Hell – Why It’s Eternal and the Remarkable Ease of Entering Heaven/Part 1
|By: John G. Weldon; ©February 19,2011|
|The good news is that it is easy to avoid hell forever and receive the eternal bliss, joy, adventure, and ecstasy known as heaven, simply by turning from our sin and believing in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.|
- 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 to 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? If I say “With their will,” my reason implies “How, if they will not give in?”
Polls consistently reveal that the large majority of people believe that they are sufficiently good morally and will not go to hell. In other words, among those who believe in heaven, which include the lion’s share of Americans, almost all hope or believe that God will let them into heaven when they die. Why? Because they think they are basically good people, because they have never committed “real” evil such as murder or rape, and because they try hard to live a good life.
Whatever one’s view of the afterlife around the world, I suspect most people believe they will end up in a positive place rather than a negative one; it’s simply human nature. At the same time, everyone has a natural fear of death (Hebrews 2:15) because everyone knows they fall short of God’s standards, resulting in a fear of God’s coming judgment (Romans 1:32; John 16:8-9)
I have good news and I have bad news.
The Good News
The good news is that it is easy to avoid hell forever and receive the eternal bliss, joy, adventure, and ecstasy known as heaven, simply by turning from our sin and believing in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. As the book of Galatians emphasizes time and again (see chapters 1-3), the truth is that there is nothing we can personally do that will ever earn heaven for us.
Today there are a large number of practices and beliefs that people hope will get them into heaven – good works, individual merit, attending mass and taking the sacraments, water baptism, penance, confession before a priest, membership in an evangelical Christian church, suffering for sin in an assumed purgatory, personally confessing our sins, Eastern forms of meditation and “enlightenment,” chanting the names of various deities or mantras (allegedly sacred words), reading the Bible, teaching Sunday school, having great spiritual gifts and doing genuine miracles (Matthew 7:21-23), having faith in a general concept of God, giving to the poor (Cf., 1 Corinthians 13:1-3), being a pastor, priest, or rabbi, etc. There are a thousand other things, but none of these will ever by themselves get us into heaven.
The reason is simple: none of these things meet God’s single requirement for entrance into heaven – because none of them satisfies the requirements of God’s infinite justice and holiness. Even the best of our good works, personal merit, and sincerity fall far short of God’s infinite standards of perfection (Luke 18:14 Jeremiah 17:9). When God judges, He looks at all our thoughts, words, deeds, motives, and even the motives behind our thoughts – His judgment is infinitely thorough and in our present imperfect state, none of us can survive it.
The problem we face is that only perfect people enter heaven – yet every one of us falls short of absolute perfection. This is the very reason Christ died for our sins. His vicarious death on the Cross (meaning He became our substitute) paid the infinite divine penalty that was due all our sins (Colossians 2:13), and He simultaneously gave us the free gift of His perfect righteousness. In other words, nothing less than having all our sins (past, present, and future), eternally forgiven and nothing less than having Christ’s perfect righteousness eternally credited to our account will allow us entrance into heaven. As Scripture teaches, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”(2 Corinthians 5:21) And, Jesus “was delivered up because of our offences, and was raised up because of our being declared righteous.” (Romans 4:25, Young’s Literal Translation, emphasis added)
As hard as it may be for some to accept, it is simple faith in Jesus Christ alone that will grant us entrance into an eternal heaven, as He Himself promised (emphasis added):
- “Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.” (John 6:47)
- “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24)
- “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
And as the apostle John emphasized in his first epistle, “I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God in order that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13)
Eternal life is clearly spoken of as a present tense possession.
Leaving the philosophical issues for another discussion, to me it is evident that once actual eternal life is possessed, it is by definition eternal from that point on and can never be lost. Each of the Scriptures above teaches that eternal life is possessed at the point of saving faith — eternal life begins in this life. In other words, eternal life is not something we inherit after death but something we possess in this life at the point of true saving faith. Unfortunately, there are many people who think they have saving faith who really don’t.
