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Ask Pastor Roger Barrier - Church Leadership

How to Understand Why "Good" People Go to Hell

  • Dr. Roger Barrier Preach It, Teach It
  • 2015 30 Apr
How to Understand Why "Good" People Go to Hell

Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at [email protected].

Dear Roger,

Our Bible study group was discussing how and why God could justify sending good people to hell. We all agree that someone like Adolf Hitler ought to be in hell. But we also agreed that we know many non-Christians who are better people than many Christians.

It seems so unfair for God to send some bad people to heaven while some good people end up in hell. How can this be?

Thank you, Kelly

SEE ALSO: If I Don't Forgive Others, Does that Mean My Sins are Not Forgiven?

Dear Kelly,

We have to stick really closely to the Bible to deal properly with your question.

From my perspective I feel that most people believe they will go to Heaven or Hell based on how good or bad they were on earth. While most people think it will be close, they do believe that they’ll make it to Heaven. Unfortunately, the opposite is true.

“Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:27-28).

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In Romans 3-7 Paul shows us how all have sinned and are guilty. In Romans 1-2 Paul shows us why good men and women aren’t good enough for God’s heaven.

Good people need forgiveness for their sins just like everyone else.

Christians have their sins forgiven at the cross. Because of God’s grace and mercy Christians will never face their sins again. Not so with those who died without a Savior.

Revelation 20:11-14 describes the Great White Throne Judgment, when those who’ve died without a Savior are given the opportunity to convince God why he should let them into heaven unforgiven and without a Savior.

SEE ALSO: 4 Reasons Why God Disciplines Us

The key to understanding “good people in Hell,” revolves around the Book of Life and the Books of Works. The Book of Life contains the names of everyone who has ever born. Those who die without a Savior have their names “blotted out of the Book of Life” and will be evaluated by their behaviors which are recorded in the Books of Works.

I imagine that those awaiting their turns with Jesus to be organizing their speeches to show him why they are good enough for Heaven.

God will then show them in the Book of Works why they are not good enough. Then, the Lord Jesus Christ will open the Book of Life and discover, as he already knows, that their names are not there. Tragically, they will be tossed into the Lake of Fire and assigned to Hell for eternity.

The problem is that no one is good enough for God’s Heaven. If he were to let us into Heaven with all of our sin we would wreck the place.

We need the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and our surrender to him as Lord and Savior, to clean our lives of sin and make us fit to live in Heaven.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

“For the wages of sin is, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:16-17).

In Romans 2  the apostle Paul shares with us the seven factors of judgment that Jesus will use when he opens the Books of Works at the Great White Throne Judgment. From these books Jesus will prove why good people are not fit for Heaven.

Romans 2 does not show folks how to be saved. This passage shows folks why they are lost! These are not the principles of salvation. These are the principles of evaluation. Here are seven of the reasons why good people are disqualified from entering into God’s Heaven.

1. God will evaluate according to truth as outlined in the Bible (Romans 1-3).

God will judge everything according to truth because we all are in the habit of comparing ourselves with others.

On Judgment Day God will say to those who died without Jesus Christ as their Savior, “Let’s judge you for who and what you really are.”

2. God will evaluate according to his kindness (Romans 2:4).

God’s judgment will be in proportion to the amount of kindness that God has poured out to people during their lifetimes.

God expends his kindness to us that he might lead us to repentance.

Christians often wonder why lost people seem to have it so good. The answer is that it’s just God’s kindness to turn them to repentance – the longer they reject his kindness, the more inexcusable they will be when they stand at the Great White Throne Judgment.

3. God will evaluate according to his accumulated wrath (Romans 2:5).

Hardening of arteries can take us to an early grave – but hardening of the heart, spiritually, will take us ultimately to the Lake of Fire.

If the grace and kindness of God have not led us to repentance, then every day, moment by moment, hour by hour, we are storing up drops of the terrible treasure of God’s wrath which will break forth at the Great White Throne.

God is allowing us to live and he is holding back punishment – giving us kindness – so that we might turn to him in repentance.

Our judgment for eternity will be in direct proportion to the amount of kindness that God has given to us to which we ignored as coming from God.

4. God will evaluate according to deeds (Romans 2:6-10).

Standing before God now is the person who says, “Look, God, judge me according to my deeds. I’ve lived a good life. Take my good works and put them beside my bad ones and certainly the good will outweigh the bad!”

But the problem with the moral man is that he thought that his good deeds will be weighed against his bad deeds or at least be compared against the deeds of others.

That will not be the case.

