baptized? Absolutely, it is a command, but it doesn’t save you. Should you repent, and turn away from your sins? YES, you must, but repentance doesn’t save you, Jesus does. Should you follow the commands of God? Yes! in gratitude for salvation, but NOT because you think that obeying God’s law has the power to save you. Look to Jesus, and Believe the gospel – the good news that a perfect and sinless Jesus died the death of a sinner – you and I! – on the cross, to pay the price for our sin, so that we could have eternal life forever in Heaven.

  “I remember I concluded preaching at Exeter Hall with these three words, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!” and I think I will conclude my sermon of this morning with the same words, but not till I have spoken to one poor forlorn soul who is standing over there, wondering whether there is mercy for him. He says, “It is well enough, sir, to say, ‘Look to Jesus,’ but suppose you cannot look? If your eye is blind—what then?” Oh I my poor brother, turn your restless eyeballs to the cross, and that light which gives light to them that see, shall give eyesight to them that are blind. Oh! if thou canst not believe this morning, look and consider, and weigh the matter, and in weighing and reflecting thou shalt be helped to believe. He asks nothing of thee; he bids thee now believe that he died for thee. If to-day thou feelest thyself a lost, guilty sinner, all he asks is that thou wouldest believe on him; that is to say, trust him, confide in him. Is it not little he asks? And yet it is more than any of us are prepared to give, except the Spirit hath made us willing. Come, cast yourselves upon him; fall flat on his promise; sink or swim, confide in him, and you cannot guess the joy that you shall feel in that one instant that you believe on him. Were there not some of you impressed last Sabbath day, and you have been anxious all the week? Oh! I hope I have brought a good message to you this morning for your comfort. “Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth,” saith Christ, “for I am God, and beside me there is none else.” Look ye now, and looking ye shall live. May every blessing rest upon you, and may each go away to think of that one person whom we love, even Jesus—Jesus—Jesus!” Charles Spurgeon sermon, “Looking Unto Jesus” May 23, 1858

“There are, in the end, only two questions to ask as we read the Bible: Is it about me? Or is it about Jesus? In other words, is the Bible basically about what I must do orabout what he has done? Consider the story of David and Goliath. If I read David and Goliath as a story that gives me an example to follow, then the story is really about me. It is an exhortation that I must summon up the faith and courage to fight the giants in my life. But if I accept that the Bible is ultimately about the Lord and his salvation, and if I read the David and Goliath text in that light, it throws a multitude of things into sharp relief! The very point of the Old Testament passage is that the Israelites could not face the giant themselves. Instead, they needed a champion who would fight in their place — a substitute who would face the deadly peril in their stead. And the substitute that God provided is not a strong person but a weak one — a young boy, too small to wear a suit of armor. Yet God used the deliverer’s weakness as the very means to bring about the destruction of the laughing, overconfident Goliath. David triumphs through his weakness and his victory is imputed to his people. And so does Jesus. It is through his suffering, weakness, and death that the sin is defeated. This vivid and engaging story shows us what it means to declare that we have died with Christ (Rom 6:1–4) and are raised up and seated with him (Eph 2:5 – 6). Jesus is the ultimate champion, our true champion, who did not merely risk his life for us, but who gave it. And now his victory is our victory, and all he has accomplished is imputed to us.” (Tim Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel Centered Ministry in Your City, location 2003, copyright 2012)

Post Script: 5 Things that Salvation is NOT:

