- 2 Corinthians 5:14-17: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.”
- “Our self – luminous, open, empty Awareness – cannot be enlightened. It is already the light that illuminates all experience. Nor can a separate self be enlightened, for when the separate self faces the light of Awareness, it vanishes, just as a shadow does when exposed to the sun.” -Rupert Spira
- “But do not be called teacher; for there is only one teacher, the Christ, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone your father on the earth; for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ.” -Jesus Christ (Matthew 23:8-10)
- “Space seems broken and diverse because of the many forms in it. Remove the forms and pure space remains. So, too with the Omnipresent Self.” -Adi Shankara
- “All the mind-streams eventually flow into the one ocean beingness. There are many pathways for the mind, there are no paths for the heart, for the heart is infinite and fills everything.” -Mooji
- “For from him and through him and to him are all things…” -Paul of Tarsus (Romans 11:36)
I know this was long, but hopefully it has been food for thought for someone and has brought some comfort and spark to your soul. Thanks for reading.
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about “belief,” by which I mean “the ideas and notions one claims to be true.” Interestingly, I have found myself simultaneously coming to two very different conclusions about the importance and meaning of beliefs, especially regarding deeper issues such as the meaning of life, spirituality, right and wrong, societal structures, etc. On one hand, it is perfectly clear that what someone believes is incredibly important and influential on how they feel, how they live, and how they relate to others. For example, some beliefs could easily contribute to feelings of self-loathing, depression, and discouragement. Beliefs can cause one to isolate from others, have contempt for those who are different, and even to harm or kill other people, spreading pain and sowing anger on a large scale. In the same way, certain beliefs could promote such things as feelings of hope and inspiration, humble and joyful servanthood toward others, and a desire and attempt to make one’s sphere of influence more peaceful, hopeful, and full of love. If the content of one’s beliefs can promote such different paths, their importance cannot be denied.
Yet at the same time, I have also been considering that beliefs have no real substance to begin with – they are ultimately just creations of the mind, shaped by environment and experience. Again, it seems that at their essence, beliefs are merely figments of the mind, no matter how strongly we cling to them. I find it useful to remember the unquestionable truth that a person is more likely to adhere to certain beliefs about the world if they are raised in and surrounded by an environment which promotes these beliefs strongly, such as a very religious household. Someone born to Christian parents in rural America is many, many, many times more likely to claim Christian beliefs than is someone born in Saudi Arabia, and someone raised in a Mormon household is many, many, many times more likely to hold to Mormon beliefs than is someone born to atheist parents who follow no religion. But this raises a very important issue: if your belief system is in large part a result of the family you were born into, are they really YOUR beliefs at all? And what validity to they have compared to those of someone born into a different belief system? Not only that, but all of us know that beliefs can and do change, which also shows that beliefs are not something solid or permanent.
In my next post, I hope to explore how these two very different attitudes toward belief can exist together – how we can both seek to believe what is true and beneficial, while at the same time be learning to recognize and properly value that which lies deeper than belief. Thank you for reading! Wishing you all the best.
1 Peter 4:8 ESV: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”
Romans 4:7 ESV: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered…
In 1 Peter 4:8, Peter encourages his readers to earnestly love one-another “above all,” which clearly establishes the supreme importance of love. That’s obvious enough, but only recently did I notice there is a REASON given for the claim that earnest love is the most important thing, which is “love covers a multitude of sins.” This “reason” for love is what I want to explore in this post.
Follow a simple logical step with me: if loving one-another is important “above all,” and if loving is so important because love covers sins, then in Peter’s mind it is actually the covering of sin which is the goal, and love is the means by which this is accomplished. The Greek word for “cover” is kalupto, which means “to cover or hide; to remove from view or knowledge.” The Greek word translated “sin” is hamartia, which means “to miss the mark” in some way. So, to cover sin means to “hide or remove” that which is not “on the mark.””
Stick with me till the end here, because what I’m about to say might be difficult to accept but will make more sense if you keep reading. What is this “mark” that is to be aimed at? Well, since 1 Peter was primarily written to first-century Jews whose lives and relationship to God centered around obedience to the law of Moses, the “mark” would clealry have been understood as obedience to this law. Therefore, in this instance, “sin” is defined simply as disobedience to the law. This definition of sin is also strongly supported by Paul’s letters. Verses such as Romans 4:15 and 5:13, 1 Corinthians 15:56, and 1 John 3:41 clearly tie “sin” and “law” tightly together, and even state that without law, there is no “sin” to be counted, because a law has to exist in order for it to be broken. When you realize that “sin” can only exist in the presence of law, and you also realize that, as Colossians 2:14 and other verses state, the law has been done away with (not to mention that you and I, as non-Jews living 2,000 years after Jesus, were never under the law in the first place), you begin to see that in a strict Biblical sense, “sin” is a solved problem, a nullified issue, and something that us today (who do NOT live under the Old Covenant but are partakers in a new, better covenant) don’t need to, and in fact SHOULDN’T think about. Even IF you and I had been under the law, Jesus served as a final, perfect sacrifice to end the ineffectual animal and ritualistic sacrifices of the law, as he “did away with sin by the sacrifice of himself,” as Hebrews 9:26 says. Religion’s incessant emphasis on “sin sin sin” creates a damaging self-focus and a warped view of both God and ourselves. This is honestly terrible, and contradicts the very life and message of Jesus.
I don’t want to minimize this incredible truth: there is no written code of conduct or law for us to break; therefore “sin” is taken away and there is no curse or wrath upon us. We are living in the New Creation in Christ! I realize this is almost impossible to swallow at first for many Christians, as it goes against nearly everything that religion stands for. Christianity would actually almost cease to exist if the fear of sin and “judgment” were taken away. Nevertheless, the truth is that because the law passed away in Jesus Christ, and because you and I were never under the law in the first place, there is no sin to be counted against us. The divine spark within you, referred to in the Bible as “Christ in you,” being your life and true identity, is actually the only thing about you which is true and permanent. If only we knew this! Everything formed by ego, fear and self-will and clung to by the darkened mind of man will vaporize in due time.
Ok, now to bring things back a bit. All that being the case, it still is true that there are ways of perceiving and ways of behaving which can be either in harmony with or at odds with the Spirit of God within us. Put another way, we can align ourselves with truth and life, as Jesus did, or we can align ourselves with what is false and dead, as so many do (including those in religions of all sorts). Therefore, if I had to define the word “sin” for you and I today, I would define it as: “ways of perceiving and acting which are not based in love and are out of harmony with the Spirit of God” (the Spirit which is “over all, through all, and in all” according to Ephesians 4:6). Conforming to the life/light/spark/Christ within is a much higher way than following rules or religion, as the Spirit of God brings about the transformation of LOVE, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, non-judgment, and humility,2 while simply obeying rules has no power to bring about genuine inward transformation, but rather just creates a sense of being a “servant” rather than a son or daughter, and fosters fear, pride, and division.
In thinking about sin being covered/removed by love, I was reminded of verses in the New Testament which teach that ALL things will ultimately be subject to the Spirit of God, and that ALL people will be made pure and made alive in Christ3 (“Christ” means “anointing of the Spirit”). What struck me is the idea that everyone and everything will be brought into alighnment with the Spirit of God and of love is essentially just another way of saying that sin will be covered/removed! The removal of sin and the establishment of unity in the Spirit are two sides of the same coin! So, here is a something for us to consider: “love covers a multitude of sins” (or “THE multitude of sins, as the KJV says) essentially means that love will overwhelm, dissolve, heal, and ultimately eradicate the ways of perceiving, thinking and behaving that are contrary to the One Spirit of God and thus cause so much fear, oppression, division, and suffering in the world. I believe love is able to and will do this because it is the nature of God Himself, and for this reason love cannot fail or cease. Love eradicates evil because it returns evil with good; with peace and healing. Love is always truth-bearing and kind and patient and merciful and restorative. Genuine love does not focus on someone’s outward actions and is not concerned with their beliefs, but simply and always relates to and calls out to the Spirit and Life within them, even if they do not yet recognize that Spirit as their Life and have not been aligning with it.
I realize that might sound “out there,” but not only is this what the authors of the New Testament were teaching, but this covering/removing of sin by love is something that EVERYONE reading this has ALREADY experienced! Have you ever benefited from the comforting, healing, peace-giving, or unifying power of love? Has an act of kindness ever softened your heart? Has being forgiven ever made you glad, and made you want to be more forgiving and merciful yourself? Have you ever been encouraged by someone coming alongside you in a difficult moment? Have you ever been lifted up by praise or acceptance that you weren’t expecting? Have you ever been moved by undeserved, unconditional kindness and patience? When we experience such things, this is “love covering sins” in our own lives and sphere of influence, and ultimately this same principle can grow within and out from us, and expand into the whole universe.
While love is unquestionably mystical, it is also practical, and shapes how we will view and act toward other people. Love covers sin by showing no regard for social status, gender, or nationality, by being extremely generous toward all, and by being patient and kind to the very end. At it’s essence, I believe love involves the recognition that All is One, and that everything contrary to this truth is temporary, illusory, and destined for the inescapable Fire of Truth and Spirit. Recognizing this, Love then treats a neighbor as itsef, as in the deepest sense they are one and the same! Love does not deal with people according to individual egos and separate identities and perceptions which people create and cling to on the surface. I believe that love, being the nature of God, will outlast anything that opposes it. Ultimately, love will ensure that all which remains is harmony in the Spirit.
