Why Live a Good Life If All Will Be Saved?
by Charles Slagle
Why live a good life if God plans to save everyone in the end -- no matter what they have done? It's amazing how often folks ask that question without giving more thought to it before they voice it. My first response to people who pose that question is another question: "Are you saying the only reason you don't cheat on your spouse, abuse your children, or steal from your neighbors is because you're afraid of going to hell?"
Hmmm... Awkward question, that one... It usually brings a blush to folks who insist that people need to be threatened with never-ending punishment to give them "incentive" to seek the Lord, to live morally and ethically, and to love their neighbors as they love themselves. Why do those who advocate the dogma of endless hell find my question embarrassing?
It is because they have a conscience, that's why.
The human conscience knows that right is right, because it is right. So we find it shameful to suggest that the only reason we would do right by others is to avoid being trashed and burned forever. And rightly so! How would you react if your neighbor told you that fear of endless hell was his main "reason," bottom line, for not stealing your wife, or molesting your children, or running over you with his car if you got in his way? Would you look forward to developing an intimate friendship with him?
By no means! You might do your best to treat him kindly. But you would also buy the biggest guard dog you could find to protect your family and property! For you'd not be able to find any "common ground" for relating to such a monster as an "intimate friend." The best you'd be able to do would be to treat your demented neighbor courteously, while also watching your backside. And that, with extreme diligence!
Yet, much of today's church tells us that God is looking for those kinds of "friends." He's looking for friends who will follow His Savior-Son in love and righteousness -- because -- their only other option is a never-ending and hopeless hell.
But if the doctrine of eternal punishment is actually what the Bible teaches, let's get real! We're talking about eternal destinies here. If that doctrine is true, then it is also true that God loves and values people who perform successfully, but He plans to trash all who do not -- forever! Thus, "God" (!?) has put Himself between the devil and the deep blue sea. Has He not?
For He says He wants His creatures to be his "friends" and to love Him wholeheartedly, with all their soul, mind, and strength. Yet He also (allegedly) warns that He plans to doom to eternal agony all people who fail to "make friends" with him. And--within a certain time limit!
To my mind, that's hardly a good way to "win friends and influence people"! Or don't you agree?
Say the president asked you to join him for regular golf games and friendly chitchat and to share mutual heart-aspirations together, as well as to co-labor with him in charitable enterprises. Yet he also told you he would have you burned alive if you missed too many appointments with him. Would you consider that to be a legitimate invitation to friendship? I would not! Coward that I am, I'd be sorely tempted to treat him as an "intimate friend." However, in my heart I would abhor the very thought of him. Any authority figure who so abused his position of power to have "friends" would be incapable of winning my trust, my faith! Let alone my admiration and loyalty! Secretly, I would yearn for the day of his overthrow or impeachment. Wouldn't you?
That's why the world is now filled with agnosticism and atheism and theological liberalism, which is mostly agnosticism, thinly veiled in religious semantics. A corrupt and double-tongued version of "Christianity" has held sway for too many centuries. The message has been "God is love/hate." Or in it's mildest form, the message has been "God loves you, but..." Or the glad (?) tidings has been, "The Lord desires to save everyone!
Isn't this marvelous?"
(There has always been a segment in the church that prefers to incline toward "grace" while reserving the more grisly dogmas for catechism classes, have you noticed?)
Thus, many sincere people of rational mind and tender conscience have concluded that the idea of there being no God is far preferable to the "God" that organized religion has advertised--either overtly or subvertly--to a hurting world. And they are right! The myth of (a Godless) evolution, sad as it is, is far preferable to the myth of a "Loving Creator" who (supposedly) has "foreordained" to consign most of His intelligent creation to eternal agony! At least, there's a merciful--end--to the atheistic story... Right?
So, there you are. Christianity has become severely crippled because it's vast majority of members finally bought into the lie of conditional love. That tragedy occurred within five centuries after Christ had founded His church. You see, the great majority of the early church AND its leaders did NOT teach Hell as we know it.
EXIT: The true "glad tidings of great joy which shall be to ALL people." (Lk.2:11)
ENTER: The dark ages---which still cast their grim shadow over much of the church and world today.
I grew up under that lingering shadow.
My family and I constantly suffered the abuse of the hope-destroying message, "God loves you--but--He plans to get rid of most people, and if you're not careful you just may be one of them!" The message was not framed in those exact words, of course. The actual words were often far worse. Then, at other times they sounded much nicer. When we endured spiritual abuse in it's harsher form, the words were horrifying. Graphic descriptions of fiery torture fell on our ears, and we listened to long sermons describing what an "eternity of endless ages" actually means--as compared with the longest time stretches the human mind can conceive. Say the sun were turned into a stainless steel globe, for example. Then say a tiny ant were to crawl the entire circumference of it's equator repeatedly until, over millions of ages, the microscopic imprint of its tracks finally dug so deeply that it divided the gigantic orb in half...And? Eternity would only have just begun...
Then, these horrifying threats often were interspersed on other occasions with more "loving" ones: "Would you like to spend eternity with Jesus?" Or here's another one: "If the Lord were to come tonight, do you know if you would be ready for heaven?" And I heard this one fairly often: "Tch! Tch! There's so much lack of personal holiness around here, there's good cause to question if a lot of people in this church have really been saved... Not that I'm judging anyone!"
Sound familiar? Right. It matters not if you are a Baptist or a Methodist or a Pentecostal, or a Roman Catholic or a Protestant, or a Calvinist or an Arminian. There is just no way to escape the tyranny of cruel legalism--in some form--where the unscriptural dogma of eternal punishment is seriously proclaimed and believed.