  1. Salvation is NOT simply believing that God exists and that Jesus died on the cross. For years, I have have (off and on) engaged in the practice of street evangelism. Living in the south, almost everybody here believes that they are Christians, so if you ask somebody if they are saved, or if they know where they would go if they died tonight, they will almost invariably indicate that they are sure to go to Heaven. They have a genuine belief in the existence of God, but that is NOT a saving faith as defined by Jesus and the apostles. Consider that ALL of the Pharisees and Sadducees believed in God, and that many of them believed that Jesus died on the cross, because they saw it happen. Consider James 2:19 here also, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” Mere belief is not salvation.
  2. Salvation is NOT earned by doing good deeds, or keeping God’s commandments. Another common occurrence when talking with people in the south about Jesus is that many people are quick to say that they are trying their best to be a good person and to do good deeds. That is admirable, I suppose, but it is completely inadequate to gain eternal life and salvation. Remember Ephesians 2:8-9, which clearly says that salvation is by grace and NOT by good works. Not even the best among us can possibly earn entrance into Heaven by our good works. Romans 3:20, “For no one will be justified in His sight by the works of the law” AND Galatians 3:10, “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, because it is written: Everyone who does not continue doing everything written in the book of the law is cursed.” If you are relying on good works to save you and attract the attention of God, then you’d better hope you are absolutely PERFECT, and that you have kept EVERYTHING in the book of the law. Spoiler alert: You can’t be perfect for even a day, let alone a lifetime.
  3. Doing miracles, prophesying, and generally appearing to be remarkably spiritual does NOT indicate that you are saved. I have been in churches with some remarkably gifted people who seemed to have an unusual ability to walk in the Spirit. I’ve seen what appeared to be signs, miracles and accurate prophecies, and I rejoice at all such works of the Holy Spirit that are genuine! However, just being able to give a prophetic message, or seemingly perform a miraculous deed does NOT indicate that you are saved, at least according to Jesus. (See Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?’ 23 Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!”) What is a far more reliable indicator of salvation than miracles and prophecy? Spiritual fruit! (Matthew 7:17, “In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit.” and Matthew 3:8, “Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance.”
  4. Salvation is NOT merely a one-time decision to walk the aisles, or pray a prayer. If you are truly saved, you will persevere – continue to follow Jesus. It is possible to believe vainly, or just believe for a moment in time, but in a very superfluous, shallow and ultimately meaningless way. Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 (“Now brothers, I want to clarify[a] for you the gospel I proclaimed to you; you received it and have taken your stand on it. You are also saved by it, if you hold to the message I proclaimed to you—unless you believed for no purpose“), and Jesus addresses this in Mark 4:15-19. (”These are the ones along the path where the word is sown: when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, immediately they receive it with joy. 17 But they have no root in themselves; they are short-lived. When pressure or persecution comes because of the word, they immediately stumble. 18 Others are sown among thorns; these are the ones who hear the word, 19 but the worries of this age, the seduction of wealth, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.“)
  5. Salvation is NOT simply a low-stakes choice you make to follow Jesus in order to avoid Hell. Following Jesus involves dying to your self AND obeying His words. Consider these two challenging passages from Luke 6 and Luke 9:

“Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do the things I say? 47 I will show you what someone is like who comes to Me, hears My words, and acts on them: 48 He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. When the flood came, the river crashed against that house and couldn’t shake it, because it was well built. 49 But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The river crashed against it, and immediately it collapsed. And the destruction of that house was great!” (Luke 6:46-49)

Then He said to them all, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. 25 What is a man benefited if he gains the whole world, yet loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory and that of the Father and the holy angels.” (Luke 9:23-26)

Obedience to His commands and dying to your own wishes are both integral components of following Jesus, and thus being saved.

What Happens When People Die? (Life’s Biggest Questions Series #1)

What happens to people immediately after they die? Do they cease to exist? Do they go directly to Heaven or Hell? Is Purgatory an actual thing, or do people just sleep in the dust until Jesus returns? The article below is derived  from a series at our church (Agape in Pinson) that is focused on answering life’s biggest questions.  Most people have a theology – a certain way they think about God and the things of God. When it comes to answering life’s biggest questions, most people turn to their own personal theology to help them. But is that the best way?  How should Christians approach the big questions of life? Maybe we’ve heard things from our parents, or other family members. Maybe we apply our own human logic to those big questions, or  maybe our church or pastor has told us their take. When thinking about these great big questions, it is important to remember that God Himself does NOT think like we do, so it is unlikely that we will arrive at truthful answers to big questions on our own. 

Isaiah 55: 8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts,and your ways are not My ways.”This is the Lord’s declaration.9 “For as heaven is higher than earth,so My ways are higher than your ways,and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

This means that it is unlikely that we will be able to use flawed human reasoning to answer some of life’s biggest questions. We can, however, turn to the Word of God for answers. In doing so, I propose three simple steps to guide us in answering this question: 

  1. Rather than just focusing on one single verse, we must consider the whole counsel of God. Put another way, to answer the question of what happens when we die, we must attempt to survey all that the Bible has to say about this question, and not just one single Bible verse. The reason for this is that while every passage in the Bible is true – not every passage in the Bible is the COMPLETE truth. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 13, the apostle Paul describes love, and we learn that it is patient, kind, and not at all jealous. All of these are true statements about love, but they aren’t the ONLY true statements about love in the Bible. In order to find out the complete teaching of the Bible about love, we have to go to other passages. In doing so, we find out in the Song of Solomon 8 that not only is love patient, kind and longsuffering…but it is also POWERFUL – as powerful as death. (Song of Solomon 8:6)  Therefore, in order to have a complete understanding of love from the Bible’s perspective, we need the truths in 1 Corinthians 13 AND Song of Solomon 8, among many other passages also. Similarly, to gain a biblical understanding of death – and what happens after death – we have to survey the Word. That is the process of developing a biblical theology – it involves finding out all of what the Bible affirms about a particular topic. 

