Last summer, I heard a pastor (not mine) say that everyone is a child of God. This same pastor believes that everyone who does not trust in Jesus as their Savior and Lord will spend eternity in hell; in other words, he believes that the Lord will send most of His “children” to hell.
As always, we need to examine what we hear and read through the lens of Scripture. The first thing I thought of when I heard what this pastor said was the passage where Jesus said that the Jews of His day who did not believe in Him were children of Satan. Let’s take a closer look. In John 8:41, the Jews said, “‘The only Father we have is God himself.'” (If you read earlier in the same chapter, you will see that they put their confidence in the fact that they were physical descendants of Abraham.) Three verses later, Jesus says, ‘”You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.'” These words of Jesus are very plain.
Let’s also look at a couple of verses that define who a child of God is. John 1:12 says, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Galatians 3:26-27 says, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” These verses make it very clear that there is a condition for being a child of God: those who put their faith in Christ, who receive Him and believe in Him, are His children.
Let’s contrast the words of the pastor who believes that everyone is a child of God, but that unbelievers will spend eternity in hell, with the words of some other people I know, who frankly seem to have a better understanding of this matter. My wife and I knew one of these people many years ago; she was a young seeker, meaning she was a genuine seeker of Biblical truth but not a Christian. One night she came over, very distraught because a good friend of hers had died; this friend was not a Christian, so our seeker’s question was whether her friend was now in hell. We told her that her friend might have put her faith in Jesus before she died, but that if she hadn’t, then sadly, yes, her friend was now in hell. This helped some, but she said that she couldn’t stand the idea of her friend being alone in that terrible place and that she wanted to join her there. While acknowledging her grief and her other feelings, we said that we wanted her to join us in heaven and urged her to put her faith in Jesus. She has since moved away, and we haven’t heard from her for some years, but we still pray that we will see her in heaven.
Another friend of ours recently came to faith in Jesus, and like our beloved seeker friend, she spoke about a relative who had died without knowing the Lord. She was initially distraught, but later, with remarkable insight, she realized that this relative would not want her to join her in hell. Implicit in her testimony was the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31; in verses 27 and 28, the rich man, now in hell, begs Abraham to send Lazarus (both are in heaven) to his five living brothers: “‘Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'” I’m not saying that every person in hell feels this way, but this very young believer had a maturity that many other “older” believers don’t seem to have.
A third person that we know has been a Christian for a long time. An acquaintance of hers had recently died, and she believed this acquaintance was now in hell because she had failed to tell her about Jesus. Well, if her acquaintance is one of God’s chosen ones, then she is in heaven, not hell, but it was good for our friend to understand that she should have shared the Gospel with her.
What do these three friends of ours have in common, and how does it relate to the belief of the pastor I mentioned at the outset? I believe it’s clear that all three of them implicitly understand that not everyone is a child of God and that hell is a horrible place of eternal torment; beyond the normal feeling of grief, that is at the heart of why they were so distraught about their friend or relative being in hell. Contrast that with the belief of the pastor who thinks that everyone is a child of God, and that God somehow loves them even in hell. He challenged his listeners to think about this situation: say you have a child who has not only strayed but who has said hateful things to you and that he never wants to see your face again; would you continue loving this child even if he never returned to you and reconciled with you? He said that God would, and does.
First of all, I don’t believe that the pastor’s “God would” answer is supported by Scripture. Beyond that, a fundamental problem is his almost cavalier, platitudinal attitude, in contrast to our three friends’ sobering understanding of the reality of hell; all three have an implicit understanding that hell, among other things, is the eternal, complete absence of God.
Why is this important? I have written previously about the dangerous teaching of Rob Bell, a universalist who believes that everyone will ultimately make it to heaven. (See especially https://keithpetersenblog.com/2020/06/11/does-god-love-everyone-part-2/.) Tony Campolo, a pastor and retired professor whose books I used to read, has also moved in the direction of believing that people have a “second chance” after death; this is bad enough, but I’m concerned that he will ultimately become a universalist, which again is dangerous not only for him but for those who read and listen to him. I have the same concern for the “God would” pastor.
As children of God, let’s test everything we hear by Scripture. If you are reading this and are not yet a true child of God, my prayer is that you will come to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.