Okay, quick, name the worst judgment that God ever inflicted upon someone. Noah’s flood? That one certainly involved the most deaths, but once it began the fatalities didn’t have to experience it for long. Fire and brimstone raining down upon Sodom and Gomorrah? That was another catastrophic event that was over pretty quickly for the judged. Lot’s wife looking back toward Sodom and being turned into a pillar of salt? That took as long as one look. Pharaoh and the ten plagues? That judgment lasted longer, probably several months, but most Egyptians survived it. Pharaoh’s army being drowned in the Red Sea? Once those sea walls started crashing back together, judgment came swiftly. The ground opening up and swallowing Korah and his group of rebels? They were here one minute, gone the next. Nadab and Abihu being killed by fire that went out from the Lord? That’s a painful way to die but a relatively fast one. Belshazzar seeing the handwriting on the wall? He was slain that very night. Herod Agrippa I being struck by an angel and dying? The Jewish historian Josephus says Herod lingered just five days before breathing his last.
I’m really not trying to downplay the severity of these examples of God’s judgment, but I am making the point that a reasonably fast judgment might not be as harsh as a painstakingly slow one. Think about every movie you’ve ever seen where someone does a condemned person a “favor” by killing him quickly. You know, the guy about to be tortured is told by the torturer, “Tell me what I want to know, and I’ll make sure you die quickly.” The idea is that getting it over as quickly as possible is the best you can do in that situation. It can be argued that the same thing is true when it comes to being judged by God.
And so, what is the worst judgment that God has ever inflicted upon someone? I would submit that it is when He completely takes His influence off an individual’s life, stops bringing that individual under conviction for their sins, foregoes trying to help that individual do better, takes all the restraints off that individual’s life, and turns that individual loose to run as wild as they want for as long as they want. As my friend Dale Dellinger used to tell the middle school baseball players we coached, “Boys, don’t feel bad whenever I fuss at you and try to get you to play better. The time to start worrying is when I stop fussing at you. Because that will mean that I’ve given up on you.” Along the same lines, the Bible teaches that God’s worst form of judgment upon someone’s life occurs when He gives up on that person and stops working with them. You see, a person can live on in that state for days, months, years, and even decades, and when you are in that state your life becomes a relentless domino chain of wrong choices, bad decisions, ungodly behavior, and devastating consequences.
The Bible passage that supports this is Romans 1:18-32. Those verses talk about the general downward spiral of the entire human race. That historical process played out as follows:
- Going way back into the early days of the post-flood era, long before Abraham, Moses, and Israel, people anywhere in the world could look at creation itself and reach the common-sense conclusion that there must be a Creator God. (verses 19,20)
- Even though people realized there must be a Creator God, they didn’t glorify Him as God, weren’t thankful to Him, and suppressed the truth about Him. (verses 18,21)
- Once they had made the willful decision not to worship the true God, they started creating man-made idols and worshiping them as gods. In other words, they chose false gods of their own creation over the true and living God and exchanged the truth of God for these lying versions of Him. (verses 22,23,25)
- Once the world’s races brought idolatry and false religion onto the scene in a prolific way, God, rather than fighting to maintain His place in their hearts, “gave them up” to fulfill all the unclean lusts of their hearts and commit the unfitting, ungodly acts that came from their debased minds and dishonored their bodies. (verses 24,26,28)
- These acts included: lesbianism (v.26), homosexuality (v.27), all kinds of other sexual immorality (v.29), unrighteous acts (v.29), wicked acts (v.29), malicious acts (v.29), acts of envy (v.29), murders (v.29), acts of strife (v.29), acts of deceit (v.29), and acts of evil-mindedness (v.29).
- As the people became accustomed to and comfortable with all these sinful acts, the basic character of the individuals themselves quickly downgraded as they lost what moral center they had ever known. Here is where the passage stops describing the acts and starts describing the people. It calls them: whisperers (gossips) (v.29), backbiters (v.30), haters of God (v.30), violent (v.30), proud (v.30), boasters (v.30), inventors of evil things (v.30), disobedient to parents (v.30), undiscerning (v.31), untrustworthy (v.31), unloving (v.31), unforgiving (v.31), and unmerciful (v.31).
