Faith That Works (Part 3)

by Rick Duncan, Cuyahoga Valley Church Founding Pastor

This past weekend, several people asked me questions about the nature of faith and works. I was asked, “If we are saved by faith and not by works, then why did you talk so much about our need to do good works?”

We have been exploring the relationship between our faith and our works. What follow is the 3rd part of our 3 part series of blog posts to answer the question,  “Is my profession of faith real?”

How do we do good deeds? What’s gospel-based approach to do-gooding?

A biblical approach to do-gooding…

  1. Do I see myself as a Beloved Child?
    You are loved unconditionally by God. Knowing that you are loved unconditionally by Christ changes everything. God didn’t have to love you, help you, save you, and serve you. But He did all that (and more) because of His great love for you. Knowing you are Beloved by God turns a hard heart into a soft heart. That’s when works of love start flowing in a supernatural way. You didn’t earn God’s love. So, why would you require anyone else to earn love from you? Because we are objects of love we become subjects who love. God’s love for us produces God’s love from us. “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Thank God that you are a Beloved Child.

  2. Am I trusting daily in the gospel of grace?
    Preach the gospel to yourself every day. On the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished.” Jesus paid it all when He died on the cross in your place for your sins. All accounts have been settled between you and God. You are forever freed from the need to pay God back. You can’t do enough good works to be saved. You don’t have to do good works to be saved. Christ has done a good work – the Best Work – for you. You are fully and freely forgiven, accepted and complete in Christ. Now, motivated by His Good Work, we do good works for others. Jesus has already given you the greatest thing you’ll ever need. Therefore, you don’t need others to give to you; you can give to them! Your “Do” is fueled by His “Done.” Your good works are fueled His Good Work! Because of the gospel, you don’t have to do good works; you’ll want to do good works. Trust again in the gospel of grace.

  3. Am I reading my Bible to see God’s “to dos”?
    This passage isn’t demanding that we drive ourselves to do more and try harder. God is calling is to work out what He’s worked in. Read your Bible to see God’s “to dos.”
  4. Am I asking God, “What good works do You want me to do today?”

  5. Will I turn my intentions into actions?
    “When we live out the ways of the gospel it opens doors for the words of the gospel,” says Christian leader Lance Ford. We seek to do love-motivated, gospel-driven, Word-directed, prayer-saturated, Spirit-empowered good works.

So, what does God want us to do today? He wants us to examine ourselves.

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.
2 Corinthians 13:5a

Look at your life and ask, “Am I a real Christian?” Don’t ask, “Did I pray the prayer or check a box?” Did the Son of God leave heaven and die on a cross so you could check a box? Ask, “Is the fruit of my life proof that the root of my life is real?”

Dead wood illustration. If your life looks like this, you aren’t saved no matter what you say.

At the final judgment, the person’s works give evidence of true saving faith. See note on Galatians 2:16.

We will not be saved by a cheap grace through a false faith for no good works. We can only be saved by an extravagant grace through a true faith for good works.

Faith that works… works.

Is my profession of faith real?

For some of you it’s not working. No one around you would ever think you are saved. If your religion hasn’t changed your life, you ought to change your religion. You’ve got to swap pseudo faith for saving faith. You’ve got to trade in your fake faith for true faith- a faith that changes everything.

Think of a road with two ditches. The devil doesn’t care which side of the road he wrecks your car on.

On the one side is the ditch for those who think they can work their way to heaven – that God is somehow making a list, checking it twice, like Santa Claus. And when we die, He is going to see if our good works outweigh our bad works. Some are trying to be justified by works. It won’t work.

The other ditch is just as dangerous. Some say, “We’re saved by faith. Well, I believe. Jesus died for my sins and rose again? I believe.” But it’s an intellectual, casual, nominal belief that doesn’t change anything in their lives. They never bow the knee to Jesus. They never really come to know Christ personally. They simply have a “say so” salvation. But they don’t have a “show so” salvation.

Over here are those who are trying to work their way to heaven. They will never do it. Over here are those who never really have received Jesus Christ as Lord.

Do you have a “say so” faith or a “show so” faith? It matters. A lot. See, there will be a day of judgment. For all of us. And “The dead are judged according to their works,” says Revelation 20:12. Who are the sheep and who are the goats? Who are the real deal and who are the pretenders? Our good works answer those questions.

SONG OF THE WEEK: Great is Your Faithfulness

by Kevin Lorow, Cuyahoga Valley Church Worship Arts Assistant


“Great is Your faithfulness, Your faithfulness
Through the years you’ve always been there.
Great is Your love for us, Your love for us.
Through the years you’ll always be there.”

