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Eternity Without Faith: A Meditation on Hell (2 Thessalonians 1.5-12)

06 Feb

The following sermon was preached at the First Baptist Church of Benbrook on Sunday morning, February 6, 2011

Introduction

My prayer for our congregation this year is that the Lord would give us a “spirit of evangelism.” Not so much a guilty conscience, a feeling that we “ought to be doing more,” but a calling. Most of my life, I have hated the word “evangelism,” primarily because it scared me to death. I always felt like a pushy salesman, trying to convince an unwilling customer that they should buy what I am selling. But what I am praying for is much different. I desire a calling, a calling to be used by God to bring a lost person to salvation. I want our congregation to be able to say with the apostle Paul, “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10.1 ESV).

And I will confess to you that my heart does not beat with that desire, which is why I want this year to be a year of calling and not guilt. I want to hear God say to me, “I want to seek and save this person, and I want to do it through you.” And I want each one of us in our congregation to hear the same calling. And I want that calling to be specific, with each of us being burdened with a the name of a lost friend whom Jesus will seek and save this year through us.

Over the last few weeks, we have been looking at what I think are some key truths of being involved in the struggle for another person’s soul. First, we saw that salvation is really an inside job. The Bible clearly tells us that no one comes to Jesus unless the Father draws that person to Jesus (see John 6.44). We have learned that no one can repent unless the Spirit convicts them of their sin (see John 16.8 and 2 Timothy 2.25). No one can understand the gospel unless the blinders which have been put on by the god of this world are removed (2 Corinthians 4.4). And the Lord has given to us divinely powerful weapons to tear down the strongholds of thoughts and opinions which our lost friends have built up against the knowledge of God (see 2 Corinthians 10.4). Salvation is an inside job, and we must pray for our lost friends for God to do a saving work in their soul.

However, we also heard very clearly the words of Romans 10 where we are told that our lost friends will never believer (or faith) in the gospel unless they hear the good news, and they will never hear the good news unless someone is sent to tell them. And so, we are preparing ourselves for that divine moment this year when the Lord will give us the privilege and responsibility of proclaiming the good news to them so that they can faith in Christ. And we are preparing ourselves for that divine moment when our lost friends, for whom we are praying, ask us for the reason we have hope in Christ (see 1 Peter 3.15). So, we are working and thinking and preparing to give a prepared, verbal defense for the reason of our hope which is that we have been born again to a living hope in Christ. Which brings us to the words of Peter,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5 ESV)

Part of what we give testimony to, part of what we are called to declare is the imperishable, undefiled inheritance kept in heaven for us that will be revealed at the last time.

Eternity with Faith

Towards the end of last year, when we were still studying the book of Romans, we read the words of chapter 8 where Paul wrote of the “bondage to corruption” from which we long to be set free from when the Lord returns (see Romans 8.20-25). And when the King returns, the reality that we will come to know will be so different from the reality of this bondage to decay. In the eternal home of righteousness, our imperishable and undefiled inheritance will mean that…

Everything will be under the headship of Christ once and for all (see Ephesians 1.10)

Evil and the Evil One will be destroyed forever (see Revelation 20.7-10)

Our sin nature will be redeemed (see Romans 8.23)

Peace will break out (see Isaiah 65.25)

No more will nation fight against nation (see Isaiah 2.4)

No more death or physical pain (see 1 Corinthians 15.26 and Revelation 21.4)

Our mortal bodies will be replaced by the immortal (see 1 Corinthians 15.35-49)

We will see the face of Jesus (see Revelation 22.4)

We will join the worship around the throne of the Eternal Triune God (see Revelation 22.3)

All that to say that there is very good news to tell our lost friends about what could be their eternity if they would faith in Christ.

Eternity Without Faith

But the other side of the coin of hope, so to speak, is the shadowy other side. While the hope of eternity in Christ is amazing, the same span of eternity is quite hopeless without Christ. If those who have faith in Christ are ushered into the eternal home of righteousness to enjoy an inheritance, what happens to those who do not have faith? Or to put it more directly, what will be the eternal condition of the lost friend for whom we are praying if they do not put their faith in Christ?

This question is so unsettling, that most Christians either don’t think about it, think about it generically, or have massaged their thinking as to deny the basic truths about the gospel. To borrow a phrase from Al Gore, this has become an “inconvenient truth.”[1] For any person who considers the Bible an authority on matters of spiritual things and eternity, the reality of eternity without faith is staggering. Most Christians are so uncomfortable with the idea of a loving God allowing any person to suffer in “hell” forever, that we have sidestepped this truth, or replaced it either Universalism (everyone gets into heaven) or Annihilationism (souls in hell are destroyed, cease to exist, annihilated). But the biblical teaching about what happens to those who do not believe in the name of Jesus and obey the gospel is disturbingly very clear.

