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The Arminian Affirmation of the Atonement

The Bible is clear that Jesus died for sinners.  No one denies this.  Both Arminians and Calvinists acknowledge that Jesus shed His blood for the souls of lost sinners.  Matthew 1:21 is clear that Jesus came to save His people from their sins.  The key question in this debate over the atonement is whether the atonement is for all sinners period.  Many Calvinists insist that the atonement is indeed for all people on some level.  For example, Dr. John MacArthur believes that the atonement provides benefits for all people while only having the power to save the elect.  MacArthur goes on to state, “Jesus Christ made a sufficient sacrifice to cover every sin of every one who believes (John 3:16-18; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; 4:10; 1 John 2:2.”

I do not disagree.  MacArthur states the following on 1 John 2:2 and the “whole world”:

This is a generic term, referring not to every single individual, but to mankind in general.  Christ actually paid the penalty only for those who would repent and believe.  A number of Scriptures indicate that Christ died for the world (John 1:29; 3:16; 6:51; 1 Timothy 2:6; Hebrews 2:9).  Most of the world will be eternally condemned to hell to pay for their own sins, so they could not have been paid for by Christ.  The passages that speak of Christ’s dying for the whole world must be understood to refer to mankind in general (as in Titus 2:11).  “World” indicates the sphere, the beings toward whom God seeks reconciliation and has provided propitiation.  God has mitigated his wrath on sinners temporarily, by letting them live and enjoy earthly life (1 Timothy 4:10).  In that sense, Christ has provided a brief, temporary propitiation for the whole world.  But he actually satisfied fully the wrath of God eternally only for the elect who believe.  Christ’s death in itself had unlimited and infinite value because he is Holy God.  Thus his sacrifice was sufficient to pay the penalty for all the sins of all whom God brings to faith.  But the actual satisfaction and atonement was made only for those who believe (John 10:11, 15; 17:9, 20; Acts 20:28; Romans 8:32, 37; Ephesians 5:25).  The pardon for sin is offered to the whole world, but received only by those who believe (1 John 4:9, 14; John 5:24).  There is no other way to be reconciled to God.

A few thoughts here about this.  First, I appreciate Dr. MacArthur much.  He preaches salvation to all.  He never fails to call all to repent and believe the gospel.  In this sense, he follows in the steps of men such as George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon in calling all sinners to repentance.  He is no hyper-Calvinist in this regard.  There has probably never been a man who has done more for expository preaching than John MacArthur.  Having personally met him, I found him to be gracious and kind.  So by no means do I present my case against him as an enemy.  I come as a brother.

Now the Arminian can read the above words from MacArthur and agree with most of what he wrote.  I agree that Christ died for the elect.  I agree that Christ died for His sheep.  I agree that Christ died for His Church.  I agree that Christ died for Paul the Apostle (Galatians 2:20).  I agree that Christ died for us (Galatians 1:4).  But I also go one step further and believe that Christ died for all.  I agree that no one is saved apart from being reconciled to God through Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  I agree that one has to believe to be saved (John 5:24; Acts 16:30-31).  I agree that repentance is necessary for eternal life (Acts 2:38).  But I also believe that all can be saved and there is no limit on this number.

I agree that the world is opposed to God (1 John 2:15-17).  Ironically, MacArthur never limits “world” in 1 John but here in 1 John 2:2.  The world is indeed sinful, God-hating, rejecting the truth of the gospel.  I agree.  But what we find in the gospel is God calling out to the whole world to repent and be saved.  God, who is the one that the world hates, is calling to His enemies to come and be reconciled through faith (Isaiah 1:18).  This is the message of the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:47).

You’ll notice in MacArthur’s statement above also that he wants to make sure that we understand that he believes the atonement is powerful enough to cover the sins of the world if God wanted it to.  He doesn’t use those words but it seems implied by this reader.  He wants us to see how powerful and vast the work of Christ is.  I would agree.  In the cross, we do find God the Son dying for the world and shedding His precious blood for the lost.  If God wanted to, He could indeed reconciled the world through the powerful blood of Jesus.  I have no doubt.  Instead, God calls to lost sinners through His love that He demonstrated on the cross (John 3:16; Romans 5:8-9).  This is not a forced love.  This is not a forced relationship.  This is a loving relationship where the repenting sinner comes to God through His Son to be saved (Romans 2:4).  This is a genuine relationship that God initiated and not man (Ephesians 2:4-6; 1 John 4:10).  But this message, this good news is for the whole world (Luke 2:10-11; 1 John 4:14).

