This guest post is from my good friend and spiritual mentor, Jonathan Smith. I met Jonathan when he was the head of the theology department at Colorado Christian University (then Western Bible College) and I was a student. Jonathan is one of a handful of men who poured into my life so deeply that it made a permanent impact in how I do both life and ministry.
Hell is a thought provoking subject and Jonathan is a thought provoking teacher. With this in mind I hope this article stretches your thinking and solidifies your theology when it comes to the sobering and challenging subject of hell. My prayer is that you get a resurgence of urgency in your evangelistic efforts as a result of reading this article from my mentor and friend.
“Go to hell!” One person has often been heard saying these harsh words to another in the heat of an argument. The speaker may not even believe that there is a hell. Yet the Bible reveals that hell is a real place and that many, perhaps millions, will be there in overwhelming pain forever and ever.
But what causes a person to go to hell when they die? What is it that is so heinous that it will cause a person to be cast into the torment of hell forever?
Would lying do it? What about sexual sins? Surely murder of another human being would qualify! “Surely Hitler went to hell,” many people would affirm. They are shocked by the millions of people killed by the ruthless German dictator during his brief lifetime. No doubt most people have a point at which they would say another person would go to hell because of all their evil deeds.
Lying can be mild to severe. Abraham lied about his wife on two different occasions. His lies were severe, putting Sarah in a position where she could be sexually involved with two powerful men. However, we are assured from Scripture that Abraham is in heaven. Thus, lying is not enough to condemn one to hell forever.
Sexual sins are much more serious. Perhaps they meet the requirement to be judged in hell forever. David had sexual relations, not with some woman off the street, but with a woman married to one of his soldiers. This was bad enough, but then David committed an even greater sin and had his sexual partner’s husband murdered. Will these evil deeds of the King of Israel assure that his eternity will be spent in hell? No, for when we study the Bible we see that not only is David in heaven, but he will have a place of leadership in God’s future plans.
The Word of God makes it evident that lying, sexual sins, or even murder are not reason enough to cause a person to suffer horrible pain forever separated from God in hell. Certainly God hates these and all other sins, but they are not the basis on which he condemns someone to hell.
Is Hitler in hell because he killed twenty people? Maybe a thousand or millions? Most people believe that even God has a “red line.” Cross it, and you are zapped forever. I, too, believe that God has a “red line.” But what is God’s “red line”? Let’s let God speak for Himself.
“Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever
does not believe stands condemned already because he has
not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
– John 3:18
We could say that God has two “red lines.” The one who believes in God’s Son crosses the first “red line” and receives eternal life. They are not, nor will they ever be, condemned.
However, the second “red line” is crossed when one does not believe in God’s One and Only Son. This person stands condemned because of not believing, and perishes.
Thus, one goes to heaven by faith in God’s Son who died in his/her place. Hopefully, thousands upon thousands of good works will follow in the wake of faith. However, these good works are not to help faith along or to prove that this faith is genuine. Rather, they are a way of saying “Thanks” to God for His undeserved gift of salvation.
The harder part for most to accept is the Biblical fact that people go to hell because they have not believed in God’s Son who died for them. Unfortunately, thousands upon thousands of evil works will follow in the wake of unbelief, but it is not these works, but unbelief, that is the condemning factor.
Do we get it? One goes to heaven by belief in God’s One and Only Son who died in his/her place. One goes to hell by unbelief in God’s One and Only Son who died in his/her place. Unbelief is the one sin that condemns one to hell forever. Unbelief is basically calling God a liar about His Son’s death for sinners, so that is the condemning sin.
Think of it! You need not go to hell if you believe what God says about the Son He loves and who loves you. Believing in Him will place you in His presence for eternity!
Jonathan S. Smith