For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (NIV)
To hear some preachers you might think that Jesus’ top priority was to consign wicked people to hell. You might get the idea that God is just itching to execute his just condemnation on those who don’t embrace him.
Scriptures like this tell us something different. Jesus came to save the world not condemn it. Jesus wants to rescue lost and wandering people, not sit back and grimly tell them they have brought their destiny on themselves. We do not worship a bloodthirsty, vengeful God who licks his lips at the thought of sinners getting their just deserts.
And yet, Scriptures like this remind us of an uncomfortable truth: if we refuse the offer of salvation we will be irretrievably lost. Salvation is not forced on anyone. It is not compulsory. God grants us the dignity and the freedom to reject his offer as well as accept it. He wants us to accept it. Through his Spirit he urges us to accept it. But if we will not, we have condemned ourselves.
C. S. Lewis once said that the doors of hell are locked on the inside. God sends no one to hell. We choose that destiny when we choose to reject the alternative. God is not in the condemnation business. Jesus’ mission was not about condemnation. But nor was it about compulsion and coercion.
Jesus makes us an offer which is really too good to refuse. But he gives us the right of refusal.
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