hell

Embraced by Our Unlimited God

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By Linda Rex

If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit our God-concepts are at their best flawed and broken. We see God through the lenses of our past experiences, the misguided teachings we have embraced, and the hurt feelings we harbor toward others. These lenses may create within us a sense of anxiety and fear toward God when we suspect our behavior doesn’t measure up with what we believe God wants it to be.

What we believe about who God is and who we are in relationship with him often impacts us more than we realize. It becomes the underlying frame by which we measure ourselves and others, and we anticipate a just God giving us or others what is deserved—punishment, damnation, and hell.

We seem to set limits on what God will and can do in this world, whether now or in the future. We believe God is limited by a person’s sin in that God must punish a person for their evil thoughts and behavior, and their depravity. For God to not punish a person in this life or in the next, seems to us to be unjust or at the least, unfair, and certainly not something God would do.

But at the same time, isn’t this the reason Jesus Christ came? Isn’t this the reason Christ took on our humanity, lived the perfected life which is to be ours, and died our death in our place? Didn’t he take upon himself the punishment we all deserve? Then why must a person bear that punishment now or in the future? Why must they get what they deserve when it is God’s heart and will they get what they don’t deserve?

Yes, we are facing the whole issue of participation—of each and every person participating in the perfected life created for them in Jesus Christ in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, and given to them in the Person and power of the Holy Spirit. This brings into the picture the critical issue of faith. What does a person believe about who God is, who they are, and who Christ is for them personally? This must be answered by each and every human being.

We believe God is limited by death in that God must save a person now before they die, or they are lost for all eternity. For God to work with someone beyond death is unthinkable, because death is the end—now is the time of salvation. A person must come to Christ now, or all is lost. Death in this case, is the winner.

But even the just, fair, holy God confesses in and through his Son Jesus Christ that these limits no longer exist. Death has been conquered by life in Christ Jesus. Salvation has been worked out in him for each and every human being. What they do with that is the question we must all wrestle with. But must this wrestling be completed before death? Or can it continue beyond death into the place where this person encounters the One who stood in their stead and on their behalf, and sees the true realities for the first time in his or her existence?

Such questions may make us very uncomfortable. These questions may even anger us. But I believe that, in wrestling with them, we are brought face to face with the current state of our own heart. We need to ask ourselves, why does this make us uncomfortable? Why does this anger us? Is there someone in our life or in our past whom we believe needs to experience the just deserts of their unbelief and disobedience? Is there someone in our life we feel does not deserve to be forgiven and to be embraced by God and given eternal life?

Whether we want to admit it or not, we like to determine for God whom he can and cannot welcome into his eternal embrace. We’re the ones who feel it is so important that the damnation, and ever-burning fire be a literal reality for every person who denies Christ. Whereas God’s heart is to make sure no human being is left out of his eternal embrace. God’s will is that every human being experience the blessed and glorious life held in the life and love of the Father, Son, and Spirit—the beautiful life in the presence of the true Light which enlightens every person.

And God is free to do this. His unlimited freedom to be as he really is and to do as he really does as our loving, gracious God, is what drives his passion to see that every human being shares in and is held in his loving embrace. God’s freedom to be as he truly is and to do what he purposes in his heart of overflowing love and grace, is not only beyond our comprehension, but also beyond the ability of any of us to resist.

The majesty of God’s love, though, also allows you and me the freedom to resist all of that which God pours out for us on our behalf. The question of whether or not we trust in Christ for salvation is settled on God’s side—but is still in abeyance on our side. Christ stepped up as God in human flesh, and did it on our behalf—he stood in our place. He said “Yes” to Abba in the place of our “No”. But there is still a work God is doing in and through the Holy Spirit to make Christ’s “Yes” a reality for each and every person in their own being and doing.

And this is where the whole issue of faith becomes critical. What is your faith in? Is it in your ability to make sure you say the right words, or do the right things? Is your faith in being a member of the “only” church who believes the correct doctrine? What are you counting on when you come face to face with the living Lord?

Ultimately, it will come down to what Jesus emphasized over and over during his ministry here on earth: It is not about what you have, what you’ve done or not done, or what others believe about what you’ve done or not done. It all boils down to putting your trust outside of yourself, and outside of anything in your life, and solely trusting in the grace of God demonstrated to us and given to us in his Son Jesus Christ.

