"And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!"
I am thankful for a number of resources that helped me in my study of the issue of hell and the Christian. First, a two part sermon by John Piper titled "The Echo and Insufficiency of Hell," available on SermonAudio.com. Secondly, an article that popped up on my church's website written by J. Gresham Machen titled "The Fear of God." Lastly, a short article written by Doug Britton titled "Counterfeit Freedom."
To recap, I have been asking, what is the point of Christianity other than the fear of hell? The answer to this question has many interesting facets.
The first point is that absolute freedom does not exist. You will serve either God, or sin and self. There is no third option, and you can't serve both. We may try to say, "‘It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.’" Is this not what we are in fact saying when we say we shouldn't be threatened with hell? But, in fact, as Machen puts it:
"Is this the way to overcome fear? Surely not! We can repeat such words only by the disguised cowardice of ignoring facts. As a matter of fact, our soul is not unconquerable; we are not masters of our fate or captains of our soul. Many a man has contemplated some foul deed at first with horror, and said, ‘Am I a dog that I should do this thing?’ And then has come the easy descent into the pit, the gradual weakening of the moral fibre, so that what seemed horrible yesterday seems excusable today; until at last, at some sad hour, with the memory of one’s horror of sin still in the mind, a man awakes to the realization that he is already wallowing in the mire. Such is the dreadful hardening that comes from sin. Even in this life we are not masters of our fate; we are of ourselves certainly not captains of our bodies, and we are of ourselves, I fear, not even captains of our souls."
The second point is similar, that absolute fearlessness does not exist. You will either fear God, or fear man. [See John Gill on Luke 18:2 as regards the judge who regarded not man- the fear of man as we are discussing it is not in view.] The fear of God is a righteous reverence that has the final judgement in view, and results in observance of God's commands. The fear of man is tyrannical as it is based upon the whims of peers and results in contradictory and capricious action that makes you as tyrannical as the men you serve. In the same way, the fear of God will cause you to become more like Christ. Which would you prefer? Because, again, you must choose to live by the fear of God. If you don't you will live by the fear of man. Machen puts it this way:
"The words of our text, with the solemn inculcation of fear, are also a ringing denunciation of fear: the ‘Fear him’ is balanced by ‘Fear not’. The fear of God is here made a way of overcoming the fear of man. And the heroic centuries of Christian history have provided abundant testimony to its efficaciousness. With the fear of God before their eyes, the heroes of the faith have boldly stood before kings and governors and said, ‘Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me, Amen.’"
This is why I quoted Luke 12:4-5 at the beginning. I believe Christ cuts to the core of the fear issue by clearly explaining that it's either the fear of man or the fear of God. Those are your options.
The third point relates to who God is. God is above you and me. God is sovereign. God is maker and ruler of all. He does not exist on the same plane as us; he is not our equal. He is the ultimate authority and power. It is His right to welcome into His presence or banish into eternal torment. He is the great I AM.
The fourth point relates to the third, and it concerns, as John Piper put it, the "echo" of hell. The root of our perplexity of why God would allow anyone to go to hell is our lack of appreciation for how great and glorious the God of the universe truly is. If hell is so terrible, how GREAT and MIGHTY and WONDERFUL must the Lord be, that to transgress His glory and His law requires it! So then we reveal that we don't have a very high estimation of who God is. We are offended at hell because we have brought God down to our level, or made ourselves the same as God. In these post-Enlightenment, post-Civil Rights Era days of equality and democracy it is altogether too easy to put God into an equality with ourselves. But He most certainly is NOT EQUAL to us!
Hell's terribleness has never been overstated, and likewise, neither has God's glory. At our most hyperbolic, we could not overstate the greatness and glory of the Almighty God!
Likewise, if hell is so terrible, then consider the greatness of Christ's salvation! Through His life, death on the cross, and resurrection, he has tasted death for every man (Heb 2:9), and satisfied an eternity in Hell for untold number of those who are to be saved! Truly, how great a salvation has been purchased by Christ's sacrifice!
"O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace!
"My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad
The honors of Thy name.
"Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
’Tis music in the sinner’s ears,
’Tis life, and health, and peace.
"He breaks the power of canceled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me."
Lastly, no one is saved by the fear of hell. John Piper calls this the "Insufficiency of Hell." The fear of hell, of burning, of pain, is a natural fear. No work of the Holy Spirit is required for someone to profess Christ based on the fear of hell. Heaven is for those that love God, not for those that merely fear hell:
I Cor 2:9 - "But as it is written: 'Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.'"
James 1:12 - "Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him."
The Holy Spirit convicts of sin, and judgement, and righteousness, not through masterful arguments, although those may be used to bring a person to the point of conviction. No, the Holy Spirit does his convicting work by exposing Christ in all His glory to the sinner, exposing the goodness and greatness and glory and power and majesty of His excellent Being. Salvation occurs when the sinner's heart makes the only proper response to this: surrendering and yielding to Him, recognizing Him as Lord, hating even the garment stained with the flesh. This is the meaning of Jude 23: the fear there is not fear of hell, but the fear of God engendered by the Holy Spirit's revealing of Who He is. They are pulled out of the fires of Hell because they despise sin, because they have seen the Lord of glory and now fear Him.
CONCLUSION AND IMPLICATIONS
Romans 11:22a - "Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God"
What about you Christian? John Piper put forth a question like this: "If you could go to heaven, have all your loved ones there, have all the pastimes and amusements available, plenty of money, no tears, joy forever, a beautiful mansion, good health, but Christ was not there, would you be ok with that?"
Did you ever really LOVE God? Have you fallen out of love with God? Ask God to forgive you, and to show you Himself and His glory again. Saturate your life with His praises. Meditate on His goodness and righteousness. Read the Psalms. Play praise music. Until you can, from your heart, give him your own loving praise.
In short, Christianity is about nothing if it's not about Who God Is.
What of hell? Hell is for the Christian! John Piper says that hell is there to shock the Christian out of his worldliness (and complacency). Namely, worldliness is more than carnal Christianity. It is enmity with, or hatred toward, God, deserving of hell!
What of our witnessing? It should be designed to set forth Christ in His love, majesty, and glory. We should not threaten with hell, nor make hell a major part of our presentation. To scare an unbeliever into Christianity is to produce a counterfeit conversion. Let's allow the Holy Spirit to do His work.