Chapter 11 of Saving Faith.

Punishment for Those Without
a Saving Faith

 by Bernie Koerselman


Throughout this book we've looked at two ways we can miss salvation by not having a saving faith.  One is to follow the wrong Jesus, the other to misunderstand God's meaning of "believe."  We've learned that salvation is for those who confess Jesus as their Lord and whose faith in him is visible through obedience, fruit, and good works.  We've learned that obedience, fruit, and good works are not options for the believer; they're necessary and they come from a saving faith.  Though saving faith alone is necessary for salvation, true faith will be visible through obedience, fruit, and good works. 

What of the millions who refuse Jesus as their Lord, who insist they have salvation by simply accepting Jesus as their Savior, or by believing that Jesus died on the cross for their sins?  Or those who are convinced that obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ is not necessary, that salvation is all by grace, that anything we think we must do including obey adds to the finished work of Christ? 

Consistent with the rest of this book, let's not speculate about these questions or regale each other with our own prejudices.  Instead, let's see what Scripture says.  Let that be our sole guide and let it decide the questions for us. 

Fear the Just God Who Will Punish the Unbelieving

Some teach that God is so loving, so gracious, so kindly and so tender-hearted that he would never send anyone to eternal punishment in hell.  That's not what Jesus said.  He warned, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell."[1]

Understanding that, Paul warned that we must continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.[2]  Don't listen to ear-tickling teachers who give false solace today only to join their followers in hell. 

What Is Hell?

People have varying opinions about hell.  Some teach there really isn't a hell at all, others that it is merely separation from God.  A few weeks ago I heard a TV broadcast in which a preacher taught that hell is a temporary (not eternal) punishment; he said that should be reassuring for those who had unsaved friends and relatives. 

Jesus Called It Gehenna

Our purpose is to discover only what God revealed about hell.  Jesus spoke of it often.  He used a word which was very easy for the Jews of his day to understand.  Hell, as Jesus said it, is the equivalent of the Greek word Gehenna.  It comes from the name of the valley of Hinnom, near Jerusalem, where children were sacrificed by fire in pagan rites.  Gehenna (hell) is depicted as a place of unquenchable[3] and eternal fire.[4]  It is the place of eternal punishment, the opposite of heaven which is the dwelling place for those who have eternal life.[5]

Old Testament Example

The Old Testament also gives an example of what will happen to unbelievers the disobedient and the ungodly.  Peter said, "God condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of will happen to the ungodly."[6]  Jude wrote:

In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion.  They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.[7]

For those who don't remember, Genesis states,  "the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah from the Lord out of the heavens."[8]

Hell a Place of Suffering

Some say that hell is not a place of actual punishment, that God would not be so cruel.  But what does Scripture say?  We've seen many scriptures where Jesus described hell as the place "where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."[9] 

In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, Jesus said the rich man died and was buried.  That must be the end of it.  But no!  Jesus described suffering:  "In hell, where he was in torment . . . he called to Abraham saying, `I am in agony in this fire.'"[10] 

Hell is the Second Death the Lake of Fire

New Testament writers often referred to death, but with two distinct meanings.  One referred to normal physical death; the second to a spiritual death judgment into eternal punishment.  Jesus referred to spiritual death as the second death;[11] the lake of fire is the second death.[12]  On his last occasion to do so, Jesus described it as a fiery lake of burning sulfur.  Again he called hell the second death."[13]

Once again, Scripture corroborates itself.  Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed with burning sulfur.  Jesus said hell is a fiery lake of burning sulfur.

Jesus Was Serious About Hell

For those who take lightly the idea of going to hell, Jesus' teachings should make them reconsider:

"If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.  It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where `their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'  Everyone will be salted with fire."[14]

Jesus may have talked about the sins of lust or covetousness when speaking of the eye causing us to sin.  He expanded the point to other parts of our bodies:

"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.  And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell."[15]

In our Western culture, it seems inconceivable that anyone would pluck out his own eye or cut off his hand or foot for any reason.  It's too gruesome.  Yet Jesus said it would be better to do that than for our whole body to be thrown into hell.  Hell must be ever so much more gruesome and painful than the self-inflicted loss of an eye or hand or foot.

What Standard Will Be Used to Determine Who is Punished?

