I read the Bible regularly during my teenaged years. I’m not sure why, but probably to avoid feeling guilty for not reading my Bible. My church taught that “once saved always saved” was a Biblical truth. If you invited Jesus into your heart, you would go to heaven no matter what. It was a done deal and nothing, no amount of backsliding or denying Christ, could alter that fact, because God is faithful to keep his promises even if we are not. I read that part about God’s faithfulness in the Bible, but I also read some verses in the Bible that seemed to say you could lose your salvation. Specifically the verses quoting Jesus, himself, saying, “If anyone does not abide in me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them into the fire, and they are burned.” This sounded exactly like people getting cast into Hell to me.
The other thing my church taught was that the Bible is the “Word of God”, which is the ultimate authority, and is inerrant. So, when I saw this verse…if I don’t stay abiding in Christ, I’m going to be cast out like a branch, wither and be thrown into the fire…of Hell, I was confused and scared. How could the Bible say my salvation from Hell was secure for all eternity and at the same time, say that I could be cast into Hell if I don’t abide in Christ? Should I believe what the church said that the Bible said, or what the Bible said that Jesus said? Is my salvation from Hell secure for all eternity or does the Bible contradict itself? I was just a child and did not trust my ability to reason this out on my own. I probably just didn’t understand what the Bible meant, right? I didn’t want to lose my salvation, but Jesus seemed pretty confident that I could.
Let’s just take a moment to notice how messed up this thinking is. For one, I added “Hell” to the quote of Jesus, when he didn’t actually say “Hell”. Why would my adolescent, immature mind and emotions do that? Maybe because I was taught that Hell is an actual eternal lake of fire probably located in the core of the earth. Obviously, anything being thrown into the fire in the Bible meant being thrown into Hell. I didn’t even question it.
So I decided to ask my Sunday School teacher about this verse. Surely he could give me some comfort and set me straight. But no. He just laughed a nervous laugh and said something like, “um, well, yes your Baptist Church believes you can’t lose your salvation, but I was raised in the Nazarene Church…and um…I probably shouldn’t say anything more.”
What!?! No matter how much I cajoled, he refused any further explanation. This was surprising and devastating on two levels. First, the older and wiser person (he was probably twenty years old), actually teaching Sunday School, would not even discuss the topic; he seemed fearful of speaking his own beliefs in defiance of the church that employed him. Secondly, there were other “Christians” who believed differently than we did!?! What the heck! I thought we all read the same Bible and we all believed the same exact things that the Bible said. Especially the part about how to get into heaven and stay there forever.
I was left dazed and confused and to my own devices. I don’t know why I didn’t ask anyone else about this verse. I guess because I was just a kid. Regardless, I concluded, in my teenaged way of thinking, that I should adopt the view that held the worst consequences if I didn’t believe it, namely what Jesus said rather than what my church taught, or, um, what the Bible said?…I wasn’t sure. I mean, if I believed my salvation was secure for all eternity and that wasn’t true, what if I somehow unconsciously stopped abiding in Jesus and ended up in Hell? Anyway, I decided Jesus was my best bet, and I didn’t like what he had to say on the topic, but what else was I going to do? So, even though I had no idea how, or what it meant, I made up my mind to, as best I could, (probably by reading the Bible, I reasoned) stay abiding in Christ so I wouldn’t be cast out and thrown into the fire…of Hell.
This blog will leave my obsession with Hell for the time being, but before we move on, if you can’t wait and want to know how I feel about Hell now, read Brad Jersak’s book “Her Gates Will Never be Shut” link here. bradjersak.com And if you’re curious about how I view the Bible now, listen to this. www.youtube.com/watch