A “Better” Christianity (Part 3: The World’s Not Going To Hell)

Mar 08

A “Better” Christianity (Part 3: The World’s Not Going To Hell)

Without any intro, here’s their argument:

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THE WORLD’S NOT GOING TO HELL
If there was anyone who was humble who walked this earth, it was Jesus. The Son of the Most High God was born as a helpless baby. He didn’t own any earthly possessions. He was ridiculed, but turned the other cheek. He allowed himself to be crucified by merciless men, asking God to forgive them all the while. Over and over, He reminded us to show mercy. His big procession was on a lowly donkey. Over and over, He didn’t want it to leak out that He was the Son of God. He was a man of humility. As followers of Christ, we are to do the same. So many people today in the name of Jesus arrogantly go around, trying to convert people to Christianity–as if they know the truth and everyone else is in darkness. How arrogant! Do Christians have a monopoly on truth? Isn’t God’s truth sprinkled in other places–in other faiths–as well? Didn’t Jesus die for the sins of the entire world? These Christians claim that if you don’t convert, you’ll go to hell. Does this sound like Jesus’ teachings? Is that what Jesus would do?

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The world is going to hell? That sounds judgmental, doesn’t it? In today’s world, any such assertion will be met with quite a bit of resistance. The root of that resistance will be: that can’t be God’s way. If there is a God, He loves everyone. If He inflicts wrath like that, surely He isn’t a good God! But is that how Scripture looks at God’s wrath–that it makes Him no longer good or righteous? Look at Romans 3:5-6:

The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world?

Yes, the gospel says that we are all worthless sinners (Romans 3:10-12) and we are all under God’s judgment. Who said the Gospel was good news again? Sheesh!

Well, this isn’t the entire message of the Gospel. The Gospel teaches that when Jesus died for the sins of the world, God’s judgment is stayed. That doesn’t mean that everyone will no longer experience the judgment of God. What it does mean, however, is that God is putting aside his judgment for the time being–FOR THE TIME BEING. This is a period of grace. God is not willing that any should perish. He has given humanity the opportunity for a short time to return back to fellowship with him. Jesus reminds us that we do not know how long this opportunity will last (Matthew 24:36-39 and also  Luke 12:35-46). In fact, Jesus states in the second link that the foolish servant will be cut to pieces and assigned a place with the unbelievers.  Wow, Jesus!  Really? At some point, judgment time will come. The more time that passes shows just how merciful, gracious, and patient the Lord is. He is giving the opportunity for those who right now reject the Gospel to turn around (2 Peter 3:7-10). Could one of those people be you?

But God is not just holding off his judgment during this time of grace. He is also setting up a kingdom for those who will enter it. Jesus came to announce this kingdom. For those who would forsake their sins and follow him, they can become citizens of a new kingdom. It’s not just about escaping wrath, but about entering into eternal life. But what about those who never hear about this opportunity to escape the judgment of God? Or what about those who no longer believe that a time of judgment from God will soon come?

To answer the second question first, I would recommend reading again what Jesus says in Luke 12:35-46. This isn’t the only place where he addresses this subject. What good are we doing anybody to not draw attention to Jesus’ teachings on God’s judgment? I think this is why fewer and fewer people believe it anymore. Jesus minces no words on this. It seems to me that this is of utmost importance. Isn’t it possible that by refraining from teaching or preaching on these passages that we are showing complete disregard for the people in our churches, at our jobs, in our schools? I would particularly emphasize those in our churches, as we are the ones who claim to follow Jesus. These verses are directed toward believers, as we can see from the very last verse in that passage (it says we’ll be assigned a place with unbelievers, so He must be talking to believers).

But what about the first question–those who have never heard the Gospel? What happens to them? Well, that depends on whether you believe the world is going to hell or not. And that depends on whether you take Scripture seriously or not. Since I’ve come from the Methodist side of things, I’d like to share several quotes from John Wesley, the founder of Methodism (I have tried to make them into modern English for easier comprehension, and have tried to cut out much of the repetition to make them shorter):

How a sinner may be made right before God, the Lord and Judge of all, is of greatest importance to every single person who lives. It contains the foundation of all our hope, since as long as we are at odds with God, there can be no true peace, no solid joy, either in time or in eternity. What solid joy can we experience, either in this world or that to come, while “the wrath of God abideth on us?” And yet how little has this important question been understood! What confused notions have many had concerning it! Indeed, not only confused, but often utterly false; contrary to the truth, as light to darkness; they have ideas absolutely inconsistent with the oracles of God (Scripture), and with the whole analogy of faith.

For he that comes unto God by this faith, must fix his eye squarely on his own wickedness, on his guilt and helplessness, without having the slightest thought of any supposed good in himself, or any virtue or righteousness whatsoever. He must come as a “mere sinner,” inwardly and outwardly, self-destroyed and self-condemned, bringing nothing to God but ungodliness only, claiming nothing on his own account but sin and misery. And only then, with no defense, when he realizes he stands utterly guilty before God, can he look unto Jesus as the full and only solution for his sins. In this way can he be “found in him” (Jesus),  and receive the “righteousness which is from God by faith.”

