If Anyone Is Going to Hell, It’s the Christians

Courtesy of Pixabay

Although I no longer engage in theological discussions on Facebook all that often, I still get into it with folks from time to time. What I find fascinating is the level of certainty with which many Christians approach whatever topics are being discussed. Especially confounding is how many of these “believers” offhandedly talk about the fate of non-believers. In essence, everyone is going to hell. Muslims. Atheists. Jews. Even Christians who theologically see things differently than them  are one day going to find themselves consigned to the eternal barbecue.

Talk about judgment!

To that end, I’d like to remind these Christians of a few things with the hopes that they will slow their roll when it comes to consigning others to hell.

First, let’s focus on Matthew 7:21–23, a favorite prooftext some Christians use to argue that others will one day be forever lost to the flames of hell. But before we tackle these verses specifically, let’s take a look at how chapter 7 begins. Jesus states:

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”

This type of warning should give us great pause. It should make us feel a bit uneasy. Why? Because we should all see ourselves as the one with the ginormous eye-plank. That’s the point. And I don’t know about you, but I know that I’ve yet to get all my shit together. I still sin. I still hold grudges. I still withhold mercy and grace. I still act like a damn fool from time to time. Hence, I should be the last to turn to my neighbor and start talking about all the sin in their life.

What about you? Are you so holy and righteous that you feel the need to talk about the planks in the eyes of others? Or, should you take it easy when it comes to the sins of others?

Think about it.

Now, let’s jump forward to verses 21–23, which read:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’”

Ouch.

If the warnings in verses 1–5 were harsh, these that follow are worse yet. But notice who Jesus is talking to. It’s not the unbelievers. It’s not the pagans. It’s not, if I may be anachronistic for a moment, the New Atheists, or Muslims, or other “non-believers.” It’s those who profess to following Jesus—those who prophesy and cast out demons in Jesus’ name—who are told to scram. In other words, if anyone is going to hell, it’s those who say “Lord, Lord”—i.e. Christians—but then refuse to act like “little Christs.”

The same thing could be said about Matthew 25:31–46— yet another favorite prooftext Christians use to “prove” that some will burn in hell. What is deliciously ironic about this is that the point Jesus is actually trying to make is really the opposite of what many Christians would have us believe.

Let me explain.

You see, when Jesus divides the nations into the two groups—wicked goats and righteous sheep—notice that both the sheep and the goats are surprised by their standing with the Lord. In other words, those who think they are sheep but still refuse to aid the starving, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned, are going to be surprised when they end up on the left, as a goat, consigned to “eternal punishment.” While those who have no idea who Jesus is, but who still help those in need, will find themselves on the Lord’s right, are counted as sheep, and who then gain “eternal life.”

Again, like the passages from Matthew 7, this warning should be a sobering wake-up call for us all. What is made fairly clear is that we cannot simply rest on the fact that we take on the name of Jesus. Rather, we need to not only aid those who need it the most but need to resist the urge to judge those who don’t, lest we find ourselves condemned by our own judgmental logic.

The Apostle Paul emphasizes the same point in his letter to the Romans. After listing all the vices folks in the early churches were succumbing to, he then drops the following hammer on those who judge others for engaging in these vices: “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”

Again, that’s some pretty harsh stuff. It should really cause us to pause. Because let’s just be real for a second: we are all doing these things. Even Paul did. Remember his admission? “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate . . . For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” And again: “All fall short of the glory of God.” Paul included. Me included. You included.

So again, judge not lest you be judged. Cast not others into hell lest you cast yourself into hell. Beware of your own planks, not the specks of “those sinners over there.”

All this being said, I still believe God will one day “reconcile all things unto himself.” This even includes those who follow Jesus and yet still condemn others for not. The point I am trying to make, however, is that if anyone is going to end up in hell, it’s not those whom we judge. It’s us. We’re going there. We’re the ones retaining sins, not Jesus (see John 20:19–23).

So, to that end, may we lay down our swords of judgment and start showing others mercy in the same way our Father shows mercy to us (Luke 6:36). May we bless our enemies in the same way our Father blesses them (Matthew 5:45). For that is what it means to be perfect like our Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). That is what it means to be holy.

