Growing up, the TV programmes, the cartoons, the grownups, the teachers and even some religious leaders said that bad people go to hell and good people go to heaven. I believed it. I grew up struggling to be good only to realize that no matter how good I became, I wasn’t heaven-bound. I said the sinner’s prayer and went to church faithfully because I was afraid of hell. I served in ministry because I wanted to have a neat moral record before God. God had to have a track record of my morality system and see that I deserved his love and gifts. I was living my life in my version of perfection. I obeyed the Ten Commandments and said in my heart that I was definitely better than most people. God showed me how wrong I was living and he showed me the way. I hope to show you the way away from that false kind of living.
The popular gospel
There is a popular gospel that teaches that there is a heaven and there is a hell. The hell is horrible. The heaven is wonderful. It teaches that men are born in sin and so they are heading to hell but not to worry because Jesus is an escape to go to heaven. There is a huge problem with this kind of doctrine. It is a false teaching not because it has its facts wrong but rather because it has its implications all covered in a false presentation of God. This kind of doctrine muffles God’s love. Get-saved-and-avoid-hell doesn’t present the truth of Christ’s salvation for mankind. Men and women are not saved to avoid hell; men and women are saved by God to experience love-and that’s heaven.
Fear of Hell
The fear of hell will NOT keep you away from hell. You may have read a scary story about people burning in a bottomless pit forever and decided to change your behaviour because you didn’t want to go there. Or perhaps you heard a story of a man or woman who had a near-death experience and in their shift of consciousness they saw a vision of hell. You couldn’t imagine it happen to you so out of fear you said the sinner’s prayer to get spiritual insurance. Jesus became superglue that fixed your little hellish problem, right? Wrong. Why? Wrong because, like me back then, you still fear. You still live each day, knowing you don’t live by God’s standards so you keep getting saved. You keep checking your track record to see if you and God are in good books! Every time there is an altar call in church to get saved you go to the front. You doubt your salvation because it is hinged on your morality and your performance of being good which, between you and me, is inconsistent. You are generally moved by guilt not necessarily because the messages you hear are powerful but because you remember how much you fear going to hell and just want to confirm your security, right? Don’t fear, beloved. Liberation is yours today.
Any motivation by fear is weak
If your motivation to become a Christian was to avoid hell, you probably follow Christianity’s teachings but don’t believe some of them. Fear can never change a heart. Fear can cause your behaviour to change but your heart’s ambition remains constant. You may stop drinking alcohol and you may stop sleeping with your boyfriend/girlfriend but it’s only a matter of time before your fall back. Why? Because your incentive to read your Bible, to go to church, to stop drinking, to stop watching porn etc isn’t propelled by an end desire to change but by a sidetracked desire to avoid the ghastly hell that you read about and saw pictures of in movies. So you struggle and you become clean for a few days, weeks, months but each day is harder than the day before. You get tired of “being a good guy.”You’re not living in freedom and you start saying things like, “Being born again is lack of freedom.” The truth, beloved, is that you really do not know freedom.
Any motivation by pride is weak
But you may say, “Ernest my motivation is not fear. I’m a good person undoubtedly. I don’t need Jesus. I’m good and God can’t send a good person like me to hell.” Listen to how Jonathan Edwards dismantled this weak reliance on pride in our own righteousness. He said, “All your righteousness would have no influence to keep you out of hell any more than a spider web could stop a falling rock.” Your being a good person out of your own strength and effort and you imagine it is enough to save you. Not in the backdrop of a Holy, Holy God. You do well and become a “good” person so that you don’t go to hell. It means you are your own Saviour. Jesus isn’t your Saviour. He may be your role model, your example and your favourite Bible character but your own efforts to stay away from hell are your saviour. You need to realize that even if you were as moral as Mother Teresa herself, you don’t qualify to enter heaven, beloved.