You ungodly person, who hears or reads these words! You vile, helpless, miserable sinner! I charge thee before God, the Judge of all, to go straight to him with all your ungodliness. I warn you not to destroy your own soul by claiming any kind of righteousness that you think you might have. Go as altogether ungodly, guilty, lost, destroyed, deserving and dropping into hell; and you will then find favor in his sight, and know that he justifies (makes right) the ungodly. And then you will be brought before the “blood of sprinkling,” as an undone, helpless, damned sinner. In this manner “look unto Jesus!” There is “the Lamb of God,” who “takes away your sins!” Don’t claim any works or righteousness of your own! Don’t claim to have any humility or sincerity! Not in any way. By doing so, you would deny that the Lord needed to “buy” you with his blood. No, instead: claim only the blood of the covenant, the ransom paid for your proud, stubborn, sinful soul. Is there anyone that now sees and feels both your inward and outward ungodliness? You are that one! I want you for my Lord! I challenge you to become a child of God by faith! The Lord cries out to you. You who feel you are rightfully fit for hell, it is you who are rightfully fit to advance his glory; the glory of his free grace reserved for only the ungodly who have no righteousness of their own. O come quickly! Believe in the Lord Jesus; and you–yes you–are reconciled to God.

Wow. If you take Wesley’s words seriously (and how can you not with all of his passion?), is it not clear that we are completely unrighteous? Is it not clear that we are under the wrath of God, unless we recognize our sinfulness and turn to Christ? So what are we to think about the person who has never heard about Christ? Even though they have not yet heard of him, are they not still in their sins?

But some may say, “Yes, they may have sins, but what if they live more like Jesus than some Christians do? Is that fair for them to then go to hell?” Once again, here’s Wesley’s thoughts on the good works of unbelievers:

No works are good, which are not done as God has willed and commanded them to be done.
But no works done before justification are done as God has willed and commanded them to be done:
Therefore, no works done before justification are good.

In other words, God does not see any “good works” that are done before a person is justified in Christ as “good works” in his eyes. But Wesley knows exactly what you may be feeling at this point so he goes on further:

If someone objects, “Wait a minute!, but a man, before he is justified, may feed the hungry, or clothe the naked; and these are good works;” the answer is easy: He may do these, even before he is justified; and these are, in one sense, “good works;” they are “good and profitable to men.” But it does not follow, that they are, strictly speaking, good in themselves, or good in the sight of God. All truly “good works” (to use the words of our Church) “follow after justification;” and then they are therefore good and “acceptable to God in Christ,” because they “spring out of a true and living faith.” By this reason, any “good works” done before justification are not good in the Christian sense, because they do not spring out of faith in Jesus Christ; (though from some kind of faith in God they may spring;). Yet we have no doubt that they are not done as God has willed and commanded them to be done (even if this may appear strange to some), but instead these works have the nature of sin.

So Wesley is saying that a person who doesn’t put their faith in Christ, even if they have “faith” in God through some other means, is not justified before God, and therefore their “good works” are not good to God. After reading all these quotations, I’m afraid many Methodists today would label John Wesley’s message of salvation as arrogant, narrow-minded, and judgmental.

So is Wesley ok with people never knowing about Jesus? Does this sit well with him? Does he think that even though they don’t know Jesus, somehow these heathen nations come to saving truth in Christ without ever hearing the Gospel? To this, he says:

There are two grand issues of doctrine, which contain many truths of the most important nature, of which the most enlightened Heathens in the ancient world were totally ignorant; as are also the most intelligent Heathens that are now on the face of the earth; These two grand issues I’m referring to relate to 1) the eternal Son of God, and 2) the Spirit of God: 1) To the Son, that he gave himself to be “a propitiation for the sins of the world;” and 2) to the Spirit of God, that he is renewing men into that image of God for which they were created.

He is saying that without the Gospel, even the most enlightened heathens cannot come to this saving faith on their own. They need to hear the Gospel. Then he goes on to talk about the heathens that aren’t the “enlightened”:

It is certain that these truths were never known to the vulgar, the bulk of mankind, to the generality of men in any nation, till they were brought to light by the gospel. Outside of  a spark of knowledge glimmering here and there, the whole earth was covered with darkness, till the Sun of Righteousness arose and scattered the shades of night. Since this day-spring from on high has appeared, a great light has shined unto those who, until then, sat in darkness and in the shadow of death. And now thousands of them in every age have known, “that God so loved the world, as to give his only Son, to the end that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And being entrusted with the oracles of God, they have known that God hath also given us his Holy Spirit, who “worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”

In other words, without the gospel being shared, without the oracles of God (Scripture), the nations of the world lie in darkness and death.

