Ask a Pastor Ep. 37 - Animals in Heaven, Sin, Baptism
Welcome to Ask a Pastor, a podcast from Orchard Hill Church! Have you ever had a question about the Bible, Faith, or Christianity as a whole? Submit your question and one of our pastors will answer on the program. New episodes every Wednesday.
This episode our Senior Pastor, Dr. Kurt Bjorklund, talks with Middle School Ministry Leader, Jenna Bajuszik.
Question #1 - "Do animals have souls? Will they be in heaven?"
Question #2 - "If you cannot stop sinning, hard sins, does that mean you don't have strong enough faith? And how does faith and forgiveness play into hard sins?"
Question #3 - "What should my approach to Baptism be? How does that fit into faith? How important is it? What if I don't get baptized?"
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Kurt Bjorklund: Hey welcome to Ask a Pastor. Glad that you've taken a few minutes to join us today. If you have questions, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll be happy to address them at some point in the future. What we do is we simply take questions that any of you send along, whether you're part of Orchard Hill, not part of Orchard Hill, we love to interact with anything that you send along. Then I invite a different member of our staff to come just sit with me and we get a chance to interact, sometimes people beyond our staff.
Kurt Bjorklund: Today I'm joined by Jenna Bajuszik. Jenna is our middle school discipleship director for the girls who are part of it, works as part of our student ministry staff, has been part of Orchard Hill staff since 2008. So she is a long time veteran of student ministry, which should make her a perfect person to address these questions. If you hear her cough at some point, she has bronchitis. She assures me that she is not contagious, so you will not catch it watching or listening today if you hear her.
Jenna Bajuszik: According to medical professionals.
Kurt Bjorklund: However, I may end up coughing in the future, so if you hear me cough you know that I caught it from Jenna.
Jenna Bajuszik: All my fault.
Kurt Bjorklund: It's 100% her.
Jenna Bajuszik: And my doctor is a liar.
Kurt Bjorklund: So Jenna, here's the first question. Do animals have souls and will they be in heaven?
Jenna Bajuszik: Okay. I feel like those are two slightly different questions. According to Genesis, mankind, man and woman, we are set apart and different than the rest of creation because we are made in the image of God. It says that all of creation has been breathed life into by God, but that we are the only part of creation that is made in the image of God. I think that animals, whether they be pets or porpoises or whatever have you, bug, it's lumped into the rest of creation that does yearn for God to bring it back under perfection that He had designed it in, but inasmuch as creation will be redeemed and the new heavens and the new earth, but I don't think that animals have souls in the way that you and I have a soul that is broken and needs to be redeemed by Christ.
Kurt Bjorklund: Okay, and your biblical rationale would be the Genesis account of God creating man and woman in His image and therefore giving them a different constitution, is that what I'm hearing?
Jenna Bajuszik: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.
Kurt Bjorklund: So then what about the question of will my pet be in heaven?
Jenna Bajuszik: I've never been to heaven. I mean there's so many parts of heaven that I think people have questions. Like will I be able to recognize my beloved family members? Will I be able to recognize my pets? Will I be able to recognize myself? Because we don't know what heaven is going to be like, but we do know that heaven is going to be perfect and we're going to be in the presence of God. I think that God in His perfection will bring about what that perfection is, and it's hard for me in my limited understanding of perfection as a broken person in a broken world to really be able to say with 100% accuracy this is exactly what heaven is going to be like and this is not going to be there, but I believe that God will, it says in Revelation that there will be a new heaven, there will be a new earth, and really we'll be with God. So I don't know for 100% accuracy. What do you say?
Kurt Bjorklund: Okay. Yeah, well probably one of the safest things that we can do, is when the Bible doesn't say something definitively, is choose not to say something definitively. What that means is if we can't point to a verse and say, "Right here, it's clear that dogs are in heaven," then it's probably better not to say, "Well of course you'll get to see your dog again." Sometimes that feels empty when somebody's grieving something. It's good to categorize as you did that all of the animal kingdom is probably categorized together. So if dogs are in heaven, mosquitoes will be in heaven, which kind of takes some of the sting out of the question.
Jenna Bajuszik: I like that out of all of the aggressive and terrifying and scary parts of nature, you went in for mosquitoes.
Kurt Bjorklund: They're annoying, and other than being part of the food chain, what purpose do they serve?
