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A Strange Doctrine

Alice in Wonderland

by Dennis Pollock

There is a strange teaching sometimes heard even in the best of churches and from the mouths of well respected Bible teachers. It is completely erroneous but is easily swallowed if you don't think too hard or study it too much. This doctrine states that when Jesus died on the cross He forgave the sins of all people everywhere regardless of whether one believes in Him or not. According to this view God holds no one's sins against him: every sin we have ever committed or will ever commit has already been forgiven. The only sin which could condemn a man or woman is the sin of refusing to believe in Jesus. This is, in reality, the only sin for which we could ever be held accountable, since Jesus has already dealt with and forgiven the total sins of all of humanity. In the past I have heard two Bible teachers, who have been a great blessing in my life, thoroughly and plainly advance this teaching. I marveled that these individuals, so solid in almost every other respect, could be so wrong on such an important position. 

Scriptural Basis 

Let's look at the Scriptures used to support this teaching. The first is the idea that Jesus died for the whole world. Certainly no one could disagree with this. John writes, "And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world." But while every evangelical would give a hearty amen to this proclamation, the church has traditionally believed that the forgiveness Jesus provides is conditional upon repentance and faith in Him. Thus forgiveness is a potential for the whole world but not automatically bestowed upon one and all regardless of their faith in Jesus.

A second Scripture used in defense of this doctrine of universal forgiveness is found in John 16, where Jesus declares, "And when He (the Holy Spirit) has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me…" (John 16:8,9). The proponents of this false teaching stretch these words of Jesus to the point where the only sin men are capable of is the sin of not believing in Jesus. The only convicting work the Holy Spirit will do is to convict men of their unbelief in Jesus. According to this view, men and women are never convicted by the Holy Spirit of their sins of fornication, lying, drunkenness, or stealing. God would never hold these things against anyone since they were done away with at the cross. The Holy Spirit convicts men and women of one thing only – their unbelief. This is a real stretch, and is unsupportable either by logic or the entirety of the Scriptures. Furthermore, relatively few Christians would testify that when they came to Jesus, it was as a result of the Holy Spirit convicting their hearts of the sin of unbelief. For most it was their wicked lifestyles, their selfishness, their sexual sins, and so forth. 

If This is True… 

If it is true that at the cross Jesus wiped out every sin and made it impossible for God to hold anyone's sins against him (save the sin of unbelief) then our missionaries are laboring in vain. Worse than that, they are doing far more harm than good. The heathen's sins are already forgiven him, and as long as he remains in spiritual darkness without the knowledge of Jesus Christ, he and his entire village are without fault in the eyes of God. They can't have sinned the sin of unbelief, since they have never been presented the gospel to disbelieve. The worst thing the church can do is send out missionaries and evangelists to preach the gospel, since some will reject it and then (according to this view) find themselves committing the only sin it is possible to commit. No, it would be far better to leave them in their ignorance, where they will never have the chance to reject Christ and bring upon themselves the only sin God's holds against us!

If this is true, we should immediately do what the car manufacturers do when they find their cars are defective – have a major recall and get our missionaries back home. They are not bearers of life – but spreaders of death and condemnation. Imagine a little village in some remote mountain in India, where the population is 100 percent Hindu. None of them has heard the gospel even one time. They believe what their parents believed, who believed what their parents believed, and so forth. If it is true that Jesus has forgiven the sins of all men everywhere, regardless of faith in Him, how blessed is that village. Every one of them will surely go to heaven and enjoy bliss in paradise forever, since not one of them ever rejected the gospel of Christ – the one and only sin man is capable of committing, according to this bizarre doctrine. Their lies and fornications, their thefts and their murders, their rapes and their child-beatings are not even noticed by God.

Adolf HitlerGranny

If this doctrine is true, Adolf Hitler will suffer the same punishment in hell as the little old lady who attended a liberal church which never told her she must be born again. Never mind that Hitler killed millions, while this lady's greatest sin was criticizing her neighbor's potato salad – both will be equally and everlastingly punished in hell for having committed the sin of unbelief. Judas Iscariot, Attila the Hun, Joseph Stalin, and Jack the Ripper will suffer the same exact degree of torment in hell as schoolteachers and social workers who lived quiet, outwardly moral, unassuming lives, but never made a decision to follow Christ.

