This question touches on topics that need a lengthy explanation for the reader to have a sound understanding. Consequently, though at first glance the question may appear to some to be emminently easy, a simple answer will not do. The answer that might be most popular, and tweetable, is to say, “When you stand before God, He is not going to ask to what denomination you belonged.” Such an answer, those possibly accurate, skips over some crucial truths. A sound bite answer will not suffice. The most Biblically accurate answer to this question is neither. When the saved person stands forth for judgment, his salvation is not based upon himself or his church. When God looks at any one to determine his fitness for heaven, God looks at the finished work of Jesus and if that work has been applied ot the individual’s heart. The saved person’s heart is righteous because it has been made new by Jesus. The saved person’s heart is clean because all guilt has been washed away by Jesus. If God were to base salvation on the sincerity of the person’s heart none would have hope of salvation. When God looks at the saved, He looks at Jesus. Salvation has nothing to do with sincerity of heart or denominational affiliation, but on Jesus’ work and if that work has been applied by faith to the sinful heart of an individual.
No saved Christian will face judgment to determine if he will enter heaven. At a person’s salvation, Heaven is secured. At death the believer goes immediately into the presence of Jesus. Paul points to this in Philippians 1:23 when he says he desires to depart this life and be with Christ. When Jesus speaks of the death of the righteous beggar in Luke 16, the righteous man enters immediately into heaven. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:8 that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. These verses all imply that at death the saved immediately enter heaven, without any kind of trial to determine if they deserve to be there.
Though the believer enters directly into heaven without an entrance examination, he does face a judgment. The judgment faced by the believer has nothing to do with salvation. The judgment of the Christian is not a judgment of guilt or innocence, but a judgment of service. 2 Corinthians 5 says every Christians will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and will be rewarded according to the service he has rendered in this life. 1 Corinthians 3 says the Christian will be rewarded or lose reward based upon his service, but all believers will be saved though some may have no reward in heaven. What will be the subject matter at that judgment? The passages in 1 and 2 Corinthians say the believers judgment will be one regarding service and good works. This author thinks it plausible that such judgment will consider church involvement, but cannot say so with certainty. What is certain is the believer’s judgment will be one of accountability for the way he has served his Master. Those who have faithfully used the resources entrusted to him for the increase of God’s kingdom will be rewarded. Those who have squandered the resources will be rebuked. Such rebuke is not condemnation to eternal punishment but is the loss of potential reward for misusing the Master’s resources.
Lest this article run over long, the answer will be continued in the next article.
One of the most difficult doctrines in Christianity is the Biblical teaching about hell. The classic teachings on hell describe a place of intense suffering, a place of fiery torment and a place of unending judgment. The hell described in the Bible is a horrific place. Any right thinking person recoils at the thought of anyone undergoing such horrible torture. For many the worst part of hell is the unending nature of it’s torments. The doctrine of an eternal hell has prompted people throughout history to search for other ways of explaining hell that won’t be so terrible. Some have taught that God will not really send anyone to hell. Many teach that God will only send the worst of the worst to hell. A number of groups teach that most of those who suffer in hell will only do so for a limited amount of time. Still others deny hell even exists. Unfortunately, for those who claim to believe the Bible, hell is described in such a way that its realities cannot be denied. Consider a few passages:
And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.
And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
2 Thessalonians 1:9
Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
For those who believe in an eternal heaven the doctrine of eternal hell is a necessity. The Bible could not be more plain- Hell is eternal. The same words used to describe the length of heaven’s joy are also used to describe the length of hell’s suffering. Both are said to be “everlasting”, “eternal” and “forever”. One cannot change the meaning of these words when speaking of hell without also changing their meaning in relation to heaven. The righteous will enjoy heavenly bliss for the same eternity that the lost endure hell’s torment. Scripture offers no hint that the souls of the condemned cease to exist at some point in the future. All the Bible says about hell declares it to be a place of unending, eternal torment in which the condemned will consciously endure physical and spiritual agony.
Despite the horrors of hell, God is not cruel and pitiless. In His mercy God has provided a means of salvation. He has promised that those who trust Jesus alone for salvation from sin will be forgiven of all guilt and made righteous. Hell is a place of judgment built for Satan and the demons that follow him and into which all who refuse to obey the gospel will be cast. Those who do not believe are already condemned, but if any turn to Jesus for salvation he will escape condemnation and be given eternal life.
The Bible’s descriptions of God’s dealings with men leaves us with some questions and difficulties. Mankind has a hard time understanding how God can be sovereign, remain just and hold man responsible for the decisions he makes. We will not fully understand God’s dealings with man until heaven. In the meantime, we must trust God and rely on what He has told of us Himself in His Word. The Bible does describe God as being fair. Fairness is doing the same for everyone regardless of ability or what they deserve. God does not operate on terms of fairness, but in terms of justice and equity. God is just, always treating all men according to the perfect standards of His holiness. He does not modify justice to suit His desires or because He prefers one person over another. God judges all men according to the same standards. Equity is closely related to His justice. Justice is God’s dealing in relation to His holiness. Equity is God’s dealings in regards to people. God does not play favorites with anyone. The religious are not preferred by God, the wealthy are not preferred by God, and the poor are not preferred by God. God deals with all men according to His justice regardless of the personal merits of any individual.
What about those places in the Bible which describe God’s hardening someone’s heart? How is that just? One of the most familiar places which describe God hardening someone’s heart is in Exodus regarding Pharaoh. Pharaoh and others like him lived in rebellion against God. God does not judge them for His hardening of their hearts. Instead, God’s hardening of their hearts is His judgment against them for their rejection of Him.
Consider more fully the case of Pharaoh. Setting aside Pharaoh’s life of idol worship and his persecution of the Israelites, one passage will suffice to show the true nature of this case. Exodus 5 recounts when Moses and Aaron first approached Pharaoh with the request for Israel to be allowed to go into the wilderness and make sacrifice to God. Pharaoh responded, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the LORD.” (Exodus 5:2) Yes, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in later exchanges with Moses, but Pharaoh’s heart was already opposed to God. God did not prevent a man from turning to Him who might otherwise have repented and worshiped God. God confirmed Pharaoh in his rebellion.
The same is true with all others who are condemned by God. Romans 1 teaches that when men rebel against God and replace Him with idols, He judges them by no longer restraining the wickedness of their mind. Every man is naturally a rebel who refuses to worship God. Only the grace of God at work in the heart is able to draw a man from rebellion to worship. Those who refuse the grace of God are justly condemned by Him.