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Hell - No or Yes? [3-14-21]

Here's a key point we ended on last week. In John 15:16 Jesus said:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

We are saved from God's wrath and hell because Jesus first chose us. That is the gospel.

Here's where we're at today. I know it's a bit risky preaching on God's

wrath and hell. As someone once told me, years ago, people listen to

prosperity preachers and positivity preachers and read their books because they need to get lifted up. They need encouragement. When people are going through rough or challenging times, a little Joel Osteen goes a long way. And I can't argue with that. I understand the point. When people are hurting or struggling, those kinds of messages mean a lot and get them through. Can't blame anyone for wanting to feel good. As someone else once said to me, "It makes me feel good about myself."

We're at a point in cultural history where, by-and-large, we hate judgment. Any kind of judgment from anyone, anywhere. "You can't judge me" or "How dare you judge me?" are our watchwords. We fear being seen as judgmental. People want "feel-good-ism." And it is true that pastors are hesitant to preach on sin and wrath and hell because they don't want to drive people away. I, too, want and need to be encouraged and lifted up. I have bad days. I have moments of doubt or guilt or despair. There has to be a balance.

Most often, though, what we have in America is not classic, orthodox, Biblical, Reformed faith. More often than not, when we speak of American religious faith we're talking about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Here are the five beliefs that define Moralistic Therapeutic Deism:

  1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.

  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.

  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.

  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.

  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

That, in essence, is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. And I can tell you, with full confidence, that to some degree or another many Christian churches project and embrace these beliefs.

As one researcher noted:

Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith…The language, and therefore experience, of Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, church; and heaven and hell appear to be supplanted by the language of happiness, niceness, and an earned

heavenly reward.

Which explains why so many openly embraced one pastor's proposition that all people eventually go to heaven. Even Max Lucado went too far when backtracking from some unfortunate things he once said in regard to gender and sexuality.

The increasing influence of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism makes it more

important than ever to have a firm grasp of God's wrath, judgment, and hell. We're not all good people who will all go to heaven after we die. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who once spent years in Soviet prison camps, observed:

Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, not between classes, not between political parties either - but right through every human heart.

To deny God's wrath for sin is to deny an essential teaching of Jesus. To deny the eternal punishment of hell for those who reject salvation through Jesus Christ is to deny an essential teaching of Jesus. And to deny an essential teaching of Jesus is to deny the Lordship of our Savior.

On his cross, Jesus drank down the righteous anger and judgment of God against sin. When Jesus cried out from the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" he was feeling the fullness of God's wrath for our sin. The oneness and fellowship enjoyed by Father and Son was shattered on the cross. As Jesus was dying for our sin, God turned away from His Son because a holy and righteous God could not gaze upon the depth of such sin. We are saved from God's wrath and hell by what Jesus did on the

cross. That is the gospel.

C.S. Lewis was right when he said that those who reject Jesus Christ and the gospel are, in essence, choosing hell. Their denial of Christ seals their fate. In that sense, God doesn't arbitrarily send anyone to hell. Hell is simply the logical outcome of denying Jesus as Lord and Savior. I love how Revelation 6:15-17 puts it:

Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

The wrath of God is the wrath of Jesus, the Lamb. One the cross, the one perfectly righteous, perfectly loving, perfectly innocent man who ever lived faced the full force of God's judgment, drank it down, and threw away the cup. In Biblical shorthand, he went to hell.

I would be damned if I would argue with Jesus and claim to know more

than he does about God's wrath, judgment and hell.

Here's something you might want to write down:

Do we face hell by ourselves or do we hide ourselves in Jesus?

Truth is, the misery of hell will be so great that no one will want to be there. As Jesus says in Matthew 8:11-12, "I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Between their sobs, no one will say, "I wanted this." In ignorance and rebellion against God, people in this life reject Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. And they will not get a second chance. No one, at death, standing between heaven and hell, will be given a last minute change of heart, choosing Jesus and heaven. All you need to do is read the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus to reject such wishful thinking. There is no do-over at death. The choice is fixed in this life for all who reject Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. As Revelation 14:11 so horribly reminds us:

And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have

no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.

Here's another way to look at it. When there are only two choices - heaven or hell - accept Jesus or reject Jesus - when there are two choices and you choose one against the other, it doesn't necessarily mean that you want the other, if you are ignorant of the outcome of both. Are you with me on that? Unbelievers know of neither God nor hell. This ignorance is not innocent; it's not an honest mistake that somehow can be corrected upon death. Apart from grace, Paul says in Romans 1:18, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth."

In other words, the person who rejects God doesn't know the real horrors of hell. And the person who rejects God doesn't believe there's such a thing as the eternal joy of heaven. John Lennon's song, "Imagine," comes to mind here:

Imagine there's no heaven It's easy if you try No hell below us Above us only sky Imagine all the people living for today.

Someone once quipped that this song is played on an eternal loop in hell. When someone chooses against God, he is wrong about God and about heaven and about hell. He is not, at that point, preferring the real hell over the real God. He is blind to both. He does not perceive the true glories of God, and he does not perceive the true horrors of hell.

So when people choose against God and, therefore, by default choose

hell, they do not know what they are doing. When people joke about preferring hell with their friends over heaven with a bunch of stuffy, boring religious people, they do not know what they are doing. What they reject is not the real heaven - nobody or nothing will be boring in heaven - and what they want is not the real hell, but it is the tolerable hell of their imagination. "If there is a hell, it's probably not all that bad," they say in their ignorance and unbelief.

When they die, they will be shocked beyond words. The miseries are so

great, they would do anything and everything in their power to escape. Here's something else you might want to write down:

But you cannot repent after you die.

There are consequences to disobedience and rejection of God's offer of grace and mercy in Jesus Christ. In commenting on Esau, who sold his inheritance for a mess of pottage, Hebrews 12:17 reminds us:

For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

There is no turning back. The hell unrepentant sinners find themselves in is a place of total misery. The meaning of hell is the scream, "I hate this and

I want out."

Here's where we'll stop for today. What sinners want is not hell but sin. They want a religion and lifestyle of their own making. The fact that hell is the inevitable consequence of unforgiven sin does not mean that if they were convinced of the reality of hell they would go ahead and choose it anyway. It's not that they want or don't want it. It's that they don't consider its reality, one way or another. I want cakes and pastries but I don't want the weight gain that comes with eating them, but there you go, it is a consequence. That's why I say God does not arbitrarily send people to hell. Hell is simply the inevitable result of rejecting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

But God does send people to hell. God passes sentence on unrepentant sinners. God follows through with an execution of the sentence. Listen to four passages on these truths about God's judgment:

  • Revelation 20:15 - "And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire."

  • Mark 9:47 - "And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is

better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell."

  • Matthew 13:42 - "And throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

  • Matthew 25:30 - "And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

What kind of verbs are used in all four passages? Exactly…action verbs. Words of vigorous and decisive action. God does send people to hell, with an exclamation point.

Here's our last point, before we move on next week to God's gracious and merciful gift of heaven. {You didn't think I'd leave you standing at the edge of the lake of fire, did you?} The reason the Bible speaks of people being thrown into hell is that no one would willingly go there once they saw what it really was. No one standing over the gaping mouth of an active volcano would willingly jump in. Once they see its reality, no one wants hell. What they have chosen is sin. What they have wanted is sin. What rebellious people don't want is the punishment for sin. They don't want the

consequences of sin. So, yes, when it comes to hell, God does indeed send people there.

Next week, we'll turn to God's gracious and merciful antidote to sin, death, and hell.


To the Glory of God Alone!

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