It is true that the atonement is only effective for those who believe.  Christ died for His enemies and He even prayed for His enemies at the cross (Luke 23:34).  MacArthur even acknowledges that Christ is praying for His enemies at this passage and adds:

Some of the fruit of this prayer can be in the salvation of thousands of people in Jerusalem at Pentecost (Acts 2:41).

Notice he adds in his note that “some of the fruit” and not all.  If it is true that Christ is dying only for the elect, why pray for the world?  Why pray for the sinners who are killing Him?  Many Calvinists point to John 17:9 as proof that Jesus does not pray for the world but only for the elect.  Yet MacArthur acknowledges that Luke 23:34 is for the lost.  He also is clear that God heard His prayer and saved some of those who perhaps killed Jesus at Pentecost in Acts 2:41.

Let us be clear here though.  None were saved by Jesus praying for them in Luke 23:34.  They had to appropriate the work of Christ just as we all do through faith.  That Jesus shed His blood saves no one.  Even Calvinists agree with this while insisting that the sins of the elect were placed on the Son.  All agree that we are saved by faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9).  And even if we allow for Calvinists to believe that faith is a gift given by God to His elect, we must still acknowledge that the wrath of God is against us till we believe.

This would mean two things.  First, those who are in cast into hell are cast into hell because they rejected the sacrifice of the Son of God for their sins.  Do we have passages of Scripture that speak of Christ dying for their sins while they rejected His sacrifice?  Yes e do.  Romans 14:15; 1 Corinthians 8:11; 2 Peter 2:1.  In context all these Scriptures speak of those whom Christ died who may not share in eternal life.  Even MacArthur does acknowledge that 2 Peter 2:1 is referring to false teachers who claimed Christ and so Peter mocks them by saying that they refuse to submit to the Lordship of Christ whom they claimed bought them.

What is clear is that people who go to hell go to hell because of their rejection of God and His truth.  The person is to blame and not God who gave His Son for their reconciliation.  Calvinism would place the blame on God.  God chose to reject sinners even before time began and even if you allow for the sinner’s punishability for their sins, they are sinning because God has predetermined that they be sinners in the first place by His own sovereign will (Romans 9:22-23).  If I were a Calvinist, at this point I would preach hard annihilation since the sinner is in hell tormented day and night forever because God willed that they never be saved in the first place.  Annihilation is at least charitable toward sinners who are being tormented for God’s glory in the first place in the Calvinist view.

Secondly, the application of the atonement is through faith.  Even MacArthur doesn’t preach the doctrine of eternal justification.  Consistent Calvinists such as John Gill see the truth that the elect are born sinless.  How else can it be?  If God placed the sins of the elect on Christ and He ensures that the elect will believe by His own sovereign choice from eternity past, who can one argue that God ever sees the sins of the elect?  If Christ died for my sins at the cross and God placed my sins on Him at the cross, when was the wrath of God against my sins appeased?  Gill would answer the cross.  MacArthur would answer the cross but add that I must receive it by faith.  And I would answer: Yes and this is biblical Arminianism!

Romans 3:21-26 in the ESV is beautiful (with my emphasis):

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Faith is the design of God to come into a saving relationship with Himself.  This is the sovereign will of God.  This is the sovereign decree of God.  All who repent and believe will be saved.  There is no limit to the sacrifice of the Son of God.  I have heard many Calvinists preaching like Arminians to the lost by preaching that Christ shed His blood so that they might be saved.  They call out to lost sinners to repent and believe the gospel (as if sinners could actually do this by their command).  They call to sinners to turn from their sins and be saved through faith in Christ.  And I agree!  In fact, I believe that every person whom the Calvinist evangelist is preaching to can be saved and there is no limit to the power of the gospel (Romans 1:16-17).  If God can have mercy on me, He can have mercy on my lost neighbors and co-workers who despise Him at this time (1 Timothy 1:15; 4:10).

As Paul the Apostle wrote above in Romans 3:24, this salvation is a gift to be received by faith.  The sinner does not earn this salvation.  There is nothing we could add to the work of Christ to be saved.  In fact, what a wicked thing to do to add to the cross of Christ by saying that we must also do our part to be saved.  We are justified though faith alone in Christ alone by His grace alone (Romans 5:1; Galatians 2:15-16; 3:13-14).  This is true of us as children of God as well as the lost sinners we are preaching to.  Salvation is the gracious work of God (John 1:12-13; Titus 2:11-14; 3:5-7).  We are saved by the work of Christ alone.

