July 18, 2014

Does the Doctrine of Hell Make God Unjust?

by Mike Riccardi

JusticeLast Friday, I posted some selections of Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” since last Tuesday was the 273rd anniversary of the greatest sermon preached on American soil. If you haven’t read that post, I would invite you to read America’s greatest sermon for America’s greatest need.

However, because I was on vacation last week, away from a computer, I wasn’t able to participate in the very disappointing comment thread that followed that post. The discussion was immediately derailed by objections to the doctrine of hell as the eternal conscious torment of the wicked who die outside of Christ. So because I wasn’t able to respond then, and because the objections presented are very common from our increasingly-secular, anti-biblical, and Christianity-intolerant culture (and so are objections you will need to respond to as you engage your “world” with the Gospel), I wanted to respond to those objections today.

Two Disclaimers

But before I jump right in, I want to make a couple disclaimers. First, this post does not set out to prove that the biblical picture of hell is that of eternal conscious torment. For the sake of time and space I assume it to be so. I know there are strenuous objections to this doctrine from the various corners of unbelief—both from those who do and do not claim to be Christians. Though I vigorously believe this to be the biblical teaching, it simply falls outside the scope of this post to make a full defense of the doctrine. For those looking for that, you might start here.

Secondly, I acknowledge the doctrine of eternal conscious torment to be a terrifying, awful reality. Though I speak about these things frankly, and what may seem like dispassionately, I want to assure you that I don’t do so with a sinful delight or an unfeeling vengefulness. Like our great God, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek 33:11), and I don’t take for granted that I’m discussing an unspeakably horrifying reality that I hope none of you reading this ever experiences. In fact, it’s precisely because of my deep desire for you (and those to whom you minister) to escape eternal punishment that I endeavor to speak about it in this post. I don’t do so flippantly or lightly, but (I hope) with the gravity that it deserves.

Two Basic Claims

The basic objection is that the biblical doctrine of eternal conscious torment is at odds with any reasonable notion of God’s love or justice. The argument basically boils down to two claims:

  1. Not everyone in history has had equal access to the Gospel—i.e., the remedy for or rescue from the horrific punishment of eternal hell. God is unjust and unloving to not have sovereignly orchestrated things such that all had an equal opportunity of receiving salvation.
  2. It is unjust to think that a person who has committed fewer or relatively less evil sins (e.g., a child stealing a cookie from a cookie jar) suffers the same eternal, infinite punishment in hell as a person who has committed more or relatively more evil sins (e.g., Hitler). God’s justice has no sense of proportion.


God is Not Obligated to Be Gracious

GuiltyThe first claim fails for the simple reason that it presupposes that God is obligated to be gracious to everyone. It fails to understand the very definition of grace, which is that it is undeserved.

To illustrate, it is perfectly consistent with the tenets of justice for a human judge to sentence every murderer to life in prison without offering mercy to any of them. It is absolutely no blight on the character of a judge to send a guilty criminal to prison. In a similar way, it would have been entirely consistent with the tenets of justice for God to have saved absolutely no one from sin. He was entirely within His rights to send every last human being to hell. Why? Because we are all actually guilty. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). “Death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom 5:12). Because of our sin—because we are all actually lawbreakers—all of humanity deserves the eternal punishment that is the penalty for sin.

The unbeliever denies this. It’s the classic mistake of conceiving of God to be less righteous than he is and of conceiving man to be more righteous than he is (Rom 10:2–3). It supposes that man, the criminal, is owed some opportunity for reprieve from the just punishment that his sins deserve.

But we do not deserve grace. Grace is by definition undeserved, and so God is not obligated to give grace to anyone. No human being even deserves to hear the Gospel, let alone experience the sovereignly powerful, irresistible saving grace of God that is effectual unto salvation. That God does save anyone is an unspeakable act of love.

But He was under no obligation to do so. His character as a just Judge would not have been impugned in the least if He punished every single human being according as their sins deserve. That’s why Paul can say in Romans 9 that God is not unjust to have compassion on whomever He chooses (Rom 9:14–16), and that ability is not a precondition of accountability (Rom 9:19–20).

The Quantitative and Qualitative Aspects of Eternal Punishment

The second claim fails just as much as the first, but is a bit more complex. It requires us to understand both the qualitative and quantitative aspects of sin and punishment.

