Several years ago people were asked several survey questions about eternal life. One of the questions asked, “Do you know anyone who’s going to go to hell?” revealed that on the average, people knew at least five others who were going to hell, but they themselves weren’t going. Big shock, right?
“What happens after I die?” is a basic human question. Conceptions of Heaven and Hell characterize the afterlife for most Americans. While beliefs in these two eternal destinations are highly related for many, they are not uniform. Findings from the 2010 Baylor Religion Survey (http://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/153501.pdf) illustrate the popularity of Heaven over Hell and point to implications that beliefs in the afterlife have for people in their present life.
- Heaven is a more popular notion than Hell. Nearly two-thirds of American adults (62%) absolutely believe that Heaven exists, whereas barely half (51%) express the same certainty about the existence of Hell.
- Ninety-five percent of very religious respondents absolutely believe that Heaven exists and 85% believe in Hell. Respondents who attend church and believe in a literal view of the Bible also, to a large extent, believe in Heaven (93% and 98%, respectively) and Hell (85% and 92%, respectively).
- Notable differences emerge when comparing beliefs about Heaven and Hell across religious traditions. Evangelicals and Black Protestants in larger percentages than other religious traditions believe in Heaven and Hell. In every religious tradition, the existence of Heaven claims a higher percentage of believers than the existence of Hell.
- Female respondents believe in Heaven and Hell (68% and 55%, respectively) more than male respondents (55% and 47%, respectively).
- A larger percentage of African Americans believe in Heaven (78%) and Hell (67%) than do Whites or Hispanics.
The fact that belief in heaven outweighs belief in hell is a given. Who wants to believe in a hell, a place of torment, “where the worm dies not.” Everyone except the very demented would rather hear about pleasures for evermore over what the Bible describes as undeniable and inconceivable punishment. When a person dies in movies and TV shows, the person – no matter what they believed or lived – is treated as if they’ve gone to “their reward.” And here’s a goodie. “We know your spirit is here with us.” Really? The necessity of believing in Jesus Christ as savior is a joke, and avoided at all cost.
Belief that Matters
The above study is an interesting study about beliefs, but the question is not about beliefs but what people actually do with beliefs. Jesus exhorted his listeners and questioned their response to His lordship, “Why do you call me Lord and don’t do what I say?” His brother James (Book of James) repeated the same thing about reading or hearing the Word of God:
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do” (James 1:22-25 – NIV).
Have you ever noticed that Americans get really “religious” every time something bad happens? Church attendance spikes, the flags come out, more prayers services are held until the danger is over. Then back to normal indifference.
We’ve got churches on every corner, but America’s morality gets worse.
What Gallop and Barna Found
Regarding this, pollsters got busy to see if indeed there was a difference between those who professed Christ and those who didn’t. http://www3.dbu.edu/jeanhumphreys/SocialPsych/evangelicalmind.htm
The polls showed that Christians divorced their spouses just as often as their secular neighbors. They beat their wives as often as their neighbors. They were almost as materialistic and even more racist than their pagan friends. The hard-core skeptics smiled in cynical amusement at this blatant hypocrisy. The general population was puzzled and disgusted. Many of the renewal movement’s leaders simply stepped up the tempo of their now enormously successful, highly sophisticated promotional programs. Others wept.
This, alas, is roughly the situation of Western or at least American evangelicalism today. Scandalous behavior is rapidly destroying American Christianity. By their daily activity, most “Christians” regularly commit treason. With their mouths they claim that Jesus is Lord, but with their actions they demonstrate allegiance to money, sex, and self-fulfillment.
The findings in numerous national polls conducted by highly respected pollsters like The Gallup Organization and The Barna Group are simply shocking. “Gallup and Barna,” laments evangelical theologian Michael Horton, “hand us survey after survey demonstrating that evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general. “Divorce is more common among “born-again” Christians than in the general American population. Only 6 percent of evangelicals tithe. White evangelicals are the most likely people to object to neighbors of another race. Josh McDowell has pointed out that the sexual promiscuity of evangelical youth is only a little less outrageous than that of their non-evangelical peers.
Recently, I found a tell-tell article citing the “most religious cities” by profession that also visited porn sites more often than cities comparable in size. Three Alabama cities appeared in the top 10 — http://blog.al.com/breaking/2013/05/rocket_city_listed_as_no_1_rel.html.
The truth is “religion” without a true and living relationship with Jesus Christ is a joke.
As I was putting this together, I found an interesting scripture that really applies to us as the church today, especially in light of the survey results above.
“When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” 20:20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning” (Deut. 20:18-20 – NIV).
This passage shows us a couple of things about ourselves. So often when God really moves, people are afraid. Notice how they asked Moses to communicate with God and leave them out. But Moses told them not to be afraid, but to understand that God’s powerful presence was intended to produce awe in them to prevent them from sinning.
