I recently read an article in a popular Christian magazine intended to challenge church leaders to lead their ministries in ways that are more relevant. I do not often read the magazine anymore because I have, in more recent years, come to the conclusion that in our pursuit of “relevance” that we collectively seem to be forsaking the mooring that faith in God’s Word must be to keep our Christianity (and its resulting ministries) true to the true nature of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In the particular article I read, it heavily defended a popular preacher who began to question the doctrine of hell and apparently came to the ultimate conclusion that a good and loving God could in no way have meant that people actually go there. This person wrote a book about it and has since left his megachurch. But still maintaining a following through more sensational means (e.g., promoted by an extremely popular television personality and even given his own television program), he continues to push forward (apparently) in a denial of a teaching on God’s judgement.
The article claims that this person is continuing to be “crucified” and laments what the author appears to feel is the persecution by Believers of this person simply over a difference of opinion. The article was unclear about what constitutes “crucifying” in this former preacher’s situation and perhaps there is validity in how things are handled (if disagreement is expressed with a genuine degree of hate or something to that effect).
My concern with the article, however, grew as I read it because it seemed to me to treat as of small consequence the issue in question (specifically if there is such a thing as hell and whether or not people go to it after God’s judgement). It troubles me greatly that the article relegated the matter of hell to the realm of things that Christians can agree to disagree on, such as the role and purpose of the gift of tongues or even the method and mode of baptism. We may not see “eye-to-eye” on tongues and baptism perhaps because we are understanding the Scriptures from different points of view, but we maintain an over-arching agreement that the Bible is true and authoritative and so we are in unity is some essential elements of doctrine.
The problem that emanates from this former preacher’s teaching is that it simply denies Scripture itself. Jesus, the Author and Lord of love, the One from Whom love is derived, spoke about hell, its reality and His desire for us to NOT go there. Three separate Gospels record for us Jesus’ passionate plea to weigh our choice to pursue our own flesh and proud ways in the light of the eternal consequence of hell (see Matthew 5:22-30; 10:28; 18:9; Mark 9:43-47; and Luke 12:5). The presence of these remarks from Jesus should sufficiently support our acceptance of the fact of the reality of hell. Those who argue these passages away would do well to also read and reflect upon 2 Peter 2:4-10.
But, as has been observed, Jesus Who is not only a picture of grace but is the expression of infinite grace, extends to us the hope of the forgiveness of God and shows us the extreme lengths to which His heavenly Father has gone to grant to us the opportunity to turn FROM ourselves and turn TO Him through faith in the One Who died for us.
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 ESV).
And in regard to Jesus, God says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame…. For everyone Who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:33 ESV).
Saved from what? Eternal death. Eternal judgment. Eternal separation from God. “This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:14b-15 ESV).
If this is true, and the Bible says that it is, then it is imperative that we have not only a right understanding of its reality, but also a right understanding of what our response must be.
Lives are at stake. More than that, eternal lives are at stake. And we cannot reduce our Christian teaching to philosophical nonsense that does not adequately allow people to respond in faith to the only One Who can save their souls. If standing for life-saving truth is confused for hating, then it is worth it to have our motives misunderstood. Why? Because in our standing for life-saving truth, God’s Holy Spirit can bring a lost soul bound up in his or her pride or worldly preoccupation into a soul-saving relationship with Himself that can only come through faith in Jesus.
Is it an uncomfortable teaching? I would say, “No.” It is not “uncomfortable.” It is absolutely terrifying. To not be in a place spiritually of having received God’s pardon for my sin would be the worst possible place that I or anyone can be and we would do well to be terrified of the judgement of God.
But then there is grace which is offered us freely through faith in Jesus. He is the channel as well as the source. “Jesus said, ‘I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me…. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 14:6, 3:16-18 ESV).
Turn to Him in genuine faith. Turn from your sin. Turn from your self. Allow His forgiveness to enter into you as you cling to Him in faith. Let Him change your destiny from eternal death to one of eternal life.
Thom Mollohan and his family have ministered in southern Ohio the past 22 years. He is the author of The Fairy Tale Parables, Crimson Harvest, and A Heart at Home with God. He blogs at “unfurledsails.wordpress.com”. Pastor Thom leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.