Who Told You That You Were Naked?


Sue Bohlin reflects on God’s question to Adam after he fell and broke the creation.

There is a most interesting interaction in Genesis 3 between Adam and God after the Fall, when Adam and Eve sinned by rebelling against God’s command not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  God calls to Adam, who is hiding among the trees of the Garden of Eden, “Where are you?” Adam explains, “…I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.”

And the Lord God said, “Who told you that you were naked?” (3:11)

Hmmmm. Interesting question, one that Adam doesn’t answer.

The first thing the newly fallen man tells his Creator is that he was afraid, and he was naked. Up to this point, in a literally perfect world, there was no fear, and there were no clothes. How did he know to identify this new feeling of being afraid? And “naked” is the opposite of “clothed.” In a world without clothes, “naked” has no meaning, right?

When Adam says he was afraid because he was naked, my guess is that this was how he described the new, unwelcome feeling of shame: the horrible awareness of being very not-okay, of being vulnerable and embarrassed and exposed.

But I’ve been munching for days on the next question: “Who told you that you were naked?”

In Genesis 3:7, we read that as soon as Adam and Eve sinned, “Then the eyes of both of them opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” Apparently there was an immediate and awful awareness of a change, of something very very wrong.

(I personally think they might have been previously enveloped with light and glory. Psalm 104:2 tells us that God, who made them in His image, “covers himself with light as if it were a garment.” The moment they sinned, I think they lost their light.)

But God didn’t ask, “How did you know you were naked?” He asked, “Who told you that you were naked?”

There are only four characters in the garden: God, Adam, Eve . . . and the serpent, who we find out later is “the devil who deceives the whole world” (Revelation 12:9).

So, although Adam doesn’t answer God’s question, it sure sounds to me like it was the nasty serpent.

And I wonder if that question is in the scriptures to direct us to pay attention to the voices that speak to us:

  • Who told you that you were too much?
  • Who told you that you were not enough?
  • Who told you that you were fat?
  • Who told you that you were ugly?
  • Who told you that you were dumb?
  • Who told you that you were incompetent?
  • Who told you that you were a loser?
  • Who told you that you were too old?
  • Who told you that you were too young?

And now I’m seeing the pattern extend to the broken sexuality in our culture:

  • Who told you that you were a boy in a girl’s body?
  • Who told you that you were gay or lesbian or bisexual?
  • Who told you that you were asexual or polyamorous?

Social media has given the enemy of our souls a megaphone for his devious, destructive lies.

I thank God for His clarifying question that is just as salient today as it was the day the creation broke at the Fall: “Who told you that you were ______?” We need to look beyond the message to the WHO behind it, the source of the voice planting doubt and lies in our souls.

And instead of listening to the voice of the one whose native tongue is lies (John 8:44), we should listen to the One who speaks loving truth to us about ourselves:

  • You are the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13)
  • You are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14)
  • You are blessed of the Father (Matthew 25:34)
  • You are more valuable than many sparrows (Luke 12:7)
  • You are clean because of the word which I have spoken to you (John 15:3)
  • You are the branches (John 15:5)
  • You are My friends (John 15:14)
  • You are the called of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:6)
  • You are beloved of God (Romans 1:7)
  • You are a temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you (1 Corinthians 3:16)
  • You are Christ’s body, and individually members of it (1 Corinthians 12:27)
  • You are a letter of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:3)
  • You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26)
  • You are sons of light and sons of day (1 Thessalonians 5:5)
  • You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9)

Now when we hear, “Who told you that you are ______?” we can say, “YOU did, Lord! You told me in Your word!”

“Why is Satan Mentioned Little in the Old Testament?”

One of my religion professors brought this up when we were discussing Judaism.

She said that in the Old Testament there was no belief in Satan or the devil. I asked her about the book of Job. She then said that the Hebrew word used in Job that was translated as Satan is actually a word simply meaning adversary. So I looked up the original meaning of the word and sure enough, there it was. The word appears in many other places of the Old Testament but was never translated as Satan into the current English Bible. The word is even used to describe the Angel blocking Balaam’s path in Numbers 22.

Mostly this just causes me to wonder why there seems to be so little mentioned of Satan (at least obviously and directly) in the Old Testament when compared to the New. Surely Satan was just as much a problem then as he is now.

Your professor is correct in that the “adversary” of the OT is just that.

