Subject: Objective Morality: How to end up in hell
Luke 18:11-12 ‘God, thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’
“Is homosexuality a sin? Are they going to hell?” Pastor Tim Keller, of Redeemer Church in New York City, fielded these questions from Professor David Eisenbach during a live Q&A session at Columbia University. Keller’s answer to the first question: “Yes.” But then Keller really grabbed the audience’s attention with his answer to the second question: “You don’t go to hell for being homosexual.” Being confused by this, Eisenbach followed up: “But committing homosexual acts will get you to go to hell … doing gay stuff?” Keller then made it easy for him and the audience to get his point: “No, first of all heterosexuality does not get you to heaven, I happen to know this, so how in the world can homosexuality send you to hell?
America today has gradually lost its moral compass, to where today we cannot recognize sin. Just look at how we have redefined morality to remove any reference to God. In Webster’s 1828 dictionary, ‘moral’ is defined as “actions that are good or evil, virtuous or vicious, and has reference to the law of God as the standard by which their character is to be determined.” Over 150 years later, Webster’s 1990 edition no longer defines morals by biblical standards: “living in accordance with an established set of principles of right or wrong conduct; capable of recognizing and then conforming to such principles.”
Pastor RC Sproul explains that the objective standard of the Bible has been replaced by what he calls ‘statistical morality’: “Morality looks at the verb ‘IS’. Ethics looks at the word ‘OUGHT’. The distinction has been obscured in our day. People use the term ‘morality’ and ethics as synonyms. That leads to statistical morality. We go around the nation seeing what people are DOING (‘is’), rather than seeing if what they are doing conforms to what they OUGHT to be doing (example: if statistics show that cheating on your spouse has become a common practice, then the ethics of fidelity to your spouse is replaced by an acceptable moral practice of adultery). So ‘good’ ends up being determined by what IS instead of what OUGHT to be.”
So when Eisenbach said “But committing homosexual acts will get you to go to hell … doing gay stuff?”, Keller explained that while God clearly calls out homosexuality as a sin against Him, anyone who ends up in hell isn’t there because of what they have done. If that was the case, everyone, including Christians, will end up in hell because everyone has done acts that have violated God’s objective moral standards.
So how does someone end up in hell? Our verse this week is from a parable in Luke 18:9-14, and the first verse gives the answer away: “He (Jesus) spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.” Did you catch that? Jesus is about to tell a story about people who justify themselves as ‘good’ by their own standards, so they don’t need God to forgiven them for their sin.
The first character in the parable is a Pharisee. By strictly obedience to the laws, he believes that God commends him as morally superior to others. He even tells God in his prayer how well he is doing: “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.” What is amazing is that there is no other group Jesus openly confronts more, as being unrighteous and deserving of hell, than the Pharisees, that culture’s church leaders! So clearly, avoiding hell isn’t based on one’s performance to God’s objective standards.
The second character in the parable is a tax collector. If you understand who a tax collector was, surely Jesus would portray him as ending up in hell. They were the most despised group in Israel. Yet in verse 14, Jesus says it’s the tax collector who goes back to his house justified by God. How can the tax collector be on his way to heaven, while the church leader (Pharisee) is on his way to hell?
Jesus explains that the tax collector makes no attempt to approach God based on the merits of his lifestyle. Instead, the tax collector humbles himself before God and utters one simple request: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ The tax collector has come to terms with who God is, and who he is. And he has made a conscious choice to approach God on God’s terms, not by his own subjective standards of right or wrong.
This is the consistent message throughout the Bible. In 600BC, Jeremiah said the same: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord. But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord.” (Jeremiah 17:5,7). To avoid hell, humble yourself before God and ask Him to forgive you through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on your behalf. It is that simple.