In the one sense, all sin—whether murdering someone, stealing a car, lying, or even being hatefully angry with someone—receives the same infinite penalty of spending an eternity in hell. We could call this the quantitative sense of punishment; i.e., the quantity of time for which all sinners are punished is equal. This is because punishment for sin is measured by the dignity of the One sinned against. All sin is fundamentally sin against God (cf. Ps 51:4), and He is infinitely holy. Accordingly, sin against an infinitely holy God demands an infinite punishment. The severity of the punishment points to the holiness of God. He is so righteous that the just penalty for offending His holiness is something so horrible as eternal conscious torment. It would actually be unjust for God not to punish sin eternally, because to do so would belittle the value and glory of His worthiness.

However, while the punishment that each sinner receives is quantitatively identical (i.e., it lasts forever), it is not qualitatively identical. There are degrees of punishment in hell. We see this plainly from a number of texts of Scripture. Jesus tells the citizens of Chorazin and Bethsaida that it will be more tolerable for the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for them—more tolerable for the wicked men and women of Sodom than for the citizens of Capernaum—since they had a greater degree of revelation available to them and spurned it (Matthew 11:21-24). Quality and QuantityHebrews 10:29 says the one who has been exposed to the greatest revelation of the truth of God in the New Covenant and yet rejects it deserves a “much severer punishment” than those who rejected the Law of Moses. 2 Peter 2:17 speaks about “the gloom of utter darkness” (ESV), “the blackest darkness” (NIV), or “the utter depths of darkness” (NET) that is reserved for false teachers (cf. Jude 1:13).

So to summarize, all of mankind is guilty of sinning against an infinitely holy God. Therefore, all who die without repenting and trusting in Christ face the same quantitatively eternal punishment for their sins. And yet, because God is strictly just, He will punish those who committed qualitatively greater offenses with a qualitatively greater punishment. As Edwards continues in “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” he notes that the wicked “shall not suffer beyond what strict justice requires.” The character of their suffering will be exactly proportional to the crimes they’ve committed.

Darkening Counsel with Words without Knowledge

Now, I’m under no delusions that this doctrine is anything but absolutely repugnant to the natural mind. The just punishment required by the law is always repugnant to the criminal. I understand that the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised (1 Cor 2:14). But to the one who would object to this teaching, and who would arrogantly dare to impugn the character of God as unjust, the Holy Spirit responds with the most scathing rebuke: “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it?” (Rom 9:20).

In other words, you’re out of your league, above your pay grade. You’re the creature and God is the Creator. He is not beholden to your judgment, but rather you are beholden to His. After all, where were you when God laid the foundation of the earth? Have you ever, in your life, commanded the morning and caused the dawn to know its place? (see Job 38).

The Door of Mercy is Yet Open

No, you haven’t. That’s why it’s absolutely necessary that you humble yourself now before this Almighty God, and submit all of who you are—even your fallen, sin-cursed reasoning—to the Lordship of Christ as He has revealed Himself in His Word. And, wonder of wonders, there’s still time! This perfectly holy God, this Sovereign King whom you have so exquisitely offended, stands yet willing to receive you! Yet willing to come to terms of peace! Yet willing to cancel all of your debt, and look upon a Substitute, His own dear Son, for the satisfaction of infinite justice against your crimes. Turn from your sin, and trust Christ alone for righteousness.

As Edwards said at the close of his famous sermon:

And now you have an extraordinary opportunity,
a day wherein Christ has flung the door of mercy wide open,
and stands in the door calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners. …
Let everyone that is yet out of Christ, and hanging over the pit of hell,
whether they be old men and women, or middle aged, or young people, or little children,
now hearken to the loud calls of God’s Word and providence.

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.
  • Brian Morgan

    Mike
    This is an excellent, pithy reply to a common, yet misplaced charge against our Lord’s holy justice. Well done my brother!

    • Thanks Brian. I hope it equips us to always be ready to give a defense of our faith, with gentleness and reverence (1 Pet 3:15), as we faithfully engage a culture hostile to our Lord and His Word.

    • Yes! Thank you!

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  • Dan Freeman

    Thanks Mike for this clearer articulation of the points I was attempting to make. Excellent work.

    • Thanks Dan. I was hoping to get the chance to mention to you that when I described the comment thread as “disappointing,” I wasn’t referring to your comments, and appreciated your efforts in curtailing the nonsense while I wasn’t there. As I read the thread without being able to comment, I thought to myself, “I’m sure glad Dan is stepping in there.”

      So, thanks again brother.

