Whenever we talk about hell, or whenever we hear others talk about it, the atmosphere becomes very uncomfortable! There are certain things it is not seemly to discuss. Hell is one of them. It is an unwelcome beast. This is understandable!
Part of the problem is that there is a great deal of emotion linked with this subject. Objectivity is hard. By way of illustration: Think about double standards in our driving. When we cut someone up on the road we are performing a daring, yet perfectly safe and skilful manoeuvre. When someone cuts us up he is a no-good life-endangering imbecile who should have his licence taken away permanently!
We all believe in judgement. It's just a question of who should be judged and how. Jesus wept over the lost ness of the world around him
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it
Jesus believed in hell.
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.
He gave up his very life to try and prevent people from ending up there. He took the issue seriously.
1) Sin is slavery
What is it that sends someone to hell? The Bible says that it is sin. What is sin? One definition: "Sin is making something other than God our ultimate value and worth."
Anything that we make more valuable than God will become our focus. For example, if we love our job more than God we are putting it at the centre of our lives. What happens then? Everything in life gets out of proportion. Relationships suffer (especially marriage and children), our health suffers (stress, heart attacks etc.), and our selfish ambition ultimately leads us to loneliness, bitterness and anger. Whatever we give ourselves to (job, sport, relationships, hobbies, laziness) takes us over and will drive us to hell.
To paraphrase C. S. Lewis: "We become the sin which at first we could see as a distinct entity from ourselves, but after giving ourselves over to it we become it and this inevitably lands us in hell."
16 Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey--whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?
17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted.
18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
19 I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.
20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.
21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!
22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Somewhere along the line every man and woman chooses between sin and good. As we live we engage more and more in that sin or less.
The Bible is so condemning of sin because it turns our lives into a living "hell" which inevitably leads to spiritual hell after death. This is the place we have chosen to go to. A place inhabited by self-addicted sin-junkies who desire no other abode. God does not want us here, but we have insisted on this destination. God has no choice but to allow us our freedom of choice. It hurts him, but he cannot force us to do anything against our will if he truly loves us.
One thing we tend to forget is that some people simply do not want to go God's way. For him to force them would be unkind, un-loving and against what is just. Some deliberately choose hell, even if they don't realise the full consequences of what they are doing.
It's not as if God hasn't left us with enough warnings. Witness the many prophets, Jesus and the Bible itself - as well as what we can see so obviously in our world today. Sin is destructive and horrible. As someone once said: "Heaven would be Hell for those who didn't want to go there."
2. Tolerance is exclusive too
Why can't a good religious person, humanist, atheist etc. go to heaven (even though he or she doesn't believe it exists)? Surely God wants all people to go to heaven? He lets all kinds of "sinners" in according to the Bible. Look at King David (adulterer and murderer), the apostle Paul (Christian-killer) or even Moses (killer of an Egyptian). If he wants them in, why not let all in and be done with it. God should be more tolerant.
Don't forget, though, that we all believe in judgement (we want the thug who mugged and beat up Granny to be arrested, tried and jailed). We want tolerance as long as we think the person is "good enough". This is more exclusive than the Christian message.
We want to believe that in life we develop a good record and give it to God and then God owes us. If we do enough good deeds then God will owe us a reward. The truth is that God develops a good record and gives it to us and then we owe him.
For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."
We have been given the gift of life which we did not earn, work for or deserve. We have many good things in our lives which we take for granted (food, air to breath, senses with which to enjoy the world around us) - which again, we did not earn. The truth is that we have been ungrateful for the good that God has done and developed a bad record of our own with God by breaking his laws (laws put there for our benefit). In fact - we owe God!
In short - to say a good person can find God is to say good works are enough to find God. In other words, a good person can find God a bad person cannot - this is more exclusive than the Christian message.
What about grace?!
This says that it doesn't matter how bad you've been - God's goodness is enough for you! The message of the Cross is good news because it says that no matter how much sin you've done, God will accept you. The great news is that there is an alternative to hell for those who wish to find it.
3. There is no love without wrath
18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,
19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.
20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
A wrath-less God cannot be a loving God.
If we see someone we love mistreated in a serious way we do not feel indifference. In fact, the more we love someone the more we hate what is being done to that person. If a man hit our wife, we feel anger towards him We may struggle not to hate him, but we may fell OK about hating what he had done. As has been said: "The more a father loves his son, the more he hates in him the drunkard, the liar, the traitor."
And again: "God's wrath is not a cranky explosion, but his settled opposition to the cancer of sin which is eating out the insides of the human race he loves with his whole being"
God is able to do perfectly what we struggle to do. To hate the sin and not the sinner. If God loves us and is just, he will hate our sin. He will feel anger towards the things that destroy us (which the Bible calls sin). We end up destroying ourselves and making our own way to hell without the assistance of God or anyone else. God does not hate the individual, he hates the sin working within that person.
It is only because of the doctrine of judgement and hell that Jesus' proclamation of grace is so brilliant and astounding. Be encouraged that God loves us enough to
i) Warn us of the consequences of sin
ii) Allow us the choice
iii) Provide us with the rescue package for when we fail.
God loves us!