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Scared to Death of Hell

Fear is a powerful motivator.  It can cause us to take actions that we would never otherwise take.  It can also prevent us from doing things that we would otherwise do.  Fear can dominate our thoughts and worry our minds.  It can change the course of our lives.  Fear motivates us to avoid the objects of our fear or even to destroy them if possible.  Fear has been the source of some of man's greatest successes, for courageous men who conquered their fears have won inspiring victories.  Fear has also been the source of some of man's greatest failures, for men blinded by fear have made foolish, irrational decisions that led to disaster.  Thus, the motivation of fear can be either good or bad depending on the rationale behind our fears and what our fears motivate us to do.

Of all that we might fear in this world, nothing is more fearsome than the prospect of eternity in hell.  This fear is good for us if we handle it correctly.  Therefore, let us consider carefully the Bible's description of hell. Hell is a place of destruction for both body and soul (Matt. 10:28).  It is a place of "eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt. 25:41).  The Lord described it repeatedly as outer darkness and a place for weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 8:12; 13:42; 13:50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28).  He also said that it was a place "where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:43-48; quoted from Isa. 66:24).  Paul refers to it as a place of wrath, indignation, tribulation, and distress for every soul of man who does evil (Rom. 2:8-9).  He also describes it as "eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power" (2Thess. 1:9).  It Revelation 21:8, hell is described figuratively as "the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."

Those descriptions should literally scare us all to death.  This does not mean that we should fall dead because of the fear of hell, but rather it is that we should retain a fear of hell throughout our lives.  The threat of hell is real for those who are stubbornly sinful, unrepentant, disbelieving, and disobedient to God (Rom. 2:5-10; 2Thess. 1:6-10; Rev. 21:8).  This threat should motivate us to avoid those conditions that would send us to hell, and that motivation should last a lifetime.  Consider the Lord's instruction in Mark 9:43-48:

43"If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, 44where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.  45If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, 46where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. 47If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, 48where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.

Certainly, the Lord spoke with a degree of hyperbole to emphasize His point, which is that we should be willing to go to extreme, life-altering measures to avoid hell.

Because hell is so frightening, we may not want to think about it.  However, we must be mindful of hell, for the warnings of hell are part of the word of God, and we must receive His whole counsel (Acts 20:27). For those who feel that discussions and warnings of hell are too harsh and are incompatible with the love and grace of God, let them be reminded that no one in the Bible talked more about hell than Jesus.  Let them also be reminded that it is the Lord Jesus who will condemn many souls (Matt. 7:21-23; 25:31-46; Luke 13:23-24; 2Cor. 5:10), and it is God "who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:28).  Therefore, by the word of God and His blessed will, we must speak of hell and warn every soul so all may flee from the wrath to come (Matt. 3:7).

Most importantly, we must remember that God wants us to escape hell, and He has made the ultimate sacrifice to save us from it.  The Lord is "not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (2Pet. 3:9), and God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1Tim. 2:4).  To fulfill His will, "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16).  Jesus died on the cross in our place to rescue us from hell and the punishment that was due for our sins (Isa. 53:5-8; Rom. 5:6-11).  Because of God's great love for us through the giving of His Son, we can overcome the fear of hell and escape its punishment.  "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love" (1John 4:18).  Therefore, let us be perfected in love through Christ so that we may cast out the fear of hell by escaping its punishment.

Stacey E. Durham



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