Whose testimony should you believe? A man in Hell or one in Paradise?

by Ed Elliott

I am often amazed at how many people follow the advice of someone in Hell instead of someone in God’s presence. You are probably wondering what I am talking about.

Two men in two very different places

In Luke 16: 19–31, we have the well-known story of two men who died and went to two very different places. One ended up in a place of torment; the other came to rest in Abraham’s bosom, Paradise. Between each place was a large expanse. Lazarus was a poor beggar but he believed in God. The other person is only identified as being a rich man. There is never a mention of his name and there is a reason for this that I will explain later. The rich man sees the former beggar in Paradise and asks Father Abraham as an act of mercy to send Lazarus over to just place a drop of cool water on his heat tormented tongue. Now, here is where the story gets interesting. Abe tells the tormented rich man that the gap between them is too great and far to be traveled and explains that while he was wealthy and lived in abundance, Lazarus was poor and suffered and didn’t have the wealth and luxuries the rich man had once possessed. Lazarus begged at the gate of the rich man but it was the dogs who got the scraps not Lazarus. Those same dogs comforted Lazarus by licking his wounds. The picture here is the dogs showed Lazarus more compassion than the rich man. This speaks to the fact that the rich man’s life was devoid of love and compassion; two characteristics that people who know God possess.

“Let me go back and warn them about HELL”

Finally, the rich man had one final request for Father Abraham. He asked if he could go back and warn his brothers about Hell? Abraham’s response is very telling and loaded with wisdom. He told the rich man that his brothers have access to what Moses wrote and everything the prophets had said and that was more than sufficient to help them avoid Hell if they choose to believe. Abe went on to tell the rich man that it would not matter if a person came back from the dead to warn them about Hell, they still would not believe them. What is fascinating about Abraham’s response to the rich man is that it goes cross grain to a lot of theology we hear today that teaches we must warn people about Hell and if we don’t we are not preaching the full gospel. It appears Abraham didn’t believe warning people to avoid Hell would help them avoid Hell. So how does a person avoid Hell? First, let’s look at Lazarus who was in Paradise with Abraham. He was a believer; Paradise wasn’t a place for perfect or sinless people, it was a place for righteous people. Salvation has always been based on righteousness and righteousness has always been based on believing God is a good God. Abraham wasn’t perfect, he had many flaws and at times didn’t always obey God as quickly as he should. One time, to protect his own skin he pimped his wife out to the king. You see it has never been about how good we are or have been that saved us but trusting in God’s goodness for us. God credited Abraham with righteousness because Abe believed in a good God. Today, when we believe in Jesus we are not “credited” with righteousness, we are “made” righteous.

Fear vs Faith

Israel wasn’t saved by keeping the “Law” because no one could keep it except Jesus. Israel was saved by “believing” in the coming Messiah. Today, we are saved by believing in the Messiah who has come. The common denominator for us and Israel is our faith in a good God. Abraham told the rich man his brothers wouldn’t believe even if they saw someone come back from the dead and warn them. The reason is that the fear of Hell will not produce faith in God. Fear can’t give birth to faith. In fact, 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.”

All scripture points to Jesus

Abraham said they have what Moses said, which is the first five books of the bible, and all that the prophets have said as well, which pretty much completes the Old Testament. Why is this significant? Because Jesus said “all” the scriptures spoke of Him (John 5:39). Faith is birthed in our heart when we know or hear about Him.

The rich man never concerned himself with knowing the promise of a Messiah but Lazarus did. Abraham made it crystal clear to the rich man, by telling him your brothers can avoid Hell if they believe what Moses and the prophets said. Simply put, salvation comes by faith.

Lack of compassion reveals no knowledge of God

The rich man never showed any compassion towards Lazarus who begged daily at his gates. This lack of love and compassion was evidence he did not know God. Which means he did not believe in what Moses and the prophets had said. If he had, he would have been in Abraham’s bosom like Lazarus. The reason we don’t know his name is because the Bible teaches his name was blotted out of the book of life because when he died he didn’t know the Lord. (Revelation 3:5)

Knowing Jesus is salvation

The rich man wanted to be an evangelist with a flawed theology of believing that warning people about Hell is how they can avoid it. Abraham understood that it wasn’t the knowledge of Hell that would save people but the knowledge of the One who would come to save them. Fear will never give birth to faith in a person’s heart; all fear can do is modify a person’s behavior but only love can change their heart. God isn’t interested in modified behavior but changed hearts. As for me, I am going to stick to Abraham’s wisdom in helping people avoid Hell by helping them know how good and loving the Lord is.

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