Heaven-or-Hell Issues (Newsletter 4-9)

by David Bernard

If we deliberately and persistently disobey God’s commands, our actions call into question the reality of our relationship with God. Obedience indicates faith, while disobedience indicates lack of faith.

Here is a final judgment for everyone, with a Heaven to gain and a Hell to shun. We live in light of these eternal realities, yet it is a mistake to reduce every decision about Christian living to a “Heaven-or-Hell issue.”

For example, some ask if the Bible specifically says a certain action is a “sin” or will send them to “Hell.” If not, they feel free to indulge in that action unreservedly and ignore any scriptural principles involved. But this approach is legalistic, which means living by rules or basing salvation on works. It treats the Bible as a law book, focusing on the letter and looking for loopholes.

By contrast, the Bible tells us that we are saved by grace through faith, not by our works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Grace teaches us how to live righteously, and faith leads us into obedience. (See Titus 2: 11-12; Romans 1:5; Hebrews 11:7-8.) The Bible is the inspired Word of God to all peoples, cultures, and times, and we are to fulfill its spirit, intention, and principles. (See Matthew 5:17-48; 12:1-8; II Timothy 3:16.) The Christian life is a personal relationship with God, and as such it is characterized and motivated by love. (See Mark 12:29-30; I Corinthians 13:1-3.)

The Bible compares our relationship with the Lord to marriage (Ephesians 5:22- 33). Ultimately, every wedding results in marriage till death or else divorce, but that does not mean husbands and wives should reduce every choice to a “marriage-or-divorce issue.” If a wife asks her husband for assistance, for something that pleases her, or for a favor, he should not base his response primarily on whether it will cause a divorce. A husband should not abuse, mistreat, neglect, or humiliate his wife on the theory that such actions would not give her scriptural grounds for divorce and remarriage. Instead, he should treat her with love, which will call him to a much higher standard of conduct. In the long run, love is what will produce a successful marriage. Likewise, Christians serve the Lord because they love Him. Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Love calls us to a much higher standard of conduct than the fear of Hell. Instead of trying to perform the minimum required to escape Hell or gain Heaven, we ask what the Lord desires, what pleases Him. Again, in the long run this attitude will cause us to maintain a saving relationship with the Lord, which will lead us to Heaven.

As an example, the Bible teaches that we should faithfully attend the meetings of our local church. (See Acts 2:42-47; Hebrews 10:25.) Faithfulness to the house of God is ultimately a Heaven-or-Hell issue, not because we earn our salvation by attending services but because doing so helps us maintain a healthy relationship with God. There are legitimate circumstances that may prevent us from attending a particular service, however, and no passage of Scripture says that if we miss one service we will go to Hell. Thus, we cannot say that attendance at a particular service is a Heaven-or-Hell issue. Nor can we identify the minimum number of services that will guarantee people a place in Heaven or the number of absences that will send people to Hell. Nevertheless, pastors do not announce that since attending church next Sunday is not a Heaven-or-Hell issue, it is strictly a personal choice and they will no longer teach or advise on the subject.

As an analogy, eating a particular meal is not a life-or-death issue, but we cannot say that eating food is optional, nor do we advocate eating the minimum required to survive for another day. We advocate a regular, wholesome diet-not as an immediate life-or-death issue but as the right way to live, the best way to enjoy health and strength. If our loved ones suffer from malnutrition or anorexia, we insist upon their eating.

As another example, some argue that the Bible does not say it is a “sin” for women to cut their hair but only a “shame” and a loss of “glory.” (See I Corinthians 11: 1-16.) Thus, if they are willing to bear the shame and forgo the glory, then obedience is not necessary. This is a legalistic play on words, for the true issue is what pleases the Lord. The Bible clearly reveals that it is God’s will for women to let their hair grow long and for men to cut their hair short. When we understand His will, we gladly obey out of faith and love.

When we deal with the principles of Christian living-soul winning, tithing, modesty of dress, stewardship of the body, and so on-some ask if obedience to a specific application is essential to salvation. Such a question typically starts from a wrong premise. We must reframe the discussion in terms of grace and faith, not legalism. We cannot ignore the priority of faith. Only then can we talk about obedience. If we deliberately and persistently disobey God’s commands, our actions do call into question the reality of our relationship with God. Obedience indicates faith, while disobedience indicates lack of faith.

In the final analysis, salvation is not based on performance but on a daily relationship of faith in Jesus Christ, which produces spiritual fruit. We should walk worthy of our calling and continue to grow in grace and knowledge (Ephesians 4: 1; II Peter 3:18). QD