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Why Be A Christian? (6)

This is a seven-part series on why everyone should be a Christian.
Click on the following links to explore the various installments:

(6) The Condemnation of Christ

 

It is abundantly clear that Christ is the embodiment of love (see part 5). And his love for us is a powerful reason to follow him.


However, there is no use in burying our heads in the sand. Jesus knew that fear is another powerful reason to be a Christian (Mt. 10.28). So let me be blunt.

If you do not become a follower of Christ, you stand condemned in your sins (cf. Jn. 8.21-24; Lk. 13.3; Jn. 3.18; Mk. 16.16; 2 Th. 2.12).


This was the message Christ himself gave to the world. Indeed, Jesus warned about the “danger of hellfire” (Mt. 5.22) and the “condemnation of hell” (Mt. 23.33) more than any other biblical figure. In fact, he spoke about hell more than heaven.

It is equally clear, then, that his love for us is the tough sort of love — the sort that wants to shower blessings upon us and desires our welfare, but which knows that such welfare can only be achieved through responsibility, restraints, and admonitions. In short, his love is certainly compassionate and tender; but it also involves both “judgment” (2 Cor. 5.10) and “condemnation” (Jn. 5.29).

In this study, I wish to convince you to follow Christ so that you can avoid the horrors of hell.

Estrangement From God

One of the worst aspects of hell — the source of all its anguish and pain — is the fact that its inhabitants are completely abandoned by God. Several passages underscore this grim reality.


For example, Paul wrote that hell’s inhabitants shall be eternally banished “away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Th. 1.9, ESV).


John described this condition as the “second death” (Rev. 21.8), a concept that involves separation from God’s fellowship.


Too, Jesus warned that on Judgment Day, he will tell the lost: “Depart from me, you cursed…” (Mt. 25.41).


Indubitably, then, hell is a place of estrangement from God.


Because God is the source of all that is pleasant and good (Ps. 16.11), it follows that to be estranged from him is to be removed from everything pleasant and good. That is hell in a nutshell. Its inhabitants shall neither be in God’s immediate presence — for he dwells in heaven (1 Ki. 8.30; cf. Col. 4.1), though he certainly maintains a watchful eye over all places (cf. Heb 4.13; Jer. 23.23-24; Ps. 139.7) — nor shall they ever again feel the comfort of being blessed by the “God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1.3).


To be clear, God is not the cause of this estrangement. Rather, those who persist in sin are at fault (Isa. 59.1-2). To reject God’s holy ways (cf. Hab. 1.13; Isa. 6.3; 55.8-9; Rev. 4.8) is to reject God himself (cf. Num. 14.11; Lk. 10.16; 1 Th. 4.8). Hence, it is not possible for those who remain in sin to live with a holy God (cf. Ps. 5.4; Rev. 21.27; 1 Cor. 6.9-10; Eph. 5.5).


In short, while God wants us all to live with him, he will not force anyone to do so. The choice to go to heaven or hell, then, is ours to make. And he will let you choose to remain estranged from him if that is what you desire.

Fiery Affliction

Hell is more than a place where divine blessedness is absent. It is also a place of torment.

John describes it as a “lake of fire and brimstone,” where its inhabitants are “tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20.10).


Jesus revealed that those who are banished from his presence shall go “into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25.41).


Paul says it is a “flaming fire” (2 Th. 1.8), which suggests a blazing or scorching heat.


Regardless of the nature of that “fire” — whether chemical or otherwise — the term indicates that hell shall be a place of active suffering (cf. 2 Pt. 2.9).


Furthermore, Jesus taught that the lost shall receive thrashings (Lk. 12.47). Paul spoke of the “tribulation and anguish” of the unrighteous in that hideous environment (Rm. 2.8-9).


No wonder Jesus said: “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 25.30).


Mental and Emotional Misery

In addition, its inhabitants shall experience constant anguish in both mind and heart.


Jesus said it is a place of “outer darkness” (Mt. 8.12). This description indicates that hell shall induce a deep sense of gloom, isolation, and loneliness. There, it is every man for himself. Dante’s line, “All hope abandon ye who enter here” (Alighieri, p. 10), is an apt summary of the place.


Likewise, Daniel spoke of the “shame and everlasting contempt” the lost shall feel (Dan. 12.2).


“Shame” (cherpah) indicates that they shall carry a “sense of disgrace” about them (Vine, p. 202) — i.e., they shall constantly realize they are “the object of reproach” with no chance of mitigation (Brown, et al., p. 358).

“Contempt” (deraon) has to do with “aversion” or “abhorrence” (ibid, p. 201). They will feel despised and unwanted forever.