  • Excellent, Mike. Beautifully articulated, pleadingly served.

  • As will not be surprising to anyone who’s been paying attention, Philip has stopped by to ignore the entirety of the arguments made in this post and to reiterate once again the points he raised last week and which have been answered by this post and other comments. As will also not be surprising, we’re not going to do last week over again, where we go around and around in circles and repeat everything that has already been said.

    • Senorita Daffy

      This is my reply to Phillip:

      Isaiah 55:8-9

  • kevin2184

    Mike, so well-written with concise and clear arguments. Another truly excellent post.

    • Thanks brother. Pray with me for the Lord to open blind eyes to the beauty of His justice and grace.

      • kevin2184

        Absolutely, Mike, absolutely.

  • h

    “Does the Doctrine of Hell Make God Unjust?”

    Only if you have too high a view of man and too low a view of God.

    • Yes indeed, H. As I mentioned above, “It’s the classic mistake of conceiving of God to be less righteous than he is and of conceiving man to be more righteous than he is (Rom 10:2-3).”

      Thanks for reinforcing that point!

      • h

        Ah, I somehow missed that paragraph in your article. Sorry for repeating what you already said!

  • Casey Cho

    Out of curiosity do you believe in literal hellfire?

    • With fear and trembling, yes.

      Aside from the passages in Revelation (Rev 19:20; 20:10, 14-15; cf. 14:11), Jesus often speaks of hell as “fiery” or “the hell of fire” (see Matt 5:22; 18:9), an “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43, 48), and an agonizing flame (Luke 16:24). James also makes this association in James 3:6.

      I would acknowledge that it doesn’t seem that fire is all that there is to hell. As I mentioned in the post, the false teachers’ punishment is “blackest darkness” (2 Pet 2:17; Jude 1:13) and 2 Peter 2:4 speaks of “the pits of darkness.”

      I don’t think Scripture gives us light on how these two aspects coexist (whether it’s a consuming fire that gives off no light, or if there are certain experiences of fire and other experiences of darkness at different times, or another explanation). But I also don’t think Scripture gives us any reason to think all of those mentions of fire are merely metaphorical.

      And even if they were, with even more fear and trembling I make the observation that that could only mean that the actual reality is so terrifying that the already-terrifying pictures of unquenchable flames were the best pictures that could be employed to communicate the reality to our understanding.

      Either way, let’s preach the Gospel that saves from such a horrible fate, and ushers the repentant and believing sinner into “fullness of joy” and “eternal pleasures” at God’s right hand (Ps 16:11).

  • h

    Also, an interesting side note since you referenced “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, we tend to associate “hellfire and brimstone” preaching with some blustering pastor behind the pulpit screaming and pounding on the stage, but if my history serves me correctly, I believe Jonathan Edwards would have delivered his famous message by simply staring down at the sheet of papers while basically reading it in a very monotone, dispassionate presentation?

    • That’s a very popular account of the sermon delivery, but I think it’s a bit exaggerated. I doubt very highly that Edwards droned on in a monotone. It certainly would have been very out of character for him.

      Instead, I think it was that Edwards probably kept himself more composed than perhaps was normal for him, so as to discourage the congregation from any ostentatious displays of pretended emotion, which was popular during that time. Especially since the congregation shrieked, groaned, and cried out under the conviction of God’s Word, Edwards was a bit less animated than normal so as not to manipulate the people’s emotions.

      • Dan Freeman

        Also, it is of interest to note that from around 1741 (the same time as that sermon was preached) Edwards stopped writing out his sermons completely and transitioned to more of an outline. After surveying this and other facts, Iain Murray summarizes, “What probably happend was that Edwards for some twenty years took his full manuscript into the pulpit. He never read it word for word and he gradually became less dependent upon it. Then, for an intermediate period, he continued to write at some length but took only a brief skeleton…Finally, he ceased to write in full and prepared only an extended outline.” (From Jonathan Edwards, a New Biography, page 190) Although Edwards was less animated than other preachers at his time, the monotone caricature is in all probability incorrect.

      • threegirldad

        Re: that characterization, I’ll go further. I think it’s a canard. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the real truth is that it was spawned and perpetuated by one or more of Edwards’ contemporary adversaries. At any rate, I think this panel discussion with Dr. Carrick from a few years back is well worth a listen.

        http://reformedforum.org/podcasts/ctc39/

  • Amanda

    Is this supposed to make the god sound better? All the additional explanation only makes it that much more disgusting. And yet, here you are, I mean god is, threatening me to love him=or else (and has the gull to call me egotistical). Even if there were a shred of evidence for such existence, I could never love such a monster.

