"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

Graced People Reap What They Have Not Sown; Lost People Reap What They Have Sown

One of the weapons used by legalists to keep people in line is the threat of standing before "the judgment seat of Christ." It is said by them that God will reveal the hidden agendas of the heart, every secret sin, and each action that transgressed the line of God's eternal law. For this reason, the legalist says, you should keep your walk holy, obey God completely, and ensure all your actions are righteous.

The only problem with this premise is that it contradicts the written word of God regarding the judgment of believers in Christ. The legalist is right, however, about the judgment for those apart from Christ. Every sinner apart from God's grace through Jesus Christ will give an account of his deeds and will be rewarded according to God's pure justice. The punishment of God's righteous wrath in hell will not be as severe for some sinners as it is for others (see Jesus' words in Matthew 10:15). The experience of righteous punishment will vary in intensity according to the depth and number of unrighteous actions of those who die without Christ. God will not be mocked. Whatever a sinner sows in life on earth, that will he reap at judgment (Galatians 6:7). In other words, Hitler will experience the wrath of God in a measure greater than a girl who dies in her teens without Christ. The sinner reaps what he sows. The Righteous Judge never errs in the meting out of His sentences for sin. Part of the wiping away of every tear in heaven very well may be the people of God saying, "Yes, Father, you are righteous in your judgments towards those of my family who have rejected Christ." There will be no complaints when all is revealed before the throne of God. For this reason, the person without faith in Christ would do well to live the most moral life possible--for he will one day reap what he has sown.

But those of us who have faith in Christ will never appear at this judgment seat. The book of life which contains our names forever decrees the sealing of the books that contains the sins of our lives (Revelation 20:11-13). The Scapegoat has removed our sins into the desert of forgetfulness (Lev. 16:22). We never answer for sin because as the brilliant Baptist theologian John Gill stated, "God sees no sin in His people." That does not mean God is not aware of our sin; it means that God has dealt judicially with our sin at the cross of Christ, and all the righteous wrath due our sins (hell) has been born by Christ. And it is our faith in God's grace in the person and work of Christ that is credited to us for righteousness (Romans 4:24-25).

But then the question comes, on what basis are we rewarded in heaven? Answer: We reap what we have not sown!

Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:17).

To be a co-heir with Christ means that we receive from God the inheritance Christ has earned by His obedience during His life, death and resurrection. The perfect righteousness of our Lord and Savior Jeus Christ in the complete and perfect obedience to God's law has obtained for us the unsearchable riches of God's great grace (Ephesians 3:8). Heaven is the eternal unfolding and enjoyment of these riches fpr all the ages to come (Ephesians 2:7). In short: We reap what we have not sown.

One of the tell-tale signs of the legalist is the inability to totally rest in the knowledge that the riches of God's favor are earned by Christ's obedience, not ours. It is impossible to be a co-heir with Christ if the rewards of God's people are dependent on our performance. We are rewarded for eternity by God's grace through the person and work of Christ. The knowledge of this will keep those of us with faith in Christ always ready to admit our faults, confess our mistakes, and be transparent to people around us. Why? Because our eternal reputations, our eternal rewards, our eternal reign is not dependent on our performance on earth--it is dependent on Christ's vicarious performance on our behalf.

But hell is just the opposite of heaven. In hell, you reap what you sow. In heaven, you reap what you have not sown. Why is it that we Christians preach, teach and relate to one another as if we are citizens of hell? Our citizenship is in heaven; and for this reason we ought to be very honest and transparent about our sins here. Our eternal inheritance and reward is dependent on His grace through Christ, not our peformance through works. We live powerful lives, led by the Spirit, when we no longer question His favor on our lives in terms of our merit or works by obedience to any law, but by faith in Christ who brings us a righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees.

In His Grace,



Thy Peace said...


The posts for this year have surely lifted heavy burdens off my back.


1. I am inlawed to Christ.

2. It is Christ's work that I reap.

3. I am made righteous by Christ's work.

4. It feels very weird for ALL the burdens to be gone. I praise God for that.

From my personal opinion and experience, it is God who does the work on cleansing me and my sin, so that I sin less and less as I walk with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

These posts are more impacting on each believer than any I have read before.

linda said...

Wonderful, wonderful post, Pastor Wade.

THIS--THIS--is what I was taught for many many years at tiny little old Loco Hills Baptist Church, and at tinier still Milnesand Baptist Church, and at booming Evanstan Baptist Church.

I used to have a key chain with a red rubberish oval imprinted with the name of a car dealership.

I would show my kids, and unbelievers, the most amazing thing: if you looked through that red "lense", everything that was red looked white as snow.