Theologians often talk about “progressive revelation” regarding the unfolding of truth in scripture. Those living during OT times didn’t know exactly how God was going to provide salvation for his people through the sacrifice of His Son, but they did understand the concept of blood sacrifice and the need for atonement. Those living under the law had small glimpses of Satan’s work, but it took the added information of revelation in the NT to give a more complete picture. It might also be noted that many of the concepts about Satan revealed by Jesus through the NT writers can be found in literature outside the Bible during the first century. As time goes forward revelation gives us a clearer concept of a fallen angel who leads a rebellion against God’s reign and works to disrupt the work of the church.

Bible.org has quite a few files on the person and work of Satan that might be of interest to you. You can find this material at: www.bible.org/topic.php?topic_id=12. Here is a good article on Satan in the OT from that site: Satan’s Part in God’s Perfect Plan. I hope that you find this helpful.

Don Closson

Editor’s Note: See also the section “Angels in the Old Testament” in our Angel Quiz: Origin and Background of the Angels and Demons.

© 2007 Probe Ministries

Myths Christians Believe – False Beliefs Exposed

Sue Bohlin identifies and examines some common false beliefs held by many Christians. These beliefs, which are countered by biblical scripture, range from considerations of angels to heaven to salvation to “God helps those who help themselves.”

Angels, Good and Bad

In this article we examine some of the myths Christians believe.

There are lots of misconceptions about angels and devils that come from non-biblical sources ranging from great literature to films to the comic strips in our newspaper.

One myth about angels is that when a loved one dies, he or she becomes our guardian angel. While that can be a comforting thought, that’s not what Scripture says. God created angels before He created the physical universe; because we know they sang together in worship and shouted for joy at the creation (Job 38:7). When believing loved ones die, they stay human, but they become better than they ever were on earth, and better than the angels. No angel was ever indwelled by God Himself, as Christians are!

An even greater myth that many people believe is the image of Satan as an ugly red creature with pitchfork, horns, and a tail who gladly reigns in hell. For this misconception we have several authors to thank, mainly the 13th century work of Dante’s Inferno and Milton’s Paradise Lost, written in the 1700s. The biblical image of Satan is of an angel who has fallen to irredeemable evil and depravity but yet can transform himself into a beautiful angel of light. (2 Cor. 11:14) He can make himself appear winsome, which is why people can be attracted to the occult. But Satan is not the king of hell. Jesus disarmed him at the Cross, made a public spectacle of him and the rest of the demons, and made him into a defeated foe destined for an eternity of torment in the lake of fire. (Col. 2:15, Rev. 20:10)

Another misconception about Satan that many people believe is that he is the evil counterpart to God. In C.S. Lewis’ preface to the Screwtape Letters, he answers the question of whether he believes in “the Devil”:

Now, if by ‘the Devil’ you mean a power opposite to God and, like God, self-existent from all eternity, the answer is certainly No. There is no uncreated being except God. God has no opposite. No being could attain a “perfect badness” opposite to the perfect goodness of God; for when you have taken away every kind of good thing (intelligence, will, memory, energy, and existence itself) there would be none of him left.

If I Do Everything Right, Life Will Work Smoothly.

A very common myth that many Christians believe is, “If I do everything right, life will work smoothly.” We seem to be immersed in an attitude of entitlement, believing that God owes us an easy and comfortable life if we serve Him. We expect to be able to avoid all pain, and we look for formulas to make life work. Frankly, many of us are addicted to our own comfort zones, and when anything disturbs our comfort zone, we feel betrayed and abandoned by God.

So when life doesn’t go so smoothly, we often jump to one of two conclusions. Either we must be sinning, or God is out to get us. The book of Job draws back the curtain on the unseen drama in the heavenlies and shows us that when problems come, it doesn’t have to be one of these two options. Sometimes things are going on behind the scenes in the heavenly realm that have nothing to do with our sin. And since God is totally good, it’s a lie from the pit of hell that when bad things happen, God is out to get us in some kind of cosmic sadistic power play.

Even when we do everything right–although NOBODY does everything right, not even the holiest, most disciplined people–things can go wrong. The Bible gives us insight into why it might be happening. First, we live in a fallen world, where bad stuff happens because that’s the consequence of sin. This includes natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes and floods, and includes moral disasters like divorce and abuse and murder.

Secondly, we live in a spiritual battle zone. Unseen demonic enemies attack us with spiritual warfare. God has provided spiritual armor, described in Ephesians 6, but if we don’t put it on, His armor can’t protect us.

