What's the point?I recently came across a statement made by a minister. He said he was troubled by the idea of preaching hell and damnation as the gospel message. In fact, that is not what Jesus and his apostles concentrated on in their teachings as opposed to love, grace, and mercy. I agreed, but wondered how accurate that statement was.
Hell and damnation is not the central message of the gospel (good news). I agree with the importance of communicating God's grace and love. Love is the motive behind the gospel. But then I was perplexed by the statement that Jesus and his apostles kept the message positive, and didn't call people to "repent or else!" The idea that this is not the primary message of Christianity is true. But I am not sure what he means by the message of God's grace and love being central without the call to repentance.
The whole truthWhen I did a cursory look through the gospel of Matthew, Acts, the letters of Paul, and Hebrews I get the sense that what was primarily taught was the true nature of reality and Jesus came as the solution. This includes the reality of the coming judgment, eternal life and punishment, the living expression of God's love and the call to the proper response—which is repentance. It didn't seem focused on any one area, except the testimony on who Jesus really is, and what our response should be.
The reality is God's wrath is coming, the reason is our sin, the response of God is Jesus, the motive is God's love, our response to God is repentance. God loved us. He reached out to us. But our response is critical. But we often emphasize more than we should or get things out of order when we speak. For instance, Jesus didn't come to bring wrath. Wrath is the problem Jesus came to solve. (This is good news!) Nor did Jesus come to simply show us love. Our need for transformation is critical for our experiencing of His love. In other words, we are dead in our trespasses and sins and we need to be made alive. Being alive is central to experiencing the love God already has for us. (Ephesians 2:1-5) The message about our condition and God's solution must be believed in order for us to be changed by his love. (1 John, Jude)
Most of Jesus' discourse included these things—especially his messages to the people and his disciples. Paul reminds Christians of these things so that they will fulfill their role in this world in the light of these realities. Also, in Hebrews the author is warning believers against falling away from believing these overarching realities.
Bringing it all togetherThe emphasis on hell and damnation is a distortion. The emphasis on love and grace can also be a distortion. Hell and grace exist in duel compatibility with the gospel message—that there is a way out of the dilemma. What I am concerned about is the lack of will in our churches to call ourselves and others to repentance—not the preaching of hell, or of love per se. Love is cheap and meaningless in the context of low value and no understanding. In the context of great need and understanding, it will have greater meaning. And with greater meaning, the turn of one's life dedicated towards the lover is the logical reply. (Luke 7:36-50)
If the man on the street is not living in reality, his love doesn't mean very much. In fact, his statements can be taken as random thought processes rather than statements of true sentiment. Even a sophist can wax eloquent about love. But it often means nothing without proper context or personal meaning. However, if that statement comes from a meaningful person in your life it can have a profound transformative effect. But we must believe that the person is significant, and we must believe that person's message about reality. Then when the person demonstrates their love toward us, we can properly respond. Otherwise, we are just faking it.
I know too many people who believe that God loves them, and have little problem with Jesus' love. They just choose not to believe his message about the problem and his solution. So they go on in this life believing they are okay. But is that responsible for us to allow? We must teach the whole counsel of the Lord. (Matthew 28:18-20) We must do what Paul says he did. (Acts 26:20-21) And we must do so whether people agree or believe it. (2 Timothy 4:1-5)