I taught them that in the same way, when God sees me He sees me through the blood of Christ. So my sins, though the Bible speaks of them as like scarlet, are seen as white.

He's my SAVIOR. HE paid it all. HE took my debt.

And if we focus on sharing that good news we are going to have to build some bigger buildings!!

Or, we can keep on empire building and laying on more and more laws, and empty them even faster than we are now.

That good news should put us on shouting ground!

Debbie Kaufman said...

Exactly Linda and Thy Peace. It's the Gospel, the Good News. And it does keep us shouting until Christ returns or he takes us home through death. It's what gets us in mission mode as we long to spread this Good News to everyone.

Dr. Michael Kear said...

Pastor Wade,

I want to avoid any misunderstanding of what you're saying here. Are you saying that believers will not stand before the judgment seat of Christ?

Thanks for the clarification.

Steven Stark said...

I find it curious that you use the idea of Hitler, and then talk of what God will do to those who "reject Christ". God's actions appear to be far worse. Hitler could cause suffering and take a life. God can cast out forever, punish forever, according to the views of this blog.

This, by any practical use of the word today, is evil.

I am not sure that concepts like "righteousness" and "holiness" mean anything unless they are words ultimately describing love itself. And the idea that hell is justice makes a mockery of the concept.

And love never fails. One sinner spending eternity in hell would certain be a failure of love.

Thanks for the post,


Wade Burleson said...


Some very good thoughts. Thanks for commenting.

I think the best response to your concerns would be an analogy. What is the difference between a man drawing back a bow and firing an arrow into a beating heart and being praised and lauded for his action, and the same man drawing the same bow and firing the same arrow into a different beating heart and being condemned for his action?

Answer: The nature of the heart into which the arrow was fired.

The former was the beating heart of a deer. The latter was the beating heart of a man. What makes the action of the man different is the nature of the one whom the man shot.

So too, the nature of God is so infinitely superior to that of any human being, that any disobedience to the transcedent God's law is a crime of unbelievable magnitude. That law, by the way, seems to be written in the conscience of every human being (Romans 1). So, I think the struggle you may have is over the holy nature of God. It is possible that you see sin against Him as no big deal. If that's the case, then the cross of Christ loses its power and meaning.

However, I do think your understanding of the love of God is spot on. God is love. The question becomes how does a loving, holy God accept unrighteous sinners? Answer: By doing for them what they cannot do for themselves through the Person and work of His Son.

The question then becomes: "For whom does God grant this unbelievable gift of grace? Answer: Those who embrace His Son.



Wade Burleson said...

Dr. Kear,

The answer can be found in the expositional sermon series on Romans (message 99 of 128) from chapter 14, verse 12 entitled "Removing the Fear of Heaven: Will Christians Stand Before the Judgment Seat?" I would encourage you to listen to that message online.

Dr. Michael Kear said...

Found it! Sermon #99 in the Romans series. Will give it a listen at once!

Dr. Michael Kear said...

Reading your notes as I listen along I must say that your exegesis of this text does not fit the context at all. You contend that believers will not stand before the judgment seat of Christ but will instead stand with Christ in the judgment of others. While I certainly believe that this is true based on 1 Cor 6:2-3, this judgment with Christ doesn't do away with the simple words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 14:10-12.

10 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

11 For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.

12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.

Note especially verse 12. Paul is addressing "us", i.e., believers. And not just some of us but "every one of us."

Look also at 2 Cor 5:9-10.

9 Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.

10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.

Compare these passages also with 1 Cor 3:11-15.

11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;

13 Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.

14 If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.

15 If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

All these passages, taken together seem very plain to me. All believers will stand before the judgment seat of Christ where our work as believers (not to become believers) "shall be made manifest." Certainly we will stand with Christ in the judgment of the world, but first we must "give account of ourselves to God."

To me, the idea that believers will face no examination of their Christian lives gives creedence to those outside the faith who accuse Baptists of preaching a "once saved always saved doctrine of license."

Just a few thoughts on the matter. Thanks for letting me voice them!


Wade Burleson said...


It's obvious that you have not yet listened to the message.

I answer every single objection you make about the notes. Listen to the message in its entirety.

Obviously, you do not have to agree at all!

But I am absolutely convinced that as I stand beside the bema (throne) of God, for He has by His grace made me to stand, I give an account (logos) that Christ alone is my righteousness and hope (Romans 14:11). This is the very passage (Isaiah 45:22-25) that Paul quotes from v. 11. The unrighteous "who fall before the throne" (Psalm 1:5) are incensed at the thought that the only righteousness that counts is Christ's righteounsess. Therefore, their books are opened and they are judged according to their deeds--and justice prevails.