How will God decide who is to receive eternal life and who will be punished for eternity in hell?  That question has sparked debate for centuries.  We've seen the answer in this book.  All those who are faithful servants of the Lord Jesus Christ who continue to confess him and believe in him as their Lord are assured of eternal life.  Their lifestyles will evidence their saving faith through obedience to his teachings and commands, through the fruit they bear, and through the good works they do.[16]

Just as we saw that a saving faith is visible, so is rebellion against God.  God looks first at our hearts,[17] then our actions, and rewards or punishes accordingly,[18] because he sees from our actions what we truly believe.  If we really believe something, won't our actions be consistent with that belief? 

If we are really followers of Jesus Christ as our Lord, won't we be recognizable as such?  God predestined that those who love him will be conformed to the image of his Son.[19]  In a different analogy, Jesus declared:

"No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.  Each tree is recognized by its own fruit.  People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers.  The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.  For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks."[20]

The message is consistent, isn't it?  Over and over, Scripture tells us that we show what we are by our actions and our speech.  Jesus said we will be recognized by our fruit and judged according to what we have done. 

Who Will Suffer Eternal Punishment in Hell's Fire?

Jesus told us the persons for whom hell is reserved:  the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, idolaters, and all liars.[21] 

Paul told us, "No immoral, impure or greedy person such a man is an idolater has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God."[22] 

Paul listed acts of the sinful nature which will cause persons to be cast into hell:  sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like.[23]  He said, "I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God."[24]

Paul knew that people discounted hell as punishment for sin.  He warned, "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient."[25] 

Persons Bound for Hell Because of Life-Style

Let's look at several categories of persons who will be cast into hell because of their lifestyle or mindset.

Cowardly

Did you notice that the cowardly are the first category included by Jesus as those who would be cast in the lake of fire?[26]  Why will they be condemned?  They disobeyed Jesus' teaching to stand firm:

"You will be betrayed by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death.  All men will hate you because of me.  But not a hair of your head will perish.  By standing firm you will save yourselves."[27]

Jesus taught that to be saved we must persevere, standing firm to the end.[28]  The cowardly do not stand firm.  Jesus predicted such falling away in the parable of the sower:  "Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root.  They  believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away."[29]  These are the cowardly.

Unbelieving

Jesus made it clear:  "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.[30]  Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him."[31] 

Who are those God will judge as unbelieving?  I recognize five principal groups.  First, those who have rejected Christ.  Second, those who've rejected Jesus as their Lord, believing instead that they only had to accept him as Savior.  Third, related to the second, those who accepted the teaching that nothing is required of the true believer, that he need not be obedient or bear fruit or do good works.  Fourth, those who have simply failed to persevere, who no longer remain in Jesus (the vine).  Fifth, those in other religions.

Scripture plainly states no one comes to God the Father except through Jesus.  All other religions are unbelieving, because they claim to come to God without Jesus.  Two major sects, Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnesses, both profess Jesus, but not the Jesus of Scripture.  Theirs is an altered portrait.  They paint a false Jesus, not the only begotten Son of God who is both God and man, the one and only atoning sacrifice for sin, the source and hope of salvation for all who believe in him as Lord of all with all power and authority in heaven and on earth.

A more subtle unbelieving is the subject of this book.  The Christian world is full of those who claim to believe but really are unbelieving according to Scripture.  Repeatedly we've noted that much of twentieth-century American Christendom now claims that salvation may be had by accepting Jesus as Savior.  Those who rely on that are unbelievers.  They have rejected God's command to confess Jesus Christ as their Lord. 

Still others are those who have drifted away.  They are described in the third category of the parable of the sower.  Jesus taught about the seed that fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants.[32]  Then he explained:  "The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature."[33]  Does that portray much of twentieth century American Christendom?

Paul described the unbelieving:  "To those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure.  In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.  They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him.  They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good."[34]  Rebellion against God is also visible.  Paul said, "by their actions they deny him."  Did you notice that these are people who claim to know God?

Many of the Jews of Christ's days were unbelievers.  They stubbornly refused to believe in him as the Christ.  Yet many were very religious.  The leaders meticulously observed the law.  Jesus told this parable about them:

"I say to you that many will come from the east and  the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.  But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."[35]

God forbid that we be among the highly religious who stubbornly refuse to accept God's plan, instead meticulously observing and defending denominational distinctives and Church doctrines.

Disobedient

Preceding chapters proved that believing in Jesus with a saving faith requires obedience to his teachings and commands.[36]  Those who consistently disobey don't have a saving faith.  They are unbelievers who will be cast into the lake of fire.

