Until a few years ago, I hadn´t really thought about heaven and hell. I was a Christian because of the benefits it brought me in this life. However I began to ponder what was meant by Jesus being my Saviour. What has he saved me from? At that time I read a book by John Bunyan called ´Visions of Heaven and Hell´. Some argue that John Bunyan couldn´t have written this. Nevertheless it made heaven and hell more real to me. I realised then what Jesus had saved me from. It was hell. I was hungry to know more and read ´A Divine Revelation of Hell´ by Mary Baxter. I also went to a website called ´divinerevelations.info´ and started listening to all sorts of testimonies from people claiming to have had out-of-body experiences in which they were taken to heaven and/or hell.
These testimonies were filled with accounts of dead people (souls) experiencing the most horrendous suffering in hell. Could it be true? For my part, I believed the testimonies and it spurred me on to evangelise more zealously than I had ever done before. Surely, I thought, there is no other message so important to a person than that they avoid this place called hell. I had to warn people about hell and tell them that the only way to escape it was to believe and trust in Jesus. And so now I had a passion! I must try to save as many as possible. The Bible says ´whosoever believes shall not perish´. Therefore the onus is surely on the people to believe. Correct? After all, isn´t this the basic gospel message?
Since this basic gospel message was not being proclaimed at the church I was currently attending, I decided to try another church. So I started attending a Baptist church nearby. Here the gospel message was preached faithfully and regularly. To my mind, perhaps too regularly given the fact that the whole congregation was undoubtedly Christian! This church didn´t have the contemporary style of worship I was accustomed to. Instead, we sang hymns accompanied by a piano. In place of the often wishy-washy lyrics of modern choruses, we had hymns with Bible-based lyrics which had stood the test of time and which often contained a sermon in and of themselves. And the preaching was strongly Bible-grounded. And it was here that I began to learn about something I had only ever heard about in passing. Calvinism.
Calvinism states, amongst other things that God has predestined us to be saved and that salvation is entirely of God. We are so utterly ´depraved´ that we are not even capable of responding to God´s invitation to believe in Jesus such that we might be saved. God has to first of all work in us to enable us to respond to his invitation. Without a doubt, such a statement is based squarely on what the Bible says. It means that a person cannot ever lose their salvation because it has already been predetermined that they will be saved. So it´s a comfort and an assurance to the Christian. But what if a person becomes a Christian but then years down the line, jettisons their faith and denies Jesus. If you ask a Calvinist about such a person they will tell you that the person never actually became a proper Christian and therefore wasn´t actually saved. But of course by the same token, that could equally apply to all of us who think we are Christians. How can we be sure that at some future date, we too might not fall away? What was meant to be assurance for us has become the opposite!
Furthermore, if a person´s eternal condition has already been determined by God, what is the point then in evangelising? I think the only real answer to this is that Jesus mandated us to evangelise. Nevertheless, it´s easier to be motivated to evangelise if you consider that there is no predetermination and that each person has to decide for themselves whether to believe in Jesus or not.
To muddy the waters even more, I continued to visit ´divinerevelations.info´ and read accounts of people who claim to have been taken to hell. Some accounts reveal that there are actually Christians in hell. These Christians believed in Jesus but did not obey him. They trusted in him as their Saviour but harboured bitterness in their hearts, told lies, committed adultery etc. Some accounts even show Christians in hell for not tithing or keeping the Sabbath holy. If these accounts are true (and perhaps they are not), how can any Christian then be certain of their salvation?
So, today I find myself alternating (1) between my previous church (where my wife goes) and the Baptist church (2) between Calvinism and Armenianism thinking and (3) between works-based and grace-based salvation thinking. One totally mixed up Christian! Perhaps this is what Paul was thinking when he wrote ´work out your own salvation with fear and trembling´.