There is no "judgment" for the believer because our confession (logos: translated "account") is that Christ alone is our righteousness--and we stand beside the throne of God as a co-heir with Christ.

Therefore, in light of this truth, do not "judge" your brother for weakness, or sloth, or unspirituality if they see things differently, or do things differently (i.e. the eating of meat offered to idols), because God is able to make them stand beside Christ at His throne on the day of judgment while all the ungodly fall and are judged according to their deeds.

Again, you don't have to agree with the exegesis, but I can guarantee you I get chills from heaven every time I read Romans 14:10-12 because I am overwhelmed with the work of Christ on my behalf.


Wade Burleson said...

In terms of your Corinthian passages, I would simply encourage you to read the Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, volume 8, by Dr. Gill and you will see those passages are a powerful encouragement to ministers of God to not build their ministries on the "wood, hay and stubble" of this world (i.e. "money, prestige, worldly influence"), but to be faithful in building ministry to people on the silver and gold and precious stones (a Jewish euphemism for the truth of God), and when "affliction" comes, the ministry which you have built will stand.

Gill points out the I Corinthians 3 text has nothing to do with eternal judgment of Christians, but the temporal, earthly judgment of pastors who build ministries on lear jets and influence. When affliction comes, the church will fall apart.


Wade Burleson said...

The "lear jets" statement was my commentary not Gill's



Aussie John said...



Dr. Michael Kear said...

Thanks for the great discussion, Pastor Wade. I love to discuss theology!

I can definitely see the point in your understanding of this doctrine and theses great texts. I still find myself much more in agreement with Dr. MacArthur's understanding on Grace to You. He says, "Notice that Paul says each man's praise will come to him from God. God gives rewards to the victors; He does not whip the losers. We know that He won't condemn us for our sins at that point, because Romans 8:1 says, 'There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.'"

To me, there is great reward in living a godly life. As Paul said in 1 Tim 4:8, “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” What an incentive to follow the revealed will of God to the best of our abilities as believers in Christ!

Wade Burleson said...

Dr. Kear,

Absolutely, there is great reward in living by the Holy Spirit a life characterized by love, discipline, and holiness. Without doubt!


The reward of which I speak, however, is the eternal reward of God's favor, grace and immeasurable riches found in Christ's obedience. We are not "judged" in order to obtain that reward, as I know you would agree.



Lydia said...

I have to agree with Dr. Kear on this one.

I would add that I do not think believers are judged in life and death but they will give an account.

Here are few passages that I think might be considered when we think we are not going to be judged for our deeds as believers:

Revelation 14:13
13And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, "Write, '(A)Blessed are the dead who (B)die in the Lord from now on!'" "Yes," (C)says the Spirit, "so that they may (D)rest from their labors, for their (E)deeds follow with them."

Rev 20
11Then I saw a great white (AL)throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence (AM)earth and heaven fled away, and (AN)no place was found for them.
12And I saw the dead, the (AO)great and the small, standing before the throne, and (AP)books were opened; and another book was opened, which is (AQ)the book of life; and the dead (AR)were judged from the things which were written in the books, (AS)according to their deeds.

Romans 14
12So then (T)each one of us will give an account of himself to God.

I would love to see a post on how we know we are really saved.

Romans 8 says "if" and that denotes a 'conditionality'. I fear we must start there.

Wade Burleson said...


Like most things, this is a tertiary issue for believers. Hold fast to your convictions until you see it differently, if ever you ever do, from the Word of God. I will do the same.

ezekiel said...

Dr. Kear,

The way I have come to see it is tied mostly to the doctrine of imputed righteousness. Not only did we get imputed righteousness but also the imputed obedience of Christ.

In Gal 2:19 amplified it says that "in Christ's death for me myself died to the law".

There is other scripture that says "no longer I that live but Christ in me"(Gal 2:20) and "walk in the them" (His works)Eph 2:10

The whole basis for the judgement is to judge according to God's perfect law. When I was baptised, I was baptised into Christ's death. (Romans 6:3-6)From what I can uderstand, He took on all man's sin (became sin) and all that was judged, condemned to die and died.

The way I understand this is that through the crucified body of Christ I was condemned to die and I did. Crucified with Christ. A new creation, holy and blameless.

If all that really did happen, and I believe it did, then I don't know what deeds He can find fault with if I am judged at the judgement seat.

Pink, Piper, Macarthur and Spurgeon spell all this out pretty well over at Monergism.com

Bob Cleveland said...


