Friday: Further Study: The Cost of Discipleship
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Further Study: Ellen G. White, In the Regions Beyond, pp. 219, 220; Berea and Athens, pp. 241, 242; in The Acts of the Apostles.studymore

Fire comes down from God out of heaven. The earth is broken up. The weapons concealed in its depths are drawn forth. Devouring flames burst from every yawning chasm. The very rocks are on fire. The day has come that shall burn as an oven. The elements melt with fervent heat, the earth also, and the works that are therein are burned up. Malachi 4:1; 2 Peter 3:10. The earth’s surface seems one molten mass-a vast, seething lake of fire. It is the time of the judgment and perdition of ungodly men-the day of the Lord’s vengeance, and the year of recompenses for the controversy of Zion. Isaiah 34:8.

The wicked receive their recompense in the earth. Proverbs 11:31. They shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts. Malachi 4:1. Some are destroyed as in a moment, while others suffer many days. All are punished according to their deeds.-Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, pp. 672, 673.

Discussion Question:

1.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose Christian faith led to his death, wrote a famous book called The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Collier Books, 1963). Below are some quotes from the book. How do these fit in with what we have studied this week?

The old life is left behind, and completely surrendered. The disciple is dragged out of his relative security into a life of absolute insecurity (that is, in truth, into the absolute security and safety of the fellowship of Jesus).-Pages 62, 63.

If we would follow Jesus we must take certain definite steps. The first step, which follows the call, cuts the disciple off from his previous existence.-Pages 66, 67.

The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. . . . When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.-Page 99.

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Friday: Further Study: The Cost of Discipleship — 12 Comments

  1. I have often struggled with those words of Ellen White's where she says "Some are destroyed as in a moment, while others suffer many days. All are punished ‘according to their deeds.” The reason is that I see my God as a God of Compassion. Why would he make people suffer, wouldn't it be enough to just remove the wicked from existence?

    In the end everybody has to submit to God. We either stumble and fall before the Rock and accept the saving provision of divine grace, or the Rock crushes us. There are only two results. Both ways end up in submission to God's will. The difference between the two is that us stumbling and falling results in eternal life. The Rock falling on us results in eternal death.

    I imagine then that even in death, the wicked will declare God's way as just and in the end must submit to His will. Some will take longer than others.

    I personally would prefer to stumble on the Rock and be humbled.

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    • "Some are destroyed as in a moment, while others suffer many days."

      I agree Owen. The God I worship takes no pleasure in the eternal death of His children who have chosen to reject Him. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), not torture. God’s love and mercy for His (lost) children will not suddenly vanish after the second resurrection (Psalm 100:5; Malachi 3:6). The lost will have chosen their lot and He will grant it to them but He will not torture them in the process. Unfortunately, there will be many people we love who we will see outside of the gates and whose deaths we will witness. Imagine a loving God, Who would compel us (and the rest of the universe) to watch them burn for days on end. I believe not.

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    • To me a more basic question to ask is why does God resurrect people back to life again only to destroy them shortly after? On the surface it would seem pointless but perhaps there is something for God's people to learn from all of that.

      As I view the great controversy I am brought to understand it as one gigantic classroom where the universe learns about God and what rebellion against Him ends up doing. It seems to me that the cross teaches us about the character of the two different governments. It also seems to say that since Adam didn't have a propensity to sin that Jesus proved that under no circumstance did Adam have to sin - his sin was voluntary. When we get to the 144000 at the end of time they teach us that even if we have a propensity to sin we can still remain free from sin under any circumstance and have no excuse to commit it.

      So now we come to those that freely commit sin because they want to and in the end they confess that they were wrong (Rom 14:11; Phil 2:10). The question at this point to me seems to center on how that comes about and why some burn longer than others. I would like to raise a question here about our understanding of fire in that context. Could it be that the fire spoken of concerning the wicked is actually the conviction of the Holy Spirit? After all, fire is very well known to be a symbol of the Holy Spirit where the metaphor of a refiner's fire is used. It is also used in many ways in the sanctuary as something that consumes. It was also present during Pentecost and to Jeremiah it was a force in his life (Jer 20:9 see also Lam 1:13).

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      • Brother Tyler,
        You raise some reasonable questions. However there is no need to spiritualize the ‘burning’ of the wicked, unless our objective is to make God’s actions fit a certain preconceived perception we have of Him. We are to let God’s activity described in scripture and spirit of prophecy determine our perception of Him, and not our predetermined perception define what He may or may not do. The latter results in rejection of the straight testimony and causes unnecessary difficulty in understanding the message of inspiration.