Thankfully both Calvinists and Arminians preach that truth.  Some Calvinists try to assert that we Arminians preach that we can save ourselves or we preach a works-righteousness system but this is not the truth.  Arminius wrote:

“I believe that sinners are accounted righteous solely by the obedience of Christ; and that the righteousness of Christ is the only meritorious cause on account of which God pardons the sins of believers and reckons them as righteous as if they had perfectly fulfilled the law. But since God imputes the righteousness of Christ to none except believers, I conclude that, in this sense, it may be well and properly said, to a man who believes, faith is imputed for righteousness through grace, because God hath set forth his Son, Jesus Christ, to be a propitiation, a throne of grace, [or mercy seat] through faith in his blood.”

Adam Clarke wrote:

The doctrine of justification by faith is one of the grandest displays of the mercy of God to mankind. It is so very plain that all may comprehend it; and so free that all may attain it. What more simple than this-Thou art a sinner, in consequence condemned to perdition, and utterly unable to save thy own soul. All are in the same state with thyself, and no man can give a ransom for the soul of his neighbor. God, in his mercy, has provided a Saviour for thee. As thy life was forfeited to death because of thy transgressions, Jesus Christ has redeemed thy life by giving up his own; he died in thy stead, and has made atonement to God for thy transgression; and offers thee the pardon he has thus purchased, on the simple condition that thou believe that his death is a sufficient sacrifice, ransom, and oblation for thy sin; and that thou bring it, as such, by confident faith to the throne of God, and plead it in thy own behalf there. When thou dost so, thy faith in that sacrifice shall be imputed to thee for righteousness; that is, it shall be the means of receiving that salvation which Christ has bought by his blood.

And I end with John Wesley:

But there is an undeniable difference between the Calvinists and Arminians, with regard to the three other questions. Here they divide; the former believe absolute, the latter only conditional, predestination. The Calvinists hold, (1.) God has absolutely decreed, from all eternity, to save such and such persons, and no others; and that Christ died for these, and none else. The Arminians hold, God has decreed, from all eternity, touching all that have the written word, “He that believeth shall be saved: He that believeth not, shall be condemned:” And in order to this, “Christ died for all, all that were dead in trespasses and sins;” that is, for every child of Adam, since “in Adam all died.”

Hell Should Make Us Uncomfortable

I have been listening to the Rethinking Hell conference that was recently held in Texas in which a group of scholars and disciples came together to discuss the doctrine of hell.  For the most part, they were there to promote conditionalism over traditionalism.  The conditional teaching is that the Bible stresses that eternal life is a gift from God to the redeemed (John 3:16; Romans 6:23).  They also stress that God alone is immortal (1 Timothy 6:16) and that man is not immortal apart from God (Genesis 3:22).  Therefore, those who are not saved are cast into hell and are destroyed or annihilated (2 Thessalonians 1:9; Revelation 20:11-15) and do not live forever in hell where they are forever tormented.

The traditional view of hell is that people are immortal and have eternal souls.  Therefore, all people will live forever either in heaven or in hell.  The lost are cast into hell where they are tormented day and night forever (Revelation 20:10).

Now to be fair here, both views believe in hell.  Traditionalists have often assumed falsely that conditionalists deny hell but this is not the case.  Evangelical conditionalists reject universalism and believe that only those in Christ Jesus will be saved.  They reject eternal conscience torment in hell.  This is the main difference between conditionalists and traditionalists.

I think that both views, however, should make us feel uncomfortable about hell.  Whatever viewpoint you hold to, our hearts should despise hell.  It is not a kind thought that people will go to hell.  Hell, Jesus said, was made for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41).  Hell was not made for man.  Yet men and women go to hell.  Scripture is clear on this issue.  I find the complete rejection of hell to be unbiblical.  Hell is a real place that will destroy even death and hades itself (Revelation 20:14).  The Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, teach that there is no hell.  The unbeliever is annihilated in the grave by God.  They simply cease to exist.  Yet Scripture is clear that hell is a real place that will be the ultimate judgment of God on unbelievers.

And this makes me uncomfortable.  It’s not that I will reject the teaching.  I cannot because the Bible teaches hell.  Yet I don’t like it.  I don’t like that people go to hell and I want to see them saved from the coming wrath of God (1 Thessalonians 1:10).  I want to see people repent and come to saving faith in Christ who is able to secure us eternal life in His presence.  Salvation from the wrath of God only comes through the blood of Jesus (Romans 5:8-9).  The Lord Himself said in Ezekiel 18:32, “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.”  2 Peter 3:9 is nearly the same.  God’s heart is for the lost to repent and be saved.

