Question [composite of several]: Do you believe that people get saved by being told there is a hell? It seems to me that the idea that people who choose not to follow God will suffer eternal torment may be thought of as inconsistent with a God who is supposed to be just and loving. That may deter them from turning to the Lord. What are your thoughts?
Response: There has been much speculation regarding whether someone may or may not come to the Lord because of the biblical teaching of hell. We must always ask: “What do the Scriptures say?” The Lord Jesus Christ warned of hell fourteen times in the Gospels—far more than He spoke of the joys of heaven. Peter wrote of it three times, James mentioned it once, and the four references in Revelation give us a total of twenty-two times that the word “hell” occurs in the New Testament. Jesus specifically said that hell is a place of torment in a “fire that never shall be quenched” (Mk 9:43-48).
Those who have been judged at the “great white throne...according to their works” shall be “cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation:20:11-15). Dave Hunt rightly observed that “they have been confronted by the One on the throne, ‘from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away...’ Every self-justifying excuse has been stripped away, leaving the stark reality of the extreme wickedness of their sin. They will for eternity mourn the folly of their irrevocable decision. Imagine the pain of the full realization of one’s eternal state, with the ‘blood’ of Jesus on one’s ‘hands.’”
God revealed Himself and gave the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai showing Himself to be “...merciful and gracious...forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Ex 34:6-7). Some will ask, “Then why doesn’t He just forgive the whole human race?”
Scripture tells us that God sent His Son “that the world through him might be saved” (Jn:3:17), that He desires “all men to be saved” (1 Tm 2:4), and that He is “not willing that any should perish...” (2 Pt 3:9). He has made provision for salvation from sin for all, but not everyone will accept that provision. Nor would those who refuse to accept it be happy in heaven with the One whom they rejected.
Of course, fear of hell alone is not usually enough to lead one to salvation. Although it may be a catalyst, a person needs an understanding not only of his own sinfulness but must also realize that God is loving and fair to require that we accept the penalty that Christ paid for our sins and believe in Him so that we wouldn’t have to go to hell at all.
Love is certainly one of God’s attributes. He is also perfectly just. He judges righteously at all times. Some scriptures seem to imply that suffering in hell is proportional to the deeds done. In Revelation:20:12 we read, “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.”
In Matthew:11:21-22, Jesus said, “Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you” (emphasis added).
The writer of Hebrews warned, “Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews:10:29—emphasis added).
No matter what we think may influence people toward accepting or not accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior, the only thing that truly matters is what the Bible teaches. And it teaches “everlasting fire,” “everlasting punishment,” and “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” (Mt 25:41,46; 2 Thes:1:9).