Thursday, April 14, 2011

How to Tell People About Hell

Hell is not a pleasant subject to talk about, but is a Scriptural reality. The arguments against it are not so much a matter of what the Bible teaches but the fact we do not like the idea. Now I cannot say I like the idea of hell, but it is hard to get around the clear teaching of Scripture. Hell is pictured as eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; Mark 9:43-48), as unending torment (Revelation 14:11; 20:10; Luke 16:19-31).  Nor do we see any Scriptural basis for a second chance after death (Hebrews 9:27; Luke 16:19-31; 2 Corinthians 6:1-2).

Over against that is our strong desire not to believe in it. While this is certainly natural, as it is not a pleasant doctrine, there are certain reasons why it is particularly opposed in our present age. Our age does not believe in a God who enforces justice (Romans 1:18; James 5:1-6; Revelation 20:11-15) or even in justice itself. Also, our culture holds that human beings are basically good rather than being sinners (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9) and that everything wrong with us is the fault of society and our upbringing. It is not surprising that an individual in this frame of mind will reject the idea of hell.

How, then, do we approach telling people about this doctrine? We must not evade or sugarcoat it. We are in a position similar to that of a doctor who must tell a patient he has cancer. It is not something the patient will want to hear. But it is absolutely necessary for them to know so they can seek treatment. The doctor is not doing them any favors hiding it from them. Sin, death, and hell are one hundred percent curable if treated by the right Physician (Matthew 9:12,13; John 14:6; Acts 4:12). But they are eternally fatal if not treated. But we  also, like the doctor, need to approach the situation with care and compassion, not in self-righteousness or anger (1 Peter 3:15; Colossians 4:6; 2 Timothy 2:23-26). We must avoid giving the impression that we are saved because we are not sinners (Ephesians 2:1-10; Colossians 2:13-15; 1:21,22) or that we can make any claim to have been saved by our own goodness (Titus 3:5,6; Romans 4:4,5; 11:6). But unlike the doctor, we will have to convince them the danger is real. This involves convincing them that Christianity is true, which is beyond the scope of this post. But it will be useful to undermine their specific objections. We need to show them that they are sinners. I have found pointing them to Scriptures that put forth God's real requirements to be helpful (for example Matthew 5-7). Also, we need to help them to see the implications of a world without justice and where no one is responsible for their actions. Talking about hell is never an easy thing. It should be approached with caution, but it cannot be avoided.


  1. My thinking is that a genuine relationship should exist before we speak of heavy issues like hell. The goodness of God leads men to repent and the Holy Spirit convicts men of sin. Apart from a revelation of God's goodness and the conviction of the Holy Spirit we are simply using flesh to battle flesh. But I may be misunderstanding what you are saying?

  2. How did Jesus talk to people about the subject of hell?

    Jesus speaks specifically of hell in Matthew 5:22: But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause[a] shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.

    Jesus never beat around the bush about such a important subject or anything else as far as that goes.

  3. Jesus was forthright about the fact of hell and I do not think we can beat around the bush. But I think we as sinful human beings can come off as saying I am better than you and so I am not going to hell like you are. Therefore we need to be careful to make it clear we are sinners saved by grace. I agree with Bob that only the Holy Spirit can bring people to repentance. But there are people that feel like the way to reach people is to avoid any subject that might offend them. I feel the extreme hellfire and brimstone preacher who is trying to stir up fear and the we will tell people what they want to hear preacher are both trusting in the flesh rather than God to reach people.