What is the object of our attention? Should it be to get into heaven? Or should it be to love God with our whole hearts, minds, and bodies? The unfortunate thing is that some people are teaching that the object of our life is to get into heaven. It is to do good, and love others, and do good works, so that we can get into heaven and not go into hell, a purported place of eternal punishment, they say. Let’s look at this in light of the Bible.
So, what is our objective in this life? Well, those who believe it is to get into heaven are partly right, in that it is to love God with our whole hearts, minds, and body; and to love our neighbors as ourself. But which is it? To get into heaven and escape eternal punishment? Really? No! Our goal is to love God, and by doing so, we learn to love others. By loving others, we share the light of the gospel of truth with them, but it won’t get us into heaven. Our belief in God and the sacrifice of Jesus, the leaning of our entire personality on Jesus, will get us into heaven. But, heaven isn’t our goal. God is the object of our attention. The rest follows.
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40)
Yet we know that a man is justified or reckoned righteous and in right standing with God not by works of the Law, but [only] through faith and [absolute] reliance on and adherence to and trust in Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One). [Therefore] even we [ourselves] have believed on Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the Law [for we cannot be justified by any observance of the ritual of the Law given by Moses], because by keeping legal rituals and by works no human being can ever be justified (declared righteous and put in right standing with God). (Galatians 2:16 AMP, emphasis mine)
In order that you may not grow disinterested and become [spiritual] sluggards, but imitators, behaving as do those who through faith (by their leaning of the entire personality on God in Christ in absolute trust and confidence in His power, wisdom, and goodness ) and by practice of patient endurance and waiting are [now] inheriting the promises. (Hebrews 6:12)
Heaven is a reward for our faith. We will get other rewards in heaven as a result of the love and good works we show others, but those works will not gain us entry into heaven. Now, I am not saying that works are not important! They are, for they show our love for God.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. (James 2:14-19 NIV)
But, if someone has these good works, and do it to get out of hell, and believe in hell, and believe in heaven, why is that a problem? Wouldn’t this be the definition of selfishness? Is this a genuine faith? I do not know, but I don’t think so.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23)
I don’t know about you, but this scares me. It’s saying we can be deceived into thinking we are saved. It makes me look deep into my heart, to find why I am following Jesus. Do I know Jesus? Do I love Him? Have I layed my life down for Him as He layed His down for me?
Here is what I see happening in our evangelical movement – we try scaring people into following God. This doesn’t work. In fact, it isn’t even based on biblical truths. Think of it this way, is God who is loving and kind and just really going to have His creation sit in eternal torment? What kind of contradiction is that. The gospel is not “you don’t have to suffer for eternity, if only you do good!” Not at all!
The gospel is – God loves you.
I want to look at hell now. Hell is real, but hell is a place of eternal punishment for Satan and the other fallen angels. Hell for humans is the “second death”. A few verses about it –
All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. (2 Thess. 1:5-10)
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46)
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. (John 5:24)
His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:12)
If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. (Matthew 18:8)
So, when reading through these verse, what conclusion do you come to? That sinners will be cast into eternal fire, to suffer eternal punishment in unquenchable fire? Well, yes. That is true. I want to discuss this though. Eternal fire is hell. The fire is unquenchable because the fire is eternal.
What is the eternal punishment? Is it to burn forever and ever and ever? I don’t think so.
“They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might…” (2 Thess. 1:9)
The eternal punishment is everlasting destruction (complete destruction), and being eternally separated from God’s presence and the glory of His might.
But, wait!? This doesn’t fit with what everyone else is saying. Well, who is thrown into the fire? Those who don’t believe, and by not believing their sins are not forgiven. So, what is the punishment for sin?
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
Death is the fitting punishment for sin. That is the reward, or the wage, of sin. But the sins of the believer are forgiven, because God has bestowed His unmerited grace and favor on those who believe. By believing, we have become followers of Christ and imitate His righteousness with works, that bring light to the world.
So, why is the fire an eternal fire?
And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. (Revelation 20:10)
The eternal fire is to serve the purpose of tormenting the deceiver. This is the end of Satan, for all who ask why God hasn’t destroyed him. He will be destroyed, or put into the fire for eternity.