    • Brad

      Hey Amanda!

      I think you have a point, to a certain degree. I think the weakness in this article is that the author forgets about Genesis 1 – that we are made in God’s image – and the overall tone is less loving. But this article is solid and filled with truth! At the same time, I see how people could read it and be pretty repulsed by God. I think you would really benefit from reading this article:http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/1997/fall/7l4042.html. I think you will find that Tim Keller is very winsome and helpful – he doesn’t punt on hell but he also shows how God’s justice is a wonderful expression of his love. Plus, the article is more personal and real, rather than academic and logical. However, I hope you will come to see the benefits of both perspectives!

      Hope this helps!

      • A couple things, Brad.

        First, I did not forget about Genesis 1 or that human beings are made in the image of God. I was and am entirely conscious of that fact, and none of it changes anything in the post. You’re welcome to demonstrate what in the post is at odds with the doctrine of the imago Dei.

        Second, I acknowledged that the tone was going to sound “dispassionate” in my second disclaimer. And that’s because I wasn’t writing a full-on apologia for hell in the eyes of unbelievers, but was responding to particular objections that claimed the Bible’s inconsistency — not to a sensitive soul truly seeking to understand the truth. In that sense, one has to expect a bit more of an “academic and logical” tone. Still, I think it’s false to say that the tone was “less loving.” Again, if you’re going to make a claim like this, please demonstrate where I’ve been unloving.

        Third, as I mentioned in my reply to Amanda, you are woefully misguided if you think it’s your mission to make God and His character more palatable to His sworn enemies, whose minds the Bible teaches are hostile to God (Rom 8:7). Frankly, the Bible’s teaching on hell is repulsive to those whose minds have been blinded so that they might not see the glory of Christ. As I said in the post, a guilty criminal will always be repulsed by the just punishment of the law.

        There is no way to faithfully dress up the doctrine of eternal punishment to make it seeker-sensitive. It’s the plainest demonstration that God does not submit Himself for the sinner’s evaluation, hoping that they’ll find it in their heart to choose Him. Rather, it’s the prefect example of the fact that God simply declares, “I am who I am,” and demands that we as His creatures subject our thinking and reasoning to Him. You do the unbeliever no favors by leading him to believe that he is the judge and jury and that God is in the dock. It may make you look like the nice guy compared to the big fundamentalist meanies, and you may think that that’s being “missional,” but it is neither of those things, and it is not being faithful to Christ or His Word (John 5:44).

        You need to give up trying to straddle the fence on everything. It is not helpful to unbelievers, and neither is it true, to tell them they “have a point to a certain degree.” That’s nothing more than being shamefully disingenuous in an attempt to get them to like you so that maybe they’ll like Christ and His truth. That’s preaching yourself. You need to remember, friend, that friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4), and you are commissioned to be a herald — one who simply proclaims the message you’ve been given and lets the chips fall where they may — not an orator who peddles the Word of God in order to engineer a desired result.

        I hope you’ll seriously consider these things before the Lord.

    • Amanda,

      The goal of this post was not to make God “sound better,” or be more appealing in the eyes of someone who rejects His truth and the gift of salvation in His Son. In fact, there are many misguided people who call themselves Christians (you have an example in Brad’s response to you) who think it’s their job to make God and His character more palatable to His enemies who have sworn to hate everything about Him. For some reason they think that if they can make unbelievers, whom the Bible describes as blind to the glory of Christ (2 Cor 4:4), think that God is a bit more acceptable to them according to their natural, fallen reasoning, then they might decide to “give Him a chance.”

      Admittedly, this post is not attempting to do that. That’s impossible. God alone is sufficient to open blind eyes to see His beauty. Rather, what this post was supposed to accomplish was to answer an objection that claimed the Bible’s testimony about God’s character is inconsistent with itself. More specifically, it was to give a reasonable answer to the “Two Basic Claims” that I listed towards the beginning of the post.

