I was watching television this evening and during one of the exchanges between two of the participants, one called the other a liar and said that she would “end up in hell.” The response was, “yes, probably, but I’ll see so many of my friends there…” Both parties laughed. And that’s the sad part of it. It was obvious that neither person really believed in hell, or even heaven for that matter.
Although I get many kinds of questions as a pastor or theologian, one that is near the top of the list is the request to explain hell. These questions come from some pretty unlikely sources. And almost everyone who asks me about the subject seems to have some pre-conceived idea in their mind of how they think God would weigh in on the answer. But before we can discuss what constitutes spending eternity in hell, we would be well served to understand what it takes to spend eternity in heaven – with God.
So back to the basics… If someone believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God – meaning that He is fully God and fully human – that person is considered “saved” – having accepted Jesus Christ as his/her Lord and Savior. That constitutes what we call salvation – meaning that the work of Jesus on the cross and His subsequent resurrection have cleared the way for us to spend eternity with God in heaven. And that eternal life begins when we profess our belief in Christ – not when we “die” in the physical sense of the word.
So what about those people who can’t or don’t want to make that profession of faith? Well, they would not enjoy the fruits of eternal life with God the Father and His Son. And that means that they would/will be eternally separated from God. That eternal separation from God is what most theologians would refer to as hell. Hell, as recounted in the Bible, is a real place from which there is no return. It is the environment of the damned – those people who chose not to make a decision for Christ during their physical lifetime.
Now before anybody gets too amped up about my directness on this subject, in fairness to the opposition there are many different opinions on the interpretation of the Scripture. For example, my Universalist friends believe that God the Father is divine, but that Jesus started out as a man and has a human form, but is not God. Their view of the situation is that God, who is a God of love and peace, would never subject people to the burning abyss we refer to as hell. In other words, God will, in the last minute, commute the sentences of those who would be banished to hell and let them spend eternity in heaven. After all, isn’t this what a loving God is all about? But according to John, the writer of the Gospel of the same name, as well as Revelation and 3 epistles, these folks would not pass the litmus test for belief in the deity of Jesus – and that means they would not make the biblical standard for salvation.
And what about our Jewish friends and others who do not profess a faith in Christ? Well, the Scripture clearly tells us that some day the Jewish remnant will come to a saving belief in the Son of God. In fact, if you are familiar with the ministry of Peter the apostle, as well as James, the brother of Jesus and some of the other disciples, their mission was to the Jewish community in an attempt to convert them to Christianity. And some of the apostles were incredibly learned men – Paul for example, who is regarded as one of the most educated men in the entire Jewish nation. And let’s not forget that Jesus was Jewish… Which begs the question, and I don’t mean to be flippant – was Christ a Christian? Of course He was – in fact, the first one…
And then we have all the other forms of belief – or non-belief, as is the case with atheists. But the Bible clearly states that the test for entrance to heaven is belief in Jesus as the Son of God – no tricks, no crossed fingers, just straight forward belief in what seems to be something impossible from our human perspective. And if you don’t believe that, then the Bible would indicate that you’re headed in the other direction. Quite honestly, many folks just don’t know what to believe. After all, it’s a tough topic to discuss and it can sound incredibly judgmental. In fact, even Billy Graham has taken the stance that nobody on this earth knows for sure what God will do – after all, it’s all up to Him. I agree with Rev. Graham’s statement. But what we can teach is what the Bible says – and by this time, you already know what that is.
The verse for tonight is an admonishment to be concerned about the power of God relative to the power of men. In other words, don’t live to please people – live to please God. In Matt. 10:28, Jesus tells us, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
My encouragement tonight is to let you know that God wants you to believe in Him and in His Son, Jesus Christ. If you have already made this decision, great. If you haven’t, my prayer is that you will consider the evidence and make a decision that will allow you to spend eternity with God the Father and His Son. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…