Saved From What?

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A lot of unsaved people think that they are saved because at some moment in their past they prayed a sinner’s prayer. Ask them, “Why do you think that you are saved?” The very likely response will not be, “Because I am trusting the finished worked of Christ, in His life death, and resurrection and continuing intercession for me.” More likely, “I sincerely prayed to get saved when I was in high school.” Yet they do not go to church, or if they do, they don’t show any real desire to serve Christ. The show no effects of the Spirit’s sanctification in their life. One well known preacher recently said “The sinner’s prayer has sent more people to hell than anything else on the face of the earth.”[1] People by the millions, all over the globe have prayed a sinner’s prayer without being truly converted.

The problem with this presentation of the gospel is that it often gives a superficial understanding man’s plight with an equally shallow grasp of God’s solution in the gospel. Indeed, as one who used to present the gospel of Christ in this quick superficial way, I can attest that today’s gospel produces artificial converts, not contrite sinners truly imploring God for his savings mercies. Too often the gospel presentation start and stop and John 3:16, but do not go on to John 3:19-20  And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.  20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.

To be sure if asked what they are saved from most professing believers will answer that are saved from their sins. There is enough knowledge of Scripture for many to say at least this much. Unfortunately most have a superficial understanding of sin. Worse still is the confusion that comes from the pervasive influence of secular psychology. Sin is seen more in through the lens of psychological maladies, social disfunction, addictions, and phobias. The focus on these horizontal problems causes many Christians to think that Christianity is about these problems. Sin, however, takes its true meaning from God. Its ultimate and defining reference is God. Sin is not a psychological concept, but theological. Remove God and sin is also removed. If a congregation knows little of God; it also knows little of sin. And to know little of sin is to know little of the person and work of Jesus Christ. In such a context to say “I am saved from my sins” doesn’t mean very much.

But the glib response that I am saved from my sins is not just superficial, it is incomplete. Ultimately the true believer is saved from hell.

Jesus taught much on reality of hell.

He taught that the sheer terror of prospect of hell should motivate us to fight against our sins.

Mark 9:42-48   42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.  43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire44   45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell.  46   47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell,  48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’

Jesus describes hell as a place of outer darkness for those who do not belong to his kingdom.

Matthew 8:11-12 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,  12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Hell will be for those who are aligned not with Christ but with the devil and his angels.

Matthew 25:41 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

In graphic term hell lasts forever.

Revelation 14:9-11 9 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand,  10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.  11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

What is hell?

Sometimes people say, “War is hell.” Or “I went through hell.” And “He took me through hell.” But terrible events like these are not hell. Hell is not a metaphor for the bad experiences in our lives. Some say that hell is “eternal separation from God?” You will be separated from his presence forever. Some might breathe a sigh of relief when they hear this definition. People who separated from God now, will not mind it then. No one seeks God, the bible says. Men want to be separated from God. But the problem one faces in hell is not the absence but presence of God in the fullness of divine wrath.

Theologians define hell as the final state of the wicked once they are judged by Christ. Hell is place of eternal conscious punishment of the wicked.[2]

1. It is the place to which wicked are consigned.

This place is not under the earth’s surface. Where it is we don’t know. But that it is a place is undeniable. Jesus in Matt. 13.42 calls it “a furnace of fire.” Revelation 20  describes hell as ‘a lake of fire”. Elsewhere in Scripture hell is a “prison” and an “abyss.” People are thrown into hell. In Luke 16, Jesus depicted the rich man in hell, crying out to Abraham to send the poor man Lazurus to the aid of his brothers still alive on earth. He says:   for I have five brothers- so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment‘ (Luke 16:28-29).

Some deny that hell is place but a subjective condition, a state of the heart. But hell is an objective place of consignment. The place of punishment.

2. What will be the state of those consigned to hell?

The answer in a word is torment. They wicked will experience conscious punishment of their sin. It is not possible to be precise here. The most vivid picture we have is from the story of Lazurus and the rich man:  and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.  24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame‘ (Luke 16:23-25). As seen above Jesus describes it as outer darkness, which may speak of anguished isolation. The frequent references to the flame of fire speak of terrible pain. The subjective states of weeping and knashing teeth depict deepest regret and anger at God.