  2. Our second step is to account for the difference between Old Covenant passages and New Covenant passages. The New Testament must take precedence over the Old Testament, and it must interpret it. More on this later, but consider Hebrews 7:18-19, and note how the New Testament/New Covenant has surpassed the Old. 

    Hebrews 7:18-19,  “So the previous command is annulled because it was weak and unprofitable 19 (for the law perfected nothing), but a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.”

  3. Our third step is ongoing and continuous. With humility, prayer, and the leadership of the Spirit, we must keep returning to the Word of God. We should hold our theology with a degree of humility and repeatedly keep returning to the Scriptures to test and confirm that we are walking in the truth. Like an unmoored ship, we humans have a tendency to drift away from truth, and we must discipline ourselves to return – over and over again – to the authority of the Word of God. 

Now, with that process in mind, we can move forward. I believe the first step in determining what happens when we die is generally survey what the Bible has to say on death itself. The Bible speaks frequently on the topic of death, so a comprehensive overview would be too long for this article, but we can begin with with these three major truths about death in Scripture: 

3 Biblical Truths about Death:

  1. Death is here because of sin. We do NOT usually take this seriously enough. Consider the well known passage Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” According to the Bible, sin brings about death, and most Christians could quote that verse. Most however, don’t take it literally, but the case of Ananias and Sapphira, the death of Uzzah, and the case of Moses, tell us that sin LITERALLY can cause death. Think about Exodus 4 – God had just called Moses to lead His rescue mission, but on the way to fulfill that mission, God met Moses and sought to put him to death. Why? Because Moses was sinning by not obeying God’s command to circumcise his son. You can read about that in Exodus 4:24-25, “On the trip, at an overnight campsite, it happened that the Lord confronted him and sought to put him to death. 25 So Zipporah took a flint, cut off her son’s foreskin, and threw it at Moses’ feet. Then she said, “You are a bridegroom of blood to me!” So – death is literally and spiritually the result of sin. (See the below discussion on Genesis 3 for further insight into this dynamic) 

  2. Death is an ENEMY. 1 Corinthians 15: “Then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when He abolishes all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He puts all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy to be abolished is death.” This is fascinating. The Bible depicts death as an actual enemy – one that will ultimately be abolished! Further, Revelation 20:14 shows that (somehow) death and Hades (the place of the dead) will be tossed into the lake of fire at the Great White Throne Judgment. (keep reading for more on this) 

  3. Death will END one day. I can think of very few things that are better news than what is found in Revelation 21 – one day, death will no longer be a thing – it will be abolished.  Revelation 21, “Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look! God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away.

Given those basic truths about death from the Bible, we can now move to some more specific verses that actually address what happens after death. I estimate that there are at least two dozen such passages in the Bible, and ten are listed below as an overview:

11 Bible Verses on What happens after Death:

  1. Genesis 3:19 “You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground, since you were taken from it. For you are dust,
    and you will return to dust.” Hebrews 9:27 “ 27 It is appointed for people to die once—and after this, judgment” MEANING: WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE! BUT: John 3:16 “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son,so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” Summary: According to the Bible, everybody dies (with the exception of those alive when Jesus returns…) but those who are followers of Jesus will not PERISH…or rot away to nothingness, even though they die. 

  2. 2nd Samuel 12: 19 “When David saw that his servants were whispering to each other, he guessed that the baby was dead. So he asked his servants, “Is the baby dead?” “He is dead,” they replied. 20 Then David got up from the ground. He washed, anointed himself, changed his clothes, went to the Lord’s house, and worshiped. Then he went home and requested something to eat. So they served him food, and he ate. 21 His servants asked him, “What did you just do? While the baby was alive, you fasted and wept, but when he died, you got up and ate food.” 22 He answered, “While the baby was alive, I fasted and wept because I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let him live.’ 23 But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I’ll go to him, but he will never return to me.” Summary: In the Old Testament, saints like David believed that there was a place that the dead went after they died. 