I view this in somewhat the same light as infant death, the heathen who dies lost, etc. I will never have all the answers, but one thing that I DO know for sure is that I am going to trust God for whatever I must face. Today, tomorrow, and the day I stand before Him in whatever place I find myself.

It would be difficult to trust Him fully in life, if I didn't trust Him fully, after.

Debbie Kaufman said...

My question would be why would we receive "rewards" when we did nothing, Christ did it all. The Bible tells us that even our good works are given to us by God as a sign that we are born again.

My other question is should we do things for the rewards or because of our love and devotion to Christ? If the answer is rewards, doesn't that again point to our works and take our eyes off of Christ's?

Kevin M. Crowder said...

Funny how a Levitical law is used to support this heresy.

This all sounds like works based righteousness and works based punishment. Reject Christ but feed the hungry and hell won't be so bad.


All men will stand before the thrown to give an account. There is but one judgment. Then to those whose transgressions have been atoned for by the Lamb, eternal life.

Kevin M. Crowder said...

Thrown=throne. :)

Wade Burleson said...

To call "heresy" the grace of God for sinners through the reception of the righteousness of Christ by our faith in His person and work seems to me to be treading on dangerous ground with the Holy Spirit.

ezekiel said...

There are a bunch of old dudes that apparently didn't struggle with it like some do.


Whilst all you folks that want to stand before your God for your 5 minutes of infamy just ask yourself if you really want to be judged for your deeds.

What you seem to be sayin is that the blood of Jesus wasn't good enough to cleanse you and present you spotless before the throne.

I believe it was and is.

Kevin M. Crowder said...

No, Dr. Burleson, I am calling your understanding of God's Word in this matter heresy. The Holy Spirit is quite alive and well and safe. As am I.

Btw, please do not confuse my calling your view heresy with me calling you a heretic for I am not. It would be wise to distinguish between critiquing a view and a person. The former I have done, not the later.

Peace Bro.!

Wade Burleson said...

My point, Kevin, is I'm not convinced you understand what I believe.

I'll make you a deal. Listen to the message from Romans 14:10-12, and after listening, if you call my view "heresy," so be it!!

I think you may actually change your mind.

In His Grace,


Thy Peace said...

Emmanuel Enid > Sermons > Romans - The Integrity of God > #99. Removing the Fear of Heaven: Will Christians Stand Before the Judgment Seat? (Romans 14:10-12).

Debbie Kaufman said...

Most times I think the accusation of heresy is another to be embraced for the same reason that the charge of antinomianism should be. :)

Tom Parker said...


Some sure love to use that word heresy and as you say maybe it is a good thing when someone accuses us of heresy to embrace it.

Thanks for helping me to see heresy in a more positive light.

G. Casey said...

Excellent post Wade....I concur hold heartedly.. Why else would martyrs be given a higher reign? These last few posts of yours are excellent in insight!

Lydia said...


The Judgment of God and the Great White Throne (Paul Washer)

Steven Stark said...

Hi Wade - thanks for the response! I apologize for the length below - I tried to keep each point as succinct as possible.

“What makes the action of the man different is the nature of the one whom the man shot.”

Motivations are not mentioned in your analogy. Why did the man shoot the deer? To leave the body to rot? If this were so, the hunter would be condemned.

Is he shooting the deer because he cannot tolerate being close to deer, because they are inferior creatures - imperfect and dirty? The man would be condemned.

This is the treatment God would be giving those who do not intellectually “embrace his Son”.

Does the man decide to spare the deer, but something still has to get shot because deer are so bad, so he shoots himself? That is not a sane thing to do. But this is the idea of “substitutionary” atonement.

If “holiness” does not include actions that we associate with love, then it has no meaning except “otherness” and “separateness”. Your argument for God is not that He is good, but rather that He is powerful.

For instance, you mention sin against an infinite God. And that infinite punishment is appropriate. But this standard would be considered evil in our world. If a toddler commits a crime against an adult, we do not try the toddler as an adult. And surely, by your own ideas, God is much more far removed from us than a toddler is from an adult.

Plus, I am guessing that your Calvinist theology includes the idea that ultimately God is the one who decides which hearts will accept him and which ones He will “harden.” Therefore God is effectively creating people who He knows will not accept Him. Therefore there is not even a legitimate offer being made here.

Or if you accept freewill, then once again, God is allowing us to make decisions with infinite consequences with our finite minds, which is much worse than me giving a set of scissors to my 2 year old son and then respecting his decision to do what he will with them.

“It is possible that you see sin against Him as no big deal.”

I can think of no greater sin than condemning a person to an eternity of suffering without hope of reprieve. Punishment is only considered good if instructs, if it makes better, or if it acts as a deterrent. Hell does none of this.

