Real Love Wins
by Burk Parsons
One of the more loving and merciful things Jesus did was preach on hell. He preached on hell more than He preached on heaven, and He did so in order to point the lost to Himself as the way, the truth, and the life apart from condemnation and eternal punishment in hell—which He created. Although most preachers have not denied the doctrine of hell outright, they might as well have, since it is entirely absent from their sermons. My guess is that many preachers think that preaching on hell is unkind, unloving, and offensive. They are certainly right that it is offensive in that preaching on hell offends our false perceptions of self-righteousness. However, such an offense is a most kind, loving, and blessed offense, as it points all men to their desperate need for the righteous life and sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. If preachers do not preach sin, wrath, death, and hell, their supposed preaching of the gospel is practically useless. If they do not preach what we’re saved from, then their message of what we’re saved to is worthless. For as Charles Spurgeon said, “When men talk of a little hell, it’s because they think they have only a little sin and believe in a little Savior.”
If we don’t believe in hell, the good news isn’t really that good. And if we don’t believe in hell, we have no good reason to believe in heaven either. Hell is a foundational doctrine of the historic Christian faith, and to deny it is to deny the faith, because if we don’t believe in hell, we don’t believe Jesus. We cannot deny hell and accept the words of Jesus.
There is, however, another more subtle, diabolical, and dangerous denial of hell that is rampant in the church today. While many preachers have not yet denied hell and perhaps still mention it occasionally in their sermons, they are not preaching the biblical doctrine of hell but a non-offensive, man-made version of hell without all the fire and brimstone. They point to the vivid imagery that Jesus used to describe hell, and they suggest that because Jesus used such imagery we should not think that hell is a literal lake of fire where the damned will be punished eternally. Thus, they reason that since we don’t really know what hell will be like, we don’t need to preach it as Jesus preached it. And though it is true that the imagery Jesus used may not be the literal reality of what hell will be like, that is no comfort whatsoever. The reality will likely be far more terrible than what we can comprehend, considering the limits of our language and understanding. Nevertheless, I cannot think of anything more terrifying than eternally burning in a lake of fire, and that is precisely the point, and precisely why we must preach hell as Jesus preached hell and preach the gospel of eternal life as He preached it—for the love of God and our love for the lost.