Written by Martin Smith of the Group “Delirious?” this song is connected to several passages that address a key element of God’s character: His unending faithfulness! This is something that should bring hope to the hearts of all believers.

Consider the words of Jeremiah in the book of Lamentations: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (3:22-23)

There is peace in knowing that the love and mercy God has shown to us will never fade away! It never ends! Not only that, it never grows stale. God’s love cannot grow tiresome or boring, it is by its very nature refreshing and life-giving. What a joy it is to know that God will never turn away from loving us!

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In spite of all of this, life is difficult. We can often lose sight of God’s faithfulness and his love. Perhaps for this very reason the author of Hebrews penned an encouragement: Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. (10:23) No matter what comes our way, no matter what beats us down, God’s promises will be fulfilled! We can have hope through the deepest of sorrows and the most intense of pain that God will be faithful.

It’s important to remember that in the light of God’s faithfulness, we are unfaithful. We don’t keep our promises. Here on earth we know what comes when we are unfaithful. Divorces, broken families and friendships, termination of employment, breaking of contracts. When we are not faithful, there is rejection and separation. We understand when people reject us for our unfaithfulness because we’ve done to same to others in their unfaithfulness. Praise be to God that this is not how He operates!

Romans 3:3-4 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.

This passage is a testament to the fact that God is a covenant-keeping God! Even when we reject Him, He has determined in His character that He will never break His promises to us. This defies human logic because it is against our very natural mindset that we must get what we deserve. God’s mercy instead holds back what we do deserve (unfaithfulness) and His grace gives us that which we have not earned (faithfulness).

2 Timothy 2:13 If we are faithless, he remains faithful for he cannot deny himself.

You might have often heard it said that You cannot put God in a box. This statement exists to remind us that we cannot limit what God will do. The only one who can limit God is God Himself! Paul’s reminder to Timothy in the passage above is that God has committed Himself to being faithful no matter what comes. He will not deny himself by compromising His promises to us. Praise be to God that He does not love us based on our own faithfulness! If that was not the case, I’m confident we would all have escaped His love long ago.


Faith That Works (Part 2)

By Rick Duncan, Cuyahoga Valley Church, Founding Pastor

This past weekend, several people asked me questions about the nature of faith and works. I was asked, “If we are saved by faith and not by works, then why did you talk so much about our need to do good works?”

Ephesians 2 speaks to us about the relationship between our faith and our works. What follow is the 2nd part of our 3 part series of blog posts to answer the question,  “Is my profession of faith real?”

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10

And if you will get these verses correct, you will never get skewed. You will never get confused.

Do you remember your high school English? Do you know what a preposition is? There are three key prepositions here. If we will keep them straight, we will keep our theology straight. To keep the faith-and-works relationship biblically correct, remember 3 prepositions:

These three prepositions are: by, through, and for. Let’s say them: “by, through, for.” Say them one more time:  “by, through, for.”

We are saved by grace through faith for good works.

This is what James is saying. If we have real faith, it is going to be for good works. We are not saved by good works. We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. We are not saved by good works. We are saved for good works.

You cannot save yourself. Good works, a little or a lot, don’t save. They don’t help save. You could no more save yourself by good works than if you were drowning could reach up with your hand, take yourself by the hair, and lift yourself out of the water.

We are saved by grace alone through faith alone but the grace that saves through faith never stays alone. We are not saved by faith and works; but we are saved by a faith that works.

Is this a Paul vs. James issue? No! James is not pitting works against faith. Paul isn’t pitting faith against works. They are both fighting against a professed faith that is false.

Are we saved by our works? No. Are you crystal clear on this teaching? It’s His works apart from your works that saves you. But once you have been saved, then the proof of that salvation is good works. Faith alone saves. But the faith that saves is not alone.

Let me guess what some Type A’s among us are thinking: “Give me the list, Rick, and I will start checking things off. Just tell me what to do. Or, better yet, I’ll just make my own ‘to do’ list. If good works are what God is looking for, I’ll get ‘er done.”

Here’s the problem with that thinking. It’s not flowing from faith; it’s flowing from the flesh. Doing more and trying harder is fleshly self-effort. And, as G. K. Chesterton said,

“Anything done in the flesh will fail miserably… or it will succeed even more miserably.”

We often fail miserably in doing good deeds in the flesh because we just don’t have enough gas in our tanks on our own. Other times, through sheer determination, we succeed in doing good, but then we are filled with pride. And that’s a miserable success.