Third, we have an inaccurate view of suffering. We think that if we’re suffering, something is wrong and needs to be fixed. But 1 Peter 4:19 says that some people suffer according to the will of God. That doesn’t sound very nice, but that’s because we often think the most important thing in life is avoiding pain. But God isn’t committed to keeping us comfortable, He’s creating a Bride for His Son who needs to shine with character and perseverance and maturity.

The Lord Jesus promised that we would have tribulation in this world. (John 16:33) The word for tribulation means pressure; it means we get squeezed in by trouble. Jesus said that in the world we would have pressure, but in Him we have peace. Life won’t always work smoothly, no matter how well we live, but we always have the presence and power of God Himself to take us through it.

God Won’t Give Me More Than I Can Handle.

People get baffled and angry when bad things happen, and it just gets worse when God doesn’t make the difficult situation go away. We start wondering if God has gone on vacation because we’re nearing our breaking point and God isn’t stepping in to make things better.

The problem with this myth is that God is in the business of breaking His people so that we will get to the point of complete dependence on Him.{1} Brokenness is a virtue, not something to be protected from. When the apostle Paul pleaded with God to remove his thorn in the flesh, God said no. Instead, He responded with an amazing promise: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul realized that his weakness was the very key to experiencing God’s strength and not his own.

One of my friends ministered as a chaplain at Ground Zero in New York after the Sept. 11 attacks. She got so tired and exhausted that she knew it was more than she could bear. That’s when she discovered that her exhaustion took her out of God’s way and He could shine through her, ministering with His strength through her profound weakness.

I love this definition of brokenness: “Brokenness is that place where we realize that all the things we counted on to make life work, don’t.”{2} God makes life work. Formulas don’t. Our own efforts don’t. Trustful dependence on Him plugs us into the power source for life. And that often happens when we’ve crossed over the line of what we can handle on our own.

God Helps Those Who Help Themselves.

This myth has been repeated so many times that many people think its in Scripture. It’s not. In fact, the truth is exactly the opposite. A heart full of self-dependence and self-reliance says to God, “I don’t need You, I can do it myself. I can handle life without You.” God honors our choices and the exercise of our will; He doesn’t push His help on us. He waits for us to ask for it. He can’t help those who help themselves because we’re too busy doing to receive His strength and His help. It’s like the way you can’t fill a cup with coffee when it’s already full of tea. Jesus said, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) But that doesn’t stop lots of us from trying! The truth is, God doesn’t help those who help themselves; God helps the helpless.

Two Myths About Heaven

The first myth is perpetuated by the many jokes and comics about St. Peter at the pearly gates. Many people believe that if our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds, St. Peter will let us into heaven. It doesn’t work that way.

God has one standard for getting into heaven: absolute perfection and holiness. The person who has sinned the smallest sin is still guilty and cannot be perfect and holy. It’s like a balloon: once it’s popped, there’s nothing anyone can do to make it whole again. Only one Person has ever qualified for heaven by being perfect and holy–the Lord Jesus. When we trust Christ as our Savior, He does two things for us: He pays the penalty for our sin, which keeps us out of hell, and He exchanges our sin for His righteousness, which allows us into heaven.

Another myth is that heaven is like a big socialist state where everybody gets a standard issue harp and halo and we all sit around on clouds all day praising God in a never-ending church service. Doesn’t sound all that great, does it?

Fortunately, heaven’s a whole lot better than that. For one thing, the reason we think worshiping God for all eternity is boring is because we don’t know God as He really is. We’re like the six-year-old boy who declared that “girls are stupid, and kissin’ ’em is even stupider.” Kids don’t have a clue how great love can be, and we don’t have a clue how wonderful God is.

Heaven is no socialist state. There will be varying degrees of reward and responsibility in heaven, depending on the way we lived our life on earth. All believers will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ, when God will test our works by passing them through the fire of motive. If we did things in His strength and for His glory, they will pass through the refining fire and emerge as gold, silver and costly stones. If we did things in our own flesh and for our glory or for the earthly payoff, we will have gotten all our strokes on earth, and our works will be burned up, not making it through the testing “fire.”

