God wants us to do more than intellectually agree with the words of Scripture: He wants us to live in light of them.
Francis Chan, Erasing Hell: What God Said About Eternity, and the Things We’ve Made Up (Colorado Springs: David Cook, 2011), 124.
“Churchgoers all across the nation say the Holy Spirit has entered them. They claim that God has given them a supernatural ability to follow Christ, put their sin to death, and serve the church. Christians talk about being born again say that they they were dead but now have come to life. We have become hardened to those words, but they are powerful words that have significant meaning. Yet when those outside the church see no difference in our lives, they begin to question our integrity, out sanity, or even worse, our God. And can you blame them?”
– Francis Chan, Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2009), 32-33.
Yesterday I received Erasing Hell: What God said about eternity, and the things we made up by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle in the mail. I read it that same evening. I was, to be honest, riveted by their response to Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell. With deep and respectable humility, Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle seek to faithfully and honestly confront both their assumptions about hell and what the Bible says about hell. The result is a book that very carefully examines the historical context of Jesus’ words about hell and what His followers said about this difficult topic in the rest of the New Testament.
What I appreciate most about this book is that the authors are emphatic about the fact that this is not a pedantic, scholarly, hair-splitting debate about a doctrine; hell is something we Christians can’t afford to be wrong about. If we claim there is no hell, and we’re wrong, then we’re sending people to a place we’ve convinced them doesn’t exist! Over and over, perhaps in every chapter, the authors remind the reader that we’re not just splitting doctrinal hairs here, we’re talking about the eternal destiny of people–some of whom we know and love.
Thus, with a profound appreciation for the weight of this topic, Chan and Sprinkle look at the key passages surrounding hell to arrive at a faithful conclusion–regardless of whether or not their initial assumptions are proven right or they win the argument. And, the authors openly admit that they don’t want there to be a hell; a sentiment I believe we can all agree with. But, like the authors say, our disliking of hell doesn’t mean it isn’t a reality.
There are two sections of the book that are perhaps the most valuable. First, in Chapter 5: What Does This Have to Do with Me?, the authors point out that many of the warnings Jesus issued about hell were to religious people. Jesus warned that “many” people would come to Him and say that they had done great things in His name, but He would reply “I never knew you; depart from me” (Matt 7:23). This isn’t a warning to atheists, vegans, Muslim extremists, or _____________ (insert your favorite stereotypical villain here). It’s a warning to people who genuinely think they’re following God!
Second, and what resounded with me the most, is in Chapter 6: “What If God…?” where the authors remind us that God’s ways and thoughts are so much higher than ours that the difference is like the Heavens and the earth! The point being that it’s incredibly arrogant of us to think we can pass judgment on we think how God should run things. Is it possible that God has a more mature and developed sense of justice than we do? Here are some quotes that I found particularly thought-provoking:
- “We must come to a place where we can let God be God. We need to surrender our perceived right to determine what is just and humbly recognize that God alone gets to decide how He is going to deal with people.” (Pg. 131)
- “Let’s not think that spending a bit of time meditating on the mysteries of the universe places us on a level that allows us to call God into question.” (Pg. 133-134)
- “The fact is, Scripture is filled with divine actions that don’t fit our human standards of logic or morality. But they don’t need to, because we are the clay and He is the Potter. We need to stop trying to domesticate God or confine Him to tidy categories and compartments that reflect our human sentiments rather than His inexplicable ways.” (Pg. 135)
- “It’s incredibly arrogant to pick and choose which incomprehensible truths we embrace. No one wants to ditch God’s plan of redemption [the cross], even though it doesn’t make sense to us. Neither should we erase God’s revealed plan of punishment because it doesn’t sit well with us. As soon as we do this, we are putting God’s actions in submission to our own reasoning, which is a ridiculous thing for clay to do.” (Pg. 136)
Churchgoers all across the nation say the Holy Spirit has entered them. They claim that God has given them a supernatural ability to follow Christ, put their sin to death, and serve the church. Christians talk about being born again say that they they were dead but now have come to life. We have become hardened to those words, but they are powerful words that have significant meaning. Yet when those outside the church see no difference in our lives, they begin to question our integrity, out sanity, or even worse, our God. And can you blame them (Pgs 32-33)?