“If that's the case, then the cross of Christ loses its power and meaning.”

I disagree with you here. If you don’t mind, I will change your phrase to a version that perhaps we can agree on - “If that’s the case, then the doctrine of substitutionary atonement loses its power and meaning.” Fair enough.

Thanks for the thoughts!!


Wade Burleson said...


Good thoughts!

By the way, I want you to know that I believe whosoever desires Christ is a recipient of the grace of God. In other words, nobody desiring the Lord is unrewarded!

Also, I admire your desire to protect the reputation of God. In any way that I have fallen short of presenting a loving, holy God whose justice is always and only perfect and right and love always and only unconditional, then I have failed in my communication.


Rex Ray said...

I have to agree with you having to agree with Dr. Kear on this one.

Concerning salvation, all our works are as filthy rags. We don’t deserve anything except as adopted children of God through the redeeming work of Jesus.

We are not judged on our works for salvation, but as far as rewards; that’s a different story.

Did Jesus tell the Sons of Thunder our rewards wound be the same and no one would sit on his left or right? No.

“My Father has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.” (Matthew 20:23)

I believe our ‘rewards’ in heaven are not based on works but on love.

Jesus said, “So which of them will love him more? Simon answered, “I suppose the one he forgave more. You have judged correctly.” (Luke 7: 42-43)

Wade, on the above Scripture do you believe before Hitler killed himself, IF he had repented and sincerely asked Jesus to save him, he MIGHT be sitting on the right hand of Jesus?

Kevin M. Crowder said...


Dang nabbit!

However, I still take issue with one line from the OP. And that is this: "For this reason, the person without faith in Christ would do well to live the most moral life possible--for he will one day reap what he has sown."

I cannot find biblical evidence of this nor a practical need to even teach this. Is the sinner served by being "less sinful." Are not the hot fires of hell, and separation from the creator God sufficient and deserved by those who reject Christ?

So while I recant my original claim of heresy to the sum total of your post, I find it hard to believe that you yourself would not see the heretical notion of telling the lost that rejecting Christ will be better if they just sin less. (Works based damnation?)

I believe in damnation apart from any works at all--indeed apart from sin itself, for it is our sin nature which damns us to the eternal flame. No?


PS: Thanks for the deal. You can consider yourself your best translator. ;)

Wade Burleson said...


So I gather you listened to the message.



P.S. I can assure any sinner who asks that the punishment of hell, though just and according to deeds, is not something even the best of sinners would ever desire.

Kevin M. Crowder said...

Justin Taylor just linked to this blog article a few minutes ago on Facebook.


Steven Stark said...

Thanks for those words, Wade.

Here are your premises taken from two different comments:

“I believe whosoever desires Christ is a recipient of the grace of God. In other words, nobody desiring the Lord is unrewarded!”

“I can assure any sinner who asks that the punishment of hell, though just and according to deeds, is not something even the best of sinners would ever desire.”
(from a comment to Kevin)

If no sinner would ever desire hell, then why would anyone reject Christ?

There are only two reasons I can think of:

They do not understand what is going on.

They are not of sound mind.

Can anyone add to this list? Remember we are assuming Wade’s premises that no sinner would ever desire hell. If this is true then, if presented with all the facts and a sound mind, every sinner would certainly accept Christ, who is the escape from hell.

If a sinner goes to hell because of either reason I have listed, is this justice?



Kevin M. Crowder said...


A few things:

1. Christ is not the escape from hell. He is the eternal God who must be worshipped.

2. Christians (those who are "regenerate") daily re-condemn themselves to everlasting punishment EVEN with the knowledge of the Word of God. The facts remains we still love our sins more than we love our God.

3. "but God" (Ephesians 2:4) Best two words in all the Bible.


Thy Peace said...

Joining God in His Work [Les Puryear] > A Statement on My Email to SEBTS and Liberty University.

Wade Burleson said...


Were a person truly unable to understand (like an infant or the mentally incapicitated), I would agree with you wholeheartedly that hell seems unjust.

But Romans 1 says that an understanding that there is an invisible and immortal God and that He is to be worshipped-- and not men or idols--is written in the conscience and heart of every human being. So it seems to me that the Bible is saying just the opposite.

All understand and disobey their natural inclination to worship the Creator.



Rick Lannoye said...

The problem with Hell is that, if it were to exist, there would be no Heaven!

I've actually written an entire book on this topic--Hell? No! Why You Can Be Certain There's No Such Place As Hell, (for anyone interested, you can get a free ecopy of Did Jesus Believe in Hell?, one of the most compelling chapters in my book at www.thereisnohell.com), but if I may, I'd like to share with you one of the many points I make in it to explain why.

