Disclaimer: This was originally written as a paper so it is lengthy. It is also written to followers of Christ. If you are not a follower of Christ, this paper will be particularly difficult to read, and you will probably have concerns and objections, as well as questions. I would love to talk with you personally and privately.
Hell is Real and People Really Go There
Hell is Real. We know this. But we really do not like to think about this. Sure, we may give it a passing thought, but we don’t like to hang out here because it’s pretty upsetting. At least it should be.
I have recently been reminded of the reality of Hell upon the death of a dear old neighbor of mine. I can’t say for sure that she is in Hell because only the Lord knew her heart at the end, but based on what I knew of her up until a few months before her death, I would say that I have no assurance that she is in heaven. When I received news of her death by email from another neighbor I just threw my phone (with email open) to Ben, and ran upstairs and collapsed on the floor and began weeping. This reaction wouldn’t make sense unless I had a biblical worldview and believed what the Bible taught on Hell. She was in her 80s and of poor health so many would say “she was better off” or “in a better place”, but I knew that she would be better off and be in a better place here on earth unless she had made a confession of faith in Christ. Isn’t it interesting that we like to give one another false comfort upon the news of people dying? As if all of a sudden people are magically whisked to heaven regardless of their faith in Christ. We see this a lot with unbelievers, but I believe that believers can be guilty of this too. We like to hope that all of our loved ones place their faith in Christ in their last moments, and while we can never know for sure, we do know that many in this world will die without turning to Christ.
The truth is that many people are not “better off” or “in a better place”, but rather that they are in a place of eternal torment and destruction with no hope of escape. This is the reality for many. The path is wide that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14). Many we know will take this path. I have many family members and close friends that are heading down this path that leads to destruction. Unless they repent and place their faith in Christ they will suffer eternally in Hell. Maybe for you it is your grandmother, a sibling, a parent, close friends, or a neighbor. Whoever it is, does it bring tears to your eyes to think about them being in Hell? Does it affect you? Paul says that it caused him “unceasing anguish” to think about his fellow Jews being eternally separated from God. He said that he wished he could be accursed from God if it would bring them to salvation. (Romans 9:1-3). When was the last time you had unceasing anguish for lost loved ones? When was the last time you wept for the lost?
“ I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh,” Romans 9:1-3
If I am honest with myself I have to admit I do not have enough compassion for the lost. There are times in my life when I weep and feel anguish for lost loved ones, but it isn’t nearly enough. I have been guilty of sweeping Hell under the rug, so to speak, when sharing with unbelievers. It is almost as if I am embarrassed to talk about it. But Jesus was not embarrassed to talk about it. Just a quick read through the gospels and you will see that Jesus spoke about Hell and eternal destruction frequently, as did the authors of the epistles. I encourage you to read these verses in context, study footnotes, study the original language, read commentaries on these passages, etc.
But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death. Revelation 21:8
They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. 2 Thessalonians 1:9
So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 13:49-50
The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 13:41-42
And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them,according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:13-14
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:21-23
Hell isn’t fun to think about. We don’t want to think about loved ones and friends suffering eternally and separated from Christ. We don’t want to think about never seeing them again..so we don’t. When thoughts of Hell come to our mind we may try to just quickly replace those thoughts with something else. Or we might try to give ourselves unbiblical comfort with some sort of universalist teaching. “Well, God is loving and gracious, so maybe there isn’t actually a Hell. Maybe it isn’t as bad as we think. Maybe there will be another chance at the end for people to accept Christ. Maybe people don’t actually suffer forever.” While I would love to believe any of these things, there is no biblical basis for such thinking. I will admit that I hate the idea of Hell just as much as the next person, and I wish I could some how just believe enough to erase it, but this is just not going to happen. I have decided that whether I like it or not, I have to face the truth of Scripture head on and wrestle through it. I then have to live according to it. God is God, and I am not.
I’ve studied on Hell in the past in the sense that I have read the entire bible through and I have listened to the famous sermon by Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. But I have never extensively studied on Hell until now. Now my definition of “extensive” is based on being a busy stay at home mom, so it includes me reading the Francis Chan book called Erasing Hell, reading Heaven and Hell by Donnelly, and listening to some sermons on Hell by various respected pastors and teachers, as well as studying bible passages on Hell. As I’ve studied I have to face the reality that there is indeed a Hell and people actually go there.
Now, lest you think this paper is all fire and brimstone, God is absolutely loving. I hope and pray that we all know this. I am also very guilty of forgetting about God’s amazing love to me in Christ. Christ’s love should compel us to share with others the glorious gospel. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 says, “For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.” Christ’s obedience to his Father was motivated by love as He suffered and died for our sins. We must remember Christ’s love and Christ’s love for us must be what compels us. If we are truly in love with Christ then telling others about Him will just be a natural overflow as we share about the ultimate love of our life. Could it be that if our love for the lost has run cold, then maybe we have forgotten how loved we are by Christ? Maybe we’ve forgotten that we are “sinful and flawed, yet loved and welcomed”(Tim Keller). Reread Ephesians 1 and bask in all that you are if you are IN CHRIST, and then pray that His love would compel you to share the gospel with others.
