The Consequence Engine
We physicists often remind ourselves that there are no uncaused effects in the universe. Even in very ordinary events going on around us, there is always a preceding chain of linked causes. In flipping a coin many times, one averages 50% heads and 50% tails. But the outcome of each single throw of the coin has been determined by a multiplicity of very real variables. Fluctuations in the stock market are all caused though no one has yet unraveled all the contributing variables. Thus there is no entity in the universe called "chance" which is causing coins to fall as they do. (1) According to the Bible, God is behind the Laws of physics (and the moral Law). Nothing happens that God does not permit, and ultimately nothing happens that He does not cause to happen. Ephesians, Chapter One says "[God] works [energizes] all things according to the counsel of His will" (1:11).
All of us have had some sample, some contact, some encounter with the power of nature -- we are awed by the mighty thundering of a storm that breaks upon our heads suddenly, or by the power of breakers dashing upon the shore. In some way, we find demonstrated to us the power of nature. God is a God of power, and that power indicates to us a force behind nature. Nature is alive with power. We are told that everything is in motion -- the atoms that constitute this pulpit are constantly in motion. And behind the motion is the pulsating force of energy. Nature is one great mass of energy. It bespeaks, therefore, of mighty power that tells us of the existence of God.
But, more than that, all of us have experienced some knowledge of the sovereignty of God in nature. We don't play around with the laws of nature. Have you noticed that? When we discover a natural law, we are careful to observe it because, oftentimes, our very lives are at stake.
You don't go fooling around with the law of gravity. You don't get on top of a 15-story building and shove your hands in your pockets and nonchalantly stroll over the ledge to show people how superior you are to the law of gravity. You won't break the law of gravity -- you'll just illustrate it. They'll just scoop you off the pavement!
We don't play around with the laws of electricity. When a wire is charged with 10,000 volts, we know that it will operate according to a strict and precise law, and we are careful to observe that law because one little mistake is enough to cause us to forfeit our life. Nature is sovereign. It has the right to do what it was made to do, and in that we see the sovereignty of God -- his right to be God, his right to choose, and his right to set up nature according to his idea, not ours. This, if acted upon, is the minimum basis man needs to know God -- and every man knows this. This is what Hebrews 11:6 says. But I stress the words if acted upon. It is not enough just to know about God's sovereignty: It must govern us. It must control us. It must do something to us. (Ray C. Stedman, http://raystedman.org/romans1/0006.html).
Just as there are great "natural" (built-in) laws at work in the material world, so there are also even more important laws at work in the moral sphere. The God of the Bible is a Just God, as well as a loving and merciful God: He rewards the good and eventually punishes all evil. No detail escapes His attention.
Many people suppose that God, being good, grants general amnesty to people, adding up our good deeds, subtracting the bad, and throwing in extra mercy so that most everyone gets into heaven somehow. Actually this is a long way from the truth one finds in the Bible. Every human choice and every action has consequences, whether good or ill. We are all affected by the choices others make as well!
The Consequence Engine in Every Day Life
It is obvious that ordinary daily life is full of consequences. Driving over the speed limit can lead to an expensive traffic ticket. Driving under the influence can have more severe consequences. Not paying the rent usually causes a renter to loose his residence. Not showing up for work on time can get one fired. The slightest disobedience to the Drill Sergeant in military basic training can prove painfully costly.
"Sensible" people who are law-abiding and "moral" cause less trouble for themselves in this life, and are better off as long as they live--compared to the person who is irresponsible, or promiscuous, who abuses booze and drugs and can't hold a job. Neither type of individual may end up in heaven, but this present life is better off for people who see the intrinsic order in the world and who follow it as best they can, even if their motives are self-serving, and even if they do not know God.