Next time I will post more about how the life and death of Jesus relates to this. Hope you’ll check back in soon.
Romans 4:15: “because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.”
Romans 5:13: “For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.” 1 John 3:4: “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.” 1 Corinthians 15:56: “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.”
1 Timothy 1:5, John 13:34, Galatians 5:6, 1 John 4:7-8
1 Corinthians 15:22, Hebrews 2:8, Romans 5:18-19
There is an idea known as “oneness” which is a central theme within a variety of spiritual teachings and practices. The basic claim of this idea is that on a deeper, more fundamental level than that of our individual experiences, beliefs, and perceptions, ALL people share in one Life and are parts or aspects of one Thing. Though my younger self was taught to consider this a dangerous, even demonic deception, my own search has led me to conclude the opposite. In fact, I have come to see that included among the people who have taught a form of “oneness” are the Apostle Paul, who wrote the majority of the letters in the New Testament, and Jesus Christ himself!
Here are a few statements of Jesus recorded in the Bible which show he thought of mankind as one thing:
Matthew 23:1,8: “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples…you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.” -Notice Jesus was not only speaking to his disciples, but also to “the crowds.” He told them ALL that they are “brothers” who should not identify with any sort of superiority to one-another. Brothers/sisters are those who come from the same source and share the same genes. On a spiritual level, this is true of all of us, as Jesus indicated. We ALL come from one source and share in one Life.
Even more strikingly, Jesus indicated that what is done to a person in need is done to him, which means that Jesus understood that he and a hungry, naked beggar are, in a very real sense, ONE! If Jesus identified himself so closely with even the lowliest people, why do we think we are any different? The Bible says we are “in Christ” and Christ is “in us,” so it follows if Jesus is united with someone, we are too. Again, Jesus made it clear that this includes even those who are “low” in society, saying:
Matthew 25:37-40: “Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me. -Notice Jesus calls these lowly people his “brothers.”
Jesus is also recorded saying these mystical words shortly before his crucifixion:
John 17:20-23 ESV: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one (literal Greek: “perfected into one”), so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” -Though this passage is not easy to digest, the central theme seems to be Jesus’ desire for those who believe to become “one” in the same sense that he and the Father are one. So the question is, how are he and the Father one? In this passage, Jesus described their oneness as: “you in me and I in you.” So, what Jesus is desiring and praying for here is that ALL mankind would have a recognition of being “in” each-other. You in me, and I in you. If “you in me and I in you” is true of ALL people, what else can this mean other than all of us (on a deep level that few realize) share in one Life as parts of one Thing!? That’s exactly what it means. Your true life is in me, and my true life is in you. This is the divine life/love/spirit within all, which is deeper and unaffected by the ego, beliefs, and dogmas of mankind.
As I read this passage from John 17, Jesus’ phrase “perfectly one” stood out to me. Other, more literal translations translate this phrase as “perfected into one” or “made perfect in one.” It was this thing which seems to have been foremost on Jesus’ heart, so it’s very important we understand what it means, rather than assuming or glossing it over. First, the word “perfected” in Greek doesn’t simply mean “without flaw” as it’s often thought of in English. The Greek word here means “fully realized, completed, reached full maturity, finished, accomplished.” In praying all believers would be “perfectly one,” Jesus is essentially praying that all those who “believe” would reach the full maturity, the completion of the divine will, which is to perceive and live as One thing. Said another way, Jesus’ chief desire before he went to the cross was that all men would recognize and embrace their unity with each-other and with God, instead of perceiving themselves as individuals who are separate from one-another and separate from God. I believe this “oneness” Jesus prayed for isn’t something we can “decide” to make a reality, but is instead already a reality which we all achieve as we come into alignment with the eternal Spirit of God/Christ/Spirit, which, whether we realize it or not, is over all, in all, and through all, as the Bible says (see Ephesians 4 below).
Speaking of Ephesians, the apostle Paul also understood and taught that we are all one in Spirit, and he seems to have emphasized this even more clearly than Jesus did. Here are some examples:
Acts 17:27-29: “And (God) made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In Him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring. Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.” -In this passage, Paul is speaking to a random group of gathered “pagans” in Athens. He tells all of them that they “live and move and have their being” in God, and are “His offspring.” According to Paul and the Bible, even “unbelievers” dwell in God and are His offspring! He did NOT tell them they had to believe something or do something in order for this become true; he simply declared this as their present reality in hopes they would recognize and accept it! I believe this is the essence of true spiritual teaching – not attempting to get people to do or accomplish something, but to reveal what already IS so that their true nature in Spirit might naturally manifest out from them.
Ephesians 4:4-6: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” -Here Paul says, plainly, that God, the Father of all, is over all, through all, and in all. ALL!!! Paul used the word “all” many times, including when speaking of the salvation through Christ that has saved all. Can you accept that? It’s true that mankind is not yet “perfected into One” as Jesus prayed for. But that is the aim, that is what is being worked out.
Ephesians 1:9-10: “…making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” -Paul is writing of the same thing which Jesus prayed for in John 17, and says it was accomplished! Paul writes that the Father’s purpose, which was accomplished, is to unite ALL things in Christ. Despite what we might see in immediate surroundings and experiences, Jesus’ prayer that we would be “perfected into one” is coming and will come to pass. Lots will have to “burn up” in the process, for sure, but it’s inevitable.
Romans 11:36: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” -I love this verse, and its implications are staggering. Read it again.
2 Corinthians 5:14-16: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.” -I have written about these verses at length in previous posts, because it’s so amazing. Paul says one died for ALL, and therefore ALL have died. Crazy, right? On the level of Spirit, where God dwells, ALL died and were raised in Christ. We are now ALL one body – obviously not “according to the flesh,” but in Spirit! Why should we focus on the separateness and evilness of our flesh, when it has been crucified and buried? Rather, let us focus and live from the awareness of Christ in us and Christ in our neighbor. Whether they recognize Christ in them doesn’t matter – true believers are those who recognize (and build up) Christ in EVERYONE. Once again, remember that Paul told pagans, who probably knew nothing about Jesus, or considered him a loon or a fraud, that they lived and moved and had their being in God at that very moment.
1 Corinthians 15:28: “When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.” -Once again, Paul says as plainly as he can that all are in Christ, Christ is in God the Father, and therefore all are in God and God is in all. ALL!
I hope this was a blessing, even if it challenged or offended you. In my next post, I intend to look closer at the relationship of onenness and love, and the important practical implications of this understanding. Thank you for reading.
In this post, I want to give you some food for thought and show some incredible things I’ve seen recently in the Bible about what happens as the rule/reign/kingdom of God is manifested on earth. Remember, the central and most universal message of Jesus and the first apostles was about the arrival and the ways of the “Kingdom of God” or “Kingdom of Heaven” (both are used in the Biblical accounts and mean the same thing. As I wrote last time, the word “heaven” literally means “the air/sky,” and is used to symbolize the ways of God which are “higher” than those of the earth. The word Kingdom means “reign, rule.” So, Jesus and the apostles were essentially declaring, describing, and demonstrating how those in and under the higher ways of God’s Kingdom are to operate – the central emphasis being unconditional love and humble service toward others. There is nothing more heroic, restorative, or beautiful than such things.
In keeping with this central message, the Bible declares that as the kingdom/rule/reign of God comes, the wicked will be destroyed. I’ve written before that it is much more accurate to say that it is wickedNESS, rather than wicked individuals, which will ultimately be destroyed by the manifestation of the light, love and Spirit of God Himself (which are often symbolized by fire) through His sons and daughters. In fact, both Jesus and Paul taught that it is this destruction by fire which ACCOMPLISHES the reconciliation of all men with God. It’s a startling truth – the thing that much of Christianity claims will torture unbelievers forever is actually the thing that will result in their reconciliation and salvation!
Here is something I only recently noticed, which I think is pretty awesome: not only did Jesus and Paul clearly teach that wickedness in ALL people will be destroyed by fire, but also, just as clearly, taught that what spiritual will “remain” after the fire has burned! Here are a few scriptures that show this:
1 Corinthians 3:13-15 WEB ®: “…each man’s work will be revealed. For the Day will declare it, because it is revealed in fire; and the fire itself will test what sort of work each man’s work is. If any man’s work remains (Greek “meno,” meaning to remain, to stay) which he built on it, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned, he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved, but as through fire.”
John 15:16 WEB ®: “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain (Greek “meno,” meaning to remain, to stay); that whatever you will ask of the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”
Matthew 6:19-20 ESV: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal (all treasures on earth will eventually be lost), but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal (things in/of heaven cannot be lost).
Hebrews 12:27-29 ESV: “This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken–that is, things that have been made–in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain (Greek “meno,” meaning to remain, to stay, to abide). Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
All that being said, let me explain why I made the bold claim that, like Hitler, you and I will not “go to heaven”: no one has or will “go to heaven” except Christ.
