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What's Wrong: Holiness or Hell!

posted Jan 8, 2016, 2:16 AM by Nathan Wheeler   [ updated Apr 11, 2018, 4:14 PM by Nathanael Wheeler ]
If you grew up like I did, you may have seen the bumper stickers and license plates plastered all over youth camps and camp meetings. You may have heard preachers shout this from the pulpit. It sounds good. It's catchy. Unfortunately, (and please don't just stop reading here...) it's wrong. 

Here's the deal - in logical argument, or philosophy, this is what we would call a "false dilemma." It's the illusion of two choices, borne of an inequality. Obviously, in this case, since you don't want Hell, you choose holiness. It's like asking, "Which is your favorite fruit, corn or oranges?" Since oranges are the only fruit on the list, you'll have to choose oranges. But what if, in fact, your favorite is bananas? In order to look at this logically then, we have to break this down into its component parts:

Hell is a place. It's a bad place; a place where people generally don't want to go. I could quote a bunch of verses here about how bad Hell is, but you can probably think of a few right off the top of your head. This is where Christians believe non-Christians will go when they die.

This actually has (at least) two massively varied meanings, and I want to pay tribute to both for the purposes of this argument.

1. In my childhood, "Holiness" referred to a specific set of rules, regulations, beliefs, and practices. This "Holiness" had been around loosely in the early 19th century, but early in the 20th century, a new denomination was formed, taking upon itself the name "Holiness." It was a conglomerate of Pentecostalism, with some fairly heavy Charismatic influence. The people I grew up around referred to this "Holiness" - denomination, coupled with lifestyle - with their bumper stickers and license plates.

2. The other prevailing definition of "holiness" carried through from the 19th century in the form of Methodism, and this meaning is incorporated into many Wesleyan denominations today. This holiness is defined as the outward evidence of an internal change as a result of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. I imagine some of these people had the bumper stickers and license plates as well, but for them it held quite a different meaning.

Now, let's take a look at the opposites of these two items on the list:

Heaven is a place. It's a good place. It's the place that Christians believe they will go when they die. Again, I could quote verses about streets of gold and pearly gates, but you can probably spout off a handful of these as well. Heaven is the opposite of Hell.

Worldliness is fairly self-defining - behaving like the world, or not behaving like Christ. Worldliness is the opposite for either definition of (H/h)oliness, although again, with varied definitions for each.

For the purposes of this argument, I will have to define one more term:

The redemptive work of Christ. This is the Christian's justification before a holy and righteous God. The Christian receives salvation only through the blood of Jesus Christ, who was fully God (Romans 1:4) and fully man (Romans 1:3), who died physically on the cross for their sins, and was resurrected physically on the third day (Luke 24:39). This sacrifice is what allows Christians to go to Heaven, and rejection of this sacrifice causes non-Christians to go to Hell.

After just reading the definitions you may have a good idea as to what the problem is with the statement "Holiness or Hell," but I'll complete the argument just to be sure you fully understand. 

Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast." Romans 3:23-24 says, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."

Later, Paul says in Romans 6:1-2, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" Matthew 1:21 says of Jesus, "... for he shall save his people from their sins." Paul here was saying that a life of holiness should be the result of turning to God. We should be more Christ-like as a result of our salvation. 

James Henley Thornwell said, "Hence, it is perfectly ridiculous to represent works as conditions of salvation, since the ability and disposition to perform good works are blessings which we receive from our Savior in fulfillment of his office as Redeemer. Holiness is a benefit received, and not a price paid; it is our meetness for heaven, not our title to it." 

Whichever definition of holiness you may hold, it becomes obvious that Salvation is a necessary prerequisite to holiness, as well as the prerequisite for going to Heaven. Since salvation is the prerequisite for going to Heaven, then not-salvation, or rejection, is the prerequisite for going to Hell. Holiness is the eventual and progressive earthly outcome of salvation, but not a choice against which is the eventuality of Hell. Salvation is the opposite of Hell.

If you subscribe to definition 1 of holiness, you place all of the emphasis on denomination, behaviors, and appearances, with no mention of salvation. Thus, "Go to this church and appear like them or Hell." Alternately, if you subscribe to definition 2 of holiness, you place the emphasis on a requirement which, alone, cannot be met, again with no mention of the salvation. Thus, "Get sanctified or Hell." Salvation of the lost should always be the foremost goal of any form of evangelism. In either definition, "Holiness or Hell" fails to even mention salvation - neither as a prerequisite, nor to even imply its importance.

Unfortunately, "Salvation or Hell" just doesn't have the same ring to it. In light of this, I would like to propose a time-tested replacement, "Turn or Burn." (Just kidding!) Honestly, I'm not fond of any of these little catchy phrases. Either they end up sounding good, but are theologically and logically unsound, or they get a negative response because they typically end up plastered on the same cars that have all the wrong and hateful bumper stickers.

In my experience, the best way to reach out to the lost is to talk to them, and explain the Gospel to them. Tell them of your experience of salvation, and what a difference it has made in your life. We are the living, breathing testimony of God's love, mercy, and grace. We shouldn't need catchy phrases or bumper stickers to spread the Gospel.