About
Matthew J. Distefano is the author of four books, including the recently released "Heretic!: An LGBTQ-Affirming, Divine-Violence Denying, Christian Universalist's Responses to Some of Evangelical Christianity's Most Pressing Concerns," out now on Quoir Publishing. He also co-hosts the Heretic Happy Hour podcast, is married, has one daughter, and likes to spend his free time hiking, gardening, and cooking. You can read more about the author here.
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  • Ellen Hammond

    Well said, Matthew! I have often thought that those who use the sheep and goats metaphor, to try to back up their believe in ECT, don’t comprehend the fact the goats are the ones who think they are elite while the sheep were those who helped others, simply because they are decent human beings, not just because they think they will get a ‘bigger crown’ and be rewarded for their good deeds after they leave this life. Thanks for saying it so well.

  • WisdomLover

    Matthew 25:

    Does a shepherd divide sheep and goats according to their good works?

    I don’t think he does. Do you think he does?

    But how does a shepherd divide sheep from goats?

    Letting Scripture interpret Scripture, I think He divides sheep from goats by calling them. His sheep know his call.

    After they are divided, by answering the call of the shepherd, He then attributes to the sheep a righteousness that they did not know they have. Good acts that they (think they) never did. He also attributes to the goats an unrighteousness that they did not know they had. Evil acts they (think they) never did.

    All of our acts are tainted with sin. We’re all goats by nature. Sometimes we congratulate ourselves for our good works. But they’re all just filthy rags.

    The best chance that we have of getting credit for doing something good is to have Christ’s righteousness reckoned to us. Maybe there’s an outside chance we could do something truly righteous when we were not thinking about it at all and did not think it made any difference to our final disposition.

    We will certainly never do anything good if we are hung up on turning ourselves into sheep by our good works.

    Deliciously ironic indeed.

  • Well, to be fair, we are eriphos, or “baby goats.”

  • WisdomLover

    The important point, though is that the division at the final judgement is not by works…because that’s not how sheep and goats are separated.

    They’re separated by who answers the Good Shepherd’s call. There might be some we wouldn’t think of as answering that call, but who will. I’m not going to say positively which individuals will go to Hell. I do believe that those who go to Hell will be those that want no part of God or the salvation He offers.

  • Well, I’m glad you are so certain about the fact that people “go to Hell.” Not surprising, given how many religions teach that those not a part of the “club” so to speak suffer such a fate.

  • And how is the fact that the Greek uses the term “baby goats” not important? Seems like it should be an important factor in this pedagogical passage.

  • Indeed. It’s astounding many Christians don’t *see this.

  • WisdomLover

    I said what I believe…not what I am certain of. Big difference.

    I am not surprised that people of different religions believe differently than me. If we believed the same thing, we wouldn’t be of different religions.

    I am surprised that you find this point important.

    As for “eriphos”. In my follow up, I was saying that the important part of my remark was about how the sheep and goats are separated. I did not intend to say anything about the importance of “eriphos”. I must say that I don’t see its importance. But maybe it is very important. Would you care to elucidate the point? I didn’t see anything in the OP that would help me on that front.

  • Sorry, I misread you regarding your belief. As to your point about them being “baby goat,” I think it is important because while many say that the goats suffer punishment that goes on into the forever (to use a Hebrew phrase), I don’t see how any baby anything should be punished with such severity. Perhaps I’m wrong, and perhaps our wholly merciful Father will punish baby goats forever, but then, I must ask, how is he merciful?

  • WisdomLover

    I suppose there might be this angle on the baby goats too.

    The word used for “sheep” (probaton) can mean “goat” (or even small cow) also.

    Maybe you could make the case that a young goat, that does not know the master’s call, may yet come to learn and thereby become a probaton (mature goat) that does know the master’s call.

    Now, “probaton” is always translated as “sheep” in the NT, and “eriphos” in this passage is always translated as simply “goat”, so I’m doubtful about how far you can go with that angle.

  • I don’t go too far. That said, I don’t think this passage is about where people go when they die. Heck, I don’t think the kingdom of heaven is about “where we go when we die.” After all, the kingdom of heaven is at-hand, in our midst, and within us.