I realize that “going to heaven” is a deep-seated, central idea within much of Christianity. Understandably, such ideas often require a significant shift in understanding to let go of. But there is one truth, taught all through the New Testament, that can help clarify things: EVERYTHING other than what is born of Christ/heaven will ultimately be destroyed. Now, when I say “Christ,” I’m speaking of the Spirit of God, NOT the man named Jesus whom the Bible says was anointed by it. (see footnote 5). The word “Christ” itself actually means “anointed/indwelt by the Spirit of God.” The scriptures above are all saying this same thing in different ways: ultimately only what is in line with the Spirit of God will remain. The manifestation of God’s ways is the point, NOT the destruction of wickedness! For the sake of space I won’t try to quote all the scriptures that support this idea, but three others worth mentioning are Paul writing that God will ultimately be “All in all,” (see footnote 1), that IN CHRIST all people will be made alive (see footnote 2), and that the universe is heading toward the “restoration of all things” (see footnote 3).
Consider this: all things not born of Christ/heaven being destroyed means that at least part of what we think of as our “self” will be destroyed. Without any doubt, the human personality known as “Hitler” was composed of things that were not born of Christ or in line with the Kingdom of God/Heaven. Therefore, the personality known as “Hitler” does not and will not exist in the Kingdom. But the thing is, the same is true of you and I! Everything not born of/founded on the Spirit of God, including our ego, our opinions, our insecurities, fears, prejudices, idols, selfish and harmful ways of all sorts, even things we are not aware of, will not “remain” but are destined for destruction in the fire of God’s presence. This is how the salvation and sanctification of all men is accomplished.
Many of us have been taught to think of people as “saved” or “unsaved,” and maybe there’s a bit of truth in that, but it’s not that simple. Paul wrote of believers BEING saved, and salvation as something that is “worked out,” (see footnote 4) indicating salvation is process which can increase over time. He said such things because salvation is not merely going to heaven instead of hell when you die. Again, what we often think of as our SELF – as the personhood referred to as “Ryan” or “Sarah” or “Ahmed” or “Camille” is not going to survive the fire of God’s unimaginable light and love. (Revelation 2:17 even says the “overcomers” will get a “new name.”) This is part of salvation: we will be CHANGED, as Paul wrote, and changed radically. If you are striving for wholeness, love and goodness, then this is something to pursue and “work out,” not hide from.
In my next post, I hope to examine more closely the idea of “going to heaven,” which I believe has morphed out of eons of man’s ignorance and fear, becoming out of line with the Father’s heart and with the message of Jesus and the first apostles.
Until then, love those around you and be humble : ) Thanks for reading.
- 1 Corinthians 15:28, Ephesians 1:23
- 1 Corinthians 15:22 WEB (R): “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”
- Acts 3:21
- 1 Corinthians 1:18, Philippians 2:12
- Matthew 16:20; Acts 4:10,27; 10:38
I once heard a former Christian say that contraty to popular opinion, the New Testament actually portrays God as more cruel and violent than the Old Testament, because only the New Testament teaches the doctrine of eternal torment in hell, which amounts to God inflicting “infinite punishment for finite crimes.”
While I share similar feelings about the concept of eternal torment, what this man failed to understand is that the Bible doesn’t really teach this idea in the first place! For the purposes of this post, it makes no difference if you believe the Bible is absolute truth or superstitious nonsense. I simply hope to show the Bible itself much more clearly teaches the idea that all people will ultimately be reconciled to God than it does that anyone will be eternally tormented.
1 John says that the love of God – genuine, divine love – casts out fear, but I have found fear lying at the foundation of many ideas about God I was taught, and I have found the meaning of many statements in the Bible have been interpreted through a fear-based mental lens of “heaven or hell.” To find the truth, we have to be willing not only to learn, but more importantly, to unlearn. Please try to keep a humble heart and an open mind as you read. If repentance is a change of mind (which is what the Biblical word means), and if repentance leads to salvation (as the Bible says), then humility is the key to open salvation’s door, while pride is the lock.
On to the scriptures:
Philippians 2:9-11 ESV: Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Revelation 5:13: “And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
1 Corinthians 12:3 ESV: Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.
1 John 4:15 ESV: “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.”
Both the famous passage from Philippians and the similar verse found in Revelation 5 state clearly that at some point, EVERY person will confess that Jesus is Lord and will glorify God. There certainly are scriptures which can be interpreted as claiming some people will be eternally tormented, BUT there are many others, including these two, which I feel are even more clear and convincing in support of the opposite conclusion. These verses plainly state that EVERYONE will confess Jesus and glorify God, while saying absolutely nothing about ending up being tormented in hell anyway.
A friend of mine once pointed out that 1 Corinthians 12:3 adds even more support to the idea that these verses are discussing a universal reconciliation with God. It says ONLY “in the Holy Spirit” can someone truly confess that Jesus is Lord. Amazingly, this means that eventually, EVERY person will be “in the Holy Spirit,” since EVERY person will confess Jesus is Lord. Therefore, to continue to believe in eternal torment, you must claim that even though each and every person will “confess Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father” and will be “in the Holy Spirit,” many of them will nevertheless be sent to be eternally barbecued in unimaginable pain by the creator of the universe, even though these verses say nothing of the sort, and despite the Bible stating that God is love itself, that love keeps no record of wrongs, that His love endures forever, his mercy never ceases, his anger does not last, we cannot be separated from His love, He is not counting sins against anyone and will not remember sins, who is kind (gentle, mild) even to the ungrateful and wicked, and who will be ALL in ALL. As I have thought about this over the years, it has become clear to me that many people leave or reject Christianity not because of a problem with Jesus, who loved sinners, contradicted the religious, and championed the oppressed – they reject the truly barbaric God of eternal torment which they mistakenly believe the Bible proclaims.
Even more evidence that universal salvation is being taught here is added by 1 John 4:15, which says that those confessing Jesus Christ have God dwelling in them and are also dwelling in God! That is such a mind-blowing statement! Philippians 2:9-11 is depicting the reconciliation of all people to God, since John tells us that the confession of Jesus Christ as Lord that EVERYONE will make means EVERYONE has come to dwell in God and God in them! What else could that mean but their salvation, their reconciliation, their healing from all wickedness and deception? If all people are in God and God is in them, yet they are still eternally roasted, does that mean God will roast Himself forever?! Of course not. Instead, these verses together clearly show that all people become united with God, becoming sons and daughters who carry and express His nature. As 1 Corinthians 15:28 (ESV) says:
“When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.”
2 Peter 2:9 KJV: “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished…”
First, notice this verse mentions two categories of people: the godly and the unjust. The mental filter or lens of “heaven and hell” I mentioned earlier has caused Chrisitanity to see and teach that “punished” means “eternally tormented.” But is this true? This verse makes no mention of eternity, torment, heaven or hell at all – all those ideas and meanings are assumed by the person reading it.
Correctly interpreting this verse hinges on the meaning of the word “punished,” which is translated from the Greek word kolazo. Today, most of us think of punishment as inflicting some sort of pain as a consequence or payment for wrongdoing, but kolazo means chastisement in order to correct.
The primary meaning for kolazo given by the popular and respected Strong’s Greek dictionary is: “To lop or prune, as trees or wings.” According to Greek scholars, kolazo was originally used in reference to pruning, which as we know is the practice of trimming off diseased or unwanted parts of a plant to benefit the plant’s health and fruitfulness. Over time, kolazo came to denote a similar idea with respect to people – “pruning” off diseased or useless parts (which is admittedly painful) so the person will live properly. No one prunes a plant to “punish” it, but to benefit it. Kolazo is a correction leading to health and wholeness, and this is the result of the “punishment” that God uses on the “unjust.” God is love, and this is the only discipline a loving parent would use, as it is for the good of the one being punished. We see this modeled in Jesus, who spent so much of his time healing and meeting people’s physical needs, along with meeting their spiritual needs by correcting their wrong idea of God as a law-focused judge rather than a loving Father.
Interestingly, the Greek language does have a word, timoria, which means punishment in the sense of vengeance or repayment for evil. Arisotle, the famous Greek philosopher (who I’m pretty sure knew ancient Greek better than you or I), explained the difference between kolasin and timoria in Rhetoric 1.10.17, writing: “But there is a difference between revenge (timoria) and punishment (kolasin); the latter is inflicted in the interest of the sufferer, the former in the interest of him who inflicts it, that he may obtain satisfaction.”
So, kolasin is “in the interest of” (that is, beneficial and corrective) the one being punished, while timoria is purely about satisfying the one doing the punishing. Eternal torment is clearly not corrective, since it doesn’t end.
The apostle Paul said that prior to meeting Jesus and being converted, he was a violent, blaspheming, persecutor of God, and in his own words, he was inflicting “timoria” on others in his violent ignorance. He obviously wasn’t concerned with the well-being of those he was persecuting, but with satisfying his own thirst for perverted justice and revenge. Thankfully, God is not like that! Jesus himself taught that we are to love our enemies and do good to those that mistreat us, and that by so doing we are being sons of God because God does the same. Love might not always feel pleasant to those opposed to it, but it is always merciful and restorative, to such a radical degree that the Bible actually teaches love doesn’t even keep a record of wrongs! Therefore, Peter uses the word kolazo of God’s dealings with those out of line. This is much more reflective of the heart and character of God displayed most clearly in Jesus.