1 Timothy 2:4 says that God desires all people to be saved and He has given proof of this by sending His Son to die for the sins of all (John 1:29; 3:14-18).  The atonement shows us the great love of God for the world and His desire to save sinners (1 John 2:1-2).  His heart is for the world to be saved through faith in Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20).

Therefore, hell is something that breaks my heart.  I want to see the lost saved because God sent His Son to die for sinners whom He does not want to go to hell (I know that my Calvinist friends will not accept my points here).  I hear people speak of hell is delight, as if they can’t wait for sinners to be cast into hell.  I hear disciples talk about enjoying the thought of this person or that one in hell.  I hear people speak of hell not being hot enough for that sinner.  Yet the Bible shows the mercy of God for the lost.  His heart is not for them to destruction.  He wants sinners to be saved.  I understand that sinners will be cast into hell as part of God’s just judgment against their sins yet this doesn’t mean that I don’t pray for living sinners to be saved.  I want sinners to come to faith and not to hell.  I don’t want to see cultists cast into hell.  I don’t want to see Muslims cast into hell.  I don’t want to see anyone cast into hell.   I want them to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15).  I take no joy in the thought of hell.

What is the solution?  Is it to reject hell?  I think not.  I think that the biblical answer is to preach the gospel.  In the book of Acts, the disciples never preached on hell.  They didn’t try to scare people into salvation.  They didn’t preach that people should repent or burn.  They preached the simple gospel of salvation in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).  Over and over again in Acts, the disciples preached the gospel of Acts 2:38: repent and be baptized.  People did just that.  The Holy Spirit enabled the sinners to come to faith in Christ (John 6:44; Acts 16:14-15) and people were justified before God through faith (Acts 13:38-39; 15:11).  The message of Acts was clear: repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus (Acts 4:12).  Hell was not the focus.  Judgment was (Acts 17:30-31).

I believe that we should warn sinners about the wrath of God.  I believe that we should call sinners to believe the gospel of life (Acts 5:20).  The focus of our preaching is to preach that salvation comes through faith in Christ who shed His blood for our sins (Acts 20:28).  Our focus should be to preach that eternal life is found only in Christ Jesus (Acts 13:48).

In an upcoming post I want to examine the gospel as preached in the book of Acts.  It is interesting to note what the disciples focused on in their preaching in Acts.

In conclusion, hell is real.  Hell is horrible.  Hell is not a place we should want people to go.  Thankfully, I believe the Bible teaches that God has made provision for the lost to be saved through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).  We are not saved by works or by our actions but the work of Christ alone (Titus 3:5-7).  This gospel “which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10).  All sinners must hear the gospel to be saved (Romans 10:14-17) and this only happens in this life (Hebrews 9:27).  All sinners will be cast into hell.  However, this should break our hearts and should cause us to be moved to want to see people repent (2 Corinthians 5:10-11).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

07/21/2014 at 10:56 PM

Hell Makes Sense If Conditional Election Is True

Hell is a hotly debated subject (sorry for the pun).  Is hell eternal conscious torment?  Is hell just a figure of speech for death for the ungodly?  Are people really burning forever in hell or is hell just where people are thrown and then destroyed forever?  These are all debated.

Yet hell is a biblical reality.  Even those who hold to conditionalism believe in hell.  They deny that hell is eternal conscious torment but they do believe in hell.  They can even warn people of hell and the need to repent of their sins and place their faith in Jesus alone to save them or they will go to hell.

But hell doesn’t make sense unless one holds to conditional election.  Otherwise, one is faced with the idea that God has arbitrarily chosen to save a few while damning most human beings in hell not because of their sins but also because of His sovereign choice.  Hell, for those who hold to unconditional election, is simply the glory of God being manifested as He casts the lost into hell.  Calvinists such as John Piper teach that hell for the non-elect glorifies God by showing His goodness toward the elect.  Calvinists often will say that the fact that God chooses to save sinners from among the sinful lump shows His goodness.