Faith That Works (part 1)

By Rick Duncan, Cuyahoga Valley Church, Founding Pastor

This past weekend, several people asked me questions about the nature of faith and works. I was asked, “If we are saved by faith and not by works, then why did you talk so much about our need to do good works?”

James 2 speaks to us about the relationship between our faith and our works. What follow is a 3 part series of blog posts to answer the question,  “Is my profession of faith real?”

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe-and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”-and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

James 2:14-26 (ESV) 

Faith without work… is futile. vv. 14-16

(14) What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?

The obvious answer to the question is “No!” When we come to faith, we get a new life. If being a believer doesn’t change your life, you aren’t a believer. The problem isn’t that you lack works but that you lack saving faith.

Here is a person who looks like he has real religion. He shows up at church and says all the right stuff.

(15) If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, (16) and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?

Our words can’t address the hunger or cold issues that someone we know might be facing. A person of genuine, saving faith cannot actually ignore the poor. It’s unthinkable. Something is desperately wrong with us if our faith allows us to ignore needy people.

Words without works are worthless. Profession without possession is pointless. Repeating words never saves a soul. (Amen) Rattling off a little prayer will not save you. Words without works are worthless. Profession without possession is profitless.

faith without works is futile… is fatal. vv. 17-19

(17) So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (18) But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

Someone is arguing that faith and works can be separated. James says, “No. Faith can be shown only through righteous deeds.” 

It’s like the man is saying, “There’s the works way to be saved and the faith way to be saved.” If you think you can choose one or the other you don’t understand the gospel. If there is no change in your life, then there’s no saving faith. If there is no transformation in you, then there is no justification for you.

19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe-and shudder!

“God is one” is the Jewish Shema from Deuteronomy 6. Jewish people quoted it every day. He’s saying, “Big deal that you believe that. The demons believe that. And it makes them afraid because they know they have never submitted to this one God.”

Today, James might say, “You believe the Apostles Creed? You chant it every time you’re in church? You do well. But even the demons believe that.

No matter how many times you say the Apostles Creed, if there are no works then your faith is no better than the demon’s faith.

And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ. Luke 4:41

 Suppose some demon were to try to join Cuyahoga Valley Church as a member. We could question him:

  • “Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God?” “Yes I do.”
  • “Do you believe He is the Messiah?” “Yes I do.”
  • “Do you believe He is holy?” “Yes I do.”
  • “Do you believe He was born of a virgin?” “Yes I do.”
  • “Do you believe He died on the cross?” “Yes I do.”
  • “Do you believe He was raised from the dead?” “ Yes I do.”
  • “ Will you work in the church?” I will be glad too. I will be a staff member if you will let me.” “I will be glad to preach.”

See, the Bible says Satan is transformed as an angel of light. A demon could pass all of these tests, but he doesn’t have saving faith. “Demon, I have asked you a number of questions, let me ask you one more question. Will you bow the knee to Jesus Christ and crown Him King and Lord of your life?” “No, I won’t.”

Churches are filled with people who have gone through a little routine, who have gone through a little theological exercise. And they think because of their profession they have possession. But they have never bowed the knee to Jesus Christ and made Him Lord. They are going to miss heaven by eighteen inches. They have head knowledge,  but not heart knowledge. 

Some might be thinking, “Well, I am saved because I know the plan of salvation.” You are not saved by the plan of salvation. You are saved by the Man of Salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ. The demons know the plan but they have never bowed the knee to the Man.

faith without works is futile, fatal… is foolish. vv. 20-26

(20) Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?

Next we’re going to meet two figures in Jewish history. James chooses two people from the opposite ends of the spectrum. Abraham: Someone who’s respected, the father of the Jews. Rahab: Someone who’s despised, a gentile prostitute. They both were known for their faith. James says that the proof of their faith is their works. And in that sense, they are justified by their works.

This might sound shocking to some of us. But he’s talking about the fruit of faith.

(21) Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? (22) You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; (23) and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”-and he was called a friend of God.

In Genesis 15:6, the Bible records that Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him for righteousness. That’s when he was saved. That’s when God said, “Abraham; I’ve put you in My book. You are righteous.” Why? Because of faith. Abraham believed God. He put his faith in the coming Messiah. He believed in God.

Now, 30 years later – 30 years after his faith was imputed unto him for righteousness, 30 years after God said, “You are saved; you are righteous – 30 years later, Abraham offered Isaac on Mount Moriah. That wasn’t when he got saved. That’s simply when he showed he was saved. His willingness to offer Isaac did not save him. It was not the means of his salvation. It was the mark of his salvation. It was not the root of his salvation. It was the fruit of his salvation.

