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How the 'Philosophy of Hell' Wants Us to Serve Jesus to Serve Ourselves


The Disney children’s series Muppet Babies chronicles the lives of the legendary Muppets during their toddler years. In a recent episode, Gonzo decided to cross-dress, going to a royal ball dressed as a girl. When he explained his decision later to his friends, one of them assured him, “You’re our friend, and we love you any way you are.”

In other news, a Russian woman is reportedly suing McDonald’s after claiming that seeing one of its cheeseburger commercials made her break her fast for Lent. She accused the fast-food chain of breaking consumer protection laws and insulting her religious feelings.

Right now, you might be thinking, “Surely there are more important stories in the news to discuss than these.” And you’re right.

For example, on this day in 1974, Richard M. Nixon became the first president in American history to resign. In other political news, Melissa DeRosa, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top aide, resigned from her role last night, a week after a state attorney general report found the governor had sexually harassed eleven women.

Why, then, did I begin today’s Daily Article as I did? Because I have been in ministry long enough to learn something about human nature: we are most interested in that which most affects us.

If we were discussing the resignation of the current president rather than an event that occurred nearly fifty years ago, that would obviously be different. If this Daily Article were written only for those in New York State, the order of news discussed would have changed.

The axiom on which "the whole philosophy of Hell rests"

In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis explains that “the whole philosophy of Hell rests on recognition of the axiom that one thing is not another thing, and, specially, that one self is not another self. My good is my good and your good is yours. What one gains another loses.”

Socrates (470–399 BC) taught us that the way to wisdom is to “know yourself.” Not “know God” or “know God’s word,” not “know your community” or “know your family.” From his day to ours, Western culture has focused on the individual as the centerpiece of reality.

The “philosophy of Hell” takes advantage of this existentialist worldview in two ways.

For non-Christians, the constant drumbeat of secular culture is that you don’t need Christ.

Personal authenticity is the path to flourishing, we’re told. Whether the subject is abortion or euthanasia, sexual orientation or gender identity, the message is the same: your body is yours to do with as you wish. So long as you’re not harming others (an assertion tragically overlooked by abortion advocates), you’re free to do what makes you happy.

Why, then, would anyone want to hear a message that insists we are sinners in need of salvation and calls us to repentance, contrition, and submission to God? Why dress up to go sing hymns and hear sermons at church? Since hell appears nowhere on our list of top fears, why not live and let live?

Or so our enemy would have us believe, right up to the day when it is too late to believe.

Satan’s strategy for Christians

For Christians, however, the devil’s strategy is somewhat different. If he cannot persuade us to reject Jesus, he’ll entice us to serve our Savior on our terms. It’s still all about us, it’s just that the “all” includes God, at least as a means to our end.

Go to church to “get something out of it.” Start your day with prayer and Bible study so God will bless you day. Give money to God so God will bless your money. This is how the “philosophy of Hell” wants us to serve Jesus to serve ourselves.

By contrast, the New Testament repeatedly and adamantly insists that the true Christian life is one Christ lives through us. We are his body (1 Corinthians 12:27), the temple of his Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). The “riches of the glory” of the gospel mystery is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

This is why we are to be “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20), to begin every day by yielding that day to the leading and empowering of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). Jesus literally wants to continue his earthly ministry through you and me. We are the visible extensions of his abiding presence in our world (Matthew 28:20).

Christians being empowered, led, and used by Christ is obviously the last thing the enemy wants. That’s why he works so hard to convince us that it’s all about us when it’s actually all about Jesus.

A brother willing to die for his sister

Why should we submit our lives to Christ that he might continue his ministry through us? Let’s close with two answers.

One: Jesus can do more in the world than we can. Every person you know needs a Great Physician, a Good Shepherd, an omnipotent Lord and King. When he works through us, everyone we serve benefits, in this life and the next.

Two: Jesus can do more with our lives than we can. He knows us better than we know ourselves and knows the very best way our lives can fulfill their eternal purpose with true significance. Submitting to Jesus doesn’t make us robots—it makes us partners with God. In an incarnationally mysterious yet very real way, he makes us more than we could otherwise be while using us for greater purposes than we could ever serve without him.

Here’s how you can know you can trust him with your life: he gave his life for you (Romans 5:8).

Last year, a then-six-year-old named Bridger Walker saw a German Shepherd charging at his younger sister, so he stood between her and the dog. He saved her but suffered extensive injuries to his face and head. A year later, Bridger is still recovering. He has a simple explanation for his bravery: “If someone had to die, I thought it should be me.”

Jesus died so you could live eternally. He would do it all over again, just for you.

How will you respond to such love today?

NOTE: One of the things I love most about God is that he isn’t afraid of hard questions. That means you and I shouldn’t be afraid of them, or their answers, either. That’s why I’ve written the ninth volume of my series Biblical Insight to Tough Questions. And it’s why I want to put a copy in your hands. Please request your copy today.

Publication date: August 9, 2021

Photo courtesy: ©GettyImages/Khosrork

Jim Denison, PhD, is a cultural theologian and the founder and CEO of Denison Ministries. Denison Ministries includes DenisonForum.org, First15.org, ChristianParenting.org, and FoundationsWithJanet.org. Jim speaks biblically into significant cultural issues at Denison Forum. He is the chief author of The Daily Article and has written more than 30 books, including The Coming Tsunamithe Biblical Insight to Tough Questions series, and The Fifth Great Awakening.

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.

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