Thursday, August 4, 2016

Go to God or Go to Hell

“And how do we receive forgiveness from God?” I asked

“We have to go to God, or we will go to hell….”

Not quite the answer I had expected.  I had just explained the Principle of Forgiveness to the man, that the power of a relationship shifts to the one who has been hurt once one has perpetrated a heartache against another.  The only way a relationship can be restored is if the one who has been hurt forgives.

I tried to direct the conversation a little differently, “But isn’t it God that comes to us with forgiveness?”

The man visibly shook, then erupted, “No!  That is silly.  We need to go to Jesus.  God coming to us… that is stupid.  If you don’t go to Jesus, you go to hell.”

I found the conversation somewhat distressing.  For some Christians, this is what passes for the salvation message. This man had spent many decades in a Christian church, and for this to be his understanding of salvation saddened me.  Going to God out of one’s fear of hell is the message of some other religions, but Christianity is, by nature, radically different and wholly other.

God comes to us. Not 50% of the way.  Not 80% of the way.  Not 90% of the way.  God comes to us in Jesus 100% of the way.  Jesus coming into our world is what brings God’s love, forgiveness and salvation to us. Yet, for some reason, we want to hold onto the notion that we somehow contribute 5% or at least 0.001% to the act of salvation by “Going to God.”

Here is the salvation message and the Good News of Jesus Christ:

  • We broke relationship with God, each other and our planet because of our desire to be our own god’s, insisting on our own selfish desires at the expense of others.  
  • God was hurt by our destruction of these relationships, but desperately wants to love and care for us.  
  • According to the Principle of Forgiveness, it is the offended party (i.e.—God) who must take initiative and bring forgiveness to us if we are to ever have our relationship with God restored.  
  • Rather than sitting in heaven and yelling at us from the sky “I love you,” God spoke the Word of love and forgiveness, and Jesus was born for the salvation of the world.  Jesus isn’t just a messenger of God’s love and forgiveness, Jesus IS God’s love and forgiveness.  
  • We tried to kill God’s love and forgiveness, but God’s love is relentless:  even death could not stop God from loving us. God takes that which is broken and dead and breathes new life.  

Isn’t that awesome?  

“But, I HAVE TO DO SOMETHING!” the man yelled at me.

Why? Jesus means that we do not do ANYTHING for our salvation.  We don’t even “go to God.”  God came to us.  Salvation is 100% the domain of God and the gift of God in Jesus Christ.  

We can do something, just not related to our salvation.  Out of gratitude, we can and will respond to this gift, but there is nothing we need do as a prerequisite for receiving this gift.  We will want to please God as a sign of our thanks for what God has done for us, and as a means of blessing others so that they, too, can be assured God’s love for them. 

When I finally explained to the man that this is who Jesus is and that salvation is 100% the gift of God, the man stopped his gyrations. His jaw dropped, and, after a pause, a tear streamed down his cheek.

“Wow!” he said.  “I’ve been told wrong all of my life that my salvation depends upon me and what I do. But, this finally makes sense.  I have been living in fear of hell all my life, trying to please God to avoid hell, but God sets me free from this fear.  I get it now.”

I hope you do, too.  Stop living in fear of hell.  God has set you free.  God came 100% of the way to you.  You do not contribute even 1% your salvation.  Do change.  Not because you have to.  Change because you are grateful for this free gift of God.

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