What I mean is that genuine faith can be placed in the wrong object and count for nothing – thus, all the genuine and heartfelt faith in the world that is placed in a false god is insufficient. In a similar fashion, a false faith placed in the true God is also insufficient. The true salvation which allows entrance into an eternal heaven must have genuine faith placed in the proper object, the biblical Jesus Christ. It is unfortunately possible to have faith in a false Christ and never be saved:
- As in the false Jesus of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who deny Christ’s deity;
- Or Mormonism, which believes Christ is only one among many gods;
- Or Christian Science, which believes Christ is an illusion and never died on the cross for sin;
- Or in Islam, which believes Jesus was only a prophet of Allah, is superseded by Mohammed, and never died on the cross at all;
- and in many other religious movements
To reiterate, it is clearly possible to have the wrong kind of faith in the true biblical Jesus Christ; this won’t get anyone into heaven either. Many people have a solely intellectual and/or emotional faith in Jesus, but not a volitional faith that truly trusts in Him for personal forgiveness of sins. This is why the Bible tells even Christian audiences to make sure that their faith is genuine: “Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith.” (2 Corinthians 13:5 NLT).
Regardless, the unbelievably good news is that it is possible for anyone to get into heaven by genuine faith in the biblical Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. It’s that simple.
The Bad News
The bad news is that hell is as much a reality as heaven and that the evidence for it is as compelling and persuasive as the evidence for other areas of the Christian faith, including Christ’s resurrection from the dead. (See John Ankerberg, John Weldon, Handbook of Biblical Evidences)
The truth is that most people don’t really have a problem with some kind of just punishment after death because most are all too aware that justice is often denied in this life. They also intuitively sense that God is just and there must be a punishment of sin (Romans 1:32); for example that’s the whole purpose of the claimed Catholic doctrine of purgatory – to work off one’s sins through punishment for eventual entrance into heaven.
What many people do have a problem with is the idea that hell is eternal, even though it is something clearly taught by no less an authority than Jesus Christ and clearly declared many times in the New Testament and also plainly taught in the Old testament (e.g., Daniel 12:2; Matthew 25:46)
So, if hell exists (and evidence from history, logic, and the teachings of Christ who is the supreme authority prove it does), why, people wonder, must it be eternal? Wouldn’t a few thousand or at most a few billion years of punishment satisfy God’s justice, even infinite justice?
When considering this subject we need to remember that things which may make little or no sense to us nevertheless make perfect sense to an omniscient God who knows everything. The most brilliant scientists alive don’t understand how light can be both a particle and wave, but God does. We are finite and sinful creatures with an extraordinarily limited understanding when contrasted to an infinitely Glorious Being who “knows all things” actual and potential. Further, His ways are not out ways, and thankfully so!
- “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55;8-9).
- “How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out. Who has known the mind of the Lord?” (Romans 11:13-14).
- “Who has understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed him as his counselor?” (Isaiah 30:14)
But if the Bible teaches that hell is real, again, why would it have to last forever? At the most straightforward and profound level, the reason is because God Himself said it was necessary. When God speaks on anything, the matter is settled because by definition He is infinitely perfect in all His attributes. If He declares hell is consistent with His infinite love and mercy, how can it be otherwise since He knows all things? But there is more that can be said than just “God said.” In part two, we’ll look at three further explanations among many.
- C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, pp. 118-119.
- According to one poll about 5% believe in heaven but don’t expect to be there. Nevertheless, “Vast majorities of Americans believe in heaven and think they’re headed there.… Eighty-nine percent in this ABC News poll believe in heaven, which is consistent with data going back 30 years. Among believers, 85 percent think they’ll personally go there. Among all Americans, 75 percent think they’ll go to heaven. The rest include 5 percent who believe in heaven but don’t think they’ll get there; 9 percent who believe but aren’t sure they’ll get in; and 10 percent who don’t believe in heaven.” (Dalia Sussman, “Poll: Elbow Room No Problem in Heaven,” ABCNews.com, December 20, 2005; http://abcnews.go.com/US/Beliefs/story?id=1422658)
- Obviously, I believe that genuine saving faith includes repentance and involves an authentic trust in the biblical Christ for forgiveness of sins. Spiritual rebirth or regeneration – what Jesus spoke of in John 3:3-5 – involves being “born from above” and becoming a new creature in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 2:5). Because God makes us alive spiritually, we naturally desire to submit to His Lordship and do good works to glorify Him, although we never achieve sinless perfection in this life (cf. Romans Chapter 7; James 3:2) Regenerating faith by definition involves genuine repentance: “each is a part of one saving act by which a person receives the gift of everlasting life.” (Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume 3: Sin And Salvation (Bethany, 2004) p. 518; cf. pp. 910-922.)
- Note that all people possess eternal existence by virtue of their creation in God’s image, however only those who believe in Christ possess eternal life. The others are in a state of spiritual separation from God that apart from true faith in Christ will end in the second or eternal death i.e., separation from God forever.
- For a primer see, John Ankerberg, John Weldon Fast Facts on Defending Your Faith