“Completed” (Gk. eteleiōthē) often means “bring to maturity.” Full-grown and genuine faith is seen in the good deeds it produces.

(24) You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

For James, “faith alone” means a bogus kind of faith, mere intellectual agreement without a genuine personal trust in Christ that bears fruit in one’s life.

 (25) And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?

 In Joshua 2 we see the story about Rahab. She uses Old Testament word for Gods saving love.

Rahab the prostitute believed the stories of God’s saving work for the Hebrews (Joshua 2:8–11). So, at some personal risk, she hid the Jewish spies from her own people, then lowered them on a rope so they could escape (Joshua 2:15). Thus she became a model of faith completed in works.

Rahab preferred the honor of God and the good of His people before the preservation of her own country. Her former acquaintance must be discarded, her former course of life entirely abandoned.

What do we learn from both Abraham and Rahab? Saving faith says, “Lord, you can ask me to do anything for You.” That kind of faith demonstrates that we are in a right relationship with God.

(26) For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

The work that a human body does doesn’t make the body alive. The work that a human body does reveals that the body is alive. Without life the body can’t work. So, a body without works is dead. No corpse can work his way into life. He just can’t do it. He is dead. He has got to receive the life before he works. But once the body is alive, it can work.

So, are you alive? Do you have new life in Christ? Well, I think so. How can I know? You say you have faith, but you have no works? Your faith is a dead faith.

But if you have works, it’s proof that your faith is alive and real and active.

faith without works is futile, fatal, and foolish

2 Corinthians 5:10. If we are saved by grace thru faith, why does God judge our works? He judges our works to test the authenticity of our faith.

  • Faith is the root of salvation. Works are the fruit of salvation.
  • Faith is invisible, the root beneath the ground. Works are visible, the fruit above the ground.
  • Faith is the foundation of our faith. Our work is the building that is built on that foundation.
  • Faith is inward. Works are outward.
  • Faith is the provision of our salvation. Works are the proof of our salvation.
  • Faith is the means of our salvation. Works are the marks of our salvation.

Ready for Judgment Day

[God] has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead.
It occurred to me that I don’t think enough about The Day – Judgment Day.
Especially when I played pro baseball, there was a sense in which “judgment day” was everyday. Baseball is a game of stats. Every at bat is recorded. Every box score is published. The stats are complied and published throughout the season, at the end of each season, and then at the end of every career.
When our youngest son, Evan, was 12, we visited the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. Maryanne wanted Evan:to see my baseball stats. She called the Hall of Fame staff in advance. They were very helpful. When we arrived, they had a folder all ready for us with many of my stats from my five years of pro ball.
Since I never made “the show,” you can imagine that some of my stats were not what I would have liked for them to be. See, published baseball stats can work for you… or against you. For Hall of Famers, the stats work for them. For me, well…
But here’s my point: The fact that baseball stats measured my productivity as a player served as a motivator for me to play hard. Unfortunately, my ability didn’t match my desire.
Think about it. In an infinitely more significant way, the fact that we will one day be judged by God ought to motivate us to live righteously.
The world, the flesh, and the devil all conspire against us to make us forget about Judgment Day. But the word of God is full of reminders. Here are a few.
  • I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. Matthew 12:36
  • The Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS. Matthew 16:27
  • They will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. I Peter 4:5
  • If you say, “See, we did not know this, “Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work? Proverbs 24:12
  • Each one of us will give an account of himself to God. Romans 14:12
  • Each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. I Corinthians 13:3
  • We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. II Corinthians 5:10
  • Whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord. Ephesians 6:8 
  • He who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality. Colossians 3:25
  • All the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds. Revelation 2:23
  • I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. Revelation 20:12
  • Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. Revelation 22:12
So, I’m praying that God will remind me often about The Day that is coming. And that I will be ready. There is a sense in which “spiritual stats” are being compiled by God as He watches our lives moment by moment, day after day, year after year. And these “spiritual stats” will either work for us or against us. I want to be found being filled with the Spirit, abiding in Christ, and being busy inviting people to new life in Christ.

I want to be ready. I want you to be ready, too.

What Jesus Said about Judgment

by Rick Duncan, Cuyahoga Valley Church Founding Pastor

The great British professor and writer, C. S. Lewis once wrote about hell, “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of Scripture and, specially, of our Lord’s own words…” (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p. 118).

Really? Jesus talked a lot about hell?

Based on everything we know about Jesus – so loving, so kind, so merciful, so forgiving – we might expect Him to maximize heaven and minimize hell. We want a. Jesus who has a friendly tone all the time. We want a Jesus where there’s not really any wrath or anger or judgment. Surely Jesus is going to highlight the love of God and lowlight the justice of God when He talks about judgment day. Right?

