Note: This article contains scripture quotes simply as reference for those who are trying to discuss beliefs with Christian friends or family.
If you walk a non Christian path, sooner or later someone will try to tell you that no matter how good a person you are, you can still be sent to hell. To most, this just sounds absurd! Even many Christians who teach this doctrine have trouble understanding or explaining it.
In an effort to bridge the gap of misunderstanding in this area, I’ve tried to pinpoint the passages that this doctrine is based on. Each reference will be followed by the understanding and/or interpretations that the Divine has given me. I realize that some of you may be tired of hearing the Bible quoted, but I know of no other way to communicate this message to those of the Christian faith. So I asked that you bear with me, and focus on the message. The article offers some thought provoking questions, and specific information that may help you respond to those in your life who truly believe the Divine is going to punish “good” people. You are encouraged to print and share this information with others, if this is an area that causes division between you and your friends or family members.
Before I begin, I’d like to clarify that I am one of those who believe that the Bible (in it’s original form) was inspired by the Divine. However, unlike some, I understand and accept that it has gone through many alterations over the years. In exploring the original Greek and Hebrew wording, I have seen much evidence that confirms this. Thus I do not hold today’s Christians at fault for believing what they do. Their doctrine is based on what has been handed down to them, and most trust that it is accurate. It’s also my own personal belief, that when passages *appear* to conflict or contradict each other, it is because we are misinterpreting some part of the message. When it is properly interpreted, there should be no conflicts. With that said, I will now share the understanding that the Divine has given me regarding this subject. :o)
To start with, I have found NO passage in the entire Bible that actually says a *good* person can be sent to hell. On the contrary, verse after verse indicates ALL will be judged and rewarded “according to their works.” These passages clearly state that goodness is rewarded… not punished in hell. So where does that doctrine come from? One explanation, is that salvation and rewards are being confused, and rolled into one subject… when they are actually two separate issues.
Everlasting life, according to the scriptures, is a gift. It cannot be earned… by ANYONE… no matter what religion they belong to. Christians have no better chance of *earning* their way to heaven than anyone else. None of us are perfect. Thus, I tend to understand and accept the doctrine that good works does not *earn* you eternal life or a place in heaven. That’s a free gift! The real issue is whether this gift is given to everyone, or just a selected few. According to scripture, it is only given to those who belong to God. So… determining who the Divine’s children really are, is the real issue… and in my humble opinion, this is where good works come in.
The scriptures are clear that a good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. (Mt 7:18, Lk 6:43) Since the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, etc., (Ga 5:22) isn’t it logical to assume that when an individual’s life is full of the good fruit, that this person must be living according to Divine will? Jesus himself indicated that one is known by their fruit, or works. (Mt 7:16 & 12:33, Lk 6:44) He also said “By this all shall know that you are my disciples… IF YOU LOVE ONE ANOTHER.” (Jo 13:35) Jesus simply put the Divine Law in it’s simplest form!
He also left no room for doubt in his parable of the good Samaritan. Here he states we should be judging a person by their behavior, rather than the name they are called. All this makes perfect sense to me. So why then, does the Church still teach that some who do good works are being led by ‘Satan’ rather than God, and that some good fruit does come from a bad tree, or in other words, a man’s good works are NOT a reliable way to tell if he is part of the Divine’s family?
In part, this may be due to an interpretation of a statement Jesus made. He claimed that going through him was the ‘only’ way to God. Some have interpreted this to mean that an individual needs personal knowledge and a belief of Christ’s birth and death to find God. My heart tells me that Jesus was simply stressing that the only way to the Divine was through the truths he shared during his life. (BTW, these truths were universal, and can be found in virtually every religion around the world!) I can almost hear his voice, as he pleads with people over and over, to believe in him, (what he was telling them) and they’d receive eternal life! He was NOT asking them to believe in the story of his birth, and he certainly didn’t expect them to understand how or why he would one day be put to death. No… he simply wanted them to trust him, to believe in what he was telling them. Jesus shared with them the way, and the truth, of eternal life. There’s no doubt that accepting and following his words (or the Word of God) leads one closer to God. But still, some choose to believe that a person can live a Christ-like life, and yet be sent to hell and punished… simply because they have never heard the story of Christ, or because they don’t fully accept the Church’s interpretation of it. I can’t help but wonder if it makes Jesus sad to see how so many today, are putting their main focus on sharing the knowledge of his birth, death, and resurrection, instead of on the message he gave his life for!
Another possible reason for the confusion regarding this subject, is that some seem to link ‘good works’ with the ‘religious law’ that the Pharisees practiced. (see Matt. 23) I’ve been told that these verses *easily* show how good works do not get you heaven… that the Pharisees were experts at following religious law, and yet were condemned by Jesus. The conclusion being drawn here, is that their “good works” were the thing being condemned. But, it’s important to understand that the Pharisees were following their own laws… NOT Gods! It seems that for every one of the original 10 commandments, they added many of their own, to help ‘clarify’ what THEY believed God wanted. According to Jesus however, they were so hung up on following the law of their religion, that they neglected the weightier provisions of Divine law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.