In short, hell’s occupants shall neither be unconscious nor extinct, for the feeling of rejection shall grip them interminably.


Those who assume that hell shall be a party paradise filled continually with sinful pleasure are woefully misguided. The misery of that place knows neither limit nor end.


An Inescapable Place

What's more, hell offers no reprieve to its inhabitants.


Jesus, quoting Isaiah 66.24, describes it as a place “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mk. 9.46). The undying “worm” and the unquenchable “fire” both depict

“a state of decay which is never completed and of burning which does not consume. Some regard the worm as a symbol of the gnawings of remorse, and the fire as a symbol of actual punishment” (McGarvey, et al., p. 433).

Though the language may be hyperbolic (for no natural worm would stick around near fire), Jesus is stressing the endless nature of punishment in that wretched place.


The Bible also depicts hell as a “bottomless pit” (Rev. 20.1-3), suggesting endlessness and the absence of an exit.


Jesus affirmed that “punishment” shall be “everlasting” (Mt. 25.46). Indeed, it will continue “forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night” (Rev. 14.11).


Your Reaction To These Facts

There are two ways people tend to react to the banishment of hell.

Resentment

Some become indignant. As Jeremiah put it:

“The word of the LORD is a reproach to them; They have no delight in it” (Jer. 6.10).

Robert Ingersoll (1833-1899), who detested Christianity, wrote that

“the doctrine of endless punishment has covered the cheeks of this world with tears. I despise it, and I defy it” (Ingersoll, p. 457-458).

I submit that this reaction is not entirely inappropriate. Indeed, the prospect of eternal condemnation in hell should agitate every soul who hears about it.


However, merely despising the concept is not enough to wish away its reality. Murderers surely despise the punishment of death row, but their emotions on the matter cannot change what is coming for them. Defiance and willful indifference are senseless ways to deal with odious news.

That said, bear this in mind. God is not a vindictive thug who delights in condemning his creatures. He does “not want anyone to perish,” for he wants “all to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3.9). Indeed, he “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2.4).

However, he will not force anyone to repent or to embrace the truth. Nor will he force you to live with him. But if you ignore him or reject him, his judgment against you shall surely be a “righteous judgment” (Rm. 2.5). The fault will not be his, but yours. In effect, by rejecting the gospel, you “judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life” (Acts 13.46) and “prepare yourselves [per the middle voice in the original language] for condemnation (Rm. 9.22).

Remorse

On the other hand, not a few precious souls become remorseful when they acknowledge the danger of condemnation.


When Jonah warned the wicked inhabitants of Nineveh that they would soon be destroyed, they “turned from their evil way” (Jonah 3.10). Fear can inspire repentance (cf. Lk. 11.32).

In like vein, when Simon the sorcerer sinned, Peter severely rebuked him, warning him that he would “perish” with his bribery money (Acts 8.20). In response to this message of condemnation, the man humbly regretted his actions and pled “that none of the things which [Peter had] spoken may come upon” him (Acts 8.24).

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is filled with censures, rebukes, and warnings of condemnation. The second letter, however, documents their deep remorse and repentance (2 Cor. 7.8ff). Thus, Paul urged us to “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7.1).


Conclusion

We Christians do not say these things to feel better about ourselves or to make others mad. On the contrary, most Christians prefer not to talk about hell at all!


But those Christians who warn others of these truths do so out of love, desiring to rescue them from that fiery fate. Paul put it like this:


“Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5.11).

Consequently, our mission is to “warn everyone and teach everyone with all wisdom” (Col. 1.28).

So don’t be like Ingersoll! Let go of resentment. Reject ignorance. Open your heart to God’s pleading. Be like the people of Nineveh! Be like Simon! “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (1 Pt. 5.6).


In short, allow your “fear” of “him who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Mt. 10.28) to motivate you to humble your soul before him. Once you acknowledge your spiritual danger, you can then begin to learn what following him faithfully with a deep and abiding love is like (1 Jn. 4.18-19).

 

Why not keep studying? Move on to part 7:

 
Resources
Alighieri, Dante. “Canto III,” in The Vision: or, Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, vol. 1, Henry Francis Cary (trans.). London: Taylor and Hessey, 1814.

Brown, F., S. R. Driver, C. A. Briggs. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2001.

Ingersoll, Robert. The Works of Ingersoll, vol. 1. Dresden Publishing Company, 1902.

McGarvey, J. W. and Philip Y. Pendleton. The Fourfold Gospel. Cincinnati: The Standard Publishing Foundation, n.d.

Vine, W. E. Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1985.

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