A common humorous expression goes, "no good deed goes unpunished." Actually God takes note of everything going on--nothing escapes his notice. Very often we do not know who among us has a relationship with God and who does not. Seldom do we know the motives of another man's heart--let alone our own motives. But God knows and God sees:
Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; “for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.” (Luke 21:1-4)
The Consequence Engine and the Non-Christian
The vast majority of people in the world are uninterested in knowing the real God. They are actually enemies of God. (Our general animosity towards the real God is the main reason for the invention of earth's many religions). God grants everyone enough knowledge of His existence and of His attributes so that all men everywhere are without excuse, (Romans 1:18-21). When people hear, but reject, the gospel of Jesus Christ, God ordinarily leaves such people alone and they live out the rest of their lives--often in relative peace and even prosperity. There seem to be no immediate obvious negative consequences to their unbelief. Because the silent, invisible wrath of God rests upon all men who reject Him, there is gradually increasing emptiness in the lives of those who refuse God's grace and mercy (John 3:36). In Ecclesiastes, Solomon states clearly that enjoyment in life is a gift from God given only to those who please Him--and not obtainable any other way!
"There is nothing in a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also, I saw, was from the hand of God. For who can eat, or who can have enjoyment, more than I? For God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight; but to the sinner He gives the work of gathering and collecting, that he may give to him who is good before God. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind." (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26)
Nonbelievers do not cease to exist when they die, nor do they pass into limbo or purgatory. After death they end up intact and conscious at the "last" judgment (2) described in Revelation 20:
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire. (20:11-15)
The record books of life are being kept every day by recording angels who miss no details. Judgment is totally fair and just--even for the lost. Punishment is appropriately proportional, following the great principle outlined in Romans 2--God weighs the motives of the heart as well as behavior, and He takes into account the individual's actual knowledge of God.
It may seem to some harsh and unfair, but no human being can enter heaven on his or her own merits. It is only by trusting in the work of Jesus on our behalf that we are qualified.
The consequence engines of life, inexorable and unavoidable though they may be, do not usually bring immediate consequences in response to our actions. An old Proverb says, "The mills of God's justice grind exceedingly slow--but they grind exceedingly fine." Because we often do not see the negative consequences of our bad choices right away, we are often persuaded to make bigger and more foolish mistakes. Because God's judgments are usually long delayed in time, many think the Lord never judges anyone at all.
The Consequence Engine and the Christian
Non-Christians are said to be "dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2) and therefore they are quite unable to do anything which pleases God. However for the individual who has entered into a personal relationship with God, everything one does matters! The consequence engine runs full time and at full tilt--both in regard to good and to ill--for those who follow Jesus with a committed heart. Christians are not judged for their sins (3)--which have been paid in full by Jesus--but certainly we are thoroughly evaluated for all our choices in life--like everyone else. All of our choices in life have negative or positive consequences.
The Negative Consequence Engine
Negative consequences in time and eternity occur when a follower of Jesus Christ does things in his or her own natural energy and strength. A number of New Testament passages highlight this:
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
One of the features of the negative consequence engine at work is that we do not get to choose the consequences of our sins. All sin is forgivable but all sin has consequences. (4) Negative consequences can involve lost opportunities for service, increased vulnerability to the same bad choices the next time we are tempted, and in some cases even an early death. (5) Some forms of life-style behavior exclude a person from entry into the kingdom of God altogether, thus revealing that many who say they are Christians never were in the first place (Matthew 7:21-29)! A list of these moral absolutes in the universe is found in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and yet another in Ephesians 5:1-6.
"The wages of sin"--which is death--are inevitable, inexorable, and unavoidable. Sin pays us back with boredom, guilt, shame, loneliness, confusion, emptiness, loss of purpose, and, in the end, with physical death itself--then final separation from God--unless we have laid hold of the saving life of Christ.
The negative consequence engine for the Christian should not be considered as punishment for sins--because Jesus has already been fully punished for the believers sins--all of them. Consequences of our bad choices is not the same thing as punishment for sin. God's corrective discipline of his wayward sons and daughters is also a separate matter (Hebrews 12:6-17).
