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One of the questions that people ask most is this: If God is going to save all mankind anyway, then why should I serve him? Another related question is: Why should we tell others about Christ if God is going to save them all anyway?
The underlying question is this: Who would want to serve such a God except by fear? The implication: men are all so revolted by the idea of serving God that no one would actually do so without being threatened by the most extreme punishment ever devised.
Without fear, there seems to be little or no motive to serve a God of Love. This is, in fact, why men first devised such ideas of divine retribution. But in so doing, they turned the God of Love into the God to be feared. While such fear may have motivated many to be obedient and to serve God, this fear-doctrine has turned most people away from Him.
This was the number one question that I faced many years ago at the University of Minnesota in my old evangelical days. I was trying to get people saved by offering people threats of eternal torture. Instead of being cowed into submission like the audience of Jonathan Edwards in the 1700's, they instead developed a disdain for such a God. In other words, the fear tactic backfired, and more people were turned away from God than turned to Him.
The traditional view of God was to think of Him as a Lawgiver and Judge. He was cold, impersonal, and absolutely merciless. Oh, yes, people always gave Him lip service, extolling His virtues of Love and Mercy, but in the end, this was all just flattery, much like the way they treated the most brutal of their kings. Their real motive for extolling the virtues of the Heavenly King was FEAR, knowing He was NOT virtuous.
Jesus finally came along and shattered the popular image of God, calling Him "Father." Such personal intimacy with God brought amazement. People wondered if it might be blasphemy to be on such familiar terms with the Supreme Being. Who are we to be sons of Almighty God? Would He not strike us dead for such disrespect? To be called "sons of God" was an idea that stirred up FEAR in the hearts of men.
To say that God is a God of Love is, to me, more than mere lip service. It is an actual fact. I know this by experience, because I know Him personally. He is my Father.
Yet as a Father, He also knows how to discipline and chastise His children, for He knows how to bring them into maturity. When I was young in the Lord, I feared Him. Fear, we are told, is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10). But ultimately, perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18), because fear has torment (inner stress, a lack of peace). He who fears is not yet perfected in love, John says.
Our children are not born with the ability to manifest mature love. This comes with maturity. So children are taught to respect authority. The underlying motive is fear, without which, they will not obey. But it would be counterproductive to threaten a toddler with eternal torment if he knocks over the flower vase. That is overkill, and a child really has no conception of punishment beyond what he has already experienced. For a child that age, a simple "no" will do, along with a slap on the hand.
It is the same with our heavenly Father. He does have divine judgments and will hold all unbelievers accountable for their deeds (Rev. 20:12, 13). This is the judicial side of God's love. This is how He corrects mankind in order to bring them to maturity in love. The "lake of fire" is not a torture pit, but is a symbol of the divine law (Deut. 33:2; Jer. 23:29), which is also a revelation of His righteous character (Deut. 4:24; Heb. 12:29). All men will be made to conform to His righteous standard--by force, if necessary, even as a parent forces or coerces his child to be good.
God will judge unbelievers by His own righteous law--not by the laws of men. His law never requires torture, much less eternal torture. If men must be coerced by the threat of endless torture, then it is obvious that God has not yet opened their eyes to receive the truth (Ex. 29:4; 2 Tim. 2:25). Men tend to get ahead of God and try to force people by fear into accepting Christ before the Holy Spirit has had opportunity to work from within their hearts.
If eternal torture were the just penalty for sin, then Jesus would yet be in hell paying for your sin by eternal torture. The fact that He was able to pay for the sin of the whole world by merely being dead until the third day should be sufficient to correct our theology. God is not so unjust as to torture men eternally even if they had committed just one sin in their life time. In God's law, the judgment always fits the crime. That is the meaning of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." If God had said, "burn him at the stake for an eye, burn him at the stake for a tooth," then we might have some reason to suspect that God's retribution does not fit the crime.
So why should we serve a God that will not eternally torture us for NOT believing? First of all, to know Him is to love Him. The goal is a love relationship with God. But I recognize that no one starts out with such a love relationship. And so, it may be good to point out that all men will one day stand before God's throne, and they will be judged according to their deeds (Rev. 20:12). They may avoid this judgment by accepting Jesus Christ's death on the cross by faith.
Essentially, to be saved NOW is to avoid a lengthy process of correction LATER. One way or another, all men will be saved, for that is God's promise (Heb. 8:10, 11) and His will (1 Tim. 2:4). Paul says in 1 Tim. 4:10 that the living God is the Savior of all men, especially of those that believe. He will save all, but there is a special reward for those that believe.
God has both a carrot and a stick. The carrot is the reward for serving Him now. The stick is in the judgment that is to come, along with the fact that unbelievers will be put under the authority of believers until the Creation Jubilee sets them free into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.
Why should we serve God now if all will be saved in the end? There is a special salvation for those who do, and if they do not, they will be held accountable for the deeds done in their life time. Those who accept Him can have opportunity to mature from fear to love, and such people can enjoy a personal relationship with God that is very enjoyable and satisfying.
Why should we evangelize others? Because we know by experience the joy of this personal relationship with God. We see His leading day by day. We see evidence of His love for us. And we want everyone to have what we have.
Years ago I talked with an agnostic at my place of employment in Memphis, TN. He was raised in the Church of Christ and had an uncle who had memorized the entire Bible. But, he said, "Not once did I see any evidence in Church that there was a God." Once, after getting off work at 1:00 a.m., we talked in the parking lot and then at a restaurant until dawn. I just shared the things that God had done in my life. He told me finally, "If I had experienced even one of the things that you experienced, I would crawl on my hands and knees around the world to do His work."
I did not need to threaten him with never-ending torture. I simply bore witness of the things that I have seen and heard. When people learn that such things are possible, they are provoked to desire the same kind of relationship and experience with God. To me, this is true evangelism, and it will be the core message and method of the coming work of preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom in the years ahead.