  3. Daniel 12:1-3 and 13 “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever… “13 But as for you, go on your way to the end; you will rest, then rise to your destiny at the end of the days.” Summary: Old Testament saints like Daniel believed that, after a period of time dead/sleeping, there would be a resurrection in which the righteous would live forever, and the unrighteous would be punished. But how does the passage comport with a New Testament understanding of 2nd Corinthians 5:8, where Paul seemingly indicates that a Christian, upon death, will be in the presence of Jesus. How can this be if the Christian is sleeping in the ground? (Keep reading!) 

  4. Luke 16:19-26  “There was a rich man who would dress in purple and fine linen, feasting lavishly every day. 20 But a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, was left at his gate. 21 He longed to be filled with what fell from the rich man’s table, but instead the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 One day the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And being in torment in Hades, he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off, with Lazarus at his side. 24 ‘Father Abraham!’ he called out, ‘Have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this flame!’ 25 “‘Son,’ Abraham said, ‘remember that during your life you received your good things, just as Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here, while you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, a great chasm has been fixed between us and you, so that those who want to pass over from here to you cannot; neither can those from there cross over to us.’” Summary: In this teaching of Jesus (note that He does not call a ‘parable’) there is a place of the dead for the good people (where they are comforted) and there is a place of the dead for the bad people (where they are in agony  and in flames, but still able to see, talk and communicate.) The people in both locations can see each other, but they cannot cross over from one place to the other. This place is called “Abraham’s Chest/Side/Bosom,” and Abraham is actually there. The other place, where the rich man is suffering in agony, is called ‘Hades.’ 

  5. Luke 23:39-43 “Then one of the criminals hanging there began to yell insults at Him: “Aren’t You the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!40 But the other answered, rebuking him: “Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment? 41 We are punished justly, because we’re getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “I assure you: Today you will be with Me in paradise.”  Summary: When Jesus was being crucified, he was not alone – there was one actual criminal (a thief) on either side of Him. One of those criminals insulted Jesus and one defended Him, ultimately putting His faith in Jesus as a King. That second thief is very interesting, and it could be argued that he had more faith than any of Jesus’ other followers, because he KNEW that, even though Jesus was in the midst of dying an awful death, that He was nevertheless a King, and that He was heading to His Kingdom. Jesus’ response to that request was the promise that on that very day, the thief would be with Jesus in ‘Paradise.’ This is a very enlightening passage on what happens immediately after death, perhaps one of the two or three most informative Bible passages that we have. Unfortunately, it is also quite difficult to fully grasp, because we have such little information about the  ‘Paradise’ that Jesus is speaking of. The word itself is used two other times in Scripture. Once, in Revelation, it is noted that the ‘Tree of Life’ (cf Genesis 3-4) is now found in the ‘Paradise of God.’ (Revelation 21:7) That doesn’t help us much, but the only other reference in the Bible to ‘Paradise’ is actually very helpful: 

    I know a man in Christ who was caught up into the third heaven 14 years ago. Whether he was in the body or out of the body, I don’t know, God knows.  I know that this man—whether in the body or out of the body I don’t know, God knows—  was caught up into paradise. He heard inexpressible words, which a man is not allowed to speak” (2nd Corinthians 12:2-4) 

    Taking that passage at face value, we learn that ‘Paradise’ is also called the third heaven, and it is a place that Paul was apparently ‘caught up’ to (either physically or spiritually), and it was a place that words fail to describe. I believe that this means that ‘Paradise’ is the current Heaven (there will be a NEW Heaven – see below) and it is the place where the souls/spirits of those who die in Christ go. In that way, it is analogous to Abraham’s side, mentioned in Luke 16. While I realize that there are some leaps in logic in this paragraph, I don’t think they are unfounded leaps across a bridge too far, this speculation makes the best use of the information given. 