All those condemned to hell are people who are disobedient to one or more of Jesus' teachings and commands.  Thus it is no surprise that Scripture separately confirms that the disobedient will not enter God's kingdom but will suffer eternal punishment.  The writer of Hebrews stated, "And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed?"[37]

Jesus told a parable to illustrate the same point.  It concerned a king who invited guests to a wedding banquet for his son.  It was prepared and the guests were notified but refused to come.  The king then commanded his servants to invite anyone they could find.  They gathered people in, both good and bad, and the hall was filled.  Then Jesus said:

"But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.  `Friend,' he asked, `how did you get in here without wedding clothes?'  The man was speechless.

"Then the king told the attendants, `Tie him  hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the  darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing  of teeth.'

"For many are invited, but few are chosen."[38]

What can be said about the guest's actions?  He was disobedient to the invitation and to the custom of wearing wedding clothes to a wedding banquet (if not to a direct command to appear in them).  Likely the King provided clothes for the people to wear,[39] just as God has provided believers with the way to attend the wedding supper of the Lamb.[40]

Note the guest's response.  He was speechless.  What will be the response of professing Christians before the judgment seat of God, accused of wickedness for their disobedience to Christ's teachings and commands?  Will they be able to argue, "But Lord, we never knew!"?  No.

Bibles are plentiful in North America.  Each of us will be responsible for obeying Jesus as Lord and Master.  Will it  be sufficient to explain to God that you followed a particular Bible teacher or preacher?  Or that you were taught that Jesus need only be your Savior?  Or that you were taught obedience wasn't necessary because it would add to the finished work of Christ?  Never!  God didn't ask you to believe and follow a man or the teachings of men.  He commanded you to believe and obey his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ!

Unforgiving

What commands and teachings of Jesus are we to obey?  Everything Jesus taught.  When he last spoke to his disciples before he ascended into heaven, Jesus commanded them to go into all the world and make disciples and to teach them everything he commanded them.[41]  Certain commands, if disobeyed, will result in condemnation.  One such is the command to forgive.

Will those who do not forgive be thrown into hell?  That is what Scripture teaches.  Many Bible teachers soft-pedal this.  They say that salvation is not at stake from refusing to forgive; only peace of mind is affected.  Of course peace of mind may be impacted, but Jesus didn't speak to that.  He taught about salvation and punishment, and forgiveness of sins by God versus eternal punishment by God at the hands of tormenters.[42]

As a short summary, Matthew 6:14-15 shows the teaching of Jesus:

"For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."

Our sins must be forgiven before we can enter the kingdom of God.[43]  Christ was an atoning sacrifice so our sins could be forgiven.  Before our sins were forgiven, we were by nature objects of wrath,[44] subject to God's judgment.

In the dramatic parable of an unforgiving servant, Jesus showed that the unforgiving will be thrown into hell when he said of the one who refused to forgive, "You wicked servant" and turned him over to the torturers.[45]  Jesus said the same will be true of each of us unless we forgive our brothers from our heart.[46]

Unfaithful Church Leaders

God will hold accountable church leaders who abuse their positions of leadership.  James warned that those who teach will be judged more strictly.[47]  Jesus told this parable about those who are in charge of others:

"Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time?  It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.  I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 

"But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, `My master is staying away a long time,' and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards.  The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of.  He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."[48]

Many leaders in liberal churches have long since given up a saving faith in Christ.  They may no longer believe in him as Lord.  They may support abortion as women's right of choice and advocate that homosexuals be allowed in the ministry of their denomination.  To them religion may be just a business.  If such men do not repent, they will reap terrible punishment at the hands of God.  Note the extra punishment recited:  "He will cut him to pieces."  This punishment is not recited in any other parable.  Indeed, the unfaithful church leader and teacher will be judged more strictly and punished more severely.

The Unfruitful

Those who do not bear fruit are disobedient to the teachings of Jesus.  We saw in prior chapters that those who do not bear fruit will be subject to the judgment of God and hell fire.

Some teachers believe that Jesus' teaching about the vine and the branches does not refer to condemnation by God.  Let's look at two verses again.  Jesus said,

"He (God the Father) cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit.[49]  If anyone does not remain in me, he is  like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such  branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and  burned."[50]

What comes to your mind when you think of a branch (you or me) which is picked up, thrown into the fire and burned?  It sounds remarkably like the parables which state the wicked person is thrown into the lake of fire, doesn't it?  It means the same and is proved by the following parable.

