Love is patient
Love is kind
Love is not jealous
Love is not selfish
Love avoids anger
Love is forgiving
Love forgets faults
Love always protects
Love always hopes
Love is always faithful
Love never gives up
Love never fails
This is the Biblical definition for “agape” unconditional love (1 Cor 13:4-8 with writer’s lib – so read it for yourself).
And God is this Love (1 John 4:16).
If love is patient –
How can He not patiently wait for me to put my faith in him from the depths of hell?
If love forgets my faults and forgives me –
Why would His forgiveness stop at the point of death and “allegedly” declare there is no more time for second chances?
If love is always faithful –
How can He stop having faith in me once I have crossed over into eternity?
If love never gives up –
How can He give up on people who are in hell?
If love never fails –
Why would He fail to rescue us from hell?
We need to take a closer look at the Bible, because there is something wrong in Traditional Western Christianity, where God equals love, and love mysteriously equals eternal punishment for all sinners except a select few… This does not add up!
What if there are exactly three hoops we have to jump through to enter into heaven: repentance, grace and faith. How can we ever possibly know that we are sorry enough or have renewed our minds enough (depending on your definition of repentance) to qualify for heaven? Or how do we know whether we have enough faith? Is there room for doubt in that faith? Doubt that God exists? Doubt that we are actually penitent enough to be forgiven.
What if there are more than three hoops we have to jump through to get into heaven? What if we also have to get our theology right? What if those who refuse to believe that Jesus is God, or those who do not accept God as Trinity, go straight to hell for getting their theology wrong and potentially leading other people to do the same? What other theological questions might disqualify people from getting into heaven?
What about our morality? The Bible indicates that we are judged by our works. What works are those? Does that mean that if one is actively pro-abortion / pro-choice as it is referred to (which some would define as murder) there are no second chances for that person?
Or what if a person is gay, lesbian, transvestite, asexual or bisexual – is that person disqualified from heaven because of a sexuality they feel they have no control over? Is one only disqualified for being activtely homosexual but not for being a celibate homosexual? Where do you draw the line? Is having homosexual thoughts the same as being in a relationship with a person of the same sex? Or again, is it about being sorry enough?
So – assuming being gay is a sin (and I’m not saying it is) – if I were gay and on my deathbed after years of engaging in a same-sex relationship, and I begged God to forgive me and let me into heaven – would I get in then? What if I died before I confessed or repented, but always believed in God and tried to love him? Or what if I were simply not sorry at all, and I attended a gay affirming church and believed that I was in a right relationship with God and will be accepted into heaven – what then?
Exactly how actively “sinful” is too “sinful” to qualify for grace?
People who attended my mother’s funeral believed she was a beautiful person, they had nice things to say about her and nobody really questioned my family’s claim that she is in heaven now. But what if she harboured bitterness and resentment in her heart, or some other secret sins? While she was still sick, someone actually had the gall to ask her what “sin” she had committed that caused her to get sick! Was she being punished on earth for her secret sins? Does that mean she’s done enough penance to escape hell? Or will she go to some purgatorial midway spiritual-life where she has to suffer from bowel cancer for a few more aeons before God lets her into heaven? What is the onus of her salvation?
What is the onus of my salvation? There are plenty of people out there who suspect that I might be a heretic and might not get in to heaven: because of my theology. Perhaps there is no grace for me because I write books that offend people and could potentially “lead people astray” if I am wrong!
What is it exactly that we have to do to get to heaven? Is the Bible specific? And whether it is specific or not, does our denominational interpretation make it sound like there are extra things we have to do like being baptised or being filled with the Holy Spirit or praying the sinners prayer, or forgiving our brother – because if we don’t forgive we won’t be forgiven – not to mention; God forbid anyone blaspheme the Holy Spirit!
How then can anyone be assured of their salvation?
So let’s quickly review the checklist of variables I have just mentioned above:
- Believe you are saved by grace
- Have faith – because without faith it is impossible to please God
- Be baptised in water
- Be baptised in the Holy Spirit
- Believe in the Trinity
- Believe Jesus is both God and man
- Forgive everybody
- Do not blaspheme the Holy Spirit
- Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength
- Display the fruits of the Spirit
- Do good works – because faith without deeds is dead
- Do not do bad works – or be sexually immoral because the Western church seems particularly hung up on that!
Have I forgotten anything? When I was a teenager, I suffered major anxiety and condemnation over all of these things. What if I’m not really good enough to be saved?
