Saving Jesus — (Part 5) Heaven and the Threat of Hell….

This is the fifth post on the book Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus  by Robin Meyers.  While I could go on and on I am going to stop this review here. The following will serve as the focus for this post:

Some belong to churches that explicitly emphasize the hope of heaven and the threat of hell. Others belong to churches that seldom or never mention hell. But even for many of them, the hope of a blessed afterlife is what Christianity is most centrally about. How important has the promise of heaven (and perhaps the threat of hell) been to the forms of Christianity that you have experienced or heard about?

Sin and Forgiveness: Sin is the central issue in our life with God. Forgiveness is the solution. Because we are sinners, we deserve to be punished. Consider how often sin and forgiveness appear in Christian worship. Most services include a confession of sin. In my childhood, every Sunday morning we said, “We poor sinners confess unto thee that we are by nature sinful and unclean, and that we have sinned against thee by thought, word, and deed, where-fore we flee for refuge to thine infinite mercy, seeking and imploring thy grace, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s pretty intense, though not as severe as some I have heard. Confessing sins wasn’t just Protestant; my Catholic friends had to go to confession every Saturday and confess in person to a priest.

I don’t really understand how getting into heaven or maybe being punished with an eternity in the fires of hell became the central focus of many churches. How did we get away from the teachings of Jesus?  Life after death almost to the total exclusion of life on earth is problematic approach to Christianity for me. The first seems self-centered the second is focused on others. I think Jesus intended us to be focused outward instead of inward.

I know Jesus said that he was going to the cross to die for our sins. I really don’t understand that but am willing to take it on faith. But there are so many church practices that have grown around that fact and they dilute, instead of re-enforce Christianity.  I too remember, not too long ago, having to recite every Sunday that I am “a poor miserable sinner….”. I also remember my childhood weekly Saturday visits to confession to hear that deep adult voice from the other side of the screen ask me how I sinned that week. He never asked me if I did what Jesus told me to do.

I certainly agree that apart from the teachings of Christ we often make some pretty miserable decisions in life. God gave us free will to do that. But I also know that with Christ in my corner I can make a difference in this world. I can honestly try to love God with my heart and soul and love my fellow-man as myself.  Jesus not only gives me this ability he expects me to use it to help his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.   We should be reciting that fact on Sunday mornings and not on a self-centered desire to avoid hell or to get into heaven.

Jesus and Forgiveness … Part 2.

Let’s continue on with our study of Jesus’ words about forgiveness. Last time we concentrated on Jesus’ forgiveness of our sins. This time we will look at what Jesus says about us forgiving others who sin against us. Let’s jump right into the red letters.

Mark 11:22-25

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.

Matt 18:32-35

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

Luke 6:37-38

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Of course, one of the obvious other places where Jesus mentions forgiving others is in the most spoken prayer in Christianity and that is the Lord’s Prayer. In that prayer we say “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” I have covered these words several times on this blog and in this sense I seem to take his words more literally than many “Literal and Inerrant” advocates. It is hard to take some other meaning to our forgiving others when Jesus repeatedly tells us otherwise.

These verses seem to say that there are pretty severe consequences for us not forgiving our neighbors when they sin against us. The last verse is pretty straight forward. The measure you use in forgiving others is what Jesus will use in forgiving you! This brings to mind the post I did about a month ago entitled “If God is Love where does hate come from?” The consequences of our lack of forgiving others is sometimes hate. As we know when hate takes over a person it is about as far from Jesus’ words of love as you can get.

Let’s close out this post with the same questions as the last one. What are the consequences of not forgiving others? Is it, despite our faith, an issue blocking us from heaven either permanently or for a period of time? I don’t know but and I don’t want to find out at the gates of heaven so I will do everything I can to forgive others so that Jesus will forgive me my many sins. I don’t want to rely on faith alone without actions to back it up. But then to me trying to live my life on this earth as Jesus taught us is almost as important as my eternity with our Heavenly Father. I believe earth is a staging area for heaven so that each of us can discover just where our place is to be in eternity. Or as some say it is to determine whether we are sheep or goats.  God didn’t put us on this earth to simply sit back and wait for our entrance to heaven. That sounds like a good topic for a future post so I will stop here. All praise and glory be to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.