Heaven is for changed lives not changed lifestyles
If our behaviours change but our hearts remain indifferent to the cross of Jesus, then our spiritual conditions are still the same. We may tell ourselves that we are saved but in real light, we are false converts. We will struggle to do good things and moral acts and at the end, Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:21-23 will come to life. He said:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he 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 perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
Isn’t that tragic, beloved? Doing good things to go to heaven is like campaigning for your favourite Presidential candidate whom you know so well and after his victory, walking to his office to ask to hang out and celebrate. Even if you used all your money to campaign for him and did great things in his name, you will not be allowed in that office for one simple reason; the president doesn’t know you. Even if you know his history and know what he likes more than his own children know, you will be kicked out of that office. You are a stranger to the president despite your good works and he doesn’t know you. Jesus says MANY people who call him Lord, Lord will not get into heaven. These people are not bad people, beloved. They are good people who tried to be morally accepted by doing many good things in Jesus name but Jesus did not know them. They are people who did good things because they feared hell not because they loved Jesus. They were doing well before this whole hell issue came up. They don’t have a problem with Jesus. He is a good guy and they love some of his quotes but they’re not sure if they want to be largely associated with him. Why should their friends know that they are believers? But the hell issue threw things out of balance and so they were arm-twisted into ‘salvation’. These are people who thought that saying the sinner’s prayer is like a magic wand that changes their status from sinner to saved. To them Jesus is just a key that opens a door they want to go through. They hear the popular gospel of repent-or-go-to-hell and in fear they say in their hearts “Okay, why not. I don’t wanna go to hell. I’ll say the prayer and accept their Jesus.” That gospel is false, beloved, because it is incomplete and I hereby state that you mustn’t subscribe to it. It scares people and changes their behaviour (only for a season) but it doesn’t change their hearts. They still bask in the coldness of deception and the only place they can thaw is in the fires of hell. God loves these and wants to save them.
A false convert may change and stop e.g. having sex with their boyfriend but if you ask them if having sex with their boyfriend is wrong, they don’t see a problem. In fact, they get angry at how their religion keeps telling them what to do and what not to do. They only stopped what they were doing so as not to go to hell. Such a person will deteriorate easily. They will struggle to keep all the rules of right and wrong and eventually they will break. It will be too much for them! Do this! Don’t do this! Some can go for years because of an environment that shields them from falling publicly. However, you will know them by their fruits even if they don’t fall publicly. They may be ‘good’ people but the fruit of their hearts shows the true state of their soul. You may see them clearly go against the word of God and quickly shout, “Don’t judge me!” so that nobody can challenge them. When issues of their character come up you may hear them profess, “Yes I am a Christian but this is just the way I am. You can’t force me to change.” They support the Bible only as far as it supports their opinions. They love the Bible and even have a few verses in their heads memorized, but if the Bible quote unnerves their emotions or their opinions, they would go with their opinion any day. God is God to them as long as he doesn’t have a problem with their lifestyle, habits, emotions and opinions. They may believe that going to church qualifies one to be a Christian. However they don’t realize that going to church doesn’t make one a Christian just as going to school doesn’t make one educated. MANY people go to school. Janitors go to school, night guards go to school, teachers go to school, cooks and cleaners go to school but ONLY the student graduates. When the environment isn’t conducive, they may fall into a questionable lifestyle and then we say that they backslid. Yet in truth they did not backslide. The truth is that they were not saved in the first place; they only relapsed after they tried so hard to be moral. The game was too hard to keep up with so they broke. The Bible was a book of hard things to do so they gave up on it all together. They came because they feared hell not because they loved Jesus. Listen, you can scare people to church but you can only love them to heaven. These people need to hear the true gospel.
A false convert may have read the Bible through and through but they have no love for Jesus. They may even know the verses and have them memorized better than any Christian in the world. They become tired of listening to them because they find no value in them. All they see is a historical book that cannot help their lives. They grow indifferent to the cross, they take the word of God for granted and in their heart of hearts they believe themselves to be good people and going to heaven on account of their goodness. These people too need to hear the true gospel.
THE TRUE GOSPEL: We are saved by Jesus’ goodness not our own.
The Bible says in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith and this not from yourselves. It is the gift of God, not by works so that no man can boast.” We are accepted by God not because we are good but because Jesus is good. You must understand, beloved, that even the most moral person in the world is a filthy sinner in the presence of our God. Is God that mean? No, he is that holy! He is so holy that the most moral person in the earth is seen as filthy rags in his sight. Those are not my words. Those are his words according to Isaiah 64:6. Check it out for yourself. God is so holy that hating your brother is equal to murder, looking at a girl who is not your wife and desiring her sexually is called adultery. God is so holy that being a ‘good guy’ is equal to being in punishment league with the devil’s cronies. God’s holiness cannot dwell in the darkness of humanity. And believe me, all our morality piled to the sky, tripled and multiplied by the innocence of all the cute babies in the world is so ugly and abhorrent to a holy God. It’s just not good enough. Does it mean he is that unfair? No, it means he is that holy! Our whiteness next to him looks like blackness. If our morality is that bad, how much more our sin? The Gospel of Christ requires us not only to repent of our immorality but also of our false sense of righteousness, also commonly called self-righteousness. And both, beloved, both are sin.
THE TRUE GOSPEL: We are saved to be with Jesus, not to escape hell.
