Do people go to Hell because they don’t believe in God? The answer might surprise you. Stay tuned and find out on Unapologetic.
The existence and doctrine of Hell makes many people uncomfortable and I am one of those people. It is one of the areas of Christianity that I don’t like and that I’m not comfortable with. Now, some people have taken their discomfort with the Bible’s teaching on the existence of Hell and this has lead them to say that Hell doesn’t exist or that a loving God could never send someone to Hell for not believing in him.
That’s what we’re going to talk about today. We don’t have enough time to cover if Hell exists. For now, I think it’s sufficient to say that the church has long upheld the existence of Hell as eternal conscious punishment because the Bible is extremely strong in it’s teaching that Hell exists and is a place where people go because of their crimes that are committed against a sovereign God.
Why do people go to Hell?
Well, frankly, people go to Hell because of their sin. Romans 3:23 teaches that everyone has sinned and they fall short of the glory of God and the payoff for that sin is death; spiritual death, spiritual separation from God. Jesus actually talks more about Hell than he does about Heaven.
These crimes, this sin that we commit against God, requires punishment. God is a just judge, a just ruler and justice requires crime to be punished. People can’t save themselves. No one can ever be good enough to overcome their sin. If they could, then there’s no reason for God to send Jesus.
This idea that people can be good enough on their own, this is actually at the heart of the Mormon gospel. Jesus’ grace is only applied to your account on Mormonism’s view once you’ve done all you can on your own, once you have kicked all of your sin to the curb. Then, Christ’s sacrifice is applied to your account.
If you can be perfect like that, why do you even need Jesus? That’s a diversion for another time, but Christianity teaches that people actually cannot save themselves, no one can ever be good enough. Jesus said “the one who believes in the Son has eternal life. John the Baptist said of Jesus, “The one who rejects the Son will not see life but God’s wrath remains on him.” Jesus also said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Lastly in Acts, Peter says this, “Jesus, is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, that has become the cornerstone. There is salvation in no one else for there is no other name given among men under Heaven whereby people must be saved.”
What is required for salvation?
What is required to not go to Hell? Believing in Christ and confessing him as Lord is required and this is what we see in Romans 5. “For whoever calls in the name of the Lord will be saved. Now, how are they to call on one they have not believed in and how are they to believe in that they have not heard of? How are they to hear without someone preaching to them and how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, how timely is the arrival of those who proclaim the good news, but not all have obeyed the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report? Consequently faith comes through what is heard and what is heard comes through the preached word of Christ.”
What Paul does here especially, in that one sentence, is exclude salvation apart from believing the gospel and believing in Christ. There’s no other way given among men under Heaven where people can be saved but through the preached word of Christ. We see that for salvation, faith in Christ is required and apart from faith in Christ, a person is justly punished by a sovereign God.”
The question isn’t “is sin going to be punished.” The Christian world view is extremely clear and strong on that point. Sin will always be punished. The question is “who is going to be punished? Are people going to pay for their own sins or is Jesus going to pay for their sin?” When people complain about the evil in the world and all of the things that God doesn’t stop, all of the sin and suffering and evil that God appears not to do anything with, Christianity can make a very strong response to that and say no, all sin will be punished. The question is who will be punished for that sin? Will Jesus bear the burden for that person’s sin or will the person themselves bear their own burden?
What we see is people need to know the gospel. The only way to get to Heaven, the only way to miss Hell, if you will, is through salvation, through believing and faith that Christ is Savior and Lord. Now some people want to say that there’s another way. There’s a parallel path because some people haven’t heard the gospel. What about those people? What about people who didn’t have a chance?
What About Nature?
Oftentimes, a Christian will bring up Romans 1 which says the following, “for the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all unGodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness.”
“What can be known about God is plain to them because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes, His eternal nature and divine power have been clearly seen because they are understood through what has been made. People are without excuse for although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or give Him thanks but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.”
What is often said is is that Paul in this passage, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is saying that God has made plain his existence to people. “See? There’s another way for people to know about God. And they can come to salvation apart from Christ.” But that’s not true. God has made plain his existence to people but unless those people know of Christ and confess Him as Lord and believe God the Father raised him from the dead as Roman 10 says, there’s no salvation possible there. Natural revelation — this natural world, everything apart from the Bible — is enough for someone to know God exists and to be condemned for their sin, but it’s not enough for salvation.
