On June 20, 2005, Larry King interviewed New York Times bestselling author and celebrity TV evangelist Joel Osteen. Here are a few key excerpts from that exchange:
King: What if you’re Jewish or Muslim, you don’t accept Christ at all?
Osteen: You know, I’m very careful about saying who would and wouldn’t go to heaven. I don’t know …
Later in the program, a Christian woman called in to follow up on this exchange. Osteen’s response was telling:
Caller: ….I’m wondering, though, why you sidestepped Larry’s earlier question about how we get to heaven? The Bible clearly tells us that Jesus is the way, the truth and the light and the only way to the father is through him [sic].…
Osteen: Yes, I would agree with her. I believe that …
King: So then a Jew is not going to heaven?
Osteen: No. Here’s my thing, Larry, is I can’t judge somebody’s heart.…
King: But for someone who doesn’t share it is wrong, isn’t he?
Osteen: Well, yes. Well, I don’t know if I look at it like that. I would present my way, but I’m just going to let [God] be the judge of that. I don’t know. I don’t know.…
The most recognized pastor in America has an opportunity to go on national television and share the gospel with millions of people, and keeps repeating I don’t know? Can you imagine the apostle Paul talking like that?
Contrary to what anyone might tell you, there is no ambiguity whatsoever regarding what happens to a person who dies without giving his or her life to Christ. Second Thessalonians shows us how the apostle Paul would have answered Larry King.
God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing ﬁre with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. (2 Thess. 1:6–9)
Let me highlight a few key phrases to help you fully grasp what Paul is saying.
“God Is Just”
Our spiritually tolerant culture has indoctrinated us to believe that “God is a loving God.” While it is true that God is love, He is equally a God of justice.
“He Will Punish”
Because God is a God of justice, He is just as concerned with inﬂicting judgment upon His creation when it sins as He is with loving it. This is absolutely counter to what many Christians believe, but this is what the Bible plainly teaches.
“Those Who Don’t Know God or Obey the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus”
Who will this just God punish? It’s very clear: those who have oﬀended His holy nature by their sin and failed to respond to His gracious oﬀer of forgiveness through His Son, Jesus. Current estimates put the worldwide population at roughly 7 billion people. Since a little more than 2 billion people claim to adhere to the Christian faith, this leaves 5 billion people alive today who are headed toward punishment.
“Punished with Everlasting Destruction”
How will this God punish these 5 billion people if they don’t become Christians before they die? God will punish them with eternal pain, hopelessness, meaningless, and despair. As one New Testament scholar translates this verse, “They will pay the penalty of eternal ruin.”
“Shut Out from the Presence of the Lord”
Finally, the worst part about this tragedy is that God will withdraw from those being punished—they will not feel His presence. After death all non-Christians will exist in a place where everything that God is—hope, love, goodness, joy, etc.—is completely absent.
I bring this up not to denigrate Joel Osteen, because despite this very public theological ﬁasco, I’m sure he’s doing some good things through his ministry. I bring this up as a wake-up call for all of us. Everyday Christians have an opportunity to inﬂuence two or three non-Christians—over a working lunch, while standing in line for a concert, during a Bible study. If we fail to present the biblical facts about a non-Christian’s spiritual status before God, we have failed in our most basic duty as Christ followers.
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