This article is another installment of our Questionable Quotes (?Q) series, where we aim to take popular, commonly used quotes about the church, God, and the Bible and put them under the microscope to see if they really hold up to the truth.
“Sure, I’ve sinned and done things I’m not proud of, but it’s not like God’s going to send me to hell over it! He loves me too much to punish me that harshly.”
There’s a growing movement in the Bible-believing world that aims to soften the harshness associated with religion, and the central focus, of course, is love. The Bible tells us that God is love (1 John 4:8), and so that aspect of who He is should be a major part of our focus when we tell people about God. However, emphasizing God’s love in a way that says He won’t punish people makes two mistakes. First, it defines love by what we want it to mean rather than what the Bible teaches it to mean. Second, to only focus on God’s love when the Scriptures show so much more about His character is a mistake.
This appeal to God’s loving nature as what will spare the average person who sins here or there is closely related to another common belief – “I’m a good person.” Both suppose that eternal judgment is only for the really bad people. Going beyond that to the true foundation of this theory, both are really saying that their sins are okay, but the “big” sins will send people to hell. Hell is for Hitler, bin Laden, Stalin, and the like, not for nice people like us. If God was loving at all, He could see the difference between us and the kind of people who should go to hell, right?
Sadly, most of those who are banking their eternal destiny on this simple, seemingly sensible quote haven’t ever taken the time to actually confirm what they believe by the Bible. If they had, they would have seen that their confidence is based on an incredibly shaky foundation. They would have seen that:
The harsh, vengeful God of the Old Testament didn’t just go away.
In trying to paint God as only loving and incapable of punishment, many like to appeal to the image of God as full of wrath in the Old Testament but full of love after the work of Jesus Christ was completed. They forget that the God who brought the plagues on Egypt in the Old Testament is the same God who struck down Ananias and Sapphira in the early days of the church in Acts 5. Romans 1:18 reminds us that His wrath will be on all those who know Him as God but don’t acknowledge Him as such – basically, the kind of people who deny His existence, ignore Him, or decide that they don’t have to submit their lives to Him because He’s too loving to do anything about it.
Sin isn’t something God takes lightly.
When people think God won’t judge their sins because what they’ve done isn’t that big of a deal, they tell God that the sins they have committed don’t count for as much as someone else’s. Much like our classification of “little white lies,” these people classify their sins as “little white sins.” The more I read and hear people discuss such a view of God the more I’m convinced that one of the biggest problems in the world today is a lack of understanding of sin. Every sin is an open rebellion against God, a declaration that we don’t have to follow Him. Romans 5:8-10 tell us that apart from Christ’s blood we are sinners, destined for His wrath, and enemies of God. The next time someone tells you God is too loving to punish them for their sins, remind them how He views them – as enemies upon whom is wrath will eventually be poured out.
God has more than one attribute.
To only focus on God’s love is to leave out that He is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5) who isn’t interested in sharing His people with other gods. To focus only on His love is to ignore that He is just. If He could simply give out waivers to get people out of the punishment they deserve, He wouldn’t be fair at all. That would make Him a dishonest God. Beyond that, and most importantly, if God could pretend He didn’t see sins without a proper payment for them, there was absolutely no point in Jesus coming to die. But, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22). Jesus prayed that the cup could be passed from Him, that He wouldn’t have to go to the cross (Matthew 26:39). If God’s commitment to justice is such that He must hold to His standard even as Jesus’ life was on the line, how can we be so arrogant to think that His love is simply going to let us off the hook? Do we really consider our lives more important than Jesus’, and do we really think so little of God’s justice to say that His love can pretend our debts of sin don’t exist? I don’t think so.
The takeaway for you and me as the average Christians is that we should always remember that we have an assured hope in Christ. 1 John 5:13 tells us that we have eternal life. It’s in our grasp as long as we have submitted our lives to Him in baptism and are believing in His name (a belief that leads us to do His will, of course). We have no need to count on our lives “not being that bad” in comparison to other people. Our eternal home in heaven isn’t booked by our goodness or relative not-so-badness. It’s the blood of Jesus Christ. A loving God will be forced to send some away from Him, but He wants all of us to be there with Him (2 Peter 3:9). Let’s not let people make that step into eternity with a false belief on God based on assumptions that He never allowed us to make.
By Jack Wilkie