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Some subjects should never be discussed from the pulpit. Hell can be one of them—but allow me to explain what I mean by “never.”

If we’re going to preach the whole counsel of God, we must preach on hell. After all, Jesus Christ spoke about hell more than any other man in the Bible. A pastor who had a small country church was approached by a farmer who didn’t like his sermons on hell. The farmer said, “Preach about the meek and lowly Jesus.” The pastor answered, “That’s where I got my information about hell.”

Many have observed that, although there was a day when all one seemed to hear was “fire and brimstone” sermons, we’ve now gone to the opposite extreme. There is so much preaching on love, grace and forgiveness, but little or nothing is said about hell. If hell is real (and it is), it needs to be mentioned. A chaplain who did not believe in hell was one time dismissed. Those responsible for his dismissal explained, “If there is no hell, we don’t need you. If there is a hell, we don’t want you to deceive us anymore.”

There are times, though, when hell should never be mentioned in our preaching. I would go so far as to say that when hell is mentioned during these times, it may dishonor Christ more than honor Him and do more disservice to the gospel than service. When, what and where are those times?

1. When we show no remorse for those who are going there

D.L. Moody reportedly said, “I must not preach hell unless I preach it with tears.” One could question whether there must be actual tears, but one would find it hard to disagree with the point he was undoubtedly making. Hell is a horrible place, and remorse must be felt for anyone going there. Hell is certainly no light matter and should not be taken as such by the one speaking.

Sometimes the reason that remorse is not there is that hell is preached with the attitude, “That’s what you deserve, so that’s what you get, and to hell is where you’ll go.” True, anyone in hell is there of their own choosing. Christ has not rejected them, but they’ve rejected Him. But if we can’t find remorse for those who are going there, we’d better ask why we are speaking on the subject.

A preacher was asked why he didn’t preach hellfire. Soon afterward, the preacher tried it, and the message fell flat. A kind listener advised him that if he wanted to preach about hell, he should preach in love, not hatred. He cautioned the preacher not to preach about hell as if that’s where he wanted his listeners to go, but rather as if it were a place he wanted to save them from.

I’ve personally spoken on hell, but I can sincerely say it’s never been without remorse. I’m not applauding myself. The reason I cannot do it without remorse is very personal.

Raised on a dairy farm, I came to Christ through the sport of hunting. As I contemplated the outdoors, I was convinced there had to be a God. Design and nature meant love, and love meant presence. So my question became, “Where is He, and how can you touch Him, know Him, feel Him, etc.?”

I decided to study the Bible. At first I thought it was the most boring and confusing book I’d ever read. But I kept reading, until one night I knelt by my bed on the dairy farm and said, “God, the best I know how, I’m trusting Christ to save me.” My life exploded. As I grew as a Christian, I then realized what God had done. He had taken me from the creation, to the Creator, to Christ. (This is one reason I relish speaking at Wild Game Feasts. After showing more than 90 hunting slides through a PowerPoint presentation, I give my testimony. Since these meetings average 80% lost people in attendance, you can imagine how excited I get as an evangelist!)

While I was doing all this searching for God, though, something very dramatic happened one night. I had a dream. It was as real as this article I’m writing. I stood at the very edge of hell about to be cast in by—guess who? Jesus Christ Himself. It was terrifying.

I do not believe in interpreting everything that happens in life by our dreams—God forbid—but that dream played a real part in bringing me to Jesus. I thank God for that dream, because the reality of going to hell was so severe that I can’t even talk about hell without a sense of remorse. I pray to God that never changes.

When I see Jesus speak of hell in the Scriptures, I can’t find one place where He did it with a sense of satisfaction and glee. Instead, it was with remorse, as if hell were the last place He wanted to send someone. We ought to feel that same remorse, and if we don’t, speaking on hell would be best left for other preachers.

2. When we do it to fight particular sins

Preachers love to speak with authority, and they should, especially if they’re preaching the Word. But sometimes that authority is misused. I’ve heard preachers say, “Do you want to know where abortionists go? Do you want to know where rapists go? Do you want to know where God sends homosexuals?” When I hear that, I often want to step up and say, “And do you want to know where Larry Moyer deserves to go?” I’m not an abortionist, rapist or homosexual, but I have unkind thoughts and selfish attitudes. My Savior put all those in the same group. He said, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies …” (Matthew 15:19).

