A gospel tract once came into my possession. After it set out some gospel truths, the writer made the following statement as he drew his article to an end:
"People do not go to Hell for their sins. They go to Hell for rejecting Jesus Christ as their Sin Bearer, their Substitute, and the One who died in their place for their sins."
Does this statement measure up to the teaching of the Bible? If it does, then we must accept it. If it doesn't, then we must reject it out of hand. What saith the Scripture?
1) Colossians 3:5-6 declares: "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience:" (Emphasis mine) Why does the wrath of God fall on the unsaved (identified here as the children of disobedience, as Ephesians 2:12 bears out)? For their sins, including those of fornication, uncleanness etc.,
2) Romans 1:18 declares that "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;"
3) John in Revelation 21:6 declared in a similar vein: "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." These people are still identified by the law of God by their particular sins (idolaters, whoremongers etc.,) and are being punished as such in the lake of fire.
Similar verses include Revelation 22:15/1 Corinthians 6:9-10 etc., which distinctly name certain types of sinners in their capacity as committing those sins as being barred from Heaven.
4) No one doubts that Christ rejection is the ultimate sin or that the evangelical reception of Christ leads to pardon for all sin. This is true. But it is still wrong to deny that people are in Hell purely because of Christ rejection. Why then is the heathen man in Hell who never heard the gospel or the name of Jesus? Answer: Because of those sins which his own laws and conscience condemned (Romans 2:12-16) He will be beaten with less stripes than those more privileged (i.e. the evangelised) but punished he surely will be. (Luke 12:48)
5) Why did the tract writer above make this statement? (I have also heard it propagated elsewhere by other evangelical people.)
[i] It is a sincere, though misguided effort, to magnify the atoning work of Christ on Calvary. It is true to say (in the words of the hymn writer) None need perish, for Christ has died. Every last sinner is invited to the Cross. If he should come, then all his sins will be forgiven. If he doesn't come, then he adds this great sin to all the others. This is what happened when Herod imprisoned and eventually murdered John the Baptist: But Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias his brother Philip's wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, Added yet this above all, that he shut up John in prison. (Luke 3:19-20) By murdering John, Herod effectively murdered the voice of God to his soul. He punctured his own airline and therefore drowned in his own perdition. This was the crowning sin of all, but not the only sin for which he is in Hell. He is there as an adulterer and a murderer and all the other sins he committed on this earth. If the sinner doesn't come, then his sin is not taken away - it remains (John 9:41) - and it is greatly increased by his ultimate rejection of Christ.
We can urge people to seek the Lord at the Cross by other means. We can highlight the sin of Christ rejection (as emphasised in John 3:18/John 3:36 etc.,) without compromising - indeed without denying - the serious consequences of other sins.
[ii] The thinking that leads to the misleading statement above flows from the erroneous belief that Christ has made atonement on Calvary for all the sins of all men i.e. elect and reprobate alike. We deal elsewhere with the problems which flow from this doctrine. Yet the matter raised here suggests something else. If the Lord died for every last sin of the ultimate Christ rejecter, then it must be admitted that He died for the sin of ultimate Christ rejection. If He did, then why isn't this sin not forgotten about also? If the sin of adultery or murder etc., will not put the sinner into hell - presumably because it has been atoned for (otherwise God's justice is left lacking) - why then does Christ rejection stand out different from the rest? It has either been atoned for or it hasn't. If it has, then God is demanding payment twice. If it hasn't, then to state the obvious: Christ did not die for all the sins of all men.
To conclude, the statement above ("People do not go to hell for their sins") is erroneous. Whatever the honourable intentions of the writer of the tract, he overstepped the mark of Bible orthodoxy in making this statement. If he wishes to focus men into the absolute necessity of seeking pardon through the Cross, then he should concentrate on the seriousness and the madness of forsaking our own mercy (Jonah 2:8) It shows that we should not have hazy views about the intention of Christ's cross and try and figure the logical outcome of our doctrines. I am all for evangelism, but not at the expense of evangelical orthodoxy. Only truth sets men free (John 8:32)
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