JAC Online

It's Jesus or Hell
by Major Stephen Court


Don’t shoot the messenger.  It’s Catherine Booth who said it first, not me.  And, actually, though Booth crafted it in pithy fashion, it’s not like it is new doctrine.


After all, “There is no one else who can rescue us, and there is no other name under heaven given to any human by whom we may be rescued” (Acts 4:12 Voice).


That’s talking about our Jesus.  And the ‘rescue’ bit implies that we need rescue or we’ll be ‘endangered’ / ‘imprisoned’ / ‘abandoned’ / ‘jeopardized’ (choose your favorite antonym) or we’ll remain separate from God through into eternity… which, according to the Bible, is geographically identified as hell.


And, “Jesus explained, “I am the Way, I am the Truth, and I am the Life. No one comes next to the Father except through union with Me. To know Me is to know my Father too” (John 14:6 Voice).


This is the second exclusive ‘rescuer’ claim.  ‘No one else’ and ‘no other name’ from Acts 4:12 is now bolstered by ‘no one comes… except through… Me’ in John 14:6.


But how can Jesus be the only way to be rescued from sin and hell?  According to Peter, He fought the good fight for us: (1 Peter 3:18 Message): “That’s what Christ did definitively: suffered because of others’ sins, the Righteous One for the unrighteous ones.  He went through it all—was put to death and then made alive—to bring us to God.”


But such a concise dictum as Booth’s implies as much as it elucidates.


After all, how does one properly appropriate Jesus?  The author of ‘Hebrews’ has an answer: “But we are certainly not those who are held back by fear and perish; we are among those who have faith and experience true life!” (Hebrews 10:39)


And four axiomatic words can’t begin to explicate atonement.  Paul takes a stab at it, here:


“For we must never forget that He rescued us from the power of darkness, and re-established us in the kingdom of His beloved Son, that is, in the kingdom of light.  For it is by His Son alone that we have been redeemed and have had our sins forgiven.” (Colossians 1:13-14 Phillips).


Peter takes his shot, here:


“He personally carried the load of our sins in His own body when He died on the cross so that we can be finished with sin and live a good life from now on. For His wounds have healed ours!  Like sheep you wandered away from God, but now you have returned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls who keeps you safe from all attacks” (1 Peter 2:24-25 TLB).


And, of course, Jesus, whose whole life exegetes this truth, simply sums it up, thus: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV).


So, we’re agreed that ‘it’s Jesus or hell’.  We’re just not sure, I’m guessing (at your thoughts), it is the optimal evangelistic approach to stick on your bumper sticker or as your email signature or as your conversational opener.  Well…


We’ll agree that if you throw it out there in cavalier fashion it will likely offend or elicit derision.  So, heart-intention is crucial.


And, what if it is offered not as a condemnation but as an invitation?  Not ‘arms-crossed’ or ‘finger-pointing’ but open-handed and winsome?  It turns out that tone of voice is also pivotal.


For the sake of discussion, we’ll concede that, even with a holy heart-intention and appealing tone of voice, it might not always be the preferred evangelistic line for you to use.


But, let’s consider context.  Catherine Booth performed her most famous preaching in the west end of London to churchified crowds (diplomatically, we might stipulate here that they were self-identifying ‘Christians’).  Her invention of the maxim wasn’t exactly evangelistic.  It was more accurately exhortative.  She was pressing slacker Christians of fundamental truth to motivate them to evangelize lost people.


So, try out these words again, in your mind’s-eye, with the listeners being a group of Christians, maybe like at a Sunday morning holiness meeting peopled by a bunch of regulars who have been attending ‘forever’ without any new faces (implying lack of evangelism, among other things).  The preacher might infer that the regulars are slacker Christians (at best) as they aren’t effectively evangelizing.  And she might go further in deducing that they might not evangelize because they might not really believe all those Bible verses we’ve quoted above.  In this context it is very easy to hear Catherine firing up and shouting to these somnolent saints, “It’s Jesus or hell!”    












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