Allow me to be transparent. To me, homosexuality is one of the most disgusting things imaginable. How two people of the same sex could even claim to have sexual relations—even enjoy fondling one another—is more than mind-boggling. I cannot even grasp it. One day, I was speaking about the subject with a friend, who couldn’t agree with me more. Then he said something I’ve never recovered from—thankfully. His comment was, “The way you and I feel about homosexuality in particular is the way God feels about our sin in general.”

That’s right. People we label as abortionists, murderers and homosexuals deserve to go to hell—but so do adulterers, liars, prideful people and in fact every single person, including even preachers, who live good religious lives but have never come to Christ.

Hell should never be used to strike back at particular sins, but it should be used to declare the justified punishment for all who have sinned and not received His forgiveness. After all, one sin is all it takes to separate a person from God, and that sin may be a simple “white lie.”

It’s not those who commit a particular sin who deserve to go to hell; it’s those who have sinned—period—and have rejected the Son’s payment for their sin problem.

3. When we emphasize the bad news and de-emphasize the good news

Hell is not merely bad news; it’s the worst news there is to hear. D.L. Moody reportedly shared Christ with a young man. The man had trouble grasping his need of Christ. At one point, he said to D.L. Moody, “If I could see heaven for five minutes, I would believe.” D.L. Moody’s response was, “If you could see hell for five seconds, you would believe.”

Hell is more than bad; it’s horrible. But hell being so horrible is one thing that makes heaven so bright. Jesus does not want anyone to go to hell. So what did He do? He died as a substitute for everyone. Because a perfect man took our punishment and rose victoriously on the third day, what does God ask us to do? Come as a sinner, recognize Christ died for us and rose again, and place our trust in Christ alone to save us. Imagine that: We’re not saved by trusting Christ plus our church attendance, or Christ plus our good life, or Christ plus our baptism, or Christ plus the sacraments. We’re saved by trusting Christ alone to save us! The moment we trust Christ, God gives heaven to us completely free.

Have you ever heard anything better? I haven’t, and I’m convinced I never will. That’s what I love about being an evangelist. I’m the bearer of the best news people ever hear! That’s also why it doesn’t matter if it’s one in the audience or one thousand; I get excited about sharing it.

It’s also why, if I preach on hell, I can’t step out of the pulpit without having explained the good news as much or more than I did the bad. I don’t want the audience to leave merely knowing that apart from Christ they’re going to hell. I want them to leave knowing and understanding that, as bad as the bad news is, there’s good news as equally hard to fathom: a God who so loved hell-bound sinners that He’s designing a place for those who choose not to go to hell. His promise excites me. “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2–3).

It’s a moral obligation before men and women—and more importantly before God—that in emphasizing the bad news, we emphasize equally or even more the good news. To not do so is to be an unfaithful steward of the message God has for us to give to people.

4. When we take the Scriptures out of context

As my mentor and friend Haddon Robinson says, “When you say ‘thus saith the Lord,’ you’d better be right. That is an awesome claim.” Unfortunately, though, there are those who read the word “hell” in Scripture and then take off in their speaking, never examining the context. In so doing, they often preach their words, not the Word.

Mark 9:43–48 is a very effective passage from which to speak on hell. Unfortunately, there are those who use it to preach a false gospel. Three verses of that paragraph say, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched. ... And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched. … And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire” (Mark 9: 43, 45, 47). Some have used this passage to explain that unless you surrender your life to Christ, you cannot be saved and an eternal hell awaits you. In other words, God wants your hands, your feet, your eyes, your everything.

There are three problems with this explanation. First, eternal life is a free gift with no strings attached. Surrendering our lives to Christ is part of discipleship, not salvation. Second, if we had to completely surrender our lives to Christ to be saved, as a noted Bible teacher says, “There wouldn’t be a Christian upon the face of the earth.” Any honest Christian would tell you there are days and places we hold back.

Third, this is not the true meaning of the passage. The simple point Christ was making is there is nothing worth going to hell over. If what the hand touches, where the feet take us, or what the eyes see is keeping us from coming to Christ, we’d be highly intelligent people to cut off the hand, cut off the foot, or pluck out the eye. We’d be better off with one of each than to be separated from God with two. What a powerful word! A performer of the past was once asked, “When you started, you said you wanted to be rich, you wanted to be famous, and you wanted to be happy. You’re rich and you’re famous—are you happy?” The performer immediately confessed that he was the loneliest he had ever been. After he died, his stepmother, who should have known him as well as anyone, reportedly made the comment, “He never found the one thing he really wanted: God.”

Hell needs to be preached, but never in a way that takes Scripture out of context. If we preach on hell, it has to be the same way we preach on everything else—not preaching our words but His Word.