There are different types of rewards in heaven: a prophet’s reward, a righteous man’s reward, and a disciple’s reward. Some will receive the crown of life, or a martyr’s crown, and there’s also the crown of righteousness. Our lives in heaven will be determined by the choices, sacrifices, and actions of earth. Some will be very wealthy, and others will be “barely there.” You can check our Web site for the scriptures about this.{3}

Myths About the Bible and Salvation

Many non-Christians believe a myth that is accepted by a lot of Christians as well–that the Bible has been changed and corrupted since it was written. The historical evidence actually makes a rather astounding case for the supernatural protection and preservation of both Old and New Testaments.

As soon as the New Testament documents were written, people immediately started making copies and passing them around. There are so many copies in existence that the New Testament is the best-documented piece of ancient literature in the world. And because there are so many copies, we can compare them to today’s Bible and be assured that what we have is what was written.

The Old Testament scribes were so meticulous in copying their manuscripts that they were obsessive about accuracy. They would count the middle letter of the entire original text and compare it to the middle letter of the new copy. If it didn’t match, they’d make a new copy. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947, they demonstrated that this collection of Old Testament scriptures has been faithfully preserved for two thousand years.

Many people believe that certain parts of the Bible have been corrupted or deleted, such as supposed teaching on reincarnation. However, this is just hearsay from people who do not understand how the canon of scripture was decided on. From the beginning of the church, Christians recognized the 27 books that make up the New Testament as God’s inspired word, and the writings that weren’t inspired were eventually dropped. We have some great articles on our Web site that explain about the reliability of the Bible.{4}

Many Christians believe another myth: “I believe in Jesus, but surely God will let people of other faiths into heaven too.” Many seem to think that being a “good Muslim” or a “sincere Buddhist” should count for something.

This does make sense from a human perspective, but God didn’t leave us in the dark trying to figure out truth on our own. He has revealed truth to us, both through Jesus and through the Bible. So regardless of what makes sense from our limited human perspective, we need to trust what God has said.

And Jesus, who ought to know because He is God in the flesh, said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Me.” (John 14:6) No other religion deals with the problem of sin and God’s requirement of perfection and holiness on God’s terms. There may be many ways to Jesus, but there’s only way to the Father. It’s God’s heaven, and He makes the rules: it’s Jesus or nothing.


1. I am indebted to Dr. Al Meredith, the pastor of Wedgwood Baptist Church in Ft. Worth, Texas, for this perspective. Wedgwood Baptist was the site of the massacre the night of the “See You At the Pole” celebration when seven youth and staff members were killed and seven others wounded by a crazed gunman.

2. Jeff Kinkade, pastor of Reinhardt Bible Church in Garland, Texas.

3. “Probe Answers Our E-Mail: Help Me Understand Rewards in Heaven.

4. “Are the Biblical Documents Reliable?“. Also, “The Authority of the Bible” and “The Christian Canon“.

©2002 Probe Ministries.

Is There Really a Hell?

Rick Rood discusses the biblical teaching on hell, as well as the practical effects of this belief for

This article is also available in Spanish.

The story has been told of C. S. Lewis listening to a young preacher’s sermon on the subject of God’s judgment on sin. At the end of his message, the young man said: “If you do not receive Christ as Savior, you will suffer grave eschatalogical ramifications!” After the service, Lewis asked him the question, “Do you mean that a person who doesn’t believe in Christ will go to hell?” “Precisely,” was his response. “Then say so,” Lewis replied. (1)

This story illustrates something that most Christians know, but few articulate: that of all the doctrines of the Christian faith, the one we feel most uncomfortable discussing is the doctrine of eternal punishment or hell. And it is not difficult to understand why this is so. The doctrine of hell is offensive to unbelievers, and contradicts the emphasis on tolerance and on human potential that dominates our times. Who of us enjoys alienating our friends by speaking of eternal judgment for sin? For many of us, the doctrine of hell is also difficult to reconcile with the the love and grace of God. Furthermore, we are well aware of Christians who have misused the doctrine of hell by using it to manipulate and control other people. In seeking to distance ourselves from the abuse of this doctrine, and to avoid appearing intolerant and uncaring, many of us have eliminated the word “hell” entirely from our vocabulary (making our belief an entirely personal matter).

Recent surveys have revealed some very interesting facts about current attitudes toward hell. A survey conducted by George Gallup in 1990 revealed that just under 60% of Americans believe there is a hell (down over 10% from 1978), though only 4% believe that hell was their own personal destination. A survey in the mid-1980s of American evangelical college and seminary students revealed that only one in ten believed that the first step in influencing unbelievers for Christ should be to warn about hell. 46% of seminary students believed that to emphasize to non-believers that eternal judgment would be a consequence of rejecting Christ was “in poor taste.” A survey conducted in 1981 revealed that 50% of theology faculty believe in the existence of hell (61% of Roman Catholics, and 34% of Protestants)! (2)

In spite of the prevailing current attitudes toward hell revealed by these surveys, however, it is still apparent to most Christians that the doctrine of hell is firmly grounded in the teaching of Scripture. All but one of the letters of the Apostle Paul mention the wrath or judgment of God on sin. And of the twelve uses of the word gehenna (the strongest word for hell) in the New Testament, eleven come from the lips of Jesus himself! In fact, the Savior taught more about hell than He did about heaven! Of the more than 1850 verses recording the words of Christ, 13% pertain to the topics of judgment and hell. Of the 40 or so parables uttered by Jesus, more than half relate to God’s eternal judgment on sin. Surprisingly, the much beloved “Sermon on the Mount” contains some of Jesus’ most straightforward words about hell!

What Does the Bible Teach About Hell?

In his book simply titled “Inferno,” Dante Alighieri describes in great detail his imaginary tour through nine levels of hell. Dante’s book makes for fascinating reading. But to learn what hell is really like, we must turn to another source: the Bible.

As we begin reading through the Old Testament, we find frequent references to “sheol” (the world of departed spirits) as the abode of all the dead (cf. Deut. 32:22). As we continue reading, we find also that a day will come when the bodies of all who are in sheol will be resurrected: some to “everlasting life” but others to “everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2).

The common belief of godly rabbis during the intertestamental era that sheol was divided into two sections is reflected in the New Testament, which refers to the abode of the righteous as “Paradise” (Lk. 23:43) or “Abraham’s bosom” (Lk. 16:22), and the abode of the unrighteous as “Hades” (Lk. 16:23). After Christ’s resurrection, it appears that those who resided in Paradise were ushered into the presence of God in heaven where they await the future resurrection of their bodies. But those who are in Hades await a resurrection to a different destination– hell.

The word that is used most frequently in the New Testament for hell is Gehenna. Gehenna is a reference to the Valley of Hinnom located on the south side of Jerusalem, which served as the city’s “garbage dump” during Jesus’ time. The fires that burned here never went out.

As did his contemporaries, Jesus referred to Gehenna as the place where “the fire is not quenched” and where “their worm does not die” (Mk. 9:48). Whether He implied a literal flame and a literal worm is not of great importance. Jesus also described hell as a place of “outer darkness” (Mt. 22:13). But it is clear that He meant us to understand that hell is a place of continual deterioration and suffering for those who inhabit it! Jesus also referred to those who were cast into hell as being “cast outside” (Mt. 8:12), or as Paul simply puts it “away from the presence of the Lord” (II Thess. 1:9). Hell is a place of exclusion and loss of every blessing that comes from God. Hell is described as a place of “contempt” by the prophet Daniel (Dan. 12:2)–where every person is despised by every other inhabitant. As one writer has put it: “Sinners in hell will have company but no sympathy” (3)

Jesus said hell will be a place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 13:42). The weeping no doubt speaks of terrible remorse and grief. But the gnashing of teeth speaks of intense anger–anger at oneself, anger at Satan, anger at God. Paul speaks of hell’s inhabitants as experiencing “wrath and anger … trouble and distress” (Rom. 2:8-9).

The Bible also tells us that in hell not all will be judged alike. Jesus made it clear that there will be degrees of judgment in hell. He said that the one “who knew his master’s will and did not … act in accord with his will, shall receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few” (Lk. 12:47-48). But though not all will be judged equally, all will be judged with certainty. Exodus 34:7 tells us that though the Lord is “compassionate and gracious, … yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.”

Why Would a Loving God Send People to Hell?

Does the Bible teach that hell is a place of eternal conscious punishment for sin? One alternative proposal is that for many (if not all) a second opportunity will be given after death to respond to the grace of God. Appeal is usually made to the statement in Peter’s first letter that “the gospel … has been preached even to those who are dead” (4:6). William Barclay states that in this passage we find a “glimpse of nothing less than the gospel of a second chance” (Commentary on the Epistles of Peter). Yet, the context makes clear that he is speaking of those to whom the gospel was preached during their lifetime, but who now were deceased! There is no indication at all that a “post-mortem” opportunity to repent exists.