  • WisdomLover

    BTW…no biggie on belief vs. certainty. I do write with a bit of verve at times.

    As a result I often have to clarify that I was not claiming certainty.

  • WisdomLover

    Yes and no. The phrase “kingdom of heaven” is laden with the distinction between the “now” and the “not yet”.

  • When is it not now? Even in the “not yet,” it will still be “now.”

  • Ivan T. Errible

    Why is church so boring?

  • There are many reasons.

  • WisdomLover

    OK. But it isn’t not yet, right now.

  • It is never not “now.”

  • Tim

    Don’t waste your breath or your time with this guy Matthew. I’ve made the mistake of doing that in the past.

  • Clayton Gafne Jaymes

    What I am curious about is how the article writer ended up using a passage using the term ‘neighbor’ in the passage when it is clear that it is to be written as ‘brother’ when one goes and looks up a list of other translations that use the term ‘brother’ rather than ‘neighbor’. Do you not think that makes an interpretive difference in how to look at the passage? Perhaps that is exactly why the translation above was used rather than the NASB, or HCSB or the ESV or RNWT translations just to name a few??

    How come you are ignore thing thins Jesus has said about those who don’t come to him are already judged and are going to the grave because they refuse to come to him the only Way to the Father and the resurrection? Did Christians make these words up or did God make them up according to His will and law and judgements etc? The point of John 3:17-20 is not foggy on this matter is it?

    We are also told that Christians will be held to God’s great standard and if Christians have a hard time how much more so for the nonbelievers/rejecters of the truth?

  • Ulf Turkewitsch

    I thought that you can’t be a Christian and yet go to hell. Otherwise what’s the point?

  • I use the NRSV because it’s typically what scholars use.

  • I don’t believe in hell.

  • Clayton Gafne Jaymes

    Thank you for letting me know which translation that was from.

    How do you know it’s the one ‘scholars typically use’? How many scholars do you know that use it? How many scholars use other translations?

    And why do you think so many other translations use the word ‘brother’ and not ‘neighbor’ as this one does?

  • Ed Wetterman

    Truth! Absolutely! I preach in a biker bar every Sunday to folks that have been judged and excluded from “high” church. Sad. If Christians would only see with Christ’s eyes, and act in love, we could change the world tomorrow. Walk the walk. Love is an action verb, not an adjective. Love converts and opens hearts for the Holy Spirit to fill. Condemnation and judgement only divides and pushes people away. Excellent article Matthew! Thank you for your love and service.

  • Ulf Turkewitsch

    To clarify: Where they go is not what I am questioning . What is the criterion for acceptance or rejection by God? If it is faith then let it be faith. If it is works then let it be works. Im not takling about reward , but acceptance by God.

  • The faithfulness of Christ.

  • I’m quite Barthian in this regard.

  • I don’t care how many scholars use what. And I’m fine with either translation. I simply use it because most folks I personally know use it. If others use others, then fine.

  • Ivan T. Errible

    Such as?

  • Kevin K
  • WisdomLover

    Memes are cute and all that, but you know, when you don’t get the view you’re lampooning right, they tend to beclown you.

  • Kevin K

    I’d say that pretty much nails your particular theology. You’re a “filthy rags” Christian. Either you do exactly as your particular narrow-minded version of Christianity demands of you, or you’re consigned to the pit.

    You’re pitiful, in the deepest sense of the word. I pity you, going through life with such a twisted view of humanity — and your god. It must be just awful being you.

  • WisdomLover

    Then again, as you have now proven, it is possible to beclown oneself without memes also. It really comes down to your simply not knowing what you are talking about.

  • Kevin K

    You’re denying your own words (well, not yours, you’re just repeating your indoctrination). Sad. Pitiful.

  • WisdomLover

    Well…Normally I will carry on with people I disagree with. If only to allow those who might be reading along to judge for themselves. But I don’t really think you have anything intelligent to say, as you’ve shown for the third time that you have no idea what you are talking about. As such, I am blocking you.

  • Very uncomfortable, thought-provoking and necessary. May we all take heed – especially me