The Reality of Hell :: by Howard Green

Where will you go when you die? The world is full of people who believe they will go to heaven. Tragically, churches are also full of people who believe they are going to heaven. The truth is….heaven is one of two possible places people go when someone dies. The other place many people go when they die is hell.

Let’s face a stark reality about our day. Hell is not a popular subject, but it’s one that demands our attention. Unfortunately it is a subject rarely discussed in churches today. That is a shame…given the eternal consequences and the reality of hell.

Matthew 25:45 “Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Let’s begin by looking at what the world thinks and what a majority of churches teach about the reality of hell. Then we’ll look at what the word of God tells us about hell and how our view of hell shapes the way we live and interact with others. The world has many false notions regarding hell and here are just a few ranging from pop-cultures view right down to the average Joe on the street.

Here are some common misconceptions:

“A loving God would never send people to a horrible place like that.”

“I don’t think I’ll go to hell because I’m a pretty good person…I believe I’ll go to heaven.”

Here are some quotes from famous people:

Bonnie Raitt: “Religion is for people who are scared to go to hell…spirituality is for people who have already been there.”

Mark Twain: “I don’t like to commit myself about heaven-hell, I have friends in both places.”

Katy Perry: “I don’t believe in a heaven or a hell, or an old man sitting on a throne. I believe in a higher power bigger than me because that keeps me accountable.”

ACDC “Highway to Hell” lyrics: “Goin’ down, party time…My friends are gonna be there too. I’m on the highway to hell. On the highway to hell. Highway to hell…I’m on the highway to hell.”

People have all sorts of false notions about hell. We have all seen the cartoons with the devil in his red tights and pitchfork prodding the cartoon character to get back to work. Some apostate teachings offer ways to avoid or dismiss the possibility of hell all together.

Roman Catholicism teaches that a sinful life can be remedied in a place called purgatory…a place the Word of God never mentions. This false teaching is deceiving many people by offering an alternative atonement for sins…an atonement other than the atonement Jesus Christ purchased for us on the cross.

I want to briefly mention the fact that hell is a subject that’s not being preached in a majority of churches today. Jesus spoke about hell and eternal punishment over forty times in the gospels. I don’t understand why hell…a reality of eternal consequences isn’t being widely preached or taught in many churches today. Especially, when the Lord Jesus Himself taught about hell so often.

Maybe it’s because hell isn’t a popular, isn’t a feel good message. Or it isn’t the kind of subject that we feel will keep visitors returning. Those notions fly in the face of what Jesus, the early church, and saints through the centuries have taught.

The message of judgment, hell, repentance, and atonement may not fill the largest section of the “Christian” bookstore or fill the largest churches, but that message is what matters for eternity. Many fellowships are ignoring subjects of eternal significance, focusing on seeker sensitive messages, and teaching a different gospel that is “me” focused…not Christ focused.

Churches aren’t supposed to be life enrichment centers, they are supposed to be places where people hear the undiluted gospel message. Here is what some teachers and evangelists from the past have said about the importance of teaching about hell; God’s judgment; our hopeless state without Jesus; and repentance:

John Wesley: “I desire to have both heaven and hell ever in my eye, while I stand on this isthmus of life, between two boundless oceans.”

Charles Spurgeon: “If hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.”

Jonathan Edwards: “Unconverted men walk over the pit of hell on a rotten covering.”

A. W. Tozer: “The vague and tenuous hope that God is too kind to punish the ungodly has become a deadly opiate for the consciences of millions.”

Thankfully some churches in our day still teach about the reality of hell. Although it’s an unpleasant subject: The message of understanding our sin is an affront to a holy God and His righteous judgment…is the message that produces godly sorrow that leads to repentance. Marriage seminars, youth rallies, and men’s conferences are all just fine, but our primary task is to go preach the gospel. Without it, all we are engaging in is temporary behavior modification.

