Why Millions of Church Members Will Go to Hell
Written By: Timothy Fish Published: 7/19/2009
Every April I attend the annual meeting of the BMA of America and we hear reports of what is happening in other countries. We hear about churches springing up and thriving in battle torn Iraq—in Baghdad, in Nineveh—even though these people know that by becoming a Christian they face their families disowning them as well as a very real threat of persecution and death for their beliefs. We hear of other countries where medical teams or teaching teams go in to meet the physical needs of the people and return home rejoicing that hundreds have accepted Christ. Revival is happening today, but not in America.
Why not? If there is anywhere that revival should be sweeping the land, it is in America. In many parts of America, people may drive past several churches on the way to the church of their choice. The pews are padded. Many of the music ministers are college educated and many churches have music that rivals the quality of professional musicians. Many pastors have been taught all of the finer points of delivering an affective message. Turn on the television and flip through the channels and you are likely to find at least one preacher talking about religion. Why then is it that we aren’t seeing people turning to Christ by the thousands? In spite of all we have that should make it easier to show people the way to heaven, millions will go to hell and many of them church members. They will be among those who stand before God and ask, “have we not prophesied in Thy name, and in Thy name have cast out devils, and in Thy name done many wonderful works?” (Matthew 7:22)
A Missing Piece of the Gospel
Imagine you turn on the television and you see a preacher in front of a large crowd. “God loves you and has great things in store for you,” he says. He goes on for some time talking about how special you are and how God want you to live to your full potential. Then he ends his message, “We don’t want to end without giving people an opportunity to accept Christ. If you would like to have all that the Lord has to offer, right where you are, pray and ask Jesus to save you. If you have faith, he will do that.”
What is wrong with that message and why could it send many viewers and some of the members of that preacher’s church to hell? God loves us and has great things in store for us, doesn’t he? God does want us to live to our full potential, doesn’t he? And didn’t Paul and Silas give the answer “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved?” (Acts 16:31)
The missing piece is that people don’t understand their need of salvation. Read Acts 16:24-34. All the jailer need to do was to believe, to have faith, but we notice before that how that he was so distraught that he was ready to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. When he learned that none of them had left, he fell trembling before Paul and Silas, asking them what he needed to do to be saved.
In America, many people have the idea that there are many ways to get to heaven. Some people have the idea that as long as their good deeds outweigh their bad deeds, then God will consider them good people and take them to heaven. Some believe that it doesn’t really matter what religion you follow, because they are all aimed at accomplishing the same thing. They see enlightenment in one religion as no different from salvation in another. Some may even see science as a way to achieve everything that religion has to offer. Some believe that a loving God would never send anyone to hell, so while they don’t really know if there is an afterlife, they figure the worst thing that can happen is that they cease to exist and don’t get to go.
The thing that is missing from all of these concepts of salvation is that they don’t take into account that it is our sin that has separated us from God. It began when Adam sinned, but all of us sin. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Any sin will separate us from God. Even if the only bad thing you did was to take a cookie without your mother’s permission, when you were a child, that sin is enough to mar the perfection of heaven. God rejects anyone and anything that isn’t perfect. He even rejects the angels that are imperfect.
But it’s impossible for us to be perfect. That’s the whole point. Much of the so called gospel we hear in America leaves out the fact that we are unable to obtain the perfection required to get into heaven. People don’t understand that whatever they are doing isn’t good enough. They don’t understand their need of a savior. Instead, they see heaven as something like dessert. Since someone is offering it, they aren’t going to refuse and if all they have to do is have faith then they will try their hardest to believe.
Faith That Isn’t Faith
Sola fide (faith alone) was the cry of many Protestant reformers. It is the doctrine that justification is by faith alone. It is supported by Ephesians 2:8-9. But what is faith and what are we supposed to have faith in?