For all its caterpillar life, it crawls around a small patch of dirt and up and down a few plants. Then one day it takes a nap. A long nap. And then, what in the world must go through its head when it wakes up to discover it can fly? What happened to its dirty, plump little worm body? What does it think when it sees its tiny new body and gorgeous wings?As believers, we ought to experience this same kind of astonishment when the Holy Spirit enters our bodies. We should be stunned in disbelief over becoming “new creations” with the Spirit living in us. As the caterpillar finds its new ability to fly, we should be thrilled over our Spirit-empowered ability to live differently and faithfully.I want to live so that I am truly submitted to the Spirit’s leading on a daily basis. Christ said it is better for us that the Spirit came, and I want to live like I know that is true. I don’t want to keep crawling when I have the ability to fly (Pg 37).
Recently, I found out that Francis Chan is working on a book about hell called Erasing Hell: What God said about eternity, and the things we’ve made up. Suffice it to say, I was very excited to hear him weigh in on this issue that has, very sadly, become very controversial lately. After watching his video, I am very excited to hear his thoughts and humbled by his call in the video for us to remember that God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9).
Before I deployed, I decided I was going to lead at least one small study group through a book outside of the Bible. The first study I decided to go through focused on a subject that I felt compelled to learn more about: The Holy Spirit. Thus, I decided that I would lead a small group through Francis Chan’s Forgotten God.
I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t know a lot about the Holy Spirit, and I had a lot of prejudices because of some of the people I’ve encountered and how overly focused they seemed on the gifts of the Spirit. To me, it seemed like they thought the Holy Spirit was vending machine and prayer gave them magical gifts from the vending machine. These people didn’t seem to care about God the Father or Jesus the Son, but only about the “giftings of the Spirit.” I admit that may sound harsh, but those are the kind of encounters I’ve had!
Also, I had always thought of the Holy Spirit as an “it” and not as a “He.” There is definitely a difference in the two, although I had honestly never thought about it. I rarely thought about the Holy Spirit or how He works in me and through me in my daily life. The tragedy is that my ignorance of the Holy Spirit had inadvertently led to an incomplete understanding of the Triune God! By not understanding the Holy Spirit’s role in my daily life I was missing out on the power of God living inside of me and, at least intellectually, distancing myself from God.
Although I knew about “it” from a head-knowledge perspective, now I know “Him” in my heart. He’s been there this whole time, I just never knew it! Now I’m aware of the Spirit’s power and role in my daily walk. Galatians 5:25 tells us to keep in step with the Spirit. It’s hard to have a daily walk with God when you don’t even know who’s walking beside you.
One of the ways that God demonstrated how the Holy Spirit works is through someone else. Right when our group first started our study of the Spirit, someone asked me to pace him during the run portion of his PT test. I grudgingly said yes, even though I didn’t really want to. I had a feeling that God was going to teach me something through this experience. The night before our run, I was studying the Holy Spirit and learned that when Jesus talks about Him in John 14:16, the Greek text uses the word “parakletos.” This word means “counselor” or more literally “someone to come along side.” Coincidence? The next day I ran alongside my friend for his PT test and he got the best score of his whole Air Force career! Because I, a faster runner, ran alongside him, he did better than he would have done on his own.
This is one of how the Holy Spirit helps us. He runs alongside us in our life and gives us the power to live lives that honor, please, and glorify God. Forgotten God really challenged me to ask myself whether or not I was relying on the Holy Spirit to empower me in my daily life. Was I taking steps in faith? Or was I relying on my own talents and abilities? It’s hard for the Holy Spirit to work miracles through us when we never take a leap of faith right?
There are many more things I learned about the Holy Spirit during and after the study, but perhaps the most important is simply the fact that I am never alone. The Holy Spirit is always with me no matter where I go and He will always give me the power to serve God in whatever capacity I am called.
For more information on the Holy Spirit I encourage you to read Forgotten God by Francis Chan, check out the free e-book published by Re:Lit called A Primer on the Holy Spirit, or listen to the Mars Hill Church podcast about the Trinity from their Doctrine sermon series (or just watch it below).