Does the Bible speak literally when it speaks “fire?” Some say it just a symbol and not literal. Again some people will breathe a sigh of relief. But this only begs the question: what does ‘fire’ symbolize? “If the ‘lake of fire’ is a symbol, then it functions to point beyond itself to a higher or more intense state of actuality that the symbol itself can contain” Says R. C. Sproul. “It is probable that the sinners in hell would prefer a literal lake fire as his eternal abode to the reality of hell represented in the lake of fire image.”[3]

3. What is the duration their punishment?

Men try to limit on the duration of hell. But the Scriptures present it as “eternal” punishment.  It uses expressions like “the unquenchable fire” Hell is place where the worm of the wicked does not die. The smoke of their torment goes up forever. This may be the most dreadful aspect of the reality of hell. People can endure great measures of pain and suffering if there is an end to it. However there is no hope in hell. No escape, no relief.

But men protest that this doctrine is just too terrible. It turns the loving God of the Bible into something cruel. Consequently “annihilationism” has become a prominent view in our day. This view states that after the wicked suffer the penalty of God’s wrath for a time, God will “annihilate them, so that they no longer exist.”

To get away from the clear Biblical teaching they appeal to passages that speak of destruction of the wicked. For instance in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 Paul says They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.  Why speak of their destruction, if the wicked are not destroyed, so the reasoning goes. However, the word ‘destruction’ can be used to a ruination that is not the cessation of existence. For instance, in Luke 15.24, the father of the prodigal says For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate  (Luke 15:24). The word translated ‘loss’ is the same word translated as ‘destruction.” The son was lost, but he still existed. Annihilationism reads too much into these terms. To be destroyed eternal punishments is to suffer some form of loss and devastation, but not to cease to exist.

In addition, some argue that hell could not be everlasting because the punishment does not fit the crime. It’s like giving life sentence for spitting on the side walk. In other words eternal punishment is unfair.

The problem with this line of reasoning is its temerity and audacity. Human beings are finite and our judgments about God are distorted by sin, thus we are in no position to determine how sin affects and infinite holy God.

The problem of sin as it relates to God is not how long we sin, but whom we sin against. Sin against people is a finite reality seen from a very limited perspective, but sin against God is against the infinite One. Sin is infinite in its magnitude because God is infinite. By way of analogy if someone kills another man’s dog, that is one thing. But if someone murders another human being then there is punishment. The difference lie in the dignity of the human being verses the dog. How much more our creator, when we sin against him. If he is great, then our sin against His most high majesty is great also. And consequently, His wrath is great.

One more thought about the eternal duration of hell. In hell the sinners never repent. God’s wrath thus never catches up.

This is a difficult doctrine, emotionally hard to take accept. God has place in our hearts love for people even for people who are rebels against God. So this doctrine causes and will cause distress and even anguish of soul. It must be taught with soberness and sensitivity. Unfortunately, it is usually neglected and often the first doctrine to go when people lose their commitment to Scriptures. Still it is the doctrine of God’s Word, a main theme in Jesus’ teaching.

So when we speak of being saved, we understand from the Scriptures that we are saved from Hell, the eternal conscious punishment of the wicked. Our sins deserve God’s eternal wrath, and Jesus, our precious savior has come to die for those sins. His death was sufficient to satisfy God’s perfect justice. By faith in Him we gain righteous standing with God and the full forgiveness of all our sins. With our sins wiped away through his blood, we have no fear of hell but joy and gratitude for His wondrous grace to us.

The Bible’s teaching on hell should cause those who are outside of Christ to run to him in faith and repentance. Furthermore, this doctrine should cause even the holiest of saints to soberly examine his life to discern the fruits of salvation. No one should take salvation from granted, especially if one has been introduced to the faith through a ‘sinner’s prayer.’ Let no member of Grace Reformed Church merely depend upon church membership or church activities to give you the assurance of salvation. That assurance is found only in the sure object of one’s faith, namely our Lord and Savior Jesus and the fact by such faith we belong to Him.

[1] Paul Washer “Ten Indictments against the Modern Church.”

[2] Louis Berkhoff describes hell as the final state of the wicked. Wayne Grudem defines hell “is a place of eternal conscious punishment of the wicked.” I have arranged my this lesson along the outline given by Berkhoff in his Manual of Christian Doctrine.

[3] R. C. Sproul Essental Truths of the Christian Faith, 286.

Author: Tracy Gruggett

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