Jesus on Eternity without Faith

Consider what Jesus said to Nicodemus. In the same conversation where He told Nicodemus, and all of us, that “God so loved the world,” Jesus said,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God…Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:16-18, 36 ESV)

In the same conversation where Jesus spoke of God’s great love, He also spoke of God’s great wrath and that those who do not believe in Him would perish. In fact, Jesus spoke more about hell than any other apostle or writer of the New Testament. Of the more than 1850 verses recording the words of Christ, 13% are about judgment and hell. Of the 40 or so parables that Jesus told, more than half speak of God’s eternal judgment on sin.[2] It seems that Jesus, the very one who will be the judge of the living and the dead (see 2 Timothy 4.1), was quite familiar with the concept of eternity without faith.

Paul on Eternity without Faith

But Jesus was not the only one in the New Testament to speak of eternity without faith. All of those who were with Jesus spoke the same message. For instance, consider the words of the apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians,

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:5-12 ESV)

Paul, along with Jesus, realize that the hope of eternal life is shadowed by the reality of perishing in unbelief. When the Lord Jesus returns in full glory and power, to be marveled at by all who believe, He will punish all of those who refused to believe the gospel with eternal destruction.

Peter on Eternity without Faith

Or consider the words of Peter. Peter spent three years with Jesus, asking all the right question even if he asked them in all the wrong times. And Peter must have heard Jesus speak of eternity and judgment quite a bit. He wrote,

This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. (2 Peter 3:1-7 ESV)

In his first letter (1 Peter), he wrote about the struggle of being born again to a living hope but experiencing suffering as we wait for the King to return. In his second letter, he reminds them that the King is indeed coming, and when He does, He will execute judgment upon the ungodly even as the righteous are ushered into the eternal hope of righteousness.

John on Eternity without Faith

Or consider the revelation given to the apostle John. John is usually called “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (see John 20.2), and his gospel is quite different than the other three. His writings are more poetic and more heart warming. But even the soft hearted John, wrote of great and might things. He was given the incredible blessing of seeing what was, what is, and what is to come in a vision (see Revelation 1.19). And in that great vision, he saw,

…and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:10-15 ESV)

It seems that anyone who speaks about eternity, about the hope of eternity for those who believe, are compelled to speak of the horrible reality of eternity without hope.

The Combined Picture

The picture that we are given in the Bible about what happens to friends we know who refuse to believe in the name of Jesus is clear, if not disturbing.

First, the Bible teaches us that we will all stand at the judgment seat of Christ, and our eternity will be judged upon whether or not we have believed upon the name of Jesus and have put our faith in the gospel. This will not be a simple “Do you like Jesus?” question, but a question that is soul searching. The Eternal Judge, who can look into our soul, will ask:

Have you been born again (see John 3.3)?

Do you walk in newness of life (see Romans 6.4)?

Have the old things passed away and new things come (see 2 Corinthians 5.17)?

Do you obey the commands of the Lord and they are not burdensome to you (see 1 John 5.3)?

Do you have the Spirit inside your soul (see Romans 8.9)?

Have you repented from your sin (see Acts 2.38)?

Do you bear fruit in keeping with repentance (see John 15.4)?

The redeemed, the reborn, the children of faith will be ushered into eternal life, but the unredeemed, the un-reborn, the unfaithful will be ushered into eternal punishment (see Matthew 25.46).

Second, the Bible teaches us that the unredeemed will spend eternity separated from the glory of God. Hear the words again of 2 Thessalonians, “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might…” (2 Thessalonians 1:9 ESV). If the Scriptures are right and every good and perfect gift comes from above (see James 1.17), then any place void of the Giver of every good and perfect gift must be void of everything good and perfect. In other words, what makes hell “hell” is the absence of the glory of God.

Just in case you are not able to picture what a place looks like that is void of love, justice, and mercy, think of what you have been hearing on the new lately of the situation in Mexico. I don’t want to disparage and entire country, because I am sure there are wonderful parts of Mexico. But at least in some regions, it has become pretty obvious that the police and government do not have control of the country. Instead, the drug cartels run the show. Sam Davis would tell us of the horrible reality of a region void of justice and mercy. Sam, and his wife Nancy, have spent the last 30 years planting churches in Mexico, but in January of this year, Nancy was shot by members of a drug cartel in Mexico simply because they wanted their truck. Imagine an eternity where void of justice, mercy, and love. Compare that to an eternity that is consumed by the beauty and greatness of God, where love and mercy and justice reign eternal, and you can begin to taste the horrors of hell.