Let’s look at a couple other passages that I pray would impel obedience in evangelism in my own heart and also in yours.
“Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:20-21
We are Christ’s ambassadors and representatives that He has sent out into the world with His gospel message. Notice the word “pleading.” Just think about that word for a minute. Imagine what it means to truly plead with someone. Another word that I think of is “beg”. I then automatically think of my very persistent children begging for something they want very badly. Do we plead with unbelievers to investigate Christ? Do we beg them to consider Christ and follow Him? Another word this passage uses is “implore”. Implore means to “petition with urgency; to entreat; to beg.” Do we petition with urgency our lost loved ones to consider Christ? Do we tell them about the one who knew no sin, yet became sin for us, so that we could have Christ’s righteousness? Do we tell them about the great love of the One that did this? And do we tell them of the reason for the urgency?
What is the reason for the urgency anyway? We all may know this, but I think until we are surrounded by death it becomes easy to forget that we truly are just like dust (Genesis 3:19). We are like the flowers of the field, that are here one day and gone the next (1 Peter 1:24, Psalm 103). We never know when our last day is. The person we encounter at the store or in the park, at our workplace or in our neighborhood, at the family reunion, or even in our own home-- we do not know when their last day is. (For that matter, we do not know our last day either.) If they are not a believer and follower of Christ eternal destruction awaits them. This is why there is a sense of urgency. Granted, this may not mean that you share with each person you encounter, but it could. It at least means that we seek to be obedient to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and share the words that God puts on our heart with those He burdens us for. He is Sovereign and Good and He can work in our hearts to share with those He desires, but we must be walking by the Spirit in obedience to His promptings, and have our eyes open to these opportunities.
Another reminder that the Lord is using to comfort my heart with my dear old neighbor’s passing is that He is Sovereign. Not only is He Sovereign, but He is Good. He is good even when it doesn’t feel like He is good when I think about the fact that my neighbor may be in Hell. But He is good. He doesn’t desire that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9), and He is loving toward all that He made (Psalm 145). Jesus won’t lose any that the Father has given him(John 10:28-29) and He pursues with an unrelenting passion His lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7). His grace is so absolutely amazing that it is irresistible to those He is calling. I will admit that I don’t have all this Sovereignty and Human Responsibility stuff all figured out. Even minds much smarter than mine can’t explain it in a way that our finite minds can understand, for God’s thoughts and ways are much higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). Scripture teaches both, and at the end of the day I have to be okay with not understanding exactly how it all works together. Once again, He is God and I am not.
This relates to evangelism in that He will not lose His sheep in the end. He won’t lose a single one that the Father has given him. Even when we are disobedient to the Spirit’s promptings and the Lord’s burdenings to share with certain people, the Lord will make sure all of His chosen ones are rescued one way or another. But at the very same time the Bible is full of passages like the ones above and several others commanding us to share the gospel and to take this good news into all of the earth. We are somehow part of His Sovereign plan of evangelism and He delights in using imperfect missionaries for His glory. Romans 10:14-17 says,
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?[c] And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
This passage in Isaiah makes me view feet a little bit differently ;) when it says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Don’t you want to have beautiful feet that bring good news? I pray the Lord will continue to grow my desire for this.
This next passage from Matthew is one that is taught and preached pretty frequently. I love how it says, “when Jesus saw them.” If you had told me six years ago that the Lord was going to give me a burden and compassion for widows I would have never believed you. I knew the Bible placed an importance on taking care of widows but I didn’t really know any. Then I married Ben and we lived on a block that was full of widows. God softened my heart towards these women as I got to know them, and I loved them intensely with the love of Christ. I saw them first, and then God grew my compassion for them. Matthew 9:35-38 says, “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.”” We have to be willing to see the people we encounter in their spiritual state. Even if they seem to have their lives completely put together and to be in no apparent need of anything, the condition of their soul is that of harassed and helpless sheep without a shepherd. I pray that the Lord would give us all eyes of compassion and a willingness to realize that everywhere we go we have the opportunity to be laborers in His harvest.
Of course there is the Great Commission passage in Matthew 28:18-20 that reads:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
I believe this is a passage that most in evangelical churches have heard several times. I know I always need the reminder to heed this command and to pray and seek wisdom from the Lord for how to live it out in this season of my life. For example, all of this talk about having a burden for the lost and sharing the gospel and making disciples seemed to come more naturally in college as I was constantly surrounded by other college students that needed Christ. These things were always on my mind and heart. But as a stay at home mom who mostly sees just my children, it can be hard to keep a lost and dying world on my heart. I am realizing that it is much harder to be intentional and to seek to befriend and reach out to others that may not know Christ. I pray that although my time may be limited, that I would seek to use the little time I do have to be a witness to the gospel of Christ in my friendships and with anyone I may encounter. As I am a stay at home mom how can I make disciples and seek to share the gospel? As a full time employee or retired person or college student, how can you seek to make disciples as you go through life? (I hope it goes without saying that I realize my first priority is to share Jesus with the three little lost people in my home, but this doesn’t exempt me from other forms of ministry to other unbelievers).
