By Lisa Huddleston
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:9-10).
I finally got around to reading Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, this week. I had read the reviews and knew about the concerns and debates that had followed its debut. I had seen the accusations of “universalism” and watched the normal lines being drawn between conservatives and liberals. But I had not read it for myself, and I felt that I needed to. One of my heroes of the written word, Eugene Peterson, had endorsed it (which, in case you’re wondering, I do not), so I needed to know what Bell really said—not what others said that he said.
It didn’t take very long to read. Really just a long afternoon. But the unsettling questions it raised lasted long into the evening. Is there a real hell? Are some saved and others not? If God desires for all to be saved, what could thwart his will? If Jesus’ work is all that is needed for salvation, isn’t our faith a work?* By the following day, I had had discussions with my son, my husband, a professor friend, my daughter’s fiancé, and my walking buddy. Interestingly, many of these conversations focused around the motivating factor of Hell’s being a literal place of punishment for sin and that without Hell people might be much less likely to obey the teachings of Jesus.
That idea has stuck with me throughout the week, and I continue to ponder my motivation for obedience. Do I strive to obey Jesus just to keep from being punished? Is that what makes me a follower of Christ? I sure hope not. I want to believe that my attempts at obedience are fueled by my love for my Savior rather than fear of retribution. Don’t I love Jesus?
I definitely have plenty of reasons to love him. He participated in the creation of the world that sustains my life and provides me with inspiration. He loved me so much that he was willing to let go of his rights as God in order to stoop down, look me in the eyes, and walk in my shoes. He was horribly punished and gave his life on that same creation in order to be the final sacrifice for the sins of the world—for me! And he loves me still, sitting at the hand of God and interceding for my soul. Even when I scorn his offerings. Even when I fail to follow. Even when I foolishly think I am wise. Still he loves me and works to finish the faith he has begun in me.
How can I not love him? How can I choose to hurt him? Why don’t I always obey him? Not out of fear, not because of a literal Hell (which I still believe in, by the way), but because he is worthy of my trusting obedience. He is my Savior, my Friend, and my Lord.
Just as you chose to keep your Father’s commands and to abide in his love, please, help me to do the same, Lord Jesus. Make my motive LOVE—love for you, love for my brothers and sisters, and love for the commandments that guide my path. Help my work to glorify the Father and my life to prove that I am your true disciple. Amen.
While I am not writing to critique his book, I can say that Rob Bell was right about at least one thing—love really does win. Jesus already has the victory. Don’t you just love him for that?
*In case you’re interested, here are my answers to the questions listed above.
1. Is there a real hell? Yes, I believe the many scriptures that speak of Hell as a literal place. Here are a few of them: Matt. 5:22, Mt. 10:28, James 3:6, 2 Peter 2:4.
2. Are some saved while others are lost? Yes, although this is a mystery that is beyond my comprehension. God has a right to choose. He chose the nation of Israel. He chose Jacob over Esau. He chose his disciples. God also gives us the freedom to choose. We can choose between life and death. We can choose between pride and submission. We can choose between masters: self or Christ? But, the truth is that the choice matters and determines the destination of our eternity.
3. Can anything thwart God’s will that all should be saved? Jesus died for all people thereby establishing a way—The Way—by which we all may be saved. Yet, as I wrote above, we get to choose. Again, this is a mystery, but I believe it to be the truth.
4. Isn’t requiring our faith making Christianity a works-based religion? Absolutely not! Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. Our faith is his work that brings us to salvation through his grace. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).