Jesus told of a man who went on a journey, entrusting all his property to his servants.  To one he gave five talents, another two, and another one, each according to his ability.  On his return he found that the servant given five earned five more, the servant with two earned two more, but the servant given one earned nothing.  He dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.  The master commended the servants who used the talents to earn more and rewarded them.  Then he spoke to the one who buried the money:

"`You wicked, lazy servant!'[51]  `Throw that worth-less servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'"[52]

From the repetition in prior parables, we know that when someone is called wicked he is condemned.  The description, "into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth," tells us the punishment is hell's fire.

In this parable there is no evidence of sin in the sense of immoral or wrongful conduct.  The parable describes a servant entrusted with something of value, with responsibility to use wisely, to multiply it, to let it earn interest.  Instead, he hid it in the ground.  Though he received no direct command, he disobeyed what he knew his master wanted him to do.

The servant was given the means and had the ability (according to the parable), yet bore no fruit.  For this he was condemned to hell, to eternal punishment.  The master called him "wicked" and "lazy."  It was not sufficient to say, "But I believe in you, master!"  To show the master he was a loyal servant, he had to obey.  He chose to disobey.

The Lord Jesus entrusts the kingdom of God to his followers.  To each he gives certain responsibilities.  Paul talked about that:

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.  To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another the ability to speak in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.  All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each man, just as he determines.[53]

Those spiritual gifts may correspond to the talents in the parable Jesus taught.  Dare we hide in the ground the gifts we've been given?  Not according to the  parable.  If we do we betray the trust given us and the Kingdom of God is deprived of whatever God asked us to do.[54]  Those who hide their gifts are guilty of disobedience to God and will suffer the due penalty.

Those Who Fail to Do Good Works.

If a person doesn't do  good works, will he go to hell?  What does Scripture say?

When we profess faith in Christ, "we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."[55]  What if we choose not to do the good works God has prepared for us?  What if, instead, we go about our business, doing those things important to us?

The following parable answers those questions.  We referred to it before, but this time let's read it in full.  Jesus said:

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

"Then the King will say to those on his right, `Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

"The King will reply, `I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

"Then he will say to those on his left, `Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

"They also will answer, `Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

"He will reply, `I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."[56]

The parable does not talk about whether we believe, or have faith, or are continuing in sin, or do what Jesus wants, or follow his teachings and commands.  It talks only about good works.  The only question was whether the people being judged did those good works which God prepared in advance for them to do.  It contradicts teaching that claims there is nothing the Christian must do. 

In this parable Jesus taught that we should feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, act as host to strangers in need, clothe those needing clothing, care for the sick, and visit those in prison.[57]

The parable should terrify the casual churchgoer, for it signals that merely attending church is not sufficient.  God's requirements are much greater for those he will grant salvation.

Everything Jesus taught in the above parable is condensed in his command to love our brothers as he loves us.  Our standard for loving our brothers is the way he loved us.  How did he love us?  He was crucified for us.  He asks us to care for one another.  Dare we disobey?

Punishment Between Death and the Last Judgment

The parable of Lazarus and the rich man gives a rare glimpse into the punishment of those who have died but have not yet appeared before the judgment throne of God at the end of the age.  Jesus said,

"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.  At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table.  Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

"The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side.  The rich man also died and was buried.  In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.  So he called to him, `Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'

"But Abraham replied, `Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.  And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'"[58]

The parable tells what will happen before resurrection and judgment.  This is before unbelievers are condemned at God's final judgment[59] and thrown into the lake of fire.  The rich man described Hades as a place of torment where he is in agony in fire.

Peter verified that punishment continues for the disobedient from their death to the day of judgment.  He said, "The Lord knows how to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment.[60]

Perhaps these Scriptures formed the basis for the Roman Catholic purgatory doctrine.  Such a doctrine is without foundation, however.  No scripture shows that the actions or intercession of any persons (including priests) can affect the salvation of others after their death.  This doctrine is created by man and is not in God's word. 

Judgment at the End of the Age

Jesus told us specifically about what would happen at the end of the age.  He answered the questions in the minds of believers who ask, "Why does God permit the wicked to exist?  Why doesn't he remove them, so they can't continue their wicked ways on earth?"  Jesus answered with a parable:

"The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.  But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away.  When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

"The owner's servants came to him and said, `Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field?  Where then did the weeds come from?'

"`An enemy did this,' he replied.

"The servants asked him, `Do you want us to go and pull them up?'

"`No,' he answered, `because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them.  Let both grow together until the harvest.  At that time I will tell the harvesters:  First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned, then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn'"[61]

When they asked, Jesus explained to his disciples the meaning of the parable.