Jenna Bajuszik: I don't know. I've asked that question myself.
Kurt Bjorklund: I mean it's important for the food chain, there's no doubt. So what I think is maybe behind this question that's important to address is sometimes the view of heaven that people inside the church, outside the church have is that we die and then there's eternity and heaven is a bunch of disembodied souls roaming around, singing choir songs church style forever, and that's heaven. What's important is when Jesus said, "Today you'll be with me in Paradise," there's a clear upon death judgment. Hebrews 9:27, it's appointed to a person once you die, after this becomes judgment. So there's a sense of eternity right then, but then there's this idea of the second coming, and you alluded to it with the new heavens, the new earth, that part of the restored world is not disembodied souls in heaven, but it's God restoring earth to the form in which He created it to be. That's part of this new heaven, new earth. It's part of the second coming. It's part of what's coming in the future.
Kurt Bjorklund: Now depending on everyone's eschatological views, their views of end times, you'll get some different takes on exactly when or how that all transpires, but if you have kind of a reformed view that says that's how God is going to work in the future, then to think that animals would be part of that doesn't seem like much of a stretch. Now whether or not it's the animals that were or new animals or a combination, again Bible silence, so we don't know the answer to that, but to say there will be some form of the animal kingdom present certainly in the thousand year reign, all seems very reasonable to me. When eternal states come again it's hard to say definitively, but there seems that there's some reason to say that some of the things we enjoy here on earth will be made to be even better fulfillment, maybe mosquitoes won't be as annoying in that season.
Jenna Bajuszik: They won't be so itchy.
Kurt Bjorklund: If they're there. So do you have any other thoughts on that? Anything else you'd say?
Jenna Bajuszik: I mean I know that whenever I get this question from students it's because they have a beloved pet that they've raised, and they're sad, and they're going through grieving, and I think that I never dismiss that grieving. It's not less okay to be sad over their pet dying than it is okay to be sad over a person that they love. They're still grieving, and they're still sad, and God still meets us where we are in our grief and cares and comes alongside of us. So there's always pain in this world and that's part of the brokenness, but God is still present.
Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah. Okay. If you can't stop sinning hard sins does that mean that you don't have strong enough faith? How does faith and forgiveness play into hard sins? So this person uses the phrase "hard sins" a couple times. So maybe speak to that first, the idea of hard sins and easy sins, I'm not sure exactly, and then kind of answer the question about what if I feel like I can't give something up?
Jenna Bajuszik: Yeah, and I think whenever it's been something I've been going through or something I've been leading someone else through, if someone sees it as a hard sin versus an easy sin it's like, okay easy sin is don't murder people. I'm not actually going to murder people, but a hard sin would be something that they were really, really consistently struggling with, and they feel like they can't be released from the power of it almost, of this is too much for me to handle. I get it. Or maybe it's something that they just keep consistently coming back to time after time, year after year, season after season, that it's something that's really persistent in their life.
Jenna Bajuszik: I think honestly what's behind this question is I meet a lot of people, and I talk to a lot of students, who have this perception that once I get to a certain, like a gas tank, like if my faith is really, really full, then I'm not going to have problems. I'm not going to struggle with sin. Like following Jesus will be easy at some point. I mean following Jesus and saying yes to even the hard things that He asks us to do does become easier with time and practice, but I don't think that there's ever a point in our life that you can say, "I'm like done struggling with sin. I'm like past that point in my life." That's not what I see.
Kurt Bjorklund: Right. Well what happens, I think, is the longer you are a person of faith, the longer you follow Christ, some sins become easier to stop, but you become aware of some other things that maybe you didn't even think about before.
Jenna Bajuszik: I had a professor that talked about it, it's like a screw only it goes deeper. Whenever you're a new Christian, you're a new person of faith, you hit against this pride issue and then you come back to it and you're like, "Wait I thought I had that." And then it just kind of-
Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah, keeps winding it's way down.
Jenna Bajuszik: As the Spirit works in your life, you become more and more aware of how deeply rooted it is. I mean it also could be referring to an addiction and something like that, and I think there's some other stuff that goes into that.
Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah, well I think there's a couple elements that are important in this conversation that are often overlooked, because the easy quick answer is no, you don't have too weak of faith and yes we all keep sinning. To a degree. The real question though is when somebody says, "Does that mean I don't have faith," I think there's a time when there's a callousness to the idea of sin that scripture calls us to examine whether or not we still have faith. For example, Hebrews 10:25 says if we deliberately keep on sinning, sorry 10:26, if we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left. That's strong, that's scary.
Jenna Bajuszik: Yeah.
Kurt Bjorklund: Because what that says is if you keep saying, "Hey I'm good. I'm going to do what I want to do," and my understanding of this would be to say that's not saying that you've lost what you already had. What it would be saying is if you get to a point where you say, "I don't care, and I'm just going to sin because it's what I want to do," the no sacrifice for sins is left means that you aren't actually trusting in Jesus when you get to the point where you can live that way.
Kurt Bjorklund: To drive that even further, there's several places in I John that make statements that are just as strong about sin. Here's one, "If anyone claims to be in the light, but hates his brother or sister, he's still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother or sister lives in the light and there's nothing in them but to make them stumble." What that's talking about is it's saying that as soon as you are at odds with somebody you're in sin, but if you claim to have no sin then you don't, but then just the next chapter over in I John we see that he says that anyone who continues basically in sin has every reason to question whether or not they're in Christ. So it's almost talking out both sides of its mouth where it's saying at one hand don't say you're without sin, because we all sin, but don't be stuck in sin or it means that you have a reason to examine your faith.
Kurt Bjorklund: So probably the question behind the question often for somebody, I think who's asking this question, is one of two things. Either how much can I get away with before I have to actually deal with it or secondly, I do feel kind of stuck and then I'm in trouble. My answer would be as long as you feel stuck in sin and have some regret over it, it means God's still at work in your life. It's when you no longer ask the question and no longer have any concern that you need to be concerned. As long as you're concerned, it means that you're still saying I want to do right, but I keep getting stuck. Now that doesn't mean that you shouldn't have strategies or ways to try to overcome the habit-
Jenna Bajuszik: It says to flee from sin.
Kurt Bjorklund: Right and sin is ultimately destructive to us. It's not like God just gives us arbitrary rules to follow. The places where we fall to sin, we're hurting ourselves, not anything else more.
Jenna Bajuszik: And sometimes the people around us too.
Kurt Bjorklund: Exactly. So to come to the point of saying, "I do want to root this out of my life, I want to get rid of it," is probably the issue. So yeah. Do you have any other thoughts, comments on that?
Jenna Bajuszik: Yeah. It is different if it's something that you're like "Oh." I believe the one verse said the deliberate, like you are pursuing this sin, or it depends on which direction you're running really.
Kurt Bjorklund: Right.
Jenna Bajuszik: If you're fleeing from the sin and fleeing towards God and getting people around you, it's not like it's hard because you don't have faith. It's hard because it's hard. Stuff with your heart, it's just not easy, but if you're running towards your sin then I think there is a time when you need to get a heart check or, in my experience, life will bring you a heart check.
Kurt Bjorklund: Right. Well yeah, and again I think it's getting to the point of not caring is probably a good indicator of saying, "Okay, that's now an issue." As long as you care and you say, "Okay I'm still seeking God, even if I'm struggling," stay in the struggle, work to overcome it, get every resource you can to overcome it. Again I don't think that means weak faith. Sometimes the awareness of it is actually stronger faith. The people I worry about are people who are like, "No, I haven't sinned in three years." It's like, Wow. Okay, your definition of sin has become so shallow that you're-
Jenna Bajuszik: Or you're so oblivious to yourself.
Kurt Bjorklund: Right, that you're not aware of the thoughts or the patterns or the motivations of your heart. You may not have violated something that everyone goes, "Oh that's sinful," but to think that you didn't have a prideful arrogant thought for three years is probably unlikely. So yeah.
Kurt Bjorklund: Here's a question. What should my approach to baptism be and how does that fit into faith? How important is it? What if I don't get baptized?
Jenna Bajuszik: There's a lot of questions there.
Kurt Bjorklund: Yes that's not a question, that's questions.
Jenna Bajuszik: I mean baptism is incredibly important. Whenever Christ sent out His disciples, He says go to all the nations and teach them to repent and be baptized. Baptism was tied to repentance, but it is not, as you see time and time again in the scriptures, we are not saved by any outward thing. You're not saved, to quote my senior pastor, it's not Jesus and, it's just Jesus period. It's not anything that we do that contributes to our salvation and therefore it's not anything left undone that can contribute to our condemnation, but it is a command of Christ.