Conclusion

There are times to preach on hell, but there are also times not to preach on hell. Let’s be sure we’re preaching on hell in the right way and at the right times. We have a responsibility before God to explain to people how awful that place of torment is. Let’s make sure that—as our listeners see our expressions, hear our voices, look at our demeanors and everything else about us—they see a God who pleads to us with the greatest love He can extend: “Come to Jesus.”

Dr. R. Larry Moyer is a veteran evangelist and a frequent speaker in evangelistic outreaches, training seminars, churches and universities around the world. Born with an inherited speech defect, Larry vowed to God as a teenager that if He would allow him to gain control of his speech he would always use his voice to declare the gospel. In 1973, Larry founded EvanTell, where he now serves as President and CEO. He has written several books on evangelism and frequently contributes articles to ministry publications.

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Atama Hakafa

commented on Jan 9, 2014

God's love is unconditional but going to Heaven is conditional. You got to believe in Jesus.

Bob Gabuna

commented on Jan 9, 2014

This is a good one. Holy Spirit inspired.

Casey Scott

commented on Jan 9, 2014

Excellent article! Thanks Larry!

Larry Moyer

commented on Jan 16, 2014

Thanks Casey. I hope you are doing well and encouraged in the ministry there. Let me know if I can assist in any way.

Troy Heald

commented on Jan 9, 2014

excellent

Troy Heald

commented on Jan 9, 2014

excellent

Larry Moyer

commented on Jan 16, 2014

Thanks Troy. I hoped the ministry is going well. Let me know if I can assist in any way.

Gerald Graham

commented on Jan 9, 2014

Excellent article!

James Dale

commented on Jan 9, 2014

"if we had to completely surrender our lives to Christ to be saved, as a noted Bible teacher says, ?There wouldn?t be a Christian upon the face of the earth.? WOW!!! Thank you so much for telling me I can't completely surrender my life to Christ. Total surrender was a burden. I hated that old hymn "All To Jesus I Surrender" anyway. It demanded to much of me. And since I sin anyway, I guess complete surrender was out of the question? Luke 9:23 "And He was saying to them all, ?If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me." Luke 9:61-62 "Another also said, ?I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.? But Jesus said to him, ?No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.? Just because I sin as a Christian, 1John 1:8-10, does not mean I cannot completely surrender my life to Christ. That's like saying just because I sin after I have repented, I never really repented, 1Cor. 7:9,10. Yes we can live a life completely surrendered to Christ, 1John 1:7 and still give into the weakness of our flesh, 1John 1:9. A completely surrendered life in Christ does not mean absolute sinless perfection, that is an impossible task, Matt. 26:41, Rom 3:23. But Paul certainly completely surrendered his life, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me." Gal. 2:20 Again Paul says, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." (Phil. 1:21). Even though Paul sinned, Rom 7:15-25, he understood that one could completely surrender their life to Christ. How can Paul have been crucified with Christ without complete surrender? Secondly, how in the world do you separate salvation from being a disciple? Matt. 28:19,20. So we surrender our lives to become a disciple, but we can't surrender our lives as disciples? Is one saved in Christ who is not a disciple? Acts 11:26, "...and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch" Can one be saved and not be a Christian, a disciple? The problem with too many today is they suppose they can live for Christ and not completely surrender to Him. All to Jesus I surrender, even if at times I give into the weakness of my flesh. He still reigns sovereign in my life because I have completely surrendered to Him. He is my propitiation. 1John 2:1,2.

Alexander Drysdale Lay Preacher Uca Australia

commented on Jan 9, 2014

Neale Donald Walsch in his books Conversations with God asks a very simple question. Who is God? God is love is the answer. If God is love, and his love is total, then because he loves us we will ALL go to heaven as changed people. Changed into a spiritual being the light of which we can never know until we get there as get there we will. If that is so what is hell? It is here and now, living as sinners in a sinful world and nothing to do with the hereafter.

Bryan Thompson

commented on Jan 9, 2014

There is so much scripture that contradicts this faulty reasoning that I can only assume you reject the Scripture on this topic. What do you say about Matthew 25:41?

Morris Randall

commented on Jan 9, 2014

Please forgive me if I seem pedantic: Your article is excellent, Larry. I praise God for your clear view of the Gospel, and I mean no offence by what I am about to say. However, I think that you frequently misuse the word, "remorse" -- a very common error. Wikipedia defines remorse as "an emotional expression of personal regret felt by a person after they have committed an act which they deem to be shameful, hurtful, or violent." Various dictionaries agree. "Deep sorrow" would better express what you actually mean, I think, than "remorse". I'll finish by saying that I, too, make many such errors, and that I heartily agree that the subject of hell must be preached with deep sorrow and sincere concern for the lost.

