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A Question of Hell

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.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Perhaps the most pernicious calamity assaulting people anywhere and everywhere in our area today is the epidemic levels of addiction. The most obvious expression of this plague is, of course, the deluge of opiates flooding our homes and families as “regular people” find themselves reeling from its merciless grip.

Billions of dollars of research both in private and in public sectors underscore the complexity of the problem indicating physiological causes and effects, psychological ones, and even sociological factors that contribute to and result from addiction.

This naturally leads us to various treatment options that approach the problem of addiction from these different vantage points. It often creates confusion for us when we see it from only one of these perspectives while others approach it from still another.

The truth is that there is legitimacy in these different philosophical approaches and we are wiser when we treat the “whole person”, aiming to get at the roots of each individual’s struggle with addiction.

The most essential quality for a person’s recovery is a “heart” that is ready for it.

However, there is one aspect I cannot underscore enough as fundamental to one’s ongoing victory over addiction and I truly believe it to be essential. In the many people that I encounter who have struggled or are struggling with addiction, it has become clear to me that the most central quality for their recovery is a “heart” that is ready for it.  In other words, it is necessary for a person to hunger within the essence of himself for real and lasting change and to recognize the spirituality of life and the purpose for which he has been created.  When that hunger is acknowledged as a real need for something that drugs cannot satisfy or fulfill, then the eyes of the heart can turn to the one thing that can.  It is what turns one from the downward spiral of selfishness towards an attitude that can look outward and upward.

Addiction is often viewed as a kind of terrible bondage, a heavy and burdensome chain that shackles a person, enslaving her with a feeling (the “high”) that relentlessly eludes its pursuer. It’s a good comparison.  It IS a chain.  And it mocks and torments its victims even while it boasts of its empty promises of pleasure and happiness… or at the very least, pretends that it can provide us escape from pain whether emotional or physical.

I have been asked, “How do we fight addiction? How can we overcome it?”  The answer, while some may think it overly simplistic, is that we lead the victims of addiction to the one pleasure that makes all other so-called pleasures pale in comparison.  We must unveil the “pleasures” of drugs for the anemic counterfeits that they are by holding them up to the “real thing”.  And what is the pleasure that transcends all others?  It is the joy of the Lord.  It is what can deliver the life that wants change.

But a person’s heart must be ready for real change and not just a temporary release from the intensity of addiction. If that were all, it is only a matter of time before the person slips back into the folds of whatever drugs they depend upon or, just as bad from an eternal point of view, would settle into another phony sense of purpose for his life, content perhaps for a time, but still ensnared with something less than God’s purpose for him.

Time and time again, I have found that when a person has come to the end of herself and finds that drugs cannot now nor ever will fill, only then is she really ready to look towards the one thing that can complete her.

When a person receives the gift of God’s cleansing forgiveness, there comes upon him a newness that begins to reframe his outlook and expectation for himself. Indeed, there is now an awakening that arises within him, as he shrugs off the shame and condemnation for which Jesus died on the cross:  “You, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him (Jesus), having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-15 ESV). Because Jesus gave His life for us by dying in our place on the cross, God counted the sins of all who turn to Him for salvation as being paid for through Jesus’ sacrifice.

Then, for each person who turns to Jesus and learns that he has been made a new creation, God tells us that “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV).  This knowledge is so powerful in a recovering addict’s life that comprehending it and then accepting it as true is the equivalent of dynamite when he comes up against the walls of resistance that addiction’s proud owner, Satan, throws in his way.

And finally there is the priceless gem of hope that Jesus grants us through His resurrection life, bequeathing to us (through faith in Him) the same power that brought Him back to life in His glorified form! “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5 ESV).  When a recovering addict sees himself as something new and no longer bound by an old nature that was enslaved to a temporary, fleshly passion, he can then give himself over to love, forsaking all the illusions that addiction threw up previously and pursuing the higher, heavenly reality of an eternal God Who created him for His own glory.

Nothing conquers the short-sightedness of addiction like an overwhelming sense of the pricelessness of an eternity with a holy God Who loves us in spite of ourselves and holds open for us an open door to a forever kind of victory.

My heart’s desire then is to share with anyone whose heart is open to it, the message that God loves and God saves.   Jesus is proof of that reality.  In fact, Jesus is the way to that reality.  For the addict.  And for everyone else, too.

Whether addiction has been part of your story or not, Jesus is the Way.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (Jesus in John 14:6 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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