But there are even more questions to add to that! What if I’m in the wrong religion? What if I’m biased to Christianity (and I am) because my parents are Christian (and my mother was; my father is)? What if the Muslims have a more correct understanding of who God is than I do? Or if I have the more correct understanding and they don’t, does that mean they are all going to hell? But what if they couldn’t help it because, just like me, they were biased to their religion because it was their family’s religion?
How can we trust in a God who places multiple conditions on our entry into heaven and excludes all those who mistakenly choose the wrong path? Where is the unconditional-love in that?
If the onus of our salvation is anything other than being saved by Jesus Christ alone – we dare not trust it. Either he has saved us without us having to do a single thing to be included in his saving acts; or there is no salvation…
Do not mistake God’s justice for punishment. Biblical justice is defined as grace! 1 John 1:9 “He is faithful and just to forgive.” Justice in the Western legal system is often equated to punishment: the criminal gets his just deserts. However, God did not send Jesus to die in order to exact his retributive-justice upon Jesus for our sins. Jesus’ blood cleanses, purifies and washes away the sins of the world. Forgiveness, mercy, grace; not Western-legal-justice!
There is no punishment for sin, and there actually never has been. Romans 3:25 says God had left sin unpunished and Jesus’ death revealed a justice apart from the law! This means it was not punishment for disobedience according to the law: God left failure to comply with OT law unpunished. Instead Jesus’ death: the God-man surrendering to our sin-consequence of death; brought about healing from the disease of sin – a disease which warps our minds until so many of us are actually deluded enough to believe that God would rather punish us than forgive us!
If we misunderstand the justice of God we also misunderstand Hell! While God disciplines those he loves, he does not punish anyone. Discipline has the goal of bringing us to repentance and change, but punishment that is eternal would indicate the person being punished cannot be and has not been forgiven. Parents discipline their children because sin can have some really awful consequences (consequences are not punishment). Why would God who is our unconditionally loving father, opt to punish any of his children for all eternity?
I do not believe in the traditional Western-Christian concept of Hell. Whatever and wherever Hell is, I believe God is there; He loves us there; and He is fully capable of rescuing us out of there. Psalm 139:8 If I make my bed in Hell, behold, he is there! 1 Samuel 14:14 God devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from him! Mal 3:2 Refers to the refiner’s fire and Hebrews 12:29 tells us God is a consuming fire. We also know from 1 John 4:16 that God is love. I understand Hell, not to be a place where God is separate from us, but rather where God is an all-consuming fire of love (metaphorically).
So any people in Hell will be shown that God is love and that Jesus is the way the truth, the life and the narrow door into Heaven. When they stop trying to save themselves by their works and surrender to the fact that God has done everything to save them, thereby repenting; then they are ready to enter into Heaven. Repent means to change one’s mind. We all need to repent of thinking that our works, fruit, theology, denomination, religion, nationality or sexuality affects our entry to Heaven and realise that Jesus is the only way and he has saved the day for all of us!
One of the reasons I believe people can move from Hell to Heaven, is because there are times in the Bible where the word eternal occurs that are mistranslations of the word aionios from which we derive the word aeon. Aionios refers to a quality of life in the age to come which is not limitless at all. Secondly, there are no verses that explicitly say we must put our faith in God before we die, or it’s too late. There is one in Hebrews that says: “It is appointed for a person once to die and then comes judgement.” But the word judgement in the Bible (just like justice) has been misconstrued by the Western idea of judgement which we take from our legal system. The book of Judges in the Bible was very clearly a book of rescuers (Judges 2:16). Judgement and salvation go hand in hand in Scripture.
Thirdly, Philippians 2:10 tells us that every knee will be in Heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Furthermore Revelation 21:25, which occurs after the end of the world and after Judgement/Salvation day etc., says that “On no day will Heavens gates be shut … The nations will be brought into it!” Revelation 22:17, one of the very last verses in the Bible says: “The Spirit and the Bride say ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty …” (like the rich young man in Hades – a Hades which will be emptied according to Revelation 20:13) “… Come and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life!” This is the finale to the entire Bible. God beckoning that people should come to Heaven after death!
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus said: “Repent and believe the good news” to a Jewish audience who thought they were already believers (Mark 1:15).
Repent means: change your mind! What thought or belief system was he asking them to change? Is it possible they had a wrong concept of who God actually is?
In the next few chapters of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus heals the sick, eats with “evildoers,” breaks Sabbath traditions, touches a woman considered dirty and “untouchable,” and blatantly forgives sins.
We know that Jesus represents his father. I believe he is saying: “Change your minds about Dad! You may think he can’t stand to look at sin, but I am staring sin right in the face; healing it, forgiving it, eating with it and touching it!”
God is not allergic to sin. He took sin on with eyes wide open, accepting it, forgiving it and healing us from it!