"The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man.  The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom.  The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil.  The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

"As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age.  The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.  They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father."[62]

Jesus tells us why the wicked are not uprooted early, but makes it clear that their destination is the fiery furnace.  Notice the great contrast between the fate of the wicked and the destiny of the righteous.

As he often did, Jesus repeated the teaching with a different parable:

"Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.  When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore.  Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away.  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."[63]

Jesus reaffirms that the wicked will be separated from the righteous and thrown into the fiery furnace.  What a sad and horrible day that will be for those who continue in disobedience toward God! 

All Punishment Because of Disobedience 

The punishment recited for the wicked is always for disobedience!  There is one mention of "unbelieving," but even that is disobedience to Christ's commands.

Jesus demonstrated in the parables and his teachings that hell the second death, the lake of fire is the punishment for those who disobey.  Hell is not only for those who engage in sin (obvious disobedience), but also those who disobey by failing to do what they are told, by not forgiving and by failing to persevere.  It is for those who disobey by hiding their spiritual gift and not letting it bear fruit.  Hell is also for those who are given good works to do, but disobey by refusing to do them. 

Such people may well profess belief in Jesus.  Nevertheless, in God's eyes they are condemned unless they repent.  They must receive Jesus as their Lord and obey his teachings and commands.  They must come to him with a saving faith.

All such overt acts of disobedience, or failures to act, show God that we care about ourselves more than we do about him.  We violate the first and most important commandment, that we love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind.  If we love him as he commands, we'll obey him. 

It's Not Too Late! 

If you haven't yet made a commitment to follow Jesus as Lord and to obey him in everything, it's not too late.  God wants you in the kingdom of heaven.  As Peter told us, "The Lord is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."[64]

But there is a time when it is too late.  Jesus told this parable:

"Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.  Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, `Sir, open the door for us.'

"But he will answer, `I don't know you or where you come from.'

"Then you will say, `We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.'

"But he will reply, `I don't know you or where you come from.  Away from me, you evildoers!'

"There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out."[65]

Once the opportunity to enter has passed, the door will not be reopened though millions will clamor for entrance.  Did you read the cries of those trying to get in?  They said, "We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets."  In the twentieth century, this applies to those who attend church, Sunday School, rallies, retreats, and revivals, but have not committed their lives to Jesus as their Lord.

What about those who deliberately delay their commitment to Jesus?  Will they die from heart attacks or a car accidents, or will their hearts be irreversibly hardened so they cannot respond?  Or will the Lord suddenly return for his own and the door be shut?

When I first wrote this, my heart was sad.  Within the hour I had learned of the death of a friend.  He and his wife were driving to see friends.  A speeding driver crossed the centerline.  My friend couldn't avoid him; his wife was seriously injured.  Fortunately, he was strong in Christ, steadfast in his faith.

If you were in his place, would you be escorted by angels into the kingdom of heaven?  Or would you be assigned to Hades to begin a punishment that will culminate at the judgment when God condemns you to hell the second death, the lake of fire, for all eternity?

The writer of Hebrews said:  "See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.  Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts."[66]

If you are not committed to Jesus as your Lord, TODAY is the day.  There may not be a tomorrow for you, or the door may be closed.

What about those of us who believe and are committed to Jesus as our Lord?  The writer to the Hebrews has a word for us as well:  "We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.  For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?"[67]

Jesus warned about drifting away in the parable of the sower:  "Seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants."[68]  Jesus explained:  "The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature."[69]  These are people who little by little have succumbed to the trials and pleasures of the world.  Likely they believe they are Christians, but they are not recognized by God.[70]

If you haven't yet done so, right now, today, is the time to make peace with God, to give up self, to bow the knee to Jesus as your Lord, and to declare your desire to persevere in obedience to him all the days of your life.  When you do, watch how your new Father and the Lord Jesus Christ work in your life through the power and might of the Holy Spirit. 

May God richly bless your obedient walk with his Son, our Lord Jesus, the Christ!



Footnotes

[1] Matthew 10:28.  Also Luke 12:5.

[2] Philippians 2:12.

[3] Mark 9:43.

[4] Matthew 18:8.

[5] Matthew 25:46.

[6] 2 Peter 2:6.

[7] Jude 7.

[8] Genesis 19:24.

[9] Matthew 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30, and Luke 13:28. 

[10] Luke 16:23-24.

[11] Revelation 2:11.