If we will just read what Jesus says about hell, we’ll find that His words are stronger and more straightforward than most of us would like.

Consider His words from Luke 13.

22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them,

The Jewish religious leaders in Jesus’ day taught that only Jews would be eternally saved and that only those who tried the hardest, did the most, and kept the rules the best would be saved. Are those religious leaders right who say only a few people – like them – will be saved?

24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’

Jesus says, “Yes, the way to be saved is narrow. But a lot of you religious leaders who think you are good-to-go will be on the outside.”

26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’

Those on the outside are negotiating now. According to those who believe there are 2nd chances after death, Jesus should reconsider right? He would need to answer, “Come on in!” He has to say that, right? He’s Jesus! I mean to think that He’d answer any other way is heartless and unloving and unjust. Could Jesus actually say, “Sorry. Door’s locked. If you had been here earlier, I could have done something. But now, it’s too late!” Yes. Actually, He could say that.

27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ 28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out.

The people who think they are “in” because of their nationality and religious performance aren’t “in”! Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – the patriarchs of the Jewish people – got in by grace through faith. But the current crop of self-righteous religious leaders are cast out. And then Jesus says something stunning to a Jewish crowd.

29 And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

Luke 13:22-30

That’s Jesus – opening the door to heaven to the last, the least, and the lost from the east and the west (from places like China and Spain) and from the north and the south (from places like Russia and Africa). Salvation isn’t just for the Jews. It’s for the last and the least. And that’s good news for you and me.

Did you catch what Jesus said? “You won’t be able to enter. You will be outside, cast out. Depart from Me… to a place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Weeping and gnashing of teeth?

When we read stories like this like we are reading them for the first time, we think, “Wow, Jesus was really pretty hardcore.”

We would open the door at any time for anyone, but Jesus won’t do it. He gives no hope that the door will reopen. If Jesus believed in 2nd chances for those who reject Him in this life, then this story is really misleading. How scary is this for people who find themselves on the wrong side of the door begging?

Jesus told this story is to impact our souls. There will be people on the outside in a place called hell.

You might remember what Pastor Chad has told us, “Heaven is not the default destination. Hell is.” We all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Without holiness no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). So, no one will enter into the presence of a holy God unless we are radically changed – unless we are born again, made never the same. Until our sin problem is resolved, hell will be our default destination.

God gives us opportunity after opportunity to turn to Him in this one life. A great 1st Century leading thinker, Paul, wrote in Romans 1 that God has revealed Himself to us in the creation and in our conscience so that all “men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). If people respond to God and want to know more – I believe He will send them further revelation of Himself through missionaries or angels or dreams or visions… or whatever else He might choose to do.

God gives us 2nd chances and 3rd and 4th and 5th and 100th chances every day of our lives. Every breath is an opportunity to respond. And if people don’t respond before death, then it’s too late.

If we read through the gospels and we’ll find that Jesus says terrifying things about judgment. Here are just a few examples:

And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 25:30

He will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Matthew 25:41

These will go away into eternal punishment… Matthew 25:46

If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. Mark 9:43-48

And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. Mark 9:47-48

Jesus isn’t talking about a hell-on-earth – that our suffering here is our hell. He’s talking about the afterlife in a place called hell.

So, let’s put all this together. How did Jesus describe hell?

  • A place of weeping
  • A place where there will be gnashing of teeth
  • The outer darkness
  • The eternal fire
  • Eternal punishment
  • The unquenchable fire
  • Where the worm does not die

Most Bible scholars would say that these are figures of speech – metaphorical ways of describing an unimaginable nightmare for all eternity. But remember. We use metaphors to describe realities that are beyond explanation or comprehension. Fire means something worse than we can imagine.

The words in the English language we use to describe hell are inadequate. The reality is worse than the image.

Clearly Jesus – the most kind, compassionate, sacrificial, servant-hearted, loving person who ever lived – believed that a loving God could send people to an eternal hell, that a loving God could also be a judging God, and that the very idea of people experiencing hell for all eternity is not cruel and excessive.

Jesus used terrifying language when He talked about hell. Why? He loves us! He’s warning us! He uses strong language to stir up a fear in us that would make us take hell seriously and want to avoid it at all costs and that would make us want to run to Him for safety!

And, after He saves us, He wants us to join Him in His mission to take the gospel message to the entire world.

On the Judgment of Christ

by Rick Duncan, Cuyahoga Valley Church Founding Pastor

This past weekend, we spent time and energy focusing on the phrase from the Apostles’ Creed “from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.”