The Positive Consequence Engine
Like negative consequences in life, the effects of the positive consequence engine at work in our lives do not usually show up immediately. This is frustrating for folks who want instant gratification and who expect a daily rewards balance sheet. The big pay off for followers of Jesus is in the next life--not here and now.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21)
"But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: 'For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.' But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul." (Hebrews 10:32-39)
Positive consequences of knowing God include wonderful inner qualities of wholeness, fulfillment and contentment: Over time we become all we ever dream of being as whole men and women. "…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law." (Galatians 5:22-23)
This great principle--the law of sowing and reaping in life--has never been revoked, altered, or amended. The consequence engines connected with sowing and reaping run with 100% reliability century after century in every generation.
"Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart." (Galatians 6:1-9)
(In reality, most Christians find we may still be reaping the unpleasant long-term consequences of past bad choices and at the same time, as forgiven sinners, we are probably also sowing to the Spirit for a future positive harvest).
As explained in Romans, Christians have only two daily choices. We are all servants (slaves), and there are only two choices of which master we choose to serve:
Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (6:16-23)
Yet another New Testament description of the consequence engine at work in the life of the Christian is described as that of building a house out of two different types of building material:
"According to the commission of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it. For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay or stubble--each man's work will become manifest (openly visible), for the Day (of the Lord) will disclose it, because it will be revealed (unveiled) with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire." (1 Corinthians 3:10-15)
"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men..." (2 Corinthians 5:10-11) (3)
What counts in life--actions that lead to positive consequences, are the works Jesus does in and through us when we make ourselves available to God. God does not want our best efforts on his behalf! The basic rule of Christian life is "nothing coming from me, everything coming from Him." We are not to give God our very best efforts. Self-improvement programs are of no avail. "Trying harder" doesn't cut it.
However, it is by trusting and acting on what God has promised that we unloose the power of God working in us so that the consequence engine runs in our favor. (6) Jesus is more than willing to live through us whenever we give Him permission. Someone has said, "There is no limit to what God will do through any individual, if that person doesn't are who gets the credit."
Usually when we come to know the Lord we abandon those bad habits which everyone agrees are socially undesirable--such as getting drunk, living in a life style that is sexually immoral, being dishonest in business, lying, stealing, cheating--and so on. These actions do spring from that fallen humanity we all have inherited from Adam. Actions which lead to sin arise within us from what the Bible calls "the flesh." (The flesh is another name for the totality of our fallen nature inherited from Adam.) Nothing good can ever come from the flesh and so our entire "old nature" had to be nailed to the cross when we were identified with Jesus in His death, burial and resurrection--that is, when we came to Christ and were spiritually reborn. (7)
What is harder to recognize and deal with regarding the flesh is its "good" side. (A perfect example of not dealing with the "good side" of the flesh is laid out before us in the story of King Saul's loss of his throne in 1 Samuel 15). In God's sight, there is nothing at all in us--in our natural lives--that is able to please God. We must die and be replaced by Christ living in and through us day by day, year after year. (8, 9, 10)
Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works." (Matthew 16:24-27)
“For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. “I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” (Galatians 2:19-21)
Identifying the "flesh" in our lives is a life-long task--the flesh will do anything to avoid being put to death. We do not readily recognize the flesh in ourselves apart from our daily obedience to Jesus--and our ongoing feeding on the Word of God. Hebrews offers key insights into our day to day walk in the Spirit.
"…he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works [self-effort] as God did from His [in creation]. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account." (4:10-13)
God and Community
American rugged individualism would have us believe that our private actions do not affect others. Not so. The Biblical God is a personal God who builds families and communities of which He Himself is a member. Everything we do--whether public or private--affects others--affects the community. As a participating member of the community, God seeks to move the individual and the community towards wholeness and well-being. Those who will not cooperate with His program will find themselves left out entirely. Consequence engines work for groups of individuals, and for entire nations. By the way, Jesus Christ is Himself the appointed personal judge of all mankind (11).
