by Sondra Peters
After reading a Bible story to my nine-year old nephew, Jayden wanted to know who was going to be in the Kingdom. I said, “Those who choose to be.”
He said, “You mean good people?”
I said, “The people in the Kingdom will be those who want to follow God and live His way.”
“So,” he says, “the bad people will go to the other place?”
I said, “Well, it has nothing to do with how bad or good a person is. It has to do with Jesus’ goodness and believing in him, believing that he is who he says he is. Whatever hell is has nothing to do with good or bad; people will be there because they don’t want to be in the kingdom—they don’t want to follow God or live with him forever. They want nothing to do with God.”
Several weeks passed after this conversation and I thought that perhaps I should address this topic in our children’s Sunday school class. Here’s how the conversation went with the two children I had in class. I said, “Some say that good people go to heaven, and bad people go to the other place. Does that mean you have to be perfect?”
Both children shouted at the same time. “No, you just have to believe!” came from Jayden. Conversely, little 4-year-old, Katie shouted, “Yes! You have to be perfect!”
I said, “What if you are driving and fall asleep and hit someone and they die. Does that mean you go to hell?”
Again, Katie shouted, “Yes!”
I then asked the following questions that were designed to make the children think: How good do you have to be to be saved? How bad do you have to be to go to hell? What if you’re just medium, kind of good, kind of bad—then where do you go? What about if you hate? Where does that put you? Finally, the last question: If God has forgiven everyone for their sins, then why would anyone go to hell for those sins?
It was clear that Jayden knew that belief in Jesus was the key and it was clear that Katie thought you had to be perfect.
I told them the story of David and how he killed a man because he wanted what the other man had; yet God called him “a man after His own heart.” I told them about Paul, who not only had hunted down Christians and had them imprisoned, he also participated in the stoning of the Christian Stephen. Yet, he wrote almost a third of the New Testament! They sinned but believed. They were forgiven as we all are. Their response to being forgiven was repentance.
I reminded the children of a scripture they’d recently memorized, John 3:16-17: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Why am I telling you this story?
It’s a common belief that we are one sin away from falling out of favor with God and being doomed to hell, that we’re walking a tightrope, that our salvation is fragile, and that at any moment, with one sinful thought or inadequate repentance, our salvation could be snatched right out of our grasp.
This belief–that it’s your own goodness that saves you–leads to fear, insecurities, distrust in God. Do you trust someone whose friendship is like a yo-yo? She withdraws her friendship and snubs you whenever she perceives an offense, but the next day she is back to being your best friend. If that happened enough times, you wouldn’t trust that friend and you would steer clear. So, how can we trust a god who supposedly loves us—but only when we’re “good”?
This belief that we earn salvation focuses on sin and the law, not on grace and love. In our journey, God will work on our brokenness, but our brokenness is not the main thing—it’s our relationship with the Father and Son, and the Holy Spirit makes that possible.
How many Christians have died not knowing if they were good enough? How many have died not having the assurance of God’s abundant, overwhelming love? Do you feel that you don’t know where you stand with God, that his wrath is just waiting to be unleashed? That is the worst lie ever told about God.
Obviously, it starts early with little children in attempts to make them behave. Somehow, as adults, we end up believing in both grace and works. Grace given to us freely and having to earn grace with works is incompatible. For one thing, grace that you have to earn isn’t grace. We end up believing that Jesus, the son of God, loves us because he died for us, but the harsh God the Father loves us only if we obey!
What is the truth?
God is faithful; he is committed to you. Even when Adam and Eve sinned and had to leave the Garden of Eden, God went with them. He was with Israel when they continued to get it wrong and wandered for 40 years in the wilderness. He never stopped loving them. He never gave up on them. Time and time again, Israel rejected God, but He never rejected them.
You might say, “Yeah, but they were His chosen people.” He only chose them to be an example to the rest of the world so that He could eventually reach all of humanity! He wants all to be saved. How do I know that?
The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. (2 Peter 3:9)
He will never reject you. He will always love you. That’s the source of our joy. Knowing that we are loved no matter what gives us boldness, confidence, fearlessness. We don’t need to hang our heads in shame or feel worthless because we just can’t seem to overcome our weaknesses. Why? Because we belong to God the Father. We are His. What is our purpose? Our purpose is to just “be” with the Father, Son and Spirit for all eternity!
All are forgiven, thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice. People don’t have a hard time accepting that Jesus loves everyone. He said that if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father. The Father has revealed who He is by showing us Jesus.
God is always the same and that is love. He loves us no matter what—it’s unconditional. There are no strings attached. Are you familiar with Romans 8:38-39 which says, “Nothing can separate us from God’s love”? It reads:
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In the past, I would add at the end, “Except for my sin.” Nooooo! Not even my sin! Oh, if only everyone knew this. He loves you and me and the unrepentant person sitting on death row regardless. He doesn’t see us as wretched or sinful or evil or weak; He sees us as His. He doesn’t place the blame on us. He places the blame on sin. That’s where his wrath is.
Look at the Pharisees. Think of all the parables he directed at the Pharisees. He came down hard on them for being hypocrites, for putting burdens on the people, for their love of money, and their disregard for the poor and sick. Yet Jesus never stopped trying to turn them to him, because God loved them. God looks at us with adoration and compassion as a loving, tender Father.
A couple of years ago, I was addressing a group of children about how much God adored them. This one child said that I was the only one who had ever told her she was adored. Oh, how sad.
He cares so much for us. Just look what the Father, Son and Spirit have gone through and will go through for us. From Genesis to Revelation, all of this is part of the plan to get us to the point of eternal life with them. Just think how long the triune God has been working on this project! It’s believed that from the time of Adam and Eve to the present has been 3400 years. That’s just since Adam. God was working on this plan before Adam, even before creation. All for you.
Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. (Ephesians 1:4-5)
God doesn’t see good or bad when he sees you. He doesn’t see sin and weakness. He sees His precious child.