That passage in Romans does not even leave that as an option. Special revelation is needed in order to be saved. By special revelation, I mean the Bible. I mean words directly from God about Himself. If you don’t know about Jesus, you can’t be a Christian. There’s Christ in the word Christian. If no Christ, no Christian.
We need to look at the weight of Scripture when we come to conclusions on a topic or an issue. We can’t just go with what feels nice. Well, it feels nice to say, “that person in Africa who has never heard about Jesus can look up at the stars and become a Christian.” That sounds nice but it’s wrong. We need to form our perspectives and our doctrines not on what feels good but on careful study of Scripture,where Scripture is our authority not our feelings.
People are punished because they commit sinful acts that they wanted to do
Paul is also clear in Romans that these people knew their sinful acts were wrong because he even says the Gentiles sinned and knew right from wrong though even though they didn’t have the law. They didn’t have divine revelation. What they had was the law written on their hearts he says in Romans 2:15. Here’s the key point. People are not punished because they didn’t believe in God. People are punished because of their sin.
I know that’s hard for some people to understand but that’s exactly what it is. People aren’t punished for disbelief in God or a lack of belief in God. They are punished because of the things they have done wrong. Wrong-doing deserves punishment. Now, because of their wrong-doing, their only hope to escape punishment is faith in Christ but it’s not the lack of faith in Christ that got them in the hot water to begin with. It was their sin.
Oftentimes this still isn’t satisfactory to people and it certainly isn’t emotionally satisfying, but here’s an example that has been very helpful for me in helping me understand this. Our justice system has a judge, it has someone who’s said to be guilty, the defendant, and let’s just use the example of a murder where the murder was caught on camera. There is incontrovertible evidence that this person committed the murder and he’s in the courtroom. The judge finds him guilty and is going to sentence him to death. Is it just for that judge to sentence him to death? Yes. If that’s the law of the land and the death penalty or capital punishment is in place there, then it would be just for him to do that.
Here’s the question, does that judge have to first offer that convicted man a pardon before the judge is justified in sentencing him to death? No. A pardon means you get to go free, you don’t have to pay for your crime. The only area where people want to say it’s not fair for a judge to punish someone for their crime unless he first offers them a pardon, is salvation, with the ultimate judge of God and the ultimate crime being a crime committed against a sovereign perfect God.
I hope that this example makes it a little easier to see that God doesn’t have to offer people a pardon before he’s justified in punishing them for their sin. He doesn’t have to first offer them Christ because they did what they wanted, and they knew what they wanted was wrong when they did it.
Oftentimes like I said, our feelings often don’t correctly inform us about the truthfulness of our circumstances. For instance, if a doctor were to tell you that you had cancer. That’s not going to feel good but that bad feeling doesn’t mean the doctor was wrong. We need to keep our feelings in check by our intellect, by reason, correctly informed and contributed from Scripture. Scripture is the authority, not our feelings. When we get those out of order, so many wrong ideas and doctrines flow out of that.
I hope what you’ve seen throughout this whole podcast so far is what is central and necessary is sharing the gospel. Without the gospel, there is no forgiveness of sins. Without the gospel, people do not come to give God the glory he is due. Without sharing the gospel, Christians are in disobedience to God because he has commanded us to go and tell and share about him. Not just to go and do good works but to go and tell the truth. How will they know if they haven’t heard? They need to be preached to.
The saying “Share the gospel at all times and use words if necessary” is often attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi. I don’t think he actually said that but that is a horrible idea. Horrible because people can’t get saved through loving your neighbor. You can’t love someone into Heaven. If you don’t preach the gospel of Christ (and by preach I just mean share, accurately present what Scripture has to say) people have no chance of missing Hell and going to Heaven and giving God the glory he is due.
Yes, how we live should certainly be a testimony to the gospel, to who Christ is, however we need to share that gospel with words that accurately represent the truthfulness of the gospel in order for people to come to faith in Christ. God gave us the honor and responsibility of being the ones to share his word and we need to do it.
The other takeaway is is that it’s not unfair for God to punish people for doing things they wanted to do that they knew were wrong without first offering them a pardon. Grace by definition is undeserved but what some people want to do is say God has to show it to people, has to do something that’s undeserved. That seems like a contradiction in terms.
I hope this podcast has been helpful. I hope you’ve learned something today, and have been able to think a little more clearly about this. I think there’s something in here for everyone because there are quite a few Christians who think that people can get saved apart from divine revelation. They can just get saved by nature and that’s not true. There are other people who believe that God is just for punishing people but aren’t always certain how to explain that to other people. I look forward to spending this time with you next week on Unapologetic.