Bill Williams

commented on Jan 9, 2014

A good article, overall. And certainly, the concept of Hell is in the Bible and therefore it must be preached. However, I'd like to simply point out that preaching on Hell does not necessarily mean preaching the traditional understanding of Hell. There is a biblically-based alternative to the traditional understanding, and preaching the alternative does not mean one is not preaching on Hell. I only say that because I've had experiences with people that believe that if you do not preach the traditional understanding of hell as never-ending torture in fire, then you are not preaching on Hell. That is not true, by any means.

Tom He

commented on Jan 10, 2014

What do you think about Isa 66:24; Mark 9:48; Matt 25:41? Are they belong to traditional understanding or Biblical-based alternative?

Bill Williams

commented on Jan 10, 2014

Well, I suppose the short answer is that those text belong to both. It all comes down to how you interpret those texts. I'm not talking about being selective about texts, where you focus on certain texts and ignore others that don't seem to fit the mold. The Biblical alternative to the traditional understanding of hell does not ignore those texts you shared. I'm talking about taking all the relevant passages and interpreting them properly in the context of Scripture as a whole. Let's take Matthew 25:41, for example. It speaks of "the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." It is interesting that that phrase also appears in Jude 1:7, describing how Sodom, serving as an example, underwent "a punishment of eternal fire." Sodom was an example of hell (which I believe the Scriptures depict as a future reality, by the way, not a present one). So the question is: are the fires that burned Sodom still burning? Of course not. So obviously, the phrase "eternal fire" does not necessarily mean a fire that is literally burning for all eternity. So, what does it mean, then. Although time and space does not allow me to go into too much detail, my study of Scripture has shown me that when Scripture speaks of the "fires" of hell, the emphasis is on the completeness of the destruction of the fire, not the length of the fire itself.

Jeff Coots

commented on Jan 12, 2014

So let me get this correct, hell is not eternal in your learned opinion? If that logic holds then Heaven is just a temporary stop in the cosmos and temporal as well? Please give me a break. Hell is literal, eternal, and real just as Heaven is. Maybe I am a simpleton who is unlearned but I will take the truth of Scripture over this false teaching anyway.

Bill Williams

commented on Jan 13, 2014

I would encourage you not to jump to conclusions before hearing me out. The "logical" conclusion you've reached is not logical at all. What I am advocating is not a false teaching. It is an interpretation of the Scriptures that is understood by many reputable, evangelical Christians, such as the late John Stott. The key, for me, is in Paul's statement in Romans that the wages of sin is death, while the gift of God is eternal life. Death is the absence of life (as darkness is the absence of light). Death is not a conscious existence somewhere. Nowhere in the Scriptures is such an idea suggested. Therefore, all those who choose to separate themselves eternally from God, who is the source of life, will eventually cease to exist, for life cannot exist apart from God. Now, I do believe the Bible teaches a future day when all who have rejected God will be literally burned with fire, as was Sodom. But as I demonstrated from the Bible above, the "eternal fire" will be eternal in its consequences, in its complete destruction, not in its duration. On the other hand, under this interpretation, heaven is not a "temporary stop," as you fear I may be advocating. On the contrary, "heaven" is actually the new heavens and new earth described in Revelation 21-22. As God will dwell with us as his people eternally, we thus receive eternal life from him. All of this is not a matter of learned or unlearned or being a simpleton or anything like that. It's a matter of simple Bible hermeneutics, and letting the Bible speak for itself in the context of the whole Bible, not just a few texts here and there. I don't claim to be any more "learned" than you. I'm not a pastor. I don't have any formal theological education. All I have is my Bible, my mind, and the Spirit of God to lead me to the truth, as Christ promised us in John 16.

Clement Corimbelly

commented on Jan 10, 2014

Remorse or not, I do not know. I believe we need to preach everything the Bible says - and that on any subject. The main thing is to preach/ teach a balanced, inspired message/ doctrine: be it be on hell or heaven; life or death etc.

Charles Ingwe

commented on Jan 15, 2014

I have learned much from the article and appreciate the brother who brought in the correction on the word remorse. Brother James Dale, that deep explaination on meaning of total surrender is right on spot as well. Thank you very much beloved ones. I needed this.

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