Some have pushed this doctrine just a little bit harder – and concluded that there is not only universal forgiveness but also universal salvation. No one will go to hell. Jesus' death provided an open door to heaven for one and all. The prominent television preacher, Carlton Pearson, was watching a documentary on TV which showed the misery and suffering of people in the African nation of Rwanda. Somehow it didn't seem quite right that after such a miserable life these people would then die and go to hell, and so Pearson concluded that Jesus' death meant that none would go to hell – all will be saved. Naming his new doctrine the "gospel of inclusion" Pearson began hanging out with Unitarians and Universalists. And while nearly all evangelicals condemned his new position, his radical views are simply taking this "Jesus' death wipes out all our sins, regardless of belief or unbelief" doctrine one step further.  

Testimony of the Scriptures 

The Scriptures make it very plain that, apart from salvation through faith in Jesus, men and women will stand before God and give account of the individual and specific sins they have committed throughout their lives. Paul exhorts sinners, "You are storing up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each one according to his deeds." Every day that passes, the sinner is storing up more and more sins and offenses, and one day he will be sentenced to hell where he will suffer in precise degree according to the sins which he committed while on earth. Though Jesus truly died for his sins, because he refused to trust in Christ and receive His salvation, the sinner's specific and particular offenses will be the source of his misery in that place where "the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched."

For this reason the apostles went around the world preaching through Jesus the remission of sins. It didn't take them long to get started with this. On the inauguration day of the church, the Day of Pentecost, Peter preached to the crowds that gathered, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Clearly, Peter is telling them they do not yet have the remission of sins, but they can have it upon repentance and faith in Jesus. Later Peter declares, "Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out…" (Acts 3:19). Peter is giving them both a command and a reason to obey the command. The reason to obey is that their sins will be blotted out and forgiven – which surely suggests that they are not yet blotted out. Our sins are still "on the books" until we repent and believe.

Suffering in Hell 

Though evangelicals have always believed in hell, there have been many controversies and questions about this mysterious place of suffering that our Lord referred to in such graphic terms. Liberals have decided there is no hell, and today most evangelical pastors, although holding to it doctrinally, will almost never mention it (considering it extremely low on the seeker-sensitive index). In Luke's Gospel Jesus makes a few remarks that give us some illumination about the nature of hell: 

And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more (Luke 12:47-48). 

Notice that there are certain specific and particular acts we can do that are "deserving of stripes" (blows, punishment). The Bible calls these acts sins, and Jesus states that we will suffer for them in hell. We also notice that there will be different degrees of suffering. Not all will suffer the same. Ignorance of our Master's commands will temper the punishment but it does not do away with it altogether. Day by day and year by year, throughout all our lives we are continually committing "things deserving of stripes." For the Christian these things are washed away and forgiven by the blood of Jesus, but the sinner's offenses mount up higher and higher until that day he stands before Jesus to give account of his life and his innumerable sins. In Revelation we read of what theologians have called the "white throne Judgment" where God will judge sinners "according to their works." In Hebrews we read that the marriage bed is undefiled, but "fornicators and adulterers God will judge." Again in Revelation it states that liars, sorcerers, murderers, idolaters, and the sexually immoral will be kept out of the holy city, New Jerusalem. It seems God still gets pretty upset with specific, particular sins. 

Conclusion 

God is a meticulous record keeper. Every sin and every wicked thought of the unredeemed are being kept in heavenly books to be brought out on the day of judgment. Paul writes, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men…" (2 Corinthians 5:9,10).  

Imagine seeing a man at the grocery store complaining to the lady at the customer service center: "I bought this pancake mix, and it was terrible. It says 'complete' on it, yet when I poured the mix into the pan it simply burned itself black and didn't look the least bit like a pancake." The lady would no doubt reply, "Sir did you not notice the words 'just add water' on the box? The mix is as complete as they could make it, but you have to do something yourself. You have to add the water. Then you'll have some pancakes you can eat." 

So it is with the salvation Jesus provides us. His death on the cross and His resurrection three days later were truly for all the world. But Christ's atonement, in itself, will avail us nothing. We must mix our faith with Jesus' provision. Without actively trusting in Christ we will live and die in our sins and eventually pay a terrible price for them in that place where there is continual weeping and gnashing of teeth. But when we believe on Jesus, trusting Him as not only the Savior of the world but our own personal Savior, we receive the remission of our sins and the gift of eternal life. 

No, we dare not recall our missionaries and evangelists. May the church send out millions more! Their message is not the message of condemnation but of liberty and salvation: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved!




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