- In the final stage of the whole process, the people reached a point where even though they still retained enough instinctive knowledge about God to know that all these sins make one deserving of death, they continued to not only commit them but grant their approval to anyone who else who committed them. (verse 32)
You see, in one way of looking at things, God giving these rebels up to live any way they wanted to live was a worse form of judgment upon the human race than Noah’s flood had been. With Noah’s flood, the influence of the wicked came to a dead (literally) halt virtually overnight. No longer would those people corrupt others. No longer would they produce offspring to follow in their ways. No longer would they ruin whatever good God was trying to do upon the earth. Like ripping off a band aid, God’s judgment upon them was quick, painful, and done.
But once mankind’s rebellion and rejection of God started all over again after the flood, God chose a different course for judgment. Rather than wipe the slate clean again and start over one more time, He basically said, “Okay, if you’d rather have your false gods than Me, then we’re done here. I’m out. Go carry out your hearts’ desires.” And, of course, mankind’s great problem has always been that our inborn Adamic nature creates desires in us that, when fulfilled, ultimately bring about destruction, misery, and death. It’s not like our natural desires are to study the Bible, pray, go to church, be kind to others, give freely, and live lives of moral purity.
This explains how we ended up with the world that we’ve got. Is God still dealing with some people, convicting them of their sins, teaching them, guiding them, working with them, molding them, shaping them, and using them in His service? Absolutely. There are millions of such people around the world right now. Unfortunately, these millions are trying to accomplish the impossible task of fixing a worldwide spiritual and moral mess that has taken eons of time and billions of lost people to produce. You say, “Russell, you sound a little pessimistic that we are going to get this thing turned around.” Yep. It’s like sticking your finger in one hole of the dam when the whole dam has a huge crack working down the middle of it.
But let me get back to my reason for writing this post. My primary motivation is to warn you about resisting God to the point where He stops striving with you. In regard to lost people, this is exactly what Jesus described as the unpardonable sin. He said, “…he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation” (Mark 3:29, Matthew 12:31-32). So, what does it mean to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit? It means that you reject the Holy Spirit’s conviction until He stops offering that conviction altogether. At that point, you will still need to be saved, but you will never again sense that need in a great enough way to act upon it no matter how much longer you live. And that will play itself out about the same as God “giving you up” to go your sinful way and live your ungodly life without any hindrance from Him.
But what about the Christian? Can he commit the unpardonable sin? Obviously not. The Christian, you see, has already embraced the Holy Spirit’s conviction and allowed the Holy Spirit to win him to Jesus for the forgiveness of all sin. What the Christian can do, though, is commit what 1 John 5:13 calls “the sin unto death” (K.J.V.) or “the sin that brings death” (H.C.S.B.). What is this? In the case of some of the Christians of Corinth, it was their ongoing sin in how they observed the Lord’s Supper. There came a point when God reached the end of His patience with their irreverent behavior and caused some of them to die because of it (1 Corinthians 11:23-34). On the other hand, in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, a Christian couple in the early church, God struck them dead for lying about their contribution concerning a piece of land they had sold (Acts 5:1-11).
By putting these two stories together we learn that the sin that brings physical death for the Christian isn’t a cookie-cutter kind of deal where one size fits all. Sometimes it can be simply the last sin in an ongoing lifestyle of sin. Other times it can be a sudden, calamitous sin that immediately brings fatal results. Either way, it should be understood that the Christian’s soul still goes to heaven. The judgment is a shortened earthly life, not lost salvation. It’s the unpardonable sin that gets into the area of salvation (or the lack of it), not the sin unto death.
So, let me encourage one and all to never resist God’s conviction or leading when you feel it. If you are not a Christian, rejecting God in this way is the deadliest game of Russian Roulette you can play because you just never know when He will decide to never visit you with conviction again. At any point, He might “give you up” to go your own sinful way for the rest of your life until you die and have your soul go to hell. In that sense, not only will God’s judgment be slow, it will be eternal. Then again, if you are a Christian, you need to be careful too because if you chose to reject God’s conviction and leading and stubbornly forge on with your own rebellious way, you run the risk of literally shortening your days upon this earth. Trust me, Ananias, Sapphira, and those Corinthians weren’t the last Christians to shorten their lives by their sinful conduct.
Obviously, neither one of these outcomes is desirable, but the good news is that you don’t have to experience either one as long as you remain sensitive, open, and obedient to God’s leading and conviction. And so I’ll close this post by asking you a simple question: How are you doing these days on sensing God the Holy Spirit’s influence in your life, and are you obeying what He tells you to do or rejecting it?