Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Foolish Gospel: Good People Go to Hell and Bad People Go to Heaven

Over the past few days I have been having a conversation with a a person on the bus. She asked what I do in my church, and I told her that at this point in time, due to my work schedule, I am unable to serve the church. I did tell her, however, that I taught Sunday school to the children in the church I used to attend. She asked if I taught them the Bible stories, and I said sometimes, but mostly I focused on teaching them the gospel. Since these children ranged in age between 10 and 12 years-old they already had an idea of right and wrong. I went on to tell her that based on this, they needed to hear the gospel.

She asked me what my view of the gospel was, and I responded that it was not my view, rather it was Jesus' view. I then told her Jesus' parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee found in Luke 18:9-14. I explained to her what a tax collector at that time did. They purchased a franchise from the Roman government to collect the taxes. As long as they collected the appropriate amount of taxes for the Romans they could also levy additional charges on the people. Many viewed tax collectors as thieves because of this. In Jesus' day, however, Jews who collected taxes from other Jews were not only viewed as thieves, but also as traitors since they were working for the oppressive Roman government. Essentially, the tax collectors were viewed as bad men by the people of their day.

On the other hand, Jesus spoke of a Pharisee in this parable. The Pharisees were the conservative religious Jews of the day. They not only observed all 613 of the laws found in the Pentateuch, but also built a fence around those laws with their own legal traditions. The Pharisees made a great show of prayer, fasting and tithing. These men, because of their piety were viewed as good men by the people of the day.

Jesus contrasted the prayers of these two men in Luke 18. The Pharisee said, "God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get." On the other hand, the tax collector bowed his head and beating his breast prayed, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" Jesus told his followers that only the tax collector left the temple justified (declared righteous). Therefore, based on Jesus own words, good people go to hell and bad people go to heaven. This completely discombobulated my co-worker. She absolutely could not understand how good people would go to hell. I explained to her that it is not based on what you have done that condemns you to hell, but on what and whom you trust as an offering to quench the anger that God has towards you as a sinner.

My acquaintance dismissed the entire conversation and told me that I had issues, and that it is "stupid" to teach that good people go to hell when everyone knows that the opposite is true. Then our conversation was over as my stop came up. As I walked away, I smiled to myself as 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 popped into my mind. The gospel is so counter-intuitive to religion. Religion says that there are certain things that you must due to be acceptable to God. So many acts of charity, so many prayers that must be offered, so many days of fasting, etc., and in this way you become good and acceptable to God. The Christian gospel, however, never teaches us that Christians have to do anything. It teaches us that all we have to do is trust in the work of Jesus on Calvary's cross, and once that is done we are not good to God, but we are viewed by God as being just like Jesus! Praise God for the foolish gospel, for without it we would still be dead in or sin.

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