I can’t imagine anyone choosing to be in hell. I’d rather think of hell as where God banishes people he chooses to punish. But, is it true that everyone who is in hell actually has chosen to be there and God couldn’t save them? Can you help me make sense of how people end up in hell? Is hell a choice? Or, in other words, do those in hell choose to be there?
Ask anyone the question, “Would you choose to go to hell?” The answer is simple. “No.” No one with any understanding would ever choose to go to hell. However, by their choices and behaviors, hundreds are choosing hell every day.
Anyone who fails or chooses not to receive Christ has already made a choice to go there.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not be believed in the name of God’s one and only son. – John 3:16-18 KJV
People choose hell for all kinds of reasons.
For example, some choose hell because they think that they've said "no" so many times that they couldn't come to Christ even if they wanted to.
I received a call that grandpa was in the hospital dying of cancer. The entire family had pleaded with God for years for him to turn his heart to Jesus. However, he always said “No.”
“We’d like to make one more try. If we share the gospel again, we know that the words will fall on deaf ears. We’d like to try one more time from a different perspective. Would you please go to the hospital and share with him the gospel? He does not have much time."
When I arrived, I found him sitting upright in the hospital bed.
“You’re their minister, aren’t you?” He continued. “I know why you’re here. They want you to try to lead me to Christ.”
“Yes, they’ve asked me to come one more time,” I replied.
“Okay then, go right ahead,” the patient said.
So, I shared the gospel as best I knew how, and then I said, “Would you like to receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”
He looked directly at me and said, “No. I think that I’ve said 'no' to Jesus so many times that I couldn’t become a Christian now even if I wanted to.”
By the way, you don't want to go to hell.
The worst experiences of human existence cannot compare to the destruction that awaits those who’ve chosen hell.
And cast out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth – Matthew 8:11-12
So those people will go into eternal punishment, while the righteous will go into eternal life – Matthew 25:46
Please notice that experiencing hell is not a short time adventure. Hell is eternal.
And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. – Revelation 20:10
Let's look at eight reasons why some choose hell:
1. They Think They've Found Something Better Than Jesus
My friend Charlie and I made a pact during our senior year in high school to visit each other’s churches. The first Sunday we went to my Baptist church and heard the gospel plainly and emotionally taught. Charlie was not impressed.
The next Sunday at Charlie’s Unitarian church I heard a “sermon” by the pastor in which he said that he would rather spend time in hell talking to great philosophers like Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Confucius than spend eternity talking to boring people in heaven like Moses and Abraham!
2. They Wait Until it's Too Late to Get to Heaven
Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment... – Hebrews 9:27 NIV
But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” – Hebrews 3:13 NIV
The writer to the Hebrews encouraged his people not to wait to give their hearts to Jesus! Today is the day of salvation! Tomorrow may be too late.
Early in church history, the Roman Catholic Church began teaching that if a person died with any unconfessed sins that those sins would keep them out of heaven. Some tried to time it just right before they died.
Unfortunately, some waited too long.
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3. They Mistakenly Follow Someone Who's Perverted the Gospel
Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! – Galatians 1:8-9 NIV
The gospel message is “Faith In Christ Plus Nothing Else Produces Salvation.” Salvation is all God’s work; it is not based on man’s achievements.
The Galatians tried to add becoming a Jew to be part of the gospel message. Cult leaders purposefully distort the message of Christ into a “gospel” that confuses people into following their leadership.
When Constantine, who ruled Constantinople in 327 A.D. became a Christian, he declared that all of his soldiers become Christians, too. He baptized them by marching them through a river completely immersed except for their arms and battle swords which they held over their heads and out of the water. He wanted to be sure they would still be able to fight!
4. They Don't Think There Is a Hell
The fool says in his heart there is no God. – Psalm 14:1 KJV
Surveys consistently show that almost 73 % of Americans believe in heaven. On the other hand, only 32% of Americans believe there is a hell.
Agnostics believe that no one can know for certain whether or not there is a God.
Atheists declare by faith that there is no God.
Madeline Murray O’Hare and Richard Dawkins stand out as two of the prominent atheists of our time. Their stated goal in life was to expose Christianity as fraudulent. They failed miserably.
5. They Think More 'Goods' Than 'Bads' Is Enough
Unfortunately, no one is good enough. That’s why we need a Savior who will give us salvation if we ask for it.
At the Great White Throne of Judgment all of those who have chosen to go to hell for whatever reason are judged “according to their deeds” and are cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15).
When I’m sharing the gospel, I find it interesting to ask people, “What do you think is the main theme of the Bible?” Their answers invariably revolve around the idea that the Bible teaches that if they are good enough, they can go to heaven.
And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he is thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone. – Revelation 20-15 KJV
Every person on earth begins life with their name in the Book of Life. If they die without receiving Christ, then their name is rubbed out of the book of life.
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6. They've Heard the Gospel and Don't Think It's Important
I was attending a high school thespian meeting when the subject of the gospel arose. All of a sudden, I found myself sharing the gospel with 25 high-school actors and actresses. I noticed one girl, Linda, staring at me with eyes transfixed.
She was glued to my every word. Some decades later I received from her an e-mail asking if I remembered that day in our thespian meeting. “I just want you to know that I never forgot what you said that day and now it all makes sense. I’ve given my heart to Jesus. It’s the most important thing that’s ever happened to me."
7. They Feel the Price of Following Jesus Is Too High
Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God – Luke 17:7
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor, who saw the “writing on the wall,” fled from Germany to England just before the commencement of World War II. However, it wasn’t long until he returned to Germany. He reasoned how could he minister to his flocks after the war if he’d run away from them during the war.
He wrote the immortal words: “When Jesus Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
Just three days before the end of World War II he was hanged for his faith.
8. They'd Rather Joke about 'the Man Upstairs' Than Surrender Their Hearts to Jesus
So, what happens if you take it seriously, and purposely choose Christ? You can be of genuine good cheer.
Those who choose Christ are immediately ushered into His presence the moment they die.
The New Testament clearly declares that after Christ’s ascension, when believers die they go immediately to be with Christ.
I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far: but it is more necessary for you to remain in the body – Philippians 1:23-24 KJV
Therefore, we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord – 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 KJV
Steve, I hope this answers your question. Please feel free to ask me as many questions as you like.
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Dr. 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 35-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.
Editor's Note: This Ask Roger article features insights from Roger's daughter, Brie Barrier Wetherbee, a sought-after Bible teacher and conference speaker, author, analyst, and Christian theologian.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.