        The immediate and broader context of the quotation leaves no doubt that the burning is literal. Further, the quote says “…others suffer many days...” The convicting work of the Spirit does not inflict suffering. As well this idea would imply the wicked are still open to the pleading of the spirit, in a kind of after-the-fact probation which allows a change of heart (mind), and in which some are more receptive than others.

        The straight testimony does not require the exploration of ‘modern’ theories, such as have led to the denial of the Flood, Egypt’s plagues and Jericho’s fall (massacre), among other things. The reason given in the quote and supported by scripture is the reward is commensurate with the deeds (Romans 2:5, 6; Revelation 20:12, 13).

        Whether or not it seems loving or fair to us God reserves the peculiar right and privilege to decide how to execute judgment. No matter what God does someone will have a problem with it in this sinful world. There is coming a time when all will be fully submitted and with childlike trust accept that the Creator knows and does best. It is what should have been the case in Eden.

        Total submission and surrender is probably the great want of our generation.

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        • Hugh, I realize that the subject of the end time fire is difficult for a lot Christians and Seventh-day Adventists are no exception. It is something that I have wrestled with for years and have concluded that what is spoken of in Revelation is basically symbolical when it comes to the wicked.

          In order to understand why I have arrived at that conclusion I would like to give a brief overview of the use of fire in the New Testament. First though we need to see a few texts from the Old Testament as a matter of background. The first symbolical use of fire is in the sacrificial services instituted right after the fall in the Garden of Eden which basically was the burnt offering of the sanctuary. Then when Moses was herding sheep around Mt. Sinai he came upon a burning bush that symbolized God as a consuming fire (Deut 4:24; 9:3; Heb 12:29). That symbolism was enforced at Mt. Sinai later when the children of Israel were camped around the mountain (Ex 24:17). After that fire was used throughout the sanctuary but was always taken from the altar of burnt offering and never from any other place as "strange fire" and was usually of a consuming nature (burnt offering, incense, lamps on the lampstand, etc.).

          While there is much, much more that can be said about the use of fire as a symbol in the Old Testament we will move along to the New Testament. John the Baptist is the first one to use fire symbolically, "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matt. 3:11-12 NKJV). A little later Jesus uses fire when He talks about the wicked but also uses it in an obviously symbolical manner, "Their worm does not die, And the fire is not quenched" (Mk. 9:48 NKJV see Mk 9:45) which is taken from Isaiah 66:24. That text gives us a lot of trouble as does other stronger texts concerning the length of punishment as interpreted by other denominations.

          Jesus used fire concerning people in general including His disciples, "For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt" (Mk. 9:49 NKJV). He also spoke of His ministry in that way, "I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled" (Lk. 12:49 NKJV consider Lk 9:56 when interpreting this text) which He defines in the following verses. All of the symbolical uses of fire has to do with the Holy Spirit that was symbolized at Pentecost, "Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them" (Acts 2:3 NKJV).

          Even Paul used fire symbolically, "Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire" (1 Cor. 3:12-15 NKJV). Even in the book of Hebrews, "And of the angels He says: 'Who makes His angels spirits And His ministers a flame of fire'" (Heb. 1:7 NKJV) and in Jude (Jude 1:23).

          When we come to Revelation we need to realize that every Christian denomination sees the book of Revelation as a highly symbolical book. There are but a very few things in John's vision that aren't symbolical. Obviously Jesus and Satan are real along with Heaven, the new earth and the sanctuary but everything else can be questioned for various reasons including the beasts, the plagues, and the New Jerusalem.

          If you are wondering why I choose to see the fire at the end symbolically then you have failed to see how much fire is used in the Bible as a symbol. You ask me to have blind faith and accept God as one who tortures people for days but Jesus always gave us evidence to hang faith on. So, I would answer that by saying that the whole understanding we have is out of character with what the Bible reveals of God and is conceptually no different than those who hold that God burns the wicked for eternity. If He does do what you say he does then maybe I don't want to have anything to do with His government for that is what Satan has done on many occasions with human institutions under his authority for the purpose of forcing the free conscious into a mold. Further Jesus never touched anyone with violence even in the cleansing of the temple and condemned violence many times in His discourses so why would He do it Himself. Is He a hypocrite, a doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde who morphs into a monster at the conclusion of the Millennium to sadistically cause immense suffering for an extended period of time for no apparent reason? There is no redeeming value in that kind of thing when those people won't live beyond the ordeal unless, of course, it is to scare the rest of us into compliance. But then we could rightly ask if that is the way love treats friends or even enemies:

          But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matt. 5:44-48 NKJV)

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        • The other side of God's mercy is His justice. As humans, we have a hard time balancing the two, but in His character, they are perfectly balanced.

