I grew up in a church tradition that really emphasized hell as a motivation for accepting Christ’s forgiveness of our sins. In fact, my own salvation decision as a young child was highly motivated by this. I no longer see overemphasis on hell (often an exclusive emphasis) as biblical or effective in bringing true heart change in people. I think it typically brings a self-centered mental transaction rather than a love-centered relationship with Jesus. But that’s not what this blog post is about.
I also wrestled for quite some time a few years ago with the idea of if hell existed at all. It seemed contrary to God’s nature to have a hell where people were tortured forever. Many like Rob Bell have gotten a lot of press for publicly coming out with an idea similar to this, showing “biblical” claims that an eternal hell does not in fact exist, or at least (in Bell’s case) that nobody is really going to go there. I really wanted to believe this and I dug into Scripture to prove this point. I did find some helpful new information from Scripture about hell and saw that there was more ambiguity to what hell is like than I had been taught in my faith upbringing. But one thing I could not do is show biblically that an eternal hell does not exist, nor could I show that people simply cease to exist when they go to hell (a view called annihilationism, which is quite compelling and indeed has more Scripture than you’d think that points to this). There were two passages in specific that I could not get around: Revelation 14:10-13 & Luke 16:19-31. An eternal hell exists and people are going there. But that is not what this blog post is about either.
Nor is the blog post about how you should witness to your friends more because they are going to hell without Jesus, though they are and you should.
What this post is about is what this pendulum ride on the doctrine of hell has cost us in our daily walks with Jesus.
Because the doctrine of hell has been abused, overemphasized, exaggerated, added to, taught in unloving and frankly, quite embarrassing ways, many Christians in my generation have either gone the Rob Bell way and gotten rid of hell altogether or we just don’t talk about hell, don’t think about hell and for all practical purposes don’t really believe in it when the rubber hits the road. At least we don’t believe in it in any way that practically affects our life.
I want to share two ways the rediscovery of the doctrine of hell has renewed and refreshed my faith beyond what I had ever before knew:
- Rediscovering a Holy God – Why is there a hell? Because God is holy and we are not. Why do we need grace? Because God is holy and we are not. If I live and act like my sin isn’t a big deal and God is pretty cool and understanding about it, I greatly diminish God’s holiness (and by definition, diminished holiness isn’t holiness at all) as I greatly increase my perceived merit. And if I think “sin” is just a religiousy judgmental word that I can roll my eyes at, I completely miss the truth that every sin I commit is an act of direct rebellion against a Holy God and the way He created me to live, act and love. Every sin I commit declares war on God. I live as if I am God and He is not (Something that doesn’t sit very well with him). If I believe God isn’t very holy and I’m not very bad, then the amount of grace I think I need is pretty minimal. And that’s where most of us live: living on minimized grace, wondering why it’s not having more of an impact in our lives.
- Discovering the Wealth of God’s Mercy and the DAILY FREEDOM this Brings Me –
This is so beautiful, so priceless, and so life-giving. When I understand I deserve hell, and that’s really what this blog article is about, that I deserve hell…when I understand this and meditate on it and soak it in, it’s overwhelming. When I shut my eyes and imagine what hell might be like and know this is what I deserve, it is incredibly sobering and humbling. And then to know, by no act of myself, Jesus extended his mercy to me by taking the punishment that I deserve on himself, taking my place (Isaiah 53:5), I realize how vast and deep the chasm actually is that divides me from a holy God. And I realize the vastness and wealth of mercy that Jesus gives me to fill this chasm. Here’s how this is life-changing:
We typically go to God filled with entitlement. God I deserve to be healthy. God I deserve wealth. God I deserve a job. God I deserve safety. God I deserve a spouse. God I deserve XYZ from my spouse. God if you don’t give me these things, either you aren’t real, you don’t love me, or you’re a jerk. Entitlement. I deserve these things!
But do I?
What do I actually deserve?
Take a breath…you didn’t deserve that.
What are you sitting on? You don’t deserve that.
What clothing are you wearing? You don’t deserve that.
Everything in your life is a mercy from God that you don’t deserve.
When we grasp this, our lives change from ones of whiny self-entitlement to humble gratitude and appreciation.
Typically entitlement comes from not understanding the true severity of our sins. It comes from thinking we are pretty decent and that are sins really aren’t a big deal.
Each and every one of our sins declares war on God. War that earns us hell.
But God gives us his mercy. Pours it on us. Relentlessly. With the force of the fullness of all his power and all his love.
There are two ways you can live in a temporary world guaranteed by Jesus to have suffering in it (John 16:33), and you get to pick:
- One is living entitled. With this choice, you put your expectations way up here:
======================== With Reality Way Down Here
So what happens when reality from God doesn’t meet your expectations? Every disappointment brings me way down. Every disappointment shapes how I view God. God, either you aren’t real, you don’t love me, or you’re a jerk. Discontentment, fantasy, and doing it our way instead of His.
- The second choice is living in mercy…
======================== What Happens in Reality
======================== Realizing We Deserve Hell
So what happens when we get way more than we deserve? Every good thing I have is reason for such immense appreciation and joy. Every bit of mercy then shapes how I view God.
Do you see the difference? It is a complete 180 degree difference in mindset. One says I deserve it and I can’t believe God would give me anything less. The other says I don’t deserve anything and I can’t believe God would give me anything at all, yet look at all he’s given me!!
The truth is, most people won’t receive the truth of what we actually deserve. But for those who do, as I have in the past couple of years, the results bring more peace and joy and freedom than anything under the sun.
Author of Beyond the Battle: A man's guide to his identity in Christ in an oversexualized world
Host of the The Flip Side Podcast
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