John Calvin went further.  Calvin taught from Romans 9:22 that the vessels of wrath are people whom God has not just passed over but He hardens.  Calvin wrote:

But if we wish fully to understand Paul, almost every word must be examined. He then argues thus, — There are vessels prepared for destruction, that is, given up and appointed to destruction: they are also vessels of wrath, that is, made and formed for this end, that they may be examples of God’s vengeance and displeasure. If the Lord bears patiently for a time with these, not destroying them at the first moment, but deferring the judgment prepared for them, and this in order to set forth the decisions of his severity, that others may be terrified by so dreadful examples, and also to make known his power, to exhibit which he makes them in various ways to serve; and, further, that the amplitude of his mercy towards the elect may hence be more fully known and more brightly shine forth; — what is there worthy of being reprehended in this dispensation? But that he is silent as to the reason, why they are vessels appointed to destruction, is no matter of wonder. He indeed takes it as granted, according to what has been already said, that the reason is hid in the secret and inexplorable counsel of God; whose justice it behoves us rather to adore than to scrutinize.

Romans 9:21, according to the unconditional view of election, is clear that God has made both His elect and the non-elect for His own purposes.  God, from the foundation of the world, has chosen whom He will save and whom He will damn.  This is not merely God passing by the non-elect but His active choice to prepare them for the purpose of hell.

R.C. Sproul admits that he struggles with Romans 9:20-24.  He admits that the idea of double predestination seems very strong here and that hyper-Calvinism finds its heart in these texts.  Yet Sproul is not a hyper-Calvinist and so the best he can do is to teach that there is one batch of sinful creatures and that God endures the vessels of wrath which are reprobate (Chosen by God, p. 153).

Calvin’s successor in Geneva, Theodore Beza, taught that Romans 9:21 is mankind not yet made and much less corrupted.  In other words, Beza taught that God sovereignly chose to elect before even creating mankind while also choosing to reject those whom He had not chosen.  God then made humans and even before the Fall, He chose to elect and harden.  Beza taught that this view alone protects God of His sovereignty and glorifies Him since everything (including the Fall) was for the glory of God.

For the Arminian, Adam Clarke taught that Romans 9:22 were the unbelieving Jews.  Clarke taught that Romans 9 has the Jews and Gentiles in mind and not individual unconditional election.  Romans 9:24-29 point to Clarke’s view.  God has in mind Israel as the vessel of wrath since they rejected His grace.  Thomas Oden states that people harden themselves by the rejection of the grace of God.  2 Timothy 2:21 states the people can turn from vessels of wrath to vessels of honor by the grace of God.  This is conditioned upon faith in the Lord Jesus (1 Timothy 4:10; 2 Timothy 2:10).

Why then would God, in the Calvinist viewpoint, create mankind for destruction?  There is no clear teaching on this.  Most simply will quote Deuteronomy 29:29 as the end all of the debate.  Calvin warned that this is indeed a mystery that one need not ponder too deeply.

For the Arminian, hell makes sense since God has been reaching out to the world since the Fall.  Mankind was created in the image of God and by their own willful choice, brought sin into the world (Genesis 3:1-7).  Even in the Garden of Eden, Yahweh reached out to mankind in His grace by calling them (Genesis 3:9), giving them a promise even in the midst of the curse (Genesis 3:15) and then clothing them (Genesis 3:21).  From Genesis onward, God is preparing the world for His Messiah.  The Messiah would come and would bear the sins of the world (Isaiah 53:4-6; John 1:29).

In Matthew 7 Jesus speaks much of two’s.  He says there are two gates (Matthew 7:13-14), two types of fruit (Matthew 7:15-20), two confessions (Matthew 7:21-23), and two types of people who either obey or disobey (Matthew 7:24-27).  Even now there are two types of people: lost or saved.  The saved become the elect.  The lost remain outside of His elect but do so by their own free choice.

If this is the case, if the lost are still in rebellion because of their own hardness, their own refusal to submit to the Lordship of Christ, their own rejection of God’s grace and mercy, etc. then hell makes sense.  Hell is fitting for those who would reject the Lord God.  No sinner will be able to stand before a holy God and said, “You made me a vessel of wrath fitted for destruction” but will simply acknowledge the justice of God and condemning them in their sins.  It is sin that sends a person to hell and not God’s unconditional election (Romans 6:23).  It is willful rebellion against God that leads to mankind’s utter destruction.

If I were a Calvinist, I would then reject unending conscious torment in hell since I would hold that people go to hell because God has not chosen them to be elect.  The thought that a loving and good God would send people to hell not because of their sins but because He simply did not choose them to be His elect would be grievous to me.  God is pictured in the Bible as loving and good.  John 3:16 is probably the most known verse in the Bible yet how does it fit into the idea that God loved the world so much that He created vessels of wrath whom He fitted for everlasting destruction and misery in hell?  The only comfort I would be able to find is that people are destroyed in hell (or annihilated) because God simply did not choose them.

