I sat next to an atheist on a recent flight to Mexico. He was from England, where it is reported that only about 40% of the population believes in God.
Once he learned that I work for God, he didn’t hesitate to tell me that he didn’t believe my Boss exists. The very idea of God was absurd to him. Why would anyone believe in God? he said. But then he courteously asked me why I believed. So I told him.
I so appreciate all the feedback I’ve received regarding my last two e-teachings. The majority has been positive and encouraging, and those that expressed disagreement have been, for the most part, written with kindness and respect. I am amazed at the interest in this topic, and that people take the time to read these especially long e-teachings.
I have discovered that the subject of the nature of hell can be a very touchy subject for some folks. And I’ve also learned, from feedback I’ve received, that many Christians and Christian leaders who believe in just punishment followed by annihilation keep their belief secret for fear of the repercussions. So let me declare again, from the outset, my love for those who see things differently than me. I was on their side of this issue for four decades, and I know how difficult it can be to have long-held beliefs challenged. The important thing is that we strive to be “Bereans” who “examine the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things are so” (Acts 17:11).
This month I’d like to continue building on last month’s e-teaching, in which I gave a brief introduction to what theologians refer to as annihilationism, the doctrine that the unrighteous will not suffer eternal conscious torment, but that they will, after being justly punished according to their deeds, be annihilated and cease to exist. A related doctrine, known as conditional immortality, embraces the idea that immortality is not automatically possessed by all, but is only granted as a gift to those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (as we read in Rom. 6:23).
Annihilationism is definitely a minority belief among Christians. Most of us believe that the unrighteous will be tortured forever in the lake of fire. Yet I would bet that most of us would prefer not to believe that. We must, however, stick with what the Bible teaches whether we like it or not.
How difficult it is to escape a theological rut. Once my doctrinal wagon wheels roll into one, they just want to remain in the path of least resistance. So I avoid listening to anything that might challenge my position, and I keep moving straight ahead…in the rut carved out before me.
Blessed are those whose wagon God occasionally jars, giving them a chance to see some light. Still, it is quite easy to fall right back down into that rut—where it seems so much safer. Down in the rut there is no risk of being criticized by everyone else whose doctrinal wheels are following the same well-worn groove. So we all keep singing I Shall Not Be Moved while the Lord is singing Amazing Boneheadedness.
Those who have been reading with me through the New Testament chronologically—by means of our daily emailed devotional that we call HeavenWord Daily—know that I am not a Calvinist. In fact, practically every time we happen upon one of the many passages of Scripture that contradict the doctrines of Calvinism, I point it out. Consequently, I’ve pointed out scores of scriptures that illustrate where Calvinism deviates from biblical truth.
For readers who may not know what Calvinism is, let me briefly explain. Calvinists believe that, in eternity past, God sovereignly selected some people to be saved, and thus He also sovereignly selected everyone else to be damned. At a pre-determined point during the lifetimes of those who are allegedly pre-selected for salvation, God draws them irresistibly, and they are born again. Calvinists also believe, and understandably so, that Jesus did not die for the sins of everyone. Rather, He only died for those whom He allegedly predestined for salvation. Finally, because Calvinists believe that salvation does not depend on any person’s free will and only upon the sovereign decree and action of God, they also believe that no genuinely-saved person could possibly ever become unsaved. Once genuinely saved, people are guaranteed to be saved in the end, which is probably the most attractive element of Calvinism, and which may explain why some people readily embrace it. Once a person is convinced that he has been sovereignly pre-selected for salvation, he knows he has salvation “in the bag.”
Last month, George Sodini walked into a women’s aerobics class at an LA Fitness Club just a few miles from where I live. He turned out the lights and began shooting into the darkness, firing fifty rounds. Within seconds, he killed three women and wounded nine others. Then he shot and killed himself.
According to his blog, he had been planning the killings and his suicide at LA Fitness for months in advance. In December, he wrote in that blog of the evangelical church he had attended for thirteen years, saying of the pastor, “This guy teaches (and convinced me) you can commit mass murder then still go to heaven.”
Editor’s Note: Please makes sure you read past the first paragraph!
The impact he has had upon our world really cannot be measured. His God-given abilities, his accomplishments and his fame have become legendary. Although shrouded in much mystery, every time he has made an appearance, crowds have been stunned. Every performance has been a thriller with a capital T. Personally, I believe he deserves even more appreciation than has been given to him. No doubt in heaven he is even much more appreciated than he is on the earth. And so I wanted to write a short tribute to Michael.
Last month’s e-teaching Salvation B.C. and A.D. provoked some great responses. Some reinforced what I had written with scriptures I hadn’t mentioned, and some asked questions, some of which I will try to address in this teaching. I strongly suggest that you read Salvation B.C. and A.D., if you haven’t already, before reading what follows. Otherwise you might misinterpret what I’ve written below. – David
Last month, in Part 1, I did my best to prove that since Adam, God has offered salvation to everyone and that He has granted salvation to anyone who repented and believed in Him. Those who do repent and believe in Him are characterized by obedience to the law that He has written in their consciences.
Moreover, salvation has always been offered on the basis of Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice, before and after He died. He died for the sins of the world, not just for the sins of the people who lived after He died.
It goes without saying that from Adam until the present time, people have been sinning. In fact, it is quite safe to say that all people who have ever lived have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Knowing this, we thank God that Jesus died for our sins, making our salvation possible.
But here is an interesting question: Was it possible for people to be saved prior to Jesus’ death?
Imagine that I deliver to you, on behalf of one of your friends, a gift box of assorted chocolates. As you open the box in my presence, I hear you say,
Oh, this is what I was hoping it would be! I love chocolates! And look at this! Peanut butter melt-aways! My favorites! And oh, I love these ones with the hazelnut cream on the inside! And I can’t control myself when I see these caramels! Wow, look at those raspberry creams! I love them!