Driving to Kentucky last week, I saw a sign along the road in the middle of Ohio. It said “Hell is Real”. It got me thinking about how this message on a billboard could motivate people to come to Jesus Christ for salvation. How many people saw this and reevaluated their lives and eternal destiny?
I absolutely believe hell IS real. I believe it is more horrific and more terrible than we can wrap our brains around.
So why isn’t it a motivator to receive Christ?
I mean, obviously on some level, to some people, it is. Otherwise, why would Jesus Himself have warned us of this place so often (e.g., Matthew 10:28), literally more than anyone else in the Bible?
So if it is eternal and horrible, why aren’t people lining up to get saved, every week in every church that proclaims the truth?
As a younger preacher, I thought hell was one of the ultimate motivators. But experience is showing me that it doesn’t motivate like I would expect. In fact, the further I go, the less I see it as a motivator.
But how can this be?
People must either 1) choose not to think about it, 2) think that somehow they can escape it on their own merit when their day of appearing before God is upon them, or 3) dismiss it as a fairy tale – just a scare tactic "religious people" use.
The truth is the Gospel isn’t just about avoiding hell, it’s about being reconciled to the God Who created you and loves you. The God who loves you deeply personally, wants a love relationship with you, and demonstrated His love by sending Jesus to die for your sins and rise from the grave to give you eternal life.
So we just aren’t going to hear people say, “I don't want to go to hell, guess I'll love Jesus.” Can you enter a love relationship so shallowly motivated? Is that mindset going to have you truly love Jesus Christ?
The Bible tells us that mankind has rejected God, rebelliously chosen to be our own god. We decided that this life on earth is about us – our pleasures, our wants, our preferences – about our prideful sin. While God would be justified to just annihilate the earth and start over, He decided to show us how much He loves us instead and pursue us with His love. He put our sin on Jesus and allowed Him to be beaten, mocked, and brutally executed. Jesus rose from the dead to prove sin, death, and the real enemy have all been totally defeated. Jesus’ work gives us the promise of heaven, a glorious eternal existence where any kind of pain is behind us forever. God gives us the ultimate gift when we turn from our selfish sinfulness and embrace Jesus Christ: the gift of Himself, the Holy Spirit, who guides, comforts, and empowers us by living in our hearts every moment of every day we dwell on the earth. And all this is free. There’s no payment to be made, no hoops to jump through, no “catch” - it’s a totally free gift. It’s undeserved, no matter what you’ve done. It can’t be earned, and it can never be lost.
So if this Gospel, this glorious message and promise, doesn't drive you to love and adore Jesus, even the looming reality of hell won’t make any difference, either.
Hell IS real. But I’m rethinking how much it actually motivates people to turn from their sinful, destructive ways. It’s still God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
-”You are loved” is still the message that changes everything.