Sunday, October 21, 2012
Pentecost 21 (Proper 24) Hebrew 4:1-13
You look, brothers, (that there) not be sometime in anyone of you an evil heart of unbelief, in standing away from the living God. But you are called to be alongside one another according to each day, until which it is called "today" , so that not anyone out of you may be hardened in seduction of sin. For we have become partakers of the Christ, if ever indeed we hold down stable the beginning of the confidence until the end. In the saying, "Today, if ever of His voice you hear, do not harden your hearts as at the embitterment. For which ones, having heard, caused embitterment, but (was it) not all the ones having gone out of Egypt through Moses. And in which ones did He become disgusted with 40 years? (Was it) not to the ones having sinned, of whom the dead carcasses fell in the wilderness? And to which ones did He swear not to enter into His sabbath rest, if not to the ones having disobeyed? And we see that they were not able to enter through unbelief.
What exactly causes so many to miss out on the blessings of heaven, winding up in hell instead? Amos tells us those who seek good enter the sabbath rest of heaven, and those who seek evil don't receive life. Jesus tells the rich man he must sell all he has and then follow Christ into heaven. The writer to the Hebrews says not to harden your hearts against God in unbelief. At first glance, it seems a bit confusing as to how one avoids going to hell. Seek good...do good...avoid evil and a hard heart...
One popular notion is that "it's all up to you". Famous preachers from Billy Graham to David Jeremiah teach this false gospel of "decision theology", which sadly many a Lutheran falls for. This lie of the devil says that you are completely free to choose heaven or hell. "You can seek God or not" they say. "You can invite Jesus into your heart or exclude Him" they teach. You are completely in charge...
But you know, of course, that you are not in complete control of your salvation. God is almighty, you aren't. You can't by your own decision sprout wings and fly yourself into heaven. Only by God's grace for you in Christ Jesus does He gift you with eternal life. He baptizes you, He feeds you at communion, He comforts you with the message of Christ's love in dying on the cross for you.
Another popular idea banks on God's almighty-ness, that your eternal fate is "all up to Him". These Christians cling to the Calvinist false teaching that God's sovereignty rules out your will completely. Since God speaks of the "book of life" in heaven, these folks wrongly assume He also has a "book of death" in which He condemns folks he hates to damnation. You are a pawn in God's chess game...
But scripture declares that God wants all to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. God didn't so love a certain number of people, but He loved the whole world so much that He sent His son Jesus to die for them all, paying the price at Calvary of His body given and blood shed in death in exchange for the lives of all people. Sadly, though, not all people receive this bought and paid for gift from Jesus.
So if heaven or hell isn't 100% up to God, and it's not 100% up to you, some think salvation must be some sort of "cooperation" between God and man. Such folks foolishly think that either Jesus got the ball rolling for your salvation and you must complete it, or that you must strive first to save yourself and Jesus finishes the job. This is just as wrong too, for this makes Christ only a partial Savior.
You know that you have only one Savior, Jesus the Christ. He saves you by His twin gifts of grace and faith. His grace for you was in giving up Himself on the tree of Calvary as your ransom price, paid in full to redeem you from sin, death and hell. His faith in you is the gift and work of His Holy Spirit, that you trust in Him to receive the forgiveness, the life, and the salvation He gives you in Word and Sacrament.
So with all these crazy notions out there among Christians as to how one gets to heaven or hell, what is the truth? Truth #1 is that the question "Who chooses heaven or hell for a person?" is unanswerable, because it's a lousy question. If you answer with "God chooses heaven or hell" you end up in one ditch, and if you answer "man chooses heaven/hell" you wind up in the opposite ditch.
The only answer to such a bad unbiblical question is to ditch it and ask to separate questions: 1) Who chooses hell? The person who persists in stubborn unbelief, by not believing, they are not receiving the forgiveness Jesus offers in His word proclaimed and sacraments offered, so they remain in their sins. And 2) Who chose heaven for you? Answer: Jesus, Who died for you at Calvary! In Him you are forgiven! In Christ you have complete salvation! In your Lord and Savior you have the sabbath rest of life eternal in the paradise of heaven by God-given grace, and faith worked in your heart.
Hymns from LSB:
# 689 Let Me be Thine Forever
# 690 Hope of the World
# 748 I'm but a Stranger here