A. W. Tozer sums up the eternal tragedy of a “religious experience” without repentance:

“It is my opinion that tens of thousands of people, if not millions, have been brought into some kind of religious experience by accepting christ [sic] and they have (not) been saved.”

Eternity is rushing upon people and every day tens of thousands enter it without a Savior because they believed they were good people. I’ve known pillar of the community and salt of the earth types both inside and outside of church. These are the folks others speak of and say: “He or she would give you the shirt off of they’re back.” The fact is…even our best works and efforts are soiled without Jesus….we are lost for eternity without Him.

Isaiah 64:6 “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”

Romans 3:10 “As it is written: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

The world needs to hear about the love of Jesus, His grace, mercy, and gentleness. But your words will fall on deaf ears if they aren’t taught in light of His holiness, glory, and coming judgment. Heaven is the eternal reality for everyone who is saved. Hell is the sad eternal reality for those who remain unrepentant.

There has been a lot of nonsense published in recent years about people visiting heaven and hell. In light of this, let’s see what the Bible says about the reality of hell:

Revelation 21:8 “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 sulfur, which is the second death.”

Matthew 13:49 “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.”

2 Thessalonians 1:8 “…in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Matthew 13:41 “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 25:41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

Most Bible teachers agree hell is a place of eternal conscious torment. As Christians, we must warn people about hell, God’s wrath, and coming judgment. In Ray Comfort’s excellent book: God Has A Wonderful Plan For Your Life…he describes the fallacy of having people accept Christ. Throughout the book he drives home the point…we are churning out false converts if people don’t see their sin as an offense before a holy God and come to repentance. He provides a quote from D. L. Moody regarding godly sorrow and conviction:

It is a great mistake to give a man who has not been convicted of sin certain passages that were never meant for him. The Law is what he needs…do not offer the consolation of the gospel until he sees and knows he is guilty before God. We must give enough of the Law to take away all self-righteousness. I pity the man who preaches only one side of the truth- always the gospel, never the Law.

How does the reality of hell and eternity affect the way we live today? It should affect the ways we live our life and interact with people. We are all sinners and deserve God’s righteous judgment in hell, but thanks to his unmerited grace and mercy…Jesus paid for our sins on the cross. If we repent and follow Jesus as our Lord, His blood covers our sins and we are adopted into God’s family. We will be His sons and daughters….no longer enemies.

Many people wonder how a loving God could send people to hell. I included Matthew 25:41 above and the section that says….eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. I highlighted this fact because God intended hell to be a place for that purpose. People freely choose to go to hell by remaining unrepentant and rejecting the salvation that only Jesus offers.

2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

Romans 5:8 “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Why does the reality of hell matter? It matters a great deal because unsaved people need to know of the eternal danger they are in. It matters because the reality of hell affects the way we present the gospel and as individuals…the way we witness to others. It may be easier to tell someone about your church, great youth group, or just try to win them through relationship. Those things are all good, but over the years…people are becoming less responsive to these methods just as Ray Comfort mentioned in his book.

We must present the reality of an eternity away from God in hell and the wicked condition of the human heart apart from Jesus. It’s not an easy message to share with people, but it is the only message that will matter to them 100 years from now.

What does hell and repentance have to do with Bible prophecy? The reality of hell has everything to do with Bible prophecy because whether Jesus returns in our lifetime or not, we are all going to meet Him soon either as our Savior or Judge. Some religious people accuse Christians of teaching an antiquated “fire and brimstone” message regarding hell. This comes from a gross misunderstanding of how much is eternally at stake and an underestimation of God’s holiness.

It is a loving thing to warn people about God’s soon coming judgment and His salvation through Jesus on the cross. Heaven, hell, and the reality of a long eternity is a sobering prospect for people when they are finally told the truth. Jesus is coming soon, but for the person who dies today…eternity is instant. If you are a Christian, engage people with a renewed fervor to tell them about the soul saving and life changing gospel.

Hebrews 9:27 “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.