As I watch the media coverage lately on “spiritual leaders”, I find myself very disappointed at what is being touted as “main stream Christianity”. There is a reason why you don’t see the % of people who claim to believe in the God of the Bible rally support for these people. The simple fact, I believe, is that they are a minority in Christianity. The sad fact is that they receive so much media attention that those who are uninformed on Christianity believe that this is what Christianity breeds. I am here to tell you that nothing could be farther from the truth. I would like to take this opportunity to address the two greatest lies a Christian ever told. They are simple: If you follow God’s commands like I do, at the end of your life you will be rewarded with eternity in Heaven. If you don’t follow God’s commands like you are doing, at the end of your life you will find yourself punished with eternity in Hell. I grew up believing this. I’ve seen the message on bumper stickers, billboards, t-shirts, signs outside abortion clinics and heard it out of the mouths of Christians to non-believers. My personal opinion is that the Christian who spreads this message is a Christian who has not read their Bible or is only concerned with serving their own ego. Now, if you’re a Christian and reading this, I may have your feathers a little ruffled. Stick with me though and I think you will find some points to agree with. Nowhere in the Bible will you find God claiming that we have to be good to get into heaven. Andy Stanely makes a great point about the idea that God is good and only allows good people to go to heaven in his book, “If Nobody’s Perfect, Than How Good Is Good Enough?” He states, “If there is a level of performance that will get us into heaven and God neglects to tell us exactly what it is, can we with good conscience call him good? If so then “good” takes on a completely different meaning. Good no longer means fair and just. It means…well…we don’t really know what it means do we? The Bible claims that “Nobody is perfect ” (Romans 3:23), so the question remains how close to perfection do we need to be to escape our punishment in Hell? Nowhere in the Bible will you find any indication on how much “good” it takes to offset our “bad” so that we are able to earn our place in Heaven. In fact, in Romans it says that we all “fall short of the glory of God.” So, tailing on Andy Stanley’s point, the good people go to Heaven god is a very cruel god to not give us any insight into what percentage of good we need to be to avoid punishment in Hell for not being good enough. The good people go theory makes no sense. The truth that the Bible claims, is that it is God’s will that “none should be lost” (John 6:39). In his efforts to get this point across, Jesus uses many analogies of God being like a good shepherd who leads and protects his sheep (us). Jesus even makes the point in that the shepherd (God) will leave the flock to find the one lost sheep that has gone astray. Read the story of the prodigal son and the parable of the lost coin”:
Luke 15:1-32 Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." Then Jesus told them this parable: "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. "Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them. "Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. "When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' So he got up and went to his father. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. "The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' "But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate. "Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. "Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.' "The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!' "'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'"
It becomes evident in these parables that God does not wish to punish us to hell, but that it is even against God’s will that we should go. In the story of the prodigal son, the father (God) not only welcomes the son (us) home, but it says that the father saw the son “while he was still a long way off” emitting this vision of the father daily watching, waiting and hoping for his lost son to come home. I really connect with the way Gregory Boyd portrays this in his book “Letters to a Skeptic” coming from a family with a history of alcoholism and my own struggles with drugs and alcohol. He explains hell like this:
“The alcoholic who loves his bottle above his wife, kids and home has what he wants when they finally “leave him alone”. But don’t the rest of us, who are not sick, see this as hell? Indicative of how low this man has sunk is the fact that he thinks he is happier with his bottle than without it and anything else. So he chooses to drink. But in truth he is miserable. The drunk gets what he wants, but is in hell with his “privilege”. He is tormented, but it is a torment of his own choosing. “
