Have you noticed how often when some discussion arises in spiritual matters the question will soon be asked, “Is it a heaven or hell issue?” There are lots of things in life on which we may be deceived and it still not affect our eternal destiny. One might use the story in I Kings 13 to illustrate the point. Jeroboam had led the ten tribes from Israel to establish the Northern kingdom, leaving behind the tribes of Judah and Benjamin as the Southern kingdom. Jeroboam became fearful that his kingdom would fall apart when the people went back over to Jerusalem to worship at the temple. So he set up altars in Bethel and Dan saying to the people it was too far for them to go back to Jerusalem to worship and come there and make their offerings. He set up priest from among the people who were from each of the tribes and weren’t even good men. In chapter thirteen God sent the young prophet from Judah to condemn these altars. As Jeroboam was there to lead their worship the young prophet stood and prophesied against the altar saying it would split apart and the bones of the priest would one day be offered on the altar. Jeroboam stretched out his hand to shout to soldiers to get the prophet. But his arm became frozen in place. When he couldn’t pull it back he pleaded with the young prophet to pray for his arm to be healed. He did and the arm was healed. When Jeroboam asked him to come back to his home and eat and drink with him the young prophet declared he couldn’t do so even if he offered him half the kingdom since God had told him to neither eat nor drink in that place.
He headed back to Judah by a different way. But the old prophet’s sons were there and went home to tell Dad what had happened. He rushed after the young prophet and caught up with him. He pleaded with him to come back to his house and eat and drink with him. The young prophet said, no that God had told him not to eat or drink in that place. The old prophet said an angel of the Lord had appeared to him and said for him to come after him and bring him back to his house. It was a lie, but the young prophet believed the lie and returned to eat and drink in his house. As he began to eat the angel of the Lord appeared and told him because he had disobeyed the Lord he would not live to return to Judah. As he started home a lion came out and killed him.
He was honest, sincere and believed what the old prophet said. Why was he condemned? When we believe a lie that leads us to disobey God, it leads to our loss of a right relationship with God and if we continue down that road it leads to hell. There could have been tons of lies that the young prophet might have believed and it not have affected his relationship with God or his life on earth. If the old prophet had told him that God had said for him to run back to Judah, it would have been a lie and would have led to him being really tired but not to disobedience to God. If he had told him that as soon as he arrived back in Judah God said for him to throw a feasts and have barbecue for everyone, it would have been a lie but wouldn’t have led to his disobeying God. So the issue on any topic that we consider as it relates to whether it is a heaven and hell issue isn’t whether a thing is a lie or not but whether the lie or error leads to a person disobeying God.
In the Book of Romans Paul dealt with many things that were definitely heaven and hell issues. As he described the gospel as God’s power to salvation and noted that we are to preach that gospel to others it is clear that hearing the gospel is vital to salvation. While the circumcision of the flesh was necessary for a Jewish parent to carry out on their young boys, it wasn’t part of the New Covenant. Now it is the circumcision of the heart, not of the letter that matters. Our salvation depends on our faith in Jesus and that faith leads to our being baptized into Christ and into his death to be raised to walk in newness of life. After explaining many powerful and amazing doctrinal issues he told us in chapter eight how richly blessed we are as God’s children. We have God’s Spirit to help and guide us in our life for Him. Now nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. His conclusion to such powerful teaching was in Romans 12:1-2. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
In chapter fourteen of Romans he gives the clearest and most thorough teaching on how to deal with matters that are not heaven and hell issues ever given. He said, when looking at such topics rather than trying to be judge for the world, realize the Lord is the one judge and we are all brothers and sisters. Do what we believe is right and while we discuss matters with others with which we differ we don’t start condemning people for seeing it differently from us. He used the illustrations of eating particular foods and observing certain days. Neither of these are of such importance that they affect one’s destiny but they sure cause confusion in the church. “The kingdom of God isn’t about food and drink but about righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
Look at some of the principles given in this important chapter. First, God is the judge not us. Second, each person should live by what he believes is the right thing to do. If we think something is wrong then we shouldn’t do that even if everyone around us says there is nothing wrong with it. “Whatever is not of faith is sin.” So a thing may be sinful for me that is not for you.” Third, don’t allow anyone to use their weakness as a standard to measure the church. Too often someone will say, “It bother’s my conscience so we can’t do that.” The church then is held in check by the conscience of the weakest member there. My conscience should guide me but I don’t have the right to strain everyone else though my conscience. Fourth, we should always be restudying and rechecking the matters on which our conscience bothers us to see if a thing is wrong or just something we fear in life. In Verse 21 he included drinking wine as among those things that bother a person’s conscience. The Bible clearly condemns drunkenness but never condemns having a drink of wine. I haven’t had a drink of any strong drink since becoming a Christian more than fifty years ago. I don’t think it is a sin. But it would be unwise for me. But if I try to enforce that behavior on others I’m wrong. Finally, the strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak.
In light of these principles and the whole notion of believing things that may be lies or on which we are deceived at times, I want to look at some of those topics that haunt us and see if we can reach positions that are clear and pleasing to God without getting the kingdom off the matters God said it should be about.