The second point we need to see is that hell is a place of truth. Even though it is sometimes described as a place of outer darkness, it is a place of the light of truth. Hell will finally expose the true nature of all who have consistently rejected the love and grace and mercy of God. In the meantime, the true nature of human hearts is often buried under deceptive appearances.
Now most people don’t think of themselves as deserving of everlasting punishment. Many who have chosen to live their lives apart from God don’t look any different than others who openly admit their need of the forgiveness and mercy of Christ.
But present appearances are deceiving. While the Bible says that most people are headed for the lake of fire, many of them don’t look as though they deserve a fire reserved for the devil and his angels. Evil men like Stalin or Hitler or serial killers might seem to qualify, but not the rank-and-file of people who seem to live basically decent lives.
Yet from the Bible’s point of view, such evaluations are extremely misleading and even deceptive. The Bible shows us that the fires and blackness of hell will make eternal statements about (1) the true wickedness of public enemies and (2) the true wickedness of good people.
The wickedness of public enemies. In some repects, human wickedness is terrible to comtemplate. Think of what God sees as He looks down on the world of mankind. He watches the murders, adulteries, thefts, fights, and physical and emotional torment that occur day and night in every part of the world. He sees the child abusers—their lust, cruelty, and heartlessness. He sees wives crying, children abandoned, friends and partners betrayed, governments oppressing, and religious leaders fleecing their trusting flocks.
It is the moral and spiritual condition that God has been patiently tolerating ever since man’s fall into sin. Read the apostle Paul’s timeless and universal description of the human condition: “They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:12-18).
This is a striking picture of the dishonestly, the greed, the profanity, the deceitfulness, and the cruelty that continues to produce rapists, child molester, embezzlers, and pornographers. When the judgment of God falls, and when such persons are sentenced to the lake of fire described in Revelation 20:11-15, the fire will make an eternal statement of truth about those who have lived their lives at the expense of others.
What we need to realize, is that Romans 3 was not written merely to tell the truth about those public enemies who will one day find find their rightful place in hell. It also describes: The wickedness of good people. A closer look shows that Romans 3:10-18 doesn’t just describe the judgment deserving character of those we call public enemies. Verse 10 expresses the inclusive argument of the first three chapters of Romans, when it says of mankind, religious and non-religious alike: “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one (Romans 3:10-12).
We don’t like to think that good people deserve to go to hell. But our good impression of decent lawabiding neighbors is not a real reflection of the truth. We think naturally in very man-centered ways rather than in the God-centered measurement described in Romans 3. Man wasn’t made to be a decent public servant. He was made to depend gratefully on the love and goodness of God. We weren’t made just to abide by the external requirements of civil and religious law. We were made to worship God from our hearts and to love one another as He has loved us.
When we measure ourselves by that evaluation, the threat of hell becomes more of an issue. The irresistible fire of judgment will expose the enormous deception that now hides behind social and religious courtesies and proprieties.
We have good reason to shudder at the thought of standing in God’s presence on our own merits. If we’re honest, we must admit that apart from Christ we deserve to hear Him sentence us to hell. In God’s sight, no one is really a good person.
“As many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel” (Romans 2:12-16).
All people, at one time or another, sense that there is a God to whom they are morally accountable, that they have sinned, and that they need divine forgiveness. But most men and women stifle these disquieting thoughts. Some do so by denying the existence of a personal God. Some do so by saying that what we call sins are merely weaknesses. Others affirm that God is so loving that He will never punish anyone on the other side of death. They don’t want to acknowledge their sin and believe on Jesus Christ. But the day is coming when they will stand before God for final judgment. There they will see themselves as they really are. Stripped of all their righteousness, they will recognize their guilt before God. And nothing less than the lake of fire will ultimately tell the truth.