So...The toxic seed of conditional love was sown into my life at an early age. Then it was repeatedly watered with hints of "are you sure your heart is right with God?" It was also fertilized with the debilitating dung of "God is NOT only 'love'! He is HOLY and a God of eternal wrath!"
However, by the time I had reached my early forties, my internal "God- Picture" had begun to improve dramatically. Our Heavenly Father Himself had begun revealing His true nature to me in my prayer journaling. However, because what He revealed of Himself in my journaling conflicted with how I had been trained to understand certain "dark passages" of Scripture, I found myself experiencing increasing inner turmoil! This really became a problem after I had stumbled across some of George MacDonald's old novels and sermons. Mac Donald appeared to be a "universalist"--and --his understanding of God's heart coincided exactly with all the revelations of it I had thus far received!
What if I were being deceived? Horrors...This Heavenly Father, so gentle and sagely, who often chuckled inside my heart and always lavished me with the most tender mercy--what if He were a counterfeit? What if it was not God at all, but a deceiving spirit? Too often, I experienced a "knot" in my stomach. It was born of the suspicion that maybe the "legalists" (who sometimes confronted me with harsh criticism) were right. Perhaps I did emphasize grace too much in my ministry! Perhaps I was leading folks down the primrose path to eternal destruction!
(In traditional Christian circles, "legalists" are folks who take their hell-fire doctrine seriously. Whereas "grace oriented" Christians-advocate that we must "believe" in eternal torment, but, at all costs, we should try not to think of it or speak of it often. I was trying desperately to be one of these.)
I finally suffered a massive nervous breakdown in 1995.
Nine months later I woke up--healed--on May 1st of 1996. I was "bonkers in love" with my Heavenly Father. My doctors and counselors were amazed at the sudden and dramatic change that had occurred in my personality. What had happened? Overnight, God had saturated my heart with the healing revelation of His committed love. I just simply knew He would restore all of his creation--myself and yourself included--because Christ would fulfill His promise to draw ALL MANKIND to Himself.
Suicidal manic depression--zap!--disappeared from my life and has never returned. Chronic binge alcoholism also vanished, along with a load of other garbage that had been dumped into my life when I was molested in childhood.
So why do I not try to sin all I can, since I know Christ will save me no matter what? I love Him. That's why. Furthermore, I know the healing power of love. I have experienced the healing power of love.
My heavenly Father has won my heart with his unconditional and committed love. Besides, He is never--not ever--going to resign from His commitment to heal and restore me. So why should I want to complicate my life--again? Why only make it harder on myself by trying to go on as many excursions to Cookooland as possible? Been there and done that! Every fiber of my being thirsts to know God better. I yearn to live in His presence, to experience His power, and to see His Love-kingdom invade the hearts of all who weep under the shadow of darkest despair.
But as long as I imagined that God's commitment to my eternal well being was conditional, there was a part of me that detested the very thought of Him. I secretly wished that neither He nor myself existed. I yearned for His overthrow, His impeachment! There were times when atheistic philosophy attracted me like a huge electronic magnet. Why? Life was a curse. Or so it seemed, as I then perceived it.
So I was a prisoner of destructive iniquity patterns--because--I did not know how to cease wishing I were non-existent and to stop "needing" my bad habits as "painkillers." Besides, I probably was going to spit hell wide open anyhow--no matter how hard I tried to avoid it! So, part of me reasoned, "Why not feel good at least some of the time?"
Inside myself, I was torn asunder. My spirit loved God and yearned after Him, for it was created for that very purpose. Yet my poor, religion-abused brain and deepest emotions had come to abhor my Creator. And why? I hated Him for (supposedly) offering me only conditional love. How could I love my Heavenly Father with ALL MY BEING while He loved me with mere conditional commitment? I could find no way of giving my Creator something which He Himself did not possess! Could I?
Of course not. And neither can you. No human being can do that. What is finite cannot supersede that which is infinite. Is this not a self-evident fact? Of course! We don't even need a Scripture verse to confirm that truth, anymore than we need one to confirm the law of gravity! Our Heavenly Father is the "Sun" and we are the "moon." Unless He shines, we cannot shine. We love Him--because--He first loved ( and does love) us.
Would you like to be set free from the lie of conditional love? If so, then let's pray:
"Dear Heavenly Father,
My spirit knows that Jesus Christ is your Son, and He died to heal and restore me completely. My deepest heart knows You raised Him from the dead. It also knows His resurrection set all creation free--myself included--from the death-curse that came down to us all because our first parents sinned, when they fell prey to satan's deception.
Please, Father God. Set me free from the lie of conditional love. Heal my wounded heart from all the abuse that came from (myself and) others because of a wrong and confused understanding of Your good heart. I long so much to experience the height and depth and length and width of your love that the Bible talks about. Religious tradition has denied me that joy. The opinions of broken people have bombarded me for years. So I can hardly imagine what unconditional love is. And Father, I don't even know how to receive your unconditional love for myself. Far less do I know how to give it away to others. Will you please help me now?
By your grace and with your help, I choose to forgive those who have brought me pain. I forgive even those who have confused abuse for love and transmitted error to me about Your loving nature. They gave what they had. So bless them, Heavenly Father. Heal their wounded hearts. Cause them to have far more and--far better--gifts to share in days to come.
In the name of my Strong Deliverer and Lord, Jesus Christ,
May God ravish your heart with deepest assurance of His committed and unfailing love.