Beloved, we don’t become saved to avoid hell and judgement; we become saved to be with Jesus! You’re not saved to go to church! Going to church won’t sanctify your soul. We are not saved to avoid hell. We are saved to be with Jesus. There is a hell of a difference between those two things (all pun intended). What is it? Hell and heaven are not only geographical places where people go. Hell and heaven are conditions, states, positions if you like. The perfect description of heaven is being intensely loved and protected from all harm! It’s knowing it, being sure of it and experiencing it with all its benefits. And not just being intensely loved like the false views of love (read lust) on the Spanish soap operas, no! Heaven is being loved regardless of you being a total jerk. Heaven is being loved unconditionally regardless of your failures and shortcomings. Heaven is being rewarded for what you do not deserve! Heaven is being appreciated, being cherished, being considered, being esteemed, being protected, being exalted for something you do not deserve and that you did not do.
The Bible says in Romans 3:23 that “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” All men have sinned. None is righteous. God hates that sinful nature in you but he loves you. He wants you but he doesn’t want your sin. He wants to destroy your sin but wants to spare your life. But how can he do that when you and your sin are one? How can he do that when you are what you do, you are what you say and you are what you think? It’s your thoughts, your actions and your words that put blemish and fault on you. So how can he punish that part of you without killing you? I’ll tell you how he can. He can transfer all your sin (past, present and future) plus all the sin of your friends (past, present and future) plus all the sin of your neighbours (past, present and future) plus all the sin of Africa, Asia, Europe, The Americas, Australia, all the islands and the entire world population (past, present and future), beloved, and he can make someone pay for them. He can do that cause he is God.
He can spare you the punishment so that someone else could take it. If nobody takes it, then you will be separated from him forever. You will experience eternal death and it is irreversible, beloved. If nobody takes the punishment, then you, beloved, will experience the hell we talked about and he can’t have you drink that cup of suffering. So instead of you, in your place, he can make someone else drink from the cup of suffering. He can make NOT just anyone pay that price; he can make his only Son whom he loves more than anything pay for them. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.
So his son came from heaven to earth, willingly, as a human being called Jesus to show us how he wanted us to live. He set the example of how awesome humanity was before Lucifer, that rebellious angel, tricked us. He lived like one who was in Eden. He lived a perfect life! After he set the perfect example for us, we killed him. And though we did evil in killing him, Death couldn’t hold him down. Through his new life, he defeated its power and the power of the devil. He took the punishment for us and died on a shameful wooden cross so that you wouldn’t have to.
Heaven is grace, getting what you don’t deserve. Heaven is mercy, not getting what you deserve.
Now, if that is not a God who loves you beloved, I don’t know what is. He came just for you. He craves for you and delights in you regardless of your failures. He wants you to be saved so that you can dwell in his presence forever so that all your blackness can be taken away and you can live in his whiteness without being judged or condemned. That beloved, is heaven. Heaven isn’t playing harps and singing all day. Nay! Besides, not everyone can play an instrument. (I flunked Piano class!) Heaven is being loved, rewarded, treasured, cherished and esteemed when you don’t deserve it. The least you can do is more than just stop sleeping with your boyfriend or just stop clubbing on Friday nights or just stop doing stuff that you feel guilty about or just go to church to become a ‘good’ person. The least you can do is surrender your life, turn from the blackness of your heart and love him back! The true sign of repentance and conversion is change. Whoever is in Christ is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). This is the Gospel!
We are susceptible to sin even after we are saved
Beloved, also understand that once we are saved, we are free from the power of sin but we are not free from its influence. The day is coming when the influence will be destroyed, when Christ returns, our blessed wait! However, until then, sin’s influence is very real and because of it, it can make us stumble and fall. That is why we are empowered to live lives that honour God. His Holy Spirit enables us. We are instructed to flee from sin and the spirit of God empowers us to do so. We are instructed to draw our strength from his word daily and the Holy Spirit teaches us what he is saying. We receive knowledge and wisdom from the Bible when all others see is a storybook. Our goodness within Christ, to elevate God’s name is recognized by God. Outside Christ, it is called filthy rags because it is inspired by our own efforts. Those works, within Christ, are still not enough to save us but they are evident that we are his children.
And nothing can separate us from his love.
Romans 8:38-39 says, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, neither angels, nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Absolutely nothing can make you lose your salvation! Once you’re in, you’re in! No angel, demon or principality can take it away. Think of the worst thing you’ve done…now thank Jesus because he forgives you for that. Nothing can separate you from him! Now, imagine that you will do something worse…he will forgive that too! Nothing can separate you. Now, you may think, “Ernest, if his love and grace work like that, won’t people abuse it, keep on doing wrong stuff, knowing they will be forgiven?” That’s a good question. Remember, the false gospel only changes us to behave well only because we are scared. An opportunity to misbehave by a person of the false gospel will be a relief from being “so good”. But for those whose hearts are truly transformed by the true gospel, an opportunity to do the wrong thing is an opportunity to reflect God’s nature and to show that the right thing can be done. The gospel changes hearts to behave right.
