Is Hell for real? Yes. Emphatically, yes! It seems that people do not like to think of Hell as a real place. A 2015 Pew Research Poll found that 72% of Americans believe in Heaven, while only 58% believe in Hell. More alarming, only 75% of Protestant Christians believe in Hell. The number of Protestant Christians believing in Heaven rises to 86%. The statistics indicate again and again that professing Christians are far more likely to believe in Heaven, while not believing in Hell.
Heaven is enjoyable to believe in. Heaven is pleasing to think about. Hell is sobering to think about. Hell is not nearly as pleasant as Heaven. Thus, people, even Christians, tend to dismiss the notion of Hell simply because they do not like it.
I want to put forth two primary reasons for this dismissal of the notion of Hell:
1). Consumer Christianity. The Bible has been viewed through a consumer lens. The western mindset is a “pick and choose” mindset. The American model is best exemplified by Burger King’s motto, “Have it your way!” Christians have adapted that same motto to the Church. This explains the various worship styles, venues, music tastes, and dress styles. This explains why folks will get upset with something trivial at a church and move on to the next church down the road. Christians often pick certain teachings in the Bible that they like, and dismiss teachings they don’t like. ‘Picking and choosing’ explains why Christians happily believe in Heaven, but are quick to dismiss the idea of Hell.
2). Faulty Theology.There is a very popular idea among Christians, even non-Christians, that God is Love. Of course, this is a biblical statement (1 John 4:8). Everything after that strays from being biblical though. For many, love is not defined biblically, but culturally. The cultural argument goes something like this: Love means universal acceptance, and because God is love, God accepts everybody in everyway.
The first issue with the cultural argument is the definition of love. Love should not be defined by the contemporary secular age. Rather, a biblical word, like love, must be defined by other biblical texts (Romans 5:8; Romans 6:23; John 3:16, John 13, John 4, etc.).
The second issue with the cultural argument is blatant repudiation of another biblical word, sin. Because love is so poorly defined by the culture, universal acceptance seems to be the end goal. This totally ignores the idea of personal responsibility for sin. The Bible does teach that God is love, but the Bible also teaches that mankind has sinned against God, and is responsible for that sin. Sin separates man from fellowship with God (Genesis 3; Romans 6:23). In fact, it is a right understanding of sin that leads to a biblical understanding of love. It is due to the sin that separates man from God that God demonstrates true love for man (Romans 5:8).
Thus, Hell is often dismissed because of a low view of the authority of Scripture, and because of bad theology. It should be noted that these two issues typically accompany one another. If you have a high view of Scripture, believing it all to be true and all to be authoritative, you will typically have a much better theology.
This faulty theology often leads to a softening of Hell. There are many varieties of a softer stance on hell. For centuries, an idea has been put forth out of the Roman Catholic Church of a place for purging sin out of people, a place for cleansing and purifying them, preparing them for Heaven. Once they are purged, they are then promoted to Heaven. This idea is bogus and not supported by Scripture. Another theory that is widely popular is that of annihilationism. This is an idea that proposes that either at death, or after a certain length of time, the soul simply ceases to exist. If an annihilationist does believe in a literal hell, it serves more as a sentence before being totally annihilated; so you serve your time and then you just quit being. This view dismisses the biblical idea of eternal anguish. A third means of softening the concept of Hell is to view Hell strictly as figurative, and not literal.
The problem with any of these views, besides the fact that they are unbiblical, is their inconsistency. Most people who hold to these views will still believe in Heaven. They will gladly believe in a literal Heaven, not a figurative Heaven. How can anyone who takes the Bible seriously believe in a literal Heaven, but a figurative Hell? It is inconsistent theology. They will gladly believe in an eternal Heaven, not a limited Heaven. Again, how can anyone serious student of Scripture hold to an eternal Heaven and a limited Hell? Yet, the evangelical annihilationist typically does. They will gladly hold to an immediate Heaven, and not a prolonged view. They will want to be comforted to think that a “good Christian” will immediately be in the presence of the Lord when they die, but when talking of Hell they create an intermediate place for second chances. These views are based on faulty, inconsistent theology derived from a low view of Scripture.
So, is Hell real? You better believe that it is!
Hell is eternal (Mt. 9:48; Mt. 25:41; 2 Thess. 1:9). Hell is torment (Lk. 16:25; 2 Thess. 1:9; Rev. 20:10). Hell is separation (Lk. 16:26). Hell is punitive (Rom. 6:23; 2 Thess. 1:9; Jude 1:7). Hell is deserved (Rom. 3:23; 6:23; Rev. 20:13-14; Rev. 21:8). Hell is earned (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). Hell is just (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). Hell is final (Lk. 16:26). Hell is real (Lk. 16:19-31).
Watch my sermon, While You Still Can! here, beginning at the 25:20 mark: