Thoughtful people have long struggled in the face of the Christian doctrine of Heaven and Hell, causing them to consider the destiny of the countless millions of people who have never had the opportunity to hear about Jesus.
This question looms in the minds of many Christians, and the classic answer, at least from the Calvinist camp, makes God out to be a vindictive1vindictive — disposed to seek revenge; showing ...continue monster: all men are born totally depraved, worthy of eternal damnation regardless of how they live their lives or whether they have ever heard of Jesus Christ.
We utterly reject this misrepresentation of God’s justice and would like to set the record straight from the Holy Scriptures.
While it is not possible for a man to work his way to heaven, it is also not true that he is doomed to eternal death regardless of how he lives his life. What is the truth about man’s eternal destiny?
First of all, it is true that when Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command in the Garden of Eden and ate the forbidden fruit, they incurred the sentence of death:
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)
Their physical death was not immediate, but their spiritual death was, and their fallen condition was passed on to their offspring, as the record shows, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”2Romans 3:23 Therefore, since “the wages of sin is death,”3Romans 6:23 then “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.”4Hebrews 9:27
This much is clear to most Christians, but what happens after the judgment? This is the part that is widely misunderstood. But remember, the Bible says, “It is appointed for men to die once…” It doesn’t say twice. Yet there is a second death:
But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.
This verse identifies people of a certain character whose destiny will be a second and unending death in the lake of fire. But what about those who are not of that character? That is why there must be a judgment:
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
Now some will say this judgment is merely a formality — not a judgment at all, but a sentencing. They will say that no one’s name was found written in the Book of Life because they didn’t believe in Jesus,5The “cowardly and unbelieving” in Revelation ...continue so all were cast into the lake of fire. They fail to distinguish between this “Book of Life” for the nations and the “Lamb’s Book of Life” for the holy nation. They suppose that God raises men from the first death to stand before Him so that He can gloat at them while He pretends to look up their name in the Book of Life, knowing it will not be there. Then He callously casts them into the lake of fire. But this is not God’s character.
Abraham, the father of our faith, when he appealed to God to spare the few righteous in Sodom, knew something about the character of God that escapes many Christians today:
“Far be it from you to slay the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike… Far be it from you! Will not the judge of all the earth do what is right?”