On a rugged, lonely dirt road someone posted a sign reading: "Choose wisely. You will be in the rut you pick for the next 20 miles." That's not just country roads. That's life! You are free to choose, but you are not free to choose the consequences of your choice. For example, if you choose to overeat today, you choose to be overweight tomorrow. If you choose to smoke a cigarette today, you choose to be dead 16 minutes earlier. Have I stepped on enough toes to get your attention? Every choice has consequences for good or for ill. So when you face with a big decision you had better consider the alternatives with their consequences.
At a low point in Jesus' ministry when many of his disciples left him (attendance and giving were way down!), Jesus asked the faithful few who remained, "Will you also go with them?" Peter answered a question with a question. He said, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68). Hard as it was to follow Jesus, the alternative was worse. No one else had words of eternal life. "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him" (John 3:36). Jesus is not just another additive to contribute extra fizz to your life; he is an alternative to save your life. With him you will live forever. Without him you will die forever.
The Apostle John said the second death is the lake of fire. "Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:14-15). "As for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Revelation 21:8). I confess I am out of step with contemporary culture. The modern trend is to sweeten God, white-wash sin and air condition hell. People don't want to hear the hard truth about hell anymore. They want a soft religion with soft music, soft pews and soft soap.
It is not considered very nice to preach on the ugly subject of hell, so most preachers don't. But, friends, it is nicer to tell the truth than to lie even if the truth isn't very nice. A true friend would tell you when your house is on fire. He or she doesn't enjoy frightening you, but out of love would alert you to the danger. Only an enemy would see the blaze and fail to warn you. The really cruel person is the one who says there is no hellfire when in fact there is. Such a person is a demonic fiend on the level with those who sell cut antibiotics, outdated snake-bite serum or leaky life preservers. The one who tells the lost and dying there is no hell is telling the world's most hideous cruelty joke.
Some people call this narrow-minded. But we must take care that we are no more broad nor narrow than Jesus Christ. We believe in a bottomless hell and a topless heaven for one simple reason: Jesus taught them both. "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him" (John 3:36).
The gospel is good news, but the gospel has a bad news alternative. Whoever rejects the Son will die without ever even seeing life. You must give up the notion that good and evil are merely relative terms, that creeds and conduct don't really matter, that however aimlessly you muddle through life, it will all come out okay in the end. No! You have a free will and your choices are decisive for all eternity.
Every time you make a choice you turn the central part of you (the part that chooses) into something a little different than it was before. Taking life as a whole, with all your countless decisions, you are slowly turning this central part into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature into a being that is at peace with God, or else into one that is at war with God. It is the essence of heaven and hell that people must abide forever with that which they have chosen: everlasting life or everlasting death, perpetual service or perpetual sin (Revelation 22:11).
Jesus said, "Whoever rejects the Son will not see life." Why? "For God's wrath remains on him." The first alternative is death and the second is .
Frankly, I would much rather teach God's love than God's wrath. I would prefer to tell you about the promises of heaven than about the warnings of hell. But I must tell you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help me, God. Jesus, who not only told the truth but was the truth, said, "Whoever rejects the Son God's wrath remains on him."
God holds you and me responsible for our decisions. His judgment is an act of love. John Wesley argued that hell itself is a creation of God's love not God's wrath. Today we would call it tough love. It shows God's willingness to take "No" for an answer. "Whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him."
To deny God's wrath is to deny his love or at least to sentimentalize it! God's anger and love are two sides of the same coin called caring. The opposite of love is not anger. The opposite of love is apathy. God is anything but apathetic. He loves you enough to send his Son to die in your place. He loves you enough that he will not force you against your will into eternal life. He loves you enough to let you choose freely and then live eternally with the consequences of your choice.
John laid it all out as plainly as possible: "God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life" (1 John 5:11-12).
Just as iodine destroys germs, just as light destroys darkness, just as heat destroys cold (not because they lose their temper about it, but because it is their nature to do so), in the same way, God's presence means instant death to all that is contrary to his nature.
Evil brings inevitable consequences. We know that is true from personal experience as well as holy scripture (Hosea 13:9; Jeremiah 6:19; Proverbs 26:27; 28:6,10; Psalm 34:21; 37:14-15). God's punishment of the wicked often consists in simply abandoning them to their wickedness where they reap its terrible results (Romans 1:24-28; Psalm 81:14; Acts 7:42).
If we tell the whole truth about God we must include his severity as well as his kindness (Romans 11:22). The God who is love (John 4:8) is also a "consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29).
There are some, however, who feel God is too good to allow any of his creatures to suffer endlessly in hell. But scriptures and personal experience show that the goodness of God never violates your free will. If you put your hand on a hot stove, God's goodness will not prevent you from being burned. And if God permits you to hurt yourself in this life, why not in the next? God gives you freedom to choose even when your choices are horribly self-destructive.
Hell is not an empty threat; it is a fact. Those who don't want to be where God is will be where God is not. And that is hell. "I never knew you," he will say. "Away from me, you evildoers" (Matthew 7:23). Those who reject the Son will be banished from the presence of him who is present everywhere and erased from the knowledge of him who knows everything.
The alternative to salvation is real. And it is your alternative. God isn't the one who decides who goes to heaven and who goes to hell; he leaves that decision up to each and every one of us. Hell is God's great compliment to human freedom. He doesn't "send" people to hell, for that would mean driving them from his presence. Jesus said clearly: "Whoever comes to me I will never drive away" (John 6:37). Oh, but some refuse to come. And those who will not come will go. Scripture says Judas "went to his own place" (Acts 1:25). For him hell was home. As a matter of fact, the wicked work harder to reach hell than the righteous to reach heaven.
Hell is prepared for those who prepare for it by kindling its fires here-and-now. John 3:17-19 describes the horrible alternative stated in John 3:36. "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil."
Damnation is not a sentence imposed on someone, but rather the condition of being what one is forever. The gates of hell are locked on the inside. The inhabitants may wish to leave like envious people may wish to be happy but they refuse to take the first step of self-abandonment by which to become happy. The damned are self-enslaved. "I did it my way" is the theme song of hell.
In his popular fantasy, The Last Battle, C. S. Lewis pictures the condemnation of the Dwarfs who refused to accept any of the good things offered to them. They were obsessed by a fear of being "taken in." "The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs," they stubbornly chant. Aslan, the lion figure of Christ, finally gave them up to themselves. "Their prison is only in their own minds," he said, "yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out."
When Walter Martin appeared on the Donahue show to discuss death, heaven and hell, Phil Donahue said, "Well, now, Doc, don't you think that when I get to the end of the road, God will put his arms around me and say, 'Aw, c'mon in, Phil!'?" Dr. Martin said, "Oh, Phil, He already did two thousand years ago. He invited you to come on in THEN."
We have God's invitation with a heavenly RSVP.
What do you say? You must decide. To choose not to choose is still a choice. Hell is general admission. Heaven is reserved seating. Christ has bought your ticket. It's paid for. Take it or leave it! Life with Christ is one endless hope. Life without Christ is one hopeless end. The alternative is yours. Well?