By President Randall A. Bach
Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon, preached in the heat of the 1740s Great Awakening in America, brought such conviction to people and struck their hearts with such fear of hell that throngs cried out in repentance. There were reports that some people were so fearful hell was about to swallow them that they clung to trees while calling out to God for mercy. The prospect of hell was so vivid and real to those people that they dramatically changed their lives in order to avoid what they viewed as their otherwise certain destination. They realized they were sinners, falling far short of what God declares as a standard for life and for entry into heaven.
It is difficult for 21st century people to understand such a level of emotion about hell. That is because we have either abandoned our acceptance of hell’s reality or have convinced ourselves that only “those bad people” will go there. Hell is not often on our radar screens. And then there are people for whom hell is very much a matter of attention. But they see hell as a hated figment of discredited and even harmful Christianity that must be attacked and destroyed. That type of animosity led to the stark declaration by the son of the late President Ronald Reagan, in jarring contrast to responses to Edwards’ sermon, that he is a “lifelong atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.” What a stunning and sobering boast with sorrowful eternal ramifications.
What accounts for those two opposite points of view – terrifying fear of hell or contempt for it? The dividing line is our view of sin. People who fear hell acknowledge they have sinned against God and that sin brings eternal consequences, with hell as the ultimate destination if sin is not washed away. People who dismiss hell or have no concern about it are also dismissive about sin. Well-known author and apologist Ravi Zacharias describes the solemn effect of sin: “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.”
The two attitudes we see here are either terrifying fear of hell or contempt for it. But what accounts for such opposite points of view?” The dividing line is our view of the Bible. People who recognize sin as a transgression against God’s law and standards comprehend that truth in light of what God says in His Word, the Bible. The Bible is understood as God’s Holy Word. In it He describes sin, its power, its deception, its corruption, its ultimate consequences unless countered, and the availability of repentance and forgiveness of sin through his Son, Jesus Christ. People who do not embrace the Bible as God’s Word ignore or make light of its contents, including the reality of sin and hell as well as its clear description of sin.
Quite simply, God is clear about who sins, the outcome of sin, and the joy of obtaining freedom from it:
The Universality of Sin – No Exceptions
“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23, NLT).
The Outcome of Sin – With Provision of Escape
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
The Freedom from Sin – Power Broken
“For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him” (Romans 6:7-8).
The New Person – Replaces Old
“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun” (2 Corinthians 5:17)!
When we embrace the Bible as God’s Word, its contents do much more than help us to understand and repent of what He declares to be sin. The Bible is a Book of Life! Far more than telling us what not to do, the Bible reveals to us how to live with purpose and in fulfilling relationship with Him and others.
Sin is the dividing line in life. Sin brings corruption, death, and torment. Repentance from and forgiveness for sin brings fullness of life and freedom from the destruction of sin, now and in eternity. Let’s opt for freedom!
- Professor Thomas S. Kidd. The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America. Yale University Press, 2009.