We are all familiar with might be considered the scare tactics of a sermon about hell. There might be a good number of Christians who have embraced the good news out of fear of eternal damnation. And yes, there is no lack of good reasons to be afraid of hell. It is probably the most “distasteful” aspect of the Christian message; even more than the worries of earthly suffering, the thought of spending forever in a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth is pretty formidable. And so it is not surprising that there are plenty of preachers, theologians and lay people who water down the doctrine of hell.
Here’s a thought: don’t bother. There is indeed a place for fear in communicating the truth of the gospel. But it’s not fear of hell. It’s fear of God.
God. The one who created the universe with a word, who knows your every thought and action, every hair on your head, every cell in your body and every moment of your past, present and future. He’s not just all-powerful and all-knowing, He is Holy. He is wholly different from us. Yes, we are the pinnacle of his creation, made in his image, made with the ability to be in relationship with him. But he is holy, and we are not.
But when we are confronted with the presence of God what should be the initial reaction on our part? Joy? No, joy comes later. For when we meet God, the holiness of God sheds light on our sin and to say that we feel regret or remorse is just too tame. For those who meet God before death the fear is tempered by earthly circumstance. But if one were to meet God face to face the fear would be debilitating.
We hate the thought of hell. We comfort ourselves with the knowledge that no one deserves heaven. This is true. But it is more than that; it is different. No one would want to be in heaven. Faced with a holy God, a sinner wouldn’t be able to stand in his presence. A sinner would flee.
The awesomeness of God and the weight of the person’s sin would actually cause the person to choose hell. Not because hell is a party; it’s not. It is horrible. But a sinner would be even more terrified to be in the presence of God than in a place God has forsaken. That is the terror that awaits the unregenerate at death. Not the lake of fire, but the creator of the lake, his holiness and your sin will be the reason for weeping.
Here’s the good news, the incredible news: God is love. With his astounding grace and sacrifice he made the way to him possible through the blood of his son, Jesus. Jesus paid the price for our sins in full and when we trust him as our savior God forgives and forgets our sin. When he sees us, when we stand in front of him, he sees the holiness of Jesus and we are welcomed as his children.
Deut 4:10: Never forget the day when you stood before the Lord your God at Mount Sinai, where he told me, ‘Summon the people before me, and I will personally instruct them. Then they will learn to fear me as long as they live, and they will teach their children to fear me also.
Deut 10:12: “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? He requires only that you fear the Lord your God, and live in a way that pleases him, and love him and serve him with all your heart and soul.”
Prov 2:5: Then you will understand what it means to fear the Lord, and you will gain knowledge of God.
Ps 34:9: Fear the Lord, you his godly people, for those who fear him will have all they need.
Matt 10:28: Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
2 Cor 7:1: Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God.
Rev 14:7: “Fear God,” he shouted. “Give glory to him. For the time has come when he will sit as judge. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all the springs of water.”