Hell is one of the most misunderstood concepts in all of Scripture. Because we have heard very little teaching on the subject, most of us have heard hell depicted as a place of eternal torment where a callous and capricious God sends people who disagree with Him. By contrast, the scriptural basis for hell reveals that it is rooted in the dignity of man and the holiness of God. Let’s look at the real reasons there must be a hell.
Man’s Dignity and Freedom Demand a Hell
God created man in His image and gave him the freedom of choice. The freedom to love Him or freedom to refuse Him. God is granting man dignity in giving him what he has chosen.
C. S. Lewis says it this way:
If a game is played, it must be possible to lose it. If the happiness of a creature lies in self-surrender, no one can make that surrender but himself (though many can help him make it) and he may refuse. I would pay any price to be able to say truthfully, “All will be saved.” But my reason retorts “Without their will, or with it?” If I say “Without their will” I at once perceive a contradiction; how can the supreme, voluntary act of self-surrender be involuntary? And if I say “With their will,” my reason replies “How if they will not give in?”
C. S. Lewis described hell as a place where you are locked, but the locks are on the inside. The people inside never wanted anything to do with God, and they didn’t want to be with God. Will there be regret and remorse? Absolutely.
God’s Holiness and Justice Demand a Hell
I want you to think of the three people whom you love the most. They may be your children, your mate, or your best friend. Have you got them pictured in your mind? Imagine all three of them are in a room when someone comes through the door with a gun.
Then bam, bam, bam. The three people you love so much are dead. The person who committed this horrible crime is caught, handcuffed, and arraigned. They bring the person in for the trial and before the judge. The judge asks, “What in the world did you do and why?” The response is, “You know, I had a really bad day. My coffee was cold, breakfast stunk, I had a bad day at work, and I got depressed. I was so mad that I killed people.”
The judge turns as you’re sitting there weeping and mourning over what you have lost and he announces, “Everybody has a bad day. Try not to do this again. Next case.” How do you feel about that? You would be outraged, and the judge would be despicable in your eyes. Why? Because you are made in the image of God, and God is holy and just. As awful as the idea of hell is to us as human beings, it is more awful to consider a universe, a God, and an eternity that are not just and fair.
Sin’s Seriousness Demands a Hell
We are living in a day when people don’t take sin seriously. God made the world, and He made all of us for intimate relationship with Him. Sin, that first act of rebellion by our first parents, was passed on to each one of us. The word sin literally means to “miss the mark.” It’s the picture of an archer shooting for a target and the arrow falling short. Sin is the word that describes the human race’s willful rebellion against our Creator. We have fallen short of His benevolent desires and are in rebellion against Him. Sin is like a cancer that entered the human race, bringing jealousy, envy, selfishness, wars, abuse, corruption, and ultimately death.
Sin was so serious that the only remedy for a holy God was for His Son to come and save us from it. God’s love never changed for mankind; but man’s sin has separated him from intimate relationship with a holy God. The only solution was drastic! God the Son would take on human flesh, being born of a virgin that He might be fully God and fully man. The theologians call it the hypostatic union—Jesus’ nature is perfect humanity and undiminished deity without confusion. Being human He could die; being fully God, His death could be a substitute and atoning sacrifice for the sins of all humanity.
When Jesus died on the cross, His blood atoned or covered the sins of all people of all time, making everyone savable (1 John 2:1–2). At the cross the penalty of sin was paid for once and for all (Rom. 5), the power of sin was broken (Rom. 6), Satan was defeated (Col. 2), and death was swallowed up in victory (1 Cor. 15). God demonstrated the victory over sin, death, and Satan by the resurrection of Jesus and by the empowering work of the Holy Spirit in His followers. But make no mistake, the cost to resolve the problem of sin and make salvation available to “whoever believes in him [Jesus]” makes rejecting the free offer of God’s saving grace the most serious of offenses with the most serious of consequences.
Evil’s Defeat Demands a Hell
The final reason there must be a hell might take you by surprise. We tend to be so focused on the visible world that we forget there is an invisible world and a very significant history that occurred before mankind was even created. Evil is introduced early in the biblical narrative. The source of this evil is a fallen angel named Lucifer or the devil. Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 reveal that the source of his sin is pride and his attempt to usurp God’s throne.
The Scripture teaches us that he led a rebellion against God and that a third of the angels of heaven joined him. Satan and these fallen angels, now called demons, have sought to overrule and destroy the work of God by attacking all that is good, deceiving the world, and thwarting God’s purposes for His chosen people.
One of God’s final judgments is to remove evil from His presence forever. To do so He created a place where evil will be encapsulated and removed forever from His presence and those He loves. Revelation 20:10 describes His final judgment on Satan and demons: “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”
When I opened this chapter, I told you a story of a group of young people who claimed to believe that nothing exists after we die. Yet in the face of their close friend’s death, they talked about “peace” and a “better place.” It’s one thing to argue philosophically, but it’s something quite different to face the reality of death.
This is a hard chapter to swallow. Not because the evidence for life after death is weak, but because the implications are so emotionally overwhelming. It’s hard to swallow because it goes so contrary to the squishy love that we have been hearing for the last few decades and the pluralism that says, “Everyone is okay no matter what they believe or how they live.” We all know intuitively that is not true, but it’s an unpopular and narrow road to travel.
Jesus is the only one who has come back from the dead, and He has proven by His resurrection that His teaching is true. So let me summarize what we’ve learned in the form of a question and a few final comments.
Will your eternal future be a blissful adventure or a horrible experience? We have said there are significant reasons to believe there is life after death. Everyone is going to die, everyone is going to live forever, and everyone will be judged.
For those of you who are followers of Christ, my plea would be this: Think hard and deeply about the reality of heaven and hell. We live in a “right-now” world that is filled with distractions. We rarely think deeply about eternity until someone we love dies. My prayer is that you will take stock of your life and relationships. If heaven and hell are real, is there someone God is prompting you to really pray for and talk to?
And for those of you who are not sure where you are going to spend your eternity, take time to really evaluate what you believe. Jesus has paid for your sin and given you a way to spend forever in heaven with God. Will you receive the gift He is offering you?
Ingram, Chip. 2017. Why I Believe: Straight Answers to Honest Questions about God, the Bible, and Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.
We have just completed a 6-Week Bible Study Lesson Series on Chip Ingram’s book, Why I Believe. It is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions, as well as part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription plan. The idea is to invite each participant to purchase their own book and discuss it each week.
Why I Believe, Lesson #1
Chapters 1, 2
Why I Believe in the Resurrection
Did Jesus Really Die?
Why I Believe, Lesson #2
Chapters 3, 4
Why I Believe the Bible
Don’t Take My Word for It
Why I Believe, Lesson #3
Why I Believe in Life After Death
Why I Believe, Lesson #4
Chapters 6, 7
Why I Believe in Life Creation
Science or God?
Why I Believe, Lesson #5
Why I Believe in the God of the Bible
Why I Believe, Lesson #6
How is that Working for You?