Jesus said that hell was created for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41).  Revelation 20:10 says that the devil will be tormented there day and night forever and ever.  Hell was not created for the glory of God in condemning the non-elect but in destroying Satan.  Those who are not found in Christ will also go there (Revelation 20:11-15).  I believe that this is based on either salvation in Christ or rejection of Christ but is not based on the unconditional election of people.  Hell makes sense to me because I see hell as the final destruction for those who have hated God and rebelled against Him while on earth.  Hell makes sense because of the cross (John 3:17-18, 36).

Short Thoughts on Conditionalism

But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed;  the future of the wicked shall be cut off.
– Psalm 37:38 

Conditionalism is the teaching that eternal life is a gift from God given only to those who believe the gospel (Romans 6:23).  The rest of humanity that rejects the gospel will be destroyed or annihilated.  It is somewhat different from annihilation in that it teaches that the wicked (unbelievers) will go to hell but will be destroyed by God (Matthew 10:28).  Several evangelicals hold to this view including Edward Fudge, Douglas Jacoby, Chris Date, Michael Green, and I. Howard Marshall.  The late scholars F.F. Bruce and John Stott both claimed agnosticism about hell but they both favored conditionalism.  Conditionalism is neither an Arminian nor a Calvinist position.

I have wavered at times on this issue.  At times I have favored the traditional teaching on hell (that unbelievers will suffer for eternity) while also being appalled at the thought of hell.  I find Christians who gloat over hell without tears to be unloving nor biblical (Romans 9:3).  Hell (either way you see it) should make us fear, shutter, and long to see souls saved by grace to avoid that place of misery.  I have read books on both sides.  I was taught the traditional view of hell and have preached the traditional view myself.  I have wavered at times on the issue of hell because of my view of God’s love for people (not that He will not destroy sinners but only that I find it difficult to connect the love and goodness of God with the thought that He will inflict wrath upon people forever and ever without end).  At times I have had to acknowledge that it is easy to be moved by compassion and not by biblical theology when it comes to hell.  We can reject hell because it makes us feel better but this would not be right.  We must embrace what Scripture says even if we don’t find it appealing to our natural desires.  As I study the holiness of God, I see how sin robs Him of His glory and must be punished.  This has led me to study hell and I am convinced of the reality of hell though I do wonder about the duration of hell.

At this point, I am not coming down on any side though I admit that you can find me leaning one way or another at different times.  What I find appealing about the conditionalism view is that immortality belongs only to God (1 Timothy 6:16) and that the gift of eternal life is given only to those in Christ Jesus (Romans 2:7-8).  Those who are not saved will rise at the resurrection but unto judgment (John 5:28-29; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).  Unbelievers will be cast into hell where they will be destroyed by eternal fire (Matthew 25:46; Revelation 20:14).

There are a few false assumptions I have made in the past about conditionalism that I want to point out here.  First, conditionalism does not deny hell.  Edward Fudge, for example, teaches on hell and I believe he would warn sinners about hell though he would not describe hell in the language of say Jonathan Edwards or John Wesley.  Secondly, not all conditionalists hold to the teaching known as “soul sleep.”  I was under the impression that all who rejected the traditional teaching on hell would hold to soul sleep.  Third, those who hold to conditionalism are not necessarily holding to their views because of the exaltation of humanity.  Chris Date, for example, is a Reformed Calvinist who would gladly agree with John Piper over the nature of depravity but he would disagree with Piper over the duration of suffering in hell.  Edward Fudge’s book are filled with Scripture so I assure you that his approach is not first one of compassion or even love for humans but a love for the Word.  I appreciate this.  I have personally known Douglas Jacoby for some time and his approach likewise would be to exalt the Word above traditions.  Lastly, conditionalism is not heretical.  Again, you could warn sinners of hell and warn them of the wrath of God to come upon them if they continue in sin without trying to scare them with “you will suffer forever and ever and ever” tactics.  The gospel, and not hell, is what saves sinners from the wrath to come (Romans 1:16-17).  I find not once in Acts that the Apostles used hell to try to get people saved.  They preached Christ and His resurrection and God used their message to save souls (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).  Christ is the One we are to preach and exalt and He saves the lost for His glory!

You can find out more by checking out the site, Rethinking Hell or reading this book.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

10/03/2013 at 11:43 AM

The Future State of the Wicked

Why is it important to study the future state of the wicked?  Because I pray that it helps us sense an urgency in evangelism.  People around us are going to hell and we have the good news that can set them free from sin’s bondage and deliver them from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10).  Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19).  We cannot sit around.  We must be active in evangelism, seeking to share the gospel with the lost and pleading with them to repent.  I love the words of Charles Spurgeon who said,

“If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.”

