The title of this lesson may sound odd to you: "Some Qualities in Torment That Should Also Be in the Church". Your initial reaction might be that nothing in the realm of torment should be in the church. However, I can think of at least three things that we know exist in the place of torment that should also be in the church today.
In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus speaks about two primary characters. The first man's earthly life was characterized by an abundance of physical blessings. We do not know his name, but we will refer to him as "the rich man". He was finely dressed, fed well, and had a very pleasant life on this earth (16:19). The other man, whose name was Lazarus, had a poor and miserable existence. He was a beggar and suffered greatly in the flesh (16:20). In verse 22, we learn that both of the men died.
Their spirits were carried to Hades. What is Hades, you ask? It is the place or state of departed spirits. A person's spirit leaves their body at the point of physical death (James 2:26). Their lifeless body remains here on earth and will eventually decompose and turn back into dust. However, the spirit does not die. After physical death, every spirit travels to Hades. Even Jesus' spirit went to Hades after He died on the cross (Acts 2:27).
But, it is significant to note that there are two parts to the realm of Hades. There is the place in Hades called torment (which is where the rich man went), and there is a place in Hades called paradise or Abraham's bosom (which is where Lazarus went; Luke 16:22,23; 23:43).
Let us now consider the first quality that exists in torment that should also be in the church:
A DESIRE TO ENTER HEAVEN (Luke 16:24).
You might be wondering: "Well Stephen, the text doesn't actually say the rich man had a desire to enter heaven." Technically, I'd have to agree with you; it doesn't say that explicitly. But, isn't it implied? The rich man had a desire to find relief from the torment he was suffering. He begged for mercy. He wanted Lazarus to cool his tongue with water, but the rich man learned that there was no relief in store for him. Although he could not have any relief, don't you think he wished he could be with Lazarus and Abraham in paradise, and eventually go with them to heaven at the Day of Judgment? I am confident that he desired such, but what about the church today?
Some would affirm that it is obvious that if a person is a Christian, then he desires to go to heaven. But, is it obvious? I know that some Christians definitely desire to go to heaven, but I'm not too sure about some others. How can I know how much desire someone has for the heavenly abode? Well, there are many indicators that could be considered. For example, regularly attending the Bible studies and worship assemblies of the church is one possible indicator of a person's desire for heaven and spiritual things. Looking forward to praying to God and studying His word on a daily basis would be another indicator.
There are more indicators we could mention, but let's ask a question instead: How can a person know if he has enough desire for heaven? The answer: If you can repeat Paul's words in Philippians 1:21 and genuinely mean them, then you have a desire for heaven - "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." If your life as a child of God is one of faithful service to the Lord, and you realize that you'll be better off once you die, then you have a true desire for heaven. You have a desire for heaven that will one day be realized. Dear friends, do you really desire to go to heaven or are you in love with this life and the things of this world?
A second characteristic that exists in torment that should also be in the church is:
A SEPARATION OF THE RIGHTEOUS FROM THE UNRIGHTEOUS (Luke 16:26).
Abraham told the rich man that there was a great gulf between them that could not be crossed over. This great gulf was a definitive separation between the righteous and the wicked. There should be a separation between the righteous and the wicked even today! The church needs to be separate from the world, but often this does not happen. Part of the problem relates to the first point we considered; that is, some Christians just don't have a motivating desire for heaven. Consequently, they think and behave as the world does, and not as those who have been called out of the world by God (cf. John 15:19).
In order for the church to attain separation from the world, as the Lord desires, we must realize that there are only two general classes of people on this planet. Every accountable person on Earth is either saved or lost. There is no third choice! Jesus taught that there are only two ways and two destinies. "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it, because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matt. 7:13,14). We either do things God's way or our own way. We're either in Christ or not in Christ.
In order to be faithful children of God, we must separate ourselves from any and every type of wickedness and sin. Titus 2:11,12 - "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age." Salvation demands that we separate ourselves from ungodliness and worldly lusts. We must deny those things within our lives so we can live soberly, righteously, and godly. We are not to mix the two ways of life. For an individual to practice pure religion, he must separate himself from the world. "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." (James 1:27). When we fail to keep ourselves unspotted or separated from the world, then we do not practice pure religion and are defiled in God's sight.
When a Christian does not separate himself from the world, as God intends, then he has committed spiritual adultery. James 4:4 - "Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."
Why do some Christians have difficulty remaining separate from the world? The primary reason is that they love the world and the things in it! These individuals would be wise to consider I John 2:15-17 - "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of the Father abides forever."