Jenna Bajuszik: I think baptism can be, like when we do baptism services here, they are some of my favorites because it is a beautiful moment for people to publicly declare what Jesus had already done in their life. They're standing up, and they're saying this is a decision that has happened in my life. Jesus has saved me, and I get to share this with my friends and my family. I mean I know I got baptized when I was in high school and it was one of the only times I got my dad to come to church. It was so cool because it wasn't just a regular service, but it was one where I was standing up and saying this is who I am now. My life has been completely changed and it's just such a beautiful thing that the church family gets to celebrate together. I love it. It is important. I mean Jesus got baptized.
Kurt Bjorklund: Yes.
Jenna Bajuszik: It's pretty important.
Kurt Bjorklund: It's definitely a substantial thing. So what about the person who says, "I'm not going to do that." What's the downside? They're just like, "I don't want to go through it. Don't want to do it." What's the downside to that?
Jenna Bajuszik: I mean you're saying no to a command of Christ, so there's that. But I mean, I would ask them why. Is it you don't want to do it in the way that we do it? Maybe in front of everybody, people you don't know, what's going on with that, but baptism is not determinative of your salvation. So it's not as if well, I admit my need for Jesus, I'm depending on Him and all these things, but I'm not going to follow this one command. Is Jesus going to say, "Heck no, you're not allowed into heaven."? No, but-
Kurt Bjorklund: So what I was just looking for is some people would say okay that's good and all, I get it, but Acts 2:38 says repent and be baptized and you will be saved. It doesn't just say repent, it says repent and be baptized. So if you're not baptized, you don't get to be saved. You can repent all you want, believe, whatever word you want to use, but without the act of baptism you don't actually complete it to the point of salvation, and Acts 2:38 says so. So what would you say to somebody who comes with that strong of an argument on the other side, saying you better get this done or you're going to miss out?
Jenna Bajuszik: I would look at the rest of scripture and accordance together, and I mean Romans talks about the need to confess with your mouth, are you confessing with your mouth? Is this something that is real for you? I don't know. I've never run across someone that's been like, "I'm not just because of this verse." It's always I'm not because I don't want to be embarrassed in front of people. I'm not because I don't want wear a wet ... I don't know.
Kurt Bjorklund: Well again they wouldn't say I'm not, they would say if you don't, then you're not having eternal life.
Jenna Bajuszik: Oh okay. What would you say?
Kurt Bjorklund: Well I'm asking you. You're the guest. I'm asking you to say ... No, okay. So there's the issue with that, certainly you could talk about the Holy Spirit's baptism being part of that, which is part of salvation. Seems like a little bit of a stretch. Certainly the idea of baptism there by saying in Acts be baptized, in that exact cultural moment baptism was so synonymous with salvation that it was unthinkable to separate the two, but I think it would be dangerous to pull off that in terms of saying that was then and it has no bearing to now. So I think that it's a question that isn't as easily resolved as most Christians would want it to be easily resolved. In other words most Christians want to say baptism, it's an optional extra, when it is a command of God, so as you said it's at a minimum disobedience to not follow Christ in water baptism. I the rite of initiation is a point of disobedience, you at least need to go back and say is that genuine faith?
Kurt Bjorklund: If you're joining National Honor Society as a high school student they say, but the only way you can join is if you come to the induction ceremony. You must be here. You're like I don't want to do an induction ceremony, forget it. What they'd probably do is say well you got into National Honors Society not because of the induction ceremony, but because of all the stuff you did, but in order to be in we want you to do this and your refusal to do it says you aren't really interested in it. That might be kind of how I would understand that. I wouldn't say it's part of it, but I would say but also don't minimize it to have no meaning. I think too often in the Christian church that's what happens, it becomes that's just this optional extra for those who really want it rather than this is actually something that matters in terms of public identification with Christ in a substantial way.
Kurt Bjorklund: Well we need to leave it here, Jenna. Thank you for joining us.
Jenna Bajuszik: Thank you for having me.
Kurt Bjorklund: Again, if you have questions, send them to email@example.com. We'll be happy to address them at some point in the future.