Study 3: Our Problem
Trouble came to paradise. Apparently, being made in God’s image, living in a perfect world, being in fellowship with God, and yes, even God’s love were not good enough for us. We wanted more. We wanted things that He did not intend for us. We also wanted to be like God. And these desires gave way to disobedience. Sin entered into God’s creation.
But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. (Isaiah 59:2)
1. Adam and Eve were not alone in their disobedience to God. According to the following verse from the Bible, all of us have sinned.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
2. Disobedience has consequences. Not only was paradise lost, but the following verse from the Bible indicates that sin also results in death.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
3. Physical death is not the end of the matter. The following verse from the Bible tells us that after death we are judged by God.
Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment. (Hebrews 9:27)
4. Our disobedience, or as Isaiah calls it in the reference above our iniquity, has broken our fellowship with God. Created good by God, but now sinful by our own choice, we are separated from God.
Our separation from God has consequences. Consequences that God clearly warned us about.
The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:15-17)
Death, something that God had not intended, entered the world. Not just for Adam and Eve, but for all of us, for all have sinned. The wages of sin are indeed death. But it is not just a physical death, for we are not just a physical creation. Created in God’s image, we have a spiritual dimension, an existence than transcends a physical death. Our sin against the Creator is a spiritual rebellion that affects that spiritual dimension. So, after physical death comes judgment, a separation from God that unless remedied, becomes eternal.
Our knowledge and understanding of hell as a place of awful torment come almost exclusively through the teachings of Jesus. See for example:
- “But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:12)
- “This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:49, 50)
- “And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.” (Mark 9:42, 43)
- “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46)
Some deny this punishment since they view it as being inconsistent with God’s love. Read the passage entitled “Hell,” by Charles Stanley to help you understand why the punishment of Hell is real.
The existence of hell seems to fly in the face of what the Bible says about God’s love, forgiveness, and grace. How could a God of love send people to hell forever? Furthermore, it doesn’t seem reasonable. How is it that seventy or eighty years of sin merit an eternity of punishment?
These questions reveal an error in our overall understanding of sin and the nature of God. If a man’s eternal destiny was a matter of counterbalancing his bad deeds with good, these questions may have some credence. If hell was a system wherein a person paid God back for her sin, seventy years versus eternity would be an issue. If God arbitrarily came up with the rules that governed who goes to heaven and hell, we would have good cause to call his fairness into question. But none of these things has any bearing on the question of why there is a hell and why people who go there go there forever.
Hell is a reality because of an incompatibility problem. Holy God and unholy humankind are incompatible. And no amount of time apart can change that.
The rules that govern who goes to heaven and hell are established by God’s nature. Things are the way they are because God is the way He is. That makes them unchangeable because God cannot change.
Take fire, for example. Fire is hot by nature. Fire doesn’t make itself hot; it is hot. That is the nature of fire. If you stuck your hand in a campfire to retrieve a hotdog that fell off your stick, you would be burned. You wouldn’t get mad at the fire. You wouldn’t say, “I can’t believe that fire burned me, I never did anything to the fire! Why would it treat me like that?”
Fire and your hand are incompatible. They don’t go well together. You can protect your hand with a fireproof glove, but that doesn’t make your hand and fire more compatible; that doesn’t change the nature of fire.
God is holy by nature. And He can’t change. Unholy things don’t do well around holy God. It is hard for us to grasp the power and awesomeness of God’s glory and holiness. John – who knew Jesus well – saw Jesus in all His glory and fell down as a dead man (Revelation 1:16-17). Why? He was overwhelmed by the glory of God.
The only solution to this dilemma was for God to change us. That is why Christ came and died – to pave [bridge] the way for a change in our very nature. Those who accept Christ’s death as the payment for their sin are made holy (2 Corinthians 5:21). That is why we are referred to as saints. That is why the Holy Spirit is able to dwell in us. At salvation there was a fundamental change in our nature. We were taken out of darkness and placed into the kingdom of God [born again]. We became heavenly citizens.
Unbelievers go to hell because they are incompatible with heaven. They don’t go to hell to pay God back. The severity of the sin doesn’t send them there. The quantity of their sin doesn’t send them there. The problem is that they aren’t suited for heaven. They have not been cleansed of the sin that makes them unholy.
As much as I dislike the idea, I do believe that the lake of fire (hell) is a real, literal place. And as hard as it is to grasp, I do believe that people will eventually be sent there to live for eternity. People in hell will be separated from God and all that is good forever.
I believe it because Jesus believed it. I know Jesus believed it because of the price He paid to provide a way to escape. If He hadn’t believed in Hell, He would not have gone to such extreme measures to save us from it. His belief was so deep and His picture was so clear that it drove Him to leave His throne and His glory to die an excruciating death.
So how do you respond? Christ’s desire [love] to rescue you from hell motivated Him to die for you. It certainly ought to motivate you to [respond to Him].
- Charles Stanley, The Glorious Journey, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996), pp. 245-248