Are unbelievers really lost for all eternity? Judging by their lack of concern for the lost, it seems many Christians don’t believe they are. But let’s see what the Bible says.
In Ephesians 2:1 the apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus reminding them of their condition before they were saved. He told them, “Once you were DEAD because of your disobedience and your many sins.” [NLT caps added] People without Christ are spiritually dead. Yet, they aren’t dead because they sin, but because they are sinners. Psalms 58:3 says, “Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward, spreading lies.” [NIV]
A person does not become a liar when he tells a lie. Rather, he tells a lie because he is a liar. And so it is with every other sin. Committing sinful acts does not make a person a sinner. People commit sinful acts because they are sinners. Our sin nature can be likened to a worm inside an apple. Worms don’t eat their way into an apple. Instead, an insect lays an egg in the apple blossom. Then, once it hatches, the worm eats its way out of the apple. In much the same way, people are born with a sin nature inside of them that keeps showing itself day after day.
If there is one passage of Scripture that describes the lost, it is Romans 3:10-18 (paraphrased translation)
10. There is no one who does what is right—not even one.
11. No one is wise, and wants to know God.
12. All have turned away from God, and done wrong. No one does good, not a single one.
13. Their talk is filthy like the stench from an open grave. Wicked lies roll off their tongues, and every word they speak is tinged with poison.
14. Their mouths are full of cursing and hate.
15. They quickly become violent.
16. They cause sorrow and suffering wherever they go.
17. They don’t know how to live in peace.
18. They care nothing about God nor what He thinks of them.
Granted, this described many of us before we came to Christ. But, the difference is that we eventually yielded to God, put our faith in Christ, repented of our sins, and were born again.
In spite of all this, it’s not the sinfulness of the lost that will put them in hell. Sinners will be lost because they have rejected God’s many attempts to save them. John 3:36 says, “Everyone who has faith in the Son has eternal life. But no one who rejects Him will ever share in that life, and God will be angry with them forever.” [CEV]
In Matthew 23:37-38, we find Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. He doesn’t cry because He feels rejected. He weeps because they have made the wrong choice, and now will suffer terribly. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let Me. And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate.”
Some think God won’t put sinners in hell because He loves them and is merciful. But, God has given us His Word, and He must abide by it. Psalms 138:2 says, “For You have magnified Your word above all Your name.” [NKJV] In the New Living Translation, Psalm 138:2 is translated: “…Your promises are backed by all the honor of Your name.” This means that God Himself is subject to His spoken word and compelled by His very nature to fulfill what He has sworn to do. Because of this, He cannot relent at the last minute. Lost souls will spend eternity in hell.
Thankfully, God doesn’t want to put anyone in hell. Hell was created for the devil and his angels, not to torture people. (Mat 25:41) God is willing to forgive, providing we return to Him:
“O Israel, my faithless people, come home to Me again, for I am merciful. I will not be angry with you forever. Only acknowledge your guilt. Admit that you rebelled against the LORD your God and committed adultery against Him by worshiping idols under every green tree. Confess that you refused to listen to My voice. I, the LORD, have spoken! [Jeremiah 3:12-13 NLT]