For 5 years I was the pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. I created this blog with those people in mind. In mid-November 2018 I will become the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The focus of this blog will therefore shift, but I pray that people from the blogosphere will continue to find it helpful wherever they might be found.
The churches' websites includes recorded sermons for those who are interested. Click the links below to access them.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Understanding the Gospel - Part 3: Sin and Its Just Punishment

The previous two posts in this series were about sin. The first post dealt with the universal nature of sin. We are all sinners and guilty before God. The second post dealt with the extensive nature of sin. Sin has affected every part of our lives. We are dead in our transgressions and sin. Those are important topics and need to inform both our worship and our evangelism.

This post will talk about the ultimate consequence of sin: the wrath of God. We cannot have an accurate idea of God without considering his attitude toward sin. The writer of Hebrews tells us that it is a "fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31). Because God is good, holy, loving, and just, he must act against evil and wickedness. He will judge and execute judgment on sin. This is his wrath and sinners are subject to it (Ephesians 2:3). The ultimate expression of the wrath of God is hell.

Hell is a place of eternal conscious punishment of the wicked. Jesus talked a lot about it. He called it a place of darkness, where people weep and gnash their teeth (Matt. 25:30). It is a place of eternal fire prepared for the devil and demons (Matt. 25:41). It is a place of unquenchable fire (Mark 9:43, 48). It is a place of conscious torment (Luke 16:22-24). The Bible tells us that the sinner will be cast into hell forever.

Some have wondered whether these images are literal or figurative. I think that question misses the point because these images are meant to point to something horrible and the Scriptures seek to depict the horrors of hell in the most vivid way possible. Is it like fire? Yes. Is it like darkness? Yes. Is it like a place where worms are constantly eating your flesh? Yes. It is like all of those things and worse.

It is not a party.

The images of hell are horrifying and the thought of people existing in that awful place should make us shudder. The Bible clearly teaches that hell is the final destiny of sinners who do not accept Christ (Revelation 20:15).

Some attempt to cool the flames.

Considering this doctrine has caused some to try to change it and make it less awful. Some teach that everyone goes to heaven. There are a few variations on this. Some teach that after a period of suffering people will "come to their senses" and accept Christ. Others teach that as soon as a person dies they see the reality of their situation and receive Christ. A careful reading of the Bible, however, eliminates these possibilities. There is no biblical evidence that people have a second chance after death. Even further from biblical truth is the idea that someone can enter heaven without faith in Christ. The only opportunity to avoid the wrath of God is through accepting the gospel (John 3:36).

Another common way to"soften" hell is called annihilationism. This teaches that the wicked will finally cease to exist. Their punishment is severe but temporary. Annihilationists refer to passages that speak of the destruction of the wicked as supporting their position.  After all, a piece of wood in the fire eventually ceases to be wood. The careful analysis of the term destruction demonstrates many uses of the term where the object "destroyed" does not cease to exist, rather it is permanently ruined. In many passages "eternal destruction" is paralleled with "eternal life" and it seems reasonable to assume that "destruction" and "life" are both to be experienced eternally.

No, there is no way to cool the fires of hell.

The Just Consequence

One of the problems that people often voice about hell is that it seems to be out of proportion to the wrong that was done. Is eternal torment for sins committed during a finite life just? It doesn't seem fair. I've struggled with that, too. However, I must affirm what the Bible teaches and adjust my thinking accordingly. If it doesn't seem fair, my thinking about sin must be wrong.

It is helpful to realize that we often think that the just punishment for wrong increases with the importance of the one wronged. For example, when I stop to fill up the car, I take a few moments to clean the windshield because I have killed many bugs while I was driving. Yet no one stops to arrest me or accuse me of doing wrong because they are just bugs. I wasn't trying to kill them.
But what if it was a person that I killed with the car? Then there would be consequences! Particularly if I killed someone intentionally!

What is the difference? A human being is much more valuable than a bug. A crime against a human is much more serious than a crime against a bug. That seems fair.

So what is the just punishment for sinning against the infinite God? It is infinite punishment! Given the gravity of the offense, the judge is right in executing the appropriate judgment: eternal damnation.

Why would a "loving God" allow a place like hell to exist? 

God does everything for his glory. This is good and right because is he is most glorious being in the universe. All of his attributes are beautifully and perfectly balanced and never contradict one another. There are aspects of his character that can only be revealed in action. For example, his power is displayed in his creation (Romans 1:20). How can God display his justice? Only in the execution of it! Therefore it is perfectly reasonable that God would create creatures with free will who would reject him and rebel against him. They committed the ultimate crime and will receive the proper reward for their treason (Romans 9:22-23) and the glory of God's justice will be clearly seen.


We should weep for the lost. When Paul thought of the many Jewish people that he knew who had rejected the gospel, he was filled with "great sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart" (Romans 9:2). This is a normal and healthy response. We are to be full of compassion and love towards all.

We should find opportunities to share the gospel. The gospel is the only way of salvation. There is no other way. It is important for us to be witnesses of the gospel and to share the way of salvation clearly and prayerfully.

We should trust God's goodness. Hell is a terrible thing to contemplate especially when we think of those that we know who died without Christ. God has given us a measure of his love for others and the thought of eternal punishment should cause us agony. Yet it is important to understand that when we have the perspective that God has and full knowledge of the wickedness of sinners, we will feel differently about their punishment. God is good, holy, just, loving, and merciful. The judge of all the earth will do right (Genesis 18:25). We can trust Him.

Further Reading:

One of the best recent treatments of the subject is Françis Chan's Erasing Hell. (L'enfer ignoré)
A good article on the topic of hell is found here.
Jonathan Edward's message on the Usefulness of the Wicked is thought-provoking.

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