Fear of Hell or Faith in God?
Fear of Hell or Faith in God?
by Lonnie Lane
The flip side of a believer’s efforts to gain God’s approval is a fear of never attaining to it, which results in a fear of going to hell. Despite the fact that a desire for God may be the motive, fear of going to hell is not faith in God. It’s the opposite. Only faith in God leads to salvation. Fear of hell is having “faith” in the possibility of going to hell because even when we dread something that might come to pass, we are believing it could happen. Even if it’s something we fear, it is a distorted form of faith. I heard once that fear is faith in reverse. It’s the dread of what could happen as opposed to “the assurance of things hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1). Either way, fear or faith, our focus is on our expectation of what is ahead. Only faith in God and His goodness will save us, whether in our various circumstances now or eternally.
People who fear they may be going to hell are generally preoccupied with trying in some way to earn their way into God’s favor. Or perhaps they are trying to maintain a “holy” way to remain in God’s favor, though chances are, if they fear falling away, they aren’t resting in His peace to begin with. If our fear is for someone else because we see their lives heading in an ‘unholy’ direction, it’s not our fear or worrying that will keep them from hell no matter how much we agonize over how they’re living their lives. Whether it’s for ourselves or someone else, if we’re looking at the darkness and hoping to see light, we’re looking in the wrong direction. It’s only faith-filled God-trusting confidence in the Lord, His goodness and His faithfulness to answer believing prayer that that gets the desired results.
I’m certainly not denying the reality of hell. It’s real and it’s beyond the worst we can imagine, judging from several testimonies of some of Sid’s guests who have been there and lived to tell about it. (Type “been to hell” in the search box at the bottom of the sidroth.org website for a list of guests about hell.) I agree, hell is to be avoided at all costs. But speaking of costs, Yeshua paid the cost and went there Himself so we wouldn’t have to when our trust is in Him. There’s the key: Putting our trust in Him! I mean, how would we even know how to get to heaven in the first place if it was up to us? Where exactly IS heaven? If we think it’s “up there,” where is it for people on the other side of the globe from us? Is it still “up there” when they’re “down there” on the other side of the world? Can we make our way there by ourselves? Of course not. God must see to it that our spirits arrive in heaven. In the same way, we cannot by our works assure ourselves a place in heaven or exempt ourselves from hell. All we are required to do is trust in God and in all He has done for us through Yeshua and live accordingly, “trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph. 5:10).
We cannot by our works assure ourselves a place in heaven or exempt ourselves from hell.
How many people are quietly agonizing in their Christian walk under constant pressure to be good enough to avoid going to hell? Muslims live with that kind of uncertainty basing their entire lives on “doing enough.” But so do many Christians. Well, let’s make this clear if we haven’t already: There is no way to earn our way into heaven. Absolutely none. Why would Yeshua have had to die the agonizing death He did to pay for where we’ve failed to meet God’s standards of holiness if we could be good enough to earn His approval on our own? It is only through faith in God that we gain access to heaven, trusting entirely in what He did, and not in what we’re doing. Many may know this intellectually as a doctrine but still be under the constant strain of the awareness of their own sin. Again, this is a matter of faith and focus.
Are we even as believers capable of sinning? Certainly we are, but the more significant question is, where do we see ourselves? Still in our old nature or as “new creations” (Gal. 6:15) in Messiah Yeshua? “If anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17). “But that’s the problem,” I’m hearing someone say. “I don’t feel or act like the old things are passed away. I’m still dealing with them.” While it’s true that God does a work within us to conform us to Yeshua’s holy image over the course of our lives, this again is a matter of faith as to how we experience or involve ourselves in being new creations in Him. The more faith in Him we have, the more we come to know Him, and the more like Him we become. But to put your trust in Him or anyone else, you have to know they’re trust-worthy. That He died for you and has cancelled your sin to draw you close, even when He knew all your failings and weaknesses already, makes Him trust-worthy, regardless of what your own feelings or perceptions are.