Meditating about the judgment to come is not the most popular of topics. But Christians who have gone before us have summarized the judgment in some helpful historical documents.

One of those is the Second London Confession. You can read the entire Confession of Faith online. Below is the section about the judgment with scriptural references. We provide this for you on our Cuyahoga Valley Church blog as a helpful summary statement. We encourage you to read it carefully and to look up all the scriptures. Afterwards are a series of questions to help you process and apply.

Chapter 32 – The Last Judgment

1. God has appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by Jesus Christ, to whom all power and judgment is given by the Father. In that day, the apostate angels will be judged.  So also, all people who have lived on the earth will appear before the judgment seat of Christ, to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds and to receive a reckoning according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil.

Acts 17:31; John 5:22, 27. 1 Corinthians 6:3; Jude 6. 2 Corinthians 5:10; Ecclesiastes 12:14; Matthew 12:36; Romans 14:10, 12; Matthew 25:32–46.

2. God’s purpose for appointing this day is to manifest the glory of his mercy in the eternal salvation of the elect, and of his justice in the eternal damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient. For at that time the righteous will go into everlasting life and receive fullness of joy and glory with everlasting rewards in the presence of the Lord. But the wicked, who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of Jesus Christ, will be thrown into everlasting torments and punished with everlasting destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power.

Romans 9:22, 23. Matthew 25:21, 34; 2 Timothy 4:8. Matthew 25:46; Mark 9:48; 2 Thessalonians 1:7–10.

3. Christ desires that we be firmly convinced that a day of judgment will come, both to deter everyone from sin and to comfort the godly more fully in their adversity.  For this reason, he has determined to keep the day secret, to encourage people to shake off any fleshly security and always to be watchful, because they do not know the hour when the Lord will come and so that they may always be prepared to say, “Come Lord Jesus; come quickly. Amen.”

2 Corinthians 5:10, 11. 2 Thessalonians 1:5–7. Mark 13:35–37; Luke 12:35, 36. Revelation 22:20.

  • Which of these truths/concepts stood out to you the most?
  • What was encouraging? What was challenging?
  • What questions did this raise for you?
  • How will you find answers to those questions?
  • Based on these truths, what changes need to be made in your life?
  • When will you make those changes?
  • Who will help you?

Song of the Week – Before the Throne of God Above

by Kevin Lorow, Cuyahoga Valley Church Worship Arts Assistant


This song is rich and deep in theology, and it connects so well with where we’re at in “The Creed” sermon series, it was an easy choice to use this beautiful song in our services this past weekend.

Before the throne of God above 
I have a strong and perfect plea
A great High Priest whose name is love
Who ever lives and pleads for me
My name is graven on His hands
My name is written on His heart
I know that while in heav
en He stands 
No tongue can bid me thence depart
No tongue can bid me thence depart

Screen Shot 2018-11-07 at 11.25.28 AM.pngThe throne room of God might seem like a vast and intimidating thing to you.
That’s probably a good thing too. The might and power of God can be greatly diminished in our minds if we fail to meditate on it. When we consider our relationship with the Lord, this is perhaps what we must first consider. God is the Creator of the universe! Psalm 104 begins to cover some of the “hugeness” of God’s nature. “He established the earth on its foundations.” At Your rebuke, the waters fled from the mountains.” “The mountains rose, and the valleys sank down to the place which You established for them.”

Isaiah 40 says that he has “measured out the waters in the hollow of His hand. With the breadth of His hand He has marked off the heavens.” Scripture serves us with the reminder that God is the Creator of the universe, and that His very creation exists to scream out the greatness and glory of its Creator! (Psalm 19:1) When God is so big, why would He care about us who are so small? Psalm 8:3-4 “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”

God is huge and holy. We are small and wicked. God in His perfect nature cannot be in communion with that which is sinful. Israel had this represented to them in their temple as Pastor Chad reminded us this past Sunday.

In Israel’s temple, they had an inner room called “The Holy of Holies”. It was in this space that God physically manifested His presence as a testimony to the nation of Israel that He was with them. However, no one could go into the Holy of Holies save the High Priest. He could only approach the glory of God after performing many cleansing sacrifices and offerings to the Lord. If he failed to do this, he would be struck dead for failing to be right in the presence of God. Separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was a giant curtain. This curtain ran from floor to ceiling and barred the entry into the presence of God. This curtain served as a physical representation that the people’s sin separated from God. They could not have communion with God in their sin.