[12] Revelation 20:14.

[13] Revelation 21:8.

[14] Mark 9:47-49 quoting Isaiah 66:24.  Also Matthew 18:9.

[15] Mark 9:44-45.  Also Matthew 18:8.

[16] Mention of obedience, fruit, and good works may bring cries of a "works" salvation, where (it is claimed) anyone who mentions such things says we must do them to earn salvation.  Repeatedly we have said this is not so.  Our salvation is through faith and faith alone.  But a saving faith must be evidenced through obedience, fruit, and good works.  Yet, God is not to be put in a box.  He permits exceptions.  Anyone who makes a sincere deathbed confession of faith and then promptly dies may never be able to display obedience, fruit, or good works (that we can see), but is no less saved.  (Consider the thief on the cross.  In the little time he had, he made a public confession of his faith and by his speech honored Jesus as Lord.)  It is as we are given opportunity to show obedience, display fruit, and do good works that we are to do so.  If we refuse, we're not faithful servants of the Lord Jesus, but are in rebellion against him.

[17] Luke 16:15.

[18] We must distinguish between God looking at our actions and our view of others' actions.  We can fool others.  At times the hypocrite can look very much like the committed Christian, but may have a heart that is far from God.  In such a case, he lacks the faith, though he appears to have the actions.  Remember, it is through faith that we are saved.  Our actions must emanate naturally from that faith.  No amount of apparent obedience, simulated fruit, or good works will save us if there is not first a saving faith.

[19] Romans 8:28-29.

[20] Luke 6:43-45.

[21] Revelation 21:8.

[22] Ephesians 5:5.

[23] Ephesians 5:3-7 and Galatians 5:20-21.  Paul's list is not intended to be exhaustive of all sins which will deny a person the kingdom of God, but rather a list of the types of continuing behavior which will earn a person eternal punishment in hell. 

[24] Galatians 5:21.

[25] Ephesians 5:6.

[26] Revelation 21:8.

[27] Luke 21:16-19.

[28] See Matthew 10:22, 24:13, and Mark  13:13. 

[29] Luke 8:13.

[30] John 3:18.

[31] John 3:36.

[32] Luke 8:7.

[33] Luke 8:14.

[34] Titus 1:15-16.

[35] Matthew  8:11-12.

[36] Obedience comes from faith (Romans 1:5).  See also John 3:36.

[37] Hebrews 3:18.

[38] Matthew 22:1-14.

[39] The people had been taken off the streets and byways to come to the wedding supper.

[40] In heaven the believers were all given white robes (Revelation 6:11).  After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands (Revelation 7:9).  They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14).  For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.  Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear." (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) (Revelation 19:7-8). 

  Righteousness and righteous acts come from a saving faith (Hebrews 11:7).

  Just as we surmised that the King in the parable gave the people wedding garments to wear, God will give his saints the fine linen to wear for the wedding feast of the Lamb.

[41] Matthew 28:19-20.

[42] Matthew 18:21-35.

[43] See Colossians 1:21-23.  Also Matthew 26:28:  This is the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

[44] Ephesians 2:3.

[45] Matthew 18:23-35.

[46] Matthew 18:35.

[47] James 3:1.

[48] Matthew 24:45-51.

[49] John 15:2.

[50] John 15:6.

[51] Matthew 25:26.

[52] Matthew 25:30.

[53] 1 Corinthians 12:7-11.

[54] Ephesians 2:10:  For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. 

[55] Ephesians 2:10.

[56] Matthew 25:31-46.

[57] All of those actions show mercy.  Isn't that what God has always said?  The Lord Almighty says: "Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another" (Zechariah 7:9).  What does he require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).  Not much changes, does it?  The same requirements given by God in the Old Testament are shown in this New Testament parable.  Truly God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

[58] Luke 16:19-27.

[59] Called the White Throne Judgment.

[60] 2 Peter 2:9.

[61] Matthew 13:24-30.

[62] Matthew 13:37-43.

[63] Matthew 13:47-50.

[64] 2 Peter 3:9.  See also Matthew 18:14.

[65] Luke 13:22-28.

[66] Hebrews 3:12-13, 15.  See also 3:7, 4:7.

[67] Hebrews 2:1-3.

[68] Luke 8:7.

[69] Luke 8:14.

[70] These people may be like those Jesus spoke to in the Church in Ephesus.  There he said, "You have forsaken your first love.  Remember the height from which you have fallen!  Repent and do the things you did at first" (Revelation 2:4-5).