      Now, as I mentioned in the post, “I’m under no delusions that this doctrine is anything but absolutely repugnant to the natural mind. The just punishment required by the law is always repugnant to the criminal. I understand that the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised (1 Cor 2:14).” These are truths that one can only come to trust and treasure when God opens our blind eyes to see the glory of His Son. And the reason why we take such time to understand the doctrine of hell is because it’s precisely what Jesus endured in our place in order to save us from it. The teaching of eternal punishment for sin is the black backdrop that makes the glory of Gospel grace shine all the more brightly — like the brilliant stars shining in the night sky.

      All of us stand guilty before a holy God, and so we deserve the awful sentence that this post describes. But the Good News is that God sent His Son to live a perfect life — the life that we were commanded to live but couldn’t live — and to die a sacrificial, atoning death on the cross — a penalty that was demanded of us but was one which we couldn’t survive. On the cross, Jesus absorbed in Himself all of the wrath and punishment that was due to me and that I would have suffered in hell. And because He did that and rose from the grave three days later, God now promises that everyone who turns from their sin and from their self-righteousness, and submits all of who they are (including their thinking) to Christ and His Word, and then trusts in Him alone for their acceptance with God, will be forgiven of their sins, freed from their just penalty, and will be reconciled to God forever, knowing only His love and mercy, and none of His just punishment. Please do that today, Amanda. Surrender lordship over your life, and submit yourself to the loving Lordship of Jesus Christ.

    • A bug in our commenting platform has removed some comments. This comment was from Brad in reply to Amanda.

      Brad: Hey Amanda!

      I think you have a point, to a certain degree. I think the weakness in this article is that the author forgets about Genesis 1 – that we are made in God’s image – and the overall tone is less loving. But this article is solid and filled with truth! At the same time, I see how people could read it and be pretty repulsed by God. I think you would really benefit from reading this article:http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/1997/fall/7l4042.html. I think you will find that Tim Keller is very winsome and helpful – he doesn’t punt on hell but he also shows how God’s justice is a wonderful expression of his love. Plus, the article is more personal and real, rather than academic and logical. However, I hope you will come to see the benefits of both perspectives!

      Hope this helps!

      • A couple things, Brad.

        First, I did not forget about Genesis 1 or that human beings are made in the image of God. I was and am entirely conscious of that fact, and it doesn’t change anything in the post. You’re welcome to demonstrate what in the post is at odds with the doctrine of the imago Dei.

        Second, I acknowledged that the tone was going to sound “dispassionate” in my second disclaimer. And that’s because I wasn’t writing a full-on apologia for hell in the eyes of unbelievers, nor reasoning with a sensitive soul who was truly seeking to understand the truth, but rather was responding to particular objections that claimed the Bible’s inconsistency. In that sense, one has to expect a bit more of an “academic and logical” tone. Still, I think it’s false to say that the tone was “less loving.” Again, if you’re going to make a claim like this, please demonstrate where I’ve been unloving.

        Third, as I mentioned in my reply to Amanda, you are woefully misguided if you think it’s your mission to make God and His character more palatable to His sworn enemies, whose minds the Bible teaches are hostile to God (Rom 8:7). Frankly, the Bible’s teaching on hell is repulsive to those whose minds have been blinded so that they might not see the glory of Christ. As I said in the post, a guilty criminal will always be repulsed by the just punishment of the law.

        There is no way to faithfully dress up the doctrine of eternal punishment to make it seeker-sensitive. It’s the plainest demonstration that God does not submit Himself for the sinner’s evaluation, hoping that they’ll find it in their heart to choose Him. Rather, it’s the prefect example of the fact that God simply declares, “I am who I am,” and demands that we as His creatures subject our thinking and reasoning to Him. You do the unbeliever no favors by leading him to believe that he is the judge and jury and that God is in the dock. It may make you look like the nice guy compared to the big fundamentalist meanies, and you may think that that’s being “missional,” but it is neither of those things, and it is not being faithful to Christ or His Word (John 5:44).

        You need to give up trying to straddle the fence on everything. It is not helpful to unbelievers, and neither is it true, to tell them they “have a point to a certain degree.” That’s nothing more than being shamefully disingenuous in an attempt to get them to like you so that maybe they’ll like Christ and His truth. That’s preaching yourself. You need to remember, friend, that friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4), and you are commissioned to be a herald — one who simply proclaims the message you’ve been given and lets the chips fall where they may — not an orator who peddles the Word of God in order to engineer a desired result.

        I hope you’ll seriously consider these things before the Lord.

    • Hi Amanda,

      No, the goal of this post was not to make God “sound better,” or be more appealing in the eyes of someone who rejects His truth and the gift of salvation in His Son. In fact, there are many misguided people who call themselves Christians (you have an example in Brad’s response to you) who think it’s their job to make God and His character more palatable to His enemies who have sworn to hate everything about Him. For some reason they think that if they can make unbelievers, whom the Bible describes as blind to the glory of Christ (2 Cor 4:4), think that God is a bit more acceptable to them according to their natural, fallen reasoning, then they might decide to “give Him a chance.”

      Admittedly, this post is not attempting to do that. That’s impossible. God alone is sufficient to open blind eyes to see His beauty. Rather, what this post was supposed to accomplish was to answer an objection that claimed the Bible’s testimony about God’s character is inconsistent with itself. More specifically, it was to give a reasonable answer to the “Two Basic Claims” that I listed towards the beginning of the post.

      Now, as I mentioned in the post, “I’m under no delusions that this doctrine is anything but absolutely repugnant to the natural mind. The just punishment required by the law is always repugnant to the criminal. I understand that the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised (1 Cor 2:14).” These are truths that one can only come to trust and treasure when God opens our blind eyes to see the glory of His Son. And the reason why we take such time to understand the doctrine of hell is because it’s precisely what Jesus endured in our place in order to save us from it. The teaching of eternal punishment for sin is the black backdrop that makes the glory of Gospel grace shine all the more brightly — like the brilliant stars shining in the night sky.

      All of us stand guilty before a holy God, and so we deserve the awful sentence that this post describes. But the Good News is that God sent His Son to live a perfect life — the life that we were commanded to live but couldn’t live — and to die a sacrificial, atoning death on the cross — a penalty that was demanded of us but was one which we couldn’t survive. On the cross, Jesus absorbed in Himself all of the wrath and punishment that was due to me and that I would have suffered in hell. And because He did that and rose from the grave three days later, God now promises that everyone who turns from their sin and from their self-righteousness, and submits all of who they are (including their thinking) to Christ and His Word, and then trusts in Him alone for their acceptance with God, will be forgiven of their sins, freed from their just penalty, and will be reconciled to God forever, knowing only His love and mercy, and none of His just punishment. Please do that today, Amanda. Surrender lordship over your life, and submit yourself to the loving Lordship of Jesus Christ.

      • Zachary

        Mike, when you tell others to “submit” to Jesus Christ, you preach a false Gospel.

        • Oh brother. I guess I’m in good company, then, aren’t I? John the Baptist (Luke 3:8, 10-14), Jesus (Luke 9:23-26; Luke 14:25-27, 33), Peter (Acts 2:38), and Paul (Acts 14:15; 17:30-31; 26:19-20) all preached repentance in its various forms as part of their Gospel proclamation.

          As is obvious to anyone not trying to play a snide game of “gotcha,” I don’t mean that submission is a ground or instrument of justification. I’m merely expressing what repentance will look like from one whose mind is hostile to God (cf. Rom 8:7) and is darkened in understanding (Eph 4:18).

          Thought and reason are not outside the realm of Christ’s Lordship, and so part of what it will mean for someone to confess Him as Lord and thus be saved (Rom 10:9) is surrendering their false notions of God and truth and submitting their thinking to what God says in His revelation.

          Be careful not to choke on that camel.

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  • so then do you guys believe that stealing an apple from a rich man should be given a more harsher punishment then stealing an apple from a poor man?

    ” That’s why Paul can say in Romans 9 that God is not unjust to have compassion on whomever He chooses (Rom 9:14–16), and that ability is not a precondition of accountability (Rom 9:19–20).”
    then your “morality” and “justice” is competely arbitary

    Paul shot himself in the foot and was just trying to despiratly rationlize his own absurdity, his statement in Romans 9 is evidence of that, nothing more then an irrational statement of someone who refuted and who knows it

  • Ed

    When a king prepares to bring down His wrath on one of his subjects, and someone intercedes with a gift to appease him, his anger is not poured out on the gift, but is rather dissipated. So the sacrifice of Christ is explained by Bruxy Cavey, whom you may or may not have heard of. Where are we taught the specifics of what it was that happened on the cross, with regards to punishment other than a physical death?

  • Problems with the comment thread. Posts left in the last 7 hours were deleted through a bug in Disqus. Working to repost them. Sorry.

  • A bug in our commenting platform has removed some comments. This one was easy enough to reproduce.