  6. 2 Corinthians 5, “For we know that if our temporary, earthly dwelling is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal dwelling in the heavens, not made with hands. 2 Indeed, we groan in this body, desiring to put on our dwelling from heaven, 3 since, when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 Indeed, we groan while we are in this tent, burdened as we are, because we do not want to be unclothed but clothed, so that mortality may be swallowed up by life. 5 And the One who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a down payment. 6 So, we are always confident and know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight, 8 and we are confident and satisfied to be out of the body and at home with the Lord. 9 Therefore, whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to be pleasing to Him. 10 For we must all appear before the tribunal of Christ, so that each may be repaid for what he has done in the body, whether good or worthless.” Similar: Philippians 1 21 For me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22 Now if I live on in the flesh, this means fruitful work for me; and I don’t know which one I should choose. 23 I am pressured by both. I have the desire to depart and be with Christ—which is far better— 24 but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.” Summary: 2nd Corinthians 5:8 is one of the most oft quoted passages by Christians to describe what happens when they die. I believe that here Paul offers a great clue as to what happens directly after death. How can one be absent from their body, and yet present with the Lord? The answer appears to be that our bodies are temporary (Paul euphemistically refers to human bodies as tents or earthly dwellings.) Death involves the (temporary) destruction of our earthly dwellings/bodies and the separation of body and spirit/soul. That humans are composed of a physical and temporal body of flesh AND a soul/spirit is made clear by passages such as Matthew 10:28, 1 Corinthians 5:5, 2nd Corinthians 4:16, James 2:26 and 1 Thessalonians 5:23. Whether humans are tripartite (spirit, soul and body) or bipartite is a question beyond the scope of this article, but the important thing is that the body is designed to be temporary, and death in the Bible is the separation of the body, which dies, from the soul/spirit which lives forever. This is how Paul can say that being absent from his body means that he will be in the presence of the Lord…even though his physical body will actually be dead and buried in the ground. (See Acts 2:29.)  Also note Paul’s description of being alive in Philippians 1:24 – being alive is “remaining in the flesh.” 

  7. 1 Corinthians 15:35 35 “But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? What kind of body will they have when they come?” 36 Foolish one! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And as for what you sow—you are not sowing the future body, but only a seed, perhaps of wheat or another grain. 38 But God gives it a body as He wants, and to each of the seeds its own body. … 42 So it is with the resurrection of the dead: Sown in corruption, raised in incorruption; 43 sown in dishonor, raised in glory; sown in weakness, raised in power; 44 sown a natural body, raised a spiritual body.” Summary: Paul uses very vivid imagery here – A dead body is planted in the ground like a seed. And like a seed, it blooms into something completely vibrant and different when Jesus returns. Our current body is corruptible – it will rot, it is prone to injury, it can get fat, or feeble. The Bible teaches that, upon the return of Jesus, Christians will be reunited with a NEW body. Not weak and decaying like the old body, but incorruptible and powerful and immortal. 

  8. 1 Corinthians 15:50 “Brothers, I tell you this: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, and corruption cannot inherit incorruption. 51 Listen! I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet.For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed.53 For this corruptible must be clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal must be clothed with immortality.54 When this corruptible is clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal is clothed with immortality,then the saying that is written will take place: Death has been swallowed up in victory.55 Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting? 56 Now the sting of death is sin,and the power of sin is the law.57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” Summary:  As noted above – not all people will die, but all will have transformed bodies upon the return of Jesus. The corruptible/death-prone body will be covered with incorruptability/immorality. This will represent the ultimate defeat of death itself. 

  9. 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18 “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. 14 Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus. 15 For we say this to you by a revelation from the Lord: We who are still alive at the Lord’s coming will certainly have no advantage over those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.” Summary: The blessed hope is the return of Jesus, whereby all Christians (those who have died, and those alive at His return) will be with the Lord forever – in body and soul. One clue about the state and place of souls/spirits of those who have died is found in vs. 14 “God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus.” This appears to mean that Jesus will return with the souls/spirits of the deceased, and when the last trumpet blows, those souls/spirits will be reunited with their bodies. 

  10. Revelation 20:20 “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key to the abyss and a great chain in his hand. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for 1,000 years. 3 He threw him into the abyss, closed it, and put a seal on it so that he would no longer deceive the nations until the 1,000 years were completed. After that, he must be released for a short time…..11 Then I saw a great white throne and One seated on it. Earth and heaven fled from His presence, and no place was found for them. 12 I also saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life, and the dead were judged according to their works by what was written in the books.13 Then the sea gave up its dead, and Death and Hades gave up their dead; all were judged according to their works. 14 Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.15 And anyone not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” Summary: Immediately after the resurrection of the body, and its reuniting with the soul/spirit, there is a judgment – many Christians call it the ‘Great White Throne’ judgment, based on vs. 11. All are judged according to their works while on earth. Those not in Christ experience what the Bible calls a ‘second death,’ in which they are thrown into the lake of fire. They do not die in the lake of fire (as a normal body would…) because they now have immortal bodies. 