Oh give us a burning zeal for the gospel, to preach its truth to sinners and warn them to flee the wrath to come (Matthew 3:7-8).  Let us preach that “Jesus saves” from the rooftops of every building.  Let us not be silent on this vital issue.

And that is why we must study the future state of the wicked.  You do understand that all of us deserve the wrath of God.  We deserve hell.  By His grace and His mercy, we are saved (Titus 3:5-7).  We are not saved because we are better than others.  We are not saved because we are smarter than others.  We are saved by the grace of God alone (1 Corinthians 1:18-31).  When we study the wicked, let us not make the mistake of not remembering that we too were once as they now are.  Paul reminds us of this principle in Titus 3:1-8.  We too, apart from the grace of God, were children of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-9).  But praise God that He saved us through His Son (John 5:24)!  Praise God that He came and delivered us unto Himself (1 Peter 1:3).

The Bible refers to two future states for the wicked.  The first is to be banished from the presence of God.  Someone said that heaven is heaven because Jesus is there and hell is hell because Jesus is not there.  I agree.  To be cast away from the presence of God would be devastating to me.  I want to worship Him forever.  I want to bow down before His throne and praise Him with all that is in me.  I long to hear Him say “well done” as I exalt His name forever.  Yet Scripture says that sinners will be banished from the presence of God (see Matthew 7:23; 8:12; 22:13; 25:46).

The second state the Bible speaks of is for the wicked to be suffering in hell.  I know that many want to debate the time length of suffering in hell but all who believe the Word of God will admit that hell is a terrible place and none will want to go there.  I watched a video yesterday of Lady Gaga saying that when she dies, for God to open hell and let the party begin.  Not so!  The wicked will suffer.  How can anyone deny the terrible suffering of hell when Jesus made it clear that we do not want to go there and to do all that we can to avoid hell.  Notice His words in Matthew 5:22; 10:28; 13:41-42; 24:51; 25:41 Mark 9:43, 45, 47-48; Luke 16:22-24; John 5:28-29.  We also see the awful reality of hell in Daniel 12:2; Malachi 4:1; Matthew 3:12; John 3:36; Romans 2:8; 1 Corinthians 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; 2 Peter 2:4-5, 9; 3:7; Jude 13; Revelation 14:11; 20:15; 21:8.

We read of eternal fire in Isaiah 33:14; 66:24; Matthew 3:12; 13:42; 18:8; 25:41; Revelation 14:10; 20:10, 15; 21:8.

The wicked then are not heading toward a party.  They are heading toward misery and despair and destruction.  Hell is a very real place.  Jesus our Lord spoke of hell more than He did heaven.  Again, I can understand the debate over words such as destruction of the wicked but none can deny that the wicked are heading toward doom.  None can deny that a party does not wait for those who do not repent but only a terrible end.  We should warn them and call them to repent and embrace Jesus alone for salvation.  Jesus alone is able to rescue us from the coming wrath of God (Romans 5:8-9) and He alone is our mediator before a holy and just God (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 8:6; 9:15, 24; 12:24; 1 John 2:1).  We must repent and we must call others to repentance as well (Luke 24:47).

I pray as William Booth prayed, “Oh God, give us a vision of hell!”

Written by The Seeking Disciple

06/04/2013 at 11:44 AM

Posted in Evangelism, Hell

Tagged with , ,

“We Must Preach Hell”

In my previous post I talked about the blog, Rethinking Hell.  There are some, myself included in this, who have preached hell to the lost thinking that this was the best way to evangelize.  Sort of “scare them” into the kingdom.  My thinking was that hell is such a terrible place that if we preach what hell is like then people will repent and be saved.

I now believe this type of evangelism is not effective.  Why?

First, “hell fire and brimstone” preaching doesn’t produce people who love God.  They just fear hell.  They don’t love Jesus for His work on the cross other than having a fire insurance policy that allows them to escape from eternal torment.  If anything, they still fear Satan more than they fear God.  Remember Jesus’ words in Luke 12:4-5 (NKJV):

4 “And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!

Notice Who it is who casts into hell.  It is God.  Not Satan.  In fact, Revelation 20:10 says that the devil will be himself cast into hell.