His grace compels us not to abuse it but to honour it. Titus 2:11-13 says, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.” We are susceptible to sin even after we are saved, we do fall in our weakness, but his strength enables us to say no so that we may stand in the day of evil. This is the Gospel!
G.O.S.P.E.L God’s Only Son Paying Everyone Love.
The Gospel isn’t a marketing plan to make you happy. The Gospel is a plan to give you life through Jesus! The gospel is more interested in making you holy than happy. However, those who embrace it find happiness. Lasting happiness is only a by-product of having life! No life means having no happiness. Even if you had all the money in the world but were dying today, you wouldn’t be happy. But if you had eternal life today by the Great Cosmic Creator of the Universe, even if every reputation and form of happiness was taken away from you today, you would remain happy. You would even trade all your life’s worth because what you have is of more value. Because what you have is gold! Even if the world offered you an alternative, it is mere copper in comparison to the gold you have found. The gospel changes us to see what is of value in this life and what is meaningless. The gospel is not meant to change our minds concerning being moral. It is meant to change our hearts concerning loving God. Loving God is not done by saying it with your mouth. Loving God is keeping his word and accepting his sacrifice for you. If minds are changed but hearts remain the same, be assured no conversion has taken place. They are false converts and Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:21 will be true of them, that not everyone who calls him Lord will enter his heaven, and that they are many. If you are there, beloved, discover today that Jesus is the heaven.
Jesus is the heaven!
Jesus is not a key that opens a door to heaven. Jesus is the key, Jesus is the door and Jesus is the heaven! Admitting your moral and spiritual failure and bankruptcy is plugging the key into the hole. Admission that Jesus Christ is the Son of God is turning the key. Acknowledging and receiving his forgiveness is pushing the door. Turning from our wicked ways in walking past the door. Living for him is walking deeper past the door and the day that you die is seeing him as he is. Our faith is proved to be true when our love for Jesus is shown in action to him and to fellow men and women. No Jesus, no heaven. He is the way the truth and the life, no one can come to the Father except though him (John 14:6). John Piper put it like this: “People who are happy in heaven if Christ were not there, will not be there. The gospel is not a way to get people into heaven; it is a way to get people to God. It’s a way of overcoming every obstacle to everlasting joy in God. If we don’t want God above all things, we have not been converted by the gospel.”
And beloved, understand me when I say that I am not undermining hell and the power it has. I am not disregarding it by muffling it with beautiful sounding words. Jesus talked about hell more than everyone who talked about hell in the Bible combined. It is a horrible place. Hell is the absence of God. It begins here on earth by living a life for ourselves (that doesn’t satisfy no matter how hard we try) and continues after death into an eternal torment that never comes to an end. God says in his word that he hates it when an evil man dies. Ezekiel 33:11 As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! He doesn’t want you to go to hell. He doesn’t send us there. Our inordinate pride to accept that we are sinners sends us there. Our moral bankruptcy catalysed by a refusal to change and accept his forgiveness sends us there. Hell is a wilful destination, beloved. However, you mustn’t be afraid because Christ overcame hell on that cross. He experienced hell so that you wouldn’t have to. May that sacrifice compel you to love him more than to fear hell.
And if you’ve never heard the gospel clearly and you were only scared to accept Christianity as another world religion so that you don’t go to hell, let me extend a hand to you. I welcome you not to a mere religion but to a relationship that accepts you as you are. Religion’s operating principle says, “do good and God will accept you.” Christ says, this is my relationship to you, “I have accepted you as you are; therefore do good.” The world falsely tells you that bad people go to hell and good people go to heaven. Jesus says everyone is going to hell but I went for you instead.
You see, there are two kinds of people in this world as far as heaven and hell are concerned. There are those that say to God, “Your will be done,” and there are those to whom God says, “Your will be done.” The former out of humility surrenders themselves to his bidding. The latter in pride refuses to accept that they are nothing despite all their efforts. The gospel therefore doesn’t divide the world into good versus bad people but into humble versus proud people. For those that accept it, it affirms them out of their failure and it humbles them out of their self-righteousness. Come to Christ genuinely, beloved! Be among those that God will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Rid your struggles! Rid your burden! Know his love! Know peace! Know hope!