  11. Revelation 21:20-21 “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea no longer existed.2 I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. 3 Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look! God’s dwelling is with humanity and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away.” Summary: Where then do Christians spend eternity in Heaven? According to the plainest sense reading of Revelation 21, NO! They spend eternity in the NEW HEAVEN/NEW EARTH fusion. The first heaven and the first earth will pass away after the Great White Throne judgment, and Christians will live forever in a NEW Heaven/Earth place. Unlike our current state, God will be with us tangibly in every way, and He will end death, suffering, crying, grief and pain! What a thrilling conclusion!! So, if your belief is that Christians spend eternity in heaven…you are only half right! Christians will spend eternity in a completely NEW Heaven/Earth place.  

Now we take all of the above Scriptures and boil it down: What do we learn about death and the intermediate state according to the Bible? In the Old Testament and New Testament, when people died, some Bible passages indicate that they went somewhere – the place of the dead…Sheol/Hades/Paradise. Other Bible passages (like Daniel 12, Acts 2:29) describe death as sleeping (in the dust) in both the Old Testament and New Testament. How could death be like sleeping in the ground AND consciously going somewhere? Is this a paradox or an oxymoron? Paul’s answer indicates that there will be a separation of body and soul/spirit. The body will go in the ground like a seed and die (being transformed and resurrected later), but the essence of who we are (our soul/spirit) will live on. That is why, in 2nd Corinthians 5, Paul describes the human body as a tent (“For we know that if our temporary, earthly dwelling is destroyed, we have a building from God“) The death and destruction of the body is not the end for US. It is also not the end for our bodies. Our bodies will indeed lie in the ground, and decay, but upon the return of Jesus, they will be transformed in an instant and reunited with our spirit/soul. (See: 1 Corinthians 15:52-53)  So, as Luke 16, and many of the above passages demonstrate, those who die as believers in Jesus will, like Lazarus and the faithful thief on the cross, go to Paradise or the side of Abraham, which is a temporary Heavenly place that is good. Those who die apart from Jesus, like the rich man in Luke 16 and the unrepentant thief on the cross, will go to Hades and suffer in agony until Jesus returns. After the return of Jesus, those who are in Christ will live eternally with God in the New Heavens/Earth and those apart from Christ will be thrown, along with death and Satan, into the Lake of Fire/Hell. (See Revelation 19-20, specifically 20:15) 

Thus, the Bible busts some of our myths and misconceptions about what happens after death: 

  • Christians do not die and go to an eternal Heaven. They die and their bodies go into the ground to await the return of Jesus and a change into immortal bodies; their spirit/souls go to Paradise/Abraham’s side/Third Heaven – a good place, but one that is going to be replaced by a new Heaven according to Revelation 21:1.  (2nd Peter 3:13, “But based on His promise, we wait for the new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness will dwell” Also: Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22) 
  • Those who are not in Christ do not die and go to Hell. According to Revelation 19-20, the dead are not thrown into Hell/the Lake of Fire, until AFTER the return of Jesus and the Great White Throne judgment. Prior to this, they go to Hades/The place of the dead, which (according to Luke 16) is a place of agony and flames…but is not the Lake of Fire/Hell. Further confirmation for this is found in Revelation 20:13, which notes that Hades will give up its dead, who will then stand before the throne of God for judgment. (“Then the sea gave up its dead, and Death and Hades gave up their dead; all were judged according to their works.
  • The Devil does not live in Hell now. He is, according to Paul, the “ruler of the power of the air.” He lives on earth at the moment. (See Ephesians 2:1-2, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins  in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world,  according to the ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens,  the spirit  now working in the disobedient“)
  • The Devil will NEVER rule over Hell. Instead, he will be tied up and thrown into hell to suffer alongside all of the others who have rejected Christ. (Revelation 20:10 , “The Devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet are, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”)
  • There is no indication in Scripture that there is a place like ‘Purgatory’ where some people stay for a little while (according to their sins) and some people stay for a long time. It appears that all who die stay in Paradise/Third Heaven/Abraham’s Side or Hades for the same amount of time, and get out at the same time – right before the Great White Throne judgment. There is no indication in the Bible whatsoever that doing penance or paying for indulgences can decrease people’s time in either of those places. 

Now – it is time for some GREAT NEWS: According to the Word of God, we are coming to an age, in Christ, where THERE WILL BE NO MORE DEATH. DEATH WILL BE ENDED. In Christ, believers will be welcomed into the new heavens and new earth (Revelation 21:1). Unbelievers will be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15). All people will go to one of those two places, based on whether or not they were in Christ. (John 3:36). As a close to this article, here are two great passages to meditate on: 

ROMANS 8:10 Now if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, then He who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through[j] His Spirit who lives in you.

Revelation 21:3-5 Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look! God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away.5 Then the One seated on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new.” He also said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.”

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