To enjoy the Kingdom life that God intends for us, we must accept by faith that “He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). What do we believe in more, in our limited thinking and our emotions, our lower sin nature? Or will we choose to believe in Yeshua and Who He is? There’s only one way to access this wonderful glorious salvation and that’s by faith. There’s only one way to access His peace, by faith. There’s also only one way to achieve righteousness, by faith. Trying hard NOT to sin is still focusing on sin and is not faith in action. Are you still trying to get the old Adam in you to die, or to get saved? It’s an exercise in futility, my friend. You can’t “do” unto righteousness, you can only “believe” unto righteousness. It’s only through the second Adam, Yeshua, that we are saved. We must put our confidence entirely in Him and cease from living out of our old nature, even that part of our old nature that strives for perfection and goodness. Did I mention before that we can never be good enough to earn what only God alone can do.
I heard a wonderful description recently of how we are to view our old sinful nature. When for reason of some heinous cause a father would disown his son he would say, “He is now dead to me. He is no longer my son. From this moment I never knew him, I will not know him now and I will not know him in the future. He ceases to exist for me.” I have heard of father’s disowning their sons this way when they leave their religion for another. This is how we must relate to our old nature – disown it, never to ‘know’ it again or be related to it. It’s now dead and alive no more to us! Does that sound unrealistically drastic, or too radical a belief? How about this then, “I am crucified with Messiah, and it is no longer I who live, but Messiah lives in me” (Gal. 2:20a). How crucified is crucified? How are we crucified with Him? By identification, by faith that what He did by dying on the cross has affect on our life today. By trusting that He cancelled the debt of sin so that we can now live not according to sin but according to righteousness, a righteousness which is accessed by faith in His crucifixion. As I believe / trust / have faith in that reality, “the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (2:20b).
There’s only one way to access this wonderful glorious salvation and that’s by faith.
A word here about repentance might help. Repentance in the Hebrew context is actually the realization that we are separated from God by our actions or thoughts. Repentance is the “aha” moment when we realize we’ve offended God. That realization can be startling or you can just become aware of it without a lot of emotion. Whichever is your experience, the response should be the same: Turn Away From Your Sinful Thoughts and Sinful Acts! Change; do an about face; walk away from them like you’d walk away from something dead and decaying. I suspect that some haven’t really come to that “aha” moment of seeing how our sinful and therefore faithless behavior or attitudes keep us from God and His goodness. Some others are aware that sin in their lives is unfavorable to God enough to say “I’m sorry, God.” But saying “I’m sorry” is not the same as repenting and turning. Saying you’re sorry is called remorse. You can have remorse for your sin but still stay in your sin There’s no forgiveness for remorse because there’s no intention really of doing away with the sin. It’s still tolerated by the sinner. If there’s no turning there’s really no repentance. No repentance, no salvation. “The [appointed period of] time is fulfilled (completed), and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent ( have a change of mind which issues in regret for past sins and in change of conduct for the better) and believe (trust in, rely on, and adhere to) the good news (the Gospel)” (Mark 1:15 Amplified Bible).
Is there a battle against our old nature? Surely. That’s what temptation is. I see it as our old nature trying to resurrect itself and act as lord again and surely the devil is in there somewhere. So we cry out to God for His help, and trust that He’s there in power for us. There may be a battle but the battle may be worse if we think we must fight it out in the flesh. If we’re trying with all our strength and determination to never do that again, whatever it is, we’re putting our trust in ourselves and our determination, not in God. The Holy Spirit will help us believe God is greater than our temptation, our anger, our habit, our hurt, our pride, our weakness, our sin…whatever it is. If we’re fighting it out in our own strength, trying to tough it out, we’re more likely to be defeated, exhausted and discouraged.