What a dreadful and miserable place to be. Separated from the great Creator by our sin with nothing to do to fix things. But as we often discuss at Cuyahoga Valley Church, that’s where Jesus changes things.

Hebrews 4:14-16 says “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Jesus serves as our High Priest and our offering. When He died on the cross, the veil in the temple split in two, symbolizing that through His sacrifice we can have communion with God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth! We can run to Him as a Loving Father in complete confidence, knowing that our debt has been paid through the blood of His Son, and that He will provide us with what we need!

When Satan tempts me to despair 
And tells me of the guilt within
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free
For God the Just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me
To look on Him and pardon me

Verse 2 reminds us of the temptation of Satan, to believe that our sin is too great for us to have a relationship with God. But, when we are reminded that the blood of our sinless Savior, the fear-mongering and despairing devil’s words are hollow and powerless, because the redemption of Jesus is complete and powerful!

Behold Him there, the risen Lamb 
My perfect, spotless Righteousness
The great unchangeable I AM
The King of glory and of grace
One with Himself, I cannot die
My soul is purchased by His blood
My life is hid with Christ on high
With Christ my Savior and my God
With Christ my Savior and my God

Finally, Verse 3 reminds us of the permanence and security that we have with Christ as our Savior and God. He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through him, because he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). Our lives are permanently protected and safe in the Hands of our God. And that dear brothers and sisters is the most reassuring of thoughts.



Song of the Week – Death Was Arrested

by Kevin Lorrow, Cuyahoga Valley Church Worship Arts Assistant


“Alone in my sorrow and dead in my sin
Lost without hope with no place to begin
Your love Made a way to let mercy come in
When death was arrested and my life began…”

Screen Shot 2018-10-31 at 2.15.53 PM

We first started singing this song in our services at Easter this spring. We quickly grew excited about the rich theology and the upbeat celebratory nature of the song! We loved declaring this together on that day and on many days since. But why does this song stand out from others in our hearts?

There are a lot of songs that talk about the resurrection, and several of those are upbeat. But “Death was Arrested” is unique in the depth of how it discusses the theology of our depravity and the lengths of what Christ did to bring us our freedom!

“Our savior displayed on a criminal’s cross
Darkness rejoiced as though heaven had lost
But then Jesus arose with our freedom in hand
That’s when death was arrested and my life began.”

What a sobering reminder it is to consider the lengths that Christ went to on our behalf. That he suffered, bled, and died on a cross so that we could be free from the sin that we lived in.

Romans 6 contains much of the theme used in this song:

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

In 2 Timothy 1, Paul exhorts Timothy to live in a certain way after He has considered the life Christ has brought Him.

“…Share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”

Praise God that Jesus did not remain in the grave! The resurrection is the tangible proof that Jesus was who he claimed to be! Anyone can die, but God Alone has the power to reign over death! As we discussed in our services this last Sunday, since we know that Jesus triumphed over death, we have no reason to fear it! We are truly free!

Praise God for the freedom He has given to us! We trust you’ll be encouraged as You consider the New Life we can find in Christ!

As a parting word, consider John 8:36 “Whom the Son sets free is free indeed.”


The Descent Into Hell

by Rick Duncan, Founding Pastor

Josh Stone preached an excellent message this past weekend. I fully agree with his landing application. Josh said, “You will die. Death is your enemy. You are in the process of dying right now. Jesus has defeated the power of death by dying. So, you can go to Him with your fears, your questions, your anxieties about death, because He has been there and He knows what it’s like… Is death an impending reality for you? Are you staring death in the face? Are you scared because death is coming? Jesus has already been there, and He knows what it’s like. And He will be there with you every step of the way. No one but Jesus can say this… Jesus Christ knows what it’s like to go the grave. You can trust Him with everything, even your death… Because Christ died and went to the place of the dead, you don’t have to… If Jesus was willing to go to death, the Sheol, to bring you to Him, there’s nowhere He’s not willing to go to get you.”

To this application, I give a hearty “Amen!” But while I wholeheartedly affirm Josh’s application, I do have some respectful reservations about some of Josh’s interpretations. Let me quick to point out that what Josh taught was clearly in line with orthodox beliefs. Many great Christians down through the centuries have taught what Josh taught. So, I share an alternative view while remembering, “In essential things, unity. In non-essential things, liberty. In all things, charity.” What we believe the phrase “He descended into hell” means is clearly a non-essential.

Josh has asked me to share via this blog post some of my alternative views regarding the question “Did Jesus descend to hell?”

