I was raised to believe that God would roast sinners forever in an endless torture chamber called “Hell.”
Maybe you were, too?
The irony is, I did not come to faith in Christ out of fear. I genuinely had a curiousity about God from an early age. I talked with God as I lay in my bed before going to sleep. I thought about God and asked questions about God before anyone in my family was officially “Christian.”
It was only after I found out more about God and said the magic prayer that supposedly “saved me” from eternal damnation that I learned about this lake of fire where everyone [other than me and people who believed like me] would end up if they didn’t also say this magic prayer.
Of course, I eventually learned that this magic prayer wasn’t in the Bible, and that Jesus never asked anyone to pray any prayers like that to be “saved” and that none of the Apostles ever preached an evangelistic sermon about eternal flames of hell fire. But all of that would come much later.
Somehow, even though I didn’t come into the faith out of fear, I was taught to accept the notion that fear was a necessary part of the “Good News” that we needed to preach.
Soon, this fear-based Gospel started to infect me, too. I was soon waking up in the middle of the night full of fear that the rapture had happened and I was left behind with all the other sinners. It wasn’t until I heard my parents breathing in their bedroom that I could eventually go back to sleep in my own bed; assured that the rapture hadn’t happened….yet.
Later, I would stand up and regurgitate this Fear-Based Gospel at Christian concerts and from pulpits whenever I had the opportunity. I was called to do the Lord’s work, and that [everyone told me] was warning sinners about hell.
But, eventually, I realized that the Gospel wasn’t about saying a prayer so you could go to heaven when you die.
That was the first real paradigm shift for me. And that shock to my system would eventually be the thread that – once I began to pull on it – would unravel the entire coat of many hellish colors.
Once I realized that the Gospel was what Jesus said it was – found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke [and also John] – and that it had less to do with getting into heaven after we died and more about experiencing heaven today, before we died – everything else started to fall into place.
Over the next few years I also realized that a lot of my theology was as recent as 1830 and concocted by guys like John Nelson Darby [the same year Joseph Smith had invented Mormonism]. That led me to question and eventually reject ideas about the End Times and the Second Coming that had once held me in a constant state of fear as a young boy.
With more study I realized that those “end of the world” and “hellish” verses out of the mouth of Jesus in the Olivet Discourse were actually quotations from Old Testament prophets like Isaiah, Daniel, Jeremiah and others who were not talking about either the End of the World or Eternal Torment, but about actual invasions by hostile forces.
And from there it wasn’t long before I was realizing that I had allowed religion – and religious leaders – to control me and manipulate me through the power of fear.
Now that I’m free from the power of this Gospel of Fear, I can clearly see how often the New Testament itself is filled with warnings for us not to be motivated by fear, or coerced with fear.
“Perfect love casts out all fear.”
“For we are not given a spirit of fear but of love and of a sound mind…”
“Fear not!” [spoken by Jesus, and by every angel whenever they appear to human beings about 80 times in the Bible]
So, the next time a Christian attempt to coerce you or motivate you using fear, remember this: We are not ruled by fear. We are transformed by love.
The Gospel is literally “Good News” and that has nothing to do with fear or manipulation. But, it does have everything to do with a God who is love and His clear message of acceptance, forgiveness and endless mercy for all of His children.
“For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” [1 Tim. 4:10]
“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” [1 Cor. 15:22]
For more on this subject, read the new book, “Jesus Undefeated: Condemning the False Doctrine of Eternal Torment” by Keith Giles.