Do people go to Hell just because they don’t accept Jesus?

From Jim Wallace at Please Convince Me. (H/T The Poached Egg)

Excerpt:

A “just” God does justice, which means to punish or reward appropriately. In the Western tradition, we punish people for the actions they commit, but the extent of punishment is dependent also on the person’s mental state, and a person’s mental state is reflective of his or her beliefs. Premeditated murder is worse than manslaughter, and is punished more severely, and a hate crime is a sentencing enhancement that adds more punishment to the underlying crime. In both examples, a person’s beliefs are at play: the premeditated murderer has reflected on his choices and wants the victim dead; a hate crime reflects a belief that the rights of a member of the protected group are especially unworthy of respect. So, considering a person’s beliefs may well be relevant, especially if those beliefs have motivated the criminal behavior.

But the challenger’s mistake is even more fundamental. He is wrong to assert that people are condemned for not accepting the gospel. Christians believe that people are condemned for their sinful behavior – the “wages of sin is death” – not for what they fail to do. The quoted challenge is like saying that the sick man died of “not going to the doctor.” No, the person died of a specific condition – perhaps cancer or a heart attack – which a doctor might have been able to cure. So too with eternal punishment. No one is condemned for refusing to believe in Jesus. While Jesus can – and does – provide salvation for those who seek it, there is nothing unjust about not providing salvation to those who refuse to seek it. After all, we don’t normally feel obliged to help someone who has not asked for, and does not want, our assistance. So too the Creator has the right to withhold a gift – i.e. eternity spent in His presence – from those who would trample on the gift, and on the gift-giver.

The quoted assertion also demonstrates an unspoken belief that we can impress God with our “kind” or “generous” behavior. This fails to grasp what God is – a perfect being. We cannot impress Him. What we do right we should do. We don’t drag people into court and reward them for not committing crimes. This is expected of them. They can’t commit a murder and then claim that punishment is unfair, because they had been kind and generous in the past. When a person gets his mind around the idea of what perfection entails, trying to impress a perfect Creator with our “basic goodness” no longer seems like such a good option.

Here’s a related answer from CARM. This one answers the question about degrees of punishment in Hell.

Excerpt:

Yes, there are different degrees of punishment in hell.

[…]But, not all people are equally bad.  Though all deserve damnation because all are sinners, different people have committed different degrees of sin.

  • Mt. 11:20-22, “Then He began to reproach the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 “Nevertheless I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment, than for you…I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.”
  • Luke 12:47-48, “And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, shall receive many lashes, 48 but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. And from everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.”
  • John 19:11, “Jesus answered [Pilate], ‘You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me up to you has the greater sin.’ ”
  • Heb. 10:29, “How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?”

So, if Jesus speaks of greater condemnation for Chorazin and Bethsaida than Tyre and Sidon (Matt. 11:21-22), one slave received more punishment than another (Luke 12:47-48), the one who delivered Jesus to Pilate has the greater sin (John 19:11), and a more severe punishment is reserved for those who trample underfoot the Son of God, then does not greater sin mean that greater punishment will also happen in hell?  Yes it does.

Not only are there degrees of punishment in Hell, but there are degrees of reward in Heaven, based on what you do on Earth and what strengths you start out with.

Philippians 4:10-18:

10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.

11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.

15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only;

16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need.

17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account.

18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.

Everyone who believes in Jesus gets salvation, but your experience in Heaven will be different based on what you do while you are alive. And that’s also the answer to another common question – about deathbed conversions. Both deathbed converts and William Lane Craig will get the same experience of being in the presence of God, but there are completely different levels of reward. One person has an empty account, and the other person has huge massive amounts of virtuous action on deposit. But I think the real reason that Christians are trying to do good things here on Earth is that they like God, and they want to be his friend. They want to work on the relationship, even if it means a little self-denial, and a little sacrifice. We all have things that we would rather be doing for ourselves, but sometimes we have to things that work – things that are effective – for someone else. My values are not his values. Sometimes it is good to do something based on what He values. I don’t always have to get my way, because then it wouldn’t be a real relationship.

I enjoy thinking about Bible puzzles like this… so often in church we just make Christianity a checklist of things that we are supposed to believe somehow, by brute force willpower. I think reflecting on these problems, asking questions, and making sense of them on our own, is a much better approach.

16 thoughts on “Do people go to Hell just because they don’t accept Jesus?”

    1. GREAT CHALLENGE! My answer is that I think he is talking about salvation there, which is equal for anyone who is saved. And there might be a Jew/Gentile thing going on there.

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  1. The idea of heaven having varying levels of reward is a beautiful but hard concept for many to grasp. The best explanation I ever heard was the response from an older sister, when a young Thérèse of Lisieux asked her sister how this could be possible if we are all to be perfectly happy in heaven. Her sister told her that God was a just God and that yes everyone was to be perfectly happy and loved in heaven, but that what changes is the capacity to receive. She used the illustration of two glasses, a small one and a larger one. While both glasses are full to the brim they are unequal. The soul who receives God on his death bed is the soul who has a small glass, but it is full to the brim. While someone who has dedicated his life to God has a larger capacity for both love and happiness in heaven.

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  2. Where does it say in the bible ( OT / NT ) die and go to heaven ?
    Please show the multiple chapter / verses – it would be appreciated.

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  3. Allow me to reframe the question – Where does it say in the scriptures – “accept Jesus go Heaven ” or ‘don’t accept Jesus go to Hell’.

    I am simply pointing out what does the scriptures ( Christ, OT prophets, NT apostles) ?

    Lets clarify the terms.

    May I suggest starting off defining salvation as taught by the Christ and the Apostles ?