Those who love the world are separated from God by their sins. After this life, the separation between the righteous and the unrighteous will become permanent. Let us strive to walk righteously with God in this life and make it clear that we're not on the devil's side! We live in the world, but we must not be of the world (cf. John 15:19). There must be a separation between the righteous and wicked.
A third quality that exists in torment that should also be in the church is:
A PERSONAL CONCERN FOR THE LOST (Luke 16:27,28).
The rich man, being in torment, did not want others to come to that place. He begged Abraham to send Lazarus back to the rich man's family, so they would repent and not end up in torment also. It's important to point out that while he was on Earth, the rich man could have exerted his influence on the souls of his brethren and others. But, the rich man wasn't even interested in his own soul then, much less the souls of others! It was only after he was in torment that he became concerned with the souls of others, specifically his family. He did not want others to suffer the eternal consequences of punishment that he would have to endure. He had a personal concern for the lost, and we need this type of interest today--desperately!
What's the first step in developing a personal concern for the lost? First, we must have an interest in our own soul. Jesus clearly taught that even one soul is worth more than all the riches of the world - "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?" (Matt. 16:26). The interest in our own soul should cause us to be obedient to the laws of Christ. We must develop faith in Jesus by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17; John 8:24). We must repent of our sins (Luke 13:3; Acts 17:30). We must verbally confess our faith in Him (Rom. 10:9,10), and we must be immersed in water for the forgiveness of our sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16).
We cannot honestly encourage others to obey God if we have not done so ourselves, can we? In order to develop a personal concern for the lost, we must first realize that we are lost and in need of salvation. Once we obey the gospel and are cleansed by the blood of Christ, we will then need to put God first in our lives. As Matthew 6:33 teaches - "Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness..." For the Christian, God must be the number one priority in life. But sadly, many Christians today have become so wrapped up in the things of the world that they have allowed God to slip from that place of preeminence. They have allowed their hobbies, jobs, family, entertainment, and tons of other things to crowd out their love for God and the doing of His will. In my estimation, this is the fundamental reason why the church isn't growing today in most places like it did in the first century. Christians don't have enough personal concern for their own souls, let alone others. What a tragedy!
Once we get our own souls right with God, we need to remember that a primary work of the church is saving souls! It is every Christian's job to try to save souls, not just the preacher's (cf. Matt. 28:19,20)! The Lord is pleased with those who are laboring diligently to teach others the truth and persuade them to obey the gospel to save their souls. The Lord is displeased with those who are selfishly unwilling to reach out to the lost.
Christian friends, let me ask a simple question regarding this third point: How dedicated are we to the Lord if someone in the place of torment demonstrates more interest in the lost than we do?
Let us close by emphasizing four points that can be gleaned from Luke 16:19-31.
1. This passage is not a parable.
It is not declared to be a parable, and there is no good reason why it should be labeled as such. No parable of Jesus ever stated the name of an individual. Lazarus is mentioned by name here (16:20). However, let it be noted that even if it was a parable, it would still communicate the same truths regarding the afterlife.
2. Consciousness does not end with this life.
Once the two men had died, neither of them were unconscious or annihilated. They both remembered their physical lives and what had happened on Earth. (cf. Matt. 7:22). Don't think for a minute that dying is the end. It is only the beginning of a new existence. Everyone who has ever lived will always exist forever--somewhere. Of course, the location of that "somewhere" is up to the individual.
3. Torment begins at death for the unrighteous.
At death, everyone will know whether or not they've lived a life pleasing to God. At death, there will be a separation between those who are faithful and those who are not. The wicked will begin suffering and the righteous will be content (as was the case with these two men). Consequently, some are inclined to ask: "Well, why is there a need for a final judgment then?" There is a need because the Day of Judgment will be a day of declaring sentences. It is on the Day of Judgment that all will stand before God and give an account of their words, actions, and thoughts. On that day, everyone will already know whether or not they'll go to heaven or hell, but God still sees fit to have a formal period of sentencing.
In conjunction with this truth, let it be understood that Hades is just a temporary place. Once Jesus comes again, Hades will no longer exist (cf. Rev. 20:13,14). From then on, every being will either be in heaven or hell for all eternity.
4. One's destiny is sealed at death.
A person may be given many chances to make things right with God while he is physically alive. But, no second chances will be given after death. Hebrews 9:27 declares - "It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment." The rich man wasn't given a second chance after death and neither will we.
Dear listeners, I hope it is evident that we can learn lessons from anyone or anyplace--even from a wicked man suffering in torment! I'll leave you with these questions: Do you have a strong desire to enter heaven? Is your life one of righteousness and clear separation from the wickedness of the world? Do you have personal concern for the lost? If you can't answer all of these questions with a resounding "yes," then make changes today! Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.