We can deduce from this that American Christians, as a whole, have lost the awe-inspiring reverential respect for the presence of God. This is fairly easy to understand since in most churches there is no MANIFEST presence of God. God is among them, but they know this by faith and not by experience. This I know after many years of observing and participating in worship services of every hue: The Holy Spirit will come IF churches WANT Him and don’t care if He upsets their agenda. As long as pastors stay in control of their services instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to minister as He sees fit, the same old routine services will continue.
America in the crosshairs
Scary, isn’t it? Granted, many who say, “Lord, Lord, shall not enter in the kingdom” (Matt. 7:21-23). Those professing may not be possessing. Sometimes it’s popular to say you’re a Christian and at the same time compromise everything you say you stand for.
We can draw several conclusions from the Gallop and Barna studies.
1) Currently, the impact of Christian belief upon Americans as a whole is lame.
2) People still confuse true conversion with church membership, as if they’re one and the same.
3) Most “believers” are scripturally ignorant, and even if they aren’t, their daily lives are not lived according to their professed convictions.
4) Politically correct speech has sabotaged the Gospel about which many Christians are afraid to speak out because of the fear of being labeled “intolerant.”
5) New Age beliefs have entered the main stream of some churches and have watered down or destroyed basic tenets of the faith.
6) The overemphasis of prosperity message has caused many believers to focus far too much on “Your Best Life Now” and not on the main preparation: eternal living.
7) Materialism, hedonism and other temporal focuses have choked the word (the seed sown) so it bears no fruit.
8) Post-Modernists who hold positions of importance in politics and the media have dismissed Christianity as irrelevant, which has had a trickle down effect on the church as it sees itself.
9) People have little or no fear of hell.
All these affect what has happened to America. One of the truest reflections of these beliefs or lack of them is how people vote. People act as if their vote for a person, who is totally against what the Bible teaches, isn’t important. It’s true that if those who identify themselves as Evangelicals had turned out in the last election and voted their consciences, a different man would be in the White House.
Whatever happened to hell?
Author John Blanchard (Whatever Happened to Hell?) had this to say about it:
“Of course, most people don’t like to talk about hell. I sure don’t. I’d much rather skip the whole subject, because it’s painful and stirs up lots of negative emotions. It’s just terrible to think about.
In his book The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis said this about hell: “There is no doctrine I would more willingly move from Christianity than this, if it lay…in my power. I would pay any price to be able to say truthfully, ‘All will be saved.’ ”
I know exactly how he feels. Including a belief in hell makes Christianity much harder to accept. So much harder, in fact, that while 61 percent of teens in our survey believe in a real heaven, only 44 percent believe in a real hell. The idea of everlasting punishment is so uncomfortable that 17 percent of heaven-believers just flat-out refuse to accept it.
You might not guess this from the media, but almost every major religion (not just Christianity) includes teaching on punishment in the afterlife (or the next life) for those who do evil. But all of those religions (and, sadly, many Christian teachers) have toned down their discussions of hell and punishment in recent years. It’s just too unpopular.”
Unpopular indeed. When was the last time you heard a message on the subject of hell? Jesus had a lot to say about it, constantly warning about it in that rejection of Him as savior would cause one to go there after death.
In the death of Christ, we have received among other things, salvation from sin, from ourselves, and, yes, hell! Even if we would consider it just for a moment, we’d be doing cartwheels of joy to thank Jesus for His unbelievable sacrifice. I could “see” praise and worship services simply held just to thank Him that we don’t have to go to hell!
What if someone could go to hell and return to tell about it?
Someone did. Bill Wiese saw the searing flames of hell, felt total isolation, and experienced the putrid and rotting stench, deafening screams of agony, terrorizing demons, and finally, the strong hand of God lifting him out of the pit. Wiese’s visit to the devil’s lair lasted just twenty-three minutes, but he returned with vivid details etched in his memory. Since this life-changing ordeal, he has spent the last seven years studying the Scriptures to find answers and has listed more than 150 Bible verses referencing hell. (http://www.soulchoiceministries.org)
I imagine Bill Wiese has encountered more mocking, unbelief and disrespect for telling what he saw than we can imagine. However, for those who listened to his testimony or read his book, repented and believed in Jesus as Lord and Savior, they are ETERNALLY grateful.
In recent years, we have learned quite a bit about the afterlife from the testimonies of those who had experienced out-of-the-body experiences following a cessation of breathing. Some claimed to have met a “Christ-like figure,” who received them upon entering a heaven-like place. In some instances people have visited heaven and have seen relatives and others and spoken to them. On the other hand, some found themselves, like Bill Weiss, in hell in the most excruciating torment conceivable. Actually, it was inconceivable. Consequently, we don’t like to talk about it, let alone preach it.
