«Desiring God DESIRING GOD JOHN PIPER DESIRING GOD published by Multnomah Publishers, Inc. © 1986, 1996, 2003 by Desiring God Foundation ...»
His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him.
(Romans 1:20–21) God will not judge anyone for failing to perform a duty if the person had no access to the knowledge of that duty. But even without the Bible, all people have access to the knowledge that we are created by God and therefore are dependent on Him for everything, thus owing Him the gratitude and trust of our hearts. Deep within us we all know that it is our duty to glorify our Maker by thanking Him for all we have, trusting Him for all we need, and obeying all His revealed will.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) What does it mean to “fall short” of the glory of God? It does not mean that we are supposed to be as glorious as God is and that we have fallen short. We ought to fall short in that sense! The best explanation of Romans 3:23 is Romans 1:23. It says that those who did not glorify or thank God became fools “and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images.” This is the way we “fall short” of the glory of God: We exchange it for something of lesser value. All sin comes from not putting supreme value on the glory of God—this is the very essence of sin.
And we have all sinned. “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10).
None of us has trusted God the way we should. None of us has felt the depth and consistency of gratitude we owe Him. None of us has obeyed Him according to His wisdom and right. We have exchanged and dishonored His glory again and again.
We have trusted ourselves. We have taken credit for His gifts. We have turned away from the path of His commandments because we thought we knew better.
In all this we have held the glory of the Lord in contempt. The exceeding evil of sin is not the harm it does to us or to others (though that is great!). The wickedness of sin is owing to the implicit disdain for God. When David committed adultery with Bathsheba, and even had her husband killed, what did God say to him through the prophet Nathan? He did not remind the king that marriage is inviolable or that human life is sacred. He said, “‘You have despised me’” (2 Samuel 12:10).
But this is not the whole account of our condition. We not only choose to sin;
we are sinful. The Bible describes our heart as blind (2 Corinthians 4:4) and hard (Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26) and dead (Ephesians 2:1, 5) and unable to submit to the law of God (Romans 8:7–8). By nature we are “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3).
4. Therefore, all of us are subject to eternal condemnation by God.
Having held the glory of God in contempt through ingratitude and distrust and disobedience, we are sentenced to be excluded from the enjoyment of that glory forever and ever in the eternal misery of hell.
The word hell (gehenna) occurs in the New Testament twelve times—eleven on the lips of Jesus. It is not a myth created by dismal and angry preachers. It is the solemn warning of the Son of God who died to deliver sinners from its curse. We ignore it at great risk.
Hell is a place of torment. It is not merely the absence of pleasure. It is not annihilation.2 Jesus repeatedly describes it as an experience of fire. “Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:22). “It is better for
2. For the biblical support against annihilationism and in support of hell as eternal conscious torment, see John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions, 2nd ed., revised and expanded (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2003), chapter 4, and the bibliography cited therein.
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you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire” (Matthew 18:9). “It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:47–48). He warned often that there would be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 24:51;
Not only is it a place of torment; it is also everlasting. Hell is not remedial, contrary to what many popular writers are saying these days.3 Jesus closes the Parable of the Last Judgment with these words: “‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’ …These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:41, 46). The “punishment” is eternal the same way the “life” is eternal.
Another evidence that hell is everlasting is the teaching of Jesus that there is sin that will not be forgiven in the age to come: “Whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:32). If hell is remedial and will someday be emptied of all sinners, then they would have to be forgiven. But Jesus says there is sin that will never be forgiven.
John sums up the terrible realities of torment and endlessness in Revelation 14:11: “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night.” Therefore, hell is just. Some have objected that an everlasting punishment is out of proportion to the seriousness of the sin committed. But this is not true,
3. Among evangelicals, the reputation of George MacDonald’s works has promoted this notion of hell as remedial and not eternal. For example, MacDonald’s sermon “Justice,” in Creation in Christ, ed.
Rolland Hein (Wheaton, Ill.: Harold Shaw, 1976), 63–81, argues vehemently against the orthodox view
Mind I am not saying it is not right to punish [wicked people]; I am saying that justice is not, never can be, satisfied by suffering—nay, cannot have any satisfaction in or from suffering.… Such justice as Dante’s keeps wickedness alive in its most terrible forms. The life of God goes forth to inform, or at least give a home to, victorious evil. Is He not defeated every time that one of these lost souls defies Him? God is triumphantly defeated, I say, throughout the hell of his vengeance. Although against evil, it is but the vain and wasted cruelty of a tyrant.… Punishment is for the sake of amendment and atonement. God is bound by His love to punish sin in order to deliver His creature: He is bound by his justice to destroy sin in His creation. (71–2) J. I. Packer discusses the contemporary forms of this view in “Good Pagans and God’s Kingdom,” Christianity Today 17 (17 January 1986), 22–5 and in “The Problem of Eternal Punishment,” in
The J. I. Packer Collection, selected and introduced by Alister McGrath (Downers Grove, Ill.:
InterVarsity, 2000), 210–26.
because the seriousness of our sin is infinite. Consider the explanation of
The crime of one being despising and casting contempt on another, is proportionably more or less heinous, as he was under greater or less obligations to obey him. And therefore if there be any being that we are under infinite obligations to love, and honor, and obey, the contrary towards him must be infinitely faulty.
