There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.
“If you were to die tonight, where would you spend eternity?” These are familiar words to many Christians … words that some in the ministry use to introduce their altar calls at the end of worship services. The argument behind this question seems so right—all of us are sinners who deserve to go hell, and the only way we can escape hell is to accept Christ. Once we make that decision, we are assured that we will go to heaven when we die. If we do not make that decision and we die, then we will go to hell. This line of thought seems so right, but it may well be so wrong on many levels.
Let’s take a look at what Christ said about the purpose of his life, death, and resurrection: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Then, a short time later, Christ went further as he said to Martha, when he came to her and Mary after the death of Lazarus: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die …” (John 11:25-26). Christ was clear in that his connection to us and provision for us was not based on death, but on life. If we look closely at what Christ said to Martha, he indicates there are two groups of believers—(1.) those who believe, but die and then will live (the resurrection) and (2.) those who live, believe, and never die (the life). Think about that. The ultimate goal of God/Christ is that all of us become believers who live, believe, and never die.
Okay, if the goal is that people who believe never die, why have they died and why are they dying? What is the difference between the two groups mentioned by Christ? The Bible answers this question in Hosea. The prophet wrote this in chapter 4, verse 6, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge …” and then this in chapter 6, verse 6, “For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” In other words, the knowledge of God is what stands between believers and destruction/death, so much so that God delights in His people knowing Him while He does not delight in burnt offerings (which could represent religious activities).
Isaiah was also specific about what the lack of knowledge does to God’s people, as he shared God’s words (Isaiah 5:13-14): “Therefore My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge; their honorable men are famished, and their multitude is parched with thirst. Therefore Sheol (death) has enlarged its throat and opened its mouth without measure …” Lack of knowledge kills.
The story of Job in the Old Testament (Vol. 1, pp. 28-42) really highlights the difference between Job’s religious activities and his lack of knowledge of God. After Job’s confrontation with his three friends, Elihu—a young man whose name meant “God Himself”—spoke up. He uttered words that every one of us should take to heart (Job 36:7-12):
He (God) does not withdraw His eyes from the righteous; but with kings on the throne He has seated them forever, and they are exalted. And if they are bound in fetters, and caught in the cords of affliction, then He declares to them their work and their transgressions, that they have magnified themselves.
He opens their ear to instruction, and commands that they return from evil. If they hear and serve Him, they will end their days in prosperity and their years in pleasures.
But if they do not hear, they shall perish by the sword and they will die without knowledge.
After Elihu finished speaking, God spoke to Job out of a whirlwind with the words, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2). In other words, despite all of his religious works, Job did not know God. By the time God was finished talking with Job, the beleaguered man clearly understood this as he replied: ” ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know … I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You …” (Job 42:2-3, 5)
Job finally understood that what he had known about God had come from other people, rather than from God Himself. Job repented and retracted what he had said to his friends. Then, after he forgave those friends, God restored Job’s fortunes, and he saw four generations before he died.
By the way, the human race’s choice has never been between heaven and hell. In the Garden of Eden, God gave Adam the choice between life and death: if Adam ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, he would die, which implies that, if he didn’t eat of that fruit, he would continue living (life is the opposite of death). God never mentioned hell when He was explaining the consequences of Satan’s dastardly deception—the main consequence of that deception was humans dying and returning to dust (Genesis 3:8-19). In fact, let’s fast-forward to this statement found in Romans 6:7, “… for he who has died is freed from sin.” If the punishment for sin is physical death and that death satisfies the demand of sin, then heaven and hell are not relevant. This flies in the face of what has become a mainstay of some church doctrine—accept Christ or you will burn in hell forever. Yet, changing our mindset and accepting this “new” knowledge may lead us to the place where we are the ones who live, believe, and never die.
While there are no guarantees, I decided a long time ago that I would do everything in my power to be one of the ones who will say, “… Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?” (I Corinthians 15:54-55) at the return of Christ. Over the years, I have spent countless hours laying the foundation of the endless life with the building blocks of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom from God. My hope is that, as I share some of what God has shown me, you will engineer your own personal knowledge, understanding, and wisdom from God. My hope is that we will be the ones who live, believe, and never die.
One final thought in this introduction: the power of Christ’s death and resurrection is sufficient for everyone to find the unending life. God made this tremendous promise to everyone who has lived, is living, and will live in Isaiah 25:6-8:
The Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; a banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, and refined, aged wine.
And on this mountain He will swallow up the covering which is over all peoples, even the veil which is stretched over all nations.
He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces, and He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken.
That lavish banquet is the “food” of His knowledge, understanding, and wisdom; the mountain is where He lives; and the covering is ignorance. God will swallow up death forever, so the human race will all partake of the life that never ends. As we work through the knowledge and understanding that I will share, may we all see just how these promises will be fulfilled.
All scriptures in this introduction are taken from The New American Standard Bible.