Here is how this verse more literally reads: “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be corrected…”
1 Timothy 4:10 ESV: “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”
This verse plainly says God is the savior of “ALL PEOPLE,” as many other verses say in various ways. And that’s what it means! True, it also says that those who believe are “especially” saved, but that is not the same thing as saying they are the “only” ones saved. The Greek word translated “especially” is malista, and it means “chiefly, most of all.” I think to be “especially” saved is the same idea Hebrews 7:25 expresses when speaking of being saved “to the uttermost.” Just as wouldn’t say “uttermost” means “only,” we shouldn’t say “especially” means “only.” As I see it, those who believe and are especially saved or saved to the uttermost are those who, in this lifetime, recognize the spirit of Christ within them and follow it’s leading and guidance, being transformed into a manifest son of God (Paul said it is Christ in us which is the hope of glory, remember)? Jesus is the savior of everyone, period. However, only some will “believe” the truth and live according to the Spirit earlier, more easily, and more powerfully. These are the ones especially saved, who will be peacemakers on the earth.
Mark 9:43, 45, 47-49 ESV: “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ For everyone will be salted with fire.”
Now we get to some statements from Jesus himself. In my opinion, verse 49 alone should cause some very serious reconsideration of the idea that Jesus thought of hell as a place in the afterlife where unbelievers are eternally tormented in fire. This verse hit me like a ton of bricks when I first saw what it says. In my experience, Christianity often uses verses 43-48 to support the doctrine of eternal torment, but in my many years spent frequently reading Christian books and listening to Christian sermons, verse 49, which is essential to understand Jesus’ point, was always neglected.
Jesus speaks of the “unquenchable fire” of “hell” in verses 43 and 47-48, and then immediately, in verse 49, says EVERYONE will be “salted” by this fire! So if the fire of hell is an eternally tormenting fire, then was Jesus teaching that everyone will eternally burn for eternity? Obviously not! Was he saying everyone will receive physical burns? Obviously not! So, if we care about what Jesus meant more than we care about supporting what we already believe, we must at least consider that what Jesus understood by “hell” and “fire” is different from what many of us have been taught.
I’ve written about the word “hell” extensively so I’ll try to give a nutshell version here. First of all, the English word “hell” is a very bad translation, because “hell” has connotations in modern times that the Greek word it is translated from clearly never had. The Greek word translated as “hell” here is Gehenna, which literally means “The Valley of Hinnom.” Hinnom is a valley near Jerusalem which is still around today and is mentioned several times in the Old Testament. Yes, the “hell” Jesus spoke of was literally a valley near where he lived, NOT any sort of an afterlife destination! The Old Testament says it was in Gehenna the ancient Israelites sacrificed children in fire to pagan gods, and also where King Josiah ordered the items which had been used to worship foreign gods to be destroyed. It is also thought by many scholars that in Jesus’ day, this valley was used as garbage dump where trash and dead bodies would be burned, which is partly why it is associated with “fire.” The main point is, those Jesus was speaking to would NOT have conceived of anything like our notion of “hell” when they heard Jesus speak of Gehenna, and would have known he was not claiming that all unbelievers or wicked people would end up burning eternally in the small nearby valley.
Here is a very important insight into what Jesus meant – the reason he said EVERYONE will be touched by the fire of hell is because it is not wicked individuals, but wickedness itself which is destined to be consumed in fire. This makes a lot of sense: if heaven, or the Kingdom of God, is a place of pure love and sinlessness, then evil and it’s causes must be eradicated. It’s also clear that everyone, including “believers,” still have within them “evil” things which are opposed to the Spirit, such as selfishness, pride, anger, impatience, jealousy, bitterness, envy, etc. In this passage, Jesus was (as he often did) using a familiar physical object – the nearby valley of Gehenna, which was associated with fire and destruction, as a metaphor for the destruction of spiritual wickedness that must happen within EVERYONE. Paul, as you will see below in the passage from 1 Corinthians 3, writes about the exact same idea in more detail.
To be fair, even if Jesus wasn’t talking about eternal torment, his words are still serious and sobering. His primary point seems to have been that it’s better to willingly make difficult sacrifices and changes in order to walk in the Spirit during one’s natural life, than to live one’s life and later enter “the age to come” with impurities and various wicked traits which will be burned up in the fire of God. This is a serious thing, but Jesus meaning is far, far different from the meaning Christianity has taught so loudly for so long, which basically amounts to: “believe the right things and quit sinning or the God of love will ensure you are eternally tortured.” Instead, the love of God will chastise and correct you by burning up the deception and impurity you have let remain.
Last, a quick point about the word “unquenchable.” This does not mean “never-ending.” Unquenchable fire simply means that this fire cannot be stopped, put out, or “quenched” until it consumes all that it’s fuel. In verse 48, when Jesus mentions the worm that doesn’t die and the fire that isn’t quenched, he was actually quoting Isaiah 66:24, and he seems to be speaking of the coming destruction of Jerusalem and it’s temple – an event which he talked of many times and which he plainly said those in his generation were going to experience. And just as he prophesied, this took place in 70 AD, ending the Old Covenant system of temple worship and animal sacrifices.
1 Corinthians 15:20-22 ESV: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”
Romans 5:18-19 ESV: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”
These verses, to me (especially Romans 5) are stronger in favor of the idea that everyone will eventually be made right with God than any verse which is used in favor of eternal torment. Right here in the Bible, it outright states that all people will be “made alive,” “justified,” and “made righteous” in Christ. EVERYONE. Yes, it’s true!!! To say you believe these verses while also believing in eternal torment, you essentially have to claim that Paul meant the “all” or “all men” who died in Adam to somehow be different than the “all” or “all men” who will be made righteous, justified, and alive in Christ. That he actually meant “all” in one case, but in the very next thought meant “all” very differently, without saying so! This is plainly not true, so why not reconsider the idea of eternal torment? I can recall asking myself after reading this verse: “if all men are ultimately justified, made righteous and given life, how are they condemned to hell to be eternally tormented?” Conclusion: THEY AREN’T!
Maybe, just maybe, could it be true that God’s mercy really does endure forever as the Bible says? Could it possibly be that some of us have been taught wrong ideas by those we trust and like – ideas which have become very familiar to us, ideas which we have built entire belief systems around and are hard to let go of? Many say this exact scenario is true of millions of other people, such as Mormons, Muslims, those in other Christian denominations, and really those of every other religion and ideology on earth besides ours – so is it really such as stretch to believe it could be true of us too? These are plain and powerful passages, my friends! Let’s be humble and willing to look at scripture in a new light.
What I believe Paul is basically saying here is that Jesus’ obedience was a sort-of reversal of the disobedience and “fall” which happened in the Garden of Eden – an act which brought about the self-awareness, fear and sense of separation from God that plague so many of us still today. Here’s an important thing to consider, which these verses support: our condemnation in Adam wasn’t about our choice, and neither is our righteousness in Christ! This is absolutely the truth that the Bible declares!!!
Think about it: whatever Paul meant that all were condemned in Adam, did anyone have a choice in it or do anything to bring it about? Could it be avoided? No, no, and no. It happened without any input on our part at all. In the exact same way, Paul says that being made alive in Christ is not about our choice or even our actions, but is entirely about what God in Christ has done. Our will cannot supersede God’s; there are limitations to the power of our choice and things we simply cannot avoid or change. If you don’t think so, try resisting gravity or stopping the sun from rising tomorrow. You have as much power to do those things as you do to somehow nullify the finished work of Christ in bringing righteousness to all men. That’s what Paul said.
Of course, there is still evil in the world, because there is a difference between being given Life and made righteous in God’s sight, and actually knowing this and walking accordingly. Paul did not say that everyone will walk in this Life and righteousness during their natural life (and as we discussed before, NO ONE fully does anyway!). While we cannot resist being made alive in Christ just as we could not resist being condemned in Adam, it DOES seem we can choose to let go of the ignorance and selfishness that we once walked in, to seek and allow for the expression of the divine righteousness and Life that is already within. As John 1:9 says, Christ is the light within every man, and as Paul wrote, Christ is “all and in all!” I believe that the death of Jesus was to draw men to God by showing that God is not angry at us, is not holding our sins against us as 2 Corinthians 5 says, but rather that God is FOR us! God in Christ took the worst death humans can give out, returned love and forgiveness for evil and ignorance, and then defeated death by rising from the grave.
John 12:32 ESV: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
Understanding what this verse means hinges on the meaning of the word “draw.” I was always told and assumed that “draw” essentially means “invite,” and therefore Jesus was saying ALL people would be “invited” to him. But is this correct? As we saw in 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5, some things are simply events that took place, and no one’s choice or will has anything to do with it.
