A Heaven to Gain and a Hell to Shun

In his book Unchristian, researcher David Kinnaman writes: “…even among people who believe they are personally being saved by faith in Jesus, they think of salvation’s a multiple-choice test, with many reasonable possibilities: while they believe their own spiritual destiny is secure through faith in Christ, they also believe that other could be saved through being a good person or because of God’s benevolence.” (page 50). Kinnaman was referring to what the majority of the Buster (born between 1965 and 1983) and Mosaic (born between 1984 and 2002) generations believe.

The truth of his statement is constantly reinforced in conversations I have had with people who have lost friends or relatives who, to anyone’s knowledge, were not believers. They speak of their loved ones in heaven, in a better place, with the angels (or one of the angels), and other similar expressions. Even evangelical ministers have, in recent years, declared that hell doesn’t exist and that everyone will be saved. I just started reading Erasing Hell by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle. Though I haven’t gotten very far in my reading, I have connected with the authors’ reluctance to be the “grinches” that popped the bubble of our tendency to ignore what we don’t like. No one likes to talk about the “H” word.

I have family and friends who reject Jesus. I do not want  to believe in a God who punishes non-Christians. Okay, maybe He should punish extremely wicked people—that makes some sense. But punishment in hell for seemingly good people, or those who simple chose the wrong religion? That feels a bit harsh, at least according to my sense of justice. But let me ask you another question. Could you? Could you believe in a God who decides to punish people who don’t believe in Jesus?…Now that’s a different question, isn’t it? You may not recognize the difference immediately, but read them again and you’ll see that these two questions—do you want to? versus could you?—are actually miles apart. The problem is that we often respond to the second question because of our response to the first. In other words, because there are things that we don’t want to believe about God, we therefore decided that we can’t believe them.” (page 22).

The trail of truth carved out around the need for repentance, forgiveness, and a fruitful, Spirit-led life passes through the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. The opposite picture portraying the consequences of rejecting God’s offer of salvation is also clearly described.

I read a story yesterday about a man and his wife who were traveling by plane a few years ago. Somewhere in the flight, the plane was highjacked by people who wanted to go somewhere other than the plane’s scheduled destination. The problem was that the plane did not have enough fuel to get to where the highjackers wanted to go. One engine flamed out from lack of fuel. The pilots announced that the other engine would soon do the same. The flight’s doom was sealed. The man got up from his seat and went, compartment by compartment, through the plane with this message: “We are about to crash but there is something you need to know before that happens…” He went on to explain the Gospel and encourage the passengers to repent and accept Christ as their Saviour so that their eternal safety could be assured. He believed, and rightly so, that unless the people on the plane repented and accepted Christ as their Saviour, what awaited them beyond a watery grave was too terrible to contemplate.

The book of Revelation ends with a reminder and an invitation. The reminder is that heaven belongs to “only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27). The invitation is to join those ranks. “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood…The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:14, 15, 17).

The imagery expressed here, and explained in so many other places in Scripture, is summed up in perhaps the most famous verses in the Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life…Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:16, 36).

No, the “H” word is not something we like to talk about. But ignoring it, wishing it weren’t true, that it didn’t exist, that God couldn’t allow such a thing, doesn’t make it go away. Jesus told his disciples: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 3:16). Jesus is the path God has chosen in order to provide reconciliation with Him. There is no other path to God. But there is another path, and though many will take it, it leads, not to God, but to a bad end.

God called the prophet Ezekiel to be a “watchman,” someone who would warn the nation about the consequences of their rejection of Him. He was to tell the people that they needed to repent, to return to God. Ezekiel was also to remind them that their destruction wasn’t God’s choice for them, but their choice for themselves if they refused His offer. “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11).

For those of us who believe, and who believe that there really is “heaven to gain and a hell to shun,” the responsibility of watchmen is ours to assume—even when it is uncomfortable.

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