          In OT times, God's people looked forward to the final judgment in which they would be vindicated and evil doers who seemed to have the upper hand punished. And the prophets encouraged that sort of understanding.

          Do we now somehow have a more exalted understanding of God's dealing with sin and sinners than they did? I don't really think so.

          Peter speaks of the final conflagration that cleanses this planet, and it hardly seems figurative when he reminds his readers how God once destroyed the earth and sinners on it with a great flood and warns that the next world-wide judgment will be by fire. (2 Peter 3:1-13)

          While it is fashionable nowadays in some Christian circles to deny that there was a literal world-wide flood, the hermeneutic that is necessary to come to this conclusion is very different from that which our forefathers used to arrive at our fundamental doctrines. In fact, the same hermeneutic that does away with a literal six-day creation and a literal flood also does away with the perfect creation, a fall into sin, the promise and need for a Savior.

          I suggest not going down that road.

          We have a compassionate, loving and just God. And because I believe that mercy and justice are perfectly blended in His character, I'm willing to trust Him with the final disposition of sin and sinners. That, too, is part of faith.

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      • Interesting thought Tyler. The Bible tells us that the lost (and Satan) will be reduced to ashes (Malachi 4:1-3). As such, the fire spoken of (Revelation 20:14-15) must be literal. Why resurrect the lost? For prophecy to be fulfilled (e.g., Phil 2:10), the lost must be resurrected. What then? They have already refused the gracious offer of heaven by virtue of who they have chosen as their god. As such, they must die again. I just do not believe that their death will be a prolonged, tortuous death, witnessed by the saved who love them and inflicted by the One Who loves them even more.

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  2. By nature mankind is sinful, therefore by nature mankind seeks from the wrong fountain pleasures, power, money, and all the other attributes that go with them. The life of Christ is completely opposite. When we accept Christ into our life, we no longer seeks those things. But sometimes people leaves the world, but the world has not left them. I remembered when the church split in Martin Luther era, many took over the customs from the old condemned ways to the new way with the same old practices. If you steal, you steal no more, if you lie, you no more lie, if you willfully and presumptuously broke any commandment you ask Jesus to help you to keep His commandment. Many times we have to give up our old friends, even some family members that is bad influence. You no longer wants to spend hours in front the TV, but with prayer, bible study, witnessing. Jesus becomes your buddy.

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  3. Reasoning that God wants the best for us many professed Christians seek the comforts of this world. Self-denial and self-sacrifice are frowned upon like a curse. This mindset virtually preserves a firm attachment to the world. And its benefits are celebrated as blessings of the Lord. There is a feeling and form of godliness, but self is not allowed to die. Therefore growth in Christ is retarded, and there is little sense of a need to draw closer to the Savior.

    The path laid out for the Christian is made strait because God wants us to be uncomfortable in this world, as Christ was, but endured it for our sake. The life of ease often works against what the Holy Spirit would do in our lives. Our goal ought to be Christlikeness; not the 'good life' here and now.

    Learning how to rejoice in suffering (Romans 5:3) is important to our spiritual development. For then the cost is not a burden, but an investment in the restoration of the image of God in our beings for eternity.

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  4. As I prepared for this lesson, I was looking for something that I did not see. This lesson talks in great detail about the cost of discipleship. It defines the things that show that it is costly. All the "bad" thing that can (and will) happen are highlighted. On the face of that argument, it could be seen as simply too costly with no reason to go through it. All this makes sense only in that Christ and being connected with Him is the true reason. All that we go through in life is nothing when compared to our loving relationship with Him.

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  5. It is easy for some or hard for others to understand that sin will not rise again. Therefore I must give up my sinful ways by the grace and help of my friend and Big brother. We knew if it was only one (me) who had sin, Jesus would have left heaven to die for me because that is how much he loves me. Satan did not asked for the angel to die but Jesus. Therefore my Daddy took the chance of sending his only Son to die for me. My big brother stumbled with the bitter cup and asked his father if their was anyother way to win me back, but my sins were so terrible, my sins required the blood of my creator. What more could He have done for me. He said; I give my life for thee, my precious blood I shed, that thou might ransome be, and quickened from the dead.

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