Several years ago I had the opportunity to teach a class on heaven and hell. On the first day of class I asked the middle-aged students to raise their hands if they could recall the last time they had heard a sermon on hell. None of the students raised his hand. I then asked the students if they could recall the last time they heard a sermon on heaven. Once again, not one student raised his hand. Nevertheless, regarding the latter question, many explained that from time to time they had heard a pastor mention heaven in a sermon, but not one of the students could recall even one instance when he had heard a pastor preach on hell in a sermon. Their responses were not surprising to me. In fact, the very reason I asked such questions was to validate the purpose of the class and to help the students understand the deficiency of biblical preaching in many churches.
Many Christians have left behind many of the biblical truths concerning things to come. In some cases it seems pastors have intentionally forgotten to preach on the eternal destiny of the unrepentant. Many pastors don’t preach on hell because they don’t want lost sinners to have a bad impression of themselves, and they certainly don’t want the message of the Gospel to offend anyone who might be “seeking” God, as if anyone sought God without God first seeking him. However, if so-called pastors don’t preach the Gospel of Christ, they themselves may be in danger of going to that very place they don’t want to mention. They would do well to remember the message of Jesus Christ who, more than any other figure in the Bible, preached on hell. Indeed, they would do well to remember the apostle Paul who wrote that he was not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16).
The subject of the eternal destinies of human beings is not a footnote to the Gospel, it is at the heart of understanding the very essence of the Gospel. We would not need mercy if we had no sin, and we would not need grace if we had no future. God bestows His grace upon us not merely so we can get a fire ticket out of hell. In fact, in preaching fire and brimstone, the Lord graciously provides us with a bad impression of ourselves so that we might be offended by our sin and turn to Him in repentance and faith through Christ.
Dr. Burk Parsons (@BurkParsons) is editor of Tabletalk magazine, senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow. He is cotranslator and coeditor of A Little Book on the Christian Life by John Calvin.