We used to say that some people only accepted Jesus as “fire insurance,” the way to get out of hell. They didn’t really want anything else He offered.
But escape from hell is not the only benefit of the cross. In fact, escape from hell isn’t really the message of the cross at all. The message of the cross is new life in Jesus.
We all have smoke detectors in our homes now. What’s the job of the smoke detector? It’s to tell you to get out of your house because there’s a fire. It’s a warning device that may deliver you from a terrible death. But I, like many others, have the strange fear that the smoke detector will go off in the night and we will all have to run outside in our pj’s to stand in the freezing cold. I suppose we could stand close enough to the burning house to stay warm. 🙂
The point is that the smoke detector doesn’t protect us from any other danger. We could freeze to death, but at least we wouldn’t burn. We may have to live in our car or walk without shoes to the neighbor’s or try to get a motel without our credit cards. The smoke detector doesn’t care. It did its job.
Jesus is not a smoke detector. Jesus offers us life abundant. We were already dead in our sins, already separated from God, already on our way to eternal hell. Jesus came with a message of life. He offers forgiveness for sin, freedom from guilt, victory over evil in our lives, hope for a wonderful future, community with His people, and love and acceptance from His heart. Coming to Jesus is about so much more than escape from hell.
Isn’t it interesting that those who talk about hell the most offer the least victory and hope in Jesus? By focusing on hell, they rob their people of hope and freedom. They don’t tell them how to live in Christ and enjoy a real relationship with Him. They don’t tell them about resting in the Lord. So, their people struggle against sin and fear and guilt—and try to keep others under the law with them.
What do you think?
C. S. Lewis suggested that we make one of two errors concerning the devil: either we think too much of him or we think too little of him. I wonder if the same thing isn’t true about hell.
I am recently concerned about teachers who say that hell is temporary or not as bad as we think or non-existent. Yet, I am also concerned about preachers who can’t seem to stop talking about hell. The people in their churches fear hell all the time because preacher says they had better be careful to do right or they will go there. So one side proclaims that hell is nothing to worry about; while the other side proclaims that hell is hanging over all our heads.
But why are we proclaiming hell at all? Isn’t the job of the church to proclaim Christ? Whatever you believe about hell, the message is still Jesus. Every person needs Jesus (for a lot more than just fire insurance).
One of my favorite stories is about Calvin Coolidge as the Speaker of the House. There was a very heated argument between two representatives and one told the other to go to hell. The offended man sputtered and turned to Coolidge, who had been flipping pages of a book during the argument. The man asked if the Speaker had heard the terrible thing the other had said. Coolidge responded, “I have been checking the rule book. You don’t have to go.”
It’s as simple as that. Our message isn’t about hell. Our message is about Jesus. Because of Jesus, no one has to go to hell.
I want to pause here for a while to write about the real gospel. Some people seem to have the wrong idea of just how things stand. Lately I have been reading some things by people who think that everyone will eventually be saved, regardless of their faith or relationship with Jesus. They teach that there is no hell or that hell isn’t as bad or as permanent as we have taught. Some think that all people are already saved.
These writers say things that sound right. They say, “It doesn’t make sense that God would send people to hell just for a few years of sins, especially when they didn’t even know they were doing anything wrong.” They believe that any concept of God as judgmental is opposed to His over-riding characteristic of love. So they suggest that there will be a way for people to turn to the Lord after death or that people don’t even have to turn to God to be saved. “After all,” they say, “What kind of loving God would send people to hell?” But there is an error here, an important one.
God doesn’t send anyone to Hell.
The message of the Scripture is that all have sinned and all already fall short of the glory of God. All people are born separated from the Lord. Mankind is naturally sinful and unclean. The normal destination for all people is hell because the normal state of all people is separation from God. God doesn’t have to send anyone there.
Now, I agree with the idea that we don’t really know much about hell. I think it is one of those doctrines that has been preached way past our real knowledge. Fire and brimstone, eternal suffering, demons with pitchforks—I can’t say what hell will be like. What I can say is that no one has to go there. If hell is simply (!) a state of separation from God, then it isn’t God’s fault that anyone is there.
You see, the whole Bible is about one message—God loves us and made a way of escape from hell. God has initiated, has worked, a way of salvation for us. The message of the gospel is good news! Jesus is the one way God has provided. Anyone who comes to God in Jesus will be saved. Anyone who does not will continue on his or her own way, and that way leads to hell.
You know, it isn’t up to you and me to like the idea of hell. In fact, if we hated it as much as God does we might be more compassionate. But we are not free to take it out of the gospel message just because we don’t like it.
What happens to those who don’t come to Jesus?
Well, that’s the question for today, isn’t it? Are they saved, whether they want to be or not? Are they saved already, as long as they don’t deny Jesus? Will there be some kind of second chance for them after death? All of these suggestions center on the desire that more people would go to Heaven. But they also all have to twist the simple assertion of the Scripture. Some people will end up in hell.
Be wary of those who can tell you details about things the Scripture says little about. I don’t intend to be one of them. I believe that the Scripture teaches about hell. I believe that hell will not be empty. But what hell will be like, I don’t know. Not good, though.
I don’t like the idea of hell. It grieves me to think that some people will be there. Annihilation sounds better to me, I suppose. Universal salvation certainly sounds better. But none of this is about me and what I want or think. Hell is real. Jesus taught about hell. He wanted people to avoid it. He believed that some people would be there. Who am I to contradict Him?
The one clear message we get about hell is that people go there because of unbelief. The way to Heaven was available to them and they didn’t want it. I do not believe God sends anyone to hell; I believe that all are already on their way to hell because of sin and unbelief. In some way, God allows them what they want—separation from Him. I don’t know what that would be like, but it can’t be good. The little we are told sounds terrible.
The bottom line is that the Scriptures tell us about something that is very difficult to accept. God allows people to choose and He allows them to choose against Him. Those who are learning to see others through the mind and heart of Jesus find hell disturbing to consider. So disturbing, I suppose, that Jesus was willing to suffer torture and death so that people could avoid it. The heart of God desires for all to be saved–but not all will be saved.
So we tell people about Jesus and the love of God that is available to them. We don’t care who they are or where they have been, we just know they need a Savior and we know that He is strong enough, good enough, to overcome anything they have done.