But is it possible that a few people in these dark places have perhaps recognized their sinfulness before God and have cried out to him in mercy for forgiveness–could they not be saved, even though they don’t know that Jesus provides this forgiveness? Can they not cry out to God, recognizing how sinful they are like Wesley says we should, without ever hearing the gospel? Wesley reminds his readers that he won’t judge anyone who hasn’t heard the gospel, but leaves that up to God. I agree with this when it comes to judging any particular individual. Look what Jesus continues to say in Luke 12:47-48. I don’t know if he’s talking about unbelievers (he wasn’t in the previous verses), or if he’s talking about believers who are ignorant of some sins. But He does say that they will still be punished–just not as severely. I don’t want anyone to be punished at all! Surely God desires all to hear the truth and see the light.

I think everyone agrees on this: sharing the Gospel with those who have never heard it before doesn’t reduce the amount of people who come to faith in Christ–rather it exponentially increases it. Otherwise, why bother sharing the Gospel? Wouldn’t it be better to keep everyone ignorant so that more people can be saved? No, the reason why we spread the Gospel is so that people can hear and be saved. Think about this: Even in places where the Gospel is preached, look at how few people respond to it and embrace it by crying out to God for their wickedness and receiving by faith what Jesus has done as Wesley pleads us to do. Sure, there may be a few in those dark places that do it without ever hearing the Gospel (only God knows this–we shouldn’t assume this)…but think of how much fewer in number they must be. Or perhaps God provides a few of them with a conversion experience like the Apostle Paul had, where no human was ever involved. But only God knows this as well–we shouldn’t assume that either. They are in darkness! They NEED light! We mustn’t fool ourselves. As a whole, they sit in darkness. They need the light of the gospel. Most people don’t even respond after the first time they hear. They must hear over and over before they are ready to be convicted and yield to Christ.

One last thing to consider on this point: If Wesley is right, and Scripture tells ME that I am a destitute, vile sinner on my way to eternal death until I put my faith in Christ–isn’t that true for all of us? Why should it be any different? And lastly, if it’s not true for the people of the world who haven’t heard the Gospel, please someone tell me why the Apostles were willing to be martyred so that people who hadn’t yet heard the Gospel could hear and respond! How foolish of them if the world’s salvation doesn’t depend on us to be Christ-obedient bearers of the good news (Matthew 28:19-20)! And Jesus should have told them not to worry about silly notions like the world being lost in sin. He should have said something like, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Oh well, God will get the harvest in somehow–that’s not for you to concern yourself with.”

3 comments

  1. Drew /

    Since I don’t have to restrain myself from Paul as you are doing, here’s Romans 10:14-15.

    “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'”

    This post is without a doubt the most difficult one to read because the idea of people being punished for what they do not know is difficult to take, even though I believe it to be true. The issue, and you covered it relatively well, is that we are all worthy of punishment. The real question is whether we receive forgiveness from that punishment. I think the reason for this is that in Western thought we value liberty so much that we believe that the person who minds his or her own business is an innocent unworthy of punishment. He or she is not threatening anyone’s liberty so he or she is doing all that can be expected in civil society. The Biblical teaching that all are depraved is completely contradictory to this notion.

    • joel /

      “How will they know… unless I go?”

    • I understand why it’s so difficult to read. My purpose in writing this is to appeal to those who would write off my position as if it’s some new, radical idea I’ve developed. I am simply stating that my position isn’t new–nor is it arrogant, judgmental, or narrow-minded. It’s taught throughout Scripture (like the verse you quoted) and it’s obvious by the apostles’ teachings and their lives that they saw things similarly. Do we consider Scripture or the apostles as arrogant, judgmental, or narrow-minded? It’s also interesting to see how Wesley viewed these things compared to many modern Methodists today.

      If anyone disagrees with this notion I’ve laid out–how have you reconciled all these Bible passages presented in the past few posts? Do you have a different interpretation of what Jesus or the other authors were trying to say? I think that’s valid, as long as you aren’t dismissing the passages, and instead giving an alternate understanding that better explains what the author was intending. If this is the case, I really desire to know it. It is imperative that we follow what Jesus and His apostles were intending to convey to us–not my own opinion on things.

      Or instead do you regard all these Bible passages as flawed understandings of God? If so, why do you claim a superior understanding of Jesus contrary to that of Scripture or the apostles who walked and talked with him? Couldn’t that be considered arrogant and close-minded to reject the message of the very people Jesus himself picked to teach and spread it? Is He now picking you to correct where they went wrong?

      Lastly, regarding the reasons why this post is so difficult to read, I agree with your reason. I also think it’s because we want to give ourselves permission to not take the Gospel to other parts of the world, because we like to remain in our comfortable lives in the US. Or it helps us sleep better at night believing that the world is generally OK. In addition, I think we haven’t possibly seen our own condition for what it really is–that I really do deserve hell and am a wretched sinner. I think when someone realizes that this is true for them, they then realize it’s true for their fellow man. When we realize all that Christ has done for us–from what depths we have come–it surely motivates us to forsake our lives and live for Jesus.

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