The Greek word for “draw” is helkuo, and is probably best translated as “drag.” Helkuo is used six times in the New Testament, and I looked at each of the other 5 instances it is used. Four have to do with being apprehended and taken against one’s will (such as being captured and “drug” to jail), and one was in reference to a sword being “drawn” (taken and used) by its owner. In none of the other cases does “draw” involve any choice at all! In the Bible the word always refers to a force at work which the will of the thing being drawn cannot change. I believe the death of Christ at the cross is ultimately more powerful than the stubborn will of men, because it is a finished work of God. We may have the ability to act as if it’s not so, but regardless, we cannot change it.
1 Corinthians 3:11-17 ESV: (11) For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (12) Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw– (13) each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. (14) If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. (15) If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (16) Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (17) If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”
I don’t see this passage mentioned very often, but I feel it is one of the primary writings in the Bible on the subject of how the purifying fire of God works, and with the outcome of the things we do while in our physical bodies. I’ll admit it’s not the simplest passage, but one thing which does seem plain is that Paul meant for what he wrote to apply to ALL people, since he uses the terms “no one,” “anyone,” and “each one.” While Christianity typically teaches that unbelievers will be “eternally lost” and tormented in hell for their sins, Paul says here that there are only two results based on the actions “anyone” takes in this life: to receive a reward, or suffer loss but be saved. If those are the two outcomes, and if even those in the “bad” category who suffer loss and whose work is “burned up” are saved, then what room is there for eternal damnation? Answer: only in our imagination.
I chose this passage because in it Paul seems to clearly refute two common ideas about hell which Christianity teaches. First, contrary to the teaching that the “fire” of judgment day is reserved for the wicked and unbelievers, Paul (just like Jesus) plainly taught that it applies to EVERYONE, regardless of belief. Second, contrary to the teaching that this fire is a source of punishment and retribution, Paul says that it serves to “disclose” and “reveal” the true motives and substance of our works; saying that the fire will “test what sort of work each one has done” (v. 13). When Paul writes that “each man’s” work will be “revealed by fire,” the Greek word for “reveal” is apokalupto (from which we get the English word “apocalypse”), which means: “to uncover, to disclose, to make known.” This is so radically different from what is commonly taught, it is almost stunning at first. But it’s true. The main point here is this: The purpose of the “fire” mentioned many times in the New Testament is to reveal the true nature of men’s hearts and eradicate impurity there, NOT punishment or vengeance. This includes the lake of fire in Revelation and the fire of gehenna (hell) that Jesus spoke of.
Christianity often interprets things written in the Bible as physical, when the author is simply using physical things to represent spiritual realities. This passage is one such case. There is no sort of physical fire being discussed here – how can physical fire burn up “works,” or “test what sort of work” men and women have done? Does someone being saved “through fire” mean they go into physical fire which Of course not. These are metaphors. I believe deeply that “fire” represents nothing other than the pure Spirit/presence of God Himself, a presence of love at such an incomprehensible intensity that everything except what was forged in and by this fire to begin with will be “burned up.” Like the author of Hebrews wrote: “our God is a consuming fire.” The only “work” that survives is work that was forged in the fire to begin with – that is, work that was done from and in union with the Spirit of Christ within.
With regards to those who suffer loss as their work is burned up, it’s enlightening to know the word “loss” in the passage above is the same root word Paul uses in Philippians 3:7-8 (ESV) in which he says: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…” This “loss” isn’t being eternally tormented in hell, as Paul himself said he experienced this “loss,” though he experienced it willingly, while in his physical body.
To understand what this loss is, think about this: what exactly did Paul lose in knowing Christ? It’s nothing as simple or shallow as sinful actions or physical possessions. No, first and foremost, he lost his treasured identity as a holy and zealous Pharisee – an upholder of the law of Moses and an opponent of all that opposed it. According to Paul himself, before he met Christ, being a Pharisee was his entire identity and existence, and no doubt he was 100% convinced he was on God’s side and ready to die for what he believed. But on the road to Damascus, he encountered the fire of God’s presence of love, and allowed it to begin to consume the lie of who he thought he was. Later, Paul was able to see and say, in Galatians 2:20 ESV:
“I (false identity/adamic-life/self) have been crucified with Christ. (I now see that) It is no longer I (false identity/adamic-life/self) who live, but Christ who lives in me. And (now that I see this,) the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in (many translations: “the faith of”) the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
The loss that Paul suffered in order to gain Christ is the same thing Jesus talked about when he spoke of cutting off your hands or feet or plucking out your eyes in order to enter the Kingdom of God or to “enter life.” It has to do with shedding what is dead and false in order to walk in Life and truth. In the same way, I believe everyone, including Christians, must lose any identity apart from a son or daughter of God and member of the body of Christ on earth, and then allow the Spirit to lead them. This is separate and above any religion. It’s an inward Life, the same that was in Jesus.
This loss that is required can happen now, willingly, or later, in the lake of fire. When scripture speaks of the wicked being “consumed” and “destroyed,” the words themselves tell you there is an end to it. This process of “burning up” in order to be saved is what it is speaking of. In this way, the two outcomes for “anyone” are to receive a reward, or to suffer the loss of what was impure and carnal in order to be saved through this fire. In a very real sense, the fire isn’t retribution, it’s salvation! Obviously, to see your work survive and receive a reward is far preferable than watching and feeling all you did and all you thought you were burn up, but nevertheless, salvation ultimately reaches ALL.
Hebrews 1:3 ESV: “He (Jesus) is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature…”
John 14:9 ESV: “Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
Luke 6:32-36 ESV: “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. (33) And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. (34) And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. (35) But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. (36) Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
These verses speak for themselves, really. First, we are told that Jesus Christ is the radiance of God’s glory and THE EXACT IMPRINT of His nature. Jesus seems to have known this, as he said that to see him was to see the Father. Nowhere in all of history can we get a clearer image of God than in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. So then, perhaps Jesus’ most important and all-encompassing teaching was what is known as the “sermon on the mount,” or the “beatitudes.” In this sermon, Jesus teaches over and over that those who express the divine nature will love their enemies radically – they will be kind and do good to those who oppose them and do evil and harm to them. In doing this, Jesus said they are being like God who is also “kind” to the “ungrateful and evil.” Jesus NEVER said this kindness ends at physical death, to be replaced by its exact opposite! God doesn’t change when we die. Our physical bodies are just shells in the first place!
Of course, love desires to see men repent of wickedness and begin to follow the way of love and unity as soon as possible, and love may expose hypocrisy and wickedness (as Jesus did very forcefully). But there is no good reason to think there are basically two Gods – a merciful one before physical death, and a wrathful one after. Jesus never taught this. Jesus didn’t even condemn or punish someone who was caught in the very act of adultery – a terrible sin in his day!
I know that God can do what He wants, no matter how I feel about it. But here’s something to think about – the self-sacrifice, mercy and love that humans find beautiful, and which are part of nearly all of humanities’ oldest and most treasured stories, is part of the divine nature within us all! In other words, mercy and love and bravery are beautiful and appealing to us, because they are divine qualities that the divine within us rejoices in! Didn’t Jesus say to be merciful, as God is merciful? Fear, hate, greed, oppression and the like are ugly to us because they are contrary to our truest, deepest nature. So if it’s the divine within me that finds mercy beautiful, something that isn’t merciful isn’t divine.
It’s time to tackle the question: “if there is no hell, why did Jesus die?” This question is so often asked primarily because the religion of Christianity has created an extreme (and unbiblical) emphasis on the afterlife and has misunderstood what heaven and hell are referring to. For that reason, it’s worth looking at here.
Let’s look at two of the primary “theories” that theologians have identified regarding the meaning of Jesus’ death on the cross. These theories are usually referred to as “Penal Substitution” and “Christus Victor.” Penal Substitution, which is the predominant theory in modern, western Christianity, basically says that in dying on the cross, Jesus was acting as our “substitute” by experiencing the punishment and wrath of God that should, and otherwise would, have been inflicted upon you and I. This theory says that God, in His holiness, HAD to let out his anger and wrath somehow, so in His love He chose to punish His son instead of us. Thankfully, since His wrath was used up on Jesus, He can then be kind to us and ultimately let us into Heaven.
As I have I become more familiar with the scriptures and (more importantly) the Father Himself, the more problems I see with the penal substitution theory – logically, scripturally, and otherwise. From a logical perspective, this theory says that somehow (in a way no one can really explain), Jesus six-hour crucifixion was a complete and total “substitute” for what would have been never-ending torture in fire for billions or more people. Some scholars do say that Jesus suffered in hell after he died, (a teaching I disagree with totally), but even still, you have to explain how 3 days in hell by one person (even the son of God) replaces what should have been ETERNITY in hell for untold numbers of precious people! Jesus’ crucifixion does not, in any real way, seem to be “taking the punishment” of eternal torment that would have been inflicted upon untold numbers of people. Additionally, it doesn’t seem like genuine forgiveness if God merely tormented someone else instead of us. Is this really the God revealed in Jesus?
