In my last post, I focused on the first part of John 3:16---that is, that God gave His Son Jesus because of His love for the world. Universalists and inclusivists often paint exclusivists (those who argue that explicit confession and belief in Christ is the only way to be saved) as monstrous, unkind, and cruel in their presentation of the gospel. They do this because to them, the fact that exclusivists (such as myself and Roy Ingle, owner of the blog “Arminian Today”) argue judgment against those who do not believe in Jesus. In other words, they look at one-half of the gospel (John 3:16a) and neglect the other half (John 3:16b). There is such a great need in the world today to defend the ENTIRETY of the gospel, not the half that seems palatable to the world. The truth is, God loves the world; but for those who do not, hell (both in the literal and metaphorical senses) eternal is all that awaits them. As the late Clark Pinnock, an inclusivist theologian, once said,
“Although certain texts taken in isolation could imply universal salvation, the warnings that occur in the same books must influence their interpretation. Though God is able to save all people...Scripture does not encourage us to think that everyone will accept his love or that God will use his superior power to overcome all rejection. The scope of redemption is universal, but Scripture suggests that one can be finally impenitent and be excluded from the kingdom (Rev. 21:8, 27)” (Clark Pinnock, “Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996, page 190).
Clark Pinnock was an inclusivist, one who argued that the Spirit was present in the other religions; Pinnock was even a conditional immortalist, one who argued that unbelievers would experience eschatological annihilation, not eternal torment in the lake of fire)...and yet, even he could affirm that hell would not be empty. It is an unfortunate and sad truth to affirm, but it’s true---hell will not be empty. In the end, “Love Wins”---not in the way Rob Bell believes it does. For those who choose to believe in Christ, love will win in the sense that they will be with Christ for an eternity; for those who choose not to believe, they will go to hell for all eternity, for love allows freedom of choice---even if the choice is Hell for all eternity.
Now, on to today’s post. Let’s continue to examine John 3:16---
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, NKJV).
God gave His Son “that” whoever believes should have everlasting life (a life that never ends). The word “that” refers to the goal or purpose for the action done. What was the purpose or goal of God giving Jesus? The Father gave Jesus in order to bring everlasting life to the one who has faith in Jesus. Think about it: the Father sent Jesus so that we could even be made righteous with God. Our faith, as great as we may think it is, would be vain had the Father not given Jesus to die on the cross for the sins of humanity. The fact that we must “believe in Him” shows that, by faith, we are trusting in the one who took away our sins. When we confess and believe on the name of Jesus Christ, we are given the Lord’s righteousness and become accepted in the eyes of the Lord (2 Cor. 5:21).
Notice next that Jesus also mentions the words “should not perish.” This implies that the one who does not believe in Jesus will perish eternally. How do I know the passage speaks of eternal perishing? Because “perish” is contrasted with “everlasting life.” I told a conditional immortalist recently that, “if you tamper with the idea of a literal hell, you also tamper with the idea of a literal heaven.” That is, that if one says “I don’t think hell is a literal place,” you might as well eliminate heaven as a literal place too (for hell is the counterpart to heaven and vice versa). Nevertheless, don’t you find it interesting that people WANT heaven to be literal...and yet, they don’t care if hell is literal or metaphorical? It’s almost like children who want their reward for good behavior to be on a grand scale...and yet, want their punishment for bad behavior to be miniscule and tiny. The truth is, we don’t want judgment, we don’t want terror, we don’t want punishment to be horrific...but we hope that our reward is as beautiful as ever. We want to avoid punishment and responsibility for our wrong, but we don’t mind owning up to the good things we do. And yet, discipline by God is also a part of what it means to love (Heb. 12:6). C.S. Lewis writes about the distorted human conception of God in his work, “The Problem of Pain”:
“By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness; and in this we may be right. And by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness---the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven---a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves,’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all.’ Not many people, I admit, would formulate a theology in precisely those terms: but a conception not very different lurks at the back of many minds...kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering. As Scripture points out, it is bastards who are spoiled: the legitimate sons, who are to carry on the family tradition, are punished (Heb. 12:8)” [C.S. Lewis, “The Problem of Pain.” San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996, pages 31-32].
Many of us have a theology based on the idea that love is defined as “kindness”; but I would submit to you that love is much deeper than that, more true than the shallow definition the world has given to it. “How can a loving God send people to Hell?” is often a question asked. My response? A loving God would send persons to Hell because, should such individuals reject God’s love, what else is there? Hate is the opposite of love; to fail to love is to hate. So if one does not receive the love of God, he or she has decided that they want to be hated by God. And those whom God righteously hates (those who refuse to believe) are those who experience the full wrath of God in the lake of fire and brimstone.
God is goodness; but goodness also involves hating sin. And the same God who could not look on sin at the cross (who forsook Jesus because He bore the sins of humanity) is the same God who, in righteousness and justice, must “turn His back” forever on those who choose to persist in their sin. Those who wind up in hell are those who choose it. To quote C.S. Lewis once more,
“To be God...to be like God and to share His goodness in creaturely response...to be miserable...these are the only three alternatives. If we will not learn to eat the only food that the universe grows---the only food that any possible universe ever can grow---then we must starve eternally” (C.S. Lewis, “Problem of Pain,” page 47).
In my next post, I will deal with the meaning of “perish.” For now, let me just say that God the Father so loved the world that He gave Jesus to save us from our sins. You do not have to go to hell; you do not have to spend an eternity apart from God. You can go to heaven when you die and spend an eternity ruling and reigning with Christ. Do you desire to spend eternity with Jesus? The choice is yours today. If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that He died for your sins and rose from the dead for your justification, then you will be saved (Romans 10:9). If you desire to receive Christ as your Lord and Savior, please contact me here to make a profession of faith. Be saved today from the coming wrath. God bless.