In embracing Jesus Christ, we find we are embraced by the living God himself, and filled with his very presence by his blessed Spirit. In turning from ourselves to Christ, we discover God has been turned toward us the whole time. He never did leave us or forsake us, but has been drawing us steadily into his love and life, that perfected existence we were created for from before time began.

And in surrendering our life, our future, our will, and our very significance to Jesus Christ, we find our true life, a blessed hope, and a Divine Companionship which we will enjoy for all eternity. And this is what it means when Jesus says repent and believe, be baptized, and receive the gift of God Spirit.

This is what God meant for each and every one of us from the beginning. This is the whole reason Christ came, and the whole purpose for all God has done since he first got the idea to create human creatures who could and would share his life and love. We are held in his embrace, whether we like or not, whether we want to be held or not. All he wants is for us to turn around and embrace him as he is embracing us. So why wait? Why not do it right now?

Dear Abba, thank you for the gift of your Son and your Spirit. Today, this day, I turn away from my dependence upon anything or anyone but you, God, and I turn towards you. I embrace you, and your ways, and your blessed Spirit, and what your Son has done in my stead and on my behalf in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. I believe—Lord, please free me from my unbelief. Enable me to trust fully in you, and you alone, in every situation of life, no matter how hard things may get. Fill me afresh with your Spirit—make me new. My life is in you, through Jesus my Lord, and by your Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.” Revelation 22:12-14 NASB

“‘Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.’ (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.)” Revelation 19:6b-8 NASB

Dread, or Anticipation?

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By Linda Rex

Have you ever had one of those situations that come up in life where you know you have to go do something, maybe go to a meeting, or see the doctor or dentist, or go visit a friend, and you don’t know whether to be excited about it or to absolutely dread it? It seems like I’ve had a few things I really wanted to do this week, but the thought of doing them has not given me any sense of anticipation, but only a dread of what might happen and how difficult they were going to be to get done.

The irony has been that this week, the weather has been such that a couple of the meetings I had to go to were cancelled. It’s not that I didn’t want to go to them—it’s more that my health is such right now that I cannot handle very much stress or exercise without having more fluttering or pressure in my chest from my heart acting up. I anticipate going to have the tests done on my heart next week, but I also dread what that is going to involve since I don’t really care that much for having medical procedures done on me.

It’s hard to know exactly how something is going to turn out. We, as far as I am aware, do not have the capacity to predict these type of life events with much accuracy. So we plan ahead the best that we are able to, and then we are in a position of needing to trust God the rest of the way. We walk by faith, not by sight.

I think we have to keep this faith perspective in front of us when we begin to talk about what happens after death. I believe this is especially true when it comes to dealing with issues of judgment. By that I mean that we have certain people we or others have encountered in life who seem to be just evil at their very core. In our minds, we believe that at the least they deserve to be punished for all the harm they have done in their lives. And we form this idea in our minds that becomes our apocalyptic end time, or our concept of hell.

But if we take seriously our belief that Jesus became sin for us, meaning all humanity, and he lived our life and died our death because he shares in our humanity, and arose carrying all humanity with him into the presence of the Father, then we need to rethink some things. Because our concepts of judgment and condemnation may need to be adjusted.

We can face death with either dread or anticipation. I’ve watched people mourn and grieve because a loved one did not know Christ before they died—and they are convinced that they have gone straight to hell—which for them means painful agonizing suffering forever. Surely we need to reconsider what hell may be, because even though the Scripture talks about the fire that is not quenched, I’m not convinced that the fire is a literal thing that burns people forever.

Let me explain. What if we consider the situation of someone who everyone believes was horribly evil and did awful things in his life—let’s say—Hitler. Here is a man who orchestrated genocide and the twisting of the German church and state into a horror not yet forgotten. We still have people among us who bear the imprint of the numbers of their incarceration. He was a scary, twisted human being. Of all people who deserve to “go to hell”, he is one.

The first concern I have is the issue of judgment. Who is Hitler’s judge? It is not me or you but Christ. And ironically, the One who is the Judge is the One who paid the price for all that Hitler thought and did while he was alive. Hmmm…that can’t be right—Hitler has the ultimate “Get Out of Jail Free” card—Jesus Christ!

So what about all the things he did while he was alive? Doesn’t he deserve to be punished? Shouldn’t he have to suffer the way he caused so many others to suffer? How can God be a just God if he just lets him off the hook? Doesn’t he deserve to be condemned?

That’s a really good question. If indeed, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, and we are all “in Christ” because in him “we live and move and have our being” and we live, die and rise in Christ’s humanity, then he is not condemned. That can’t be right, can it?

