I have a story for you. One about a young boy who was raised in Sunday school. He could tell you about Eden, Noah’s ark, Moses, and even Jonah. He was involved in youth retreats, youth choir, and even an international mission trip. He would have had difficulty naming a family member or a friend who didn’t at least claim to be a ‘Christian.’ He attended revival services two times a year, discipleship training on Sunday nights, and only read the King James Bible. He prayed a prayer when he was eight years old, was baptized the following Sunday, and declared to be a member of the church. It’s a story about a young man who grew up in church, yet was still on his way to hell. If you think I’m fibbing, I assure you I’m not for this was my story.
Some of you probably felt your stomach turn when you read the title to this blog. It doesn’t sit easy on the heart. It seems incredible, preposterous, and even impossible. Could a person really grow up in church and still go to hell? I’ll let the preacher of Hebrews answer for you.
For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them because they were not united by faith with those who listened. -Hebrews 4:2, English Standard Version
If you have just a few moments I have another narrative to tell you. It’s a narrative directly from The Bible, from the Old Testament to be exact. It’s the story line of the Wilderness Generation. The ones who had left Egypt being led by Moses after The LORD worked great acts of judgement for their freedom. The ones who experienced the Lord’s mighty hand once again at the Red Sea where The Lord parted the waters to freedom with His sovereign breath, and where He slammed the sea shut throwing the horse and the rider (Pharaoh and his army) into the sea. The same ones who experienced Mount Sinai shaking with holy thunders and sights that are impossible to describe with human words. The same ones who ate manna bread from heaven, quail from the morning dew, and who drank water from a rock-all from the good hand of The Lord. The shocking end however is when they arrive at The Jordan river and because of the bad report from the ten spies, refuse to believe the good report of Joshua and Caleb. Their treason against heaven was expressed in hearts of unbelief: The Lord could bring them out of Egypt but there was not way He could bring them into Canaan. In a total act of rebellion they considered stoning Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb in favor of electing new leaders who would take them back to Egypt. You can read about the entire event in Numbers 13-14. However for the sake of time I’ll skip to the end. The Lord banished them to wander in the wilderness for forty years until everyone of those in that unbelieving generation, except for Joshua and Caleb, died. Don’t miss the severity of that. As Al Mohler summarizes, “They died on the wrong side of the Jordan.” Yes, outside of God’s promised rest.
Let me draw a couple of brief points from this narrative. First, that generation is all the evidence you need to know that it is 100% possible to see mighty works of God, hear the wonderful words of good news from The Lord, and even to grow up amongst the people of God only to reject Him in unbelief in the end and spend eternity in hell. Secondly, the response one gives to the good news from God determines the result of the good news. I once heard it said, ‘The Gospel is only good news if you receive it by faith. It is bad news for you if you reject it in unbelief.’ Indeed, for whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:18) That’s explicitly how you grow up in church and still go to hell. You hear the Gospel a million times and yet never respond to it rightly. To reject it is to be condemned. But what is the right response? Thats my final point: faith is the right response to The Gospel. I want to make this plain because it was many years before someone made it plain to me: repeating the sinners’ prayer to an evangelist at a youth rally is not the equation of true faith. A trained parrot could do that. True faith is the expression of a heart which upon listening to the ‘good news Jesus Christ’ is wrought with conviction by the Holy Spirit of God that causes that person to let go of their own self, strength, and intuition only to latch onto Christ. It’s the tune of a heart whose eyes have been opened that cries out in a holy desperation…
Nothing in my hands I’ll bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.
Naked, come to thee for dress, helpless look to thee for grace.
Foul I to The fountain fly, wash me Savior or I’ll die! (Rock of Ages)
But how can someone be led to such a place as this? I have a great friend and mentor who once told me that a new born baby doesn’t need to be shown how to cry, nor does an awakened sinner of how to run to Christ. I agree, whole-heartedly.
So back to my story. The one about the young man who despite growing up in church was but dancing on the cliff side of hell. My story changed. Not by any work of my hand, nor any moral resolution of my head. It was but good news that fell upon these Spirit-awakened ears that stirred my feet to run to Christ. Truly as Paul once wrote to the Corinthians, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace towards me was not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:1).
There is so much more I could say, but hear me dear friend. Hear the plea of an old lost church boy who was saved from hell. Come to Christ. May The Holy Spirit of God awaken deafened ears once again. Soli Deo Gloria.