God will take the best works of the moral man or woman and compare them with Jesus’ deeds. Jesus raises the lame, gives sight to the blind, and heals the sick. He takes on the sins of the entire world and by his death and sacrifice brings salvation to those who commit to him as Savior and Lord.

No person in his or her right mind wants to be judged on works. He or she wants mercy.

5. God will evaluate without playing favorites (Romans 2:11).

God offers salvation to everyone because everyone needs it.

God is no respecter of persons. He shows no favoritism. Regarding the issue of sin, no one is better than anyone else from God’s perspective.

I remember as a child when dad took me to the top of the 10 story Braniff building in Dallas. I looked down, and all the cars look like toys.

Dad said, “Look at the people.”

“They all look small to me.”

“Can you tell the difference,” he asked, “between the five-foot-tall people and he six-foot-tall people?”


Several minutes later we were down on the sidewalk and dad asked, “Now, can you tell the difference between a tall man and a short man?” It was easy.

So it is in our human judgments. On the human level we see all sorts of variations in wealth, culture, education, character, goodness, and badness.

But, from God’s point of view from the 10th story, everyone looks alike!

Without being irreverent I can almost hear God saying to some individuals,

“You dummy. Do you really figure that you have calculated some shifty plan that will let you go up against me and get away with it? You don’t have a ghost of a chance.”

God doesn’t like to judge. He definitely says that judgment is his “strange work” (Isaiah 28:21).

Nevertheless, he will judge: “He who spared not his own Son but delivered him up” will certainly not hesitate to judge those who reject his free offer of grace in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:32).

6. God will evaluate according to how well we've lived up to the "light that we've received" (Romans 2:12-15).

There are two types of people: Those who have heard the gospel and those who have not.

Both are judged according to how they respond to what they know. In other words they will be judged on the amount of “light” which they have received.

Those who have heard the gospel have seen the “light” and by receiving Christ are living up to the level of the light they have received.

But there are many people who hear the gospel and reject it. They have not lived up to the light and therefore stand condemned for God.

Of course, this begs the question regarding the natives in Africa who will never be exposed to, or hear, the gospel during their lifetimes. This is certainly unfair to send people to hell and have never had the chance, and most likely never will have the chance, to hear the gospel and respond positively to Christ.

Paul teaches us that these folks will be judged according to how well they live up to what they know and they know much more than we realize. They have an internal conscience which guides him as to what is right and wrong behavior. They can look at the stars at night and see the universe and know that there must be a God who created all.

In a startling way, Paul seems to be teaching us that salvation is available to those who never heard the gospel if they live up to the light they’ve received.

“To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger” (Romans 2:7-8).

This idea of living up to the light brings up some intriguing thoughts. Do you know anyone who’s lived up to the light they have received? Is it possible that God accepts for salvation those who have lived up to the light received, then, perhaps, it’s best that we not share the gospel because those who hear it may reject it and be lost. They might have a better chance to live up to the light that you have received.

I’m sharing these thoughts above with you because people have asked me questions like these many times over the years. I’m not declaring any sort of theological statement. I’m just illustrating some of the things with which people wrestle.

People who have greater “light” have more responsibility to live up to the “light” (Matthew 11:23-24).

The key is – are we living up to what we know? The answer is a resounding “No!” No person performs up to the level of what they know. We all fall short.

7. God will evaluate according to the inner secrets of the heart (Romans 2:16).

At the Great White Throne God will open the closet doors and reveal the secrets of the people who stand there. Jesus spoke of this often (Matthew 10:26-27).

Skeletons will come out of closets then. Deeds long buried in the depths of memory will be brought up. Unsolved crimes will find their solutions. These are the secrets of men.

As a Christian I know with absolute assurance that I will never stand before this Judgment Bar. “There is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

(Anyway, I’ve already settled my case out of court!)

The way to avoid The Judgment Seat of Christ is to settle your case before it comes to trial.

Christ said, “If you meet your adversary in the road way, you had better settle with him, lest he drag you into court and you have to pay to the uttermost penny!” (Matthew 5:25-26).

In this passage, the adversary will be God. He will be Judge, Jury, and Prosecuting Attorney.

Christ died on the cross to offer us a chance to accept him now and settle our sin issue before Judgment Day comes. If we die without Christ our case will come to trial and God has enough evidence to condemn every person to Hell – and he will. There is mercy now – settle out of court. The days of mercy are not without end. When we die, our choice is sealed for eternity.

Well Kelly, I hope that my answer is helpful to you and your friends. As far as I’m concerned, this subject is hard to swallow. But it shows us very clearly how devastating is sin and how much God loved us to let his son died to save us.

Sincerely, Roger

Ask RogerDr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.

Publication date: April 30, 2015