But the real thing we need to consider is the overwhelming majesty and passion (or fire) of God’s love, which never ends, and in the end will burn away all that is not of God and his grace and love. God’s love for such a man is greater than anything we can think of or even imagine.

God’s heart for Hitler is the same as his heart for you and me—that he share in the life and love of the Father, Son and Spirit for all eternity. And the only way he can share in that love and life is to be transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit within and without, through grace by faith. Just because he died and is now in the presence of God, does that mean that God is going to stop loving him into the person he created him to be?

What if the fire of God’s love continues to rage against the evil that has control of Hitler’s mind and heart? For example, what if Hitler has to come face to face with each and every person he ever harmed or betrayed, and in doing so, has to experience not only the horror of what he did to people, but also the guilt and shame that goes with it? And what if those people and Christ himself, offers him grace over and over? And what if he doesn’t want any of it, but just wants to escape it all or not have to face up to anything he did?

When it comes to the place that all evil is cast away and all that is left is what is good, and holy, and right—will there be a place for him? In that place where the evil one has no control or influence any longer, he cannot blame anyone but himself for what he did. He comes face to face with who he really is—both his broken humanity and the new life offered him in Christ.

This is God’s love for him in the midst of eternity. And this for him can be heaven—a joining in the celebration and joy of communion with all others in the life and love of God, or hell—a refusal to accept or acknowledge the reality of the grace and love being offered to him in and through Christ by the Spirit. This refusal of God’s grace and love means a life lived in isolation and alienation, one of self-condemnation he has chosen to live in for all eternity.

The fire of God’s love never ceases to burn away all that is not what we were meant to be as humans made in God’s image. For someone who refuses to repent and believe, that is hell, because it goes against the grain, and it forces them to face spiritual realities they do not want to face. It means all they depended upon and believed in is of no value and no longer exists. They have nothing left, but the truth. And that can be excruciating, especially if they don’t want to believe or accept it.

God is not ungracious and mean. He is not a horrible monster. He loves people enough that he gave them eternal life even when they didn’t deserve it. But the quality of the life they enjoy has fundamentally to do with what they believe about God and who he is, and what they believe about themselves and who they are.

The future after death can be anticipated or dreaded—either way it will be an expression of God’s love for humanity and his firm belief that we will be the adopted children he created in the first place to bear his very image in our being. But as C.S. Lewis wrote, heaven’s door is open on the outside, and we can enter in if we so choose, or stand outside and feel sorry for ourselves.

Some of us may decide when we get there that we don’t have any interest in the celebration whatsoever. But the fire of God’s love will not cease drawing us to himself and purifying us forever. How we will experience that fire, as a consuming fire that can’t be quenched or a transforming flame that warms our souls, will be determined by our response to God’s love and grace. May we anticipate and not dread the day we come face to face with the living Christ.

Loving Father, thank you for giving us a promise of eternity in your Son and in the gift of your Spirit. Grant us the grace to receive your gift of life today so that we may experience your love even today in every way in our lives. May we also rejoice with you in the eternal celebration of life forever through Jesus Christ and in the Spirit. Amen.


“For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, ‘If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’”
1 Peter 4:17–18 NIV

Deciding Who’s In and Who’s Out

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Amazed by His Grace by Linda Rex May 17, 2002--resized

By Linda Rex

In the day to day issues of relationships, it would be helpful if there was a referee in our personal lives whose only responsibility was to tell us who’s in and who’s out. When we just can’t get along with someone because they are a stinking awful jerk (in our mind and maybe our experience too), we’d love to have someone come along and say to them “You’re out!” and blip! they’d just disappear.

This would be really helpful in those relationships where we’re not sure if the person is really what or who they say they are. We wouldn’t have to risk the danger of being wounded, hurt or rejected by them because the referee would just call them in or out, and everything would be wonderful.

When we’re having a fight with our mate, we’d be able to know for sure that indeed we are right and our mate is wrong (which is generally the case, right?). We wouldn’t have to wrestle with the discomfort of repentance, confession, and admission of guilt, not to mention the hassle of understanding, forgiveness and mercy.

I think this whole paradigm of some being in and some being out comes from the dualistic framework in which western culture and religion are framed. This impacts our relationships with one another and with God, and causes us to live out our existence with the idea that good and evil are real opposites with equal power. This way of thinking and believing has its roots in Greek philosophy. I appreciate Dr. Bruce Wauchope wrestling with this in his series on “God, the Who and the Why” (see the link on the blog site, bottom right).

