There are LOTS of people talking about hell right now. Many of you have seen the multiple interviews and new articles about Rob Bell and his controversial book Love Wins– http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjAdRJZib3Q Others of you might have watched Bill O’Reilly tonight as he interviewed a professor who argues that there is no hell. The professor led his interview with a very similar argument that Rob Bell gives in his interviews: God has gotten himself into a predicament if we say there is a hell and that people go there who are “good” people. O’Reilly asks him if he truly believes that Hitler, Stalin, and other dictators are off scott-free. The professor responds that it is not those people that are the problem when you think of hell, it is the problem of people such as Ghandi. In a case such as Ghandi, the professor argues that God is in a predicament. Would a good guy like Ghandi be in hell? Ghandi doesn’t profess to believe in Christ alone. That isn’t loving of God and he is love, right? Rob Bell’s argument follows similar lines, thus the title Love Wins in the end and God saves all those people because he is Love.
There seems to be a MAJOR confusion about God’s character and about the difference between justification and sanctification.
Justification is “an ACT of God’s FREE grace, wherein he pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in his sight, ONLY for the righteousness of Christ, imputed to us and received BY FAITH ALONE.” Shorter Catechism #33
Sanctification is “the WORK of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin and to live unto righteousness.” Shorter Catechism #35
The problem seems to be that people use these terms interchangeably. They say the word “saved” for both of these terms. The truth is we are saved (justified) when we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior and we are sanctified as we grow to look more and more like him.
Justification comes first- we are declared righteousness not because of good works, but because of our belief in Jesus Christ. His perfect life of obedience, his death as a sacrifice for our sins that satisfied the holy requirements of God, his resurrection and conquering of death…We just celebrated these things on Easter. Easter is about JUSTIFICATION. There is no HUMAN WORK involved in this. We are saved by faith in Christ alone- in His work.
Sanctification comes after we have received the Holy Spirit as a helper. The Holy Spirit begins to work on our hearts and allows us to see sin, to love God’s ways, to understand His Scripture, to put off sin and put on the fruits of the Spirit. We begin to look more and more like Christ in our actions, beliefs, attitudes, etc. This too is by grace. He gave us a helper to do these good works. But these good things, these attitudes and actions that we now love and want to do for him, will not save us! They are not how we are saved. We do them AS A RESULT of the saving work that Christ has already done in our hearts. This is a life long process. We will grow in our sanctification as we read His word and as the Holy Spirit helps us. There is no room in our vocabulary for phrases such as,”he was such a good guy- he must be in heaven” or “she did so many good things in her life. She is definitely a Christian” if we are not including the most important fact: He or she believed in Christ alone for their salvation.
God has no predicament to deal with. He is loving- the fact that we are provided for, that we have air to breathe, that he sustains the earth, that he causes rain to fall and the sun to shine reminds us of how loving He is. But He is also Holy. He cannot be any less holy than He is. His Loving Nature does not win out over His Holy nature. They are BOTH true! Our sin required the wrath of God. It required a sacrifice. In our fallen state we do not have access to Him- But through Christ, the mediator and eternal high priest, we do have access. There is no other way to God the Father, but through Christ. The loving thing that he did was provide a sacrifice that would take our place. He doesn’t just say,”Never mind! Everyone can come! Forget my holiness! I will just love you!” He says he has provided for you a substitute who took the wrath for you and who lived perfectly in your place. He lovingly counts Christ’s perfect life as my perfect record and He put my punishment on Christ. That was LOVE.
I know people have all kinds of opinions about this topic. But since I just said all of this to the guy on the TV with Bill O’Reilly, I figured I would write down my thoughts. Tomorrow I am going to list all the verses that I looked at as I wrote tonight.