There are two resurrections also. The first one is for those who have given their lives for the gospel (maybe this includes those who gave their lives materialistically too, but I take the Bible at its word in that it is for the martyrs). The second resurrection is where the judgment takes place; this second resurrection is the judgement day.
I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4-6)
“The second death has no power over them…” So, what is the second death? Is this death eternal? Why, of course. That means that we will eternally be dead. Not punished by fire eternally, but eternally separated from God. Here’s the second resurrection, where the second death happens.
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15)
The dead are raised on this last day, this judgement day, and those not found in the book of life are thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the same eternal fire that satan is thrown into. But, for those raised up – it is the second death. They die, again. After having seen the error of their ways in the previous life. That would be a hard thing to bear. Let’s look at death now.
and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it. (Ecclesiastes 12:7)
The spirit goes back to God who gave it to us. What is the spirit?
When you hide your face,
they are terrified;
when you take away their breath,
they die and return to the dust (Psalm 104:29)
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing. (Psalm 146:4)
I believe the spirit to be the breath of life that God gives every living creature. When this second death happens, our breath of life will go out of us.
I feel that when we tell unbelievers that need to repent and believe or suffer eternal punishment in the fires of hell, we will push them away from the truth of the gospel. The truth of the gospel is that God is a good, loving, kind, pure, holy, and just God. God loves you, the sinner. He does not want you to perish in the fire – He wants you to accept His love and love Him in return. He wants you to know Him. He wants to walk with you, and comfort you. Look at this –
“The days are coming,” declares the LORD,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the LORD.
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the LORD.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the LORD.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
God was a husband to us. He wants to be our God, and us His people. A husband is not cruel. A husband loves.
To say to people that God is going to throw them into a fire to suffer eternal pain and suffering is lying about who God is. That is not a loving God, but a cruel one. We will be rewarded for our works (our works don’t save though), not by an insane and cruel God, but by a loving and just God. Our sins fit the punishment of death, but not one of eternal pain and suffering. God loves you. He wants you to be His people. Our sins separate us from the love of God, but He offers us a way to be in His presence.
Some who read this may get angry at me, but the gospel has been distorted over the years and it is deterring people from believing. They look at our words and say, “I don’t want to believe in a God that will eternally punish us”. The truth is that the eternal punishment is separation from God and His glory and His love. Some will say that this is an easy way out for the unbelievers and they just can’t believe it. Who are you to say that the unbelievers deserve eternal punishment and pain and suffering? Why stick with this unreasonable assumption? It tells a story of God that isn’t true.
So, how do we reconcile this deception with our call to make disciples? Believe the word of God, and take all of the word into account. There are false prophets that have misled many of us. I feel that the idea of eternal pain and suffering is a doctrine from false prophets. Do not adhere to it. Test and determine for yourself the will of God, by reading and understanding His word to us.
Evangelize with God’s love in mind, and do not try to scare people into becoming followers of Christ. Let the light of Christ shine into this dark world, through the love that God has lavished upon you. You love because God first loved us. Love all, even our enemies, as ourselves. Do not forget the gospel, and share it with all, through your love for them. The good news is not a free pass out of eternal pain and suffering, it is the news that God loves us and has given us a way to partake in His love, if only we believe. Sure, the unbeliever gets out easy by merely dying again after judgement. But, think of that day – they are raised and see that they were wrong in not believing. Possibly, God will give them the option to believe then but I do not know how that issue will work. Think of the initial pain that will result from that revelation – there will be gnashing of teeth, great distress. I feel bad for those unbelievers, and pray that they can see the light of the gospel through us Christians.
God is the object of our attention, and not getting out of a falsely perceived hell. Evangelize with that in mind. There will be a just punishment for our failures, but if we believe, there will be equally just rewards. God is love. Love is not cruel, but kind and patient and not self seeking. He wants us to live with Him. Lay out that decision, and maybe people will be more inclined to believe and will gain faith, and through faith, good works that will bring more to God and His love. You cannot believe in God and still live by the flesh, and go to heaven. By believing, we have died to our old selves, and hand over our lives to the work of the Holy Spirit, who guides us. There will be sin, for we all fall short of the glory of God, but we will not sin habitually which would show the lie of our profession of faith. Live for God and His love, and His love will pour out of our lives and into the lives of others.