Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Does Hell Really Exist?

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more….
Fear Him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell.
Yes, I tell you, fear Him.”
– Luke 12:4-5

A 2014 Pew Research Poll revealed that 72% of Americans believe in Heaven, but only 58% believe in Hell. Surprisingly, the survey indicated that—even among those who claim to be “Christian”—there is much doubt about Hell. Thirty-seven percent of Catholics don’t believe in Hell. Neither do 40% of those who associate with a traditional denomination (e.g., Lutheran, Methodist or Episcopal). Even among self-proclaimed “evangelicals,” there is much reluctance to believe in Hell.

Suffice it to say: It’s much easier for us to wrap our minds around the idea of an eternity of bliss in Heaven than it is to embrace the notion of an eternity of torture in Hell. Even for those of us who believe in Hell, most of us aren’t comfortable with it. How can we be? If Hell is half as bad as we’ve been told, we wouldn’t wish it on our worst enemy. Even the respected author and theologian C.S. Lewis said of Hell, “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of Scripture and, specially, of our Lord’s own words.”

Let’s do our best to push aside our preconceived ideas about Hell and examine the New Testament’s answers to three questions. Question #1: Is Hell a real place? In a word, yes. There are several dozen references to Hell in the New Testament, and most of these are made by Jesus himself. The most common Greek word used by Christ for Hell is “gehenna.” Gehenna was the name of a valley located south of Jerusalem where Molech worshipers had once practiced infant sacrifice. In the days of King Josiah, the pagan altars were demolished and desecrated. And by the time Jesus came onto the scene, gehenna was used as the town dump, where the smell of burning refuse constantly rose from the valley. Since this was common knowledge to the people of Israel, Jesus adopted this word “gehenna” as the name for the place of eternal punishment.

Question #2: What is Hell like? Although Jesus doesn’t give an exhaustive description of Hell, he tells us enough to make the hair on the back of our necks stand up. In Matthew 13:40-42, he describes Hell as a “fiery furnace” where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” In Matthew 25:41, he adds that it is a place of complete separation from God, a place of “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” And according to Christ’s words in Mark 9:47-49, in Hell the fire is never quenched and “their worm does not die.” I don’t know what an eternal worm looks like or does, but its purpose in Hell doesn’t sound pleasant. And just like everything else in Hell (the punishment, the flames, the hopelessness and the misery), it is eternal.

Question #3: Who will go to Hell? Throughout the New Testament we are reminded that Jesus Christ is the only way to Heaven. Therefore, he is the only one who can offer us a “Get out of Hell Free” card. So, ultimately, whether or not we end up in Hell depends on what we choose to do with Jesus. The one who chooses to reject God’s laws—including the law to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ—will be condemned by God’s laws. The one who rejects God’s offer of eternal grace through Christ will have only one alternative: eternal condemnation for his/her sins in Hell.

Most of us don’t put up a fuss about mass murderers like Hitler, Osama bin Laden, Charles Manson or Jeffrey Dahmer being condemned to Hell. But when we read passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Galatians 5:19-21, we quickly come to realize that there is a laundry list of sins that condemn us to the eternal flames: premarital sex, adultery, homosexuality, drunkenness, greed, hatred, witchcraft, jealousy and fits of rage—just to name a few. Sadly, all of us have fallen short of God’s standards. Each of us has broken God’s commands. We’ve all turned our backs on God and gone our own way. Therefore, according to Scripture, the just punishment for each of us is eternal separation from God in Hell.

But thankfully, there is good news! Jesus Christ offers us the marvelous gift of grace instead of justice. We learn in Romans 6:23 that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” We discover in Ephesians 2:8-9 that “it is by grace we have been saved, through faith. And this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not by works, so that no one can boast.”

So, according to the Bible, is Hell a real place? Yes, it is. It is an actual place of eternal punishment that is unimaginably horrible. It will be the eternal home of Satan, the demons and every person who has sinned against God and refused to humbly accept the free gift of grace and forgiveness offered by Jesus Christ. It boils down to this: In eternity you will receive either justice or grace. So, for Christ’s sake, choose grace.

Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information,
visit www.fccvv.com  and join us for worship Sunday at 10 am.

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