There’s an analogy about Jesus and Hell and Salvation that I’ve heard a number of times in my life: that people have been poisoned and they will die without the antidote. The poison is sin, death is hell and the antidote is salvation. So we seek to get people to pray the prayer of salvation in order that they would be saved from hell.
I don’t think this analogy is a very good one. Here’s why:
If I get bit by a snake, I’ll drink the antidote and the poison will be gone. Then I’ll go about my life the same way I did before I took the antidote.
Jesus isn’t a quick fix. You don’t pray a prayer of salvation and find that sin has disappeared and you just bide your time until heaven calls you home.
We stress the need for people to make a ‘decision for Jesus’. We see it as the determining factor on whether they end up in heaven or hell for eternity. We say things like ‘God will write your name in the book of life’ if you respond to the altar call.
Like God just has a holy excel spreadsheet and the only column next to each persons name is ‘Accepted Jesus’ with a yes or no in the field.
If I hurt somebody, and I tell them I’m sorry, than I walk away, was I really sorry? If I was really sorry, wouldn’t it show? Wouldn’t I try to make right what I caused to go wrong?
I don’t believe Jesus is after people who will just intellectually acknowledge that he is saviour. I believe he is after people who act like it.
Even Jesus gives an example that shows intellectual ascent isn’t what he or anybody else is after:
There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
“‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.
The belief in God that the Pharisees had wasn’t the antidote to the “poison” of sin and the world.
And as James says, even the demons believe in God. They know Jesus was saviour. I don’t think the ‘antidote’ cured them.
What if I told you that you were poisoned, but that the antidote would cause you a great deal of pain? Would you still take it? You’d have to put some thought into it, right?
Because accepting Jesus means living a life of dying daily (1 Corinthians 15:31). It means that, at the minimum, you have to take up a cross (Matthew 10:38). It means living a life where you do the things you don’t want to do. (Romans 7:15).
How’s that for an antidote? Is that a quick, easy way to fix all your problems?
Jesus isn’t some snake oil cure all, but we make him out to be exactly that. Jesus hasn’t made my life easier. He’s made it better, but it isn’t without cost, and it certainly wasn’t some one-time thing.