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August 30, 2012

Lord save us from hell

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 Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?

-Matthew 25:44

Some Christians believe that all non-Christians will go to hell for eternity after they die. Most of them realize that eternity is a pretty long time to suffer, especially for a person who maybe never heard of Jesus or never witnessed an authentic Christian life. So they feel compelled to share their faith and to go and make disciples of all nations.

Sharing faith with others can be awkward, expensive, and downright inconvenient. But if you don't share it and a non Christian dies, they're going to hell. So what does the cost matter if the blood of countless others is on your hands?

I'm usually a bit skeptical of this. Does salvation not come from God alone, with every individual soul laid bare before his and her Maker? Does the eternal fate of some poor widow on the other side of the earth really depend on something that I do or don't do out of my abundance (like supporting missions trips)? Isn't that an awfully self-centered way to see things?

Jesus had some things to say about hell. He told challenging parables that specifically mentioned, among other things, dividing sheep from goats and eternal torment and weeping and gnashing of teeth. It seems that he thought and taught that hell is real and some but not others would be going there.

Who will be going to hell?

I doubt that "nobody comes to the father but through me" is an indication that all non Christians will be going to hell. And I suspect that the intention of the Great Commission was more than simply telling people about Jesus so they could have a say in their eternal destiny.

So while it seems uncertain whether or not all outsiders are going to hell, Jesus reserved some of his harshest criticism for the religious insiders, Pharisee types who speak falsely in the name of God, the zealots who claim one thing and do another; the faithful who say "Lord, Lord," but fail to do the will of God. It is recorded in few instances that Jesus talked about weighty eternal judgments being made based on one thing alone: what we do for orphans and widows and strangers and the poor.

And to claim to be a follower of Jesus and ignore all the needs near and far is an awfully self centered way to live.

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