Laying the Foundation for the Gospel (“Erasing Hell” Conclusions part 1)

20120812-230532.jpgChan, Francis; Preston Sprinkle (2011). Erasing Hell: What God said about eternity, and the things we made up. David C. Cook. ISBN 978-0-7814-0725-0

Article by Leif L.

This article is a collection of my thoughts derived from reading Erasing Hell, and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs of the author of the book.

Laying the Foundation

Until I read Erasing Hell, I spent little time reading, researching, or thinking systematically about the subject of hell. But I have opened this blog with that theme because I think it is an important backdrop to the gospel, an essential prerequisite to unlocking the truth of salvation. It is a teaching that is often either neglected or caricatured.

It may seem strange and even distasteful to start a blog with the subject of hell and God’s wrath. It would have been easier and far more culturally acceptable to write about heaven and the love of God, never to mention the darkness of our sin and the divine judgment that it calls upon itself.

The author of Hebrews states that “eternal judgment” is one of the principles of Christ. He also teaches that we should progress beyond its discussion to other important items in the gospel (such as the person and work of Christ, the great themes of Hebrews). Nevertheless, he calls eternal judgment a principle element, a foundational truth. It is an indispensable piece which supports the gospel of Christ, and must be accepted and understood before we can proceed to the grander themes.

Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. Hebrews 6:1-2 NKJV

To comprehend both hell and salvation, we must address and grasp the issues of God’s wrath and the fallen human condition. Once these are understood, and accepted as true, it is proper to move on to pursue the greatness of God’s love and grace. But hell and wrath provide the background and context; mercy and grace are empty and abstract ideas without it.

The wrath of God and the universal condemnation and corruption of mankind is biblical truth, and an essential backdrop or foundation to the gospel.

    The Bible clearly teaches the following points:

  • All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)
  • The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23)
  • The whole world is guilty before God ( Romans 3:19)
  • There is none good, no not one; there is none that seeks after God (Romans 3:10-11)
  • the one who does not believe on the Son is condemned already (John 3:18)
  • The wrath of God remains on the unbeliever (John 3:36)

We are born under the curse, in a state of unbelief. As the theme of this blog declares, we are only complete when we are in Christ. Before we can be made whole, we must accept that we are broken and grasp the way it affects us in the present, and the implications for the future.

When we believe in Christ, it is because the Holy Spirit convicts us of the sin of unbelief (see John 16:9). We will seek freedom only when we realize that we are in bondage. We will desire salvation when our conscience is discomforted with the reality of the punishment that justly waits for us. These realizations are necessary for anyone who wishes to become a Christian, as they prepare the stony soil of our hearts to receive Christ. This knowledge creates a need in the soul that otherwise would be absent, and a desperation that forces us to our knees, crying, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24)” We are not born with this knowledge, it is only imparted through the preaching of the true gospel.

But many modern presentations of the gospel do not start from the beginning, to lay down the principles of Christ. Elements which cause discomfort and despair in our own abilities are removed. In its place is offered a candy-coated religion that has a cheerful view of human nature. Such religion looks and feels like a therapeutic self-help program, rather than the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. People are being brought into the church on the message of the love of God, but often bypass the fact of their personal peril, the wrath of God, and the need for repentance from sin.

Gone are the days when hellfire and brimstone were shouted from pulpits across the land – we are certainly not in danger of that extreme in today’s religious culture. An increasing number of preachers teach that hell is an affront to the nature of a loving God. It is unpopular to teach that we are vile sinners, helplessly separated from God except through what Christ has done for us. It is rarely preached that God is so much unlike us that we can have no natural desire for him, except by a gift of divine grace.

John the Baptist’s first recorded words were of impending divine indignation, and repentance. He was preaching, in essence, the principles of Christ.

Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, … And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Luke 3:7-9 NKJV

And speaking of the meek and lowly Jesus, he said:

His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” Luke 3:17 NKJV

Jesus warned:

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Luke 12:4-5 NKJV

These points may bring us to despair, nay, are meant to bring us to utter desolation, in order that we might find and cherish the hope contained in the gospel: the Person and work of Christ.

To be continued next week.

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