John A. Braun
C.S. Lewis wrote that he believed the damned are “rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside” (“Hell” from The Problem of Pain). Jesus tells us in the parable of the beggar Lazarus (Luke chapter 16) that the rich man wanted to warn his five brothers so they would not “come to this place of torment” (v. 28). The rich man was told that there was “a great chasm” so that no one could cross over from hell to heaven.
I don’t think that C. S. Lewis would disagree with the description of hell by Jesus, but Lewis makes a different point. He suggests that those who are in hell are rebels who have opposed God and always oppose God. Satan is the prime example. We don’t have to think too long for other examples. We know others who, at least in this life, have opposed Jesus, Christianity, and Christians without remorse. They have hearts locked from inside. The familiar painting of Jesus knocking at the door comes to mind. For them, the door is locked to prevent Jesus from entering.
Think about that a moment. David says that he was “sinful from birth” (Psalm 51:5). Paul describes us as “dead” (Ephesians 2:1). But what we have by birth is not just a passive defect. It’s an active opposition and rebellion against God. Paul also wrote, “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Romans 8:7). Hostile and rebellious. So in reality, our hearts were locked from the inside too. All hearts are by nature.
In the first chapter of Corinthians Paul writes of those whose hearts are locked. He suggests that the Gentiles think that the gospel is so much foolishness and the Jews think it is a stumbling block. His experiences remind us that culture does not matter. He experiences reveal opposition, imprisonment, and beatings from Jews and Gentiles. (See his summary in 2 Corinthians 11:24-26.)
Paul’s experiences are not just ancient oppositions to a new idea, oppositions that disappeared in the modern era. We also experience opposition. Some Christians in the world we know today have been shunned, beaten, imprisoned, and killed. Hearts are still locked. They are rebels, hostile to the God who has graciously provided forgiveness and eternal life through his Son Jesus and wants all to be saved.
But Paul was different, David was different, and so are we. Why? What happened to cause us to unlock our hearts? We have not decided to open our hearts to Jesus. By nature we, like everyone else, want the door to remain locked. Did we find some power within us to open our hearts? No!
Only one key can unlock a human heart. Paul clearly identified that key, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it the power of God that brings salvation” (Romans 1:16). The gospel is the key. It doesn’t come from inside of any of our hearts. It comes from outside when we are baptized or when we hear and read about Christ crucified. Then the Holy Spirit gives us the power to unbolt the lock of our rebellious and hostile hearts. His power unlocks our hearts, not ours. Once our hearts are unlocked, we understand that the message of Christ crucified is the wisdom of God.
Amazingly God entrusts that key to us to trust it, live it, and share it. In our experience that key won’t open every locked heart. Hostility will persist. But by his grace some will open their hearts to the message of Jesus.
John Braun is executive editor of the Forward in Christ magazine.
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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 105, Number 8
Issue: August 2018
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