Our obligation to love, honor, and obey any being is in proportion to his loveliness, honorableness, and authority.… But God is a being infinitely lovely, because he hath infinite excellency and beauty.… So sin against God, being a violation of infinite obligations, must be a crime infinitely heinous, and so deserving infinite punishment.… The eternity of the punishment of ungodly men renders it infinite…and therefore renders no more than proportionable to the heinousness of what they are guilty of.4 When every human being stands before God on the Day of judgment, God would not have to use one sentence of Scripture to show us our guilt and the
appropriateness of our condemnation. He would need only to ask three questions:
(1) Was it not plain in nature that everything you had was a gift and that you were dependent on your Maker for life and breath and everything? (2) Did not the judicial sentiment5 in your own heart always hold other people guilty when they lacked
4. Jonathan Edwards, “The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), 669.
5. I want to express gratitude and deep admiration for Edward John Carnell’s penetrating analysis of “the judicial sentiment” and its relation to the existence of God. The judicial sentiment is the moral faculty
that is duly offended when we are mistreated. Here is a taste of his words from the profound and beautiful book Christian Commitment (New York: Macmillan, 1957):
Whereas conscience accuses the self the judicial sentiment accuses others. The direction of accusation is the important thing. Conscience monitors one’s own moral conduct, while the judicial sentiment monitors the moral conduct of others.
Furthermore, conscience is subject to social and cultural conditioning, whereas the judicial sentiment is not. All normal men, past, present, and future, experience an aroused judicial sentiment whenever they are personally mistreated. (110) An aroused judicial sentiment is merely heaven’s warning that the image of God is being outraged. Cultural conditioning may alter the direction of the judicial sentiment, but is does not alter the faculty itself. (112) The voice of the judicial sentiment is the voice of God. (136)
the gratitude they should have had in response to a kindness you performed? (3) Has your life been filled with gratitude and trust toward Me in proportion to My generosity and authority? Case closed.
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. (1 Timothy 1:15) [Jesus] was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:25) Over against the terrifying news that we have fallen under the condemnation of our Creator and that He is bound by His own righteous character to preserve the worth of His glory by pouring out eternal wrath on our sin, there is the wonderful news of the gospel. This is a truth no one can ever learn from nature. It has to be told to neighbors and preached in churches and carried by missionaries.
The good news is that God Himself has decreed a way to satisfy the demands of His justice without condemning the whole human race. Hell is one way to settle accounts with sinners and uphold His justice. But there is another way. The wisdom of God has ordained a way for the love of God to deliver us from the wrath of God without compromising the justice of God.
And what is this wisdom?
The death of the Son of God for sinners! “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to the Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23–24).
The death of Christ is the wisdom of God by which the love of God saves sinners from the wrath of God, all the while upholding and demonstrating the
righteousness of God in Christ. Romans 3:25–26 may be the most important
verses in the Bible:
God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation6 by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Not either/or! Both! God is wholly just! And He justifies the ungodly! He acquits the guilty, but is not guilty in doing so. This is the greatest news in the world!7 [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21) By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh. (Romans 8:3) [Christ] bore our sins in his body on the tree. (1 Peter 2:24) Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. (1 Peter 3:18) If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:5)
6. Propitiation is a rare word today. It has been replaced in many translations with more common words (expiation, sacrifice of atonement). I keep it in order to stress the original meaning, namely, that what Christ did by dying on the cross for sinners was to appease the wrath of God against sinners. By requiring of His Son such humiliation and suffering for the sake of God’s glory, He openly demonstrated that He does not sweep sin under the rug. All contempt for His glory is duly punished, either on the cross, where the wrath of God is propitiated for those who believe, or in hell, where the wrath of God is poured out on those who don’t.
7. This truth of the justification of the ungodly by faith alone is worthy of a book all on its own. I was so gripped by the glory of it and so disturbed by the assault on it that I wrote Counted Righteous in Christ (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2002). If you want to understand the doctrine of justification as the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us, or see a modern defense of it, I commend this book to you.
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If the most terrifying news in the world is that we have fallen under the condemnation of our Creator and that He is bound by His own righteous character to preserve the worth of His glory by pouring out His wrath on our sin, then the best news in all the world (the gospel!) is that God has decreed a way of salvation that also upholds the worth of His glory, the honor of His Son, and the eternal salvation of His elect. He has given His Son to die for sinners and to conquer their death by His own resurrection.