    Ed: When a king prepares to bring down His wrath on one of his subjects, and someone intercedes with a gift to appease him, his anger is not poured out on the gift, but is rather dissipated. So the sacrifice of Christ is explained by Bruxy Cavey, whom you may or may not have heard of. Where are we taught the specifics of what it was that happened on the cross, with regards to punishment other than a physical death?

    Me: Ed, if I understand you correctly, you seem to be questioning the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. If so, I would refer you to the excellent work by Jeffery, Ovey, and Sach, Pierced for Our Transgressions.

    …his anger is not poured out on the gift, but is rather dissipated.

    I would say that’s a false dichotomy. Whatever it may be like with human kings, the conception of the atonement that the Bible gives us is that God’s wrath is propitiated (not dissipated) by being fully poured out on a Substitute.

    Where are we taught the specifics of what it was that happened on the cross, with regards to punishment other than a physical death?

    Anywhere Christ is spoken of as a substitute, or where atonement is spoken of as propitiation. Our sins earned us hell. For God’s wrath to be satisfied, and/or for Christ to have been a fitting substitute, He had to endure the punishment that was due to us.

    Some key texts would include the following: Isaiah 53, Romans 3:24-26, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Galatians 3:10-14, and 1 Peter 2:24.

  • tom44d

    Well, this explains it to me. How a Christian in the same breadth can tell me their god is merciful and loving and that some will burn for eternity. Amazing.

    I had no idea.

    A child in India can burn for eternity because she wasn’t brought up the right way. Suffering infinitely more than the single day of suffering of Jesus. One child multiplied by the billions of people who are not Christian over thousands of years. How awful a belief. What a waste of humanity, human endeavour to believe such a thing. A worldview that is directly connected to the horrors of the Middle East in the past, today, and undoubtedly in the future, leading our leaders to think we can’t destroy our world and leave our children a barren waste to try to live in.

    I hate religion more than ever. Religion must become a quaint hobby.

    • Well, this explains it to me. … I had no idea.

      Hi Tom. I truly am sorry that up until now no one has taken the opportunity to explain to you the Bible’s teaching about God’s justice and the consequences of sin. Admittedly, we Christians need to be doing a better job of speaking to those around us about the very bad news that explains the brokenness of our world, and about the very good news that presents the rescue from sin and punishment.

      However, certain portions of your comment lead me to believe that you still haven’t actually understood this teaching as well as you ought to before coming to the conclusions you come to.

      How a Christian in the same breadth can tell me their god is merciful and loving and that some will burn for eternity.

      Can you provide any reasonable argument that these things are mutually exclusive? I don’t believe you can.

      Remember, no one argues that God’s mercy and love extends to those who have already passed the day of mercy (i.e., who have gone from this life) into the judgment of hell. As terrifying as it is to think of it, hell is the experience of those who have refused God’s very merciful and very loving offer to escape that just punishment for sin, and to be saved through the sacrifice of the sinless Son of God.

      But God is unspeakably merciful and loving to be willing to rescue sinners, who are actually guilty and thus deserve the punishment that this post describes. By sheer grace, I have been the undeserving recipient of that mercy and love. I’ve tasted them. They are more real than the computer screen we’re both staring at.

      As a just Judge, God will punish evil in accordance with righteousness. I And as a merciful Savior, God will rescue anyone from that terrible fate who turns from their sin and puts their trust in Christ alone for righteousness. I find both of those truths to be very merciful and very loving.

      A child in India can burn for eternity because she wasn’t brought up the right way.

      This is one of those comments that leads me to believe you haven’t understood the Bible’s teaching as you ought. First, the Bible teaches that there are certain children who will die apart from a conscious faith in Christ that will nevertheless be graciously rescued by God into heaven. See here and here. There’s not a certain “age of accountability” that applies to all children across the board, but there is, I believe, a condition of accountability (that different children reach at different ages and levels of development) that will accord entirely with God’s justice. So, if you’re actually worried about the eternal destiny of children, and aren’t just using “child” in your example as a rhetorical appeal to emotions — especially when there are plenty of guilty adults in this world — those posts can help answer that concern.

      Secondly, no one suffers eternal punishment in hell “because she wasn’t brought up the right way.” That you can reduce Christianity to being brought up a certain way shows that you don’t really understand Christianity or the Bible all that well. I would encourage you, before you make such stern comments and come to such blasphemous conclusions, to actually take the time to truly understand what you’re rejecting. At least know the other side’s position as well as they know it before you condemn it.

