Open Letter #4: Belief in "Hell" Linked to Salvation?
Oct 12, 2007
I received some tracts today, along with a letter from a concerned Christian, saying,
"Please don't let anyone convince you that there isn't a real hell. That's why Jesus died. You need to get saved. Only by the blood of Jesus Christ can you avoid eternity in a burning hell. God bless."
I do believe in a real hell. More specifically, I believe in the sheol of the Old Testament and the hades of the New Testament.
I also believe in the valley of the son of hinnom in the Old Testament, as well as the gehenna of the New Testament.
For a full study of them, see my book, The Judgments of the Divine Law, where I spend an entire chapter on each of these concepts. Far from denying their reality or existence, I go to great lengths to define them from Scripture. So I won't repeat this material in this present letter.
I do find it interesting, however, that you would doubt my salvation, based upon whether or not I believe in a "real hell." Where in Scripture does it say that a person has to believe in hell in order to be saved? The last time I read Eph. 2:8, it still read, "For by grace you have been saved through faith." Not a word is said about being required to believe something about hell.
Is it not possible to have faith in God without having a belief in a "real hell" as you would define it? Can I not be saved if I believe that "hell" is the grave? Is that a pre-requisite for salvation? If that is the case, then you have contradicted yourself by saying, "Only by the blood of Jesus Christ can you avoid eternity in a burning hell."
Perhaps what you meant to say was, "Only by the blood of Jesus Christ--and belief in a burning hell--can you avoid eternity in a burning hell."
Perhaps we should edit Paul's writing to read, "For by grace you have been saved through faith and belief in a burning hell."
I have heard it taught that hell is icy cold. Others teach that it is darkness with people tumbling for eternity through space. Others teach that each person has his own personal oven into which he has been crammed. Still others teach that it is a place of dead silence, but this is contradicted by others which teach that it is full of screaming people. Which version must I believe in order to be saved?
If you honestly believe that God's judgments are torture (which is actually a violation of God's law), and that they are "eternal" instead of eonian, as the Greek text says, then you are certainly free to believe this. I think such a view turns more people away from Christ than it converts through fear, but I would never attach your salvation to your belief on this issue. Perfect doctrine does not determine or define a Christian believer.
I have heard it said from the pulpit that if a person does not believe in heaven, then he won't go there. And if a person does not believe in a hell, then he WILL go there. What's wrong with this picture? When did it come to pass that FAITH in the death and resurrection of Christ was insufficient? When did these other things get added to the salvation formula?
When I stand before God and He asks me how He can justify me in view of my past sins, I will say, "Jesus paid the full penalty for my sins on the cross and was raised from the dead for my justification." Do you think God will then quiz me about my theological position on heaven and hell? "What? You don't believe in heaven? Then you can't go there. What? You don't believe in hell? Then you WILL go there."
I am not so concerned about our differing views on the nature and duration of hell. What concerns me most is the idea that faith for salvation must include a belief in heaven and hell. Please re-examine your belief about what it means to be saved. If you stand upon anything other than faith, then your house might be built upon sand without you realizing it.