I was 12 years old when I accepted Jesus into my heart. Choosing Jesus as my Lord had nothing to do with my salvation. At the time I wasn’t thinking about how sinful I was or staying out of eternal Hell. I was thinking about how lonely and awkward I felt in the midst of the peers and adults around me. It had finally come to my attention that who I was didn’t fit with the crowds in which I found myself at school or church or my neighborhood. The youth pastor at our family church retreat told a group of us kids that Jesus wanted to be our friend. That He loved us. If I wanted to know that love, that acceptance, that friendship, all I had to do was accept Jesus into my heart and follow Him. I chose Jesus because I wanted to be loved, not because I wanted to be saved.
My relationship with Christ the last 24 years has never been about my salvation from Hell. I also have never worried about anyone else’s future in Heaven or Hell either. As I have grown in knowledge and experience with Jesus, there’s been confusion in my heart as to why so many Christians worry and argue and dictate over other people’s repentance and afterlife in Heaven or Hell.
A couple years ago when a dear loved one in our family passed away, a friend asked me if this loved one was a Believer (one who’s accepted Jesus as his Lord). No, he wasn’t a Believer. My friend, with a wince in her face and tension in her body, asked, “How do you feel about that? The Bible is clear about what happens to those who aren’t saved.” I bristled inside. I told my friend I had to believe my dear, sweet loved one was dancing in Heaven with his beloved wife who had passed before him.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized the general belief in current Christian culture about salvation and eternal Hell is completely and shockingly different than what I believe… what I have always considered to be true since I was 12 but never explored until now. Generally speaking, Christianity says if you don’t believe in God, then you’re going to Hell. If you want a place in Heaven, then you must be made right with God by repenting and choosing Jesus. If this is true then that means over half the world is going to burn in Hell for eternity and only a select few will enter the gates of Heaven.
Geez. God’s house must be pretty small.
It would also mean we have a cruel and exclusive God. I don’t believe this at all. This general theology doesn’t match the character of the God I have come to know and love.
The moment Jesus died on that precious and wretched cross, everyone became saved. Whether you believe in God or not, Jesus died for you and you are welcome as a citizen in God’s kingdom. The death and Resurrection of Jesus is so significant that it was for every single person on this planet, regardless of religion, sin, sexual orientation, race, crimes, belief and unbelief. “For God so loved this world, He sent his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” I don’t see that second half–“that whoever believes in Him”–as a condition for the entry of Heaven. It’s an invitation to believe in a love so big and existential that our life becomes transformed and alive in a way that is supernatural here on Earth yet completely natural in the spiritual realm. If we don’t accept the invitation, we risk perishing in the consequences of our human nature, choices we make driven by natural human desire and selfishness.
The love of Jesus and the result of his sacrifice on the cross is 100% inclusive, all-encompassing and scandalous. His love and gift of salvation for all God’s children includes those whom I personally cannot even fathom loving–such as murderers, terrorists, sex traffickers, child abusers, animal abusers, (Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump! 😛 )–and people who have hurt me so badly they aren’t even safe to be in my life anymore. But every single person in this world is painstakingly and purposefully knitted into existence by the hand of God, making each one of us His child–loved and welcomed to the gift of life He has for us through Jesus.
I believe there is Heaven and Hell, and I believe there is justice and consequences for those who choose to live a life hurting others. I also believe in the power of repentance. However, my point here today is to say God does not toss into eternal Hell those who don’t believe in Jesus. I have heard it asked that if everyone is welcome into the Kingdom of Heaven, if there is no eternal Hell, then what’s the point? I say, take away both Heaven and Hell and God still matters. If all we’re left with is God, isn’t He enough?
If you’re feeling alone, cast aside, and awkward in a world where you don’t fit, please know that Jesus loves you and wants you. You’re already saved. He’s just waiting for you to take his hand and accept Him. Choose Jesus for love and watch how your life changes. A simple prayer grasps His hand, “Dear Jesus, I choose you to lead my life. Show me the way and I will follow You.” And if you’re an unBeliever in Christ–atheist or agnostic or a parishioner of another religion–that’s okay. I still believe Jesus loves you and welcomes you if you ever want to meet Him.
For my friends and family who are reading this, worried about my theology and/or think my belief is wildly misled and filled with lies of the enemy: If believing God’s love is so big that it allows for Jesus’ death to mean life for all His people, not just Believers, makes me ludicrous, then so be it. You can pray that God changes my mind, but what would it mean for your theology if He doesn’t?