Although they *appeared* to be extremely religious, very few of their actions were done out of love and/or concern for others. Their hearts were not in the right place as they were focused more on appearances and status. Jesus described them as appearing clean on the outside, but filthy on the inside. Clearly their actions were NOT being linked to doing good works!
The scriptures consistently point out that the ‘laws’ were flawed, and yet every passage on ‘good works’ is given praise! Thus, I think it’s a mistake to assume that the “laws” and “good works” are one and the same. Biblical passages regarding the Pharisees leave little room for doubt that many of the religious laws conflicted with what God had intended. IMHO, these people were “severed” from God (or Jesus) simply because they were putting so much focus on laws and rituals, that they no longer took the time to do the “good work” or will of the Divine. The Bible teaches that LOVE is the whole of the law, and is the TRUE way to judge whether or not a person is of God. Once again I ask, why do so many ignore this teaching and embrace the Church’s interpretations, when they appear to conflict with each other? Perhaps it’s because these conflicts have been ‘explained’ away with the following logic…
Some have said that the good works done by ‘non Christians’ will not be rewarded, as these individuals are not truly God’s children. First of all, I’ve found no scripture to support this theory. The Bible says ALL will be judged and rewarded according to their works. (Mt 16:27, Rev 20:12-13) Second, if the Bible is right, and a person’s works are the true indication of who God’s children are, then there are many NON Christians who are actually part of God’s family! According to Matthew 7:21-24, calling upon the ‘right’ God, and following religious laws or customs, does NOT get you to heaven… but knowing the will of the Divine, and living it does! The name I choose to call myself, whether Christian, Wiccan, Druid or Pagan, will not matter in the end. Ultimately it’s our hearts that will be judged.
Others have justified condemning good works by implying that ‘Satan’ can mislead us with the appearance of goodness, and so what *appears* to be good fruit, may actually be rotten on the inside. There is some logic in that… as there is no question that one can be deceived through good works… like a person who pretends to be your friend so they can get close enough to you to rob you blind. But this is false or deceptive goodness, and is NOT the kind of ‘good’ I’m referring to! It’s those whose actions are truly done out of love… who feed the hungry, give to the less fortunate, reach out a helping hand to their neighbor and offer kind words and encouragement to those who are down… are these good people really doing Satan’s work? When something is done out of love and concern for another, is it not the fruit of the Spirit? What possible reason could God have to punish those whose lives are full of good fruit, by sending them to a place of torment? Again, there is NO verse in the Bible that actually supports this doctrine.
As I stated above, these particular teachings of the Church seem to be in direct conflict with the teachings found in scripture, which clearly state a bad tree cannot produce good fruit, and ALL will be known by and rewarded, according to their works. Both cannot be true!
To those who teach that FAITH saves, I’d like to ask… is it faith in God or faith in Jesus that ‘saves’ us? If Jesus IS God, then how is it possible to believe in one, without believing in the other? The Son taught the Fathers will. He didn’t have a separate agenda, nor did he come to glorify himself, but simply to bring us the “good news” of the Divine. Again, the message he shared was universal in truth, and can be found in nearly every culture or religion from the beginning of time.
So, once more I ask, if the Father and Son truly are ONE, then wouldn’t any person who accepted and followed the Word of God, (no matter what time period or culture it comes from) also be accepting and following the one whom the Bible claims IS the Word of God… aka Jesus? To know Jesus only by his life on earth, is to know only a small portion of who he is/was. IMHO, being able to recognize him whenever one hears the Word of God, or sees Divine love in action, is to know him on a whole new level… one that embraces his spirit in its entirety, and doesn’t limit or restrict him to being known only by his human name and existence.
Another area where faith is discussed in connection with good works, is in the book of James. Here the focus is put on the idea that faith without works is dead. In other words, just claiming you believe, means nothing if you don’t “practice what you preach.” I think we can all agree on that. But I’ve heard Christians claim that the opposite is true too… that works without faith in Jesus is also dead. The problem with this theory, is that the Bible clearly states that works are the PROOF of one’s true faith. If the scriptures are true, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit, then once again, one could easily argue that love, joy, peace, etc., is PROOF that an individual is close to God and/or is doing the will of the Divine. Thus, works without faith is simply not possible. When you live according to Divine will, you can expect to enjoy the good fruits of the Spirit. The ways of *Satan* do not result in lives that are full of love, joy, peace, and so on. That very name means ‘adversary’ and represents all that opposes Divine perfection. Hate, jealousy, cruelty and rudeness are but a few of the fruits that will grow from a bad tree.
Based on the above information, I think it’s safe to conclude that the Divine has no intention of punishing those who do good works. If you want a life full of good things, prune away any bad limbs, and allow those parts that produce good fruit to take over. Let others know you are close to the Divine by the bountiful good fruits that grow from your positive thoughts and actions. No matter how some choose to translate the Bible, please remember that love, peace, joy, kindness, gentleness, goodness, etc., are fruits of the Spirit, and are a TRUE reflection of your closeness with the Divine One! Personally, as far as I’m concerned, those whose lives are full of these “fruits of the Spirit” are my true brothers and sisters… no matter what *they* choose to call the path they walk. ;o)
Peace be with you,