While we are called to fear God (Proverbs 1:7), fear doesn’t lead us to love God but only to tremble before Him.  We should fear God (Romans 11:20-22) but we should also love God (Mark 12:29-31).  Jesus said that if we love Him, we will obey His commandments (John 14:15) and John the Apostle says that His commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3).

Secondly, we find none of the Apostles preaching on hell in the book of Acts to the lost.  Even in Acts 17, Paul the Apostle does not preach on hell.  He does preach on the judgment to come (Acts 17:30-31) but he never preaches on hell.  Strange that the Apostles would not preach on hell if in fact hell fire preaching produces true disciples of Christ.  Even in Acts 2, the very first sermon preached after the resurrection focuses entirely upon Jesus and His work rather than hell.  In fact, Peter never mentions hell at all.  Hell is never talked about as a motivation for evangelism (“consider those about to go to hell as you go out sharing your faith”) nor for evangelistic preaching (“come and be saved from that awful place”).

Thirdly, such thinking undermines the sovereignty of God in preaching the gospel to the lost.  Remember that God is the One who saves sinners (John 6:44).  Through the preaching of the gospel He draws the lost to Himself (John 12:32; Romans 10:14-17).  Jonah 2:9 is clear that salvation is of the LORD.  The Lord God saves the lost by His sovereign power.  He is the One who regenerates the unbeliever by His grace (Titus 3:5-7).  Salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:1-9) and not by the will of mankind (John 1:12-13).  We don’t need to go out in our evangelism thinking that we need to get people saved by our abilities to reason or to scare them into the kingdom.  God will draw the lost as the Church is faithful to go out and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20).  Our duty is to go and preach the gospel (Mark 16:15-16) and not to try to argue people into the kingdom or to persuade them to repent by telling them scary tales about hell.

In closing, I do believe in hell.  I believe that Matthew 25:46 is clear that the righteous will go to eternal life while the wicked will go to eternal punishment.  However, our motivation for evangelism and salvation must not be hell.  It must be the cross.  Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:11 (NKJV):

Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.

Notice that Paul feared God above hell or above Satan.  His fear of God motivated Him to want to preach the gospel to the lost.  Yet he turns around in 2 Corinthians 5:14 (NKJV) and writes:

For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died.

Paul feared God and he loved God.  This led to his desire to preach to the lost.

I pray that I would have the balance of fearing God and yet loving God.  It is not hell that should push us to preach to the lost.  It should be fearing and loving God.  Further, as we preach to the lost, let us preach the cross.  Let us show sinners their sins (1 Timothy 1:8-11) but let us preach the truth of the cross, that Jesus died for the ungodly (Romans 5:8-9).  Jesus shed His blood for the souls of men (Isaiah 53:12).  May the cross be our focus (1 Corinthians 1:23)!

Written by The Seeking Disciple

05/05/2013 at 9:07 AM

Rethinking Hell

Here is a blog by Calvinist Chris Date on the subject of hell.  Date has adopted the view known as conditionalism.  He now holds to annihilation.  I have followed Date’s struggles with the traditional view of hell and then his ultimate adoption of the view he now holds.  I must admit that if you have never read literature on the conditionalist view, it is very appealing.  Even Arminian Dr. Roger Olson states that he finds conditionalism appealing as it reflects the love of God in that sinners are merely thrown into hell and cease to exist.

Over the years I have gone back and forth.  I read Edward Fudge’s book and his arguments are very convincing.  I have likewise read other works on hell such as Francis Chan’s book Erasing Hell.  The problem with the debate over hell is that it often turns into an issue of salvation (if you don’t believe in hell you are wrong or if you do believe in hell you are wrong) and emotions.  The thought of dear granny Smith burning in hell bothers us.  Yet we have no problem seeing Hitler burning in hell.  However, we must admit that both are guilty before God of sin and if granny Smith did not repent, she is guilty before God just as Hitler is though she might not be punished on the same level.

Arminius said little about hell.  His debate was over salvation so he rarely went beyond that.  John Wesley preached on hell and his sermons have often been sources for those who believe in the traditional view of hell.  Of course Jonathan Edwards famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, reflects the traditional view.

I do think there is room in the church to debate hell.  I would not divide over a brother or a sister who rejects the traditional view.  I would reject someone if they completely reject hell (such as universalist).  Even conditionalist speak of hell.  They simply debate whether hell is eternal or not.  I don’t write this post to sway you either way.  I pray that we preach that all sinners must repent or they will face the judgement of God (Acts 17:30-31).  God will judge all people (Hebrew 9:27).  This I do know and this I will preach (Hebrews 12:29).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

05/04/2013 at 10:00 AM

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