If you were to ask me “Did Jesus descend to hell?” I’d ask you what do you mean by that? If by hell you mean “Did He experience separation from God?” then I would say, “Yes! After all, He prayed “My God, My God why have You forsaken Me?” But if by hell you mean, “Did Jesus spend 3 days in some shadowy place of the dead in a compartment of Sheol with the righteous dead?” then I would say “I don’t think so!”

  1. Barton Payne, who wrote The Theology of the Older Testament, challenges the view that when the Bible says the Old Testament saints went to Sheol, it means to a shadowy place of the dead. Payne was an active member of the Evangelical Theological Society. He was a professor at Covenant Theological Seminary, The Wheaton Graduate School of Theology, and Trinity Evangelical School. He says that the word Sheol can refer merely to the grave, the tomb, the place where the body, not the soul, goes. “When Sheol  is used in a local sense with reference to the righteous, it’s meaning is consistent with that of the grave” (p. 447). The body of the Old Testament saint goes to Sheol – the place of the dead, the grave. But, in Payne’s view, the soul of the Old Testament saint went to be with God in paradise.

Payne refers to Mark 12:27 where Jesus says that since the scriptures teach that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that He is not the God of the dead but of the living. Therefore, the Old Testaments saints Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were not dead, but living. That’s significant. Where were they living? In the place of the dead? That doesn’t seem likely, at least to me. So, where were they living? With God.

Consider a few Old Testament texts:

Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, and old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. Genesis 25:8

As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with Your likeness. Psalm 17:15

O LORD, You have brought up my life from Sheol; You restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit. Psalm 30:3

But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for He will receive me. Psalm 49:15

You guide me with Your counsel. and afterward, you will receive me to glory. Psalm 73:24

In the path of righteousness is life, and in its path there is no death. Proverbs 12:28

The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death. Proverbs 14:27

… man is going to his eternal home… Ecclesiastes 12:5

… the spirit returns to God who made it. Ecclesiastes 12:7

Any of these texts by themselves would not carry enough weight to conclude that for Old Testament saints to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. But the cumulative effect of these texts at least help us think that the biblical evidence makes it possible to believe that the Old Testament saint went immediately to be with God after death.

The Old Testament saint was saved the same way we are in the New Testament days: by grace through faith. Abraham believed and was made righteous (Romans 4). Once the righteous die, their souls go to be with God. They were saved by the grace of God through the promised merits of Christ. Forgiveness and imputed righteousness were granted to the Old Testament saint just like they are granted to us. They didn’t have to go to some kind of a waiting place for Jesus to come and preach to them. The merits of Christ’s coming death and coming resurrection were applied to the Old Testament saints before the events of the cross and empty tomb had actually happened.

This is why Jesus could say on the cross to the penitent thief, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.” “Today” means today, not tomorrow… or in 3 days. And remember, on the cross Jesus said, after He had been forsaken by His Father, “It is finished!” There was no more hell to pay. He was ready to be received into the Father’s presence. And I believe He was. Immediately.

So, in my view, when Jesus prayed to his Father, “Into Your hands I commit My spirit,” He went directly to be with His Father. He didn’t have to wait three days. To be sure, His body was in Sheol, the grave. And on resurrection Sunday, God raised Jesus’s body from the dead, giving Him a resurrected, glorified body to house His soul.

The hell that Jesus experienced was when He said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me. The spiritual, psychological, and emotional agony of being separated from His Father was an agony that could rightly be called hell. For some period of time while on the cross, Jesus was unable to see His Father‘s face, hear His Father’s voice, or enjoy His Father’s fellowship. After experiencing an eternity past of perfect fellowship within the Trinity, that certainly would have been hell for Jesus.

Should the phrase “He descended into hell” have been included into the Apostle’s Creed? Maybe not. But I can recite it with spiritual integrity, when I remember that being forsaken by the Father was a kind of hell for Jesus. For more on this topic, read theologian Wayne Grudem articles “Did Jesus Descend Into Hell?” and  “He Did Not Descend Into Hell”.

Why does this matter? Josh’s point is well made: “Because Christ died and went to the place of the dead, you don’t have to… If Jesus was willing to go to death… to bring you to Him, there’s nowhere He’s not willing to go to get you.” And here’s my additional point: “If the soul of Jesus went to be with the Father immediately after His death and if the souls of all the Old Testament saints went to be with the Father immediately after their deaths because of their faith in the future work of Christ, then I can have confidence that when I die my soul will go immediately to be with the Father, too. Because Jesus lived – immediately after His death – I can face my own death with greater faith, hope, and love.”

So, Josh and I agree to disagree on an interpretation. But I know Josh and I agree with me about this: For all who believe, death is defeated and life is attained by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It always has been. It always will be.