The Fear of the Lord and Hell
All this business about lack of Christian behavior by those professing to know Him really boils down to one thing: there is no fear of the Lord in most churches and thus not in America.
Have you ever heard the expression, “He’s (she’s) a God fearing man”? It sounds kind of strange if you don’t understand it. God-fearing in the old-fashioned sense had to do with knowing God was all-powerful and able to judge you for your sins. People were afraid of offending God, even those who didn’t want to believe in Him. People today usually aren’t. They say whatever they want about Him, mock Him, use His name as curse or by-word and crack jokes about Christ and the Bible. They dismiss people who want to warn them about it as “fanatical,” “off the deep end,” “kooky fundamentalists,” and so on.
Have you ever considered how many times “hell” is used in everyday conversations? “Helluva,” “give ‘em hell,” “raise hell,” “hell, yes” or “hell, no,” a hell of a lot better than…” “Hell, that’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me” and “Hell, I don’t know.” It’s a strange use for some place nobody wants to go to, yet it’s sprinkled throughout our conversations for emphasis, and we don’t even know why! Take hell and damn out of some people’s conversations and they’d have to use sign language!
I think one answer is it lessens the effect of the fear of hell itself by making light of the term or consideration of it as reality. As for people who don’t believe it exists, they’re certainly referring to it a lot!
In the oldest manuscripts available, the Hebrew word sheol appears 65 times. The King James Version translates this Hebrew word sheol, 31 times as “hell,” 31 times as “grave,” and 3 times as “pit.” So in the “Old Testament,” the KJ version uses the word “hell” 31 times, but it interesting to note that the same Hebrew word Sheol was also translated into two other words, “grave” and “pit.”
In the “New Testament,” the King James Version translates the Greek word “hades” in all 10 places it occurs, as “hell.” The King James Version also uses the word “hell” or “hellfire” when translating the Greek word “Gehenna” 12 times.
Other Bible translations translate the Hebrew word sheol and Greek word hades in different ways, some don’t use the English word “hell” at all, instead transliterating the Hebrew and Greek words directly as “sheol” and “hades.”
Proverbs 8:13 defines exactly what it is and the actions that should be taken:
The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogance and the evil way.
This is a full understanding of what happens when a person fears the Lord: they change, knowing that God is able to “destroy the soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).
In most churches, there is this sense that God is just your good ‘ole buddy from heaven, who’s only here to love on you, bless you and ensure your needs are met. In most cases, we are far from the Holy reverence for the Holy One who is a “consuming fire.” He is all-powerful, everywhere present, and His presence can make the mountains melt like wax, as fire goes before Him, and His lightning lights up the entire world (Psa. 97:3-5).
In the Bible and sometimes in the present day when the Holy Spirit falls on a place, and with Him the fear of the Lord, people tremble, weep, fall to the ground, are speechless or have to cry out, are paralyzed, or want to hide. But generally, people repent and are changed.
When the Holy Spirit begins to move across the world in these Last Days, He will bring with Him sweeping change in people, great power and authority to deal with evil that will also be spreading across continents as never before. Millions upon millions will say yes to heaven when the Word goes out.
However, millions more will reject His message of love, mock it and do nothing.
Judgment and Hell await these:
“[It is a fair decision] since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with distress and affliction those who distress and afflict you, And to [[a]recompense] you who are so distressed and afflicted [by granting you] relief and rest along with us [your fellow sufferers] when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in a flame of fire, To deal out retribution (chastisement and vengeance) upon those who do not know or perceive or become acquainted with God, and [upon those] who ignore and refuse to obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.9 Such people will pay the penalty and suffer the punishment of everlasting ruin (destruction and perdition) and eternal exclusion and banishment from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, When He comes to be glorified in His saints [on that day He will be made more glorious in His consecrated people], and [He will] be marveled at and admired [in His glory reflected] in all who have believed [who have adhered to, trusted in, and relied on Him], because our witnessing among you was confidently accepted and believed [and confirmed in your lives]” (2 Thess. 1:8-10).
If you have never made Jesus Christ the Lord of your life, pray the following prayer and mean it with all your heart, and you will pass from death (hell forever) into life (heaven forever) (John 5:24).
Prayer for accepting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord:
Father in heaven, I don’t really know you. I know about you, but I don’t know you as my Lord and Savior. You sent your Son Jesus to die in my place and to take away all my sins (confess every sin that God brings to your mind). Today, I don’t want to play any more games. I want to know that I have eternal life, and that I won’t go to hell when I breathe my last breath, whether that’s today or a long time from now. I want to go to heaven. I know there is nothing I can do to earn this. It is strictly by faith in you alone. I now trust in you as my Lord and Savior, and I will live for you all the days of my life. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.