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    1. Source:
      http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/middle2.html

      Quote:
      “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4.12). So proclaimed the early preachers of the gospel of Christ. Indeed, this conviction permeates the New Testament and helped to spur the Gentile mission. Paul invites his Gentile converts to recall their pre-Christian days: “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2.12). The burden of the opening chapters of Romans is to show that this desolate situation is the general condition of mankind. Though God’s eternal power and deity are evident through creation (1.20) and the demands of His moral law implanted on the hearts of all persons (2.15) and although God offers eternal life to all who seek Him in well-doing (2.7), the tragic fact of the matter is that in general people suppress the truth in unrighteousness, ignoring the Creator (1.21) and flouting the moral law (1.32). Therefore, “all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God…'” (3.9-1 1). Sin is the great leveler, rendering all needy of God’s forgiveness and salvation. Given the universality of sin, all persons stand morally guilty and condemned before God, utterly incapable of redeeming themselves through righteous acts (3.19-20). But God in His grace has provided a means of salvation from this state of condemnation: Jesus Christ, by his expiatory death, redeems us from sin and justifies us before God (3.21-26). It is through him and through him alone, then, that God’s forgiveness is available (5.12-21). To reject Jesus Christ is therefore to reject God’s grace and forgiveness, to refuse the one means of salvation which God has provided. It is to remain under His condemnation and wrath, to forfeit eternally salvation. For someday God will judge all men, “inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (II Thessalonians 1.8-9).

      It was not just Paul who held to this exclusivistic, Christocentric view of salvation. No less than Paul, the apostle John saw no salvation outside of Christ. In his gospel, Jesus declares, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14.6). John explains that men love the darkness of sin rather than light, but that God has sent His Son into the world to save the world and to give eternal life to everyone who believes in the Son. “He who believes is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3.18). People are already spiritually dead; but those who believe in Christ pass from death to life (John 5.24). In his epistles, John asserts that no one who denies the Son has the Father and identifies such a person as the antichrist (I John 2.22-23; 4.3; II John 9). In short, “He who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son of God has not life” (I John 5.12). In John’s Apocalypse, it is the Lamb alone in heaven and on earth and under the earth who is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals, for it was he that by his blood ransomed men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation on the earth (Revelation 5.1-14). In the consummation, everyone whose name is not found written in the Lamb’s book of life is cast into the everlasting fire reserved for the devil and his cohorts (Revelation 20.15).

      One could make the same point from the catholic epistles and the pastorals. It is the conviction of the writers of the New Testament that “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (I Timothy 2.5-6).

      Indeed, it is plausible that such was the attitude of Jesus himself. New Testament scholarship has reached something of a consensus that the historical Jesus came on the scene with an unparalleled sense of divine authority, the authority to stand and speak in the place of God Himself and to call men to repentance and faith.{1} Moreover, the object of that faith was he himself, the absolute revelation of God: “All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11.27) .{2} On the day of judgment, people’s destiny will be determined by how they responded to him: “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; but he who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God” (Luke 12.8-9).{3} Frequent warnings concerning hell are found on Jesus’ lips, and it may well be that he believed that most of mankind would be damned, while a minority of mankind would be saved: “Enter by the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14) .{4}

      A hard teaching, no doubt; but the logic of the New Testament is simple and compelling: The universality of sin and the uniqueness Christ’s expiatory sacrifice entail that there is no salvation apart from Christ.

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  4. Thank you for the through reply.

    Before I proceed. May I ask where specifically is it stated in the scriptures to “accept Jesus?” as in “Do people go to Hell just because they don’t accept Jesus?”

    I hope you can see where I am going with this…..

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    1. 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”

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    2. I never saw any finish to this thread, very intersting. Can you explain, I am very curious and would like to know.

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  5. Thanks for the reply -but you still didn’t answer the question.

    Here is a example – “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14) .{4}

    “you will be saved.” From Rom 10

    – “leads to life” not heaven but life. Heaven and life is not the same. One is a place and the other is a state of being with varying degrees ( ie eternal existance vs. eternal life as indicated with Satan and the falling angels)

    – You will be saved – again no mention of heaven.

    Could you name a single verse in the OT/NT that shows “heaven” is the reward / goal of salvation ?

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  6. WK – I bring this point up for a valid reason.
    Christ & the apostles never talked about “heaven” as the goal. If there in not a single verse in the OT / NT then allow me to ask the obvious question –

    What does the scripture say ? This is a of vast importance because some where along the wat the Kingdom/ Resurrection ( 1st & 2nd ) / Day of Wrath/ Life on the earth became lost.

    There are two principal resurrections of the dead.
    The 1st resurrection will come at the beginning of the 1000 Kingdom Age, at the time when Christ returns to earth with His saints and holy angels.
    The 2nd will occur at the end of the Kingdom Age, after the earth and heaven to which we are accustomed have passed away.

    Second:
    Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. (John 5:28,29)

    Note: ( not those who have accepted Jesus)
    – they that have done good – unto the resurrection of life;
    – they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation

    At the second resurrection the dead will be judged out of the books in which the deeds of people are recorded. Then the Book of Life will be examined to see if the individual’s name is there. If the person’s name is found in the Book of Life he will be permitted to enter the Kingdom of God and to eat of the tree of life. If his name is not found written in the Book of Life he will be thrown into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:12-15).

    First:
    And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4-6)

    Notice the following facts and concepts included here:

    -They sat on thrones.
    -Judgment was given to them.
    -They were beheaded for the witness of Jesus.
    -They did not receive the mark of Antichrist.
    -They lived.
    -They reigned with Christ during the thousand years.
    The rest of the dead did not return to life until the thousand years were finished.
    -They are blessed and holy.
    -The second death has no authority over them.
    -They are priests of God and of Christ.
    -This is the first resurrection.

    This is a “state of being” and they reign on the restored earth with paradise.

    I can continue if you like.

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