On the other hand, when we put our trust in God, we begin to turn from the enveloping darkness into the light of God’s freedom. That’s when we do what Yeshua did when He was faced with the enemy’s lies, which incidentally were designed to get Yeshua to doubt who He was in God, the same thing the devil tries to get us to believe – that we need to act on our own because we can’t really trust God to be there for us, especially in the place of our greatest weakness. But that’s exactly where God will show Himself strong on your behalf, in your weakness. Because He says to us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness “ (2 Cor. 12:9). Once we start to see Who lives within us, and Whose we are, and what power dwells in us who have the Holy Spirit of God by faith, the devil looses his foothold in our lives. The more we praise God and believe that His righteousness has become our righteousness because He has imparted it to us who could not do so on our own, the freer in Messiah we will find ourselves. Not by works, but by faith in God who made us righteous: “To the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 4:5). To justify makes it “just as if I had never sinned.”
Once we start to see Who lives within us, and Whose we are, and what power dwells in us who have the Holy Spirit of God by faith, the devil looses his foothold in our lives.
Now the devil may try and tell you that you are beyond hope, that you’re going to fail at this Christian thing (or tell you that about someone you’re concerned for). But he’s a liar. What has the Lord said? “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28) Why do we too often believe in our sinfulness, or someone else’s, more than in the tender mercies of God? Because it’s visible, because we can feel it, because we’re used to it. But it’s not true! The truth is Yeshua came “to give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God” (Luke 1:77, 78a). The knowledge of salvation!! Knowledge is the core understanding of, the becoming one with, experiencing the reality of the thing or person known. God wants to give “His people the knowledge of salvation” How? “…by the forgiveness of their sins.”
Now I ask you, where does He mention this salvation being initiated by your good behavior or earning it? What does having salvation applied to you require? Believing it! Taking it as true despite your feelings or lack of feelings, or circumstances or lack of circumstances. Those are fleshly, of the earth. We’re saved by a higher authority than what’s on the earth. “Today is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). Today is the day to believe that “whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:15, 16). Paul who was the model religious person before coming to Messiah said, “May it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision (meaning works of any kind, no matter how ‘religious’ they may appear) but a new creation. And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:15-16).
But the fact remains that some people suffer greatly over the issue of fear of going to hell, or at least they live in fear of displeasing God or fear they already have and dread the consequences. If we fear we’re displeasing God, pleasing Him begins with faith in Him. Even if we were to “get it right” if we do it independently of Him, with our ‘trust’ in our own self-will to ‘keep it right’ it’s still not pleasing to Him because it’s independence from Him rather than faith in Him. There’s no relationship with God as He desires with us in such independence, and it’s still trying to earn His favor rather than receive His mercy and grace and empowering to walk in HIS righteousness. Get it? We don’t have any righteousness. We can only get it from Him as a gift we humbly receive.
An email from one such dear woman inspired this article. She’s been trying to ‘get it right’ so much that she gave up. That’s not an altogether bad thing if it’s our own efforts we’ve given up on. Just don’t give up on God because He’ll never give up on you. Even if people are in unbelief, “their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?”(Romans 3:3). It just makes His faithfulness invisible to them. But turn to God and put your trust in Him and there He is! A friend of mine was talking to someone with a beer in his hand about making Yeshua Lord of his life. The man said he knew he had to but he was waiting until he got his life straightened out before he came (back) to God. She told him, “Trust God and let Him help you do that. You can’t do it on your own.” The man did come to the Lord. Whatever you’re trying to get right with God about, let Him help you. If you can’t do it yourself, don’t pull away from Him, take a dive for His feet, humble yourself, tell him of your weakness and ask for His help. If it takes a little while, stay humbly before God asking for His help and thanking Him for delivering you from the problem. One day you’ll look back and remember it because it’ll be a thing of the past but you will have learned to trust God more than ever.
Yeshua Himself told His disciples just before they were about to go through the most difficult trial of their lives when He was crucified, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27). Evidently He thinks He’s given us the ability to have control over the emotions of our hearts. He thinks we are able to choose to fear not! That would certainly include fear of going to hell. But it also includes struggling to gain God’s favor. Let’s sum it up by saying it’s a matter of “will power” – Our will and His power. Use your will to continually trust in His power to save you and to enable you to live a holy life before Him. Amen.
Reprint of this article is permitted as long as you use the following; Use by permission by Messianic Vision, www.sidroth.org, 2011.
Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible Copyright ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, Calif. All rights reserved. Used by permission.