In the same way, people choose not to be with God, and God being a God of choice gives them what they want. If a person makes the conscious choice to live this life without God, God will honor that choice by letting the person also spend eternity without them. It is not God’s choice that they be without Him, it is theirs. And a life without God is what the Bible describes as hell. The Bible has Jesus describing himself this way in John 8:12, “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. In contrast, a life without God is a place of darkness and no hope and often described by Jesus as a place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. Again, it is important to remember that it is not God’s will that anyone should go to hell, but he will not stand in your way should you choose to deny him. See the problem God has is that God is all that is perfect, no sin is found in him (1 Peter 2:22). God hates sin and in his nature, cannot dwell with sin. All of us in our decisions have chosen sin and thus have separated us from the ability to dwell with God. This would not be a problem if God chose to be a far off God who just wanted to stand back in amusement and watch his creation try to survive. But instead God is a God of love who from the beginning of time has desired to dwell with his creation. In the beginning God walked in the garden with Adam and Eve until their sin separated them from the one who created them. Ever since that day, God has been planning a way to get back into our hearts. The problem remained in that while sin dwelled in us, God could not, so the solution for God, was to rid us of our sin and let that sin fall upon his son Jesus. All that God has ever desired is an intimate relationship with us. Through all his teachings, Jesus made that abundantly clear. God desired that man and woman should come together in marriage and that the two should become one. Much of the teachings of Jesus revolved around marriage and the idea that he was the groom and we were his bride, two becoming one. Jesus promised with his death, that upon our choosing, we would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, God dwelling in us. God desires an intimate and eternal relationship with each and every one of us, no matter what we have done or where we have been. All that is required to achieve that relationship is to accept that we have sinned and lay that sin upon Jesus. Simple as that, not by our good works. The story of the two criminals who were condemned to die on crosses along side Jesus is the perfect example.
Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed….One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:39-43)
They are both described equally in the Bible as criminals. We don’t know the specific crimes that brought them to this judgment of death, and it doesn’t really matter the same way the degree of my sin compared to yours doesn’t matter. They both hung along side the only one who could save them. They would both be dead before sundown. One would end up in Heaven, one would not. The only difference between the two is that one asked to be with God and the other chose not to. There was no time to make up for past bad deeds, no opportunities to redeem themselves. Neither one was better than the other; it came down to a simple choice. The same applies today. As Christians, we are no better than those who choose not to believe. God chose the murderer on death row with the same offer he used to choose me. Mercy and grace. I have chosen God and accepted his mercy and grace, does that make me any better than someone who chooses not to? Absolutely not! So many times I see “Christians” saying or doing things that try to show a difference between themselves and their fellow man. This idea that because I choose God and you do not, I am different from you. Again, the idea that I have done something in my life that solicits a love from God that is greater than the love he has for someone who “sins more than me” is absurd. In fact, from what I see in the life of Jesus, if God were to focus his attention on one person over another, He would focus on the one who didn’t believe and the Christian would take a back seat. Take another look at the Prodigal Son. Wasn’t it the faithful brother who had to step aside as the father threw a party for the son that returns after having squandered his money and shamed himself and his family? Or what about the prostitute who falls at Jesus’ feet and washes his feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. Look at the attention and love he shows her as the “teacher of the law” stands by in judgment.
Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner." Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to tell you." "Tell me, teacher," he said. "Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?" Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled." "You have judged correctly," Jesus said. Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little." (Luke 7:36-47)
It’s somewhat funny (and sad at the same time) how we would like to think that if Jesus were to come to earth today, that his first stop would be to come to our church and tell us what a great job we are doing. Again, based on the actions of Jesus that we see in the Bible, I doubt that we would see him at all. I’m sure we would find him spending his time with those “other people” as we stand by like the Pharisee’s and ask, “Doesn’t he know what kind of people these are?” As Christians, we find ourselves holding so tightly to our doctrine that we will divide our churches, families and friends over the smallest details forgetting that it is only by God’s hand that we are saved and not our own. God has given us everything freely, why do we find it so hard to share His grace with others. I would charge Christians to embrace their fellow man as God has. Showing them all the love and dignity that our father in Heaven shows them, they are of greater worth than gold (1 Peter 1:17), and we are just as tarnished as they are.