Every Question Is A Personal Question

The other week a student at SLHS asked me a question that comes up a lot in evangelism: what about the person that never had the chance to hear about Jesus? How can God send that person to Hell?

Now, like I said, this question comes up a lot, so I went into one of my typical answers. I talked about God’s sovereignty over all creation, and how all people have been given the ability to see that God exists and respond. And then how God, before he created anything, knew that if he gave all people free will some of those people would never in any possible scenario receive his free offer of grace. Therefore when he did create them he was free to put them in places where they would never hear about Jesus.

I think that is where I lost him. Actually, I know that is where I lost him because he said out loud, “That’s BS!” (Except he didn’t use the abbreviation). No, it’s not BS— it’s Christian philosophy at its best. Nevertheless, that didn’t really matter.

So I said to him with a laugh, “So you’re not convinced?”

And this is where the conversation took a turn. As we continued to talk he mentioned that all of his family is Buddhist. Ah, now things made sense. He wasn’t just asking some abstract philosophical question, he was asking a very personal question. He wanted to know if his family, who in his mind had never heard about Jesus, was going to Hell. That is a very different kind of question.

The mistake I made is a mistake that is often easy to make when talking to people about matters of faith. It is easy to talk about and respond to matters of salvation in the abstract. It is easy to do because often the person asking the question poses the question in this way as a means to protect him or herself.

But what I had forgotten that day is there are no purely abstract philosophical questions when it comes to matters of salvation. Every question asked is a personal question because the answer will always affect the questioner in a personal way. It may affect how they think about their own eternity, or it may affect how they think about eternity for others—but in both cases, the answer matters to them. If it didn’t they would not have asked the question.

When the student asked the question, I should have responded in a more personal way. Here are some examples of what I could have said.

  • “Wow that’s a really great question. It sounds like you are concerned about God’s fairness. If God is fair, how do you think God views you?”
  • Or “Wow that’s a great question. What led you to think about that question?”
  • Or “Honestly, I’m not 100% sure, but if you really want to know, I’d be happy to get back to you with an answer. But what about you? It seems God is wanting to tell you about Jesus. Do you know what Jesus has done for you?”

I’m grateful that God is bigger than my mistakes and missed opportunities. But hopefully this article will help you and me to remember whenever someone asks us a question about salvation, that question is always a personal question. So we need to pray (sometimes in the moment) and ask God to show us how to respond with a personal, not just philosophical, answer.

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Reader Question: What’s Up With Jesus Being In Hell?

Jenna (a very bright middle school student) asked,

Where does the statement “he descended into hell”  come from? Is it in the Bible?

Great questions Jenna!

The phrase comes from the Apostles’ Creed:

I believe in God,
the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,  and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
 
Is it in the Bible? Well, sorta.

Most Christians would cite the following Bible passages, Acts 2:31; Ephesians 4:8-10; 1Peter 4:6; and 1 Peter 3:18-20. However, none of these passages use the exact phrase “he descended into hell”. And over the years Christians have differed on exactly what these passages mean. [1]

So why then do we recite it in the Apostles’ Creed?
What is clear in the Bible, is that when Jesus died on the cross, He took upon Himself all of our sin and all of our punishment (2 Corinthians 5:21, Colossians 2:13-15, 1 John 4:10). This likely would include the punishment of Hell. As John Calvin put it, Jesus underwent, “the severity of God’s vengeance” and “the terrible torments of a condemned and forsaken man”.[2] Another way of thinking about it is, on the cross Jesus took upon Himself the fullness of our sin. And in Hell Jesus took upon Himself the fullness of our punishment.
 
What does this phrase means for us today?

The song In Christ Alone sums it up perfectly:

 In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand
 
In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save
‘Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live
 
There in the ground His body lay
Light of the World by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ
 
No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
‘Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand

 

Because Jesus conquered sin, death, and Hell, now all who trust in Him have nothing to fear, for it is in the power of Christ we stand!

 

 

 

 

How You Might Be Leading Your Friends To Hell

In a recent interview, billionaire and long time atheist Ted Turner, said, “I don’t want to go to Hell.” The soon to be 75 year old, still considers himself to be an agnostic, but now he is open to the possibility that “somebody is out there.”  And to show that he is serious about avoiding eternal damnation, he has, in his latter years, focused on doing good. He has been very generous with his wealth and has become an advocate and supporter of many worthwhile causes.  But is all his good deeds enough to get him into Heaven? Jane Fonda, an openly Christian women, who also happens to be Turner’s former wife says, when it comes to Heaven, Ted Turner is a “shoo-in.”  Why is she so sure about his eternal security? Here is an excerpt from the article:

Fonda said she believes Turner’s childhood traumas left him so protective of himself that he had trouble opening up emotionally. But, she said, he does want to get into Heaven. And, she said, he’s a shoo-in.
 
“Given his childhood,” Fonda said, “he should’ve become a dictator. He should’ve become a not nice person. The miracle is that he became what he is. A man who will go to Heaven, and there’ll be a lot of animals up there welcoming him, animals that have been brought back from the edge of extinction because of Ted. He’s turned out to be a good guy. And he says he’s not religious. But he, the whole time I was with him, every speech — and he likes to give speeches — he always ends his speech with ‘God bless.’ And he’ll get into Heaven. He’s a miracle.”
 

The interviewer then summed up the article this way:

 The old Ted Turner — the one who made billions and won the America’s Cup and the World Series and launched CNN — probably would have tried to buy his way in. But the do-gooder Ted is earning his way in by saving bison and other endangered species and fighting for the oceans and preserving 2 million acres of ranch land and standing up for women and supporting causes near and dear to the United Nations.
 
That Ted Turner gets into Heaven, by Jane Fonda’s accounting.

 

Now, I am sure Jane Fonda was just trying to be nice. And maybe she plans on having many more salvation conversations with her still-good-friend Ted Turner. But if the CNN article is an accurate description of her beliefs, then sadly she is not only keeping Ted from Heaven, but inadvertently leading Ted to Hell.

To be fair it is hard for any Christian not to think that somehow the good deeds of their non believing friends or family might get them into Heaven. But the Bible is clear, no amount of good works gets any person into Heaven.

Isaiah 64:6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.

Ephesians 2:8-9  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

Titus 3:5 [God] saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.

How then does one go to Heaven?

John 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Romans 10:9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Acts 2:38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

There is only one way to Heaven:

Repent of your sins, confess Jesus as Lord of your life, and thereby receive God’s free gift of grace and forgiveness.

Matt Chandler once wrote, ““the idolatry that exists in a man’s heart always wants to lead him away from his Savior and back to self-reliance” Our good works are often just a veiled form of self-reliance. But the good news of Jesus Christ is that we no longer have to rely on ourselves (especially for salvation), instead we are now able to rely solely on the grace of God. We were made to be God-dependent, not independent.

On the cross, Jesus did all the good work necessary for you and me to go to Heaven. There is nothing we can or need to add to that.

So for all of us who, like Ms. Fonda, have friends and family like Ted who don’t want to go to Hell, let us not give them false hope in their good works. Instead, let us lead them to the One True Hope, Jesus Christ, because their good works can’t get them into Heaven, but they can lead them into Hell.