Many people don’t really understand faith. We see this in questions like, “How can salvation be without works if faith is required?” The problem is that people equate faith with positive thinking. Someone might say, “Think positive and you’ll get that promotion.” Someone else might say, “What you need to do is have faith that God will give you that promotion.” While the second sounds more pious, it is essentially the same thing as the first. You can think positive all you want and though it may help you relax, you still aren’t guaranteed a promotion. So when people apply this concept of faith to salvation, they try to force themselves to believe. Maybe they do the religious thing, believing that will help—going to church, tithing, getting involved in ministry—but they just can’t quite get over their unbelief. They know the words to say and they sound very Christian, but they may worry that they believe the wrong religion.
This kind of belief is like the belief in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. At some point, most people reject the idea of Santa Claus because there is no evidence to support that belief. To overcome this, some people will say that we won’t see any evidence if we don’t truly believe in Santa Claus.
Let’s look at an example of this kind of faith. Suppose you are on a game show and are shown two boxes. They are essentially identical boxes. One contains a gold bar and the other contains a lead weight. You can pick them up, to feel for weight. You can turn them over and around. You can do anything you want, but look inside. Once you make your selection and open a box, you will either go home with the equivalent value of the gold bar or the go home empty handed. You don’t know what to do, so you decide to “have faith” and pick one. If you pick the wrong one, then your faith must not have been strong enough. If you pick the correct one then you are really something. Your faith was strong and you overcame the problem. You have something to brag about. But what is it that the Bible says about salvation? “Not of works, lest any man should boast.” This kind of faith violates that. This kind of faith gives us something to boast about. This kind of faith is a type of works. It leads us to believe that if we can just force ourselves to believe the doctrine that someone is teaching then we will make it into heaven. Even if we see problems with that doctrine, we go right ahead forcing ourselves to believe it, since not believing will keep us out of heaven. Sadly, this kind of faith is sending people straight to hell.
So, let’s look at another kind of faith. Once more, you are on the game show and you are required to pick the correct box. Television being what it is, you already did. By some means, you picked the box with the gold bar in it and you are going home with the money, but there is a problem. While you were doing that, the game show host’s microphone went dead. To give them the footage they need, they need you to pick the box again, but this time they tell you, “It’s in the box on the right.” This time you have faith, but your faith isn’t that the box you open will happen to have the gold bar. This time you have faith that the person who told you which one to open is telling you the truth. You wouldn’t go up to the left box and open it, believing that if you had enough faith that you would find the gold bar in there instead.
Saving faith isn’t wishful thinking that this religion or that religion will get us to heaven. Saving faith like someone has given us the correct answer and all we have to do is believe that person. It requires no work on our part to believe when someone tells us the truth. We are either wise for believing or we are foolish if we do not, but there is no work required.
Knowing Who to Believe
If we’re going to believe something, we need a good reason to believe it. In part, that is why many church members will go to hell. Someone told them something and they believed it, even joined the church, but what that person told them isn’t the truth. There are a lot of religions and denominations out there. Some are churches are teaching the truth about salvation, some are not. How are we to know what to believe?
That’s were the Holy Spirit comes in. Men are not trustworthy, but God never lies. John 6:44 tells us that “No man can come to [Jesus] unless the Father who hath sent [Jesus] draw him; and [Jesus] will raise him up at the Last Day.” It is the responsibility of Christians to tell others about their need of a savior and what Jesus did to save them, but those words alone hold no more weight than the words of a Muslim or a Buddhist. The world would have no reason to believe a Christian who is speaking the truth any more than they would believe an atheist or a so-called Christian who is speaking lies. If all we had were the words of men to choose from, we would never be able to know who is right and who is wrong, but the Holy Spirit comes and at the point of salvation he convicts the sinner of his sins. He tells the sinner that the words he is hearing from a preacher, teacher or soul winner are true. The Holy Spirit reveals to us what is true and it is our responsibility to believe.
Millions of church members are going to hell because they don’t see a need for a savior, they have faith that isn’t faith and they are believing someone who isn’t speaking the truth. Both Jesus and John preached a doctrine of repentance. They called the people of their day to turn from their sin and put their trust in Jesus, as the one and only sacrifice sufficient to pay their sin debt. But don’t take my word for it. I am a flawed human being just like everyone else. When the Holy Spirit comes to you to convict you of your sin and to show you the truth, believe him. Choose the path that he tells you to take, or die the death of a fool.