An even bigger problem I have with penal substitution, (which I’ve mentioned before), is the way it portrays God’s nature; as being wrathful and vengeful, beyond that of the most sadistic people to ever live. In John 14:9, Jesus famously told Philip: “he who has seen me, has seen the Father.” Jesus, even according to himself, is the single truest and clearest representation of the Father that the earth has ever seen. Hebrews 1:3 goes so far as to say that Jesus is “the exact imprint” of the Father’s nature. To see what God is like, it makes sense then to look at what Jesus taught and how he acted! While Jesus wasn’t directly speaking to you and I, we can still see the love of the Father all over Jesus’ teachings and actions. Jesus taught that God will gladly leave 99 righteous to go after one that is unrighteous and lost, and searches till He finds it and brings it home. He taught his followers NOT to resist evil, to give up their shirt to someone who takes their cloak, to turn the other cheek to someone who strikes them, to give generously to those who ask from you, to be like sheep among wolves, to be harmless as doves yet wise as serpents, to never repay evil for evil, to love and be kind to one’s enemies and persecutors, even to the point of one’s own death. He also said that living this way is the mark of a son or daughter of God, because their Father, THE Father, is likewise kind both to good and evil people. What Jesus never said is that the Father’s kindness somehow ends when we physically die, being somehow replaced by eternal rejection into a lake of fire for eternal torture. What we see in Jesus simply does not line up with a God who, from some sense of “justice,” MUST inflict horrible, never-ending punishment on those who are out of line or believe the wrong thing. In the life and teachings of Jesus, maybe more than anywhere else, we have solid ground to question the “penal substitution” and “God of wrath” ideas.
The second main theory regarding why Jesus died on the cross is known as “Christus Victor.” This seems to have been the prevailing theory for most of early Christianity, and remains the dominant theory among Eastern and other parts of Christianity today. It essentially says that Jesus died not to take God’s wrath on anyone’s behalf, but to defeat the devil and the powers of evil. It wasn’t about taking punishment so others could avoid it. It was about triumphing over sin and evil.
In doing some reading for this post, I came across an article that I think explains the Christus Victor idea better than I can, so I have decided to quote a large portion of it. I don’t agree with everything in it, but I think it’s pretty good. You can find the full article at: http://reknew.org/2008/01/the-christus-victor-view-of-the-atonement/ Any underlining or bolding was added by me.
“God accomplished many things by having his Son become incarnate and die on Calvary. Through Christ God revealed the definitive truth about himself (Rom 5:8, cf. Jn 14:7-10); reconciled all things, including humans, to himself (2 Cor 5:18-19; Col 1:20-22), forgave us our sins (Ac 13:38; Eph 1:7); healed us from our sin-diseased nature (1 Pet 2:24); poured his Spirit upon us and empowered us to live in relation to himself (Rom 8:2-16 ); and gave us an example of what it looks like when we live in the kingdom (Eph 5:1-2; 1 Pet 2:21). Yet, I believe all these facets of Christ’s work can be understood as aspects of the most fundamental thing Christ came to accomplish: namely, to defeat the devil and his minions (Heb 2:14; 1 Jn 3:8). He came to overcome evil with love.
When we understand Calvary and its conquest of the devil as the culmination of Christ’s whole ministry, it becomes apparent that Jesus wasn’t only pushing back the kingdom of evil during his lifetime with his healing and exorcism ministry. Rather, every aspect of Christ’s life must be understood as a pen-ultimate expression of the victory that Calvary accomplished, for every aspect of his life reflects Calvary-like love.
When Jesus broke religious taboos by fellowshipping with tax collectors, prostitutes and other sinners (e.g. Mt 11:19; Mk 2:15; Lk 5:29-30; 15:1, cf. Lk 7:31-37), and when he forsook religious traditions to lovingly heal and feed people on the Sabbath (Mt 12:1, 10; Lk 13:10-18; 14:1-5; Jn 5:9-10), in the light of Calvary we can understand him to be waging war against the powers and exposing the systemic evil that fuels religious legalism and oppression. He was conquering evil with love.
When Jesus boldly crossed racial lines, fellowshipping and speaking highly of Samaritans and Gentiles (e.g. Lk 10:30-37; 17:11-16; Jn 4; Mt 8:5-10; 15:22-28 ), and when he crossed other social barriers — fellowshipping with and touching lepers for example (Mt 8:1-3; Mt 14:3) — he was resisting and exposing the evils of the powers that fuel racism and social marginalization. He was conquering evil with love.
So too, when in the midst of an extremely patriarchal culture Jesus treated women with dignity and respect (Mt 26:6-10; Lk 7:37-50; 8:1-32; 10:38-40; 13:11-18; Jn 4: 7-29; 8:3-10; 11:5; 12:1-7), in the light of Calvary we must understand him to be battling and exposing the powers that fuel sexism. He was conquering evil with love.
And when Jesus expressed mercy to people who knew they deserved judgment and whom the culture stipulated should be judged (Mk 2:15; Lk 5:29-30; 7:47-48;19:1-10; Jn 8:3-10), he was resisting and exposing the powers that fuel social and religious cruelty and judgmentalism. It was, in fact, this on-going resistance to, and exposure of, the powers and those who do their bidding that evoked the wrath of the powers and ultimately led to Jesus’ crucifixion. Hence we see that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection cannot be separated from each other, not even theoretically.
Everything about Jesus’ life must be understood as an act of defiance against the powers, precisely because everything about his life was an act of self-sacrificial love. He rightfully owned the entire cosmos, but in loving service to others had no place to lay his head (Mt. 8:20). Though he had all power in heaven and earth, John reminds us, he used it to wash the dirty, smelly feet of his disciples – the very ones who would abandon him in a couple of hours (Jn 13:3-5). When Peter cut off a guard’s ear in self-defense, Jesus lovingly healed the attacker’s ear and rebuked Peter (Lk 22:50-51). When he could have called legions of angels to fight for him, out of love Jesus instead let himself be crucified (Mt 26:53). Forsaking the use of power over others for the sake of expressing the power of love towards others — this is what the kingdom of God looks like. And when it is manifested, as it is most decisively on Calvary, it defeats the rebellious gods of this age.
The Calvary Teachings of Jesus
Jesus’ ministry was centrally concerned with defeating demons and the devil, as we have seen. But his life and teachings were also permeated with a concern to demonstrate and teach an unprecedented kind of love. What has rarely been appreciated is the fact that these two themes are two sides of the same coin. While sickness and demons may need to be confronted with the healing and freeing power of God, the gods of the age, and the devil himself, can only be overcome through radical, Calvary-like, self-sacrificial love. Jesus says it with his death and resurrection. Jesus says it with his life. And Jesus says it with his teachings.
For example, few things in this demonically oppressed world feel as “natural” to humans as resorting to violence to defend ourselves and/or our country or retaliating against our enemies when we are threatened or harmed. This sentiment is the cornerstone of how things operate in “this present evil age” (Gal 1:4) and the reason why human history is largely a history of mindless, diabolical, cyclical carnage. Indeed, it seems positively foolish to most people — including, sadly, most contemporary western Christians — to not engage in this violent quid pro quo activity under certain conditions. Yet, expressing that “secret wisdom of God” that defeats the devil, Jesus expressly forbids his followers to give into this “natural” instinct toward violence.
For example, Jesus says:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also… You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Mt 5: 38-39, 43-45).
We are to love indiscriminately — like the sun shines and the rain falls — without any consideration of the merit of the person we love. This is to be a distinguishing mark of the “children of [the] Father.” And it centrally includes expressing Calvary-like love to our worst enemies.
Now, as Walter Wink and others have noted, the word translated “resist” (antistenai) in the above passage doesn’t imply passivity in the face of evil. It rather connotes resisting a forceful action with a similar forceful action. (15) Jesus is thus forbidding responding to violent action with similar violent action. Instead, followers of Jesus are to respond to their “enemies” in ways that are consistent with loving them and blessing them (cf. Lk 6:28). Feeding our enemies when they’re hungry and giving them something to drink when they’re thirsty rather than retaliating against them is the only way we can keep from being “overcome with evil” and the only way we can “overcome evil with good” — both in ourselves and in our “enemies” (Rom. 12: 17-21). Our Calvary-like response to our enemies exposes the evil of what they are doing, breaks the tit-for-tat cycle of violence that keeps the demonically oppressed world spinning, and opens up the possibility that our enemies will repent of their ways (cf. I Pet 2:23; 3:13-18).
The point is that the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection cannot even theoretically be separated from the basic meaning of his life and teachings. They are all about one thing: overcoming evil with good. Which is to say, they are about establishing the loving reign of God while vanquishing the powers that resist it.
Jesus Substitutionary Death
Most evangelicals today understand Jesus’ death on Calvary in substitutionary terms (Jesus died in our place), not in Christus Victor terms. The Christus Victor model affirms that Jesus died as our substitute, bore our sin and guilt, was sacrificed for our forgiveness and was punished by the Father in our place (e.g Isa 53:4-5, 10; Rom 3:23-25; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 2:17; 9:26; I Jn 2:2). But unlike the common substitutionary view espoused by many today, the Christus Victor view can affirm these important truths while avoiding a number of paradoxes that accompany the common substitutionary view — that is, without supposing that our individual sins, guilt and just punishment were somehow literally transferred onto Jesus and without supposing that Jesus had to literally placate the Father’s wrath.