We make a lot of assumptions that in reality are not based on the teachings of Christ and the early church. For example, we assume that either a person is in God’s kingdom or out of God’s kingdom. Often in our view, there’s no other alternative.

But the scripture teaches us that God through Christ and in the Spirit created all things, and all things are upheld by his powerful Word. (1 Cor. 8:6; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2; John 1:1-5) Nothing exists apart from God or outside of God. When Christ came to earth, taking on our human flesh, Jesus declared that the kingdom of God had come to earth in a real way in his very person and presence. God was present, and so his kingdom was being established in and through Jesus Christ.

And yet we talk about sin and evil and the evil one as though they exist in some place or existence apart from God. Dr. Wauchope points out that anything that exists in some place or existence apart from God is therefore self-existent, and therefore also a god. In other words, when we say that an evil person dies and goes to hell, separated from God forever, we are saying that person is capable of self-existent life apart from God and will sustain him or herself forever in an existence that is not dependent upon God in any way. But this is not the truth.

Nothing exists apart from God. All life is contingent upon God sustaining it and holding it. In order for anyone or anything to exist, God has to give it life. Even evil and the evil one, though not caused by God, are held within God’s very life and existence. They are permitted by God, but always servants of God. They must always bow the knee to God and God ever works to redeem and destroy the harm they do. They do not exist separately from or independently from God.

This is where alarm bells go off and people get offended. We believe that God cannot be in the presence of evil or sin, quoting Habakkuk 1:13. In reality the prophet was declaring that God cannot look on evil without doing something about it. And the way God did something about evil and sin was that he became sin for us. (2 Cor. 5:21) God came into our brokenness and healed it.

So we have to wrestle with this whole idea of who Jesus Christ is and what he did when he as God came into our human existence and reconciled all humanity, indeed even the creation, to God. If indeed in the very beginning God through the Word and by the Spirit breathed life into us to give us our very existence, and if indeed, God himself as the Word through the Spirit came into our very human existence and lived, died, and rose again, ascending while bearing our humanity with him, all of us as human beings exist within the kingdom God has established through Jesus Christ and in the Spirit.

Now, existing in the kingdom of God and participating in the kingdom of God are, I believe, two very different things. Just because we exist in the presence of God (which we all do) doesn’t mean that we even acknowledge that God exists. We can live our entire lives believing there is no such thing as a God. The gracious Creator of all allows us the freedom to do that. But the consequences of believing and living according to that lie are disastrous.

Suppose a person lived their entire life opposed to the idea that God exists at all, and they certainly did not believe that there was any such thing as heaven or hell. What if they were so adamant that when we die that we just cease to exist and that there is no existence beyond this human life—and then they died?

If it is true that God holds all things in his hand and nothing exists apart from him, it would be quite distressing for such a person to suddenly find themselves in the presence of a loving, gracious God. If this person had spent their whole life running from God and resisting every effort God made to draw them to himself, they would be caught in a serious dilemma.

They would find they had spent their entire life acting as if they were a law unto themselves, that they were a self-sustaining, self-existent one, who could make up their own rules and run every relationship however they chose. But now they are face to face with the reality that God in Christ defines and sustains their very existence. And they’re part of an enormous extended family. It’s like they’ve lived in a darkened room with the shutters drawn, and God has just walked in and turned on the floodlights, showing the room is filled with millions of people.

They’re in, but they’re wishing desperately to be out. God’s adopted them and given them life in the Spirit, but they’re wishing there’s some other family out there who’d take them in. So they run off screaming, hoping to find the door and leave, but they can’t leave. They’re on the inside—there is no outside.

Hmmm. That doesn’t sound like a very nice way to spend eternity, does it?

Especially since we really can’t take anything with us but the relationships we have built during our lives and the character God has formed within us through Christ and in the Spirit. This poor person has no relationship with God (at least from their point of view) and many, if not all, of their relationships with others were based on selfish, self-centered motives which no longer apply in this new existence. And the One they thought was the referee (since apparently he does exist after all) has called them in, not out! What do they do now? Good question!

Holy Father, thank you for including each one of us in your life and love through your Son and in the Holy Spirit. Remove the blinders from our eyes so we can see the truth about who you are and who we are in you. Grant us the grace to fully embrace and participate in the adoption you have given us, allowing your Spirit to lead us and to transform us into Christlikeness. Through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.

“For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, …” Romans 8:15–16 NASB