Let's say you end up in Heaven trying to sing endless praises to a God who is, simultaneously, torturing billions of others. Unless you are given a de facto lobotomy (in which case, YOU would no longer be YOU, so you might as well have not had a soul to begin with), you would have to begin wondering, "When am I next?" and the joy of Heaven would be lost, replaced by gloom and foreboding! Why? Because you could never rely on a God who is so mean to be honest about making any exceptions.

After all, which is more difficult? For God to actively cause so much immense pain, for so many, for so long, or to go back on whatever promises he made to a few others that he would not put them in Hell too at some point?

It would be like accepting an invitation to live as a guest with one of these maniacal men we've been hearing about lately who kidnap, imprison, rape and torture young girls in secret basements. Can you imagine such a guy, simultaneously, having some other young lady as his dinner date, and treating her with respect and care? And even if he did for a while, wouldn't his true nature unleash itself upon her at some point in time, as it has on so many others? Of course!

So you can't really present any Good News if there's a Hell.

But thankfully, there is good news after all: Jesus' original message tells us God intends to hurt no one, not for a second, much less for eternity.

If one is willing to look, there's substantial evidence contained in the gospels to show that Jesus opposed the idea of Hell. For example, in Luke 9:51-56, is a story about his great disappointment with his disciples when they actually suggested imploring God to rain FIRE on a village just because they had rejected him. His response: "You don't know what spirit is inspiring this kind of talk!" Presumably, it was NOT the Holy Spirit. He went on, trying to explain how he had come to save, heal and relieve suffering, not be the CAUSE of it.

So it only stands to reason that this same Jesus, who was appalled at the very idea of burning a few people, for a few horrific minutes until they were dead, could never, ever burn BILLIONS of people for an ETERNITY!

True, there are a few statements that made their way into the copies of copies of copies of the gospel texts which place “Hell” on Jesus’ lips, but these adulterations came along many decades after his death, most likely due to the Church filling up with Greeks who imported their belief in Hades with them when they converted.

Bear in mind that the historical Protestant doctrine of the inspiration of the Scriptures applies only to the original autographs, not the copies. But sadly, the interpolations that made their way into those copies have provided a convenient excuse for a lot of people to get around following Jesus’ real message.

Steven Stark said...


"All understand and disobey their natural inclination to worship the Creator."

From my conversations with atheists, I think this is false. There are good reasons not to believe (the problem of evil, examples of "unintelligent design", God's hiddenness, etc.). I personally feel that belief in God is a matter of taste, and the only reason to believe is whether you want to or not. Nothing logically compels us to believe. *note that I mean the traditional Western concept of God here.

Your are suggesting that people do have the capability to understand the situation of salvation and damnation. Then why would they choose damnation, something fundamentally outside their own best interest? It's incoherent to think that they would, I think.

Also, according to your view of God being "infinitely superior" to man - certainly this is a much greater distinction than the difference between a mentally handicapped person, or an infant, and an adult of sound mind. If we do not hold infants accountable to adult law, why should an God hold finite men accountable to infinite law?


Some responses:

1. By whose dictate must God be worshiped? By his own. There are better ways to insure your own worship than by remaining relatively hidden and "catching" the non-believers after death. Why not appear in all your power and present them with their options? This would surely convert the entire world.

Some suggest God does not do this out of respect and love for man and his freewill. Of course, this doesn't make sense if He then consigns people to Hell who did not realize it was that serious. This is not love. Love is rescuing someone from a dangerous situation, when they do not recognize the danger.

2. A daily personal condemnation is no substitute for being held in condemnation against your will for eternity.

3. I come back to this idea. If everyone really understood the situation, then why would anyone reject Christ? It is incoherent - the action of one who is not of sound mind, or of one who does not have all the facts before him.

Thanks for a very enjoyable conversation!

Tom Kelley said...

Steven Stark said...
3. I come back to this idea. If everyone really understood the situation, then why would anyone reject Christ? It is incoherent - the action of one who is not of sound mind, or of one who does not have all the facts before him.

I've enjoyed reading your comments. I appreciate the clarity with which you present your thoughts and the respect you demonstrate to those who have different views. Very refreshing.

Not to get into a lengthy point-by-point response to your comments (though it might be enjoyable to think through these things together), but I do have a thought on your question above. The only way in which I see it as coherent that anyone would choose hell over heaven (assuming they understood the significance of their choice, which is itself an interest point to consider) is if they would genuinely prefer hell. I'm reminded of the words of Lucifer in Milton's Paradise Lost, "It is better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven."