In the Christus Victor view, Jesus died as our substitute and bore our sin and guilt by voluntarily experiencing the full force of the rebel kingdom we have all allowed to reign on the earth. To save us, he experienced the full consequences of sin that we otherwise would have experienced. In so doing, he broke open the gates of hell, destroyed the power of sin, erased the law that stood against us, and thereby freed us to receive the Holy Spirit and walk in right relatedness with God.
Along the same lines, in the Christus Victor view, Jesus was afflicted by the Father not in the sense that the Father’s rage burned directly toward his Son, but in the sense that God allowed evil agents to have their way with him for a greater good. This is how God’s wrath was usually expressed toward Israel in the Old Testament (e.g. Jud 2:11-19; Isa 10:5-6). It’s just that with Jesus, the greater good was not to teach Jesus obedience, as it usually was with Israel in the Old Testament. Instead, God the Son bore the Father’s wrath, expressed through the powers, for the greater good of demonstrating God’s righteousness against the powers and sin (Rom 3:25) while defeating the powers and setting humans free from their oppression. (17)
So too, the Christus Victor model can wholeheartedly affirm that Jesus gave his life as a ransom for many, but without supposing that Jesus literally had to buy off either God or the devil (Mk 10:45; Mt 20:28; cf. I Tim. 2:6; Heb 9:15). The word “ransom” simply means “the price of release” and was most commonly used when purchasing slaves from the slave market. (18) Hence, the Christus Victor model can simply take this to mean that Christ did whatever it took to release us from slavery to the powers, and this he did by become incarnate, living an outrageously loving life in defiance of the powers, freeing people from the oppression of the devil through healings and exorcisms, teaching the way of self-sacrificial love, and most definitively by his sacrificial death and victorious resurrection.
The Practical Significance of the Christus Victor View
I’ll conclude by sharing a brief word about the practical significance of the Christus Victor model of the atonement.
One of the foremost problems with the western church today is that people understand what Jesus came to accomplish in legal terms. God is viewed as an austere and angry judge who wants to send us to hell, we are seen as guilty defendants deserving of hell, and Jesus is viewed as our defense attorney who wants to find a way to “get us off the hook” from going to hell. So he works out an arrangement whereby the Judge gets to vent his wrath, receiving full payment for sin, yet the guilty defendants are freed from their eternal sentence.
Now, there’s many problems associated with this legal-arrangement view of Jesus (such as, if the Father gets paid by Jesus’ death, did he really forgive our sin?). But what concerns me most is that this view easily divorces justification from sanctification. That is, so long as a person believes Jesus died as their substitute, they’re off the hook. How they actually live isn’t central to the legal arrangement. Given this view, it’s hardly surprising that there are millions of people in America who profess faith in Jesus but whose lives are indistinguishable from their pagan neighbors.
The Christus Victor understanding of the atonement avoids this completely. In this view, what Christ does for us cannot be separated, even theoretically, from what Christ does in us. One either participates in Christ’s cosmic victory over the powers or they do not. If they do, their lives by definition will be increasingly characterized by the ability and willingness to overcome evil with good as they imitate the Calvary-quality life of Jesus Christ (Eph 5:1-2). (19) The idea that one is “saved” by intellectually believing in the legal transaction Jesus allegedly engaged in with God the Father can thus be dismissed as magic.
A related practical advantage of the Christus Victor view of the atonement is that, in sharp contrast to the hyper-individualistic outlook of most Americans, the Christus Victor model puts on center stage the easily-overlooked demonic dimension of all fallen social structures. By calling on disciples to join Christ’s rebellion against the ever-present powers, the Christus Victor perspective inspires disciples to live counter-cultural lives that are persistently on-guard against the demonically seductive pull of nationalism, patriotism, culturally endorsed violence, greed, racism and a host of other structural evils that are part of the spiritually polluted air we all breathe. This view motivates believers to take seriously the revelation that the devil has power over the whole world (I Jn 5:19), including all the nations of the world (Lk 4: 5-6) and thereby helps them guard against all forms of idolatry while motivating them toward radical, non-violent, social action. (20)
As Christ established the kingdom of God by the ways his life, ministry, teachings and death contrasted with the power-dominated kingdom of the world, so his followers are called to advance the kingdom of God by living lives that sharply contrast with the kingdom of the world. Instead of trusting the power of worldly force, we are to trust the “foolish” power of the cross and thereby proclaim its wisdom to the gods of this age (Eph 3:10). Following the example of our captain, we are to always overcome evil with good, trusting that when Easter morning comes it is goodness that will have won the day – and the entire cosmos.
The fact that the American Church contrasts with the broader culture so little in this all-important respect is to me a sure indication of just how badly we need to embrace the early church’s Christus Victor understanding of the atonement.
The “good news” is largely that God is not angry at us or opposed to us, AND NEVER HAS BEEN. God is reconciled to us, and we need not ever worry about sin (because there is no law), but rather enjoy and impart this reconciliation to a world that still clings to darkness and imagination and fear. If we are operating from love and acceptance and union with God, what law could improve on that anyway!? What was opposed to us was THE LAW, which Jesus fully and finally disposed of (and which, arguably, non-Jews were never under to begin with). Colossians 2:14, for example, says that Jesus “cancelled,” “set aside,” and “nailed to the cross” the “record of debt” and “legal demands” that were AGAINST us. Ephesians 2:15 says Jesus “abolished the law” which had created “hostility,” erasing the division of Jew and Gentile and establishing peace for both. Paul wrote clearly that sin and law empower each-other, but that in Jesus Christ there has been made an entirely new and higher way – the “law” of the Spirit of Life. The only people Jesus had harsh words for were the religious leaders who were imposing a sense of guilt and separation from God, and doing so for their own selfish ends. Again, the good news is that God is for us and dwells within us, inviting us and enabling us to join His Kingdom by showing radical love in the face of wickedness. This is how wickedness is defeated, as Jesus’ life and resurrection showed.
A lot more could be said, and it’s true that some questions will likely remain. There isn’t an “official” version of a “Christus Victor” understanding of Jesus’ death. But that’s ok. What I most appreciate is that Christus Victor is consistent with God’s nature of Love, showing Him to be truly and wildly merciful and kind and forgiving, rather than compelled to inflict wrath and pain as many pagan Gods are said to do. Christus Victor recognizes the Lordship of Christ, recognizes the central importance of Jesus’ emphasis on love, and recognizes that the sign of a son of God is a life of sacrificial love and humility, just as Jesus taught. Christus Victor doesn’t make the gospel about individuals escaping hell or going to heaven, but, like Jesus himself, has as its ultimate goal the establishment of the reign of God on earth through this same sacrificial love, wherein the corporate body of Christ worldwide lays down its life to defeat evil with love, just as Jesus did. Amen!
Traditional Christians seem to raise two main objections when presented with the idea that eternal, conscious torment does not exist. The first is something like: “if everyone goes to heaven, why would anyone bother to avoid sin and live for God?,” and the second is something like: “if there is no hell, why did Jesus have to suffer and die on the cross?”
The first of these questions I find simpler to answer, and is what I’ll focus on in this post. The first thing I’d point out is that it seems odd that we would need a promise of pleasure or threat of punishment in order to live for God – especially since we say that the Christian life is the best and most joyous life to begin with. Of course, it is perfectly normal, even healthy, to want to avoid pain (hell), or to desire pleasure (heaven). But the issue is, these are NATURAL, NORMAL desires, which have NOTHING to do with spiritual enlightenment or Truth1, operating according to the Spirit instead of the soul2, or connecting with the life of Christ within3. Even the wildest animals and the most wicked people desire to avoid pain and obtain pleasure. Surely the life of the Spirit of God goes deeper than that!
Over the years, as I have sought wisdom, it seems to me that there is a much higher and truer reason and way to “live for God,” “follow God,” “obey God,” “live righteously,” “deny our flesh”, or whatever other term you want to use, and that reason is this: because we have come to see and experience that the divine nature of Love, which was in Christ, is in us too – in fact this nature is our TRUE IDENTITY! We see that we are in Him, and He is in us, and we are, right now, Sons and Daughters of God! This realization, I believe, is both the beginning and the foundation of a genuine life of faith. When we are enlightened to realize our ALREADY-ACCOMPLISHED union with God, and the ALREADY-ACCOMPLISHED crucifixion and burial of our flesh/old nature, we cannot help but increasingly and naturally manifest the eternal, resurrected Life and nature of God, which is our Life and nature too. Most if not all of us have at one time lived from a false identity such as “sinner,” “wretch,” “natural human,” etc. As a consequence, we have formed and conformed to lifestyles and ways of operating which are not in line with Truth. Furthermore, a false identity has made us vulnerable to indoctrination and has made us live from experiences, natural understanding, and fears. When we have our true identity correct, from the core of our being, all the false ways of thinking and living begin to lose their hold and influence. If the issue isn’t simply wrong behavior, but a need to become aware of and connect with our true identity, then rewards and punishments make a lot less sense and essentially become pointless. How much sense does it make to punish someone if they are already what they should be, just ignorant of it? Maybe a short illustration will help:
Imagine the child of a good and noble King was stolen as an infant by a band of thieves. Soon, he was sold as a slave, and as an adult he ended up with a group of beggars who survived by begging and stealing. After a long search, another of the King’s sons found his brother begging in a dirty alley. The searching son is grieved to see his brother, a prince and beloved son of the King, not only living as a filthy beggar, but seeming to accept it!!! At this point, the searching son could make great promises to his brother about how cleaning up his act will lead to a reward from his Father the King at some unknown point in the future, or he could threaten his brother with the fearful punishment that his Father will impose on him if he continues to live as a beggar, even though he was raised that way. The searching brother could also try to shame the lost brother into changing by pointing out how ugly and terrible his life as a thief and beggar is.
