Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Reality of Hell

With the effort of those both inside and outside of Christianity to redefine Hell, and do away with the concept altogether, I’ve been thinking on the concepts which Hell impresses upon those who fear God, and why Hell is a perfectly acceptable topic for evangelism. I believe that Hell is an exceedingly useful topic, provided it encompasses the following four principles;

1. The Authority of God’s Law
2. The Perfection of God’s Judgment
3. The Severity of God’s Wrath
4. The Amazing Alternative to God’s Anger

One of my favorite songs is a redeaux of a Fanny Crosby hymn, called, Rescue the Perishing, sung by Billy and Cindy Foote. In this song the singer asks, “Have we forgotten the lost, the reality of Hell?” The answer to both in mainline Christendom is yes. I would draw a direct line from losing the reality of Hell, the necessity of Hell, to the forsaking of the lost, and I pray that this article will at least do a little to curtail that movement.

The Authority of God’s Law

Even among those who reject Hell, with a little probing they can usually be made to admit that REALLY bad people probably do go to Hell, or at least not to Heaven. Among these are the obligatory references to Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Joseph Stalin, and can generally be easily expanded to include serial rapists and pedophiles. Even the most God-hating heathens recognize that there is a call for justice, the problem is that their standard of sin does not match God’s standard of sin.

God’s law is perfect, it is complete, and it carries the same punishment for every infraction, for the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Even if we’ve kept every law and broken only one, we are guilty of all (James 2:10). A cursory look through the Old Testament shows that the same penalty exists for gross sexual sins to lies, from murder to dishonoring of parents.

Sin is transgression against the law (1 John 3:4), and every sinner, from the most prolific genocidal tyrant to the liar, will be judged against it (Revelation 20:13, 21:8). The reality of Hell shows that God’s law is a pedestal of his perfect standard of righteousness and of the justice by which he upholds the universe.

The Perfection of God’s Judgment

Mankind does an incalculable amount of work to uphold justice, everything from lawmakers who write thousands of laws a year, to enforcement officers who know the law and ensure it is carried out, to judges who hear infractions against the law and punish lawbreakers. And yet, with all of this work, lawlessness abounds, and humanity suffers.

The incompetence (either partial or complete) of mankind’s justice is setting up a comparison for when God judges perfectly. A verse which the unrighteous hate with a passion is at the end of Psalm 58, it says, “The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked. Mankind will say, ‘Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth.’”

The reality of Hell shows that God is able to judge justly and completely, that no lawbreaker will escape. Any and every sin has been remembered by God and will be dealt with, for a sin against an infinite God requires an infinite retribution.

The Severity of God’s Wrath

Throughout the Bible it describes God as the only Saviour (Deuteronomy 6:4, Isaiah 45:14-15, John 14:6, Acts 4:12, 1 Timothy 2:5, Jude 25, et al.). The salvation of God extends far past the agonies of Hell, but the hearer must realize that this salvation does include being saved from Hell. There are no lack of verses that explain that God hates the sinner (Psalm 1:5-6, 2:12, 3:7, 5:4-5, 7:11, 10:3, 11:5, Proverbs 12:22, 6:16-19, Hebrews 1:8-9, etc. etc.), but most people miss this fact as they live in his patience (Romans 2:4).

The Psalmist in Psalm 73 complains for the lack of temporal punishment on the wicked, but then he perceives their end, an end of terror; despised by God. Every person who has ever lived has an appointment to stand before God and give an account, and of that day Isaiah asks, “Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?” (Isaiah 33:14) The fullness of God’s wrath, of his hatred in action, is an incomprehensible rage against lawbreakers and enemies of righteousness. He promises to pursue his enemies into the darkness, and torment them in his own presence forever (Nahum 1:8, Revelation 14:10-11), for his vengeance is complete, and his wrath infinite. Any reprieve from Hell through abatement or annihilation would be another savior, and there is no Saviour but Christ (Philippians 2:9-11).

The reality of Hell shows that God truly does hate sin, sinners, and the results of sin. The extreme severity of Hell demonstrates both the crushing judgment on the lost, and the amazing grace which has been shed on so many.

The Amazing Alternative to God’s Anger

The Apostle Paul asks, “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy?” (Romans 9:22-23) The saint, saved from God, by God, for God, looks at Hell and sees a place for sinners, a place from which none can escape, and a place in which every grace of God is removed; it is truly a terrifying concept, and truly it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the Living God (Hebrews 10:31).

On a cross, the very Son of God endured the full wrath of God, for towards his church who had transgressed him in every way, his Father held in his hand “a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.” (Psalm 75:8) In his amazing love, Christ laid down his life, he drank that cup of wrath, he endured the full fury of God against sin, and it pleased his Father to crush him. In three hours on a cross, Jesus suffered more than any sinner ever will in Hell, for as he drained the cup, as he absorbed the full wrath of God, he declared, “It is finished.

There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1), that condemnation was met on a cross, justice crushed the perfect substitutionary Christ, and he endured it for his church, who have received grace upon grace upon grace, a salvation from sin, from Hell, from condemnation, from punishment, from separation, and from wandering. The vessels of wrath prepared for destruction show the saint what he has been saved from, what his Saviour endured, and that God truly is mighty to give compassion to whom he pleases and condemn others of his own volition.

The reality of Hell demonstrates the exceeding depths of God’s grace, that while no favor was merited, he chose to save a remnant, that while his anger burned against sinners, he accepts the propitiation of his Son, who bore the weight of condemnation, but whom was raised in glory for his obedience. When we lose the danger of Hell, we lose the grace of Heaven, or as Alistair Begg puts it so well, “Unless you have a real wrath, a real anger, the biblical concepts of long-suffering, of mercy, and of grace, are robbed of their meaning.

Conclusion

Losing Hell in Christendom is much more dangerous than just losing punishment and eternality; the very nature of God is distorted. Without the reality of Hell, God’s law loses its authority, his justice fails in time, his hatred of unrighteousness and sin’s consequence is mute, and his grace becomes less amazing. An alternate savior arises, and Christ becomes a liar; his work on Calvary was in vain (Galatians 2:21, Matthew 26:42).

There is a very real danger in rejecting Hell, it is quite literally Hell that gapes wide to catch your fall (Isaac Watts). In rejecting Hell, you reject the creator of Hell, the one who sees fit to punish perfectly the damnable sinfulness of sin, and who loves righteousness and hates wickedness. With no threat of punishment, evangelism fails, because everyone will be alright anyways, they are just missing the opportunity to live their best life now. With no threat of penalty, the prophet does not tremble when speaking for God, does not consider whether his words may have an eternal detriment to the souls of his hearers, and even to his own soul lest he turn to Christ.

The reality of Hell is that God is angry with the wicked every day, he is against the practitioner of sin, he is not slack concerning his promises, but will judge sinners and will see fit that they pay for their sins. The grace is that God’s own Son has paid for sin, he stands ready to forgive, reconcile, and save all who draw near to him in faith, magnified by a glimpse at what was the alternative. Christianity is so much more than escaping Hell, but a healthy fear of the God who can kill both body and soul in Hell should be a driving point in every believer’s life.

If we say we love God,
want to see his will done,
will we offer our lives,
or the just the songs we have sung?
– Billy and Cindy Foote

1 comments:

Russ said...

I won't get the quote exactly right, but J Vernon McGee says that if the Gospel message doesn't include some mention of sin, judgment and righteousness then it isn't the true Gospel message.

Good post, thanks for sharing.