Third, the Bible teaches us that this judgment is eternal. What this means is that once a soul is either ushered into eternal life or into eternal destruction, this condition is final. There is no teaching in the Bible that persons in hell are given a second chance to believe or that their condition will ever change. The finality of hell is awing. This is why it is so important to take a step of faith while you are able. If our friends wait until tomorrow, there might not be a tomorrow. Tomorrow may be their first day of eternity!

Fourth, the Bible teaches us that the punishment and suffering of the un-redeemed is eternal. I know that there is a raging debate among Christian theologians today about annihilation, the idea that the soul is annihilated in hell and ceases to exist, much like our soul did not exist before our birth. For instance, Clark Pinnock wrote,

I was led to question the traditional belief in everlasting conscious torment because of moral revulsion and broader theological considerations, not first of all on scriptural grounds. It just does not make any sense to say that a God of love will torture people forever for sins done in the context of a finite life . . . It’s time for evangelicals to come out and say that the biblical and morally appropriate doctrine of hell is annihilation, not everlasting torment.

While we do not have time this morning to dissect all of the verses in the Bible that speak to this, just consider what we have read this morning:

They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction (2 Thessalonians 2)

Tormented day and night forever (Revelation 20)

What does confuse the biblical teaching are the verses that speak of the destruction of the ungodly on the day of judgment. Consider from the verse we have read this morning,

Unbelievers will perish (John 3)

Destruction of the ungodly (2 Peter 3)

Just in case that doesn’t confuse the picture enough, we should consider the many words of Jesus where He gave images of eternal suffering such as “where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9.48) or “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25.46).

However, I don’t want the eternal state of our lost friends to be lost in the theological argument between anihilationism and an eternal hell. What is clear, and not to be missed, is that the consequences of not faithing in the gospel are eternal.

Conclusion

My goal this morning is not to cause you to go out there and bombard your lost friends with the fear of hell. In fact, I don’t think that a lost person is able to understand the fear of hell (see again 2 Corinthians 4.4 or Romans 1.21-23). Why would a lost person grieve the fact that they might spend eternity without the glory of God?

And my goal is not to motivate you by guilt. Guilt is a ungodly and ineffective motivator. My goal is simply to change how we see reality. We are all born for eternity, either eternity with God in heaven or eternity apart from God in hell. This life is just a precursor to eternity.

One of the ways in which the Devil attacks our souls and our minds is to get us focused on the things below instead of the things above. And this is one of the reasons why a spirit of evangelism cannot take hold in our hearts. We are bombarded daily with the reasons why we should love this world instead of longing for a world eternal. This is nothing new. Jesus said that one of the reasons that faith is choked out is the “cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches” (see Matthew 13.22). In fact, we live in a realm of Christianity that has redesigned God so that He can be a force which we can use to help us get what we want, which is the riches of this world. Even though the Bible clearly tells us not to focus on the things of this world (see Colossians 3.2) and that the love of the things in this world is sin (see 1 John 2.15), our sin nature within is constantly lured to see what the lost world sees: the riches of this world. This is why we market God as “you should become a Christian because of what God can do for you.”

For instance, as you watch the Super Bowl this afternoon, pay attention to the commercials and see if you can see what they are saying about the things of this world, about how happy and fulfilled you could be if you had this new car, about how secure your future could be if you invested with this investment company, about how much fun you could be having if you would drink this drink. It is all about the pleasures of this world, but we are no longer of this world. This is why Peter called us aliens and sojourners (see 1 Peter 2.11). If we are going to gain of spirit of evangelism, we need new eyes to see beyond the fleeing reality of this world and into the reality of eternity, to see that we were all born for eternity.

This week, when you pray for your lost friend and as you prepared your defense for the hope you have in Christ, think about what eternity will look like for your friend. They will stand at the judgment seat of Christ, and if they are not reborn and redeemed, they will be separated from the glory of God forever in eternal punishment. If that is true, how can we not but pray passionately for God’s work in their heart and prepare faithfully for that moment this year when we can speak into their lives the good news of the gospel, that Christ died for their sins so that they might be made right with God by faith?


[1] The 2006 documentary about Al Gore’s campaign to educate America about global warming.

[2] This information was found in an article on hell on the website, www.probe.org

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Posted by on February 6, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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