Deeply engrained within all of us are the world's notions that each of us on his or her own energy is capable of having a lasting effect on our generation. The Bible has clearly teaches that only what Christ does through us will last. The Bible speaks of a coming time of great shaking "Not only of the earth but also of the heavens" (Hebrews 12:26). Only that which God has built will remain. Ray Stedman comments,
We have already noted that heaven is the realm of invisible realities, of forces and principles which actually govern human life. The word translated "created things" (pepoiemenon) means "things made," but 11:2 reminds us that behind the visible things are invisible forces. This shaking of heaven and earth is both of the visible and of the invisible. Isaiah also declares: "Therefore I will make the heavens tremble; and the earth will shake from its place at the wrath of the LORD Almighty, in the day of his burning anger" (Isaiah 13:13). It is this greater shaking from which there is no escape. That shaking began with the preaching of Jesus (Haggai 2:6) has been continuing through the Christian centuries, and will culminate in the great judgments described in Daniel and Revelation. The earth and heaven will flee away and be replaced by the new heavens and the new earth.
There is something chilling about the thought of a shaking of heaven and earth. The twentieth century has watched the crumbling of much which we once thought to be stable. Faith in human government has been widely shaken; confidence in science as the savior of the race has waned as the problems of pollution, urban decay, biological warfare and existential despair increase. Long-accepted moral standards have disappeared under the onslaught of divorce, unmarriages, sexual explicitness, homosexuality and abortion.
But there are some things which cannot be shaken and which will remain forever. That which is shaken and removed is so done in order that what cannot be shaken may stand revealed. Such an unshakable thing is the kingdom of God into which those who trust in Jesus have entered. It is present wherever the King is honored, loved and obeyed. The present active participle ("are receiving") indicates a continuing process. We enter the kingdom at conversion, but we abide in it daily as we reckon upon the resources which come to us from our invisible but present King. Such unbroken supply should arouse a continuing sense of gratitude within us and lead to acceptable worship of God. What renders such worship acceptable is the sense of God as incredibly powerful and majestic in person, and yet loving and compassionate of heart. (http://raystedman.org/hebrews2/heb2comm2.html)
1. No Such Thing as Chance! http://ldolphin.org/chance.html
2. The Great White Throne Judgment, http://ldolphin.org/Gwhite.html
3. The Judgment Seat of Christ, http://ldolphin.org/Jseat.html
4. The Scars of Sin, by Ray Stedman, http://raystedman.org/scars.html
5. Deliberate Sin, and Sin Which Leads to Death, http://ldolphin.org/deliberate.html
6. The Power You Already Have, http://raystedman.org/misc/4308.html
7. How God Saves Us, http://ldolphin.org/howsaved.html
8. Jesus is our Sabbath Rest, http://ldolphin.org/sabbathrest.html
9. Entering God's Rest, http://ldolphin.org/Rest.html
10. Elaine Stedman on the New Covenant, http://raystedman.org/newrs/newcovenant.html
11. Jesus, Judge of All, http://ldolphin.org/judgment.html
Note: I first hear the term "the consequence engine" from Glenn Miller, http://www.christian-thinktank.com/. Glenn denies being the originator of this term.
Other News: A major summer project our team is working
on in is the addition of all of Ray Stedman's books to his new web site,
http://raystedman.org/. Ray's high-quality mp3 files are very popular and can
be downloaded quickly to your desktop or iPod.
My current Sunday morning class at my home church, PBC of Palo Alto, is the book of Leviticus. We are following Ray Stedman's newly-released book, The Way to Wholeness (http://raystedman.org/leviticus/). Our class is Podcast by iTunes and also available weekly in mp3 audio on my web site, http://ldolphin.org/leviticus/.
My friend Mark Walker and I spent a wonderful week in August with Elaine Stedman, family, and friends in Medford, Oregon. Barry and Penny Setterfield provided lavish hospitality for us in their new Grants Pass home--next door to dear friends Stu and Sue Mendelson. Barry's work in astronomy and physics is featured on his web site, http://Setterfield.org. It is a wonderful treat to sit down in person with Barry and get a personal briefing on his yet-unpublished findings.
Contributions: Friends who want to help out with my expenses may send contributions directly to me by means of the PayPal or Amazon.com links on my web site. For those who'd like to contribute for tax purposes, checks may be sent to Peninsula Bible Church, 3505 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, CA 94306. Please include a note designating my support account. I do not always receive a list of those who send in contributions so I can not send thank you notes in most cases.
Lambert Dolphin July 29, 2005.