My point is that, strange as it may sound, what if the nature of mankind is so corrupted by sin that our reason and affections are warped in such a way as to make us actually prefer to be separated from God for eternity? After all, if God is exactly as the Bible and Christian theology portrays Him, and that kind of God seems horrible and evil to those who do not know Him, would not those people perhaps actually prefer not to be around Him? Perhaps the most loving thing such a God could do with those who hate how He is and all He stands for would be to allow them to stay as far away from Him as possible.

Just a thought.

Steven Stark said...

Tom Kelley,

Thanks for the words, I really appreciate them!

I am familiar with the idea that perhaps some people would actually prefer Hell. It's like the idea that everyone actually goes to the same place, only some perceive it as Heaven and some perceive it as Hell. It is interesting, although it does take away from the idea that Hell is punishment.

And the person who prefers Hell, if it is an unpleasant (or sadistically horrible) punishment would be quite delusional.

Of course a Christian Universalist's idea of Hell is that fire and brimstone serve only two purposes - to change and to purify. Once again, punishment is only relevant if it instructs - if it makes better. If there is no hope of this, then punishment is pure sadism.

Given an infinite amount of "time", surely everyone would eventually come to God. And if sinners are truly delusional, then God would surely break those chains.

Tom Kelley said...

I don't know much about the true nature of hell (or heaven), having never been there. :) I do think they are separate places, and that there is a metaphorical aspect to descriptions of hell (such as "fire"), just as there are of heaven ("the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass" -- I've yet to see transparent gold, though I remember something called "transparent aluminum" from a Star Trek movie).

But I'm not certain that punishment is always about correction or instruction. We send murderers to jail or to death not to teach or improve them, but to exact retribution. Their punishment is not a matter of making them a better person, but of settling the score, so to speak. That is central to the concept of justice -- that things weigh out.

Also, I'm not so certain that the primary idea of hell is that of punishment, rather it seems to be more about torment. A person can be tormented by feelings of guilt, regret, remorse, hatred, revenge, etc. And a person can be tormented from within like that without desiring to change anything about themselves, but they blame all their problems and feelings on someone else.

Could a person actually prefer hell? I think this goes back to what Wade said about how big a deal sin is. If sin has so utterly corrupted human nature as to make us truly believe that what is in reality evil is good, and what is in reality good is evil, then a person would only be following their nature and ultimate desire to want to be separated from God (which is what hell is ultimately all about). No amount of time would change their true nature, and taking such a person out of hell and placing them in heaven would be to that person a greater torment, and genuinely cruel.

Steven Stark said...


I must differ with you on the view of punishment. While I agree with you that punishment is about retribution, this only makes sense in the context of it being a deterrent.

If a person murdered one close to me, yet I somehow knew that there was absolutely no chance of this person committing the same act again, and I also knew that the "deterrent effect" would have zero impact on other potential murderers, then there is no reason for punishment.

If this violates something in my spirit, as it certainly would, I chalk it up to the human desire for revenge rather than for justice. Justice would be my loved one not having been murdered in the first place. But nothing changes that. And justice is not served by more suffering if there is no benefit to be derived from the suffering.

Now, you might be thinking that there is another desire at play. The desire for the murderer to realize what he has done, to repent, to find remorse. This may be true as well, but this is punishment as instruction, with the hope of change for the better - which an eternal hell would not provide.

I can understand your idea of an "utterly corrupted" human. But if a person prefers suffering to "not suffering", which we see everyday here on earth, because it is in some sense what we are used to, what is comfortable - I associate this with delusion.

I think your idea of "torment" is right on. We all know that feeling in different degrees. But when we experience that, when we blame our problems on someone else, we are delusional. It does not mean we are not accountable - we suffer for our delusions.

But I cannot see it as merciful to leave a lost human to an eternity of delusion, when God would have the power to show the person love and joy, to clear the mind, to show the true nature of reality, to break the spell of the sinful nature.

I want to see (or not see) some transparent aluminum!

very good discussion,


Tom Kelley said...

Good comments. I guess we'll just have to disagree about punishment -- I think that pure retribution, without regard to correction, is a valid aspect of both punishment and justice.

And sometimes the delusional are quite content with their delusions. :)

Steven Stark said...

Hi Tom,

"I think that pure retribution, without regard to correction, is a valid aspect of both punishment and justice."

I am curious how you make this work alongside the Christian ideas of forgiveness and mercy.

I think "pure retribution" can only validly exist as a deterrent -in order to keep a society orderly. I am wondering what purpose "pure retribution"serves. It does not correct the initial wrong. If no positive effects are achieved through punishment, then the retribution only adds to the net wrong that has occurred. I guess this is a fancy way of saying "two wrongs don't make a right."