In John 8, Jesus says that for those who “die in their sins” there is no possibility of joining Him in heaven (vv. 21,24). In contrasting the expectation of the believer of being reunited with loved ones in heaven, he says that unbelievers “have no (such) hope” (I Thess. 4:13). These statements are difficult to reconcile with the belief that the deceased are offered a second opportunity after death. Hebrews 9:27 says that “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.”

Another proposal, that is gaining a wider acceptance today, is that unbelievers will simply be snuffed out of existence or “annihilated.” Support for this belief is often sought in statements throughout Scripture that describe sinners as “perishing” or being “destroyed.” The psalmist says, “May the wicked perish before God” (68:2). The same word, however, is used in Isaiah 57:1 to refer to the righteous: “The righteous perish and no one ponders it in his heart.” It is clear that in the latter case, the word implies “severe suffering.” It could not possibly mean that the righteous are “extinguished.” There is, therefore, no reason to believe that the opposite is the case when the word is used to describe the fate of sinners. To “perish” or be “destroyed” means to “suffer ruin,” not to be “annihilated.”

That the Bible teaches eternal conscious punishment for sin in hell, is the only deduction that can be reached from the fact that the most emphatic words available to the biblical writers were consistently used to describe hell’s endless duration, as well as to describe the duration of heaven, and even the eternal existence of God! Just as Jesus described the destiny of the righteous as “eternal life,” so He described the destiny of the unrighteous as “eternal punishment” (Mt. 25:46). Just as John described God as the one who “lives forever and ever” (Rev. 15:7), so He described the fire of hell as lasting “forever and ever” (Rev. 14:11).

Sometimes it is said that the Greek word for eternal (aionios) really means “age lasting,” implying that at the end of a series of ages God will empty hell of all its inhabitants. Those who hold this interpretation, however, fail to recall that while this present age is finite in duration, it was the common understanding among Jesus’ listeners that the “age to come” was eternal!

In reference to the fate of Judas, Jesus said: “It would have been better for him if he had never been born” (Mt. 26:24). If indeed it is as terrible a fate as these words suggest, and if it is eternal in duration, why would a loving God send people to hell? If God is a God of love, why would He consign anyone to an eternity as terrible as the Bible describes the fate of those whose destiny is hell?

Perhaps the biblical doctrine of hell can begin to make more sense to us when we reexamine our understanding of two other teachings of Scripture: the nature of God, and the nature of man and of sin.

One of the wonderful revelations of Scripture is that God is a God of infinite love and grace. Who of us is not refreshed when we read the words of the psalmist: “But Thou, O Lord, art a God merciful and gracious, Slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (86:15)? Yet it is the same God who is also described as the One who “will by no means leave the guilty unpunished” (Ex. 34:7)! The God who loves the sinner is also the God whose “eyes are too pure to approve evil” and who cannot “look on wickedness with favor” (Hab. 1:13). The psalmist quotes God at one point as saying, “You thought that I was just like you” (50:21). But we are in need of the realization that just as God’s love is far beyond our own, so the purity of his holiness exceeds all our conceptions! When Isaiah was granted a vision of the Lord on his throne, he was shaken by his impression of his holiness (Isa. 6:3)! For sure, God is a God of indescribable love, but He is just as much a God of absolute holiness and righteousness! When we gain a vision of the holiness of God as it is portrayed in the Bible, we begin to understand the reasonableness of the doctrine of hell.

We are also helped when we allow Scripture to more fully inform us in our comprehension of the nature of man and of sin. The emphasis in our generation on the value and dignity of the human person has been a welcome corrective to a past overemphasis on the depravity of man. Yet it is easy for us to lose sight of the fact that though we are indeed created in the image of God and of very special value in His eyes, nonetheless we are also deeply and indelibly stained by sin in every area of our being. The God who knows every thought and motive of every human heart, said that it “is more deceitful than all else, and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). Jesus himself said that “from within, out of the heart of men, proceed (all manner of evil)” by which we are defiled (Mk. 7:21-23)!

When Ezra learned of the disobedience of the people of Israel in marrying unbelievers, he said, “I tore my garment and my robe, … and sat down appalled” (Ezra 9:3). When the Apostle Paul saw the city of Athens filled with idols, “his spirit was … provoked within him” (Acts 17:16)! Is it possible that we have lost something of the sense of the seriousness of sin that seemed to grip the heart of these two men?