I do pray that you have been reminded of the reality of hell. It is not simply a biblical doctrine to defend, but the destiny of countless people. I pray that as we meditate on Christ’s great love for us in bearing the wrath of God that we deserve, that we would be compelled to share the love of Christ with others. I pray we would feel the urgency of warning people of the judgment and suffering that awaits them if they do not repent and place their faith in Christ. I pray we would seek to understand as best as our finite and imperfect minds can, that God is the one that saves, but that He delights in using us. Isn’t is amazing to think that it could be said of us that we are, “servants through whom you believed”, but yet to remember that it is ultimately God who does the saving?
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labour. For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building. 1 Corinthians 3:5-9
Let me draw to a close by sharing with you a dream that Amy Carmichael (a missionary to India) shares:
“The tom-toms thumped straight on all night and the darkness shuddered round me like a living, feeling thing. I could not go to sleep, so I lay awake and looked; and I saw, as it seemed, this:
That I stood on a grassy sward, and at my feet a precipice broke sheer down into infinite space. I looked, but saw no bottom; only cloud shapes, black and furiously coiled, and great shadow-shrouded hollows, and unfathomable depths. Back I drew, dizzy at the depth.
Then I saw forms of people moving single file along the grass. They were making for the edge. There was a woman with a baby in her arms and another little child holding on to her dress. She was on the very verge. Then I saw that she was blind. She lifted her foot for the next step . . . it trod air. She was over, and the children over with her. Oh, the cry as they went over!
Then I saw more streams of people flowing from all quarters. All were blind, stone blind; all made straight for the precipice edge. There were shrieks, as they suddenly knew themselves falling, and a tossing up of helpless arms, catching, clutching at empty air. But some went over quietly, and fell without a sound.
Then I wondered, with a wonder that was simply agony, why no one stopped them at the edge. I could not. I was glued to the ground, and I could only call; though I strained and tried, only whisper would come.
Then I saw that along the edge there were sentries set at intervals. But the intervals were too great; there were wide, unguarded gaps between. And over these gaps the people fell in their blindness, quite unwarned; and the green grass seemed blood-red to me, and the gulf yawned like the mouth of hell.
Then I saw, like a little picture of peace, a group of people under some trees with their backs turned toward the gulf. They were making daisy chains. Sometimes when a piercing shriek cut the quiet air and reached them, it disturbed them and they thought it a rather vulgar noise. And if one of their number started up and wanted to go and do something to help, then all the others would pull that one down. “Why should you get so excited about it? You must wait for a definite call to go! You haven’t finished your daisy chain yet. It would be really selfish,” they said, “to leave us to finish the work alone.”
There was another group. It was made up of people whose great desire was to get more sentries out; but they found that very few wanted to go, and sometimes there were no sentries set for miles and miles of the edge.
Once a girl stood alone in her place, waving the people back; but her mother and other relations called and reminded her that her furlough was due; she must not break the rules. And being tired and needing a change, she had to go and rest for awhile; but no one was sent to guard her gap, and over and over the people fell, like a waterfall of souls.
Once a child caught at a tuft of grass that grew at the very brink of the gulf; it clung convulsively, and it called-but nobody seemed to hear. Then the roots of the grass gave way, and with a cry the child went over, its two little hands still holding tight to the torn-off bunch of grass. And the girl who longed to be back in her gap thought she heard the little one cry, and she sprang up and wanted to go; at which they reproved her, reminding her that no one is necessary anywhere; the gap would be well taken care of, they knew. And then they sang a hymn.
Then through the hymn came another sound like the pain of a million broken hearts wrung out in one full drop, one sob. And a horror of great darkness was upon me, for I knew what it was-the Cry of the Blood.
Then thundered a voice, the voice of the Lord. “And He said, ‘What hast thou done, The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.’”
The tom-toms still beat heavily, the darkness still shuddered and shivered about me; I heard the yells of the devil-dancers and weird, wild shriek of the devil-possessed just outside the gate.
What does it matter, after all? It has gone on for years; it will go on for years. Why make such a fuss about it?
God forgive us! God arouse us! Shame us out of our callousness! Shame us out of our sin!”
Please feel free to pass this along as you see fit, but do not alter the content in any way.
Resources for further study and reference:
- On Hell
- Erasing Hell by Francis Chan (Although originally a rebuttal to Rob Bell, this book is a great defense of the biblical teaching of Hell. It is thoroughly researched and approached with a reverence for God and a deep compassion for unbelievers. It is a short and easy read for your average layperson).
- Cole Huffman series on Hell
- On Evangelism/Passion for the Lost
- Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer
- Out of the Salt Shaker and Into the World by Rebecca Pippert
- Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman
- Jesus’ Passion for the Lost by John MacArthur
- Twin Truths: God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility by John MacArthur
- Gospel Tracts