" And sometimes the delusional are quite content with their delusions. :)"

I suppose if you weren't, you wouldn't be delusional. But I agree, that we often choose the path of comfort over the path of greater overall happiness. The question is - if a person is delusional, does he have the power on his own to overcome the delusion? And if not, would a loving parent, or creator who certainly has the power, do something to intervene?

I am going to post our conversation on my blog. I think it is really, really interesting. Thank you again!

Tom Kelley said...

Thanks! I'll try to stop by your blog if I can think of anything else worthwhile to say.

For now, I'll just note two things:

(1) I see retribution as a good in itself, a matter of doing the right thing. My notion of justice is that a bad deed deserves a bad consequence. Mercy and compassion can and do exist alongside justice. In the case of the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, the retributive aspect of justice (an eye for an eye) is met via Christ taking the punishment of others onto Himself, and mercy is met in God's choice to accept what He has done on our behalf, rather than requiring we ourselves be punished.

(2) It doesn't seem to me to be such a horrible notion that a loving God would give people exactly what they want, even if what they want is not what is best for them. Perhaps He chooses to allow them to remain in that state because it most fits their desires and it most demonstrates His nature and character.


Steven Stark said...

Hey Tom,

I keep thinking we will come to a stopping place, but it's just a really interesting topic!

"the doctrine of substitutionary atonement"

God sacrifice himself to himself?

If a murder is done, no one would see justice as having been served if another person were allowed to do the jail time, and the killer was allowed to walk. An innocent person sitting in jail does not satisfy justice - whether it be instructive punishment or mere retribution.

But I will adopt the idea of the substitutionary atonement for the rest of my comment:

"It doesn't seem to me to be such a horrible notion that a loving God would give people exactly what they want, even if what they want is not what is best for them."

Can a person really, actually want what they think is not best for them? Interesting topic. I think people are deluded into thinking the wrong things are what is right for them. If we asked people, "do you want what is best for you?" wouldn't they all answer "yes" unless they were just being contrary in the moment?

Also, if God is giving people "exactly what they want" then Hell is removed from the notion of punishment or retribution - since the sinner will not experience it as such, but rather as exactly what they want. An "eye for an eye" would not work if the offender actually wanted his eye to be plucked out all along.

I also think the idea that some people prefer Hell and some people prefer Heaven MIGHT suggest a meritorious salvation - that "I am a saved child of God because of the preference for Him that I have chosen." Is salvation a partnership or is it 100% the work of God?

The Christian Universalist marries these ideas well. God never shuts the door on a sinner, and eventually all hearts will turn to Him. His will will be done. But people are still responsible to make that choice. Yet given an infinite amount of time, and the unfailing love of God, no person could resist perfect goodness and love forever. As St. Augustine wrote, "Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless until it repose in Thee..."

Lydia said...

"God sacrifice himself to himself?

If a murder is done, no one would see justice as having been served if another person were allowed to do the jail time, and the killer was allowed to walk. "


After the watergate scandal when Chuck Colson was sentenced, one of his bible study partners as a new believer, was a democrat congressman who was previously considered by Colson to be a political enemy, asked to be able to serve Colson's sentence for him since his family was falling apart.



God is PERFECT Justice. And because of that, God Himself, in the form of Jesus Christ, totally innocent and pure, took our punishment for us.

We are to repent and believe on Jesus Christ for eternal life.

Steven Stark said...


I have read Colson's book Born Again. I enjoyed it very much. Thank you for relaying a very inspiring story. I am wondering if our legal system accepted the congressman's offer? I do not know. If so, I think that is quite remarkable. If not, then it's probably because the system would not accept that as justice.

I think there is room to accept the idea of the substitutionary atonement as a beautiful marriage of justice and mercy, though it takes an interesting theodicy to do so - yet I still wonder if it is coherent. Still thinking on it, as always.

I appreciate your appeal to love. But I still think that justice is only valid when it is the servant of love, not the other way around.

"We are to repent and believe on Jesus Christ for eternal life."

While I question the coherency of the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, I usually accept it when arguing against the coherency of eternal hell and a loving God existing side by side. I should probably start making those arguments separately!



Steven Stark said...

After some research and reflection, I remove my previous objections to the term "substitutionary atonement" and place them on to the term "penal substitution." The former has a variety of interpretations - the latter seems to better represent what I have objected to.

Just for the record! I won't go into it at the moment ("whew!" anybody left reading this is thinking...).

thanks to everyone for the conversation,