Some have objected that while sin is certainly worthy of punishment, a “finite” sin is hardly worthy of the “infinite” punishment of hell. But that our rebellion against God should be considered “finite” in nature is not entirely clear.

When we consider that the One against whom we have rebelled is the One who gave us life, who is the source of every good thing that we know in life, and who has extended his love by giving his own Son as payment for our sin, how can we possibly measure the gravity of our sin or the punishment it deserves? When we consider too that there is no indication that those in hell will ever experience a “change of heart” in attitude toward God, perhaps we can see that God’s judgment is entirely just.

The Doctrine of Hell: What Difference Does It Make?

We want to focus on three areas of life that should be impacted by our understanding of the biblical doctrine of hell.

The first is our attitude toward sin … particularly our own. A number of years ago, Dr. Karl Menninger wrote a book entitled Whatever Happened to Sin? In it he challenged the popular notion that all of our thoughts and actions can be accounted for by factors beyond our own personal control, that we are rarely responsible for our own conduct. For sure, there are “mitigating” factors in most of our lives that influence our character and conduct to greater or lesser degree. And God is not unaware of these things. “He knows our frame, that we are but dust” (Ps. 103:14). He knows as well that we are born with a sinful nature that is beyond the power of human will to overcome (cf. Rom. 7:14-25). But He also knows that the choice is our own as to whether we approve and condone the fruit of our sinful nature, or whether we turn to Him for grace to hold in check our sinful impulses and to learn to follow his will. In his book The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis said that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “Thy will be done.” The choice is ours as to which kind of person we will become.

When we realize that we are responsible for what we choose to do about our sin, and that it is more than merely an act that may result in unpleasant consequences for ourselves, but that it is also a disposition of rebellion against God, that requires his holy judgment, we cannot help but become more sensitive to its presence in our lives!

The second result of a biblical understanding of hell is a much greater appreciation for the grace and salvation we have received from God! Our appreciation for the immense value of this gift is greatly enhanced when we fully comprehend the nature of that from which we have been delivered. Our perception of the awesomeness of salvation is determined in large measure by our perception of the awfulness of hell!

Finally, a biblical understanding of hell should move us to include in our proclamation of the gospel a clear warning about the consequence of failing to respond. We need to be more forthright than the preacher whom Charles Spurgeon reported as saying, “If you do not love the Lord Jesus Christ, you will be sent to the place which it is not polite to mention.” (4) C.S. Lewis once said: “If Christianity only means one more bit of good advice, then Christianity is of no importance. There has been no lack of good advice for the last four thousand years. A bit more makes no difference.” (5) If there really is a hell, then Christianity is far more than one more bit of good advice!

In his book Our Guilty Silence, John Stott recounts how the seventeenth century Jesuit missionaries to China, not wanting to offend the sensitivities of the Chinese, excluded the cross of Christ and other details from their message. Quoting Hugh Trevor- Roper, Stott says, “We do not learn that they made many lasting converts by the unobjectionable residue of the story.” (6)

There is little question that the doctrine of hell has at times been abused. But as one writer has well put it: “May its misuse not result in its disuse” in our efforts to lead people to Christ.



1. Larry Dixon, The Other Side of the Good News, Wheaton: Victor Books, 1992. p. 13

2. Dixon, pp. 10-13; Jerry L. Walls, Hell: The Logic of Damnation. South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992, pp.2-3.

3. John Blanchard, Whatever Happened to Hell? Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 1992, p. 146.

4. Quoted in Ajith Fernando, Crucial Questions About Hell. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1991, p. 171.

5. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. New York: Macmillan Press, 1960, p. 133)

6. John Stott, Our Guilty Silence. London: Hodder & Stoughton, nd, p. 45.

Recommended Resources on the Subject of Hell:

Blanchard, John. Whatever Happened to Hell? Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 1992.

Dixon, Larry. The Other Side of the Good News. Wheaton: Victor Books, 1992.

Fernando, Ajith. Crucial Questions About Hell. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1991.

Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. New York: Macmillan Press, 1960.

Morey, Robert A. Death and the Afterlife. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1984.

Stott, John. Our Guilty Silence. London: Hodder & Stoughton, nd.

Walls, Jerry L. Hell: The Logic of Damnation. South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992.

© 1995 Probe Ministries.