A bit of thought reveals a few reasons that this would likely fail to produce real, lasting change. First and foremost, the brother who had been stolen would still believe he is a thief and beggar, and so would likely revert back to the ways of his false identity. Along with that, the lifestyle he grew up in would have become deeply ingrained. Maybe begging and stealing were the only things that kept him alive in the harsh and uncaring environment he lived in.
I believe a far better strategy for the searching son to use would be to simply lead, or at least invite, his brother to come to the Kingdom, where the ignorant prince, though still believing he is a beggar and thief, and acting as such, was already accepted and wanted. In the Kingdom, this “beggar” would be loved, kept safe, taught the King’s ways, and perhaps most importantly, treated as the royalty that he truly is, whether he accepts it yet or not. In such a scenario, it’s easy to see how the beggar prince could, over time (or even quickly), become convinced of his identity, unlearn his fear-based ways and come to see the benefit and beauty of a higher way of life, full of purpose and glory. While the life of a Son of God does require sacrifice and hardship, I think everyone, on some level, recognizes that sacrificial love, extravagant kindness and compassion, and steadfast conviction are all admirable qualities. That’s why the most pervasive and lasting stories and movies all share a similar theme – sacrifice for the good of others, courage in the face of evil and danger, a deep purpose beyond the self, and the resurrection of a lost truth or beauty. These things are ingrained into mankind.
A beautiful truth is that even before the “stolen son” accepts his identity and begins to act as a noble son of the King, he is still a son and remains accepted and loved by his Father and family. Even as I write this illustration, I am seeing that one of the most transformative things that can happen is for this lost son’s family to show him patient, sacrificial love and acceptance, with no strings attached. Eventually, I believe he will begin to adopt the noble ways of his household naturally and effortlessly, with no reward or punishment necessary, because his true identity has never changed.
For human beings, I believe the real “problem” isn’t a lack of something we need, but being unwilling or unable to see or believe who we are in Christ and what we already have been provided. The Kingdom of God and the way of Truth can’t and won’t be established by an increase in the natural human desire to avoid pain or gain pleasure. Instead, they will be established by the application of acceptance and love, coupled with the proclamation of Truth, by the sons and daughters of God, which have the power to dissolve the pride and fear that create a callous over the human heart and prevent people from letting go of the false identities, mindsets and resulting lifestyles that they have built or have had thrust upon them. This, I believe, is what Paul had in mind when he wrote that the only “enmity” we have with God is in our own ignorant minds, and the primary problem is a calloused heart:
Ephesians 4:17-18 ESV: “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.”
Here are a few scriptures that attest to the ALREADY-ACCOMPLISHED AND THEREFORE PRESENT union with God and death of our flesh:
John 14:19-20 ESV: “Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”
Galatians 2:20 ESV: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Romans 6:4-6 ESV: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”
Ephesians 2:4-6 ESV: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…”
1 John 3:1 ESV: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”
1 John 5:20 ESV: “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”
1 Corinthians 1:30-31 ESV: “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
2 Corinthians 5:14 ESV: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died…”
Please, don’t make people more aware of sin and death – that’s like trying to resurrect what is buried and gone! Paul said that ministering “do’s and don’ts” (law) is ministering death. Don’t threaten people with eternal torment – it doesn’t exist, and misrepresents the love of God! It’s also not needed or even useful. Instead, love them and point them to the love and Life of God within them. Be patient with them, bear with them, and speak Truth to them. Many have undergone terrible things at the hands of ignorant and wicked people, and have a hard time overcoming this. I know that loving some people is difficult, but it’s the only way. Sadly, even the world is beginning to figure this out, before much of the visible church is!
- Ephesians 1: 17-18 (ESV): “…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints…”
- Hebrews 4:12 (ESV): “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:23 (ESV): “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Colossians 1:27 ESV: “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
- Colossians 3:3-4 ESV: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your[a] life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
In two recent posts, I have outlined several reasons I don’t believe in the idea of “eternal conscious torment.” The two most prominent ones I discussed are: first, because I find “eternal torment” to be starkly contradictory to the teachings and practices of Jesus (who we are told is the exact representation of the Father), and second, because the Bible’s uses of the word “hell” NEVER meant an afterlife destination of torment in the first place – in fact, the Greek word consistently translated “hell” actually means a valley near Jerusalem which many believe was used to burn trash and dead bodies. In this third post, I’d like to look at the issue from another angle: if there is no eternal hell, then why did Jesus die? What are we saved from? What is the gospel?
I doubt you’ll be shocked to learn I do NOT think the gospel of Christ has anything to do with believing in Jesus to avoid hell or gain entrance into heaven when we die, and I don’t think the scriptures, interpreted properly and looked at fully, support that idea at all. I believe the “gospel” is all about the establishment of the KINGDOM of God – that is, the heart and way of God, based on love and unity, being recognized and received among the “elect,” then declared and ministered until in the ages to come it spreads over the earth. That is true “good news” for ALL men, as the angels proclaimed at Jesus’ birth!
Here is the first use of the word “gospel” in the New Testament:
- Matthew 4:23 ESV: “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.”
Do you see that? In healing diseases and afflictions, in ministering Life and giving hope to the downtrodden, Jesus was embodying the Kingdom. That is, he was making manifest the heart of God – the love and restorative justice and kindness that are at the core of who God is (and which is the opposite of what the law was). Prior to this, most people in Israel (which are the ones Jesus was sent to, by the way), were totally immersed in the law of Moses, and were hindered from experiencing God on a deeper level by the “religious leaders” who used the law for their own status and profit. The law was harsh and unbending, and these religious leaders, often referred to in the Bible as “pharisees” and “lawyers,” were blind and corrupt. The Good News that Jesus came declaring and ministering had to do with being freed from this law and those who tried to selfishly enforce it, and to begin instead to commune with God in spirit and truth and freedom. Glory!
It’s also interesting that Jesus and the apostles proclaimed the gospel BEFORE Jesus died on the cross. How? Because the gospel isn’t what so many of us were taught in western Christianity! Here’s one of a few passages that shows this:
- Luke 9:1-6 ESV: “And he (Jesus) called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.”
Just what do you think this “gospel” was that the disciples were preaching while Jesus was still with them? One thing is for sure: they weren’t preaching anything about Jesus’ death as an atonement for sin enabling us to go to heaven, because scripture records they found out Jesus was going to die on a Roman cross much later, and they were horrified and dismayed by the news! Peter actually tried to prevent Jesus from going to the cross and was rebuked by Jesus himself, who called him satan (see Matthew 16:21-23)! No, it seems clear to me that what they were proclaiming was exactly what they had seen and heard Jesus proclaiming: “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” The miracles and healings were both confirmation and manifestation of the Kingdom itself – proof that God was FOR men, not against them like the law often was. Repentance has to do with seeing God as Father rather than “Judge” and accepting one’s sonship, letting go of contradictory mindsets and behaviors formed from fear and self-preservation.
If you read some of the apostles’ messages in the book of Acts, you can see them declaring that through the messiah Jesus Christ, there was no need to go to temples built by human hands to worship God, and there was no need to look to priests to minister to God on one’s behalf (see 1 John 2:27 to see this declared plainly). There was also no need (and never really had been) for animal sacrifices, because one perfect sacrifice had been made for all. The gospel was (and is) that rather than reaching out to God through outward observances, God has come to us in His son to show us what He is like. For the Jews, they were also told that soon the entire law-and-temple system would be taken away, once and for all (which happened when the curtain in the temple ripped from top to bottom and the Romans tore down the temple to the last stone).
The apostle Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament and whose writings are read all over the world each Sunday, was not among the initial twelve disciples, yet he also understood the Kingdom (again, the heart of God expressed on earth) as the central component of the gospel. He wrote, among other things: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking (outward observances) but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” I’m not meaning to minimize the cross of Christ. Paul had a greater view of the cross than any other author of scripture, and wrote about its meaning in tremendous depth and mystical truth in several places, such as Romans 6. Yet even Paul seems to have understood that the cross was part of the larger purpose of the Kingdom of God.
I see the cross more as a demonstration and result of the gospel, rather than the gospel itself. Assuming this is true, and the “gospel” is about the Kingdom/rule/way of the Spirit of God being received inwardly and lived out on the earth, the question still remains of why Jesus “had” to suffer and die, and what it is we are “saved” from. I think I will save those questions for my next post, so I hope you’ll check back. God bless you!