      Instead, sinners perish in hell because they are actually guilty of violating God’s law, of belittling His glory, and treating His holiness lightly. These are serious crimes that make all of us guilty before a holy God. So please understand, people suffer the punishment of hell because they are actually guilty and deserve such punishment. It has nothing to do with anything so superficial as cultural upbringing.

      Suffering infinitely more than the single day of suffering of Jesus.

      This is another misconception. No one in history has ever, nor will they ever, suffer more than Jesus did during those three hours on the cross. That’s because what was happening on the cross was not simply the endurance of an excruciatingly painful death (though of course that did happen). More than that, Jesus — God the Son, perfectly righteous, who never sinned in thought, word, or deed, who had always been the delight of His Father and who always enjoyed His Father’s delight — this innocent Son of God was cursed by God, because He was bearing the sin of all those who would trust in Him for righteousness. God made Jesus, who knew no sin, to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor 5:21). He bore our wrath, so we could be credited with His righteousness.

      So that means, on the cross, the One Person in history who didn’t deserve hell, went through hell for innumerable sinners. In just three hours, He absorbed in His own soul all the righteous wrath that was due to us for our sins, which would have taken an eternity to pour out on us. Multiple eternities of wrath in three hours. On One who was innocent, who volunteered to suffer in your place so you wouldn’t have to. Tom, I pray you’d stop to consider that. This post and this post may help you with that.

      Turn from your idolatry, and your self-deification and self-worship. Submit your thinking to God and the revelation of Himself that He’s given in His Son and in His Word, the Bible. Recognize that you have no perfect righteousness to commend yourself to a holy God on judgment day — that you too have sinned and violated God’s law, belittled His glory, and treated His holiness as a light and inconsequential thing. Recognize that there’s nothing you can do to pay the penalty for your sins. And then look to the One who died to pay that penalty in full, and who rose again to provide the righteousness that you need to escape this punishment that you (rightly) abhor so greatly. Trust in Christ alone for righteousness, Tom, and be rescued.

      • Philip

        God the Son, perfectly righteous, who never sinned in thought, word, or deed, who had always been the delight of His Father and who always enjoyed His Father’s delight — this innocent Son of God was cursed by God…thus proving that Christianity is ditheistic.

        (Sorry, couldn’t resist this one.)

        • False. Thus proving that God the Son is not God the Father, that the incarnation actually happened. In essence, proving the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity — that the one God eternally exists in three co-equal and consubstanial Persons.

          Your determination not to understand is truly astounding after a while.

  • Repugnant is such a strong word (and a good one)! The eternal conscious torment of sinners for their sin against a holy God is, in fact, repugnant to the unbeliever as you say.

    What is repugnant now is the thought that the perfect Son of God suffered this punishment in my stead. I hate my sin so much.

    I like Paul’s response to the question, “Is there unrighteousness with God?” as well:

    Certainly not! (Romans 9:14)

  • Philip, please check the email account that you supply with your comments and send a reply to my message. You’ll need to do that before commenting further here.

  • Barbara L

    Pastor Mike, I want to share with you my last two months, what happened, and why I ended up here, this night, reading this post and thanking God for His grace & mercies, but that would take too long. But let me write this, all today I’ve been like King David, from Psalm 51 to Psalm 32, Then from Romans 7 through 8, my head aches with tears tears mourning my sinfulness. God convicted me, and by His same word comforted me. This post comforted me so much. I experienced a feeling of gratitude to God for His grace in salvation & sanctification. I know the sinfulness of sin, And I know the one who saved me. Your post was very kind and loving and now, before I close my eyes for sleep, I feel I’ve had a very pastorly response to my heartfelt questions.

    • Praise the Lord, Barbara! Thanks so much for sharing that, and for your encouragement. The Word of God is amazing — a sword that pierces the soul, and a balm that heals the wounds, all in one!

      Isn’t it amazing that the very same message can bring unspeakable comfort to some and induce rage in others? Scripture’s own testimony to itself is being proven true (again) before our very eyes:

      “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. … For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” – 1 Corinthians 1:18, 21-25

      “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.” – 2 Corinthians 2:14-17

      I’m grateful for the Lord’s work in your life through His Word, and I would be happy to hear the longer version if you’d like to share it with me. Perhaps the best way to get that message through is to send a personal message via our Facebook page. I’ll be sure to get it. https://www.facebook.com/TheCripplegate

      Thanks again, Barbara.

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