Lesson 4

The God of Grace and Judgment

(John 3, Numbers 21, Revelation 14)
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Introduction: This week we study two aspects of our God: grace and judgment. If you read a few texts about judgment - and most refer to a judgment based on works - you might begin to wonder how grace and judgment can fit comfortably within the same gospel. In fact, I've long been concerned that Jesus often refers to a judgment based on works while Paul has a steady theme of salvation by grace. Can we fit those two ideas together? If so, how? Let's dive into our Bible study and see what we can learn!

  1. Judgment


    1. Read Matthew 12:36-37 and Matthew 16:27. What does our Lord say is the standard for the judgment? (Our words and our deeds!)


    2. Read 2 Corinthians 5:10. Oh no! This is Paul. What does Paul say is the basis for the judgment? (Things done "in the body.")


    3. What is going on here? We just got through studying Galatians and learned from it that we are saved by grace. Let's get personal about a judgment based on works. Do you want some people to be stopped and ticketed for speeding? (Yes! Especially when they are speeding in our neighborhood.)


      1. How about you - do you want the police to give you a speeding ticket? (This proves the larger picture, we want a judgment based on deeds for others, but not for ourselves.)


      2. Do we think that some people deserve judgment for their works, but we (or at least I) should be able to avoid judgment? (We can see that this study is tricky because we have a natural bias against our own judgment. We don't want to get what we deserve, but we would like that for others.)


  2. Snake in the Wilderness


    1. Let's see if we can work out this issue despite our bias. Read John 3:14-18. Is Jesus contradicting Himself? How can Jesus say here that belief in Him is the basis for eternal life, but have said earlier that deeds were the basis for the judgment? (Notice that Jesus refers to a person being "condemned" rather than judged.)


      1. Last week we discussed the sanctuary service. When the sinner came to the temple with a sacrifice, was the sinner guilty? (Yes. We are judged by our works - either guilty or innocent. And, without getting into the details, we are always guilty because of our sinful nature. When the sinner came with the lamb, he was not "innocent," rather he was not condemned because the sacrifice paid the penalty in his place.)


    2. Don't we still have a problem with Paul's words (2 Corinthians 5:10) that we will be judged based on the "good" things? What about Jesus saying ( Matthew 12:37) that our words can "acquit" us? This seems to indicate that good works have something to do with a favorable judgment. Can this be reconciled with grace?


    3. Let's continue reading in John 3 to see if we can find a clue. Read John 3:19-21. Now we have a new element, "light!" What does light have to do with our salvation? (If we love light we are saved, if we love darkness we are not.)


      1. We have too many loose ends here. We have deeds, we have belief and we have light. Can anyone connect these loose ends to make a reasonable theory? Or, are all of these ideas simply a contradiction?


    4. Let's go back to the original story. Read Numbers 21:6-9. What was causing the people to die? (The snakes. However, if you look at the context, the snakes were sent as a judgment for sin.)


      1. Why would God tell Moses to have them look at a representation of what was making them die? (I've long thought that this strange story teaches us that we must look at (take seriously, confess, etc.) our sins. The first step to salvation is to face and confess our sins, our bad works.)


    5. Let's re-read John 3:14-15 and John 3:19-20. How does the snake story and loving/hating the light now make sense? (That if we love our sin so much that we will not come into the light, then we are like those who refused to look at the snake. Jesus brought the light of the gospel. Accepting the light of the gospel is simply inconsistent with hiding in (remaining in) sin. We will either choose to face our sins and be saved by grace, or we will prefer to remain in sin and reject Jesus.)


      1. Does all of this talk about "deeds" and judgment now make sense? (In one sense, salvation has a great deal to do with our works. If we decide to remain in sin, we will not seek grace. But, if we face our sins and recognized their sinfulness, then we have just one option - grace!)


      2. Focus on John 3:21. What does this mean: "what he has done has been done through God?" (Grace is God's work. As we learned in our study of Galatians, we cannot earn our salvation, Jesus has already done it for us. But, we choose whether we will "face the snake," whether we will "come into the light," whether we will confess our sins and escape condemnation by the blood of the Lamb.)


  3. Noah's Example


    1. Let's look at an example of this. Read Genesis 6:5-7. What does God think is the solution to all of this evil? (Judgment!)


    2. Read Genesis 6:13, Genesis 7:6-10, and 2 Peter 2:5. How difficult would it have been for the wicked to get into the ark? (They were warned. 2 Peter 2:5 suggests that Noah preached to them. While Noah went to the effort of building the ark, anyone else could have just gotten on. The wicked preferred their current life (the darkness), and did not want to join Noah (come into the light).)


  4. Last Day Judgment


    1. Read Revelation 14:6-7. What is the message for those who live at the end of days? (That God's judgment is upon them.)


      1. What is our proper reaction to impending judgment? (Notice, it does not say, "stop sinning," it says to be in a right relationship with God. We need to respect (fear) God, we need to give glory to Him, and we need to acknowledge His power as Creator of all.)


    2. Read Revelation 14:8. What important fact about judgment do we need to know? (That God has defeated evil. Those unfaithful to God are going down to defeat.)


    3. Read Revelation 14:9-11. Does the text say that those who are involved in evil deeds will bear the force of God's wrath? (No. It says that those who refuse to worship God, and worship the enemy of God will suffer judgment. The standard for judgment is allegiance. Those who come into the light versus those who remain in darkness.)


    4. Read Revelation 14:12. In light of this impending judgment, what are we called to do? (The "saints" are described as those who "remain faithful to Jesus." Faith in Jesus is righteousness by faith!)


      1. What about the "obey God's commandments" part? (This illustrates our earlier discussion. If we love our evil works, we will stay in darkness and not come into the light of Jesus' grace. But, if we love the light, then we will want to do Jesus' will. We will want to obey Him.)


    5. Contemplate the verses in Revelation 14 that we just read. What is the main difference between the righteous and the unrighteous? (The righteous worship and glorify their Creator God. The wicked worship and obey the evil ones. This is what is meant by a mark on the forehead (mind) and hand (deed). The mention of worship, creation and the commandments suggests the great importance of the weekly Sabbath, for it is a time of worship, a time to give glory to God, and a time to celebrate the Creation ("Remember the Sabbath ... for in six days [God created]."))


    6. Friend, a judgment is coming. The judgment will be based on our deeds. With that standard, none of us can escape judgment. However, Jesus offers us an escape from condemnation for our evil deeds. He is the Lamb of God who has died for our sins. If we will face our sins by confessing and repenting, then He will cover our sins with His blood. Is this an offer that you can refuse? If not, why not accept it today? Face the snake of your sinful life, and move out of the darkness and into the light!


  5. Next week: The Holiness of God.

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