If we’re honest with ourselves, we’re kind of embarrassed by the doctrine of hell. Most of us think that in order to be good evangelical Christians we need to believe it because Jesus and his followers talk about it quite a bit, but have we ever been passionate about hell like we are with the more palatable truths of the faith? Or perhaps, at times, do we think to ourselves that if we were in charge we could do a better job than God with this whole judgment thing? Even still, though we’ll admit that Rob Bell is wrong in his assessment of hell, are there occasions when we wish he were right about it not being eternal?
Before we hide this doctrine away in the attic of our hearts and just tolerate its existence, let’s think about the domino effect that de-emphasizing hell has on the rest of the Christian faith. First, we know that hell is God’s just punishment for sin and it is eternal in length (Matthew 25:31-36). As a punishment for sin, hell speaks directly to the seriousness of our crimes. God has chosen a punishment for sin that corresponds perfectly to the wickedness of our violations. If we diminish the importance of the doctrine of hell, then we diminish the severity of sin and if we diminish the severity of sin then we downgrade the holiness of God because sin is, first and foremost, an offense against his name (Psalm 51:4). Sin would not be as awful if people were the only ones we sinned against, but because every sin is essentially an act of rebellion wherein we choose not to give glory to a holy God (1 Corinthians 10:31), then hell is perfectly just. Going further, if we diminish the seriousness of sin, then we fail to understand the Gospel. If sin is not really as bad as hell says it is, then Jesus’ death on the cross becomes less loving and less sacrificial because our need to be rescued is not as dire as we once believed. Then, if our rescue from sin loses its magnificence, suddenly our motivation for living an obedient life of service is also diminished and we become even lazier in our devotion to the King.
The doctrine of hell affects the doctrine of sin which affects the doctrine of God and the doctrine of the atonement which in turn affects the doctrine of sanctification. Lord, help us to remember that hell, along with every other choice you’ve made in your plan of redemption, is wise, good, and right, and grant us the grace to embrace the truth of your Word over the emotional appeals of our culture.