Upon perusing one’s cosmic, Christian, Christmas shopping list, which of the following would you rather gift wrap for any random human?
– A loving, productive and rock-solid faith in Jesus Christ, or
– A no-bones-about-it fear of Hell?
Yeah, me too. Let’s definitely go with gift number one. Love and faith and Jesus are way more appealing than fear and Hell. But make no mistake: the reality of Christian truth is that salvation is available only through faith in Jesus Christ (John 14:6) and is both the greatest gift on record and the only antidote to Hell.
I make that statement knowing this much: people hate hearing about Hell.
Contemporary culture at-large tends to reject the specifics of both Christ and Hell. Not-completely-sure-non-believers cautiously rationalize that avoiding faith in Christ altogether somehow exempts them from the calculus of judgment, Hell and damnation (the exact opposite of what the Bible says). Plenty of sitting-in-church believing Christians – ironically and perilously – believe everything the Bible says about Christ and nothing it says about Hell.
Sadly, and incompletely, a lot of modern “churchianity” imagines the “carrot” of a loving Christ while ignoring the “stick” of eternal damnation. And I say “imagines” here because the extant truth is the mystery of creation, salvation, love, glory and the Holy Trinity, not a trade-off of carrots and sticks; not a cosmic tit-for-tat. Modern culture operates in the alternately attractive, and then horrific, muck of fallen worldliness, crazily demanding concrete answers to divine questions when it has forgotten about God and convinced itself to disregard Hell.
We must remember: the whole story of salvation in Christ – for everybody ever created – includes that which mankind is saved from, i.e., Hell, not just that which we are saved to, i.e., heaven.
I’ve often written in this space of my disdain for salvation fear-mongering; of the draconian “Christian” tracts distributed on street corners attempting to scare the lost into salvation by threatening Hell. I’m repulsed when I learn of Sunday school curriculums designed to scare children about sin and Satan rather than to teach the love of Jesus Christ. I believe these are examples of awful, if occasionally useful, witness.
There is a certain utility in owning a healthy fear and understanding of Hell if it helps to turn one’s mind, heart, and discipline away from sin and toward the glory of a saving God. A properly functioning, mature Christian can be both aware of sin and wary of Hell but still have a joyous, productive and glorifying faith in Christ. The Bible tells me so.